A parking space close to the office. An empty email inbox. Employees who stay consistent in their professional development. All rare commodities in the work environment, but only one of the three impacts your business. (If you guessed an empty inbox, we’re sorry to tell you this is just a dream we included for narrative sake.)
So, what makes learning consistency so important in the workplace, and how can you inspire, track and maintain it? Let’s take a journey through learning consistency together.
What does learning consistency mean?
In plain terms, learning consistency means a habitual approach to learning. When learners form consistent habits to complete training and development, the likelihood of knowledge retention, learner engagement and transfer of learning rises.
Why is consistency important in an organisation?
Most people are hired on the basis of their perceived potential as much as the capabilities they offer, i.e. what they can accomplish in the days, weeks, months and years after they’re hired. Once a new hire has assimilated, spent a good amount of time building tenure and started to accumulate value for an organisation, and then the focus switches to their productivity.
News flash: This is a flawed recruitment and performance management strategy, least of all because it focuses on what an employee can do over how they do it.
While output will always have its place as a performance indicator, consistency is an undervalued representation of an employee’s ability to provide the same—if not an ever increasing—quality of work over a long period of time.
And the other thing about developing consistency in learning is that without it, you won’t have a culture of continuous learning. And then:
- The perception of L&D sours. Inconsistent learning experiences can be a signal that employees view training as a chore rather than a priority, especially if those experiences aren’t aligned with the reality of job roles.
- Innovation is stifled. Consistent progress generally looks like small, ongoing iterations—but only if your employees are learning the capabilities necessary to iterate.
- Closed feedback loops. Inconsistent access may distort how a learner views their training and sway the tone of their feedback, which can affect the accuracy of data you collect. That only leads to ineffective or even detrimental decisions down the line.
See, learning consistency is not just about quantity of learning. It’s about the quality of interactions, an insight without which you won’t be able to ascertain meaningful learning data. That’s to say: You’re not going to understand the impact of your learning programs, if they have an impact at all.
And a mindset that places value solely on employee output disregards the key to achieving quality work: Consistent progress. How an employee works also directly affects workplace culture, the services you provide and your bottom line. When work falls behind deadlines, other functions of business are impacted, like customer or client services, sales, profit and, ultimately, reputation.
Simply put: when your employees are consistent, your business is consistently moving towards its goals.
What causes inconsistency in learning?
Both internal and external factors can cause a lack of motivation, value and accountability. Everyone has good and bad days, as a start. Most employees are already juggling demanding work and personal schedules.
But speaking broadly, many learners can be inconsistent in study because of the way they perceive it. Namely, they may think of training, studying or learning as work, i.e. something they are being forced into rather than choosing to undertake. They could be unaware of the gaps in their knowledge or skillsets, and so stubborn to participate in development.
Think about it: If you don’t enjoy something, it’s an effort to do it once, let alone repeat the process. Your employees might see training as a burdensome addition to their schedules, rather than a freeing one (we’ll explain this later). There may also be a lack of direction or agenda around how often training should be done. A large training program may look scary when they’re at square one, so they may choose not to engage at all. Maybe they’re facing down self doubt while stepping into a new role. The enemy of consistency is stagnancy, and even the most committed learners will struggle to maintain the pace they enter into a program with if they are asked to learn in a dry way over and over.
But given the right L&D programs, you’re going to be able to develop consistency in learning habits and mindsets. The secret sauce comes down to program design and the capabilities you’re trying to impart.
There are three things learners need in order to truly engage with and therefore return to learning, time and time again:
The second need feeds into the first; without perceived value in learning, there’ll likely be little motivation for a learner to engage. The third is more a cultural issue than it is about having a steward of learning. In other words, create champions in managers and leaders who in turn can create learning goals for their teams. Without any of the three, an intention-behaviour gap emerges.
That flaky kind of commitment doesn’t mean people aren’t achieving their New Years’ goals (though that is a great example). However, it does likely mean your employees aren’t giving their full attention to any area of their job, meaning that not only are they not building the capabilities you need, they’re potentially not even applying their current ones as you need.
How to keep employees consistent in learning
In five words or less: Through engagement and goal-setting.
The long answer delves more into how you design learning and development in your organisation.
1. Identify the problem learning is addressing
This focuses on your organisation rather than your employees, but it makes all the difference.
- The purpose of training is to close gaps in skills, knowledge, aptitude and attitudes. It’s a way to link organisational objectives to employee’s day-to-day work and ultimately impact your bottom line.
- At best, training should be a core part of the value proposition you offer your employees that simultaneously ensures you have the capabilities (and capacity) to grow and remain competitive in your market.
- If you’re implementing training simply because you have an L&D budget that must be spent, a quota to fill or (please, say it ain’t so) you ‘know it’s important’ to have a training program, you’re simply wasting the opportunity to address the gaps in your business that may negatively impact or even halt your future objectives altogether.
You first need to make sure training is the right solution, so you can create impactful metrics and give employees a reason to self-motivate.
So, look to assess capability gaps. This gives you an idea of what your organisation needs at a strategic level, as well as what the competency gaps are at the performance level.
2. Help employees create personal goals
Let’s say you have a new employee with a good baseline skillset. You see the potential in them. They are driven and express aspirations to ascend in your organisation. A learning pathway allows you to demonstrate the training and development steps they will personally need to progress.
We use the word personally because a learning pathway should be tailored to an individual. It can be helpful and efficient in this case to have pre-existing pathways that chart the general movement through job roles in your organisation, as these can be easily tailored as needed for individuals while providing a clear overview of succession for your HR leaders. It’s particularly helpful if you have a learning platform that can map capabilities to learning content (more on this later).
The idea is that a learning pathway gives your employees a direction and goals to work towards and puts the power in their hands to achieve it. (Thereby, creating more consistent employees.) Don’t be afraid to make goals about personal growth as much as professional development. Matching pathways to personal career aspirations only deepens the perceived value of L&D.
3. Create small learning milestones
Being consistent is not an inherent human quality. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing—most often, consistency is surrendered in favour of adaptability. And you want employees who can adapt to both internal and external environmental change with minimal disruption.
The problem arises when you look at the landscape employees now work in. Forbes rather aptly calls it the age of freneticism, and it’s directly linked to higher work-related stress levels. It’s just not feasible to ask managers and employees alike to block out large chunks of time to dedicate to learning programs—especially if you’re aiming to foster consistency. What does a multi-day training program teach them about being consistent, for example, if they don’t have to replicate those efforts?
The key is to focus on incremental improvements. That whole schtick about breaking big tasks into smaller, more easily achievable chunks? It has legs. The more scientific term is microproductivity, and it refers to the phenomenon of achieving a large goal through smaller tasks.
Consider it part of a suite of motivational tools, like microlearning. Breaking learning down into smaller, more digestible morsels is a great way to encourage consistency because:
- It gives learners control by allowing them to schedule training when it suits them. The sneaky benefit here is that by breaking down long courses into a number of short ones, learners will need to return time and time again to understand an overarching concept—which means they will have to be consistent with scheduling time for recurring training.
- Smaller tasks, like a 10-minute video or quiz, are much more enticing than an hour-long lecture simply because the perceived demand on the learner is lessened. This helps boost knowledge retention since learners don’t suffer from information overload or fatigue.
- Microlearning enables instant information processing and self-reflection because it lends itself to social interaction and knowledge sharing, especially when employee learning is supported by tools such as instant messaging and on-the-job training.
4. Provide context for training application
Many employees will lack the initiative to apply learning instantly in the workplace, they simply forget what they’ve learned or even fail to see how it can be applied to their day-to-day tasks. So, the way to make learning stick is to make it sticky.
Learning in the flow of work isn’t a new idea, but it’s certainly a great way to foster consistent actions. It’s particularly useful because it helps employees learn how to adapt their knowledge to the context and environment in which they’re working.
There are many skills you’ll likely be training for that lend themselves to on-the-job training: Leadership, communication and manual handling skills are often better demonstrated first-hand and complemented by written materials. It also gives employees the opportunity to turn mistakes into lessons, particularly if they have access to a mentor or coach who can help them utilise critical thinking skills.
Knowledge sharing systems
Without sounding exploitative, take advantage of the personal relationships in your workforce. Knowledge travels quicker when it has clear channels through which to funnel.
When developing skills, behaviours and attitudes in terms of the culture in which they will exist, you have a chance to stop bad habits that may form from cognitive strain. Shared interactions (e.g. team projects, group learnings and meetings) are a learning activity requiring minimal effort and allowing employees to easily absorb information and act on it repeatedly.
We recommend backing this up with a knowledge management system, which creates a centralised repository for critical information.
5 strategies to create a consistent learning process
Remote work is here to stay and it can pose some challenges to inclusive learning opportunities, let alone keeping employees accountable to consistent learning. Compliance training, on the other hand, is notoriously dry and perpetuates the belief learning is a chore that only benefits your organisation.
That doesn’t mean it’s impossible to create learning consistency. You just need the right technology to support your learning strategy.
Personalised learning pathways
Yes, we’ve already spoken about personalised learning pathways. But we can’t talk enough about the importance of giving employees a why for training.
This becomes all the more important if your capability framework or building initiatives aren’t quite hitting the mark. Showing tangible value for employees will help weed out dissent and generate more buy-in.
Generally speaking, the content tied to each step along a pathway becomes more and more advanced as previous knowledge learned is used to inform future assessments. And to ensure that there is value assigned to a learning pathway, content is usually curated to be highly relevant to an individual’s current capability needs and the organisation’s ideal future state.
We’d also ask you to consider prompting employees. Sometimes one’s cup runneth over. A key part of the learning pathway is guiding learning to encourage consistency in applying capabilities after the fact. This could look like pop-ups that ask employees to ‘pick back up where they left off’, notifications of overdue work or email reminders that gently nudge employees back into the present.
Along the same vein, it’s crucial to assign coursework to learners that is entirely relevant to them. Generalised content has its time and place, but the challenges a diverse workforce faces vary wildly.
Say you have an entry level employee in a marketing role. They’re a new grad, so they have a good foundation of theory but not a lot of practical knowledge. You can create a pathway that includes on-the-job training with various other departments, like sales, development and support, so they understand how marketing is informed by different functions in your organisation.
This might be supplemented with other short courses via third-party content providers that develop their marketing, management and leadership capabilities, ultimately helping them progress in their career. You may even connect them with a mentor who can be a source of truth and instruction for them, especially when it comes to relating training to their day-to-day tasks.
The real play here is giving employees a sense of autonomy while also fulfilling business development needs. Guided learning shows an understanding of the challenges in each job role, and takes away the decision paralysis that stops learning from even happening.
There’s also the question of what types of content are appropriate. Where possible, provide multiple options for accessibility—especially if you have employees with disabilities.
Complementing in-built device options like screen readers, many LMSs will allow you to create or upload the same content in multiple formats. You may have transcripts for lectures or audio recordings with written materials. Maybe you hadn’t considered those amongst your workforce who are colour blind, and therefore need high-contrast text and colours for content to be legible.
Accessibility also plays into discoverability (and both contribute to usability). Consider:
And lastly, humans are simple creatures. If something is not easy for us to navigate, we will check out. Consider the table of contents at the beginning of a book or how supermarkets are organised. The information we need is easy to find. A poorly designed learning program will further inhibit the consistency with which learners engage. Best practice is to utilise microlearning techniques, create opportunities to learn in the flow of work, and present information in a way that an individual would ordinarily consume information.
Tracking and reporting
The range and diversity of learning courses that may be necessary in your organisation is daunting. Combine this with a workforce that may number thousands and it’s a mammoth task to ensure your organisation is consistently tracking individual compliance. You lead by example, so if your organisation lets compliance fall to the wayside, employees will follow suit—and compliance is the one form of training you really don’t want to be inconsistent.
Tracking and reporting are different sides of the same coin. Tracking is a real-time process, and while reporting can be, it’s often an aggregate view that provides meaningful insights to help improve the learning process. Either way, the LMS can really be your saving grace.
Let us count the ways.
- Reporting can enable effective monitoring of individual, team and organisation learning progress, so you can uncover performance issues at speed.
- Accurate learning data means you can be sure you’re training the right people at the right time, and not after the fact or entirely unnecessarily.
- These two points combined enable you to provide well-informed and ongoing constructive feedback to learners, so they can understand their own limitations, strengths and better self-reflect on their own progress.
Consistency is also important when you have to approve the certifications, qualifications and licenses of all of your employees as well. The more consistent you are with tracking learners’ training, the more consistent they will be with staying compliant, and the more consistent you’ll be in keeping your organisation qualified. It is, quite literally, a cycle (and it’ll only be vicious if you let it).
Strategic learning outcomes
Look, there’s no way around this one. Learning outcomes should always be tied to business outcomes. The Harvard Business Review talks about this in terms of measuring the business outcomes created by training the right people to learn the right thing and for the right reasons.
Your goals and objectives are likely tied to a fairly inflexible timeline. You want to achieve X in Y amount of time from now. Consider the impact a lack of consistency in learning and development will have on achieving X in Y amount of time. It could be as simple as a project not being completed on time, because a key employee didn’t complete a necessary course. Maybe a person you had highlighted for succession demonstrated an inconsistent commitment to their learning pathway, and this has left them without the skills needed for the new position and you without a candidate for a crucial role. Your industry has experienced a sudden change in trends and your workforce at large didn’t have the skills to adapt, putting your organisation in a precarious position.
We could go on, but you get the picture.
An engaged workforce drives business results, yes, but this isn’t possible if:
- You don’t connect your workforce to business outcomes through training, which is irrelevant if…
- Learners don’t engage in a consistent schedule for that training.
It’s particularly important when it comes to compliance training (though still relevant to all employee development) to ensure employees understand how their work, ethos and attitudes impact your bottom line, and in turn, how that bottom line also impacts their own career growth.
Inconsistency, is a silent, permeating phenomenon that convinces people to do something tomorrow that should’ve been done today. (Or perhaps the day after. Or even next week if you’re really busy.)
On the other hand, a consistent person:
- Role models good behaviours, creating emerging leaders
- Owns up to and learns from mistakes
- Strives for improvement and innovation constantly
- Performs in the organisation’s interests, not just their own.
A consistent person is also a consistent learner. And this is why you want to develop employees to become more consistent in their learning (via means of learning pathways, on-the-job training and astute reporting). Not only will they apply their newfound skills and knowledge better, but the quality and frequency of their output will be more consistent—which means your business will ultimately and consistently achieve its goals, too.
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