Retain More Employees With Stay Interviews

Employees are quitting in droves, according to a recent Wall Street Journal article, backed up by hard data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Employee retention is easier than recruiting, I argued in my article about reducing employee turnover. And a great technique for employee retention is the Stay Interview.

Exit interviews are common but too much like talking to cows about why they left the barn. The stay interview asks why employees remain with you. The benefits are ample, argues Richard Finnegan, author of the cleverly titled book, The Stay Interview.

I spoke with Finnegan recently about the high quit rate across the economy. He said,

“Hard data proves the top reason employees quit is they don’t trust their managers. Stay Interviews are the absolute best trust-building activity…and therefore the best retention tool.”

On the surface, the stay interview appears to be a mirror image to an exit interview, identifying things people like about their job rather than things they dislike. That’s worthwhile, but the stay interview is much more valuable because it provides insights managers can use to motivate and retain the particular employee, not just a group.

Finnegan’s recommended first question is what the employee looks forward to when coming to work. Aggregated, those answers may help you promote certain parts of the work experience. But aggregate answers gloss over what a particular employee looks forward to. If Alice likes facing new challenges, keep that in mind when tossing out work assignments. If it’s novel, give it to Alice. There’s probably another employee who looks forward to assignments that he has experience with.

Similarly, the question, “Why do you stay here?” can be aggregated while also providing the manager guidance for the specific employee. Something motivates the person to stay, and the more that the manager can reinforce and enhance that something, the longer the person will stay.

Sometimes the answer doesn’t sound helpful, like, “I’m staying here for now, but my goal is to become a firefighter.” I brainstormed that question with a group of convenience store managers, none of whom had an opening for a firefighter. But the group thought the manager could offer to be a reference source, including information about the employee’s record showing up for shifts on time and following the company’s safety policies. That transforms the position from a dead-end minimum wage job to a path to the employee’s dream job. And it reinforces the value of showing up on time and following safety policies, worthwhile for all workers. But the manager only knows how to be helpful by talking to the employee.

Employee turnover projects often focus on broad themes: benefits, teamwork, company purpose. But each employee is unique. Each one has goals and dreads, hopes and fears, strengths and weaknesses. The managers with best retention performance work with each employee as an individual, customizing assignments, feedback and motivation to the individual worker. The Stay Interview is a great tool. Finnegan’s book is a worthwhile explanation of the process.

Talking to employees comes naturally to some leaders, so a program of Stay Interviews may not seem necessary. However, for most managers talking to employees is a task without a deadline. And for some, it’s a task without a deadline outside the manager’s comfort zone! How good are any of us at tasks without deadlines outside our comfort zones?

Finnegan suggests going beyond the stay interview to a system that includes dollar impacts of turnover, goals, measurement and accountability. That’s wise. It’s too easy to bring in an idea, then have everyone forget it. Systems are good.

Whether a company uses stay interviews or some other method, getting managers talking to employees leads to better worker engagement and retention.

Learn about my economics and business consulting. To get my free monthly newsletter, view a sample, then hit “subscribe.” I’m a great speaker on the economic outlook, futurist, strategist.


Creating a Career Development Ecosystem

Want a surefire way to attract and retain top-talent Millennials? Try branding your organization by creating an organization-wide career development ecosystem that supports your employees’ desire for skill and career advancement.

In a recent 14-month study conducted by Integral Talent Systems, 1,200 Millennials across the United States rated achieving career aspirations and opportunities for professional development as the number one and two factors, respectively, that would attract them to an organization and motivate them to stay longer.

Millennials are the largest talent pool available to employers, so it’s a no-brainer for those wanting to retain top workers in a full-employment economy to implement strong career development offerings. In addition, many companies have tackled the challenges posed by the current skills gap and difficulty sourcing top talent by increasing the percentage of workers they develop internally. They can better overcome these challenges by creating a career development ecosystem.

A career development ecosystem is a series of interacting, interconnected components of a larger career support system. While components may vary, these are some of the more common ones:
Career Governance: Start with a multifunctional steering group or board to create policies and processes for career development within the organization. For example, what practices are in place that help employees apply for job transfers? What role does a manager play in an employee’s career development? What is the responsibility of the employees themselves? What are the organization’s buy-versus-build goals for talent? How, and how much, will the organization support career advancement goals? The steering group should discuss these questions and develop policies to provide a clear and documented road map for the organization.
Career Portals and Mobile Apps: Millennials use technology to access information and resources. Many organizations have leveraged this generational attribute by creating internal career portals and mobile apps employees can use to discover career resources, find information about job roles within the company, take career assessments, and locate internal career policies and development program information.
Career Coaching: A career coach helps an employee explore career options best suited to the employee’s passions, strengths, and interests and guides the employee toward roles the organization will need in the future. Internal career coaches can be line managers who volunteer for this role and are trained how to be career coaches for someone who does not report to them. The company can also use HR business partners or external career coaches.
Assessments: Career interest, skill, and job fit assessments can help both the employee and the organization determine a good job fit or career transition, thus improving company performance and employee satisfaction. A variety of these assessments are on the market today.
People Leader Training: While every manager may have the best intentions, not all will understand their role in career development nor have the time or inclination to facilitate an employee’s career growth. Making training available for managers that defines the behaviors that help an employee develop can get them to take an interest in their direct reports’ career growth.
Employee Training: Most organizations today recognize that employees own their careers, but many employees don’t know how to successfully navigate their career growth internally. Education for employees on career development within your organization is crucial for them to realize that they can make a difference in their own success.
An integrated career development ecosystem builds the impact of your brand to attract and retain top talent and strengthens your organization’s ability to execute business plans. By establishing a development culture and providing employees with the tools they need to grow their careers, your company will be able to compete for critical talent and generate a strong return on your human capital investment.


The Moral And Business Need For Diversity And Inclusion In The Workplace

We live in a fast-changing and highly complex world. The profile of our customers, consumers and employees have undergone a fundamental shift. Now more than ever, it’s imperative that the workplace reflects the world we live in. Workplace diversity is no longer just a good thing to do – it has become a business necessity.

As president of Unilever North America, I am proud of the continued efforts Unilever is leading around diversity and inclusion. When I started in this role in January, I was pleased to see that Unilever North America had joined the CEO Action for Diversity & Inclusion in 2017. I am extremely energized to see the progress that Unilever and businesses across the U.S. are making in such an important area by joining together.

Unilever is a purpose-driven company and diversity and inclusion are an integral part of the way we do business. We strongly believe that diverse teams ultimately perform better and help ensure our talent reflects the consumers and customers we serve. To grow as a company, we need to ensure all our employees feel valued and can bring their full selves to work every day. Our core belief that “Every Voice Matters, Every Story Celebrated” comes to life in a multitude of ways at Unilever – through our employee programs and benefits packages as well as the activities of our brands like Ben & Jerry’s and Dove.

Our 12 business resource groups (BRGs) — for women, Hispanic, Asian, Black, LGBTQ, veterans, diversability groups and parents, among others — are led by employees who lend their voices and perspectives. “Every Voice Matters” is also reflected in our progressive policies designed to meet the needs of employees across different life stages.

For working mothers, we provide 19 weeks of maternity leave, free shipping of breast milk for traveling moms and modern, well-equipped mother’s rooms. We also offer 8 weeks of paid paternity and adoptive leave, enhanced adoptive assistance, support for children with disabilities, back-up childcare, and expansive fertility benefits.

Unilever has increased efforts to accelerate development for women and people of color beyond our skill and leadership development programs. We’re also invested in building a strong diversity ecosystem with external organizations.

Since becoming a member of the CEO Action group, we’ve had the privilege to share our progress and learn from other companies that are on the same journey. We believe that without collaboration we cannot truly champion and amplify the moral and business need for diversity and inclusion in the workplace.

To build on the collaborative nature of the CEO Action group, Unilever held our first Diversity & Inclusion Summit at our U.S. headquarters in Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey, last month. The summit was a weeklong celebration of our quest to reenergize our employees with our commitment to inclusion. The summit provided an opportunity for employees to attend engaging sessions that explored all aspects of diversity. During the week, we also took the opportunity to bring together leaders from other organizations across the country to create an open dialogue on the extremely important topic of leading in turbulent times so that we could learn from each other.

We continue our commitment to fighting discrimination by constantly improving our own hiring and training programs. We’ve enhanced our education programs to include mandatory unconscious bias training for all managers. We also require cultural immersion training sessions for our marketers, from gaining a better understanding of the Black experience in America to learning valuable insights about the the LGBTQ community, to ensure we can best meet the needs of every consumer.

Finally, our brands are championing inclusivity through campaigns and initiatives. Dove Men+Care is one such example. Through our #DearFutureDadscampaign we’re advocating for paternity leave for dads — because we know that when dads take paternity leave, everyone benefits: women, children, families and society. At Unilever, we are leading this charge by challenging the stigma of taking paternity leave and encouraging all of our colleagues to take their full time off.

There is still more work to be done, but Unilever North America is committed to continuing the dialogue around diversity and inclusion and taking a stand against discrimination of any kind in the workplace.

CEO Action for Diversity & Inclusion was spearheaded by PwC U.S. Chairman Tim Ryan.


The Futurist: How will future HR technology alter the HR Function

Annie Suen, general manager of learning and organisational development, LF Logistics on how human resources professionals should approach their jobs in this digital age

HR technology will be the enabler for a new process design and bring a whole new employee experience throughout the employee life cycle.

I believe technology is going to drive 3Es – efficiency, effectiveness and engagement in the HR operation. With that being said, here are my thoughts on how human resources professionals should approach their jobs.

What HR practitioners need to do to be prepared for the future workplace
As HR practitioners, we need to be agile and adopt a “customer experience mindset” approach to enhance the overall recruitment and development experience to employees, like how we serve our customers. We want to create solutions that are user-friendly, engaging, simple and easy to adapt.

In this digital age, building a digital workforce is essential. HR practitioners should be prepared to uplift our own digital literacy and put more focus on enhancing the digital savviness of the workforce to cope with the future of work.

Using new platforms, combined with HR technologies, HR professionals are bringing people and processes together. Change management will become a core skill that HR practitioners need to master under the technology transformation. Developing and strengthening intelligent teams, who are capable of leveraging the latest technology such as AI and incorporating heavily into chatbots to deliver personalised experiences online, is going to be a trend.

People analytics has been growing by leaps and bounds. HR teams are applying insights gained from these mediums to carry out talent acquisition, workforce planning, people development strategy and much more. With the good use of the analytical tools, it could help us determine who will be the best candidate for the job and even understand which employee is planning to leave the company and why.

What local HR can learn from their international counterparts and vice-versa
I think inviting local HR practitioners to participate in the pilot testing of the latest HR technologies initiated by the corporate team is the best way of learning. By giving them first-hand experience in using the technology and offering feedback will be the key to winning over their buy-in and support.


Robotic Process Automation Is Coming To HR — Here’s What You Need To Know

Imagine you’re a human resources employee at a large, global company. The organization is growing rapidly, and talent acquisition is the priority. As an HR representative, your job is to evaluate candidates — vet them, interview them, train them — and to hire the best possible people for the roles your company is filling.

Here’s the good news: Your company is hiring — that means you’re growing smartly and speedily. The bad news? Your talent recruitment role is just the beginning of the work. As an HR professional, you’re likely working with multiple other people in your department throughout the recruiting and onboarding processes. Bringing a new employee into a company involves large amounts of paperwork, processes and management that can be repetitive and time-consuming for both the hiring department and the new employee. That’s where automation — with its ability to transform HR departments and the processes that are completed through them — comes in.

New robotic process automation (or RPA technology) can dramatically compress the onboarding processes and get you back to focusing on what’s most important for a global company: growth. Automation makes your HR checklist that much shorter. Instead of having to manually update the applicant tracking system after a new hire, make a new employee record for your employee database, gather employee documentation and create a new employee in your payroll system, RPA can act on your behalf to complete these tasks in other systems. It makes it possible for your software systems to communicate with each other. And in a world of frequent regulatory change, RPA can double-check HR compliance, saving the company from big fines.

It will not just benefit the HR professional. RPA is also able to give new employees a more personalized and efficient onboarding experience. Everything from introductory meetings with new supervisors to personal paperwork and in-depth job training can be organized in a customized way that lets a new employee know that their company values their time and happiness. With RPA integration, these systems can become instantly responsive from the moment a new employee is welcomed into a company.

Often in today’s fast-paced work environment, employees can end up feeling like “just a number,” especially in an enterprise work environment. By personalizing the employee’s experience with HR starting from day one, you can let them know that they are valued and seen by the organization. Additionally, HR professionals who are bogged down with a constantly shifting and changing workforce are able to be liberated from repetitive, mechanical tasks. So, rather than spending hours filling out paperwork in their office, they’re able to take the time to build substantial relationships with employees in the office, and improve the overall strength of the culture and values of the organization.

Being the CEO of an RPA provider, I’m often asked, “Why automation for everyday HR processes? Why not use AI, a technology that’s become more mainstream in the business world over the past decade?” The simple answer is that while AI can be great for aspects of HR such as talent acquisition and identifying job candidates, AI doesn’t make much as much sense for streamlining processes as RPA does. The learning is extremely complex. If every employee profile is different, there’s not much that a machine can learn and apply. That’s why automation is the most practical solution: If your company is organized, each employee is going through similar onboarding processes, and RPA drastically reduces the lift for both the employee and the HR team.

When you automate your HR operations, not only does that department benefit, but so does the company as a whole. For example, without automation, the traditional onboarding process can last a full month, delaying the new employee’s ability to be fully productive from day one. When you apply automation to the same scenario, the onboarding process for this employee can be reduced to days, allowing them to start working to their full potential and productivity. With automation, a new hire is able to dive directly into their work, get to know their team, and feel comfortable in their new position so that they are set up to succeed from the start. Additionally, the HR operations team can focus more on value-added activities and company culture, which provides more value to the company.

This also means you can deliver HR services to employees much more efficiently and quickly. For example, RPA can automatically generate the documents employees need or request most often, instead of you having to transfer all the employee data from your HRIS to a document template. Think of all the time that could save.

If you’re leading a company on a global scale, growth is always going to be a focus. But what happens after talent acquisition, and how does a company ensure all employees have time to provide real value? To have a successful operation, you need to be sure people know each other and can communicate easily, whether it’s person to person, over the phone or through technology.

We are at an exciting inflection point in RPA’s bright future where over the next few years, businesses will begin to truly realize the benefits it will bring — heightened productivity and employee satisfaction, to name only two. There is a unique opportunity for innovators and pioneers to spearhead RPAs’ rollout and adoption to change the workplace. Will you be leading the charge?


5 Ways Tech Companies Can Retain Their Diverse Talent

Last week, Facebook published its annual diversity report. To summarize some of the major findings of the report: there were slight increases in the amount of Black and Hispanic employees as well as women in technical roles, business and sales roles, and senior leadership. Black employees increased from 2% to 4% and Hispanic employees increased from 4% to 5%. Since 2014 the number of women employed globally at Facebook increased from 31% to 36%. Facebook’s numbers are very similar to that of other large tech firms. At Microsoft in 2017, 25.9% of their overall workforce was female. In that same year, 4% of Microsoft’s workforce was Black and 5.9% was Hispanic. According to Apple’s 2017 diversity report, the percentage of women within the company from 2016 to 2017 remained at 32%. There was, however, an increase in diverse new hires. The amount of Black new hires increased from 9% to 11% and the amount of Hispanic new hires increased from 13% to 15%. While any increase is a promising sign, some may argue that it’s not enough. In 2017, the Census reported that Blacks comprise 13.4% of the U.S. population, Hispanics make up 18.1% of the population, and 50.8% of the population is female. Why are these numbers not reflected in the tech industry? And why do tech companies continue to lag behind when it comes to their diverse representation?

Facebook admitted that they do encounter obstacles when it comes to recruiting Black and Hispanic employees to both technical roles as well as senior leadership roles within the company. While recruiting is a key aspect of diversity and inclusion, it is imperative that an equal amount of effort and attention is put on retention strategies. Here are some strategies that Facebook and other tech companies can adopt to foster a more diverse, equitable and inclusive environment for their employees:

The first strategy to implement into the diversity and inclusion goals is to check the temperature of the organization. At the surface level, does the company have diverse talent (women, Blacks, Hispanics, etc.)? How does the organization match up with others in the industry? If there is not surface level diversity, what factors are impeding the hiring and selection of diverse candidates? If the pipeline is not the problem but rather the inability to actually retain the diverse talent you hire, this is where the temperature check becomes vital. Frequently invite employees to voice their opinions via a meeting or a survey to analyze and understand diversity and inclusion challenges facing the organization. If the intention is to improve diversity and inclusion efforts within the organization, it is critical to first understand where the organization is, in order to assess how well any intervention tactics are working. How is diversity being quantified and measured within the organization? Temperature checks should be performed on a continuous and consistent basis.

Many companies credit pipeline issues for their inability to hire diverse talent. Examine and re-examine the talent pipeline. What are the hiring and selection procedures within the organization? Are the selection criteria clear and objective? Could the organization benefit from using a blind resume system? There must also be creative sourcing techniques that are being utilized. Examine Historically Black Colleges and Universities, and partner with organizations that support women and diverse groups. The first step towards building a diverse and inclusive workplace is representation. Diversity should be represented through the company website, among the employees, as well as in the organizational leadership.
Differences in interaction styles, as well as cultural background, may cause communication issues in the workplace. One strategy that can be implemented to foster stronger and more effective communication is the Round Robin technique. This technique allows each person during a meeting to give their feedback or input. One individual goes around during a meeting and asks each person for their feedback individually. Communication building strategies such as the Round Robin technique allow each employee to feel like their voice is being heard, fostering a more inclusive environment.

Aside from building stronger communication between employees to foster inclusion, different team building activities should be utilized within the organization. Depending on the type of organization, these team building activities could occur weekly, monthly or yearly. The goal of these activities would be to help build and strengthen connections between employees. These activities could include corporate retreats or potlucks, and incorporate tactics such as the jigsaw method, which was found to encourage listening and reduce prejudice. Research supports the idea that more supportive bonds and friendships at work reduce turnover intentions. Organizations should focus on creating more opportunities to form connections between employees.
Managerial goals and objectives should be tied to organizational diversity goals. Often times the belief is that having representation within the company automatically means your diversity and inclusion goals have been met. It is not enough to simply have diversity on the surface-level. Continuous efforts must be made by organizational leadership to foster an inclusive environment for all employees in order to retain diverse talent. There should be a level of accountability when it comes to assessing diversity goals and that can be achieved by linking leadership goals to organizational diversity goals.
Janice is a diversity and inclusion consultant and professor, located in the New York City area. Connect with her on Linkedin or visit her website at


Why You Need To Prioritize Diversity, Equality And Inclusion To Win

Diversity, equality and inclusion have become buzzwords in the business community, as people have become more vocal about the need to broaden our employee pools. Those who are in underrepresented groups are showing their unrest on social media and beyond. Yet the face of the average tech company is still white and male, and the same can be said of many other industries.

Some companies believe that they should be making their employee pools more diverse because it’s the right thing to do. I fully support that point of view and love it when I see organizations that include family care as part of the benefits package, review salary disparities for equal positions, offer mentorship programs and cultivate a sense of belonging for everyone, regardless of their background, beliefs, gender or physical appearance.

However, I also understand that businesses often put things like profit and growth before fairness and morality. If that’s your stance, it’s time you understand that you need to be the most vocal supporter of diversity, equality and inclusion. Why? Because it makes good business and economic sense.

Meet workforce requirements.

We have a growing need to expand our skilled workforce. Women are a great resource. In fact, according to the U.S. Department of Labor, women make up 47% of workers in the U.S. alone. A conscious equality effort will help you attract and retain a diverse and talented employee pool.

Give your audience what they want.

Working in marketing, one of my goals is to empower businesses to sell more. One great way to make products and services more attractive to a diverse audience is to include a broad range of input in the development of those offerings.

If you sell to an audience that is comprised of more than just white males, then you should be taking into account what the rest of your audience wants. Yet how will you know what is important to them if the only people who are providing you with input represent just a small slice of your customer base?

Stay ahead of the competition.

Research shared by the Harvard Business Review shows that corporate diversity leads to greater and faster innovation. In addition, a more diverse employee pool offers improved and more accurate thinking, as well as better decision-making skills.

Innovation is a key component of staying ahead of the competition. Ready to build teams that can provide cutting-edge products that work like a dream and blow your rivals away? If so, employee diversity should be one of your top priorities.

Increase sales revenue.

A study from the American Sociological Review shows that greater gender diversity results in more customers. This, in turn, leads to increased sales revenue and relative profits. Need I say more? What business doesn’t want to make more money?

Here’s the bottom line on diversity, equality and inclusion.

In addition to all those great business benefits, when you create a culture of inclusion and you value all of your employees, you create a stronger and more effective workforce. People like to work with others who they know will truly listen to what they have to say and treat them with respect.

A happier workforce results in a more effective business where employees stay longer, work harder and enjoy coming into the office. With less turnover, you will save time and money on hiring. As an added bonus, you can more easily train loyal employees to be advocates for your company and brand. That, in turn, increases your bottom line.

So, what are you waiting for? It’s time to make diversity, equality and inclusion central to every business. It makes business sense — and cents!


How Do We Design Workplaces For Inclusivity And Diversity

What is an inclusive workplace? An inclusive workplace is one that values individual differences in the workforce, and makes them feel welcome and accepted.

Inclusivity and diversity are moral and legal responsibilities and employers are working hard to give diverse voices a platform. However, employee retention is an issue when the workplaces are not inclusive. Inclusivity is a clear intention translated into policy to recruit people who might otherwise be excluded or marginalised due to factors such as age, race, colour, sex, sexual orientation, physical disability or mental illness.

Inclusive Design is defined as the accessibility and usability of a product by a broad range of population irrespective of any differences without the need to specially adapt them. It is impossible to design something that is a perfect fit for the entire population, but inclusive design researches the target market and provides an appropriate response to address the diversity in this target population.

Inclusive Design is not an afterthought. Instead, it has to be accommodated and planned beforehand rather than as a retroactive measure. It is also essential that the design of the workplace does not segregate any employees based on their special requirements and needs or draw attention to them in any way. The design has to be efficient, subtle, and effective in creating a welcoming and inclusive environment without putting any undue focus on anyone, thereby creating a calmer and happier workplace, and consequently a more innovative and productive organisation.

Millennials are critical of their employers’ development programs

Dive Brief:
Millennials and younger workers are particularly critical of employer learning and development (L&D) programs, according to Harvard Business Publishing’s 2018 State of Leadership Development Report. The study, a result of a partnership with Global 2000 companies, found that only 40% of employees age 36 and younger described their companies’ L&D programs as “excellent,” compared with 67% of baby boomers.
While all age groups cited time constraints as their biggest problem with L&D programs, millennials and younger employees were more likely than older workers to criticize programs for having poor content, lacking sufficient expertise from external sources and failing to show a return on investment.
Other key findings in the report show that only half of millennials think program content is strongly aligned with business issues, compared with 75% of boomers. Also, millennials want to see more innovation in L&D programs, specifically gamification, social media, simulation, video and mobile.

Dive Insight:
Millennials’ view of L&D programs may be quite important, as many of them actively seek them out at the organizations they join, various studies show. Career development is an invaluable retention tool in today’s talent market, especially as salaries remain somewhat stagnant — but it is one that few employers seem to be taking advantage of. According to a Gallup study, only 7% of employees advance in their careers with their current employers.

But for development to serve as the retention advantage it can be, employers will have to ensure it’s modernized and relevant. In designing L&D programs, HR leaders can look to millennials and all employees for feedback on various program components and consider rising trends, including micro-learning, video and collaboration platforms.

Employers also can seek to engage managers more thoroughly in the process. According to Gartner findings, only four out of 10 employees believe their manager is helping them develop the skills they need to perform their work. For that to change, employers may need to focus on manager training as well.



Take Control of Your Learning at Work

Human beings have an astonishing ability to learn, but our motivation to do so tends to decrease with age, particularly in adulthood. As children, we are naturally curious and free to explore the world around us. As adults, we are much more interested in preserving what we learned, to the point of resisting any information — and data — that challenges our views and opinions. Unsurprisingly, there is now big demand for employees who can demonstrate high levels of “learnability,” the desire and ability to quickly grow and adapt one’s skill set to remain employable throughout their working life. This demand has been turbocharged by the recent technological revolution.

Indeed, one of the major cultural and intellectual changes of the digital age is that information has been commoditized, and access to it is now ubiquitous. With the right question (and WiFi), we can all pretty much find the answer to anything, so long as we are able to judge if the answer is true — which in a world of fake news and dirty data is no small feat. The main career consequence of this is that knowledge and expertise have been devalued. What you know is now less relevant than what you can learn, and employers are less interested in hiring people with particular expertise than with the general ability to develop the right expertise in the future, particularly if they can do it consistently and across a wide range of roles. Note that our interest in people who can learn how to learn is not precisely new. Over a century ago, the French psychologist Alfred Binet, who pioneered the application of modern pedagogy and child development science to formal education, observed that “our first job was not to teach [the students] the things which seemed to us the most useful to them, but to teach them how to learn.” Fast forward to today and Binet’s perspective is perhaps more current than it ever was.

When we can all retrieve the same information, the key differentiator is not access to data, but the ability to make use of it; the capacity to translate the available information into useful knowledge. Ironically, a surplus of information can create a poverty of knowledge. It requires curiosity and a hungry mind to resist digital distractions and have the necessary discipline to learn. Unlike our evolutionary ancestors, who lived in a world of relatively low environmental stimulation where attending to novelty was rewarded, it is now more advantageous to ignore new information than to absorb it. Just like our evolved inclination to maximize caloric intake is no longer adaptive — but maladaptive — in a world of abundant and cheap fast food, our evolved predisposition to consume as much novel information as possible is no longer advantageous in the age of Facebook, Twitter, and clickbait news. Kim and Kanye are the intellectual equivalent of burgers and pizza — hard to resist, but with limited nutritional value for our hungry minds.

To make matters worse, today’s jobs and careers often handicap our ability to learn, demanding consistent levels of high-performance and focusing our energies on attaining results rather than broadening our skillset. Instead of genuinely promoting a learning culture, most employers obsess over results, demanding higher and higher levels of efficiency and performance, which can be the biggest barrier to curiosity and learning. Individuals looking to overcome this challenge should consider these four suggestions:

Pick the right organization. Most people don’t include “learning potential” as one of the key criteria when they choose their job, but you should. Of course, your learning potential is partly dependent on your own personality, with traits like learnability, curiosity, and openness to experience being key. Unsurprisingly, intelligence is also a very important quality. But regardless of these qualities, your propensity to learn will be strongly influenced by the type of job, career, and organization you pick. For example, research shows that enriching learning environments play a critical role in shaping our experiences and helping us develop new knowledge. Companies like Google, Unilever, and have successfully put in place cultures to unlock employees’ curiosity and reward their formal and informal learning. To create a learning culture, organizations must value psychological safety, diversity, openness to ideas, and reflection time, all of which can hinder short-term results.
Set aside time for learning. One of the biggest barriers to learning is time, particularly when you are focused on delivering top levels of performance. This is also true for your boss, so you cannot expect them to devote much time to your learning journey. In fact, chances are your boss is too busy to set aside time to learn themselves. It is therefore essential that you own your own learning process, managing your professional growth and development. If you are waiting to be told what to learn, you are not being proactive about your learning. Even if you are not given a specific time to achieve this, it is up to you to set aside the necessary time to learn.
Ignore your strengths. Although it is convenient to pick jobs that are a good fit for our strengths — and talent is largely personality in the right place — we can only develop new strengths by addressing our weaknesses, so if you want to acquire skills you don’t have, or develop new expertise, you will inevitably have to focus on what you don’t know rather than what you do know. This takes courage — and support from your employer. At times, finding a skill adjacency can be a compromise: leveraging some of your existing capabilities to learn new things or acquire valuable experiences in a new area. Remember: even if it makes you a relatively worse performer to begin with, it will improve your ability to learn new things and absorb new types of training, expanding your range of strengths.
Learn from others. Too often we equate learning with formal training or education, but some of the biggest learning opportunities are organic or spontaneous, and this is also true at work. They involve learning, not from structured courses or training materials, but from others: e.g., peers, colleagues, bosses, and especially mentors. In fact, whereas formal learning interventions tend to boost only the acquisition of specific content or subject matter expertise, spontaneous and social types of learning are more likely to result in the formation of new habits and practical behaviors. It has also been noted that most of the problems we encounter during our everyday working lives are ill-defined rather than well-structured, so they do not have an objectively correct solution, requiring adaptive rather than technical learning. However, this requires seeking the right feedback and being receptive to others’ suggestions, including criticism. Most of us are so busy trying to demonstrate competence that we forget to learn, and we perceive asking for suggestions as a sign of weakness. And if you have limited opportunities to learn from others, you can always learn something about yourself: how do others perceive you, including your talents and performance? Answering these questions will help you identify gaps, as well as future learning areas.
Importantly, learning should never stop. Regardless of your past achievements and your present level of expertise, your future depends on your ability to keep learning.