What You’re Getting Wrong About Professional Development

The Future of Work is here, and if you aspire to succeed as a leader in 2021 and beyond, you need the Future of Work GPS to navigate it. Without this updated GPS, you will be left behind to lose employees, market share, and ultimately your license to operate. The Future of Work GPS operates on investments in Growth, Purpose, and Self. It guides leaders’ behavior for success based on the following equation:

Success = (Growth x Purpose) ^ Self.

Learn about the Future of Work GPS here. This article focuses on the foundational GPS element: Growth. Growth in the Future of Work GPS refers to learning what we need to do, changing our behavior accordingly, and then building the habits to do it regularly. This growth is not a one-time process as we start a new role or industry, but rather a career-long endeavor. As Liz Hilton Segel, Managing Partner for North America at McKinsey, said, “What we’re all realizing today is that for everyone, no matter how long they’ve been at a company or at what level, there’s always a next horizon of learning that’s important for them to stay current, given the speed at which business is changing.”


Why Growth Must Matter To Leaders
Companies that don’t invest in their people’s growth won’t keep up with their industries in terms of their strategy, products, or operations. But even more gravely, they won’t have any people left to develop. Career development is the most commonly cited reason that employees leave, and has been for 10 years in a row. In 2019, 20% of resignations were due to a lack of career development.

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Deloitte’s talent survey found that the lack of career progress (37%) and challenge in their jobs (27%) as the two top factors influencing employees’ decisions to leave a role. The demand for learning and growth at work only increased in 2020. 50% of employees say they are more interested in online learning and training since COVID-19. There has been a four-fold increase in the numbers of individuals seeking out opportunities for learning online through their own initiative, a five-fold increase in employer provision of online learning opportunities to their workers. We can expect this trend to continue throughout the 2020s as change and uncertainty persist.

Even at the turn of the last century, Will Rogers warned us, “Even if you’re on the right track, you’ll get run over if you just sit there.”

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Employer-sponsored learning is not new, but in general, it’s done badly in terms of why and how we do it, as well as what we try to teach. How we do corporate training is largely outdated and ineffective. Multi-day offsite programs have been proven not to effectively change behavior. Specifically, if learning content is not integrated into employees’ day-to-day tasks, it rarely if ever affects change.

What corporate learning programs teach is also misguided. The pace of change has outpaced the creation of training content, particularly in the tumult of 2020. We remain stuck in an industrial revolution mindset of employees as machines, focusing on ‘hard’ or ‘technical’ skills. Actual differentiation in the twenty-first century comes from better communication, collaboration, and creativity. Finally, mid-level people managers have nowhere to turn to gain the interpersonal skills required for engaging and developing the humans on their team. The shift to remote work accentuated this gap.

Perhaps most importantly, we need to re-examine why we invest in people’s growth. It is a necessary part of any role in today’s context. But rather than being offered in the service of the organization, which results in limited uptake by the employee – WEF reports only 42% uptake of corporate learning opportunities – learning should be seen as an investment in employees as people first.

Hilton Segel notes that after effective training, employees felt they performed better and might have even gotten raises. “But what they noted most was their sense that they had grown in terms of personal fulfillment and enrichment; they believed they were able to live up to more of their potential. That increased their overall sense of happiness and their loyalty to the organization.” This reframe is a critical one for twenty-first leaders to grasp in building the people-first organizations that have the engagement, alignment, and flexibility to win. That said, Hilton Segel calls for clear intentions for these purposeful investments: “Companies get much more out of their efforts when they are extremely clear about what performance change they are seeking, whether that’s revenue growth or quality improvement or higher employee-satisfaction scores.”


Three Dimensions Of Purposeful Growth Investments
The prerequisite for purposeful growth is a growth mindset. As Pamay Bassey has done at Kraft Heinz, building a culture of learning is critical. Leaders must model and foster growth mindset among their people so that there is room to experiment, make mistakes, and fail forward. In McKinsey’s ‘future-ready’ company, “talent is scarcer than [financial] capital,” and so “we accelerate learning” to grow and retain that precious resource that are our people. “Continual learning is everyone’s day job at top organizations. A growth mindset, curiosity, and deep enthusiasm for experimentation helps employees adapt quickly, reinvent themselves successfully, and repeat the process as circumstances change.”

Then, growth can be conceived on three levels, using the Me-We-World framework. Employees must be supported to grow as individuals, learning how they achieve peak performance in terms of their physical, mental, and spiritual well-being. Of course, it’s also critical to understand how we work in relation to other people: colleagues, direct reports, and managers and leadership. Learning about those interpersonal skills must reflect the demands of diverse, inclusive, equitable, and remote teams.

Finally, learning must extend to the people and planet around our companies. Employees, as well as consumers and investors, demand increasingly loudly that companies are transparent and intentional about their environmental and social impacts, as well as the way they are governed. This approach requires stakeholder capitalism replace the shareholder focus that has dominated American-led capitalism for 50 years. Such a systems-level shift requires behavior change at all levels. We cannot expect that to happen without teaching employees at all levels who these other stakeholders are and how to integrate their interests and needs.

Grow Your Team In the Me, We, And World Dimensions
To avoid being left behind, leaders must step up and make brave investments – amortized over the years to come during which they’ll pay rewards, just like capital investments, as advised by Hilton Segel – in their people’s growth. But the investments must be made in a line across the Me, We, and World dimensions, and then multiplied by Purpose and Self investments. Learn how to leverage those elements of the Future of Work GPS in forthcoming articles.

In the meantime, identify a new habit you can build starting today to make your team people-first, with a learning culture. In the words of leadership development wizard Blair Sheppard, Global Leader, Strategy and Leadership Development at PwC, “We should remember that intellectual complacency is not our friend and that learning – not just new things but new ways of thinking – is a life-long endeavor.


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