One of your most important leadership responsibilities is to create a learning culture where employees are at the cutting edge of their respective disciplines. Nobody should be permitted to rest on their laurels regardless of their age or length of employment. Nobody should be allowed to practice OJR (on-the-job retirement). Because the technology is constantly evolving, employees must continuously improve or they will be left behind.
You provide employees a great service when you expect state-of-the-art skill sets. Once acquired, skills can never be stripped from someone. Skills are portable. They can be taken from one job to another. A person is simply more employable with up to date knowledge or skills.
At the conclusion of every annual performance appraisal, you should negotiate with employees a stretch learning objective that gets them out of their comfort zone:
“This time next year, what skill or knowledge will you acquire and how will you apply it to the benefit of the customers you serve? How will I know you have achieved this goal? What resources do you need from me to facilitate your success?”
In addition, many continuing education programs are evaluated in the most superficial manner by only asking participants whether they enjoyed the speaker and program content. The Buddha said,”To know and not to do is not to know.” Therefore, once you place a resource in employees’ hands, you should ask:
“What specifically did you learn and how/when will you demonstrate this newly acquired knowledge or skill?”
If the program is mandatory, there should be consequences for failure to attend or learn the lesson by other means. Otherwise, you are sending mixed messages as to the importance of the program.
In a learning culture, you play the role of teacher, coach and mentor. You set up new employees for success by creating a comprehensive departmental new employee orientation process. You don’t allow anybody to eat their young.
Finally, hold yourself accountable for your own professional development. Serve as a role model for continuous quality improvement.