How Leaders Can Encourage Learning & Development

By Amy C. Waninger

You probably already know that organizations with a culture focused on learning & development are more profitable, more innovative, and have greater market share. But how can leaders create an environment where learning is valued and rewarded?

Align with Strategic Goals

Your organization’s success depends not only on your current capabilities, but also on your team’s ability to grow and adapt. The first things execs should consider is how learning strategies align with business strategies. Once you’ve set strategies for profitability, growth, and your product and service mix, set learning targets to support these goals.

Train not just for expertise, but also for awareness. You may have a handful of people who are expert, but others need to know how to find and leverage experts. As leaders, we must keep our eyes on the ball and make sure we have people positioned for the long term to get there.

Consider multiple facets of the skills and knowledge required for long-term success:

– Industry-specific skills and knowledge

– Role-specific and technical skills

– Business acumen, such as economic and financial knowledge

– Your full product or service lifecycle, including supply chain and customer support functions

– How data is used within and across your organization (and how to protect it)

– And, of course, interpersonal skills

Remember that All Skills Are Learnable

Interpersonal skills, often referred to as “soft skills,” tend to get overlooked when leaders set up their Learning & Development (L&D) goals. Many people view these skills as ones that employees have inherently. Or not.

Nothing could be further from the truth. When considering strategic learning goals, help your employees distinguish themselves from the robots:

– Communication

– Interpersonal skills

– Management skills (even for non-managers!)

– Followership and teamwork

– Customer service & support skills, including empathy and compassion

– Resilience and change responsiveness

Inclusive leadership

All these skills are learnable! Few of us are born knowing these things. Others have learned them, and we can too!

Have Dedicated Learning & Development Staff

Companies should have roles, teams, or even departments dedicated to executing on the strategic learning strategy. Executives should allocate resources to support the Learning & Development profession within the organization.

For example, L&D professionals should be encouraged to maintain rigor in their methodology, as well as pursue certifications and other continuing education opportunities. Ongoing learning allows L&D professionals to stay current on the science of adult learning. They also need to keep abreast of new media and delivery formats.

The work of Learning & Development professionals is changing constantly. Companies have more remote workers and more people with cross-functional roles. In addition, younger professionals tend to be increasingly tech-fluid. Short, just-in-time training videos on YouTube may be a better option than, or a complement to, full-day training courses.

For these reasons and more, Learning & Development professionals need ongoing training and professional support of their own. 

If you don’t have dedicated L&D staff in your organization, consider outsourcing your training needs.

Consider Every Part of the Talent Management Process

Your organization’s commitment to Learning & Development should be infused in every part of your talent management process.

Talent Selection

This starts with how we word skill and knowledge requirements in our job descriptions. Next we, must consider how we score resumes coming in so we know what we have the capacity to train for, versus something we need a new employee to have on Day One.

We must be diligent in integrating our skill needs into the selection process so we have the right mix of skills on our teams. Or, at least, have a plan to train for the right mix.


Beyond our selection processes, we need to remember that employee engagement starts with the onboarding experience on Day One. Have a solid, rigorous, and defined onboarding process that introduces the industry, first of all. New college hires, workers returning to the workforce, and employees transitioning from other sectors need to understand the basics about your industry.

Next, explain both the written and unwritten rules for the company. What are things that make someone stand out as an outsider that tell you they’re new to your company? Make sure you’re sharing those right away so people can integrate quickly! Then, move on to nuances within the department, job function, location, or a particular role.

Your goal should be to give each new employee a 360-degree view from a brand new vantage point. What questions do they have coming in? Give them enough time to ramp up on those things they don’t know. Meanwhile, remind them about the skills and knowledge that got them in the door in the first place!


Talent development never ends. We all have opportunities to learn and share. Develop learning plans with targets for varying levels of competence. When someone has mastered a skill, have them teach others. Teaching is a great stretch goal for emerging and aspiring leaders. This knowledge transfer process also helps us retain intellectual capital before people leave our organizations.

Knowledge transfer doesn’t have to be in the form of one-on-one mentoring. Encourage employees to create blogs, participate in video interviews, and other creative outlets. In this way, you can make “paying it forward” part of your office culture.

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