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Inclusion is a ‘journey’—and continuous learning must be a key driver

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Paula Garlen
Paula Garlen is Managing Vice President of Learning Solutions at ELI, Inc. (Employment Learning Innovations).

The month of June presents the opportunity to reflect on the unique and important perspectives of others through the celebrations of Pride Month and Juneteenth. Monthly awareness campaigns provide a small window to help us better understand the experiences of others, while honoring the commitments we all can make to meaningful progress in creating more inclusive workplaces and transforming cultures.

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The benefits of activating core values and behaviors that demonstrate inclusion and belonging in the workplace are immense, but true inclusion takes constant work beyond a monthly celebration or singular learning event.

Workplace learning focused on inclusion must be an active and continuous, year-round endeavor that allows time for self-reflection and dialogue with employees at all levels. As we often hear, inclusion is a journey, not a destination.

The value of creating a continuous cycle of learning

Corporate transformation requires top-down behavioral change, which means that changing behavior cannot be achieved through a “one-and-done’’ approach but rather through a continuous cycle of learning.

“Today’s cutting-edge approaches to capability building are also contributing new ways of ensuring that employees apply their new skills regularly,” according to the McKinsey Quarterly article “Closing the Capability Gap in the Time of COVID-19.” “Companies that have harnessed these innovations have delivered sustained behavioral change via high-quality capability building in a remote world.”

Planning against this backdrop, we need tools and approaches that engage and motivate learners to change their behaviors. Fresh, simple but robust reinforcement techniques are needed, which means digital learning must also continue evolving.

In addition to facilitating behavioral change, creating a cycle of continuous learning helps to address other human capital business challenges such as:

  • Meeting professional potential: According to a TeamStage employee training survey, 74% feel they aren’t reaching their full potential at work due to a lack of development opportunities.
  • Upskilling: The survey also found that 76% of employees say that a company would be more appealing if it offered additional skills training to its staff.
  • Mastery of skills: According to the Harvard Business Review, 70% of employees report that they don’t have mastery of the skills needed to do their jobs.
  • Workplace learning: Executives agree that a people-centric strategy is essential for success.
  • Ensure greater inclusion in hybrid workplaces: According to EY’s Future Workplace Index, more than 70% of employees are working from home at least two to three days a week, which means training needs to be equitable in content and delivery for those in fully remote settings.

How to ignite a cycle of continuous learning

Pre-training, formal learning and activating values within the flow of work is the type of sustained continuous learning cycle needed to fully embed behaviors for cultural transformation. Steps that HR executives should consider include:

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Step 1: Pre-training, where participants explore on their own

Share just enough of a teaser about the learning experience to help participants begin thinking about why the training is essential to the business, what they might already know about a topic and how the training will benefit them. Adults must know why they are required to learn something before diving in.

Those offering training to change behaviors might also motivate participants by having the participant and manager discuss why the learning is important to their team, how the behaviors support business strategy and objectives, and what commitment leadership has for helping participants apply what they learn after training. This pre-training portion of the continuous learning cycle could also become an important part of any onboarding experience.

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Step 2: Allow ample time for reflection on formal training

Provide an enriching, personalized and sufficiently challenging learning experience targeted toward solving real behavioral problems. Participants should have ample time to build upon already acquired knowledge to ensure the best possibility of gaining proficiency.

This learning experience should also allow enough time for reflection and collaboration with peers to gain new perspectives from others. This can be readily accomplished in an “in-person” learning event through group discussion or breakouts forums. Then, before the learning concludes, allow participants to think about how they can use what they learned to improve performance with their own teams.

Step 3: Activate values within the flow of work

Flexible digital learning tools and experiences give participants a chance to reflect further on the competencies and behaviors they must model and coach. Practice identifying and responding to various behavioral issues likely to arise in any workplace. Lead essential conversations with teams about standards and expectations for maintaining a professional, inclusive workplace where everyone can do their best work.

Continuous learning can also ignite behavioral change in the third step by allowing participants to choose their own path or by offering targeted content that can be consumed in 30-, 60- and 90-day increments to build good habits, solve specific problems or focus on what is most critical to leaders and employees.

A library of digital learning tools must continue to expand and grow with the learners to offer increasingly complex challenges. To ensure increased proficiency and to maintain engagement until the beginning of the next training cycle, go back to the first step—pre-training—with the next learning cycle.

A mix of learning strategies combined with organizational values can work together to allow for continuous learning in the workplace. With all steps heeded, a perpetual journey of growth will build a more productive, inclusive work environment that results in better business outcomes.