Up-Skilling a Motivated Workforce

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LeanCor's corporate headquarters and Logistics Control Center is located in the state of Kentucky. Horses are deeply associated with the "Bluegrass State," as they are raised, trained and raced throughout the land. There are lots of well-known idioms and metaphors that come from working with horses. One such phrase is "chomping at the bit (also known as “champing at the bit”).  This is usually used to describe a situation in which a subject - whether horse or human - is so eager to begin something that their energy can become impatient or anxious during the wait.

What we have found at LeanCor is that team members, more than ever, are quickly chomping at the bit to learn new skills, grow professionally and advance their careers.  

The days of building a workforce comprised of passive people, happy to wait for years in a single role before seeking something new are over. Besides, who wants team members that aren’t driven anyway?

So, what does this mean?  It means that the workforce is willing, so it’s up to leaders and support personnel to open the gates of growth. We have to capitalize on this eagerness and inject more capability to our teams. Unfortunately, the state of the business and the stability of staff can create situations where the motivated team member outpaces the formal career advancement opportunities in an organization.  This is something that we’ve faced before at LeanCor. We've asked ourselves, “how do we keep our eager team motivated regardless of formal advancement opportunities?”  The answer: get creative!

Here are some ways to improve your organizational skill base and support a learning culture:

  • Invest in internal training. Not every organization has the capital and capability to launch a full-fledged internal training department. Even so, significant leaps and bounds can be made in internal training by just investing the time. Loss of organizational knowledge is one of the eight wastes of lean, so it is critical to preserve existing knowledge. Many leaders and team members value teaching others. The key to capitalizing on internal training is to create a plan, find the enthusiastic potential trainers, and schedule opportunities for your team members to facilitate learning.  It doesn’t have to be fancy; it only has to be promoted and protected.
  • Use a skills matrix. We haven’t quite nailed this yet, but we’re getting better. A good skills matrix inventories the skills and qualities that are valuable for members of your team and allows them to infuse the acquisition of these skills into their personal development planning. You can also coach team members to “level up” by becoming subject matter experts at a particular skill - and further challenging them to "trainer" level where they impart that knowledge to others.
  • Give departments some autonomy for development. Plan for departments to budget in some time and funding for external training where applicable based on their needs. Internal training is a great investment but, in most cases, can’t offer 100% of the opportunities that the workforce needs. Coach leaders of the department to be strategic in these opportunities: classes, conferences or customer visits. Prepare your participants to bring that knowledge back and share learning with the team.
  • Cross-train your team members. It can be frustrating when a willing learner is asked to do the same task every day when their peer is asked to do a variety of tasks. Cross-training is a slam dunk way to develop team members, improve the overall breadth of skill on your team and audit the quality of your processes all at once. It costs next to nothing and yields long-term return.
  • Creatively resource your projects. This is a tactic that we have been embracing more and more over the last two years and it has provided significant business value and morale equity. Instead of promoting someone to a new specific role, pair individuals with qualified skill sets with those in other departments leading projects to create new experiential learning.  An example of this would be taking an operator from one department and letting them assist on a project in another. This requires pulling some of that operator’s attention away from their primary function, but this is much easier after doing some of the aforementioned cross-training.  And, it can fuel the drive of the eager team member for long after.
  • Make learning opportunities as visible as possible. I would venture to say that most organizations have learning opportunities for team members at their fingertips, but the team members just don’t know where to find them. Do your best to promote different learning opportunities and remove any roadblocks that prevent them from seeking them out on their own.

As the theme of this blog illustrates, people drive organizations forward and will continue to be the single-greatest asset for any business.  When you are in a position in which your people are ready to engage and grow, you cannot afford to squander that opportunity.  Like a ship on the open seas, you can’t allow the wind to pass without deploying the sails if you ever expect to get anywhere.  Embrace it, encourage it and unleash it to drive progress.

Team members will only be chomping at the bit for so long and, unlike a horse, we can’t put blinders on them.  If they are never allowed to run with the organization, they will start looking for other places that will open the gates for them. And at that point, you’ll never get them back into the stable.

Posted by Clint McCrystal

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Training and Development Manager at LeanCor | I am an individual with many interests, and I like to leverage both my creative and analytical skills.

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