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Putting Learning First is a Business Decision: It’s the Simple Truth, Part 2

In the SAP-supported Oxford Economics “Workforce 2020” survey, only 41 percent of employees say their company offers them chance to grow. Yet the study also found that high-performing companies, which had done better financially over the past three years, put their workforce first, both in terms of development opportunities and ensuring that workforce issues drive strategy at the board level.

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Leaders Who “Get” Learning Culture, Succeed

The results in the Workforce 2020 report bear out the 2010 Bersin by Deloitte findings that the single biggest driver of business impact is the strength of an organization’s learning culture. Companies that pay attention to what their employees need and want to learn in order to succeed excel. In the study, high-performing companies saw superior financial results over the past three years. Of the executives surveyed, 15 percent reported above-average revenue growth (vs. 32 percent below-average) and 14 percent reported above-average profit-margin growth (vs. 37 percent below-average).

The high performers, simply put, prioritize workforce. Leaders at companies with higher profit margin growth, compared to their less successful peers, are significantly more likely to:
  • Offer supplemental learning programs as a benefit.
  • Have a mentoring program (58 percent vs. just 50 percent of low-performing companies).
  • Say workforce issues drive strategy at the board level (64 percent vs. 49 percent).
  • Report that their company has an execution plan for achieving its vision of workforce management (59 percent vs. 51 percent).

Reflecting the power of a strong learning culture, executives at high performing companies are also more likely to be satisfied with the quality of candidates they receive for most positions (55 percent vs. 46 percent) and less likely to have difficulty recruiting employees with base-level skills (just 36 percent vs. more than half of execs at low performers).

Few Leaders Have Gotten the Memo
While it’s great that Workforce 2020 demonstrates strong learning cultures lead to strong business results, the study also shows how dismally behind most companies are. Only 23 percent of companies surveyed even say they offer learning to help drive employee engagement and loyalty, so it’s not surprising that fewer than 40 percent offer job rotation and job shadowing, even though learning outside of traditional, formal coursework is less and less important in today’s digital, social world.

  • Only 41 percent say they get opportunities to grow.
  • Just over one-fifth say self-directed learning is important to their employers.
  • Nearly 35 percent fear there are too few opportunities for advancement opportunities within their company.
  • When asked, “Is your company able to provide you with the skills you need,” most said no.
  • When asked, “Do you have the skills now that you will need in three years,” only half said yes.
  • More than 70 percent said the training they do get doesn’t help them stay competitive.

Another item of note from the survey is that while much has been written about how different millennials are from their older colleagues, when it comes to skill building, the generations are nearly identical: 45 percent of millennials and 43 percent of non-millennials classify training programs to develop new skills as “highly important.”

In a job market where 51 percent of employed workers are either actively seeking or open to a new job, leaders are taking a big risk by ignoring these statistics.

Learning is a Business Decision.

A great learning culture, and the success it can drive, starts at the top, with savvy leaders who understand that they depend on their employees to perform at their best and drive results. With that mindset, equipping employees with the knowledge and skills to do so is an obvious business decision.

To learn more about the importance of simplification in the workplace, check out the HR Simple Truths Digital Hub. From research studies to customer stories and webinars, there are a number of assets to take advantage of.

This piece originally published on

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