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Education has always been a hot topic within a military context, with an ever-increasing need to ensure that soldiers maintain their ‘intellectual edge’. This has never been so important than during the ever-changing character of modern conflict. Here we critically examine the need for a proactive approach to learning, meaningful education and the role of leaders within personal development.
“It’s too much hassle”
This appears to be a common issue both in private and public sector organisations. The notion that education is a ‘nice to have’ is increasingly common. This should not be the case. Education is vital for personal development and employee job satisfaction. All too often, managers do not allow employees to undertake education under the guise that it takes too much time, is too much hassle or is costly. It is true that, sometimes, education can be costly and time-consuming. However, it is necessary to ensure that employees feel valued in their role and are professionally competent. Executed correctly, continuous development through professional education is rewarded with a motivated and capable workforce. Furthermore, it should be impressed upon managers to become more personally responsible for the development of their subordinates, taking an active interest in their education, training and professional interests. By doing so, it not only improves the working relationship but makes those employees feel valued by the manager and organisation.
Additionally, some organisations are reticent to train employees for fear of them leaving and the organisation losing out, however it is my belief that this risk must be taken as the risk to ensure that performance and skill level increases. An example of this is Guy’s and St Thomas’ NHS Trust who reduced preventable leavers from 40% to 34% through the use of employee engagement1, coaching and education programmes. By failing to invest, we are promoting a stagnant view of workforce capability. To use the British Army as another example, it offers so many educational opportunities at all levels. However, there is still much more work to be done to promote such opportunities and ensure that maximum effort is placed into allowing attendance to enhance personal development.
“Just ticking the boxes”
Another all too common sight is organisations that overload their staff with various courses in order to be able to say that they promote education. These poorly structured and unengaging mandatory courses lead to disinterest in education and staff just wishing they had the “tick in the box” so they can get home at the end of the day. Carrying out education in this way means that skills learned are often not useable, meaning there is no return on investment to the organisation. This wastes organisational resources and employee time. Organisations need to review the training they deliver regularly and ensure that attendance is based on actual need rather than just filling seats. By doing so, employees are not spending weeks on unnecessary training that leads to them not wanting to attend further training. Moreover, when education is made to be mandatory it often loses its richness – the ability to excite and inspire from the start. This, therefore, making the process harder for those teaching on the course as well as other learners.
Education needs to be made more skills based to allow for easier implementation and engagement, as well as linking more obviously to the employees’ role. Further, organisations should actively encourage staff to attend personal development training that they find relevant. Asking staff to lead Continuous Professional Development (CPD) sessions to engage others is another way to develop delivery skills and enhance knowledge sharing. The impact of these changes would be positive – staff would invest in professional education rather than dreading the next career course they attend.
“Top down approach”
Creating a positive learning culture is crucial to the success of any organisation. Whether this is teaching soldiers how to attack an enemy position or holding a CPD session on delivery skills, it is vital that everyone in the organisation from the most senior management downward encourages and supports this. Recent times have seen a positive step in the correct direction, however there must now be action taken to ensure this is driven forward. All too often we have seen ideas and promises to put forward, but a lack of traction when looking to implement physical change. By instilling a culture where learning is at the forefront of organisational activity, managers at all levels are empowered to ensure that staff are continuously developing as well as being able to perform in their role. Studies have also shown that positive learning culture can enhance productivity and mental health within organisations as staff feel supported and empowered to perform in their roles as well as feeling valued by their managers. Managers need to be the educational role models within the organisation, by ensuring that they create the atmosphere for learning to take place. By doing so, they inspire, empower and set the conditions for future personal development. Whilst this approach is not a quick fix, the benefits of taking a top down with a positive learning culture at the heart of the organisation far outweigh the negatives.
In summary, education and learning are key concepts behind any successful organisation. Education does not just prepare someone to be successful in their role, it prepares someone for life. By equipping people with the necessary skills and experience, we make them feel valued and show them that the organisation takes them seriously. Organisations must be cognisant of how education can affect their workplace and the need to ensure that learning is both relevant, engaging and authentic to the values and culture set by the organisation.