Whitney Johnson has a new book out called “Build an A-Team: Play to Their Strengths and Lead Them Up the Learning Curve.” She starts out her current newsletter to promote her book with a story about WD 40, the recognizable brand of lubricant in the yellow and blue can. I thought it had been around even longer than 60 years. It happens to be in 75% of American households and Whitney’s reason for writing about it is not the product but rather the corporate culture. It is characterized by 93% of the people employed there saying they are engaged with their work and 97% saying they are excited about the future of the company. This is in the face of 33% of other Americans saying they are engaged with their work, a number that I find somewhat discouraging to say the least.
Peoples’ strengths, talents, skills, and contributions to their workplace and to their colleagues are the most important assets any organization has among its many resources. When you help your employees grow through opportunities for training and professional development you are making lasting contributions to the health and strength of your company. If you don’t recognize and celebrate their contributions you may risk losing them. If you do not provide those opportunities, the people who want to learn and grow will often find or create those experiences for themselves. They may compare their experience with others and if they lack opportunities where they are, they may well look elsewhere.
In a recent conversation with a colleague we talked about our priority in hiring good people to start with and then giving visibility to their contributions both within the company and beyond. Those people are also the ones most likely to take advantage of further opportunities for learning, growth and change.
What leaders can easily do is to create these learning experiences in conjunction with the employees by asking them what they need in order to do their jobs even better. No mystery there. Understand what your employees want and need and commit the resources to make that happen. There are some great examples out there. For example, giving employees more time instead of more money may have an even greater benefit in the long run. There’s a surf board company where most employees work three days a week. You can guess what many of them do with the extra time. Another company allocates a dollar amount to each employee for “outside” professional development in addition to providing in house opportunities. One company, honoring long term, outstanding service provides a several month “sabbatical” funded generously and allowing the employee to choose how to spend the time and money.
The point of all of this is to consider how you might create an innovative approach to learning opportunities for your employees. Design ones that engage, excite and energize your employees to continue contributing to your organization in ways that strengthen your vitality and visibility. Building a healthy, dynamic, exciting working environment can range from the design of the environment itself to the design of learning opportunities to the many benefits of working for this particular company. Putting all the pieces together and making them work in the interests of both employees and customers is a likely formula, if one exists, for a high level of success.
PS – I told Whitney about the “secret” ingredient in WD 40 which I have always found fascinating. It is fish oil but no one knows for sure what the proportions are. It’s a little like the “secret” formula for Coca-Cola, a well-guarded recipe. So, what is your secret ingredient that makes a big difference not only in content or product but perhaps more importantly in your company’s culture?