How do we motivate employees to take charge of their development?

This is an easier question than you might think.

Stop pushing!

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What I mean is, stop doing training TO them. Stop dragging people to what you think they should do.

They then have 2 choices:

1)      Own their development, focusing on what they want and need, with the tools they have for doing it.

2)      Or fall behind. Falling behind means they will not only get passed by for promotions, they will likely have trouble keeping their current job if they don’t have the skills (which are probably changing) and can’t keep up. And that job they have now? Well, it may simply cease to exist in its current form.

 According to Beverly Kaye and Julie Winkle-Giulioni:

“Learning agility is the new job security. Employees who want to own their development and drive it in a desirable direction need to shift their attention toward enhancing employability with key skills, capabilities, and experiences. They must look around the corner to anticipate changing needs.”

An increasing number of employees in your organization already get it. They want to own their development and you need to make it easier for them to do so. More on that in a moment.

For those who don’t have motivation today, leverage the power of fear, uncertainty, and doubt, which research shows is more effective at driving action then sharing positive benefits.

The Institute for the Future says that 85 percent of the jobs that will exist in 2030 haven't yet been invented. Guess what? That means that jobs that do exist today will be replaced by those new jobs. And it won’t take until 2030 to happen. It’s happening now.

Employees either want to grow, or they don’t. But if they personally don’t take steps to continue to learn and grow, someone else will. And they will find themselves unemployable on the other side of the divide.

You can’t change the motivation of a complacent employee. Only they can do that. But if everyone around them becomes more engaged and learning new things, and having better conversations with their manager, and getting new challenges or even new positions, and they’re not… well, maybe that will change their intrinsic motivation.

If they are close to retirement, and they lack the motivation to learn something new, make them a lead player in knowledge transfer. Make them a task-based mentor to others. Have others shadow them. Have them shadow others and provide feedback.

Let them pull

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 If you want employees to develop with the best activities, you need to make it easy for them to get those activities. Some people know their skill gaps or believe they do. Most do not. Even when they believe they do, there is no consistency in expectations from person to person, or a way of getting them to know what’s changing. 

Self-awareness drives intrinsic motivation to change

Start with a role-based competency assessment for their job (which includes new/changing skills) to let them identify the full scope of requirements for their role and compare themselves to it. Be sure you don’t stop at WHAT they need to do… you must also show them HOW they need to be able to do the WHAT.  That is, provide behavioral examples at each level of proficiency so people can consistency and objectively compare how they do things to best practices and find out where they really stand. Then present them with their results: their skill gaps and strengths. You need them to leverage both.

Keep in mind, skill gaps are not the same as weaknesses that you may choose to ignore.

In a role-based competency model, a skill gap is something you have to do in your job.

So if you can’t do it, you MUST learn. 

Personalized learning facilitates action

 As much as role-based content curation and Netflix style recommendations (“others like you watch this video”) are all the rage, it’s not necessarily the right content for a specific person. By connecting people’s skill gaps to specific learning options tailored to them in their role, you’re enabling them to self-direct efficiently.

“I don’t have time for learning” is the most common excuse for lack of action. Overcome it with informal learning so they can learn in the flow of work.

If the only learning options you offer are formal learning, including eLearning, you’re going to lose a lot of people who don’t respond to it. If you want to motivate employees to own their development, help them learn while doing the thing they need to do.


Sustain motivation

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Getting them motivated is not enough. You need to make learning a habit to create a culture of learning. That takes specific communication to ensure learning is operationalized, for example, a part of the regular employee/manager conversation. But that’s a deeper conversation for a different day.


In summary, to motivate employees to take charge of their development, stop pushing… get them pulling. Help everyone understand the learning imperative. And make it easy for them to know what to pull and why to pull it.