What You Need to Know About Employee Learning and Development

3-15 ladder.pngHave you ever wondered which learning and development opportunities your employees actually use?

Are you curious about which opportunities they prefer?

What about what employees’ preferred method of learning and development says about their level of engagement? 

In Coaching Employees for High Performance, we show that the following five learning and development opportunities are the most utilized by employees: 

  1. Online Training Sessions / Webinars 
  2. Coaching from Manager 
  3. Classroom-Style Learning 
  4. Coaching from Peer 
  5. Cross-Training 

If these are the most utilized learning and development activities, then their quality should be emphasized, enhanced, and monitored. This is great to know so as to refine employee training efforts.

However, we didn’t stop there: I dug deeper by comparing engagement levels across individuals who preferred those five methods of learning and development.


Employee Engagement Levels by Preference for Learning and Development

In our survey, we listed 12 common learning and development opportunities and asked respondents to indicate which if any of those activities they engaged in within the past year. Then we asked them to indicate the three activities they prefer or appreciate most. In linking current levels of engagement with those preferences, three specific activities showed large differences (> 5 percentage points), shown in the chart below.

Engagement Levels chart.png

Respondents had higher levels of engagement when they chose coaching from their manager, or coaching from peers, as one of their most preferred learning and development opportunities. Employees who are more engaged often feel more connected to their jobs, teams, and organizations, which can translate to increased levels of trust and transparency.

Another way to frame this result is that employees who are more engaged likely prefer coaching from others because they trust their managers and peers to be transparent, that they’re dependable, that they’ll offer good and actionable guidance, and so forth.

But things take an interesting turn when we look at cross-training. Here’s why these results are so curious: employees who chose cross-training as one of their most preferred learning and development opportunities had lower levels of engagement.

Those cross-training results initially seemed somewhat perplexing, but I believe I’ve come up with a pretty solid explanation.

Employee engagement is the strength of mental and emotional connection that employees feel toward their places of work; lower engagement means a weaker connection.

If employees who have a weaker connection to their jobs and teams prefer or appreciate cross-training, this suggests that those employees want something new. In other words, those employees want to job craft to make their jobs a better fit for their skills and interests, they want to enhance their skillset for promotions or taking on more responsibility, or they want to work with another team.


Key Takeaway: Don’t Force Employee Coaching, and Allow for Cross-Training.

Employee coaching from managers or peers is awesome, and elsewhere we’ve laid out reasons for employee coaching. Yet as with all good things, there needs to be a warning label:

Employee coaching whether from managers or peers will likely be ineffective or outright backfire if there isn’t mutual trust, understanding, and transparency between all relevant parties.


If employees are disengaged, they probably feel disconnected from their teams, which may promote the creation of walls rather than bridges if those employees are told to coach each other. And this is especially true if employees don’t have a strong relationship with their manager. So if coaching isn’t part of your culture, ease employees into it rather than jumping straight in.

Likewise, if coaching is already used in your organization but seems ineffective, it may be the case that coworkers need to engage in trust or team building before those coaching efforts can become fruitful. Admittedly, this is one of those tricky “chicken and egg” situations – does engagement come first and coaching effectiveness follow, or does effective coaching enhance engagement? Likely both, but the specific complexities come down to the individual, team, and organization.

Relatedly, employees may feel disengaged because their current job or team isn’t fulfilling some set of preferences. I’ve too often seen disengaged employees thought of as lost causes because they “don’t fit.” Well, that’s exactly what cross-training is designed for: to expose employees to a variety of skills, functions, and roles so they can not only be substitutes for others, but also to see what else the organization has to offer. Although perhaps too idealistic, I believe employees shouldn’t be locked into narrow jobs or be forced to remain in teams that fundamentally do not mesh with what they want.


Cross-training can enhance fit with other jobs or teams, so it is crucial as an outlet for employees to explore their potential by finding out what an organization has to offer.



For more employee learning and development research, download our ebook below.

New Ebook! Coaching Employees for High Performance

Published March 15, 2017 | Written By Dan Harris, Ph.D.