Lifelong Learners Are A Company’s Greatest Asset
The phrase “hire for attitude, train for skills” may have been originally attributed to Herb Kelleher of Southwest Airlines, but it’s a widely held belief that, in business, soft skills (i.e., work ethic or humor) are often more important to the success of a new hire than hard skills (i.e., accounting training or computer programming). Studies have illustrated this for decades. Research conducted by Harvard University, the Carnegie Foundation, and Stanford Research Center have all concluded that 85% of job success comes from having well-developed soft skills, while only 15% of job success comes from hard skills. Even in the face of persistent recruitment and retention challenges, companies should maintain this hiring perspective. In particular, it’s wise for businesses to seek candidates that embody a growth mindset and portray the qualities of lifelong learners. Hiring on this notion and maintaining an always-learning culture will help businesses position themselves well among their competitors and attain long-term success.
A Business Imperative
Lifelong learners are individuals who continue to build new skills and professional capabilities beyond their formal education. They study new topics, have an open mind about new processes, and actively seek opportunities to expand their knowledge. Lifelong learning is even considered an economic imperative and the only sustainable competitive advantage in a seemingly unpredictable global economy . Employees who “mind their learning mindset,” prioritizing their curiosity and the improvement of their skills and talents, are proven to be the highest performers among peers, especially over the longer term .
Lifelong learners are great assets to a business. From an employer’s perspective, lifelong learners bring with them greater adaptability, loyalty, and creativity. While change is inevitable, individuals who have a mindset toward learning and evolving are better equipped to handle the fast-paced changes occurring in the world today. They pick up new skills much more quickly than their static counterparts because they have the flexibility to adapt and thrive in changing environments.
Moreover, lifelong learners are intrinsically more loyal (as long as they are given ample opportunities for professional development and career advancement). They’re also more engaged at work and have higher levels of fulfillment and enjoyment. Lastly, a learning mindset promotes creativity and original problem solving, which is vital to innovation.
Careers today are a nonstop commitment to change. Workers need to keep learning and gaining skills at every level, especially in technology and related fields. Encouraging lifelong learning ensures agile and adaptable talent with relevant skills and the flexibility to pivot when the next change rolls through.
Recruiting And Retaining Learners
Companies have more flexibility than ever for hiring new talent. Where once they relied on official qualifications, titles, and diplomas to make hiring decisions, they can now hire for skill. Part-time contract workers and gig economy freelancers are increasing and diversifying the talent pool. In this constantly changing work environment, it makes sense for employers to embrace lifelong learning above other, more traditional measures of aptitude.
Harvard Business Review suggests asking candidates the simple question: “how do you learn?” Their response will indicate if an individual has a personal system for updating, improving, and sharing their knowledge and skills. As noted above, these candidates are more likely to be high performers and can contribute greatly to the long-term success and productivity of an organization.
To retain growth-minded employees, organizations must focus on building and embracing a culture of learning. Encouraging a learning culture requires businesses to focus on cultivating organizational buy-in as well as dedicating the time and resources necessary to support continuing education and career advancement.
According to one Deloitte survey, the “ability to learn and progress” is a principal driver of a company’s employment brand with 42% saying they are likely to leave because they are not learning fast enough . In the always-on, 24/7 digital world, employees are demanding endless learning experiences that allow them to build skills quickly, easily, and on their own terms. Leadership must acknowledge this fact and embody a continuous learning mindset themselves. Leadership must be part of establishing a culture that promotes learning at every stage of the employee lifecycle. In other words, learning should be seen as a foundational way of operating.
In addition, businesses should clearly define opportunities for employees to acquire new skills, training, and education that supports their personal and professional goals. Companies must be willing to set aside the time and the physical resources to support these claims. Some businesses might introduce more curated content, like Master Class, TED Talks, or podcasts, others might opt for learning management software, lunch and learns, and in-person conferences. They are all valuable investments.
As humans, we all strive to learn. For some of us, that thirst for knowledge is never satisfied. Many employees today want to be part of an organization that embraces continuous learning; they want to develop their skills beyond the work they’re doing every day. The question is, why isn’t that same appetite for knowledge cultivated, embraced, and enabled by every business around the world? If they knew how a learning culture could lead to long-term high performing teams and greater business success, would organizations approach workplace curiosity differently?