Employers’ learning priorities have shifted dramatically in the last five years, McKinsey & Co. says. According to the management consultancy’s latest global survey, organizations are now paying more attention to building the capabilities of front-line employees than either senior executives or middle management.
Of 1,010 executives surveyed, 33% said their organizations used the most resources on improving the knowledge and skills of front-line employees over the past three years, compared with 26% that favored senior executives. A further 19% used the most resources on middle management. (The remaining executives mentioned technical specialists and front-line supervisors as receiving the most learning resources.)
The 2015 figures represented a turnaround from McKinsey’s 2010 survey, in which 31% of executives said senior leadership got the most learning resources, with 23% favoring middle management and just 22% rank-and-file employees.
McKinsey didn’t explicitly say why this dramatic shift in favor of front-line learning had taken place. But its report does suggest that an increased emphasis on linking learning with business performance may have played a role.
How they do it
McKinsey also broke down the most common methods of conveying employee learning. (Some 1,239 executives responded to this portion of the survey.) They were:
- On-the-job teaching (used “extensively” by 56% of organizations)
- Group classroom learning on a single-course basis (34%)
- Coaching (33%)
- Individual online learning, single-course (32%)
- Group classroom learning, series of courses (31%)
- Group-based online courses (15%)
- Mobile learning like podcasts or job aids (11%)
- Off-site experiential learning such as model factories (8%)
Top of the class
What separates the top-class employee learning programs from the rest? McKinsey found two key components.
First, among organizations that self-reported as having effectively used learning to drive business performance (these organizations represented less than 10% of all those surveyed), fully 78% said they encourage employees to develop their skills continuously. Just 42% of the other organizations did so.
Second, of those most effective organizations, 89% have come up with metrics that link employee performance with skills acquired through learning programs. Just 53% of the other organizations did.
Conclusion: No matter which group of employees you want to concentrate your learning programs on — from the C-suite to the humblest factory hands — it makes sense to prioritize continuous learning and some kind of measurement of learning effectiveness.
Subscribe to the Leadership Blog
Get the latest research on workplace learning with weekly posts delivered to your inbox