How much does learning, as a tool for a business, really drive organisational success? James Hampton tells me he’s keen to find out. As Head of Development and Engagement at clothing retailer Seasalt, James has a professional interest. He’s also researched the topic as part of his master’s degree in management and leadership at Cranfield university.
“I looked at success on three fronts,” says James. “There’s the financial success, which is generally the way businesses measure growth. The human capital, which is more my world and looks at how we help people get better at what they do, and utilise that skill and knowledge to drive the business forward. And thirdly there’s the social capital, because moving towards sustainability and being connected to your customers more effectively is another driver for business growth.”
James also explored how learning as an individual, a team and at an organisational level impacted business success. His conclusion? “Leaders are the important cog – making sure they create space for people to learn.”
And it’s the leaders taking steps to reskill and upskill their workforce who are getting the best results.
According to McKinsey, “to emerge stronger from the Covid-19 crisis, companies should start reskilling their workforces now”.
It’s something we encourage at Stellar Labs. We challenge leaders to be proactive about training, and we ask: are your people ready?
James agrees: “Many businesses make the mistake of looking for new talent to bring in, instead of going, OK, how can we harmonise the balance of human capital we’ve got in our business so we don’t lose it to churn? How can we improve the skills we’ve got within the company?
“And if someone’s role is going, instead of making them redundant, how can we reskill them to something else? We know that person is engaged in the business. They’re part of the family. How can we utilise their previous skill and knowledge to bring them into another part of the business?”
Training also brings other bottom-line benefits. When companies invest in training, they improve retention rates. As James discovered through his research, employees who feel motivated in their role are more likely to stay with the business “because they’re a bit more engaged”. And as churn is one of the biggest costs, employee engagement has a huge impact on profit.
“There was a clear line in my research to show that, when leaders were making that space for people to learn new skills, they were getting a better result. That’s it, in a nutshell.”
So what skills does James think are going to be most important?
“For us at Seasalt, there’s definitely a push towards digital capability. For the C-suite, it’s soft skills. I’m hugely passionate about emotional intelligence. I think that’s a big part of being a leader.”
As well as being an advocate for upskilling and reskilling, James is keen to wave the flag for self-directed learning – a subject close to my heart. Self-directed learning is a key skill, but it’s been sorely neglected. Very few people really know how they learn. There are a lot of myths out there, and many people think they know how they learn – usually because they’ve come through an education system that also doesn’t know how we learn.
James agrees: “When people come out of the education environment and into business, their mindset of learning is a classroom with someone in front of them; they’re expecting to be spoon-fed information and told what to do.”
To avoid this scenario, James says we should teach our children to be self-learners. “I use my son as a reference for this,” he explains, recalling how his little boy learnt to ride a bike. “It was about him trying; having the space, support and guidance. He picked it up really quickly. And it’s the same for anyone coming out of the education system. We’ve got to help them to keep trying.”
Teaching your employees the best ways to learn, and giving them the space and support to keep trying, will prepare your business for future challenges.
At Stellar Labs, we have put together a collection of programmes to help leaders upskill and reskill their workforce. If you share James’s passion for utilising learning as a tool for a business success, now is the moment to take your next steps.