The impact of learning on employee performance
Following our recent pieces on workplace learning, we're examining its key business benefits in more detail. So, today, let's look at the relationship between employee learning and performance.
When you cut to the chase, everything we do for employees is to enable their performance. Of course, we have moral obligations to support things like career development, wellbeing, and work/life balance.
But it’s also pragmatic. These things have a massive influence on an employee’s ability to be productive. So, investing in them early on is like investing in future productivity. It’s hard to think of better examples than education or upskilling. And, since we recently joined LMS365, we’ve got plenty to say on the matter.
Before we explore the relationship between employee learning and performance, let’s recap what we mean:
Employee learning refers to all the knowledge we gain and skills we develop as part of our jobs or careers. These include:
- Learning on the job.
- Formal upskilling and training courses.
- Mentorship and shadowing.
- Accessible knowledge resources.
So, even in the absence of formal job training, employees can learn by spending time in their roles. But this is easily the least effective way of cultivating employee performance. Leaving people to find their own way means they’ll learn slower and pick up bad habits. It also makes them more susceptible to turnover and costly mistakes.
You have to put time into actively developing and educating your staff. Effective employee learning systems should offer a variety of the options we’ve listed. That way, you can mix and match them to suit the needs of the individual.
Performance just means how well someone does their job. It’s kind of analogous to productivity. Except that productivity is largely a matter of the quantity of work you produce. Performance, on the other hand, encompasses both quality and quantity.
The key performance criteria are:
That’s why it’s called performance management, not productivity management.
So, for example, a highly productive chef might be able to cook a large amount of average food quickly. But a high-performance chef would produce food which wows critics and bumps up the restaurant’s Michelin star rating. On top of which, they’d also be able to keep up with high customer demand.
This difference should be your first indicator of why employee learning and performance go together so well.
In 2020, the International Journal of Economics, Commerce and Management published a literature review by Brikenda Vokshi, Effects of Training on Employee Performance. And, according to Brikenda:
‘Most of the literature and preliminary studies show a positive correlation between training and employee performance. They show that effective training of employees increases their performance not only by making them competent in their work but also by improving their knowledge, skills and attitudes and this consequently affects the performance of the organization.’
Of course, the end of that quote starts to get into our next point. But let’s confine ourselves to the impact on employees for now. We know training can improve skills, knowledge and disposition. But why, and how?
When we talk about employee learning and performance, knowledge may be the first thing you think of. And you know what they say, knowledge is power. When you first start out in a role, you probably don’t need to know every detail of how the industry works just to do your job.
But the more someone knows about their chosen industry or sector, the more capable they are of making informed decisions. At its simplest, knowledge includes understanding of how to do your job better. Only it’s not just about the how, but the why.
When employees have knowledge, they don’t just do their jobs a certain way because management said so. They do it that way because they understand the underlying processes and why said approach is the most efficient and effective.
Best of all, when employees know enough to make informed decisions, it greatly increases their ability to work autonomously.
Knowledge might be essential for employee learning and performance. But, without the proper skills, you have no way to apply it. For instance, you might know a lot about car design. But that doesn’t mean you’re qualified to run the machinery which assembles them.
This includes core skills for your role. Like a paralegal knowing how to file legal forms and requests. But it also includes soft skills, like emotional intelligence, active listening, and timeliness.
Supporting employee learning can help improve the attitudes of your staff. For one thing, better training can make employees more confident in their abilities. That means they’re more likely to take on risks and big tasks, and work independently. A bit of learning can be just the thing to bring more nervous staff out of their shells.
And, for overconfident employees, a bit of education can even have the opposite effect. By showing them just how much they still have to learn. According to the Dunning-Kruger effect, people with poor self-awareness and limited subject knowledge tend to overestimate their own expertise. However, a bit of education can give overconfident staff some valuable perspective.
But that’s not the only way employee learning improves attitudes. By investing in training and learning, you invest in your people. And they’ll appreciate that, which translates to more passion and organizational loyalty.
To get an idea of the relationship between employee learning and performance for businesses, let’s look at the continued quote from Brikenda Vokshi:
‘...Therefore the improvement of employees in these aspects enables them to be more efficient and effective in their tasks which results in increasing the performance of employees and achieving the objectives of the organization. Also, this correlation reduces job dissatisfaction, employee complaints and reduces staff turnover. As a result, organizations should be encouraged to continuously train employees to gain new knowledge and skills to help them perform their tasks efficiently and effectively.’
Investing in employee learning can increase the likelihood of your organization achieving its objectives. And employees working more effectively is only the tip of the iceberg.
You see, one of the big connections between employee learning and performance is that of organizational awareness. And this has a couple of benefits. First, it enables better collaboration by improving the mutual understanding between employees in different areas. So, when you bring people together for those big OKRs, there’ll be less friction between departments.
Second, learning helps employees to work and think creatively. In other words, it makes your people more likely to innovate, which can have a far-reaching impact on business performance.
Most people need a sense of professional development to be satisfied in their working lives. Otherwise, they’re liable to become disengaged. According to Gallup, unengaged and actively disengaged employees cost businesses across the world $8.8 trillion in lost productivity.
But educating and upskilling employees helps fuel their personal development. It enables them to take more pride in their work and increases their likelihood of getting promotions and pay increases. This helps to keep people motivated at work and enables you to promote from within.
Unexpected turnover can be a real spanner in the works for business performance. Other employees have to pick up the slack for missing colleagues, which slows things down. Then there are hiring costs to consider.
And then, when you do fill the role, your new employee has to learn their way around and get settled before they can hit full productivity. In the UK, the average case of staff turnover costs around £30,000.
But, when it comes to replacing specialist or highly senior personnel, replacing these lost skills gets even more difficult. As a result, replacing senior leaders and similarly important staff can get significantly more expensive.
Now that you understand the shared importance of employee learning and performance, let’s look at how to start enabling it in your organization. Of course, this topic could easily fill its own article. So, for now, here’s the number one thing you should bear in mind.
If you want to create a culture of learning for your business, you need to start communicating with your people. Two-way feedback is the ideal way to go about this, for two reasons.
First, ongoing feedback provides a real-time view of performance. Especially if you check in with your people every week. That makes it easy to see where people are struggling, and which skills are rare in your business.
And second, the feedback employees give you is just as valuable. With performance data alone, you’re left to fill in the blanks with guesswork. But, with two-way feedback, it’s not just about critiquing how employees perform. They can tell you in their own words where they’re struggling, and the areas in which they’d like to develop professionally.
Obviously, there’s a lot more to say about enabling employee learning and performance. But, with this first step, you’re perfectly primed to start learning the rest organically. But, if you still want more workplace learning content, be sure to check back for our next instalment in this series.
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