Learning strategy

Aug 05, 2019

Your peoples’ top priority is development. If you want to keep them, you need to identify the ideal learning and development strategy for you and your firm.

Most leaders agree that employee recruitment and retention is the number one issue facing AEC firms today. At the same time, employee growth and development is our talents’ top priority. Why is it then that most firms don’t have a formal or strategic employee learning and development program?

Connecting these dots is a direct path to greater organizational growth, attractiveness, and profits. To get to where we want to be, we can leverage both proven models and innovative practices.

The 70/20/10 model. The 70/20/10 learning and development model works, especially in professional services.

The idea is for 70 percent of our time to be “on-the-job” training with challenging stretch assignments focused on future needs and growth goals, 20 percent with one-on-one supervisor coaching and mentoring, and 10 percent with relevant outside training, coursework, or reading.

To put this in context, let’s assume we want to formally teach and develop our talent only 25 percent of the time. This would be 40 hours of a typical 160-hour work month. In this scenario, the remaining time would consist of work on routine assignments with previously mastered skills.

If we apply the 70/20/10 rule, 10 hours per week would be focused on learning and development and would generally break down into seven hours of stretch assignments, two hours of supervisor coaching, and one hour of outside training.

Does this look like a typical week for your employees?

Even if we wanted to reduce the formal learning and development by half, would our employees routinely have three to four hours per week of planned stretch assignments, one hour of coaching with supervisors, and 30 minutes of relevant outside training?

For many organizations, this may still not be the case.

As leaders, if we aren’t instilling a culture of learning and development, creating capacity for supervisors, and incentivizing the behaviors we seek, how can we really expect to have fully engaged, growing, and loyal talent?

You are not alone. The war for talent is real and the pace of change is accelerating.

Leaders today are busy – but our efforts need to take us, our teams, and our organizations to a better place. To compete and win, we all need to adapt. Larger firms need to be more agile. Smaller firms need to systemize. Firms that grow through mergers and acquisitions need more cohesion, while those favoring organic methods need to be more entrepreneurial.

Leaders cannot (and should not) take this all on alone. It’s better to tap into larger resources – some located much closer than we think.

Peer-to-peer learning for employees. Peer-to-peer learning is a method where engaged peers learn from and with each other.

Internally, peer-to-peer learning can take place in a variety of employee resource groups (ERG). These can be technical or functional in basis (e.g., process engineers, quality control advocates, project managers, principals, etc.) or have a personal interest basis (e.g., young professionals, working parents, veterans, empty-nesters, etc.).

The idea is to bring together peers and their ideas to build community, camaraderie, connections, collaboration, and solutions across offices, regions, and divisions to improve both performance and culture.

The design of a group’s charter is essential, as is the need for safety, trust, and effective facilitation. ERGs can also begin with outside facilitation and then be transitioned after a six-, nine-, or 12-month period.

Peer-to-peer learning for leaders. As much as ERGs can bring out the best in our organizations and provide critical insight, it is not enough for leaders who are tasked with continuously positioning their teams and organizations for success.

For most leaders, external peer-to-peer learning is the key to greater growth and development.

Such opportunities can take the form of:

  • Executive coaching
  • Formal or informal outside board of directors
  • Attendance at roundtable events
  • Participation in mastermind groups

There are advantages and benefits to each – and all can apply.

The idea is for leaders to consistently surround themselves with people who share common goals, but have a diversity of experiences, circumstances, ideas, and perspectives.

Goals and strategies are important. The 70/20/10 model helps guide supervisor engagement and employee growth and development. Peer-to-peer learning helps us connect and unleash the power of many. Successfully combining these, however, is ideal for building vertically and horizontally strong organizations positioned to thrive.

Leaders: Leave the status quo, continuous overload, and the threat of disruption and displacement to others by prioritizing more effective learning and development for you and your firm.

Peter Atherton, P.E., is an AEC industry insider who has spent more than 20 years as a successful professional civil engineer, principal, major owner, and member of the board of directors for a high-achieving firm. Atherton is now president and founder of ActionsProve, LLC, author of Reversing Burnout: How to Immediately Engage Top Talent and Grow! A Blueprint for Professionals and Business Owners, and creator of the I.M.P.A.C.T. process. Atherton works with AEC firms to grow and advance their success through strategic planning implementation, executive coaching, performance-based employee engagement, and corporate impact design. Connect with him at pete@actionsprove.com.

About Zweig Group

Zweig Group, three times on the Inc. 500/5000 list, is the industry leader and premiere authority in AEC firm management and marketing, the go-to source for data and research, and the leading provider of customized learning and training. Zweig Group exists to help AEC firms succeed in a complicated and challenging marketplace through services that include: Mergers & Acquisitions, Strategic Planning, Valuation, Executive Search, Board of Director Services, Ownership Transition, Marketing & Branding, and Business Development Training. The firm has offices in Dallas and Fayetteville, Arkansas.