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How to motivate your team to learn

Chelsea Iversen Feb. 6, 2020

Professional development is an important part of running a successful marketing department. You want to keep your team up to speed with critical tech trends, optimize performance and delivery, and stay ahead of the curve when it comes to changes in the industry that impact your bottom line. In other words, you want a robust marketing team that can do it all.

But how do you motivate your team to learn?

1. Foster a culture of learning
2. Meet regularly about professional development
3. Support lateral career moves
4. Evaluate progress frequently
5. Embrace cognitive diversity

Motivating your team to learn skills in media channels, marketing technology, and emerging platforms and formats can be a challenge when there's so much else going on. But that doesn't mean you can't engender productivity and innovation through skillbuilding. If you won’t champion their professional development, who will?

Here are a few ways you can motivate your team to learn in a world full of distractions and deadlines:

1. Foster a culture of learning

Learning shouldn’t be something organizations are afraid of. Nor should it be continuously pushed down the list of priorities. Professional development needs to be woven into the fabric of the department in order to truly be motivating. For marketing teams in particular, which are faced with constantly changing technology standards, continuing to nurture educational opportunities is a must.

Learning needs to be fostered in marketing departments so much that it becomes innate, almost second-nature. It shouldn’t be a struggle to get your team to take a new course, and it should never feel like an obligation. It should be part of what it means to work for your company.

Take Hilton, for example, which was ranked by Forbes as America’s #1 company to work for in 2019. One of the main perks the hospitality giant offers its employees is education. The company encourages and enables employees to get their GED and launched Hilton University, which offers training and learning opportunities.

AmeriCorps takes the culture of learning to a new level with a mandate that employees should spend 20 percent of their time on “personal and professional development.”

Establishing a culture of learning taps into something fundamental in today’s workplace expectations. Fifty-eight percent of millennials say they expect their employer to provide relevant professional development. Your team wants to learn. You should be ready to deliver.

2. Meet regularly about professional development

To prove that learning is a priority, marketing managers and even CMOs should put time on their calendars to discuss professional development with their teams. This is a time to set actionable goals. You can help your team shape their ideas into goals and learning objectives that can help them on their career path and, in turn, keep them engaged.

This is also a time when you can ask people what and how they prefer to learn. Motivating people to learn is often about getting initial buy-in and giving them the reins to their own success. Tapping into your team’s interests is tapping into an intrinsic motivation to learn that comes from simply enjoying the subject. Meeting frequently to discuss this, rather than relying on competitions and rewards alone (which are not necessarily the best motivation for all learners), can help you understand your team and demonstrate that their interests matter to you. When only 26 percent of millennials believe their employer actually cares about their professional development, showing you’re invested could go a long way.

3. Support lateral career moves

With a mindset that supports career development, it’s your job to stoke those fires in your team. To do so, make sure there’s an environment that is clearly supportive of internal job shifts. Encourage your team to take courses in things they’re curious about, not what you want them to know. Don’t know what they’re curious about? Ask! You may learn that your graphic designer is interested in learning code or your content marketing writer wants to learn the ins and outs of data analysis. Courses not only add to your team’s strengths, but they open people’s minds to new interests and strengths they weren’t yet aware of. This is a recipe for success.

Sixty-four percent of professionals today believe that changing roles every few years is good for their careers. That number jumps to 75 percent when we zoom in on millennials. Your employees are most likely going to want a career change at some point. You can either pretend that’s not a reality or guide them in their career development and do the work to potentially keep them in-house when that change comes.

The Society for Human Resources Management (SHRM) estimates that U.S. employers spend, on average, $4,129 for every new hire and together fill more than 66 million jobs per year. The costs of hiring are substantial, not to mention the time, productivity, lost expertise and other inefficiencies that result from high turnover. Retention has long been known in HR circles to be less expensive than new hires. So what better way to keep your team in-house — and better yet, in your department — than to encourage them to explore their professional curiosities with your help.

4. Evaluate progress frequently

To motivate a team to learn, establishing a baseline and tracking progress are critical. To begin, find out where your team stands — as a whole and as individuals — and where the holes are. Then, let your team set goals for learning. The goals will more than likely act as motivators for your team, especially if they’re goals they’ve set for themselves based on their curiosity and interest.

The next step is to evaluate your team. Reassess their knowledge and skills. Take the pulse of the organization and each individual after a period of time to see how far they’ve come. Allow your team to see their own progress. People want to see that they’re improving, and it will act as added incentive for continuing to learn. Then, set new learning goals and after another period of time, assess again. Assessment is an ongoing process that’s designed to see how much a team or individual knows but is also, when transparent, a goalpost for higher learning objectives.

5. Embrace cognitive diversity

It’s generally agreed upon that there are seven categories of learner: visual, auditory, linguistic, kinesthetic, mathematical, interpersonal, intrapersonal. Most people, however, fall into at least three of these categories simultaneously.

Rather than designing your professional development curriculum to appeal to every single person’s learning style, you can accommodate everyone — and engage a variety of learners — by giving people choices in how they want to learn. Include options that have reading and writing to appeal to the linguistic learners. Include podcasts and webinars for those who learn better through listening. Get a group of people to take a course together and then talk about it in order to motivate the interpersonal learner. Provide a diversity in course learning, and let your team select what's best for them.

You’ll never be able to tailor-fit a learning path for someone else that perfectly fits their learning style, but you can give them the option to choose for themselves.


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