Merriam-Webster defines strategy as “a careful plan or method for achieving a particular goal, usually over a long period of time.” We have been neither particular nor careful in the past, but for the last year, I have focused on creating an employee development strategy and, ultimately, an engagement strategy for Fortis Construction. Historically, at Fortis, training was a function of immediate need and not one of long-term planning. Despite the lack of long-term planning for employee development, the company has done an exceptional job of hiring employees who are driven, motivated, and smart. Based on these traits, a lack of focused training did not deter the growth or success of the company.
My first question when eyeing the creation of a strategy was, “How can we do better?” Just because we had always operated one way did not mean that it was the right way to continue running our business. I believed that if employees were successful in the past with no tools, imagine how productive they could be given tools, knowledge, and resources! After my initial question, I sent out an all-employee survey asking specific questions about employee efficacy, detailed knowledge needed, and organizational questions so that I could target success factors for the strategy.
I received a 50 percent return rate on my survey, and trends emerged that indicated there was a real need for new employee onboarding, as well as ongoing skill development for employees with five-plus years of tenure. Armed with this knowledge, I had a clear starting point on what to do next. I assembled a training advisory group with mixed roles and tenure levels across the organization. It was very important to address all segments of the employee population.
As growth, and the battle for competent employees, continues to escalate, a thoughtful and strategic plan is necessary. During gap identification, creating an onboarding program and developing an individual learning plan became priorities. It was critical to onboard new employees rather than allowing them to flounder by just showing up on-site their first day after completing new-hire paperwork. Identifying content for onboarding was, in retrospect, a great first step in determining core curriculum as a foundation for the overall strategy.
On the professional side, I wanted to make sure that beyond the onboarding content, each role had 101- and 201-level content. So, the 101-level content focused on knowledge and tasks that go beyond the new-hire knowledge, and the 201-level content was reserved for the more tenured employees. The 201-level courses also included outside vendors such as Dale Carnegie, Franklin Covey, FMI, and LEED. Given that I am a team of one, I must leverage outside resources and save my development time for topics unique to Fortis.
Requiring employees to complete learning plans or career roadmaps also gave great insight on skill development needs across the organization. It informed my belief that the strategy had to have multiple levels of content both on the job side and the personal side for the employee. This multifaceted approach confirmed to the employees that the “whole” person is important to Fortis and that we were going to support them from a skill development perspective—it is not just lip service. This ultimately increases employee engagement.
Personal growth included options such as a book club (with print, eBook, and audiobook choices), digital resource subscriptions, life skills lunch-and-learn sessions, and a week-long after-hours education program that assembled internal presenters in a “happy hour” setting. Internal presenters present on work-related topics or a personal interest. This is a great way to inspire someone to learn something new in an informal setting. It also allows employees to hone their presentation skills and share things that are important to them.
To recap, key steps when creating a training strategy:
- Ask the question. Allow people to have input. A survey coupled with an advisory group ensured I truly was answering the needs of each employee.
- Create a tool so that employees can devise their own learning roadmap. Consider both job skills and personal skills that lead to happier, more fulfilled employees.
- Devise a plan that is learner-centered so employees have multiple options to obtain knowledge. Podcasts and eLearning are new (and flexible) options for Fortis employees to add to their skill toolbox.
- Educate and share successes. I send monthly updates to employees to inform them of new content available and successes that their peers have experienced with the training they have taken.
There is a tremendous amount of development work still to do. But having a plan in place and a team of internal advisors ensures we can and will impact engagement of the talented employees we have and the ones that we will bring into the organization in the future. Initial feedback from employees has been very positive. They are excited about the breadth of tools available to them, as well as the multiple formats in which to learn.