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Opinion: Workplace learning drives top performance

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There is a solid – and growing – body of evidence that workplace learning plays a critical role in both individual and organizational success.

If you have been in a leadership role for any length of time, you know that gaps in knowledge, skills and attitudes limit the ability of your team to realize their full potential. You know you need to develop your people, but it can be tough to discern the good learning opportunities from the bad.

Likely, you also know that workplace learning requires engaged employees, as well as investments of time and money. All of these hurdles can leave you feeling overwhelmed and like a workplace learning program is out of reach, especially for small-business owners and nonprofit organizations. Don’t let these mental roadblocks hijack your success. With a little persistence and planning, you can drive performance excellence for your employees and organization.

The most important action you can take is aligning workplace-learning activities with an organizational development plan that is strategic, integrated, accessible and doable for your employees.

First, you’ll need to identify both the current gaps in the knowledge, skills and attitudes of your workforce, as well as the future gaps that will be increasingly difficult to manage with a rapidly retiring baby boomer generation. Next, focus on how to fill those gaps with learning strategies that include more formal, structured activities, as well as informal experiences that connect with the why of your organization. The emergence of technology-based, microlearning platforms, such as LinkedIn Learning, have created new opportunities for accelerated learning that are more cost effective and accessible.

Equally powerful and cost effective are experiential and social learning experiences delivered within your own workplace. Opportunities for special projects, internships, job shadowing and professional mentorship give your high-potential employees the opportunity to understand your business at a deeper level and envision their future in a more meaningful way. It not only helps them see their growth potential, but also helps them understand the competencies they will need to develop to position themselves for future success. It also will help you see your business through the lens of your workforce.

Workplace learning has become a key strategy in today’s competitive labor market. As one of the largest employers in the region, CoxHealth has embraced workplace learning as one strategy to attract and grow the talent we need for the future. We know that excellence in patient care and health outcomes is strongly linked to the engagement of our employees. While our efforts are specific to health care, modified versions could fit many industries. Here are a few examples:

• Leadership Development Institute: An off-site conference that brings together CoxHealth leaders from across the system for a full day of formal learning, networking and calibration on organizational initiatives for the coming quarter.

• Leads Program: A one-year cohort experience for our new leaders. The program utilizes a blended-learning format that is roughly 15% customized online learning; 15% LinkedIn Learning leadership content; and 70% in-person experiential learning activities.

• New hire onboarding: New hires engage in multiple learning activities including an in-person experience with President/CEO Steve Edwards, who helps them connect with our mission and culture. Additionally, peer mentor and preceptor programs facilitate ongoing experiential and social learning during the first 90 days for the new hire.

• Career programs: We place a high value on front-line employees who want to grow within our organization. CoxHealth works with local colleges to offer career programs for front-line staff who want to earn degrees in hard-to-fill positions, like surgical technicians and certified medical assistants, as well as our internal nurse assistant program. CoxHealth pays for tuition and also pays the employee a stipend while they attend school and work to integrate their clinical hours.

When implemented strategically, workplace learning drives performance outcomes. Developing a solid action plan that flows from your organizational strategy is a wise investment, and selecting learning activities that fill specific competency gaps for your employees will position everyone for success.

Marcie Kirkup is manager of the Center for Professional Development at CoxHealth. She can be reached at


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