Talent Development

Developing a Well-Trained Workforce: Insights From Legendary CLO Steve Kerr

By EverwiseSeptember 14, 2016

As a legend in the world of Learning and Development, Steve Kerr has a storied career championing leadership development at companies like Goldman Sachs and GE. The latter of which is where he earned his stripes as the world’s first ever Chief Learning Officer. When someone with his expertise shares insights on how organizations are shifting their thinking around L&D and it’s impact on business—we take note! Here are five takeaways from a recent fireside chat between our CEO Mike Bergelson and Steve.


Performance equals ability times motivation

While positive reinforcement like competitive compensation and recognizing work well done can have a noticeable impact on  an employee’s performance, Kerr’s experience shows that if the necessary hard and soft skills aren’t developed in a person, increasing their motivation won’t necessarily improve their output—it will only frustrate them.  ”Anything multiplied by zero comes out to zero,” said Kerr. Organizational leaders need to recognize and prioritize the skills that need to be developed in each of their employees. This is the only way to get optimal employee performance.

Knowledge is portable

At GE, one of Kerr’s challenges was to figure out how to motivate employees to share their best practices with others across the organization, and create a bank of internal knowledge. Of course, this information can be supplemented by external sources and adapted to fit the context of any company. However, he warned that there are several risks in blindly adopting best practices from other companies: they can be fads, frauds, or idiosyncrasies. That’s why it’s crucial for organizations to invest in a culture of learning and sharing internally.

Most learning comes from hands-on experience

Kerr posited that 10% of learning comes from formal class work, such as MBA programs, undergraduate courses, or lectures. An additional 20% comes from an employee’s immediate colleagues and supervisors. However, the bulk of an employee’s learning—70%—is achieved by actively trying and practicing new skills. HR leaders need to follow this model, originally created by the Center for Creative Leadership, to ensure employees have opportunities to learn by doing, not just by attending training seminars.

Some company leaders will be resistant to investing in training and leadership development

Not every organization is lucky enough to have full executive support for employee development. As Kerr pointed out, in a dysfunctional system, the people at the top will fear that any sort of change could threaten their position, so they will be the most resistant to trying new things. However, avoiding change can be much riskier for the business in the long run. When asked how to convince leaders to invest in employee development, Kerr cited an old saying, “If you think education is expensive, try ignorance!”

Learning and development is a competitive advantage for commoditized businesses

As the market becomes saturated with companies offering nearly-identical products, a strong workforce can be an organization’s key to success. Kerr reminded the audience that good managers are less expensive than bad managers: their teams are more productive, they see less turnover, and they achieve better results for the company. With that in mind, it only makes sense for companies to invest in training their employees in both technical and leadership skills to produce the most profitable outcomes for the business.

As Kerr stated, “Education is a noun. Learning is a verb.” Business leaders should be aware that providing education simply for the sake of checking off a box isn’t the same as actively investing in employees’ learning and growth. A workforce that is constantly learning can be one of the greatest assets for any organization.



About the Author

Everwise connects employees with the people, resources and feedback they need to be more productive and successful at every stage of their career. Request a Demo: https://www.geteverwise.com/requestdemo/

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