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Learning and development: the top priority for agencies & brands with growth on their minds

Business and agency leaders all know that employee training and development is important and yet investment in these programs often fall to the wayside. That needs to change. Post-lockdown investing in the professional and personal development of team members is more crucial to success than ever, according to the participants of a recent video panel session, hosted by The Drum and Stein IAS. Here’s what you need to know.

Are companies that invest in training, just training their people to leave? This is an unfortunate myth, according to Susan Guerrero, chief operations officer at leading global business-to-business (B2B) agency Stein IAS.

Guerrero joined The Drum’s US editor Ken Hein, Charlotte Commarmond, vice president global marketing at Ingredion and Derek Stewart, chief strategy officer at Stein IAS, for a lively discussion about how to leverage training and development to help attract, retain, nurture, and inspire talent.

“It's competitive out there,” says Guerrero. “In order for companies to thrive and lead, they must learn and grow and innovate. You achieve that by becoming a learning organization; by developing a strong culture of continuous learning.

“Is this a priority investment? Absolutely. It's an imperative. Having a thriving learning culture is a major draw for new talent, hungry to grow their skills. Learning cultures create passion in the workplace, they energize employees, they create smarter, more agile team members who become courageous in taking on new challenges. In terms of staff retention, there are no guarantees, but my experience is that investment in the growth and development of your people is usually returned tenfold through increased employee satisfaction, improved retention rates and increased loyalty to the company.

Ingredion’s ingredients for success

There have been plenty common mistakes organizations can make when trying to leverage training at scale. As we open up, the panelists all feel there are some key factors to keep in mind. Charlotte Commarmond, of multinational ingredient powerhouse Ingredion says: “Due to the pandemic, we’ve seen a big shift towards digital and that has been really useful in some respects, but in terms of training and development, it would be a mistake to assume that digitally-enabled ‘self-learning’ is sufficient for most people. It’s important to recognize that there still isn't a replacement for face-to-face, peer-to-peer learning, which provides a much deeper, richer learning experience in most cases.”

Commarmond points to another common mistake: trying to get employees to acquire multiple competencies at the same time. “It’s important to prioritize what's most important at an individual level and concentrate on those key areas for each person,” says Commarmond. “Different people learn in different ways, so it pays to tailor the key objectives and the techniques used to best suit each individual.

“It’s also important to focus on up-and-coming talent, not just the executives. I see more companies starting to take a broader approach to developing all their talent, not just the executives selected as future leaders,” says Commarmond. “Developing a growth mindset in a business requires everyone to be onboard.”

Learning every day is the only way

Stein IAS recently launched a global initiative called ‘Learn for Your Life.’ Stewart says learning and development have always been central to the agency, but now these have taken it to the next level. “We are continually striving to be the most advanced B2B brand-to-demand marketing agency in the world. You can't stand still, so we’re taking our existing commitment to learning and development forward, scaling it and amplifying its impacts.

The Agency believes in the necessity of learning to such a great extent that it has elevated “Learn for Your Life” to one of its five core values, alongside Generosity of Spirit, Considered Courage, Work Smart and Fun; This is a market of the enduring commitment the agency is making to learning and development.

The agency created a process rooted in an individual's role, weaving learning and development into their everyday work, but also into their everyday living as well. “This is not just about developing the capability for the business, it's about developing the person as a whole,” Stewart says. “Our new process recognizes how much learning goes on already in the course of an average working day. That's such a powerful thing if we can harness it.”

The ongoing Learn for Your Life initiative includes a multi-channel approach to development with online and offline learning resources covering core competencies and broader-life skills, with all learning recorded on a proprietary online learning hub. The application and benefit of learning is celebrated with Learning Spirit of the Month Awards, whilst the annual Learning Spirit of the Year Awards features all-inclusive, up to a week-long, learning experience trips for three winners. And, when circumstances allow everyone will be together for two learning festivals, to be held over the same weekend in the UK and the US. This really is taking learning to a new level, and to a field somewhere.

Stewart concludes: “The need to learn is innate in all human beings: Our ancestors learned because their lives depended on it. Today, our business success depends on it. With ever-accelerating digital change being the primary challenge in any knowledge-based business, it is more important than ever to stay ahead of the knowledge curve. That means placing learning and development formally as a core, strategic business imperative, right up beside offering, revenue and profit.”

Watch the full discussion above.