The ‘Purpose’ Behind Training Workers

Best-selling author Daniel Goleman explains how developing employees can spark their intrinsic motivation.

Daniel Goleman, author of the best seller Emotional Intelligence, and host of the podcast First Person Plural: Emotional Intelligence and Beyond, is a regular contributor to Korn Ferry. His latest book, Altered Traits: Science Reveals How Meditation Changes Your Mind, Brain, and Body, is available now. 

Irrespective of industry, the goal of learning and development is almost always the same: identify skill gaps in the workforce and bridge them by equipping employees with the knowledge, tools, and abilities to perform better and meet the larger goals of the organization.

For most companies, training isn't just a "nice to have" but a vital part of a long-term growth and retention strategy. After all, 93% of employees say they will stay longer in companies that invest in their career development. Meanwhile, retention rates are 34% higher at jobs that offer opportunities for professional development.

The willingness of employees to devote themselves to a job that develops them—coupled with the emerging needs brought on by the fourth industrial revolution and the COVID-19 pandemic—are a large part of why so many organizations have put such colossal resources into upskilling their workforce.

In March of 2019, JPMorgan Chase announced a $350 million, five-year global initiative to prepare employees for the future of work. Last fall, Verizon invested $44 million in an upskilling program to help Americans unemployed by the pandemic. And this summer, PWC announced that it is putting $3 billion towards upskilling its 275,000 employees over the next three to four years under an initiative branded “New World, New Skills.”

While the rise of artificial intelligence has ignited fears about whether or not humans are relevant to the future of work, some of these initiatives go a step beyond ensuring real people have a place in the job market. Some of them are great examples of stakeholder capitalism in action: when businesses exist to benefit their workforce and society as opposed to narrowly focusing on shareholders.

Take Verizon, for example. The upskilling program is part of Citizen Verizon, the company’s socially and environmentally responsible business plan which includes a number of purposeful goals, like becoming carbon neutral by 2035. The strategy’s three pillars—Digital Inclusion, Climate Protection and Human Prosperity—inform a whole swath of meaningful efforts. Citizen Verizon not only aims to prepare a half million individuals for jobs of the future by 2030, but has committed to providing 10 million youths and 1 million small businesses with the digital skills training necessary to thrive in a modern economy.

Such efforts not only result in a more qualified and talented workforce— prompting an uptick in retention, engagement and performance— but they have the potential to bolster an employee’s very sense of meaning. Done well, they can both connect people to a bigger mission AND give them the skills and abilities to actualize it.

In a 2020 survey conducted by Glint, a human resources software company owned by LinkedIn, 97% of employees expressed a desire to either expand or at least continue the amount of time they spend learning.

You could interpret this as a call for more purpose in the workplace.

This connection between purpose and development can be seen in the brain’s “seeking system”—a series of neural pathways that encourage us to explore, learn, and find meaning. The seeking system is perhaps most evident in children: put a child in a room of novel objects or in a park with new trees to climb, and you see it kick into gear. Driven by curiosity and facing new things to explore, children exhibit the determination, purpose, and excitement we so prize in the workplace.

Experts in learning and development know that the more meaningful a learning experience, the more effective it is. In this sense, learning and development not only prepare employees for the future of automation, but they also are opportunities to spark motivation, connect over values, and help people see themselves as part of a much larger vision.

Benjamin Franklin said it best: “Tell me and I forget, teach me and I may remember, involve me and I learn.”

Upskilling the workforce is one thing. Involving them at the level of purpose is quite another. 

Click here to learn more about Daniel Goleman's Building Blocks of Emotional Intelligence.