Talent development is critical for growth. Of the top-performing Middle Market companies, 29% emphasize employee training and education compared with 17% of slower-growth firms, according to the NCMM's "Market that Moves America" study. But while companies recognize the importance of developing their employees, close to three-quarters acknowledge difficulty doing so. One problem is cost. The NCMM's Q2 2013 Middle Market Indicator Report shows that only 6% of Middle Market companies would invest an extra dollar in formal training and development programs. In addition, such programs are often too static for firms in dynamic business environments.

Consequently, many Middle Market companies are better served by emphasizing informal learning, which happens automatically in the workplace. People learn when they collaborate with co-workers, ask supervisors or colleagues for help, or simply observe others doing their jobs. As a result, they become agile problem-solvers and decision-makers prepared to cope with non-routine tasks.

However such learning does not always occur optimally. One reason: most employees don't think about what they do every day as learning. Those who recognize that they are increasing their own human capital and value to the organization are more likely to pursue new knowledge, experiences, and relationships that advance them professionally. This is called self-guided development.

Jill Ellingson, fellow of the National Center for the Middle Market, and her team surveyed employees at a mid-sized maker of fashion products about the frequency and nature of their self-guided behaviors and then correlated their responses with individual performance data. They also evaluated the overall training climate, degrees of job autonomy, levels of knowledge sharing, and other factors affecting employee development. 

To learn more download the full white paper below or check out the Informal HR Tip Sheet to learn how you can promote self-guided development.


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