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Case Study: Volunteering as an Employee Development Approach

March 13, 2012 09:26 by Halelly Azulay


Guest post by Halelly Azulay, Talentgrow

Volunteering involves providing your knowledge, skills, and abilities, as well as your time and energy, without establishing an employment relationship and usually without any monetary compensation. Employees who take on volunteer roles are able to build new skills and practice existing skills in a different setting from their day-to-day job. They can try something that is different from their usual work and bring back those skills, thereby adding value to their employer by improving their current job performance. They may even enhance the succession management efforts of their employer because they become ready to move into positions of greater responsibility faster and more effectively than they would had they not taken on the volunteer role. The best part about this employee development strategy is it doesn't cost the organization nearly as much as sending the employee to costly training workshops or hiring a coach. In fact, it often costs the organization nothing.

In my ASTD Press book, Employee Development on a Shoestring, I describe 11 different ways to develop employees outside the classroom, including a chapter on Volunteering as an employee development method. In it, I define how volunteering can serve as an employee development method and explain who should try it, how it benefits learners and the organization, the competencies it can develop, and how it works. I also give tips for establishing volunteering as one of your approaches to employee development and conclude with a case study that depicts the success PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) enjoyed as a result of offering this type of development method.

Volunteering as Employee Development: PwC’s Project Belize

The case study describes how 200 PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) volunteers—partners, staff, and interns from across the United States—traveled to Belize City, Belize, in the Summer of 2011 as part of Project Belize, an initiative that builds on a three-year relationship with schools in Belize City, and is primarily focused on financial literacy and environmental sustainability. The PwC team connected with more than 1,200 students in 10 schools in some of Belize’s poorest areas and focused on hosting a youth financial literacy camp, leading a scholar's mentoring program for current and former Belizean students, providing financial and technology training to teachers, and building “Learning Landscape” playgrounds using repurposed materials.

According to PwC participant Justin Suissa, “the experience [building learning landscape playgrounds] was valuable on so many levels.” Justin was out of his element—construction is not where his expertise lies—and had a tight deadline and clearly defined “deliverables,” but many pitfalls and unexpected obstacles to overcome. Having to pull together as a team to build six playgrounds for the children through pouring rain and intense heat and humidity in five days was a challenge that developed his leadership and team-building skills. Justin developed his flexibility and agility competencies to figure out new technical skills in an unpredictable environment. “While I did not expect it, it was like a learning playground for us, the volunteers. With high stakes and a tough deadline, my teammates and I had to solve problems creatively and let go of pre-established hierarchies in this new environment.”

For another volunteering employee, Jack Teuber, this experience meant a change in his environment and operational mode—from an unconsciously competent managing director leading a team to a novice middle school teacher in a foreign country, working with children and with a totally new and mixed team of associates and interns. Jack understood that his challenge was “to get out of people’s way and encourage them to grow, solve problems, and develop their leadership skills.” He developed his ability to collaborate and support others’ success through coaching. Jack reflected that he and his teammates all needed to rise to the challenge based on “soft skills” in this new environment—building relationships, establishing empathy, communicating, and partnering. These skills are “extremely important back in the PwC environment because they help us serve our clients better and be better leaders and team players to our colleagues.” Finally, Jack gained tremendous partnering and networking benefits—“the team members still keep in touch after returning home and all of us have developed greater access to and understanding of other areas of the business, which serves to break down barriers, especially the hierarchical ones. Belize affected my self-awareness and has caused me to want to do this for my own team [at home].”

While this case study describes a large and generous company undertaking a big expenditure, the same principles can be applied and the same developmental benefits can be yours for absolutely no money. Volunteering can be done in your local community—no international flights needed. Volunteering can be conducted by individual employees joining other members of the wider community or as a team effort—sending a group of volunteers from the same organization on a volunteer mission. The learning that took place for those Belize Project volunteers could happen in your local neighborhood. I hope you give it a try!

Employee Development on a Shoestring has lots of additional tools, checklists, self-assessments and other supports to help you implement the various development methods, consider some of the objections you might encounter, and provide ways to overcome them. Catch my presentation at ASTD ICE on Tuesday, May 8, 2012, from 4:00 – 5:30 p.m. about this topic to get even more ideas!


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Categories: Books | Human Capital | Learning & Development | Learning Technologies

Employee Development: Outside the Classroom and Outside the Box

March 6, 2012 09:44 by Halelly Azulay

Guest post by Halelly Azulay, TalentGrow

All over the world, professionals like you are faced with a challenging task of helping employees grow and develop their knowledge, skills, and competencies in the face of shrinking budgets and timelines and ever-increasing pressures to ‘do more with less.’ Supervisors and employees desperately need alternatives and complements to the usual approach of employee development training or e-learning events, because formal learning is not enough. And so many of us are so overwhelmed with a growing workload that we simply don’t have the time or the requisite knowledge to come up with new, creative ideas for developing skills within the parameters that are presented to us.

Case Study: Toby’s Flexibility

Toby is a star performer on whom you can always rely. He is smart and decisive and has a strong sense of accountability. He has been getting feedback from peers, other stakeholders, and you about needing to respond in a more flexible and nimble way to unexpected information or quick changes in plans. He wants to develop his Flexibility competency and you concur—it will help him move to the next level of leadership readiness. But how?

Here is an example of three of the 11 development methods I’ve outlined in my book, Employee Development on a Shoestring (ASTD Press, 2012), centered on this one sample competency of Flexibility. I hope that it generates some good ideas on how to develop employees year-round, outside the classroom, outside ‘the box,’ and with a low budget.

Developing Flexibility Outside the Classroom

You need to help Toby develop a SMART (specific, measurable, aligned, results-oriented, and time-bound) goal and plot specific actions that will lead him to achieve this goal. Assuming that a training class or e-learning program on flexibility is either not an option or already covered, here are three ideas for development outside the classroom and ‘on a shoestring.’

Development Goal (SMART):
(Phrased in active, present tense voice)

Toby quickly adapts his behavior and work methods in response to new information, changing conditions, or unexpected obstacles. He adjusts rapidly to new situations warranting attention and resolution.

Development Activity 1: Self-Directed Learning*

Toby will read at least three books on change and flexibility and write a summary of the key lessons he can apply from each book.

1. Resources and Support Needed

a. Identify and purchase first book or loan from library.
b. Repeat for second and third books.
c. [Manager name] will be available to meet with Toby for each report for one hour.

2. Timeline and Deadlines:

a. Obtain first book by Friday of next week.
b. Complete reading first book and write report by the end of the month.
c. Discuss with [manager name] by first Friday of next month. 
d. Repeat for second and third book.
e. Complete all three books by end of second quarter.

3. Measures and Criteria for Success:

a. Toby has read and reported on at least three books about change and flexibility by the end of second quarter.

Development Activity 2: Special Teams**

Toby will join an action-learning taskforce where he will take on a more observant, quiet role during problem solving and project planning meetings to allow and understand multiple views and perspectives for each problem. He will also personally write down three alternative explanations to each idea or judgment that he thinks of before articulating his opinion in meetings.

1. Resources and Support Needed:

a. Journal or record-keeping notebook or electronic document for insights and generating alternatives.
b. Inform team members about this challenge and develop a special hand signal they could give him when Toby becomes active when multiple other views have not yet been expressed.

2. Timeline and Deadlines:

a. Begin immediately and conduct this behavior during every team meeting where a deliberation of a problem and possible solutions occurs.
b. Journal as soon as possible after a meeting to reflect and capture insights and lessons learned.
c. Check in with [manager name] to report progress and insights once every two weeks for the first two months, less frequently after (based on mutual agreement at that time).

3. Measures and Criteria for Success:

a. Toby will have regular journal records of attempts showing increasingly more observant and less active behavior during deliberations.
b. By the end of second quarter, Toby will have 85% success rate of withholding his ideas and comments from deliberations until at least ¾ of those present have actively participated with their ideas, as reported by   him in his reflection journals.

Development Activity 3: Job Rotation Assignment 

Toby will complete a job rotation assignment in a department/location that is known to be under a lot of stress and pressure to gain a new perspective on organizational issues and develop new ways of working, especially in a challenging environment. He will keep a journal of his challenges and insights and debrief his manager afterward to identify what was most challenging or difficult for him and how he could handle those aspects more effectively.

1. Resources and Support Needed:

a. Identify location for job rotation.
b. Correspond with rotation manager and ensure availability of rotation assignment.
c. Determine a succession plan for Toby’s current role for the duration of the rotation.
d. Communicate plan to staff and management and gain their support.

2. Timeline and Deadlines:

a. List 5–8 possible assignment ideas by end of month.
b. Finalize the target assignment location by end of second quarter.
c. Identify succession plan by end of second quarter.
d. Communicate plan to staff and management by mid-July.
e. Begin rotation by end of August.
f. End rotation by the next January.
g. Conduct a debrief discussion within two weeks from return to current role.

3. Measures and Criteria for Success:

a. Toby will have successfully planned for and completed a six-month rotational assignment with a focus on developing flexibility under pressure and new perspectives for organizational issues by year’s end.

Toby should be able to demonstrate a substantial improvement in his ability to respond flexibly to changes and new situations as a result of this plan. Then, you can begin to focus on a new development goal. Maybe Toby will be ready for that promotion you’ve been considering for him?

Employee Development on a Shoestring has lots of additional tools, checklists, self-assessments and other supports to help you implement the various development methods, consider some of the objections you might encounter, and provide ways to overcome them. Catch my presentation at ASTD ICE on Tuesday, May 8, 2012, from 4:00 – 5:30 p.m. about this topic to get even more ideas!

What unique employee development methods, which didn’t require any official ‘training’ events or lots of resources, have you tried? Please share your ideas, experiences, and questions in the comments, below!

Source: Employee Development on a Shoestring by Halelly Azulay (ASTD Press, 2012).
* Self-directed learning is covered in Chapter 2 of Employee Development on a Shoestring
** Special Teams are covered in Chapter 7 of Employee Development on a Shoestring
*** Job Rotation is covered in Chapter 6 of Employee Development on a Shoestring

Credit: Photo by Hamed Saber via Flickr Creative Commons


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Categories: Books | Human Capital | Learning & Development | Learning Technologies

5 Ways to Develop Employees Without Spending a Dime

February 29, 2012 08:59 by Halelly Azulay

You’re busy, busy, busy. So is your staff. There are skills and competencies that they need (or want) to develop, but you don’t have the budget to send them off to some three-day training seminar. Or maybe that’s not even an option for the content or experience you’re looking to develop. Or you’ve been there, done that. What to do?! Relax! There are actually lots of things you could do, right now, to develop your employees. And many of them won’t cost you a dime. Here are five ideas to get you started:

  1. Let them fly solo. By reading books or blogs, listening to podcasts or audio books, watching educational videos on TED or YouTube, or apprenticing and trying to practice a new skill with a master or a role model, employees can use self-directed learning anytime and almost anywhere. Libraries, online resources, and other employees are all examples of freely available resources that are all around us. Let your employees assess their learning readiness and learning style, and choose some self-directed development goals to achieve.
  2. Encourage volunteering. Employees who take on volunteer roles are able to build new skills and practice existing skills in a different setting from their day-to-day jobs. They can try something that is different from their usual work and bring back those skills to their current job, thereby adding value by improving their current job performance. Volunteering usually takes place on employees’ own time and doesn’t require anything but your moral support.
  3. Facilitate mentoring. Whether acting in the role of the mentor or the protégé, participating in a mutually-beneficial mentoring relationship (within or outside your organization) allows employees to develop a variety of new knowledge and skills and takes no resources (except a little bit of time). Employees can learn tricks of the trade and technical information as well as develop ‘softer’ competencies such as leadership, networking and partnering, coaching and listening skills.
  4. Give time for creativity. Allow employees to work on something that doesn’t fall within the parameters of their day-to-day job for a specific amount of time—a dedicated “Innovation/Creativity Zone.” During this time, employees can chase down an idea, do an experiment, or conduct research. The only requirement is that the employees report back what they have accomplished during that dedicated chunk of time away from work. Companies like Google, Facebook, Atlassian, 3M and Twitter, among many others, have used this method to not only allow employees to develop their own creativity and problem-solving skills in a hands-on way, but to realize organizational benefits in the form of new solutions and products.
  5. Promote social networking. Employees can collaborate with others using various online tools to share knowledge, build relationships, and interact with content and with other members of the online community. Also known as Learning 2.0 or Enterprise 2.0, these tools allow learners to learn independently, more quickly, and more efficiently, and to be more productive and effective as a result. Most of the content in these systems is user generated and user rated for interest, relevance, and helpfulness. There are lots of externally available social networking platforms we all use and love like LinkedIn, Facebook, and YouTube, as well as firewall-protected enterprise network solutions like Jive, Microsoft SharePoint, and Yammer.

Additional Resources:
In my forthcoming book, Employee Development on a Shoestring (ASTD Press, 2012), I describe these and six other creative employee development methods that help you keep your budget and time investment to a minimum. Dan Pink describes the Creativity Zone idea in his 2010 book, Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us. Excellent resources on Learning 2.0 ideas and tips are Tony Bingham and Marcia Conner’s The New Social Learning: A Guide to Transforming Organizations Through Social Media (2010), Jeanne Meister and Karie Willyerd’s The 2020 Workplace: How Innovative Companies Attract, Develop, and Keep Tomorrow’s Employees Today (2010), and Jane Bozarth’s Social Media for Trainers: Techniques for Enhancing and Extending Learning (2010).
What are ways you’ve developed your employees’ knowledge and skills without spending an arm and a leg? I’d love to hear your ideas, stories, and questions in the blog comments below!

*Photo by Alan Cleaver via Flickr Creative Commons

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Categories: Books | Human Capital | Learning & Development | Learning Technologies