Three common challenges faced when creating an engaging work environment

colleagues giving an office high-five

By Olivier Herold, CEO at The Oxford Group

You may think that your management training is top-notch, with sophisticated technologies, detailed information and an engaging trainer to present it all, but unless your wider organisational environment is as engaging with effective learning in mind, your effort and training budget may all be going down the drain.

In such instances, there are generally three main challenges to be overcome.

Stop Pushing, Start Pulling

It is not enough to implore – or, worst of all, force – employees to take part in L&D initiatives if you want to get your objectives met. In fact, approaching training this way is more likely to damage morale, productivity and bottom line.

Employees tend to expect L&D to be driven by HR, but we are currently in the midst of a transition, with HR’s efforts being concentrated on fostering a desire to develop and learn new skills amongst their workforce, and employees themselves being given accountability for seeking their own training.

Although this may strike you as a big shift, it doesn’t have to be difficult, and can be given a kick start simply by initiating conversation with your employees, asking about their ambitions, skills and interests. Have you recently invited feedback from your team about their own performance? What has each employee done well and what did they take from that experience? Do you know what areas they want to improve and where training would be well placed? Have you taken any opportunity to discuss this with anyone?

We have worked with a major energy provider to introduce this process in the form of a two-day programme for new starters and leadership talent. ‘Pull’ was firmly at the core of this concept, as it was designed to empower people to take the reins of their own career development by building a personal learning plan that works for them and takes advantage of internal courses.

Bust the e-Learning Myth

Creating a learning culture that encourages and empowers employees often involves the introduction of an LMS or some other online learning portal, and many managers assume that such a solution will be cheaper than face-to-face training. These are large undertakings without the guaranteed results to match and so are often not the most cost-efficient option. Why is this the case?

Buying in large catalogues of ready-made resources that aren’t specific to your business seldom achieves any results, for a multitude of reasons. Without the right language and context, such resources can be difficult for users to translate into behavioural changes. That said, off-the-shelf training material can do more for large groups (e.g. front line managers) or for technical/compliance training.

In addition to this, it is important to motivate people to access a training portal and do the exercises. It isn’t as simple as ‘build it and they will come’. If self-directed learning (pull) is neglected in the company culture, all you get is a very expensive document storage system.

However, a custom e-learning system is far more likely to achieve the results you’re looking for in a cost-efficient way. The real challenge you face is in leveraging e-learning for both the development of behaviours and blending it into a more general L&D journey.

Engage with Line Managers First

First port of call for achieving sustainable behaviour change should be line manager support. If L&D is positioned as a priority, employees will feel empowered to make their own decisions about where their personal training should be heading. It is the place of the line manager to encourage behaviour changes in their employees and guide them from ‘it’s an extra on top of my real workload’ to ‘it’s an important part of my job’.

But this won’t transpire if the Line Manager isn’t on-board with the training. When we were working on transforming a global leadership programme for a large engineering company, we soon came to realise that if they wanted ongoing learning, not a one-off special event, that this would require Line Manager engagement. In response to this, we established a support structure for Line Managers that gave an in-depth run-through of the programme and plenty of advice on how to support participants. To ensure all progress was maintained, the programme incorporated input from their business leaders at each stage to provide real-life opportunities and encourage engagement.

On top of this, Line Managers are central to helping participants decode, and put into practice, the information they pick up. This is especially important when dealing with online courses, as face-to-face learning automatically prompts people to bring their own examples to contextualise the information in a way that doesn’t necessarily happen with off-the-shelf e-learning.

Some e-learning formats are sophisticated enough to provide theoretical learning whilst offering practical activities offline that require active reflection from the participants and their Line Managers. Online portals with automated notifications structure the learning experience for participants and their managers, in terms of diagnosis, learning, application and reflection. This combination of e-learning and face-to-face is the best way of embedding learning and pinpointing successes and failures. This format gives way to a team of learners who can keep momentum going while supporting each other.

There are no shortcuts to building a working environment that advocates self-improvement, but empowering people to take responsibility for their own progress, understanding how to get the best from e-learning and engaging Line Managers helps guarantee effective learning and decent return on L&D budgets.

About Olivier Herold

Olivier joined The Oxford Group in 2009 and since 2016 he has been CEO and is leading the global expansion of the company. He is a trilingual leadership and organisational change expert with a passion for leading & facilitating complex projects that provide smooth, integrated and sustainable solutions. Olivier’s experience spans a range of functional and cross-functional roles in public and private sector organisations. For more information, visit

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