My last blog post talked about engagement and maintaining engagement throughout the talent life cycle. In this entry, I want to focus on learning framework models that target engagement at key points in the talent life cycle.

The idea is that if you match a learning framework to the needs of the learner at a specific point in their development, you greatly increase the likelihood of engagement with the learning experience. This is more than learner preference or style; it is about tailoring presentation or context to performance factors.

Consider this: when employees first start with your organization or change roles, it can be easier to engage them, but harder to get real performance. They are excited, typically self-motivated, but may lack the skills that make up the competencies needed to perform. To effectively develop these employees, a high degree of direction is needed.

As the employee begins to acquire knowledge and skill and some level of job competency, it’s easier for disillusionment to set in. Skill has increased but engagement may drop. With the honeymoon phase over, they just aren’t as naturally excited as they used to be. The employee still needs direction, but also has an increased need for support behavior to continue to be engaged. A great way to accomplish this at this point in the development cycle is to use coaching or mentoring, and perhaps a stretch assignment to break up the routine.

When employees start to achieve mastery of knowledge, they need less direction but continue to need higher support behavior, and engagement can vary. Only when both knowledge and engagement align at a high level do you get optimum performance. When engagement is high and competency is achieved, that employee needs less directive and supportive development efforts. Best practices and sharing amongst peers can have a dramatic effect on your business when people get to this point.

So how does this map into frameworks for delivering engagement?

Curriculums and frameworks to address low competency are highly directive or task-based like the models we have developed and use for Onboarding. The objective here is to present a logical progression of digestible knowledge over time—the right knowledge at the right time, immediately applicable on-the-job.

As job competency is achieved, it’s critical to add social and coaching elements more like what is found in a comprehensive cohort curriculum. Cohorts to support moderate levels of competency should contain directive assignments and coaching and/or mentoring components. These should be your “highest touch” training curriculums.

As more competencies are achieved, less task-based direction is needed. Cohorts focused on audiences with higher function can be more about applied exercises and less about knowledge-based learning, but until competencies are achieved, employees will continue to need a high touch from mentors or coaches.

People who have achieved a high level of competency are either at the top of their role or the top of your organization and will tolerate very little in terms of task-based formal learning activities or coaching, but will engage with and learn from each other. This is where Communities of Practice can really work and be self-sustaining. Best practices and sharing about practical applications of knowledge can be acted upon to drive the organization to new heights.

While this is a general guideline to the engagement approach for different levels of your organization, you also have to realize that this cycle repeats itself constantly for employees as they move through your talent management cycle. For example, let’s take a look at a new manager who has been with your organization for two years. At the enterprise or curriculum level, we expect them to be best served by a cohort or task-based cohort model. From a functional or content level they have high engagement, they are going to need more direction in the beginning, and their needs are going to be more in line with a task-based system.

It’s also important to note that engagement is hardest to achieve in the middle of a development cycle where commitment levels are variable. If onboarding fails to engage when an employee starts, engagement will be extremely difficult to re-establish as they develop. It’s here that you run the greatest risk of costly turnover and talent drain.

While developing competency is critical to the performance of your company, achieving engagement is just as critical to growth, innovation, and your ability to attract and maintain a high level of talent. Targeted delivery frameworks give context and level-appropriate structure to curriculums to help you achieve both, which we all know is vital to the long-term success of our companies.