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Playing to Win: Learning and Growth in Work and Life

Playing to Win: Learning and Growth in Work and Life

Webcast Details

  • Gallup Called to Coach Webcast Series
  • Season 6, Episode 45
  • Listen as Mike McDonald explains the importance of hope and fearlessness for employees and teams in this Q12 for Coaches podcast on item Q12.

On this special edition of Called to Coach, we will spend time investigating the experiential, emotional and empirical aspects of each element of Gallup's Q12 engagement instrument and learning how it increases the power of our coaching as a primary driver of success. This series will be hosted by Dr. Mike McDonald, Senior Workplace Consultant at Gallup, who started at Gallup in 1990 as a manager/team leader and has had a variety of roles but has always led a team. One of his primary concerns for managers is one that he's experienced himself: How many well-intentioned team leaders are there who are working really hard but don't have any coaching or context about engagement and how do they lead to engagement through their strengths?

In this session, Mike talks about item Q12 -- "This last year, I have had opportunities at work to learn and grow." Below is a summary of the conversation. Full audio and video are posted above.


The motivational request behind this item is "Challenge me." As human beings, we have a discomfort with feeling "stuck." If we're stuck, it will affect our engagement.

Item Q12 has as much futuristic and horizon-level perspective as any of the other 11 items. Are your best days ahead of you or behind you? As leaders and coaches, how do we help people stay out in front and cast a vision for the future? Again, "hope" is important in this item.

Why is it important that employees have hope? "Hope" in the workplace is an uncomfortable word; we think of it in other contexts (such as family) but have a hard time thinking of it in the workplace context.

Engagement involves the conversion of emotion into performance. Hope helps us extend our voluntary, discretionary effort. It can give us resilience in our work, and can work together with the expectations item (Q01) and the supervisor cares item (Q05). All 11 items (Q01-Q11) contribute to the hope we have at work. And hope is contagious.

Hope is not some kind of magical word; it involves a confidence that today can be better than yesterday. Learning and growing (item Q12) is not just something that involves special opportunities to learn, like seminars or college courses, but is something far more daily -- what is my role, and is it getting better?

So the way for organizations to approach this item successfully is not simply to schedule more training or offer tuition reimbursement. It's more than that. It can be as simple as finding new and more efficient ways to do your job.

When people are aligned around what they do well (Q03), they have a real sense of what learning and growing can look like.

Everyone wants to make a difference. When we wake up in the morning, it's great to think that today can be better than yesterday because I have a new process or can implement a new tool. It begins to change the dynamics of your team.

At the team level, there is a fearlessness that is driven out of our natural curiosity, and it helps us start "playing to win" rather than "playing not to lose." The fearlessness can be contagious in a team, and lead to greater risk tolerance. When we have a foundation of engagement (and strengths), we are willing to extend ourselves and risk more than we otherwise might have. And we move fear out of the equation and start to invite and provoke this spirit of curiosity, discovery, and "what if." We are no longer scared to get better.

We can never get past the individual conversation on this item. It's important to keep the conversations going because we may not feel this is happening on a daily basis. We need to take a broader perspective but see the ways those conversations can make a difference in our daily work. (And this is also a great developmental review question, and coaches can use powerful variations of it, such as, "What have you learned in the past month?" And then find ways to share what they learned with the team.)

But while we used to think only about "job" in answering this question, now our thinking often involves our "life." How does my job explain my world? The highest order of this question starts to show itself in terms of community well-being and how well the workplace is doing in giving us opportunities to be better members of our community. Such opportunities have an effect on our work; the two don't live in silos.

The "learn and grow" question is also important to the millennial generation. They show that development matters. In Gallup's engagement studies, we find that engagement drops with tenure, and more so for millennials.

  • 59% of millennials say opportunities to learn and grow at work are extremely important.
  • 87% of millennials rate professional or career development as important to them in a job.
  • 60% of millennials who say they have opportunities to learn and grow at their job are planning to be at their current job a year from now.

The appetite for human development has perhaps never been higher.

For leaders and managers, at the team and the individual level:

  • Learning needs to be seen as a continuous expectation, with a self-perpetuating cycle.
  • Learning needs to be based on an understanding of individuals and their talents, and -- aspirationally -- who they could be.
  • Learning conversations should proceed from the perspective that people's employment is a career, rather than just a job.

Additional advice for managers:

  • Don't set up a learning and growth opportunity that involves just one person; if possible, involve at least one other person to bring in the relational component.
  • Allow people to co-create what their learning and growth plan will look like.
  • Ask people who they're learning from (that is, who is mentoring them), and use that information to build a learning network so you as the team leader are not the "learning vending machine" -- in other words, you're not the only answer to your team's learning and growth questions.
  • Managers should be learning and growing themselves. Coaches can help managers see that they need to surround themselves in their peer group with people from whom they can learn.

Best practices:

  • Invest the time.
  • Involve your team in the interpretation of the item and in accountability for the item (Q12).
  • Individualize your approach and consider each person's unique strengths in creating personalized development paths. Read the Re-Engineering Performance Management paper (p. 42) to discover Five Conversations That Drive Performance; this will help you better manage the conversations you have with team members.
  • Ask -- Where do the greatest opportunities within an employee's job to learn and grow align themselves with my team's or organization's performance needs?
  • Help people see their potential beyond their own view of themselves. Challenge them out of mission.

Additional resources:

Mike McDonald's Top 5 CliftonStrengths are Ideation, Input, Learner, Achiever and Focus.

Learn more about using CliftonStrengths to help yourself and others succeed:

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