Posts Tagged ‘learning organization’

7 Leadership skills that EVERYONE should develop – Number 4: Encourage Learning

July 9, 2011

If you ever get to a stage in your career when you think “I’ve arrived”, you stop learning … and it’s obviously important that leaders at all levels don’t do this. Perhaps more to the point, it’s crucial that leaders act as ROLE MODELS for learning and development, in order to embed it throughout the organisation.

Cynics amongst you might think “Well she would say that –she’s in training and development!”  and I guess there’s an element of truth in that: but I wouldn’t be doing this if I didn’t believe passionately that it’s important, both to individuals and to businesses.

Here are three things to do with learning that I believe that leaders could do better– whatever size of business they’re in.

1) Elevate the status of learning

I’ve written before about whether people approach training to build a person and their skills (i.e. in a positive and proactive sense) or whether they use it to fix problems (i.e. in a remedial, reactive sense).

If training and development are seen as remedial measures, people are less likely to be motivated to learn – either on training courses OR, more importantly, in their own time and in terms of their own personal development. Almost across the board, that whole personal development area is a huge learning opportunity that companies are missing.

As a leader, making it obvious that you yourself are on a learning journey, passing on some of the things you’ve learned and referencing books, courses, online resources and so on will help raise the importance of ongoing learning within the company.

Put bluntly, if you and your people aren’t learning, they’re remaining in ignorance … and that’s not going to bring you a commercial edge.

 2) Condone the enjoyment of learning

Learning is serious business … but it doesn’t have to be a mirthless drudge of lectures, powerpoint presentations and manuals the size of building blocks.

Years of research in both the training and development and education sectors point to the fact that the brain absorbs information (i.e. learns)  through the five senses, amongst other factors, and that by far the most people learn best through auditory, visual AND haptic means.

I was working for an organisation a few years back which approved a very interactive, innovative series of workshops for junior staff, but insisted that senior managers at the same organisation needed a more ‘serious’ approach.

They seemed to somehow be suggesting that once you  get a  ‘senior manager’ plaque on the door, you suddenly lose your sense of humour and personality and more to the point, lose your ability to learn by any other means than didactic instruction.  This of course, contradicts both academic and medical research … to say nothing of common sense. Do senior managers enjoy boring training courses any more than the rest of us?! I doubt it!

Of COURSE content needs to be tailored to the level of the participant group. Delivery methods, though, need to be as engaging as possible in order to be interesting and relevant to learners.

It should be remembered that people learn more when they are relaxed and enjoying themselves. And there’s no age or management limit to that.

 3) Support the implementation of learning

So! Someone comes back from a training course, full of ideas, keen to test out some of their new found skills! What happens next:

a) Hurray! The company already has a learning system in place, and with the full support of their managers and colleagues they successfully build confidence in implementing their new skills until they become habit, modelling positive behaviours and practices in the process.

b) They have a stab at some of the techniques from the course that they’re more comfortable with, stash the course manual in a drawer somewhere, and remember to tick that training course off on their performance management checklist.

c) They try one of their new techniques and their manager /colleague jibes “Oh, well we can see that YOU’VE been on the training course!” leaving them somewhat crestfallen and reluctant to try to implement anything else they’ve learned.

Clearly individual leaders can have an impact on the level and extent to which they provide an environment where learning and trying new skills is the norm, and where practice is monitored and encouraged, and many already do this.

It can be easier, though to assume that people will come back from a training course or other learning intervention and just ‘get on with it’, without recognising how the environment can affect the extent to which this is done.

Leaders who continue to learn inspire others in the organisation to do the same. Leaders who recognise when other people are learning and coach and encourage them to persevere in implementing their newskills are taking HUGE steps to develop a learning culture.

And why bother? In the words of the Chinese proverb  “Learning is like rowing upstream: not to advance is to drop back”.

And who wants their own career, their department or their company to do that?

How to Learn

November 1, 2010

Yep – sounds like a strange one. What do you mean, “how to learn”? Isn’t it obvious?

Well, yes and no.  Yes, because we’re learning and picking up information all the time and from all sorts of different sources. No, because often we don’t make the connections between what we’re doing / experiencing / seeing / hearing and our lives and work.

When delivering training, I often come across people who will constantly ask for ‘specific company x examples’ of whatever behaviour, leadership style or management theory is being explored. They just don’t seem to be able to make connections between things that happen outwith the workplace and their own lives, work and activities…or maybe it’s too much effort to make those valuable connections. 

The truth is almost ANY behaviour or experience can be relevant to employees at ‘company x’ …if they know how to learn from it.

Building a Learning Organisation

October 7, 2010

Maybe the first question should be “So what exactly IS a ‘Learning Organisation ??” It does, after all , sound like the sort of consultant jargon that’s wheeled out to impress people without fully knowing what it is.

Well, ask yourself this: how much EASIER would managing performance, delivering innovation, creative thinking, analysis and strategy development and generally moving a company forward be if everyone in the organisation was open to a culture of learning and change? If PERSONAL development and continued learning was an accepted norm amongst employees…rather than being signed up for the odd training course?

Happily, there’s been a lot of research in this area (Donald Schon, Chris Argyris, Peter Senge etc etc) which defines far more accurately what we’re talking about here.

From the grass roots perspective of  someone who’s devised and  / or delivered a range of learning programmes in a wide variety of organisations large and small, the obvious factors that an organisation needs to consider are:

TO ELEVATE THE STATUS OF LEARNING:  this requires some leadership from senior management (who, after all, are not omniscient!) …and some sincerity. An ‘I’ve arrived’ mentality at senior level is usually coupled with a ‘do what I say, not what I do’ approach to learning and development, which doesn’t work. People can see right through it, and will copy senior management actions rather than instructions when push comes to shove. 

Disrespect for HR and Learning and Development departments doesn’t help here, neither does a culture where workplace learning is seen as corrective or remedial.

TO CONDONE THE ENJOYMENT OF LEARNING:  I try very hard NOT to work with organisations who insist on a ‘death by powerpoint’ , didactic approach to learning.  I’ve even had one look at some photos from one of my training course and remark that ‘it ought to be toned down a bit – it looks like they’re having too much fun’ .  How boring. How uninspiring. How UNlikely to motivate someone to want to learn and grow more.

YES, the outcomes are serious,and business objectives must be met:  but if people can enjoy and engage with the learning experience, it is more likely to have a lasting impact in the workplace…and lead to continued learning and growth.

SUPPORTING THE IMPLEMENTATION OF LEARNING: this should involve some effort to shift the culture of an organisation. It’s a bit pointless, for example, sending people on creative thinking or assertiveness courses, and then having them come back to a stagnant work environment that tells them to shut up and get on with the same old same old.

So, who really DOES want a culture of learning and growth in their organisation?  Because that could mean some changes in attitude and mindset…