One of the strongest and most understated bulwarks against competition is an organisational culture of learning.
Peter Drucker has famously stated, Culture eats Strategy for breakfast. Curious culinary inclinations apart, culture tends to be pervasive and permeates all aspects of an organisation. So, if organisational learning is to be considered seriously, then the organisation needs to embed Learning into its culture. And that is no easy task!
Irrespective of whether an organisation is customer-centric or employee focused, success hinges upon the sustenance of a culture of lifelong learning. Umpteen number of studies indicate that happy employees equal happy customers, and studies have also shown that the happiest employees are those who are well-trained and receive ongoing education.
Oscillating between Herzberg and Abraham Maslow, HR Honchos and Leaders often assume employees want more money, benefits, bonuses, etc. and niceties such as Learning do not figure anywhere in the totem pole of desirable objects. True,
Employees will never say no to an outsized increment, but it has also been found that employees want to learn—about tools to do their job and to know what is expected of them.
The 21st century employee is only too aware that her value in the labour market is only a part of the function of the college she has attended or her familial inheritance, and more is derived from the expertise she brings to the table.
Dimensions for a positive learning culture
A study on Continuing Professional Education (CPE) reveals that there are several important dimensions to creating a positive learning culture. A culture of such a type for an organisation is based on openness and trust, where employees are supported and rewarded for learning and innovation. The dimensions include:-
- Relationship to organisational strategy
Leadership: When the enthusiasm for life-long learning starts with a Leader, it can have a cascading affect through for those who work for him/her. The more senior the Leader, the bigger the impact and influence she will have on the organisation. In such an environment, employees are like sponges who absorb Learning from the opportunities the organisation affords.
It is even more exciting to find a Leader who wants to continue learning. The fact that they continue to see Learning as a critical component to overall customer and employee satisfaction is fantastic. However, to see the Leaders working on improving themselves as well, is rare, but very special.
At an annual review, in an organisation the author used to work for, the Chief Learning Officer announced a new collaboration with a premier Management Institute. But what brought greater cheer alongside was the surprise announcement that the Country Head had also enrolled for the programme, and was likely to fly out soon – a case of leading by example.
Teamwork: Though individuals need to take responsibility for their own learning and professional development, teams and networks have an important role to play as well with CPE. When you share the learn load, more topics can be covered and fed back to each other. Individuals are important, but if you have a cohort for any programme, the impact is all the more greater.
Teach back Programmes: Send employees out to learn, bring them back, and ask them to teach the others what they learned. As Confucius said, “Tell me and I’ll forget; show me and I may remember; involve me and I’ll understand.” The employee will retain it longer by having to teach others, and you will get the biggest bang for your buck if you have your employees share what they learn with the rest of the team. Even for the shortest of programmes, if you ask the participants to go back to their teams and teach the key learning points, the impact will be exponential.
Organisational Strategy: All companies want their employees to adhere to their strategic imperatives. But top down communication is not really the way to ensure this. The more a company can involve its employees in the strategising of the company goals, the better. And the more transparent organisations are, stronger will be the loyalty of employees. Let them be a part of the plan—to contribute and to learn, and to help you meet your business objectives. Strategy is the key link between theory and practice in any CPE activity.
Empowerment: School days were about learning what we were told to learn, but learning in the adult stage becomes more powerful if the employees are involved in creating the overall company vision and mission. They need to be empowered to drive and deliver results. Individuals need to be empowered within their day-to-day duties to gain maximum development within their immediate work environment.
Mentoring: The Indian culture has always believed in the gurushishya tradition of discipleship. Individuals do not always have the skills or the expertise in assessing their own needs and cannot be expected to make an objective assessment of themselves. While they must be included in their own CPE, a robust Mentoring programme can be an important part of any support framework for ongoing learning. A Mentor can help the employee discover what to learn, where to start, and how to choose platforms that help the overall goals of the company, as well as the individual.
Lifelong learning: Lifelong learning is about the opportunities to learn all through one’s life, in different settings, and through different mediums. It calls for innovation, as well as a more holistic, flexible, and an openminded way of looking at education. It is an education without a start and a finish.
Brian Tracy had said, Commit yourself to lifelong learning. The most valuable asset you will ever have is your mind, and what you put into it. Creating happy and loyal employees who will create happy and loyal customers happens in a culture of lifelong learning. Remember to include the fundamental importance of visible leadership, role models, and “champions” of the cause within the organisation.
The closeness of the relationship between the CPE policy and organisational strategy, the power of teams and teamwork, empowered individuals, and the critical role of mentoring in terms of support, facilitation, and providing an independent and objective perspective, all play critical roles in a lifelong process of learning on one hand, and organisational growth on the other. It was not for nothing, that Benjamin Franklin had said, ‘an investment in knowledge pays the best interest.
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