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Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Cultivating a Culture of Learning

Been a few weeks since my last post. I hope you didn't miss me too much :)

How important is learning in your organization? It's probably like asking how important it is for your organization to have employees find better, more effective, more efficient ways of doing things, delivering better results or creating better and long term value for the company. Undoubtedly, the answer should be a resounding yes! To say no, is like saying that you are just waiting for your company's impending doom. If you are agreeing with me on all counts, then you must have something to share about building an organizational culture of learning where every member is encouraged to learn new things.

If your answer is yes but you feel that you have not done enough about it then I hope to tickle your fancy, pique your interest and whet your own learning apetite as I share some of my ideas, experience and the things I heard other managers do in order to champion learning in their organizations.

My first recommendation applies to just about everything, and that is if you want results, you will have to be deliberate about pursuing it. You cannot ride just about any bus one day and wish that it brings you to a specific place of your choice and on time. You have to take the right bus or take a cab (know what I mean?) If you want your employees to be hungry about learning and apply what they learn to work, you'll need to sitdown (or stand up, or whatever position you feel comfortable in) and think real hard about creating a strategy that will bring about your desired results. Decision is an important part of cultivating a culture. You have to make that decision of saying "yes, I want to improve the way we learn here in my organization and I will do everything that I can to make it happen". Believe me, it will happen. To make it a bit easier for you, here are some of the things you can start doing.
  • Make learning a part of your Performance Management System - Norton and Kaplan, the great gurus that brought us balanced score card shared the importance of basing organizational performance on four perspectives; financial, customer, internal and learning and growth, where learning and growth is considered as just one perspective. The financial aspect of organizational performance is the bottom line, it is a lagging indicator, it is the result of everything that you did. Learning on the other hand is a leading indicator, what you and your employees learn impact on your internal processes, which impacts on customer satisfaction levels which ultimately impacts on financial performance. If we are to follow Kaplan and Norton's model, less or no learning will ultimately redown to failed financial performance. It is therefore important to really be clear about your organizational learning objectives and set initiatives to acquire these learning. For example, if we set out to learn problem solving and decision making skills, , the company should be able to provide incentives for people to pursue learning these tools. By incentive, I don't just mean money, I also mean formal training, acquiring books that people can read and having deliberate problem solving or process improvement programs in place (Think quality circle or six sigma projects). These are also forms of incentives that can motivate people to learn new things. You can now ask yourself, what kinds of learning objectives should you have in your organziation? Is it to learn the newest tool of the trade, improve production, lower operating cost without sacrificing quality, improve cycle time or reduce waste? You decide. Identify performance indicators of the learning that you desire, set targets, monitor, provide support, feedback and rewards. Yes, don't forget that last one. It can really do wonders on people's motivation
  • Identify creative ways of encouraging learning - Set up a library where people can read and borrow relevant books and access learning materials that can help them improve their crafts. I had a client who set-up a book club where members are asked to read a particular book each month and then discuss what they've learned during group meetings. Another client set-up what they call a sales clinic where field personnels gather to discuss good and bad experiences in the field and think together about the lessons of those experiences. It doesn't only help them learn from the success and failure of their team, it also improves teamwork. When I was working as Training Officer in SPI Technologies in 1999, I rotated the leadership role among my team of trainers each week while I play the role of coach to the person in charge. That experience taught us some valuable lessons about leadership, coaching and most especially, the power of action learning. While I was HR Manager of Ingenium Technology, a software development company, I witnessed how some of our programmers learned Java from scratch, without the aid of formal training and later on turned out to be experts not just in the said programming language but experts on learning new technologies as well.

I would bet that there are dozens more techniques and strategies out there on how to push the envelope of learning in the organization and I would certainly love to hear your ideas if you are willing to share it in the comments section below.

May I say however, that the real key to promoting learning in the organization is LEADERSHIP. Leaders who are passionate about learning and are willing to go through great lengths to manifest the culture in the organization will find these bits of information exciting if they have not done similar things yet.

Here's my call to action: Determine your organizational learning objectives. Pursue it relentlessly and be creative about your ways of promoting it. Remember that how well your employees learn impact on the company's long term value and yes, bottomline too.

See you next post!

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