When you look closely at how customers and the competitive environment are changing, it is clear that learning is critical to any business. Learning is a capability — it requires skills. It also requires processes and leaders who value it.
Someone in your organization has to decide learning is strategic, that it’s connected to the business. Someone has to decide the company is going to make learning not just an individual experience but also a collective one.
When that happens, learning isn’t just something that occurs naturally — it’s something the company uses to drive the future of the business. Once done, here’s the next hard step: devoting energy to build the skills, culture and infrastructure necessary to learn.
There’s a tremendous sense of urgency in business today, which creates a bias for action. That, in turn, prevents organizations from taking the time to learn.
After all, taking time to think would mean stopping what you’re doing, and we’re not rewarded for stopping what we’re doing — we’re rewarded for doing more. And then there’s the challenge of taking or making the time for learning.
Taking the Time
In most organizations, “learning” still equals “training.” It’s a lot easier for old-economy companies or old-style leaders to say that it’s just a human resources thing. Their attitude is: “We’ll do it if there’s time.”
In other words, learning is event-driven. While lots of learning is indeed a function of just how much formal training the organization makes available to its employees, there is a deeper, potentially richer ore to mine.
If what you did was successful, and you actually stopped to discuss with your team members why you got those results or what they learned from a project, then that’s learning.
If executives spent as much time on trying to understand why they don’t have what they want as they do on articulating goals and vision, their probability of hitting those goals would increase. Most companies rarely take the time to facilitate and discuss the ingredients of success, as well as the learning lessons in failure.
When you ask, “Why did we fail?” it can be perceived as a search for the guilty party.
Most companies prefer to bury their mistakes, or they just deny them and move on. It takes real courage and know-how to mine the gold in this type of continuous learning philosophy, process and practice.
If you think about learning as a capability, you can see the factors that go together to make learning a corporate priority. First, people need skills. For learning to be relevant, learning skills need to have equal weight with, say, selling skills.
Second, a company needs to focus on its processes. And those processes — particularly the business-planning process — need to be designed and led from a learning perspective.
The business-planning process should be the central learning process of any company, although it seldom is. It’s hard for learning to have any credibility in a company whose business planning process is a “Hope you survive” exercise.
Third, a company needs to identify critical knowledge assets and to manage those assets as a portfolio. Fourth, the environment that a company builds should foster learning and the exchange of knowledge.
Be open to exploring how new technologies, unavailable even a year or two ago, can help organizations find success via increased learning capabilities for in-application support of critical software processes embedded into the application.
While you can’t change your company overnight to a learning organization, you can start with the most important person in the world: yourself. Bottom-line, learning is a marathon, not a sprint. Keep in mind that an organization is either green and growing or ripe and rotting.
Charles A. Breeding has invested more than 22 years in the learning space with companies such as Dale Carnegie Training, FranklinCovey, Spherion Human Capital Consulting, Learn.com and ThinQ. He can be reached at email@example.com.
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