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Sep
06 2012

Why Employee Learning Matters

Syndicated from: Box of Crayons

What’s your shark? Woody Allen summed it up nicely: A relationship, I think, is like a shark, you know? It has to constantly move forward or it dies. And I think what we got on our hands is a dead shark. The pressure to get things done, the complexity of the situations you face, the overwhelm you most likely feeling as a time crunched manager. All that’s true, all that’s the water you swim in. And throughout it all, you’ve got to be grappling with these questions: How do I stay focused on what matters? How do my people stay focused on what matters? How do I stay engaged, so I’m bringing my best to the work I do? How do my people stay engaged, so they’re bringing the best to the work they do? This is your shark. You’ve got to keep it moving. And this “engagement” thing is not just some touchy-feely HR concept. Here’s what Gallup say about it: Actively disengaged employees erode an organization’s bottom line while breaking the spirits of colleagues in the process. Within the U.S. workforce, Gallup estimates this cost to be more than $300 billion in lost productivity alone. Now Gallup have a business around engagement, so you might suspect some confirmation bias there. But a report last year in The Economist said, “87% of C-Suite executives recognize that disengaged employees is one of the biggest threats to their business.”  Great Work is part of the solution of course Being strategic by staying focused on the work that makes a difference, that has a purpose, and that stretches and challenges and grows you. I’ve recently finished Dan Ariely’s The Upside of Irrationality, and one of the chapters is devoted to showing the science behind why people actually prefer to work to make progress rather than have it just handed to them. And there’s nothing like standing at the frontier of “how on earth do we do this?” to create new neural pathways and literally expand the potential of the people who are doing the work. But it’s not the whole answer But if Great Work are the bricks, then structured learning can be the mortar that holds it all together. And by “learning” I really mean new insights about self and situation that leads to change in behaviour and the creation of new habits. Now when you just tell someone what to do, not a lot of learning happens. In one ear, out the other. And when they do something new, still not a lot of learning happens. I’ve done it, but so what? It’s when people have a chance to reflect on what just happened that the true learning happens. This is when new habits start to take root. A daily action The first is, on a day to day basis, creating small windows for reflection. Here are the questions you can ask (others, yourself) to help with that: What was most valuable for you? What was most interesting? What are you learning from this? What will you do differently next time? The role of formal learning At the start of our programs I’ll often ask participants what they want from a half-day or a day with us. The most typical answer is, “one or two useful takeaways”. Really? That’s the best you can hope for after investing hours? That depressing answer speaks to just how poor so much formal learning and education and training truly is. But when it’s good… That’s when and where you find new frameworks you can use as part of the on-going learning. That’s when you get to practice new ways of behaving for the first time and in a safe way. That’s when you can create a plan to mindfully build new habits. When it’s good, it’s very very good. And when it’s bad, it’s just horrible. Back to that shark The somewhat delicate flower of employee learning – which everyone agrees with in theory – is easily crushed under the boot of relentless busy-ness. Context (more Great Work), coaching (asking, “what did you learn?”) and curriculum (appropriate formal learning opportunities) are all ways to hold firm as a time crunched manager, build in opportunities for learning and create more impact and more engagement.

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