Learning to Learn – Building a Learning Organization
Every organization talks about learning and development as one of their key focus areas. There are big budgets allocated, training team set-up and all the boxes are ticked, yet, learning happens to be one of the most under-worked and deficient area for most organizations.
It’s no irony that most of the top talent leaves for better growth opportunities and new learning experiences. Important question to ask is, “why are most organizations not able to leverage this aspect?” Inspite of spending crores, why do people experience lack of learning and exposure? Why are there questions about most companies’ capability to build a strong learning base that can prepare leaders for the future?
As a Head of HR, one of my focus areas is to build a great talent pool. This can not be achieved only by hiring the top talent. However, even before we jump on to the popular/legacy models that may have worked in the past, the first thing that every organization needs to do is to “un-learn” and “re-learn” on how to build a “Learning organization”.
While I am challenging believer in the key principle of 3Es of learning (Education, Exposure and Experience), I also believe in innovation in ways of executing these 3 principles by most organization. I’m talking about resisting the bias against doing new things, examining the horizon of progression, and urging yourself and the teams to acquire radically different skillsets - while still performing your job. That requires an inclination to research and become a beginner again and again: an extremely uneasy thought for most of us. “A beginner’s mindset” is the new normal for not just the high-profile start-ups, but also legacy organizations.
Traditional training methodologies focus on teaching, not learning. Most companies incorrectly equate the number of training man hours to focus on learning and fail to clear the litmus test of how this is translating into productivity and output. Unfortunately, learning culture in each team also depends on the leader and his/her belief on the concept of learning. This is where robust hiring or a strong learning driven culture will play a pivotal role to bring about transformation.
It’s time for organizations to learn more than ever, as they confront an ocean of unforeseen possibilities. Each organization must become a learning organization. It’s going to be a part of each organization’s survival kit. Adapt, Innovate and Execute is a loop that is going to be the key strategy for the coming decade.
Begin with SWOT study, an honest effort in this regard will be key to every course that follows the plan. You may find that an area your organization thought was a strength is actually less robust than other organizations. This reality check may not necessarily be a bad starting point. Embrace it and course correct. Talk about your findings and future plans with your people and most importantly, “Walk the Talk”.
To my mind, three broad aspects that are indispensable for organizational learning and adaptability are:
- Unconventional approach (with readiness to fail) – People don’t do what you say, people do what you do. If, as an organization, you claim to focus on innovation, how much of your learning programs (Education, Exposure and Experience) focus on building/ leveraging/ promoting innovation. Organizations/ Leaders need to lead the way.
- Consistency & Rigor – Learning cannot be a great flash in the pan. It must be a main course. Organizations cognizant of this make learning a daily actionable and not a high-flyer monthly program. As basic as new ways to design team meetings to generate feedback or recognizing brave innovation irrespective of the outcome will generate trust in the process among people.
- ROI – Accountability of the impact cannot go unmeasured anymore. The time and effort that organizations put in making themselves a learning organization will only sustain if it is able to stand the test of productivity and business impact. Training is not only a soft skill development anymore. Measures to gauge the ROI of learning is going to be a non-negotiable element of every strong learning organization.
Training is not learning. Popularly quoted over the years, you train animals, human’s learn.
To develop an environment that supports learning, knowledge must be shared in systematic and clearly defined ways. Learning can take place among individuals, groups, or whole organization. Learning can move laterally or vertically within the teams. There have been many studies done around “reverse mentoring”, “learning on the fly” that can be quite insightful to start with and each organization can design their own learning path.
In gist, it’s all about how leadership reinforces learning. Organizational learning is strongly influenced by the leaders. If leaders can emphasize the importance of devoting time on problem identification, knowledge sharing, and thoughtful post-audits, learning is likely to flourish. When people in leadership exhibit a willingness to entertain alternative points of view, employees feel emboldened to offer new ideas and options. That in true sense will make an organization “learning organization”.