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How to: Develop a culture of learning pt2


John Pope concludes his piece about how businesses can embed a culture of learning in the workplace. You can read part 1 here...

Make knowledge easy to find and get

Make it attractive and easy. One scientific company used a big central space in their new building as a meeting place and coffee lounge, with some alcoves where people could sit and chat and where scientific and trade magazines were prominent. Their architect was horrified by the loss of so much space but it was a 'physical website' where their people could have the benefit exchanging ideas and news, which could then develop into stimulating discussions.

Widen the scope of learning

Take it for granted that many of your people would like to know more about the business, its activities, processes, or the technical aspects which underlie it. One organisation I know runs 'drop in sessions' where regularly one of the organisation's technical or commercial people delivers a presentation for half an hour where anyone with the time to spare may attend. It provides a small 'brown bag lunch' and those who attend leave physically and mentally 'better-fed' knowing more about the business and the issues it may face.
"...learning should be two-way – managers can learn surprising things from junior staff if they want to listen."

Get the learning habit

Parents who are interested in their children's future ask them questions when they come home from school: 'What have you learnt today' is a common greeting, not always appreciated by the child, but it does show the parent's interest in learning, and when followed up by 'How can you use it?' shows their interest in the practicality of learning. When that is backed up by educational programmes, which parents can watch with their children, or the books they read or the questions asked during a long car journey, children realise that continuing learning is seen as important. As with children, so with apprentices, and junior managers: It should not stop there, the learning should be two-way – managers can learn surprising things from junior staff if they want to listen.

Build the ‘learning approach’ into whatever the business says about itself

However small the company magazine is, even if only an A4 newssheet, there should be some mention of what people or the organisation have learnt and its importance. Use it as an opportunity to discuss what benefits staff feel it may have, whether formally or informally.

Identify the coming challenges

When there are new challenges or new aspects of work, make sure that the need for new knowledge and skills is brought out clearly and made known to all and that there is a programme for those involved to gain those skills. One of the leading UK retailers intended to move to a fundamentally different approach to ordering and stocking their supply chain. They made sure that those involved had thorough training in the new techniques before the project started they attributed the successful very complex implementation to that preparation and learning. They were subsequently able to use their new approach to other major changes.

Consolidate and share the knowledge

Somewhere, someone in the organisation has the information you need or the answer your important question. We know the phrase 'reinventing the wheel' and it is sad that it happens too often. We send someone to attend training or a meeting and fail to record what was learnt, where it might be applied or who might be able to use it. The price of attending some conference or doing some research has to be a well-written summary, and a short presentation to those who could have a use for it. It should be followed, if appropriate, by a critical examination of the operational or commercial implications. You can nominate someone to keep up to date with each aspect likely to be important. Universities have libraries; all organisations need a record of what they know which can be quickly and widely accessed. Knowledge Management was a major topic and had much management attention about 12 years ago but as usual was pushed aside by other 'new management ideas'. It is worth reviving but without the hype.

Make it enjoyable – make it a habit

Few employees welcome going back to school. Whenever possible learning should be an enjoyable stimulating experience in which they participate and is clearly relevant to them and the organisation. After experiencing that many will want to know more.

Recognise learning

Make sure that those who have gained a tough qualification or an important new skill get proper and wide recognition. In the 'old days' the top apprentice would be recognised publicly and often receive some sum, small in the general scheme of things, but substantial for that apprentice. For other staff the prize is recognition of the achievement.
"Whenever possible learning should be an enjoyable stimulating experience in which they participate and is clearly relevant to them and the organisation."
Recognising team success is important. The team should get the opportunity to present a major achievement to a wider audience and show what they have learnt. A senior level manager or director should be there to reinforce the importance of learning.

'Nothing succeeds like success'

Take it for granted that staff at all levels, are interested in the organisation for which they work. A chief executive, whom I know well, believes strongly in 'management by walking around', and re-educating his people. Whenever he has a moment to spare he gets to the workplace or its equivalent and asks people, quietly, what they think of their job, or the issues that the business faces, or what they know about the business or how they can contribute. If they don't know he tells them of the priorities and what is going on but then tackles their managers for not developing, training, or informing their people. His personal commitment to learning was soon copied by other managers and has certainly improved the approach to learning at all levels.
John Pope has been a management consultant for over 40 years. He has thrived through four major recessions and has worked to improve the development and performance of managers and management teams at all levels for most of his career. To know more about John’s work and service please visit his website. His book 'Winning Consultancy Business' was published in 2009 and is available through his website. He can be contacted at [email protected]

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