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Seb Anthony

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Learning from Experience


Someone emailed me a part of a recent survey conducted by the Industrial Society. Apparently 1000 people, a cross-section of employees in both the private and public sectors, were asked the following questions:

Does Appraisal help them develop? That is, could they trace significant recent learning to appraisal?
75 % said NO.

Does their manager help them develop?
60% said NO

How would they rate significant and transferable learning that has subsequently been put into practice, on the last four training courses they attended?
A high degree 21%
Some degree 36%
Very little 43%

How do they learn?
92% said it was from their experiences

My question is this. What does an organisation do with the knowledge that their people learn best through their experiences?

It reminds me of the quote by Plato, ‘Experience teaches our best musicians. It also teaches our worst’

Graeme Kerr

4 Responses

  1. Interesting Survey
    Graeme, this looks an interesting survey.

    I have been on their website but not been able to find this survey. Could you provide any more information about it, e.g. it’s official title?

    Many thanks.

  2. Lessons learned
    Some organisations have a systematic approach to capturing and disseminating the lesosns learned through every day experiences. I am preparing a conference presentation on this and have a short (very) short article available. If you are interested please let me know.

  3. Strange but true
    Hmmm… I’d love to read the survey too!

    It seems to be not only a damning indictment of managers’ skills in coaching and performance management, but also of HR’s effectiveness in adding value into learning in those organisations.

    Strangely other studies have shown that organisations that do take real learning from operational experience and embed it back into the organisation tend to appear to make more mistakes. Why? Because employees are supported by the learning culture and feel able, or indeed duty bound, to share their experiences of failure with colleagues and actively seek out and disseminate the learning contained within them. Because more time is spend exploring errors rather than brushing them under the carpet and ‘moving on’ this can be a tough environment for managers who don’t want to admit that their teams mess up sometimes!

    The first step in helping organisations to learn through experiences is making it culturally acceptable for people to take time out to discuss what they have learned from experiences, both successful and unsuccessful, and to publish the results of their learning. That publishing can be highly effective if delivered through a dedicated intranet, as it can offer a hierarchy free way of sharing information.

    That does however need to be supported by managers who not only buy into learning but also have the skills and appetite to support it through effective performance management and coaching.

    We’ve worked with companies to help in these areas, and if you’d like to talk it through please give me a call, or if you would prefer just to look at some tools that may help try visiting and have a click around.

  4. Developing Autonomous Learning
    These organisations can convert static knowledge management systems into dynamic intelligence systems that return investment through their people. They do this by creating the opportunity for people to develop and apply knowledge as business solutions, through self-development, trial, and supported implementation. Accelerated Corporate Intelligence has developed and proved methodologies that support initiative development of individuals through self-selected projects and learning resources, developing their research skills, interpersonal skills, and critical thinking skills, whilst engaging peer group and management support. This unique and challenging experience delivers sustained change in individuals and organisations – the development and application of knowledge creates applied intelligence, enhancing the intelligent capacity of people to create initiatives and meet challenges in the workplace.


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