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Nigel Paine

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Three principles for organisational learning in 2024

L&D expert Nigel Paine shares his three fundamental beliefs on organisational learning in the hope it may help you articulate your own L&D principles to guide you through 2024 (and beyond).
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It is always hard to move from your narrow focus on meeting a specific need or fulfilling a handed-down objective to reflecting on a much bigger question: what do you believe and how do those beliefs shape your work?

We all get stuck in the weeds with very little time to reflect on what we are doing or consider our overall role and purpose. 

I have always grappled with that dilemma and focused on doing rather than reflecting.  Therefore, I rarely tried to write down what I considered the big picture to be. When I was well into writing my new book on ‘Organizational Learning’ I was challenged to define the underlying value set and belief system that was being articulated unconsciously by the writing.

Regardless of whether anyone chooses to write it down, or just keep it in their  head, that belief system unconsciously underpins everything anyone says or does and conditions the way that a person thinks.

I decided to put myself to the test that I had often required of others. The process of stopping and writing things down until they make sense proved immensely useful and helped me surface some pretty fundamental underlying principles that resonate throughout the book.

Here, I share my three fundamental, underpinning beliefs on organisational learning in the hope that my thought process strikes a chord with you.

Principle one: Most people in the workplace want to do a good job and do good work

I believe that prevents people from doing good work are the organisational structures and the dominant organisational culture.

So many people are prevented from doing their best work because of obsolete systems and outdated processes. The need to jump through proverbial hoops makes innovation, collaboration and agility very difficult, if not impossible. People climb through hoops just to get stuff done.

Moving on from unhelpful structures, it is the behaviour of others that is the most disempowering. In my vision, there is no place for bullying, intimidation and bad behaviour, or the culture that lets that flourish. Those behaviours stop cooperative behaviour in its tracks and make people unhappy, to the point, sometimes, where they dread going to work (in person or logging on to work online).

Principle two: Encourage people to work cooperatively so they willingly share knowledge and expertise with colleagues

This requires online and physical spaces to meet as well as default permissions so that  learning together is part of what you do – the rule not the exception.

There should be direct interventions to build and support learning and other work-based communities (such as communities of practice.) Most organisational structures tend to force people apart and encourage them to hoard rather than share insights and put pressure on their individual performance rather than the team or organisation. If insights are shared, organisations can transform themselves on a regular basis.

We need more systems thinking, more focus on the consequences of our actions and some transparency around the hidden messages we unwittingly transmit every working day. 

Principle three: The foundations of organisational resilience are based on agile and resilient employees

These agile, resilient employees plug intellectual gaps and change their perspective and point of view when the external factors change, or colleagues persuade them.

If you bear these three principles in mind, then you have simple answers to decisions around what works and what should be encouraged and supported, and what should be discouraged and even attacked.

Applying your learning principles

If you focus on building excellent and resourceful teams, you could, for example, insist that experimentation is the lifeblood of knowledge and innovation, and actively discourage punishments for failure. By doing so you have a clear vision for the kind of workplace you want to build and a benchmark to judge your progress over time.

If you manage a learning environment where only individual progress or aims are highlighted and performance is reviewed only on an individual basis and no credit is given for helping others achieve success, then you are building a very different kind of organisation, with different aspirations and a different ethos.

If you can align what you believe with what you do, every working day of your life, you will be more productive and successful.

What you need to ensure is that what you would like to achieve and your own beliefs and values are not obscured, unwittingly, by the hidden consequences of your actions. Toxic organisational culture is more often built out of ignorance and inertia rather than deliberate, planned action.

If you have no way to judge the consequences (intended or unintended) of your actions, then you end up with an operation that is less than it could be, and a diminished organisation operating far below its potential.

We need more systems thinking, more focus on the consequences of our actions and some transparency around the hidden messages we unwittingly transmit every working day. 

Get started by articulating your own principles

If you can align what you believe with what you do, every working day of your life, you will be more productive and successful. You could start with doing what I did and articulate your own principles and the linked values. The next step is to focus on what you actually do with this information, rather than what you think about it. The aim is, after all, to improve your practice rather than elevate your thoughts however great!

Interested in this topic? Read Three learning and development trends for 2024

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