Tuesday, 20 August 2013

Taking care of business means taking care of learning

Taking care of business means taking care of learning. If learning is everywhere, it should definitely be where the work is getting done. When learning is the work, we need to observe how people are learning to do their work already. We should find these natural pathways and reinforce them. 
 Quote from Harold Jarche's blog post Work is learning, learning is the work

I was talking recently to a senior manager about ways of supporting a business change programme that will be moving into business as usual.  It was clear that a lot of hard work had been done by the project team through regular communications and workshops to support the targeted group of people.  My critical perspective is that, in common with lots of similar initiatives, the change process has tended to focus too strongly on top-down communications and 'sheep dip' skills development. 

So what's the problem? 

When you are implementing change of one type or another, it's tempting to follow a route that reflects the established hierarchical order of the organisation.  I think this is the wrong way around.  If we really want change to happen is has to come from the inside-out, i.e. endogenously rather than from the outside-in, i.e. exongenously.  The former places responsibility for change with individuals; the latter takes it away and may even be de-skilling people, at least in terms of their own learning. 

What should we focus on? 

As Harold Jarche reminds us, taking care of business means taking care of learning.

My priorities for taking care of learning would be these:

Encourage balanced learning habits

The importance of learning skills is one of the more recent discoveries of research on managerial and leadership work.  Success can be explained by the presence or absence of habits and skills related to learning.  These habits and skills include being able to use a range of different learning processes from courses, coaching and reflection and to be capable of abstract as well as practical thinking.

Develop the skills of observation and analysis

Again research tells us that we learn most of what we know on the job.  Therefore, formal learning processes should focus much more on developing the skills of workplace observation and analysis.  The results of this approach would help people understand what and how they and/or their teams are already doing.  It would also produce a number of possible pathways for development.

Enable communities. Promote networks

In the 70:20:10 learning model, the 20% represents the learning from others.  Developing the means to be able to learn from people beyond one's immediate colleagues opens up opportunities for new perspectives and problem solving.  Examples include the use of portals and social networks like Yammer and Jive. 

Bundle resources

Organisations can do a lot to put together bundles of resources from which learners can draw.  Things like:

  • Self-analysis questionnaires and quizzes
  • Short, simple videos
  • Mini-scenarios that allow the user to check whether they can put what they have learned into practice
  • Decision aids 
  • Reference material in PDF format


In my view, learning should encourage the sense of discovery and challenge.  It should be entrepreneurial in the sense that learners should be expected to take the initiative.  The technology around us right now is making this easy to achieve.  The agenda that I continue to pursue is to support and challenge organisations to think and act differently.

Further reading: A Manager's Guide to Self-Development by Mike Pedler, John Burgoyne, Tom Boydell 

Picture from Deposit Photos

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