Learning in the Workplace
Learning is like breathing. Most of the time, we do it without noticing. At the same time, we can also control it. We have the ability to focus our attention and energy on learning something new, in the same way we can use slow deep breaths to calm ourselves or regain our composure.
Breathing happens in those two ways; naturally, which is the automatic way, and with intention, and thatâ€™s true for learning as well. So, why does the fact that everyone learns matter for a business or an organization? To answer that question, consider what lessons your organization is teachingâ€¦some people might call that your company culture.
From our earliest moments of existence, people are hardwired to learn. Itâ€™s the automatic side of learning; weâ€™re influenced by everything around us. In the same way that players on a basketball team are influenced by their coach, employees are influenced by their leader. We canâ€™t help but learn things from our environment.
What are employees learning in your workplace?
Whenever I want to know more about an organizationâ€™s culture, I start looking for the lessons employees are learning from their workplace. Take policies for example:
- What do the â€śrulesâ€ť a business has chosen to enforce teach about that organizationâ€™s culture?
- What about the unwritten rules employees learn through their interactions?
- How are expectations being set and modeled by leadership?
- Are employees learning that this organizationâ€™s core values are essential guidelines, or are they just nice words in your handbook that donâ€™t guide much of anything?
- What do employees â€śget away with?â€ť
If this were a test, most people would give the â€śrightâ€ť answers to those questions, but what happens in the business environment doesnâ€™t always teach the â€śrightâ€ť lessons. Some people go to work and learn that you need to bend the rules now and then to get aheadâ€¦thatâ€™s their organizationâ€™s culture.
Intentional Learnings in the Workplace
The question everyone is much less comfortable answering is, â€śHow do we keep that from happening at our organization?â€ť How can we make sure our organization is teaching the right lessons, the ones that lead to a culture people will flock to rather than abandon?
The answer takes us back to learningâ€¦but this time, we need to look at the not-so-automatic side of things. The side of learning that we can, with effort and attention, control, the same way we can hold our breath when we go underwater. This is the intentional side of learning.
Our ability to direct our learning is the single greatest power we have over our own lives. Each time we gain a new understanding or skill, we create future opportunities for ourselves. Itâ€™s how we set our path. Learning is your power to create opportunities where there are few, or none. That makes it a transformative force and key ingredient in answering the question of how to create excellent workplace culture.
The Impact of Learning in the Workplace
A LinkedIn study with Global Industry Analyst Josh Bersin found that people who spend 5 or more hours a week learning at work were 21% more likely to be happy at work, 47% less likely to be stressed at work, 39% more likely to feel productive and successful and an impressive 74% more likely to know where they want to go in their career. Those statistics were from individuals considered the â€śheavy learners.â€ť
For â€śmediumâ€ť and â€ślight learnersâ€ť who learned at work between 1 and 5 hours a week, the results were rather similar. They were 14% happier, 13% less stressed, 16% more productive and 32% more likely to know where they wanted to go in their career. So if youâ€™re feeling stressed, directionless, unproductive and unhappy at work, start learning!
Beyond individual results, the same study found that the most successful, fastest-growing organizations had made learning a continuous practice. Excellent workplaces, the ones that teach the right lessons, and attract and retain talented people, provide continuous learning opportunities for their team members.
Finding Time to Learn
Could you carve out 5 hours at work each week to learn something new? Most of us would have a hard time spending just 1 hour a week learning at work, let alone 5. But maybe it seems impossible because weâ€™re thinking of learning as something separate, like attending a seminar or taking a class, but thatâ€™s not how learning happens most of the time.
Have you heard of the 70-20-10 rule? We learn 70% of what we know from our daily experiences, 20% from our relationships and 10% from coursework or training. Learning is much less about elaborate training modules or robust learning management systems, and more about establishing habits that reinforce learnings from our daily experiences. Some of the worldâ€™s most successful teams are famous for this. The Navy Seals call it the After-Action Review. After every exercise they ask 4 questions: What did we intend to accomplish? What happened? Why did it happen that way? And What will we do next time for a better outcome or to repeat our success?
You could call it a Debriefing, a Post Mortem or a Retrospective â€“ itâ€™s the same habit and it has the same purpose: to make the learnings greater than the experience.
At humanworks8, we ask these three questions: What worked? What didnâ€™t work? Knowing what we know now, what should we do differently next time to get a better result?
Itâ€™s amazing how powerful those three questions become when you make them part of your daily routine. Try it yourself. Begin asking these questions after projects, meetings, or at the end of a shift. The time your team spends learning will increase exponentially because routines like this transform everything you do into a learning experience.
The best way to increase the amount of learning we do at work is by integrating learning into the things that are already happening. Every day is an â€śevent,â€ť so why not make it a learning event by asking a few simple questions? Learn 365 days a year. The same is true about our performance. Weâ€™re performing our job every day, but are we taking time to learn from our experiences? Or, are we stuck in an old, outdated routine when it comes to team member performance? You can glean a lot about an organizationâ€™s commitment to learning by how they conduct their performance reviews.
Does your performance review process show a commitment to learning? Or is it telling your people something else is more important?
Continuous Learning â€“ An Example
Consider one organization we worked with whose leader wanted help designing a new performance review process. After digging deeper into the â€śwhyâ€ť behind the request, our conversation shifted to the importance of learning. Bottom line: He wanted continuous learning to be an intentional practice throughout his organization.
This wasnâ€™t going to come from a traditional performance review process; it had to be a more frequent, ongoing interaction between team members and their leaders. This also couldnâ€™t become leaders checking off boxes or rating core competencies. The solution: Frequent conversations that considered all the unique contributions made by that team member, focused on capturing learnings and transforming those learnings into new strategies that would improve future performance. These conversations would need to be as much about the future as it was about the past, and it had to be driven by the team members themselves. So, thatâ€™s exactly what we created; a performance process built around frequent discussions, led by team members and focused on using learnings to strengthen future performance.
After launching this new mindset and process, one leader at this organization said, â€śThis may be the single most important process weâ€™ve rolled out this yearâ€¦ it was great to have this set up as a conversation about growth and development, not just a checklist of metricsâ€¦without a doubt, this was the most thorough and productive performance evaluation Iâ€™ve ever been part of.â€ť
What is your organizationâ€™s learning philosophy?
What if you strengthened the performance conversations youâ€™re already having by making them more frequent, and more focused on team member learning?
What if your leaders built learning routines into the team conversations and meetings that already exist?
What if your organization was committed to team member learning?
Could it make your team members happier or less stressed? Be more productive and successful? Give them clarity about where they want to go in their career?
And if more learning could do those things for your team members, imagine how it could elevate your organizationâ€™s culture.
Everyone Learns, so make learning the foundation of your team member experience. Creating learning opportunities may be easier than you think. Start with the obvious: your organizationâ€™s performance review process. You need to measure the effectiveness of past contributions, but the conversation canâ€™t stop there. Team members must be involved in identifying what their experiences have taught them, and determining what they will do differently in the future. Give ownership of the process to your team members themselves and educate leaders on how to guide and support it.
Show your team that youâ€™re invested in their learning, and they will invest in your team.
Listen to this post in podcast form in episode seven of the Culture(&) Podcast, part of the GGG Unleashed series, and subscribe to hear more about workplace culture and leadership.