Learning in the Workplace

Learning in the Workplace

Everyone Learns

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 that’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 teaching…some people might call that your company culture.

From our earliest moments of existence, people are hardwired to learn. It’s the automatic side of learning; we’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 can’t help but learn things from our environment.

What are employees learning in your workplace?

Whenever I want to know more about an organization’s culture, I start looking for the lessons employees are learning from their workplace. Take policies for example:

  • What do the “rules” a business has chosen to enforce teach about that organization’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 organization’s core values are essential guidelines, or are they just nice words in your handbook that don’t guide much of anything?
  • What do employees “get away with?”

If this were a test, most people would give the “right” answers to those questions, but what happens in the business environment doesn’t always teach the “right” lessons. Some people go to work and learn that you need to bend the rules now and then to get ahead…that’s their organization’s culture.

Intentional Learnings in the Workplace

The question everyone is much less comfortable answering is, “How do we keep that from happening at our organization?” 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 learning…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. It’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 “heavy learners.”

For “medium” and “light learners” 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 you’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 we’re thinking of learning as something separate, like attending a seminar or taking a class, but that’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 world’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 – it’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 didn’t work? Knowing what we know now, what should we do differently next time to get a better result?

It’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.

365 Learning

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 “event,” 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. We’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 organization’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 – An Example

Consider one organization we worked with whose leader wanted help designing a new performance review process. After digging deeper into the “why” 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 wasn’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 couldn’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, that’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, “This may be the single most important process we’ve rolled out this year… it was great to have this set up as a conversation about growth and development, not just a checklist of metrics…without a doubt, this was the most thorough and productive performance evaluation I’ve ever been part of.”

What is your organization’s learning philosophy?

What if you strengthened the performance conversations you’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 organization’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 organization’s performance review process. You need to measure the effectiveness of past contributions, but the conversation can’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 you’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.