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How can we get our employees to learn?

Posted on | March 9, 2010 | 2 Comments

When I hear this question, I’m dumbfounded.  The fact is, people are learning all the time! In fact, you can’t get them to stop learning.

When they chat with their co-workers, they learn something about them, and are adjusting their opinions about them, including how best to work with them. A lot of this is unconscious — “implicit learning,” it’s called, but it’s learning all the same.

They learn how to do their job when they are trained, and they learn how their job really gets done when they start working and see what the obstacles are, and how to get around them.

When the boss asks for something, they learn about the boss’s expectations, and something about the boss, too, in the way she or he asks.

They learn how other people are doing the job and what management ignores or praises.

When something goes wrong, they learn how things are supposed to go, and maybe they learn about flaws in the process.

Maybe the question should be, how can we get our organizations to learn?

  • To learn about what tools employees need to do to do their jobs.
  • To learn about the process flaws that employees find and what possible solutions there may be.
  • To learn about the obstacles and roadblocks that slow down productivity.
  • To learn how to reward good people in ways that are meaningful to them (it’s not always about the money).
  • To learn, really learn, who the deadbeats are, and how to improve their performances or get rid of them (see “roadblocks,” above).

As Gloria Geary (one of my heros) wrote in her book Electronic Performance Systems Support,  “Organizations substantially increase the effectiveness of human endeavor.”  My only caveat is to add “… when they pay attention.”


2 Responses to “How can we get our employees to learn?”

  1. Rosemary
    March 10th, 2010 @ 7:33 am

    Good points! Too often I’ve seen management try to solve problems by applying some overall “fix”, like motivational courses or unnecessary re-training in existing procedures, just because there’s a pre-existing seminar they can buy and apply.

    But really, someone in the organization has to actually look at what’s going on, and identify the problem, and try to fix THAT!

    So, who in an organization ought to be the one to do that? Human Resources? Head of each department? Or do they bring in an outside consultant?

  2. Sabine
    March 10th, 2010 @ 12:13 pm

    Good question about who would be responsible. Who _should_ be responsible? Probably someone in HR and the department head. Some companies have performance consultants. But most organizations don’t have anyone who understands about the larger issues, or is empowered to do anything but train. Instead, the default for management is: there’s a problem — tell HR. HR: there’s a problem — order up some training. If we don’t have it on tap, buy it, and open the floodgates.

    One month later, management to HR: Is that problem fixed?
    HR: Yes!

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