I recently wrote a blog post on How to Deal with People Who Have No Time to Learn New Things at Work and this is a continuation of that post where I share four ways on how to integrate learning into the workplace.
There are so many more – but let’s start with four for now.
In the above post, I introduce that if learning is an experience that allows us to consider, reflect, experiment, understand and test our assumptions then we have abundant opportunities to do this in our everyday work.
So how do you, as a busy business manager – who may not need or have access to a Learning and Development department or support – use the many different work scenarios and situations that arise in the normal course of the day as learning opportunities to help improve your team’s performance so that they come up with new ideas, innovations, and solutions to current work problems?
1. Ask your Team What Learning Means to Them
First of all, learning means different things to different people.
They may be under the misapprehension that in order to learn they will need to take some time away from their workplace to undertake training or formal learning programs. That it’s not ‘real learning’ if there isn’t a facilitator, assignments, a qualification, end of course certificate, a completion result in a learning management system or morning tea provided.
Of course, formal learning does have a place especially when there’s a knowledge, skill or capability gap but too often we forget the informal elements of learning. The little acts of discovery that come about from conversations with people at work and in work, practicing a new skill, or reflecting over your morning cup of coffee on how you achieved a new workflow that improved your team’s productivity over the last quarter.
Learning means different things to different people and guess what? Your people are already doing it in their normal everyday work – they just may not actively THINK that they’re learning. However, it’s likely that your team hasn’t considered their typical work day experiences as learning and instead, have an expectation that they need to attend a course (because frankly, that’s what they remember from their school days).
- If your team are talking to each other about their work, they’re learning
- If your team are applying some idea from a YouTube video they saw over the weekend to a work problem, they’re learning.
- If your team tries to do something different to the standard operating procedure as a trial run and shares their findings to others, they’re learning.
So the question is that how do you, as a busy manager help your people change the way they think about learning and help integrate an active consideration to what they doing and how’re they’re doing it in the course of their work?
The first thing to do is to ask your team what learning means to them so that you can understand your starting point.
2. Observe What Motivates Them to Learn on the Job
I recently met Christine (not her real name) at a conference. She confided in me that she volunteers at a local community group after hours where she coaches young people to be job-ready and find work.
As she spoke about her passion for coaching, her eyes lit up excitedly. She talked about how she wanted to do more coaching in her life. When I asked about her role as an instructional designer, her shoulders drooped and her voice was flat. She was demotivated and demoralised with her 9 to 5 work and wasn’t ready to find alternative employment as she was the sole breadwinner. She wondered if there was a way to do more coaching at her work without having to leave her current employer or undertake expensive coaching programs that she couldn’t afford.
In many cases, people show clues of what motivates them to learn at work.
One of your team members may be quick to organise a team day of golf because they love the sport or like coordinating and planning events.
Another team member jumps at the chance to speak to customers because they enjoy the interaction and solving customer problems; while another happily creates formulae in spreadsheets that automate processes and saves your team hours of manual data input.
Observe what motivates people to do the things they do.
Watch what they do well and observe what tasks they volunteer for, take on and what comes easy to them. Give them opportunities to share and show their strengths and promote these strengths to other parts of your business who may need them.
Most of all, watch what others come to them for (because it means they do good work, they have a good reputation around this particular task and most of all, they have trust and a reputation for those jobs).
Listen to how they talk about their work and watch their body language when they are given opportunities to do things that interest and engage them.
Give them opportunities to share and show their strengths and promote these strengths to other parts of your business who may need their skills.
By doing this, you’re giving your team member an opportunity to do the things they love to do in their current job and in turn share this and show others. They’ll also be a lot happier and engaged in their work.
In Christine’s case, she could have been working on a company project that would have involved some form of coaching such as a secondment to the Graduate or Intern program or any leadership or talent development program where her skills were needed.
3. Show Them Ways to Integrate Learning Into their Daily Work Activities
- Will your employees be attending an upcoming Sales Conference interstate?
- Do your employees hold weekly meetings with their teams? Is there a regular activity they do as part of their role?
- Has there been a critical business issue that has been reflected in the company results that needs immediate action?
Help your employees view their daily calendar of scheduled work tasks as opportunities to not only learn – but share their findings with others. Every meeting, work task or activity can be used to share their thinking or progress of their work to others.
Pick out one or two activities in the week where there’s likely to be some potential development opportunity that stretches, challenges, educates or is different from their normal day-to-day activity or triggers.
Start to look at each task in the calendar as a potential opportunity for discovery, learning and communicating findings to others before, during and after each activity:
- “Going to this meeting will mean that I will need to explain the facts of why that order was lost in our processing department to an angry customer. What are the steps that I took to understand what happened our end, why it occurred and how we will rectify the situation. What did I learn about this process that will help others in my company not repeat this again in the future?”
- “Joe mentioned that fulfilling this order yesterday was the wrong time. It created a glitch in how it was created in the system and caused the system to freeze. We lost valuable time in trying to find where this error was exactly. He said that he had some interesting discoveries that he wants to share with me. How can I share these discoveries with others? Who else needs to know these? How can I get this information to them?”
- “Jane is our social media expert. She just LOVES this stuff – I don’t get it at all. She held a ‘lunch and learn’ last week where I learned that I can use Twitter to connect with other engineers who are interested in drone flying and 3D printing which is something I’ve always wanted to learn more about but never had the time. I really want to explore this and I want to find out any clubs or people in my local area who I can chat with. I’m going to give it a go because I think this will also help me in my work too – especially if we can find more cost effective solutions to that issue why the plastic bits are being shredded by the moulding machine.
If your team members don’t feel comfortable sharing their thoughts on your enterprise social network (or you don’t have an ESN), you can start small – encourage them to gain confidence by sharing their thinking to their work team first and this could be by email or using a closed group in a public social network such LinkedIn, Facebook or WhatsApp.
Start small, go from there.
4. Schedule Learning into their Diaries
Learning need not take any time at all as it happens anytime, anywhere and anyhow. One of the easiest way to ensure that your team devotes time to learning is to encourage them to schedule it into their diaries at a time that suits them and commit to it.
One suggestion is to encourage your team to set aside 10 minutes every day that they can devote to one learning activity on the proviso that after the learning activity they must share their findings in particular, find applications and connections to their work context or projects they are working on or how it could help the organisation.
Encourage your team members to always be “connecting the dots” and seeing the links and relationships between everything they do inside the company and outside it.
These learning activities can be :
- Sharing a reflection of their work on their enterprise social network
- Coffee with a colleague from another department
- Participating in a Tweet Chat related to their field
- Reading an article or a journal article related to their work
- Listening to a podcast
- Creating a short video of what they’re working on and how it helps their organisation
- Completing an online module of a MOOC
These are just four ways to integrate learning into your workplace that don’t require the support or assistance of a learning and development team nor involve any costly training programs that take your people out of their work.
So what do you think? As a business manager and team leader, how do you integrate learning into your work team and enable them to make their own connections and applications to what their learning to their work – and then how does this translate to outcomes for your business?