In "Part One" of this post, I presented some situations in which espoused values (not necessarily values in use) play a role and examples of instinctive reactions that indicate either the presence or absence of a learning culture. 

Here are four more situations: 

The espoused value says, “We value creativity and innovation.”

An employee had an idea for a new mobile app that seemed very promising and early feedback from customers was that it was something they would want. However, after a couple of months, the employee discovered that the app couldn’t have the intended functionality without being overly Delphi complicated and too expensive for customers. Is the first reaction of the employee’s boss to say, “What a waste; two months lost. Next time we have to make sure the product will be successful before we start on it. Now, how am I going to explain this to management?” Or, is the first reaction of the employee’s boss to say, “Good effort. What did you learn from trying to build the app? What did you learn about developing new products, about collaboration, and about yourself? Is there anything we could have done to help you achieve your goal?” Both reactions are reasonable, but one is indicative of a learning culture and the other is not.

The espoused value says, “We want feedback and accountability.”

The leadership team of the company spent three days in an annual meeting developing a strategic plan for the following year. At the end of the first quarter, a manager asked the VP for Planning why they hadn’t used the plan to measure their progress and take stock of what they need to do to achieve their goals. Is the VP’s first reaction to say, “It’s been a busy quarter and, besides, the main reason we have that meeting each year is to get the leadership team together. The plan is out of date as soon as it is done.” Or, is the VP’s first reaction to say, “That’s a good point. I’m going to recommend that we get the leadership team back together and talk about what we can learn about ourselves and the company from a comparison of what we said we would do to what’s been accomplished.” Both reactions are reasonable, but one is indicative of a learning culture and the other is not.

The espoused value says, “We develop leaders.”

A department manager goes to her Director with a complaint that she is not getting best effort from her team. She says that they don’t follow through on assignments, they are late for meetings, and they don’t communicate important decisions to each other. Is the Director’s first reaction to say, “You’re a leader now. You need to take charge and be a leader in your team. They should be looking to you for direction.” Or, is the director’s first reaction to say, “It seems like you could benefit from a coach who could help you learn how to be a more effective leader in this team. Let’s talk about how a coach could be helpful and what kind of coach we should find for you.” Both reactions are reasonable, but one is indicative of a learning culture and the other is not.

The espoused value is “continuous improvement.”

A new salesperson is attending a class in relationship selling at a local college. He goes to his sales manager and asks how he could apply what he is learning to their department’s sales strategy. Is the Sales Manager’s first reaction to say, “I doubt we can use what you’re learning in this sales organization. The way we’ve always done sales here is by the numbers. You make a certain number of cold calls. A percentage of those turn into presentations and a percentage of those presentations turn into sales. We don’t have time for anything else.” Or, is the Sales Manager’s first reaction to say, “Tell me about what you are learning in the class. How do you think it could help our sales organization? Let’s come up with a plan for how you could experiment with that approach and then we can determine if it’s a good fit with our goals.” Both reactions are reasonable, but one is indicative of a learning culture and the other is not.

How would people in your organization instintively react to these situations? What other situations would help you determine if you have a learning culture in your organization?

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