One of the concerns that worry training and learningprofessionals most about leading culture change in their organizations is that managers will say that they don’t have time to facilitate and support employee development. These managers don’t value learning.

Maybe there was a time when you could learn a set of skills in your youth and then build a career Time around those abilities. Not anymore. The pace of change is too fast and no occupation is insulated from disruptive innovation. The only way to keep pace and maybe even get ahead of the curve is to keep learning.

The plea, “I don’t have time to help employees learn,” should be answered with the refrain, “You can’t afford not to help employees learn.” Whether it’s a technician who needs to know how to install an armrest on a state of the art, ergonomic office chair, or an engineer who needs to know how to use the latest “green” materials in the design of a car, or an executive who needs to know how to use a new enterprise scheduling app, or a senior manager who needs to know how to build a global sales team, or a CEO who needs to know how to communicate in a way that engenders trust and confidence among employees, learning is critical to achieving the intended results.

This is also true for teams that need to become more effective and whole organizations that want to become more successful. Rick Wartzman identifies six, key questions that Peter Drucker, the “father of modern management”, would ask managers:

  1. What does the customer value?
  2. What is our business, and what should it be?
  3. What is the task?
  4. What are your ideas for us to try to do new things, develop new products, design new ways of reaching the market?
  5. Who in this organization depends on me for what information?
  6. What would happen if this were not done at all? [Drucker was trying to get managers to think about how they use their time.]

Good questions, but managers need to learn how to use these questions. When should they ask them, to whom, and what should they do with the answers so that they can improve performance? It’s all about learning!

Learning interventions do not necessarily require much time. A water-cooler conversation about expectations and performance improvement, an informal inquiry about what was learned from a recent training program, an on-the-job suggestion to improve technique, often do not take more than a few minutes. And short, weekly conversations between managers and their direct reports would be far more than is typical in organizations today and could go a long way to support learning.

Also, action learning, which is learning in the course of doing, when designed as a reflective exercise, shouldn’t take much more time than the activity itself and is essential to the success of any new program or project.

HR and Training departments can’t do it alone. They need the cooperation and collaboration of everyone in the organization. They need everyone to value learning and its contribution to continuous performance improvement. They need managers to make learning a high priority for their time and effort.

If it’s not supported, then it’s not valued. A company that says it values employee development and innovation but its managers are not actively supporting continuous learning, is being disingenuous. And employees see this and, realizing that learning is not valued by the company, don’t value it themselves and, therefore, don’t work at learning.

Sometimes time is a legitimate concern, but when it comes to employee learning, if it is valued in the organization, managers will prioritize their time so that they can involve themselves in helping all of their employees acquire the knowledge, skills, and abilities to help the organization be successful. 

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