The most common way in which companies train employees today is basically the same as organizations have been training for the past hundred years (some would say thousands of years). Instructional designers, with input from managers and subject-matter-experts (SMEs) decide what employees should know and then “push” that content at the learners through formal training programs.

That model of training worked adequately in an industrial economy where jobs and equipment changed slowly and executives had relatively low expectations for productivity. Things are quite different now and, therefore, training needs to change. In the new knowledge economy, the pace of change is such that the push model of training can’t keep up with organizational needs and with the way employees learn best.

Now companies need self-directed learners who can “pull” the knowledge and skills required for their jobs, when and where they need it. To be successful today, learners and their managers must work together to ensure that employees acquire the competencies they need to help the organization succeed. They can no longer rely on a centralized training function for this. Managers and their direct reports must rely on each other.

In a learning culture, dependent on pull learning, the parallel roles of managers and learners look like this:



Develop a growth mindset

Develop a growth mindset

Hire for ability & motivation to learn

Be actively learning how to learn

Help learner identify strengths & weaknesses

Identify one’s own strengths & weaknesses

Encourage employee learning

Learn continuously

Make it safe to learn

Take risks; learn from risk-taking

Create opportunities for employees to learn individually & in groups

Take advantage of opportunities to learn as individuals & with/from others

Give feedback effectively

Receive feedback effectively

Co-create & co-curate information with learner

Co-create & co-curate information with manager

Convey high expectations for learning

Strive to do best; exceed expectations of manager

Recognize and reward learning

Use recognition and rewards to further one’s learning

The learning relationship starts with a “growth mindset”. Carol Dweck defines this as the belief that people can develop their talent. Without this belief, people will not be motivated to learn and improve. This belief needs to be shared by managers and their direct reports. You need to hire people who have this belief, are motivated to learn and to learn how to learn.

You want employees who make learning part of the way they work. You want employees who are constantly assessing their strengths and weaknesses and seeking out the knowledge and skills that will position themselves to be more successful. You want managers who encourage this and create a psychologically safe environment where employees feel they can be open about their strengths and weaknesses without being criticized, ridiculed, or judged less competent.

You want opportunities for employees to learn, to apply newly acquired knowledge and skills to important work on the job and to do this shortly after learning. Employees can arrange some opportunities for themselves but this requires managers giving permission, making time, and providing the resources to apply that learning.

You want managers to give performance feedback in a helpful and productive way to employees. You want employees to hear and understand that feedback and make use of it to learn and improve their performance. This must be more than an annual performance review. Performance feedback, positive and negative, should be given at every opportunity throughout the year.

Your managers and learners must co-create and co-curate knowledge. The amount of information that is available to employees today is massive. Anything learners want to know is at their fingertips…literally. However, some if it is accurate and useful and some is not. Managers and employees need to work together to make sense of this information, sort out what is accurate and useful, and apply it to their work.

Your managers should have high but realistic expectations for their direct reports. Employees should be clear about these expectations and how these expectations are linked to organizational performance. This gives learners a clear direction and path to performance improvement which motivates learning and application of learning.

Managers should recognize and reward the impact of employee learning on achieving the goals of the organization. This could include public statements about the learner’s success, a promotion, new responsibilities, or special compensation. Whatever it is, learners need to see clearly how their learning resulted in this expression of appreciation.