Following is an excerpt from our new book, Minds at Work: Managing for Success in the Knowledge Economy (Chapter Seven).

The culture that underpins a managing minds approach must support and encourage an ongoing and collective discovery, sharing, and appli­cation of knowledge and skills at the individual, team, and Minds-at-work-150organization levels. A culture that supports managing minds is a culture of inquiry; an environment in which people feel safe challenging the status quo, taking risks, and enhancing the quality of what they do for customers, themselves, shareholders, and other stakeholders. A company managing minds maintains a culture in which learning how to learn is valued and accepted, and the pursuit of learning is woven into the fabric of organi­zational life.

So how do you really know if you have a company that is manag­ing minds? What are the visible signs? What are the metrics? How do you know if your organization has the DNA that predisposes it to learning? Gary Neilson and Jaime Estupiñán have been studying and writing about organizational DNA for the past 10 years. They explain it this way: “We use the term organizational DNA as a metaphor for the underlying organizational and cultural design factors that define an organization’s personality and determine whether it is strong or weak in executing strategy.”

Using this DNA metaphor, here are 10 principles that determine whether a company is doing what needs to be done to promote and support managing minds. When people behave according to these prin­ciples, the enterprise is predisposed to learning at all levels. The condi­tions exist to be able to manage minds, not just hands. As you review the items, ask yourself if you are enabling or disabling these principles:

  1. Leaders support learning. The message from the CEO, senior executives, and other key thought leaders in the organization is that continuous learning by individuals, teams, and the organization is not only valued but expected. Leaders communicate that learning can happen in many different ways: face-to-face and online instruction, push training and pull learning, on-the-job activities, and social interaction. Leaders say and do things that are visibly aligned with this value.
  2. Managers take responsibility for managing minds. Managers encourage their direct reports to acquire new knowledge and skills and develop competencies that make them more valuable to the organization. They provide opportunities to learn, adopt, adapt, practice, and apply what their employees learned on the job. Managers hold people accountable for learning, and take responsibility for ensuring the growth and development of the people they manage.
  3. The organization hires and promotes learners. Recruiters, other HR staff, and hiring managers ask questions about what applicants have recently learned and look for people who are self-motivated learners. These individuals are always seeking opportunities to acquire new knowledge and skills, learn from their successes and failures, take risks for the purpose of learning, and continue to develop themselves. The organization selects new hires and promotes current employees who demonstrate initiative in learning and growing.
  4. Learning is aligned with results. Managers can clearly explain how acquiring specific knowledge and skills will contribute to the success of the organization. It’s not learning for learning’s sake, or learning because “we’ve always done it that way,” but learning because that’s what will help the company achieve its strategic goals.
  5. People have a growth mindset. Executives, managers, and employees believe that they and others can learn and grow within the organization. They believe that this potential is in everyone and can be unleashed by actively giving people the opportunity to acquire new knowledge and skills. They believe that nobody is fixed in their abilities, that it is human nature to want to enhance competencies and improve performance.
  6. Organizational structure facilitates learning. Information flows freely throughout the organization. Leaders of work units don’t hesitate to communicate with one another, and they provide assistance and peer coaching as needed. People are connected across departments and geography and actively share successes, failures, and lessons learned. Other key stakeholders are brought into important decision-making situations and are respected for their input. Change can be a result of a top-down or bottom-up initiative.
  7. Knowledge management contributes to learning. Information is stored in an easily accessible place (hardcopy or in an LMS database) that can be accessed and used by people to acquire the knowledge they need to be successful in their work. Successes and failures are equally and openly described so people can learn from them. People are constantly creating, identifying, collecting, organizing, sharing, adopting, adapting, and using information to help the company become smarter.
  8. People take risks and experiment. Managers foster this behavior by recognizing the effort and new insights even if the results are unsatisfactory. People are not punished for trying something new. On the contrary, risk taking in the name of doing a better job is encouraged. Failures, as well as successes, are treated as opportunities for learning. People are fearless.
  9. Learning is rewarded. Individuals are recognized and applauded for acquiring new knowledge and skills. When new learning is applied and contributes to improving the performance of the organization, people are rewarded. This reward is not necessarily monetary. What’s important is that the reward is appreciated and reinforces this kind of behavior.
  10. Everyone is reflective. Everyone takes every opportunity to learn. Projects end with an after-action review. Client contacts are immediately examined with the intention of learning and improving those contacts in the future. Tasks, events, processes, and committees are all viewed as opportunities for learning from the past. Everyone actively participates in communities of learning and graduates to be involved in communities of practice. People are continually reflecting on what they can learn from what they are doing, what they did well, what could be done better, what was accomplished, and how it made the company a smarter organization. There are no giant egos that need to be the final arbiter for all important decisions and, regardless of outcomes or reality, must always be right, blaming everyone else for any failures. In a reflective environment, no one is ever thrown under the bus.

In a managing minds culture, these 10 principles are apparent in the stated values of the organization, and those stated values are aligned with the values in use. In other words, these values are not only written and spoken, but also evident in employees’ day-to-day behavior.

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