[Note: I apologize to my readers for failing to post on this blog for the past two months. I have been dealing with a health challenge that diverted my attention from professional activities. Now I'm back and hope I will be able to continue writing about learning and management.]
According to LinkedIn’s 2018 Workplace Learning Report, “The #1 reason employees say they are not engaging in workplace learning is because they don't have the time.” I think this excuse is a red herring. If learning is made a part of work, time is not a barrier to learning. Learning is the work.
Acquiring new knowledge and skills is not a matter of time; it’s a matter of how we think about learning. If we continue to think of learning as something added, extra, and supplemental, people will never learn at the urgency, speed, and quality that is required today.
The nature of work, and therefore what people need to learn, is changing dramatically on a daily basis. As we wrote in our new book, “Minds at Work: Managing for Success in the Knowledge Economy,”:
…work is no longer about simply doing a job; it’s about becoming adapting to new jobs, new technology, new ways of working with others, and anticipating the unanticipated. Automation, robotics, and AI are eliminating tasks that had been mundane, routine, monotonous, and, in some cases, dangerous. Now tasks done by humans are being enhanced by the Internet, providing the collective knowledge of the world at their fingertips. This is a future in which workers are smarter, more agile, and more innovative. The skilled worker today wants a different kind of experience. People realize they need interpersonal skills, creativity, reasoning, and empathy. As globalization increases and communities become more diverse, the competitive advantage of any organization will be its collective knowledge and its expanded expertise. In the past, people tolerated poor work conditions and didn’t expect much from their leaders, but now people want to be treated fairly and respected for their contributions. People want meaningfulness and joyful workplaces. For all of these reasons, the fundamental nature of work is being transformed.
Dan Pontefract, in a blog post for Forbes, suggests ways in which people can find the time they need for learning. His “Pervasive Learning” model is offered as a way to think about the many, efficient methods of learning that, if done well, add very little time to the workday.
Organizational leaders need to realize that learning is their business, not tangential to the business. As many leaders have said, “learning faster than our competitors is our only competitive advantage today.” Being rich in resources no longer puts a business at an advantage. Only learning puts one company at an advantage over others.
Because of digital technology, anyone (literally!) can be a competitor overnight and any business, from retail to social services, can lose their market share overnight. The only thing that distinguishes successful, sustainable organizations from failures is continually learning what works and what doesn’t, what customers want and what they don’t, how to be faster with greater quality, how to function more effectively as an organization, and how to prepare for the future. Without learning, none of this happens.
Learning must be embedded in the workflow. For example, a machine operator can learn how to operate effectively and safely as well as maintain and fix problems directly from a smart machine. A team leader can learn team building from action learning. They are learning by reflecting on a team’s actions with the other participants and observers. An organization can learn how to develop new disruptive products by engaging in design learning. In these examples, learning doesn’t take more time; learning is the work that the company does.
To make this shift in mindset, organizations need managers who stop thinking about learning as something we do if we have the time. Hire managers who have made this shift in thinking about learning, who are good at developing the people around them, who are constantly thinking about ways to learn faster and better than their competitors. Support this role through messages, the organization’s recognition and reward system, and how the organization evaluates success.
No better example of this transformation is Ford Motor Company, a Detroit-based, 115 year old, conventional manufacturing business that now realizes it must be more agile and responsive to dramatic changes occurring in the mobility market. Ford is building a co-working space within the $350 million dollar rehabilitation of an old Detroit train station. The intent is to learn from creating an environment, modeled after Silicon Valley spaces, that encourages employee innovation. Ford Motor is taking a risky step toward changing the working culture but knows that they must to stay viable and competitive in the future.