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How to Encourage Learning

Bicycle-Training-Wheels 400x265Exploring Activities that Encourage Learning

We’ve been having a lot of fun exploring the in’s and out’s of Learning Organisations recently, you can find a couple of additional resources by following me or following me.

We’ve talked a lot about the benefits of a learning organisation and some of the key characteristics or behaviours you may want to encourage in your employees to develop a learning culture.  But what else can we do?  Is there a tick list for successfully embedding learning into your culture?

Well not quite, but there are a few key components to a continuous learning culture.  So let’s explore a few of the methods.  First off we have the traditional methods for individual learning including classroom training; online learning; mentoring; and participation in conferences, workshops, and seminars that can support you.

Let’s begin with individual learning, which is the ability of individuals in your organisation to pursue self development. It requires individuals to take personal responsibility for their own learning and development through a process of assessment, reflection, and action – ideally supported by that individual’s line manager.  Individual learning helps the employee and the organisation continually update skills and remain competitive in the market place.

You might want to consider individual development plans, special projects or specifically created learning groups to support individuals in the acquisition or translation of new skills.

Another way to support individuals with their learning is through online learning or in modern vernacular Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs).  To find out more on MOOCs you can click me.  In summary MOOCs are a great way of using modern technology to deliver consistent, coordinated and measurable learning directly into the needs of your employees.

Mentoring is a great way to hold learners to account, and to ensure that the new skills an individual is acquiring are actually relevant to the broader business goals.  Quite often a mentor holds a higher position and is usually outside the employee’s chain of supervision.  Mentoring has the side benefit of fostering the talent in your business who show high potential for management or leadership responsibilities.

That’s the usual list of things a firm might do to encourage individual learning, so let’s now look at what a business can do to encourage a learning environment – using organisational learning.

Totem Gummi Bears

Organisational learning occurs when the entire organisation addresses and solves problems, builds repositories of lessons learned, and creates core competencies that represent the collective learning of employees, past and present.

Organisational learning not only contributes to resolving organisational issues, but it also promotes individual development of knowledge and skills.  It’s a win win!  So let’s start with action learning.

Action learning is a great process for bringing together a group of people with varied levels of skills and experience to analyse and address an actual work problem.  It’s important that the group continues to meet as actions are implemented, learning from the implementation and making mid-course corrections. It’s a powerful tool for addressing problems and issues that are complex and not easily resolved.

Cross-functional teams are the natural evolution of action learning groups and are composed of people with varied levels of skills and experience, brought together to accomplish a task. These teams may use action learning as a process to solve problems, but the key here is that cross-functional team members come from different areas of the business and so pool a much broader range of skills and experiences.

Finally, parallel learning structures.  These structures refer to groups who represent various levels and functions working to open new channels of communication outside but parallel to the normal hierarchical structure.

Parallel learning structures promote innovation and change in large organisations while retaining the advantage of bureaucratic design.  They take individuals from each level within an organisation, upskill them in a specific way and send them back into their original level of the organisation – often as change agents or ‘champions’ of a particular innovation or business agenda.

For the eagle eyed among you, what key theme links the steps that an organisation can take to foster a learning culture?

It’s the removal of traditional hierarchical barriers to communication and cooperation – even if temporary, between all employees across your organisation that will drive a culture of continuous learning and growth.  And whilst nothing beats doing this face-to-face, the wide range of social platforms now available for business mean that people can connect, share and learn across the globe.

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Cultures of Continuous Learning

stepping-stonesContinuous Learning is Continuous Improvement

At a personal level, continuous learning is about constantly expanding your skills through focused and specifically chosen learning activities. We touch on the advantages that continuous learning can bring at a leadership level here.

But what about at an organisational level?

We briefly explored what a Learning Organisation is in a recent article, but lets dig a little deeper and walk you through some of the steps that you can actually take to develop a culture within your business that embraces learning.

learning-journey

 

 

 

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Learning Organisations

DNA-Totem 400x265Is learning in their DNA?

Simply put, a learning organisation is one that is able to change its behaviours and mind-sets as a result of its experiences.  Such organisations are found to actively promote learning in individuals and in some key instances, they promote leadership at all levels.

As a side point but one worth making, this promotion of learning and leadership has the knock on effect of improving accountability across an organisation – individuals tend to accept more readily responsibility for their actions…

Learning organisations or LO’s achieve this through encouraging a strong network of relationships and peer support from individual to individual across the organisation.  They see learning, or rather something that has been learnt as something that is transferrable from one person to another, regardless of the department or project that those individuals are working on.

And it’s this shared ‘learning’ mentality that distributes intelligence throughout the organisation.

It’s an incredibly effective culture for fully engaging internal and external stakeholders with the goals of the business.  This is achieved by what becomes in effect, the entire organisation responding to issues identified by stakeholders.  A challenge or problem shared at one end of the business, may find a solution in a traditionally unlikely area of the business.

But an LO is more than a group of individuals learning or those individuals sharing that learning with his or her network or peers.  What we find fascinating is that what an organisation learns and how it applies that learning isn’t always predictable.

It has a something to do with The Principles of Complex Systems (Mitleton-Kelly 2003) which in summary describes the emergent and unexpected results of organisation wide collaboration.

Jelly Bean Diversity

The recipe for a complex system is at face value quite simple.  Take a broad, self – reflective environment, made up of many individuals and add this key cultural ingredient:

There is a difference between a ‘mistake’ and a ‘failure’.

Such an environment makes a distinction between ‘mistakes’ that are the result of irresponsibility and lack of forethought and failures, those that are genuine explorations of a new idea or a new way of working.

One is acceptable (even encouraged) and one is not.  How many iterations of the iPod did Apple go through before it was finally released to the general public?  Was each prototype a mistake or a failure?

If you want to find out more about how to start your own learning culture, we highly recommend our fabulous downloadable guide on the subject.

So back to the individual, it’s crucial to recognise that individuals in an organisation influence one another.  Particularly during the learning process, their ideas will co-evolve.  Meaning that those ideas must have a great deal of innate flexibility – and flexible thinking is the pre curser to learning agility.

If you have an organisation full of flexible thinkers, you have the foundations to an agile workforce.

The true strength of an agile organisation lies in this concept of co-evolution.  Particularly in relation to a changing business environment – external or internal.  As the broader environment changes, so to will the organisation but once changed, the organisation, in turn, will influence that broader environment.

When the influence and change are mutual and cyclical, then we have co-evolution.  The learning environment fostered in the organisation is having a direct impact on the business environment outside of the organisation.

And we’d encourage you to take a moment to think this final point through.  It’s only through influencing its external business environment, that an organisation can move from an ‘also ran’ to market leader.

Can you name a current market leader, that hasn’t innovated or applied new learning to the industry it’s operating in?

We can’t.

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More Than The Sum

Sum-Of 400x265Aren’t we doing ourselves out of job?!

It’s been a fascinating year for us so far, the greatest demand from our clients has been the desire to enable their own people to become more than the sum of their parts.  This has meant taking what we do and training HR teams to deliver the same skills and approach in-house.

This has grown so much this year it is now a core part of what we do, distilling consultancy, coaching, facilitation and behavioural change into skills development for our peers.

So what have we learned about what works?  And aren’t we doing our selves out of a job!

  • Ask more questions
  • Build a solution together
  • Ask even more questions

That might sound just too simple, but we’ve seen it work time and time again.

Here’s how…

Asking more questions is about building rapport with the business and demonstrating commercial understanding. Often we are not recognised as commercial for the answers we give but for the quality of questions that we ask.

If I tell a business manager how much I understand the importance of delivering sales but that it is also important that people go on training courses, I am not seen as really getting the business needs.  If I ask instead “what are your sales targets?  How are you doing against them?  What might help you get closer to / exceed that target?  How could this development we offer help you do that?”  I’m showing my interest in your business and then demonstrating how my offering helps you hit the targets you’re working to.

The building solutions together part is then about being adaptable and showing that we’ve listened to the business needs.  Following the example above, we might say “it sounds like you’re looking for X and the development programme we have delivers Y.  How could we adapt that to make it more relevant for what you need?”  Or it could be that we’re shaping something from scratch so the question could be, “what could we develop to help you meet those targets?”  Mixing questions here with the HR / Learning professional’s own expertise is how the solution is built together.

Aside from the learning-based examples above, this works equally well for a more traditional HR query. When a business manager wants to recruit someone or fire someone, asking questions to understand the real business issue then build a solution together means both parties end up with a better outcome.

And finally – ask even more questions.  What follow up has there been?  After we agreed that solution, what happened?  How have we measured the success of what we did?  What could we learn from that for next time?  What are the business problems now?  What do we need to do next?

This moves the HR team away from being purely reactive and introduces a more commercial edge to the service offered internally.

If you’re thinking about developing your HR and Learning team capability for in-house consulting and commercial business partnering, we’d love to chat with you.  Drop us a line and tell us about the business issues you’re facing – then we’ll see what we can do to help.

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Concentrate!

ConcentrateHow can we encourage concentration?

How many times has someone been asked a question in a lecture but wasn’t paying attention?

We have all been there, and at times, been the one that wasn’t listening.  Humans are not naturally good at paying attention and concentrating for long periods of time, particularly in settings such as education.

This inevitably presents a huge problem to anyone trying to teach, deliver training or even just a speech; how do you get people to actually listen to more than the first couple of minutes?  Ideally, we want our participants or audience to listen, engage, absorb and reflect on the content we are discussing.  Otherwise, if you’ve invested time and resource in developing a training programme, having a room full of day dreamers is going to be incredibly costly.

And online teaching is no different to traditional face to face methods.  If anything, maintaining attention can be harder as there are more distractions and it’s easy to click away to a flashing advert in a sidebar.  So how do we ensure people watch, pay attention, engage and reflect on material?

Here are some top tips that should help your audience stay with you throughout the presentation.

We all know that targets and goals help keep people focused in many areas of life.  Delivering material online or in a training environment should be no different; not only does it help to break a large topic of section into smaller, more manageable sections, it can provide the audience with a sense of achievement when they get there.  Having something to aim for is definitely an incentive to stay tuned in.

Another useful way to maintain an audience’s attention, is by giving them something they want to pay attention to! Jelly baby anyone?

Totem Lollipops

If this is in a scenario where they may not have chosen to take part, for example at an employment training session, it can be harder to keep them interested.  By using a variety of techniques, colour, images and other varying methods of presentation, you are ensuring it is as interesting as possible.  If the audience is simply presented with pages and pages of text to read or click through they will switch off almost instantly.

One of the simplest ways to maintain an audiences attention is to engage with your audience and make the presentation interactive.  This will ensure they are paying attention as they will want to know the answers.  Moreover, it also provides an excellent opportunity for reflection and a chance to fill in any gaps in participants’ knowledge.

It’s also helpful to recognise that every learner or participant is completely different, and will find different areas interesting and challenging.  It is impossible to have an entirely unique course or presentation for every person but variety can be included.  Ensure there is a sufficient variation in the methods, levels of complexity and themes you use to communicate, to maintain interest from each person.

Different people will respond to different methods and somehow you need to incorporate a bit of each into the presentation, lecture, lesson or speech.

And one of the most powerful ways to keep learners engaged, is to simply ask people to reflect on the material.  What are they enjoying, not enjoying, finding difficult?  The only way to find out what is stopping people from paying attention throughout is to ask them.  You can then adapt the material as necessary to ensure maximum engagement and attention next time, or if you’re really good – during the training!

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Neuroplasticity

neuroplasticity 400x265Easier to spell than you might think!

Whilst this one’s not too difficult to say, it does involve a fair bit of science, so thinking caps on everyone!  In summary, neuroplasticity is a general term that is applied to changes in neural pathways, synaptic plasticity and non-synaptic plasticity.  Or for a more practically applied summary – this is about learning, change and our ability to flex.

Various parts of our brains such as synapses (the minute gaps between our brain cells, where information is communicated), respond to changes in the environment, thinking, behaviour and emotions.  So why is this relevant to businesses?

Well imagine a large organisation that once made desktop PC’s, who boldly declared to the world that the tablet was a passing phase.  They’ve now had to significantly change their business model and thus behaviour and thinking to accommodate the new environment they find themselves in.  That change required a fair amount plasticity, adaptability and flex.

Jelly Bean Diversity

From the shop floor right to the boardroom, an understanding of neuroplasticity can give us some valuable insights in supporting organisations with many kinds of change.

But back to the brain.  The brain works the same way as other muscles; to strengthen it, it requires exercise and regular work outs.  Unfortunately the brain has a ‘use it or lose it’ approach; by adulthood we have already lost approximately 50% of our synapses due to inactivity.  However, this doesn’t mean we can’t learn new skills as an adult.

An adult brain is still capable of making new connections from learning new skills.  In fact the more it is used, the more connections are made in the brain.

So what does this mean for learning new skills or behaviours in the workplace?

We can work with our existing capabilities but importantly, those skills and strengths can also be increased.  The brain works best when it is building on existing connections rather than starting from scratch, so it makes sense to build on what you already know or are already good at.

In Development Centres or learning programmes for example, people need to be able to identify relationships in the material or make it relevant to something they already know.

Totem Lollipops

This will strengthen the existing neural pathways which makes learning much more likely.  Similarly, repetition will reinforce the neural connections so delegates should repeat the skills or actions until these synaptic connections are solidly reinforced.

Employers can take note of these principles of plasticity, but taking advantage of these in the workplace remains a slightly grey area.  We can take a broad brush and apply some of the learning from neuroplasticity to everyone – that’s fine.  But what if employers could somehow identify employees who already had a large number of connections, in theory these people could be taught new skills – and quickly.

Could we one day look at measuring learning agility and potential through brain scans?  Then what about those employees who don’t already have high plasticity levels?  Isn’t that a form a discrimination?  That might be a debate for a future generation.

Whilst the area of neuroplasticity in employment is still an emerging field, there are some far reaching implications not just on the horizon, but in the here and now.  And we can’t put it any better than this article by not one, but three super smart people, Jeffrey Schwartz, Pablo Gaito, and Doug Lennick:

“When corporate leaders talk about change, they usually have a desired result in mind . . .. They know that if they are to achieve this result, people throughout the company need to change their behavior and practices, and that can’t happen by simple decree. How, then, does it happen? In the last few years, insights from neuroscience have begun to answer that question.

New behaviors can be put in place, but only by reframing attitudes that are so entrenched that they are almost literally embedded in the physical pathways of employees’ neurons.”

And so in the here and now, we can consider the implications of neuroplasticity for our hopes of behavioural change.  If we want managers, leaders, customer service colleagues and all to do something differently – we’ll need to build on what they know, use their strengths and challenge the attitudes and ways of doing things that are deep set in the organisational culture.

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Introducing Best

specks 400x265Drum roll please!

Here is the first of many articles covering our work on being at your Best.  So far we’ve shared one or two of the insights we’ve gleaned from our R&D and the journey we’ve been on whilst completing this PhD.

This is a little taster video just to introduce you to the concept of Best, where it came from and where we think it will take us!

And if you continue to follow our updates around Best, you might even learn why we chose a pair of glasses for this first post!

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Intrepreneurial Thinking

EntreprenuerLet’s not argue about the spelling…

The word entrepreneur is certainly the flavour of the moment, it’s even been reported that school children and college students are beginning to use this phrase in connection to their career aspirations.

So what then is an Intrepreneur?  And why has it become so popular within a business setting?

In this download we hope to explore some of the key attributes to Intrepreneurial Thinking and how if at all, we can develop those attributes.

Spoiler alert.  Yes we can.

Click on the image and magic will happen.

intrepreneur

 

 

 

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Psychological Capital

12It’s a bit like hope, but with a purpose!

As part of our continued updates from our PhD studies, we’re exploring Psychological Capital or PsyCap, (which we really aren’t keen on as an abbreviation)  Psychological Capital is an umbrella term for the personal resources we have, specifically our self-efficacy, optimism, resilience and hope.

There’s a brilliant book about it which we’ve reviewed here.

These resources have been shown to help us engage with our work, develop a positive mind-set and deliver great performance.  Some have even gone as far as saying that it underpins the value in an organisation.  So making sure that we have each in abundance will make all the difference to our experience at work as well as our productivity.

So let’s take a look at those four factors individually:

Self-efficacy is a term that has been around in the academic literature for a while.  It’s about whether we believe that we are able to contribute and this has been shown to have a significant effect on our performance and the goals that we set ourselves.   It’s not about just telling ourselves we can do it – it’s about an honest evaluation and creating a plan to ensure that we are able to contribute.

Jelly Bean Diversity

Developing our self-efficacy is about listening to the conversations we have in our minds and the self-limiting beliefs we might hold, challenging them and taking action to ensure that they are eradicated.  So what are your personal limiting beliefs?  And how can they be challenged?

Optimism is another term that we’ve all come across.  As a part of our psychological capital, it represents our disposition and is not necessary linked to ability, but it has been linked to reduced stress and improved commitment and performance.  You can read more about Optimism here.

Hope – whilst optimism involves expecting a positive outcome, hope focuses on the actual execution of reaching goals, thus linking it performance and goal pursuit.  Individuals high in hope are likely to find a route to achieve their goals and adapt their route as it changes and challenges occur.  Three incredibly bright researchers named Luthans, Youssef and Avolio refer to two components of hope:

1) will-power (motivation) and

2) way-power (capacity to determine alternative methods to reach a goal).

Which is quite different from our day to day understanding of hope.  Without hope, the will to accept challenges is not present and the way to overcome those challenges will not be found.  Two more super clever researchers Peterson and Byron found that hopeful sales employees, mortgage brokers and management executives had higher job performances.

Totem Lollipops

Resilience – whilst the behaviour related to resilience could be described as persistence, resilience is a wider capacity found at a personal or emotional level.

Luthans described resilience as:

“a positive psychological capacity to rebound, to ‘bounce back’ from adversity, uncertainty, conflict, failure or even positive change, progress and increase responsibility”

This suggests that resilience produces a buffering effect whereby engagement is maintained despite burnout-inducing job demands.  It’s been demonstrated that there’s a link between resiliency and the performance of sales staff; finding a positive correlation with their adaptive selling behaviour.

And if you follow this link, we have a fair bit more to say on resilience!

Most importantly each of the components of Psychological Capital can be measured; can be developed over time and have a positive impact on performance.

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