Monday, 13 January 2014

Nurture a learning culture at workplace

Sundaram was born into an economically backward family in rural India as the eighth of eleven children to Manikandan, a daily wage worker  and lakshmi, a housewife. In an environment, where the biggest challenge was getting two square meals a day, the best education Sundaram could manage was grade 10 from his village school. Unlike others, Sundaram’s sole attraction in going to the school was not the free midday meal; he was keen to learn. His parents decided to send him to the city to a distant relative, so that he could try his hand at getting a job and thus help improve the financial condition of the family.
The relative helped Sundaram find a job as an office boy (peon in those days) in a bank. From there on Sundaram’s career and life took a total detour and there was no looking back. After 45 years of service, Sundaram retired as the General Manager of the same bank he joined as an office boy.
These rags to riches stories are not exactly a rare phenomenon. You get to hear these inspiring stories quite often through the media, movies, networking forums. But what is worth noting in Sundaram’s case is the path taken. The success was not a result of a risky gamble, a creative stroke or the right timing. It was a painstakingly, slow moving path of learning that led to the success. The most important skill required here is sheer perseverance. There is no rejecting the other genres of success, but how many of us have the courage to take a risk or come out with a winning idea or manage to get the timing right all the time?
For a vast majority of us, it is the learning and growing model that works. But still there are very few takers for this. Not many organizations endeavor to nurture a learning culture in the workplace. It is an established truth that a learning organization is a growing organization and companies are generously funding internal and external training initiatives. But do these training actually turn into learning? Often not!

Let us explore some of the reasons

The cost factor: Mistakes are a part of the learning process. But some of these mistakes can prove expensive. Unless organizations have enough buffer to tolerate such costs, an encouraging, fearless environment cannot be developed.

The risk factor: Learning can be risky. Take a basic skill like driving. This skill can be imparted through a simulator and perfected. But the learning is not complete unless it is applied to a real life situation and in this case the risk factor cannot be ignored. Organizations prefer to keep fresh learners away from such high risk zones.

The time factor: Learning is a gradual process; it is so slow that the progress is often not conspicuous. This can be very discouraging unless one is really passionate.

But it definitely goes without saying that developing a learning culture is of top priority for a growth aspiring organization. A learning friendly environment could prove to be the most cost effective employee engagement exercise. The loyalty levels are significantly higher in such organizations compared to those that don’t have it. The organization also matures and adds value to itself along with its employees.

Innovative ideas can pop out from all corners not just your R&D department, when everyone is given an opportunity to experiment and learn. According to Daniel Pink in his book Drive, intrinsically motivated people not only perform better, but also can be highly productive for a longer duration. The best fuel to ignite intrinsic motivation is learning.
If you are seriously planning to reform your workplace into a learning mode, the following pointers may come handy.

Encourage mistakes: The retention of learning is higher when learnt through mistakes. It is not enough if you tolerate mistakes; they should become a part of the learning process. Cheer your people to overcome the fear of failure.

Provide opportunity: Build a strategy to gradually include freshers into new fields of learning. Learning is never complete without application in real life situations.

Feedback is an essential ingredient in any growth strategy and learning is no exception. Ongoing constructive feedback can keep the spirits high in achieving the goal. Build in a feedback mechanism. It also gives the impression that you take learning seriously.

Support: Ensure a good physical environment along with the emotional support. A well managed library, sessions by subject matter experts, internet support are simple cost effective ways of doing this if you cannot afford a full- fledged LMS (Learning Management Solution) in place.

About the author
Neeva is a corporate learning specialist and currently works with People Equity HR consulting as Principal Consultant. She has extensive experience in designing and delivering innovative learning initiatives. She can be contacted at 9686113578 and