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Learning@work

In a recent set of conversations about learning at work, the topic of how we get employees to learn more at work came up (no surprises there).

The current circumstances around the world have made learning and development a central focus for individuals and organizations, particularly for organizations where there is so much going on around transformation, culture, agility, adaptability, new ways of working, leadership capabilities, management effectiveness, and so on.


So, to extend one of these many conversations I have been having, I say let’s start with ourselves, you, me… we are experiencing the same things as everyone else, so would we say we are learning at work? If yes, why do we learn and how do we learn?


The discussion prompted this post where I decided to take a back-to-basics approach and provide a perspective on a few simple questions:

  • Question 1: Why do I learn@work?

  • Question 2: What does my learning@work look like?

  • Question 3: How can my learning@work be supported?

The third question is important as it speaks about how organizations as a whole system and individuals within these organizations who have certain authorities, like people managers, can support learning@work.


However, we start with the first question.


Question 1: Why do I learn@work?

While there are many ways to answer this question, the one I want to focus on is this:


Because I want to achieve something that

  • I might not know enough about

  • That requires me to do something

  • That I know, I can’t do or can’t do well enough right now

  • But I believe I can do or do well enough if I try harder.

Trying harder has 3 parts.

  1. Trying to do the same things the same way but with more effort

  2. Learning new ways to do the same things Or

  3. Learning new things you can do to get what you want


Question 2: What does my learning@work look like?

There are two things,

1. What I am doing to try to improve my understanding and

2. What I am doing to try to improve my actions

What I am doing to try to improve my understanding

As I try to decide what can be achieved and what I can do to achieve it, I am conscious that I am relying on my level of knowledge and understanding. This makes me seek to access information from credible sources and reflect on how my knowledge affects my decisions and actions in my ongoing experiences.

As I access information and reflect on my experiences, I pay attention to:

  1. How well I really understand what I want to achieve, and if I understand it enough to go after it

  2. If I am aware of enough ways and things I can do (actions) to achieve what I want

  3. If I can judge and make sense of the situation(s) I am in, so that I can make decisions that lead to effective actions

What I am doing to try to improve actions

I consciously perform the actions to try to do them better.

Initially, "doing it better" focuses on whether the actions lead to the results I desire (i.e., if I am getting what I want), but this usually is discouraging if I keep ‘failing. ’ If I don’t do anything about this, I tend to stop trying and redefine what I want to achieve as what I am already achieving!

However, if I choose to continue learning@work and my understanding improves, my focus on what “better” means starts to shift, and even if I am not achieving what I want yet, I start to look at the quality of my actions because I can recognize quality differences now. I also start to look at how my confidence is increasing.


Question 3: How can my learning@work be supported

This question on support speaks to the support offered to individuals by the organization as a whole system of resources, processes, job/roles, and practices and by roles with authority and control of those resources like people managers and leaders.


To support – “Because I want to achieve something that I might not know enough about.

Help me understand what value you need me to deliver, then continue to influence and align me to the expectation as my understanding increases

How:

  1. Give me access to information that helps me become aware and that educates me, so my understanding of the results and related value you need me to deliver continues to increase

  2. Leverage all the conversations we have about work to help me connect the decisions and activities I am doing daily with the value you are expecting me to deliver; this will help increase my understanding and appreciation of the value (continuous performance management)


To support – “That requires me to do something.

Be clear about what you want me to do (especially if you have a specific way you want things done).

Help me understand what these actions look like, specifically what doing them well (with expertise/high quality) looks like. Be clear how much decision scope/empowerment I have about what and how to do the things (actions) that can deliver the value.

How:

  1. Help me connect with or access expressions of the actions done well and types of high-quality outputs that can be produced so I can increase my awareness and understanding of what to do, what can be done, and how well it can be done

  2. Use our discussions on progress towards goals and milestones achieved to continue to keep me focused and clear on the desired results and value (continuous performance management)


To support – “I can’t do or do well enough right now.

Help me use the increasing understanding of the expectations around the quality of what to do or can be done to assess what I can or can’t do.


Then support me as I work out a plan to move from “can’t do” to “can do,” where the ultimate evidence of “can do” is delivering the value I desire to deliver, but progress is based on incremental increases in the quality of my actions and my confidence in performing the actions.


How:

Leverage all the conversations we have about work to help me assess and understand if I am on track to deliver the desired value and, if not,

  1. What decisions need to improve - this helps me know I need to work on my understanding) and

  2. What actions need to improve - this helps me pay more deliberate attention to specific actions when performing them

I don’t need you to tell me what I lack; I just need you to help me identify it from what I am doing at work by guiding my reflections and my access to people or resources that can help me realize it. It will be great to do this regularly and in time for me to do something about what I need to improve so I can still deliver what is expected when it is expected.


To support – “but I believe I can do or do well enough if I try harder.

Help me develop and maintain my habits of:

  • Seeking out information sources that help me increase my awareness and understanding so I can make better decisions, and

  • Finding opportunities to practice actions I know I need to improve before I actually have to do them at work (if possible) and while performing the actions at work, so I can continue improving the more I perform these actions.

How:

  1. Help me connect with the right information resources or experts so I can improve my understanding. This could be as simple as referring me to known experts or giving me access to resources that might require some investment.

  2. Help me find opportunities to practice the actions I want to improve. This could be as simple as practicing with me and giving me feedback, observing me doing the actions at work and giving me feedback, connecting me with, or supporting my request to connect with, someone/people who can help me improve, especially where those connections or opportunities require investment,

  3. Consciously design my work and deliverables so that I can achieve micro wins that help me build confidence for bigger wins until the ultimate delivery (or support my plans for the same)

Experiences are the best way to discover and hone your capability and competency to deliver value. Everyone can succeed with the right support. Everyone needs support.

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