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Are You Building a Learning Organization?

By Don Reed July 9, 2007 Do you feel like training is too expensive or perhaps you cannot afford the lost work time, or maybe you do not want to send your employees on a mini-vacation. To some degree these views make sense to those focusing on near term results, such as the production numbers for tomorrow or sales figures for the month. However, does such a view make sense for anyone seeking long term growth and success? Investing in Your Human Resources This oversight, however, seems to be all too common. Businesses are willing to invest in buildings, infrastructure, and equipment, while ignoring their most valuable asset, the people that make products, interact with customers, and run the internal processes that are vital to success. Instead, it is too common to find companies slashing training and education budgets. Business experts who understand the keys to long term success usually take the opposite approach. They ask, How can you afford NOT to invest in your employees? A litany of research backs up this position. Studies show that there is a clear relationship between the investment into education, learning, and long term success. The Relationship between Learning and Success The importance of investing in knowledge is also found in the canon of business literature. Kaplan and Nortons Balanced Scorecard give Learning and Growth a high degree of emphasis. They describe investment into employees as being required to achieve breakthrough results, and a key to success in a modern, competitive environment. Also, in Building a Learning Organization, a seminal article published in the Harvard Business Review, Professor David Garvin states plainly, Continuous improvement requires a commitment to learning. The benefits of direct job-related training are, at times, easy to see and justify. Recently I attended a statistical process control seminar, and the attendees participated in an exercise that demonstrated the value of even the most basic internal training. Just a few moments of training reduced variance in the exercise by more than 80%. As this example illustrates, operator training in a process can improve first pass yields, cut waste and rework, and improve overall quality A Learning Culture Pays Dividends

In a larger sense, however, training shouldnt always be just about job skills. In a true learning organization, all types of learning are valued. In recent articles we have covered why it is important for organizations to be willing to embrace change, and we have discussed what innovative leaders can mean to an organization. The concept of learning and knowledge goes hand in hand with these important concepts. Organizations that value learning and knowledge are much more likely to be flexible and adaptable, and its members are more willing to embrace change. For example, in a learning organization the use of innovative methods and technologies will be more readily adopted and then will spread more quickly. It also gives associates a great opportunity to step outside the organization to learn and share with people from all types of businesses and fields. Sometimes the best innovations are not really new, but proven techniques applied in completely new ways. A line worker may learn something he or she can usefully apply from a personal finance class, and an accountant may devise an innovative accounting process from a seed sown while attending a cooking class. Plus, many companies have found investing in employee education pays dividends in areas like retention. Recently, a manager at a rapidly growing accounting firm told an accounting trade journal that It is very hard to get good employees, but if they feel like youre willing to invest in them you have very little turnover. Learning Should be Built into Strategy For a true learning organization, education and training cannot be an afterthought. As Balanced Scorecard describes, emphasis on learning and education have to be formed at the vision and strategy level. Then it can be built into objectives, budgets, and schedules without managers and supervisors feeling that education and training is taking someone away from their job. It is communicated and understood throughout the organization that learning is part of their job. What are you doing to build a learning organization? Do you project a negative attitude about education and learning on the companys time and dime? If that is the case, then your peers and subordinates might just have a negative attitude toward trying anything new or different. In todays competitive climate, are inflexible and non-adapting workers really the human resource asset you need to succeed? Once you realize why you need to promote learning in your organization, the next question is what kind of classes, seminars, or training can mutually benefit the company and the employee. We will discuss what types of learning to pursue in our next article.