Early on in my career, I had a Manager who expected you to have at least two solutions on how to resolve a problem before you even spoke to her about it. Back then, I did not appreciate her for that but eventually, I realised that she was not expecting me to come up with a perfect solution. Instead, she was empowering me to be curious and continuously learn. She created a safe space to bounce all kinds of ideas and explore new ways of thinking.
In life, change is the only constant and this is probably not the first time you are reading that. To remain relevant, we must keep up and yes, even get ahead of it in some cases. A July 2017 article titled Stop Using the Excuse, “Organizational Change is Hard” in the Harvard Business Review indicated that approximately 70% of change efforts fail due to a myriad of reasons. However, to ensure that we are building organisations that are agile and fit for the future, we have to embrace change and more than that, build a learning culture where people can unlearn and re-learn in a safe space that rewards curiosity.
What does it mean to have a learning organisation? I define it as creating a space where employees can own mistakes or failures without judgment. In such an environment, employees can ask what went wrong, find out why it went wrong and derive key learnings to share with the rest of the organisation to ensure it does not happen again. When we succeed in doing that, we fail fast, we learn quickly, and we adapt. Providing time for a project post mortem is not easy for most organisations. Due to time constraints, we usually move on to the next project where we unfortunately repeat the same kind of mistakes. We need to create safe spaces for people to confidently speak up, challenge ideas and have healthy debates.
The learning framework (70:20:10) developed by Morgan McCall, Robert Eichinger and Michael Lombardo indicates that 70% of learning happens on the job through experiential, hands-on doing. 20% through avenues like coaching/mentoring relationships and only 10% through formal training like classroom learning etc. Since the scales are tipped so much in favour of doing the actual work, we need to refocus attention on getting that part right. A job rotation or stint on a cross-functional project can provide new insights for employees and also allow them to share best practices with other colleagues. Is there another division of the company? A short term assignment can provide a new platform for employees to work in different environments while picking up gems from the perspective of another market and sharing experiences with new colleagues, thereby building the circle of continuous learning.
It is also important to set aside time for employees to personally develop by either improving on or learning new skills. After a performance discussion, employees must be encouraged to put together a plan to learn something new and to improve on their skills and behaviour as well. The employee has to own this learning project and should be supported by their Manager, with guidance and resources from the HR Manager. No matter an organisation’s best efforts, some employees will simply not buy into continuous learning. However, once you have successfully built a learning culture, the unwilling staff members will either adapt or risk being left out.
COVID-19 has certainly thrown a number of challenges at organisations and those who will survive and thrive are those who take the learnings quickly and adapt to new ways of working. Organisations within a short period of time set up their employees to work from home. Most organisations have accomplished what they would never have believed possible. We have been forced to think about work differently and now, things will and should never be the same. If the majority of your employees are successfully working from home when in the past you had refused to consider a flexible working option, it would be unwise to not use this opportunity to envisage a return to work framework that potentially includes some flexi-working options. We must learn to unlearn and relearn in this new environment.
Technology has changed the way we work and throughout the employee life cycle and journey, we are constantly learning new ways of enhancing the employee experience. The speed of change is so expeditious that the organisations who will succeed are those that have built a learning culture and are agile in their approach, creating an environment where employees challenge each other, question old ways of doing things and are given the space and opportunity for continuous learning. Such organisations I daresay, are the ones that will attract the best talent.
By: Hannah Ashiokai Akrong
HR Director, Vodafone Ghana