When Do We Learn?

A lot many leaders and HR / OD professionals talk about the need to build and enhance organizational capability. They talk about the Learning Organization – companies that continuously facilitate learning of its employees to transform the organization. They envision such an organization to be agile, responsive to marketplace dynamics, innovative and successful.

So, how do we learn? Training? Courses?….No!

We need to remember the 70/20/10 rule of learning – 70% of learning is on the job, 20% from people around us and 10% from formal training & courses. And if bulk of the learning is going to happen on the job or stretch roles, are we creating the right environment for that learning to happen? So, I built a simple 2-by-2 matrix to get you thinking.
When do we learn in organizations - Abhishek Mittal

As you see, getting our people to simply follow the SOPs and instructions doesn’t really lead to much learning. Even if the SOPs lead to a poor outcome, the learning is quite reactive and short-term – fix the process and then zero learning until the next error is detected. True learning happens when we let our people and teams to experiment, not conform to straitjacket ways of doing things.

But, in reality, does this happen? Let’s see what the data has to say. The following chart shows the percentage of employees agreeing with the statement “My company has established a climate where innovative ideas can fail without penalty to the originating person or group”.

TW Data

These data are from Towers Watson (disclaimer: my employer), collected from thousands of employees across geographies. Apart from country and region level data, there are also data from Global High Performing Companies defined by Towers Watson as companies with a) superior financial performance, defined by a net profit margin and/or return on invested capital that exceeds industry averages; and (b) superior human resource practices, defined by employee opinion scores near the top among the most financially successful companies surveyed by Towers Watson.

Clearly, companies in Singapore and broadly, in Asia Pacific still have some way to go in building a culture that supports risk-taking, experimentation and hence, true learning.

Here’s a quote from Jacob Morgan author of The Future of Work (more great quotes here):

Change is the only constant and in that type of an environment the only way to know what works and what doesn’t is by trying things out. Every experiment is a chance to learn what works and what doesn’t.”

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