Continuous learning part 2 – learn more from others

With an increasing pace of change, complexity and uncertainty, we need new solutions for learning. We need to move from formal learning in courses to continuous learning that is integrated into the work.

This means, among other things, to make better use of experience at work and cooperation with others for learning.

Companies that are good at continuous learning are 3 times more profitable and twice as innovative than the average

In a series of articles, I describe how we can develop learning in the organization to meet the challenges we face. Extensive reskilling, an organization that needs to learn faster and personification of learning are some of the challenges.

In this article I describe how we who work with learning & development can help employees to greatly strengthen their learning from others.

The image above is Bersin Deloitte’s “Learning Maturity Model” and describes how learning in an organization is gradually evolving. A quarter of all organisations are in the top half. In my previous article, I described how organizations in the top half are more profitable, innovative and have more engaged employees.

In the top half, learning takes place continuously and integratedly. Continuous means that we learn all the time; when we work, collaborate, on our way to work, etc. Integrated means, in turn, that we have designed work itself for learning. We have embedded learning in what we do at work.

This means that we are expanding our approach to learning from education alone to learning from experiences we do at work, from collaboration and from the outside world. Supporting the organization to learn faster and develop capabilities for the future means encouraging and strengthening ALL ways of learning, not just training:

  • Experience – We learn from the work, from the experiences we undergo by understanding the results, reflecting, experimenting, etc.m.
  • Others – We learn from others by observing, receiving feedback, collaborating and sharing knowledge.
  • Information/surroundings- We learn from the flow of information, for example articles, reports, blog posts, videos or information/support built into work.
  • Education – We learn from formal education, i.e. courses and programmes.

The image below shows how a first-level learning function supports the ways of learning as described above. By far the greatest effort is being put into training with a few activities in other areas such as Education and Training. support to provide feedback or coaching for leaders.

In my previous article, I described how those of us who work with learning and development can help to strengthen the learning of experiences. We can make challenges more accessible, teach employees methods to experiment, reflect, document and disseminate lessons more efficiently.

I also described how working with culture, employees’ability to learn and technology are basic conditions for supporting the continuous learning.

In this article I describe what we who work with learning & development can do to give employees the opportunity to learn more from others.

How we learn more from others

The image below is from Bersin Deloitte and shows a number of different ways employees get the knowledge needed in the work.

Tops do “share knowledge with my team”. 87% think it is very important or critical. Meetings, conversations and professional networks are also very high.

So learning with others is important. But isn’t it happening already? We share knowledge with our colleagues in the room, at the coffee machine, in meetings. This article is about how we can multiply the learning of others, both in quality and in the scope with which we exchange knowledge.

Many studies have shown how organizations that collaborate more are significantly more innovative, fast-growing and profitable than average. For example, the Institute for Corporate Productivity shows 32% increased productivity compared to the average.

As individual employees, we can do a lot to learn more by collaborating with others, for example, seeking feedback, sharing knowledge with others and developing professional networks.

The organization can work on creating a culture based on transparency and collaboration. We who work with learning & development can make sharing knowledge the most important way to learn. For example, atScandic most of the content of employees themselves is created in their collaborative learning platform Fuse. At Google, 80% of all employee training is created by the Google-to-Google initiative.

To describe in more detail how we can strengthen and support the learning of others i will use the image below.

The image shows circles of collaboration with increasing reach and with slightly different purposes.

  • 1:1 – We learn from another person, such as a mentor or a coach.
  • The team – We learn with each other in the team as we do our work.
  • Community of Practice – We share knowledge with others within a specific area of interest, within or outside our own organization.
  • Professional network – We develop relationships where we learn about all sorts of things that contribute to our development.

1:1 – Learn from another knowledgeable person

Learning from others is the basis of modern pedagogy. According to Bandura, we learn by observing others that we respect, reflecting on their results and gradually testing for ourselves.

Vygotsky describes how, with the help of a knowledgeable person, we can enter challenges that we ourselves cannot cope with, to take the steps into the “learning zone”. Through waning support from the knowledgeable person, we then gradually master the new skill.

Those of us who work with learning & development can facilitate and strengthen learning as described above by, for example, supporting feedback, job shadowing, job rotation, mentoring and coaching.

Feedback

Without feedback, we don´t know what works and what we can improve. In order to develop and improve, we all therefore need to develop the habit and courage to ask for feedback.

Those of us who work with learning & development can help educate and provide guidelines on how good feedback is given, for example, according to the SBI method. We can support leaders in building a culture of feedback.

Modern Performance Management platforms make it easier for employees to both ask for feedback and to provide feedback. Built-in templates make it easier for the employee.

Support for feedback is also available in most more modern LMS along with various forms of support to praise the efforts of others. There are many forms of appreciation for others, “high fives”, “thumbs up”, “badges” m.m. Microsoft Teams also offers the ability to send praise to other people.

Job shadowing and job rotation

These methods are perhaps something we talk more about rather than using them systematically in the organization. This usually takes place in trainee programs for new employees or succession programs for leaders. For a project-based organization, it is also a natural part of the work.

With extensive reskilling and redistribution between professional roles, it is becoming increasingly important methods. Working with increased mobility between roles also provides new perspectives, abilities, networks, flexibility and commitment. This is something we urgently need to facilitate.

Job shadowing becomes a natural part of a reskilling program. After training and projects, it is natural that we accompany a more experienced person, observe, reflect together and try gradually with increased independence.

Some examples of initiatives we can arrange to enable increased rotation and observation are:

  • Trainee/apprenticeship programme – Not only for new employees but as part of reskilling initiatives.
  • Job shadowing – We follow along and observe other roles, to understand what opportunities there are, provide a better overall picture, etc.
  • Job rotation – We swap single tasks or entire roles with others to create more perspectives, new abilities, etc.
  • Project work – The transition to more project/gig work that I described in my previous article increases my learning.
  • Agile teams – We all work with the whole and take on different roles than we have done before.

Coaching and mentoring

A mentor offers his knowledge and experience to advise and support a less experienced employee. A mentor helps the employee to venture into the “learning zone”. In this way, mentors are important when the employee wants to move outside their comfort zone. This is important in all developments, but especially in reskilling when many employees in a short time learn a completely new profession.

The relationship with a mentor is normally long-term. It’s a person who’s helped me with my career. A more short-term relationship is usually called “micro-mentoring”. These are knowledgeable people who can help me with specific tasks. An example of this is ICA’s “Skill-Buddies”, where employees can search for and get help from experts with specific issues.

As an organization, we can encourage and support mentoring by creating mentoring programs. We help by engaging key stakeholders, facilitating matching, creating structure for meetings, publishing guides, educating and communicating about the value of mentoring.

To support the programs, we can use mentoring platforms. They make it easy for both mentors and employees who want support with their development or solve problems. Typical features are:

  • Rich profiles for mentors and employees.
  • Onboarding and support for those who become mentors.
  • Different methods for matching employees and mentors.
  • Scheduling, goal management, and application flow for sessions.
  • Several ways of communicating, such as web meetings, chat and email.
  • Documentation of sessions, such as recording, notes, checklists.
  • Follow-up, evaluation and reporting.

Coaching is a more specific form of feedback where the coach supports the employee with specific development goals, behavior or tasks.

In this case, the coach does not need to have the specific subject knowledge but uses a method of coaching, such as GROW. The most common coach is our manager who helps us clarify goals, find a plan, motivate and provide feedback.

We can help establish a coaching approach by training the managers and also transforming the annual development discussion into a continuous dialogue with the employee. Many platforms today support a continuous dialogue around goals, activities and follow-up.

Team

The team is the ones we work with to achieve a result. Depending on how we divide the work, how we collaborate and how transparent we are, we can learn more or less within the team. In a team where we only perform our own tasks without much interaction with others, we learn less.

Learning from collaboration

We who work with learning & development can help teams learn more from each other by establishing more habits for collaboration and transparency. We can also communicate the value of cooperation.

One method we can use is “working out loud“,which means that we often share the content of our work and comment on it ourselves. We can, for example ask for ideas, comments or advice.

Those of us who work with learning & development can help by organizing so called “Working Out Loud Circles“. It is a structured method where the team goes through steps over 12 weeks to gradually learn to focus on relationships, generosity, clarify and make their work visible and collaborate.

A prerequisite for collaboration and sharing of knowledge are strong teams with a clear purpose, participation, trust and respect for other employees. We can help develop strong teams. There are many programs and trainings for that. One material I recommend is Microsoft’s: The Art of Collaborating. During a number of team meetings, the team works through:

  • The purpose of the team.
  • The identity and values of the team.
  • Awareness of the needs of your own and others in the team.
  • Trust, vulnerability and psychological security in the team.
  • Constructive differences in the team.

Collaborating and “working high” becomes easier when your company uses a collaboration platform like Microsoft Teams or Slack. By publishing our work, commenting and asking for opinions, we create transparency and openness that are fundamental to learning teams.

My experience is that it is a long journey to really start working with a platform for collaboration. Instead of putting files on a file server, we put them openly in the “team”. Instead of emailing individuals, we post in the feed. Instead of meetings, we start a discussion, set up a plan or create a wiki page with ideas.

Studies from Microsoft show that we save 8 hours per week through better information sharing, fewer emails, and fewer meetings by using a collaboration platform.

We can also shape the organisation for more collaboration and learning. Instead of a traditional hierarchical organization divided by features, agile teams include all the necessary abilities in a team. They work together throughout the flow to solve the customer/recipient’s problems.

  • The employee works with the customers enitre problem or what the project should solve. They take different roles during the project and thus learn new roles and approaches.
  • Collaboration with employees from different disciplines offers several perspectives on problems with increased communication and learning as a result.
  • Openness and trust where daily(“stand-up”/”scrum”)meetings and e.g. kanban-paintings give employees insight into the whole.
  • Togheter the team decides how they solve the task and post the work. The leader’s role changes to set direction and encourage employees. (“Servant leadership“)
  • Constant feedback meetings (“Agile retrospectives“) evaluate the work and create continuous improvements and learning.

Apparently, there is a lot we can do to strengthen learning within the team. To summarize:

  • Awareness – We can communicate the value of collaboration, run educations such as “WOL Circle” or “The Art of Education”.
  • Behaviors – We can be role models ourselves when it comes to collaboration and use of platforms. We can coach managers to be role models and use platforms.
  • Structure – We can premiere mindset and ability to collaborate in recruitment, operate and train on collaborative platforms, drive implementation of agile teams, reward collaboration and sharing.

Community of Practice

A “Community of Practice” or simply Community has a greater reach than the team. The team focuses on work, on delivering and is part of the organization. Instead, the purpose of a Community is to exchange lessons learned in an area of interest. Here, members test ideas, share knowledge, brainstorm and are active in helping each other.

One example is the Communities that Ericsson has set up for different roles and technology areas. In total, several hundred Communitys have been established. Some are about technical problem solving and others are about learning.

I myself was involved in setting up the latter, so-called Academy Spaces. On them, employees cooperate in a specific area. You share knowledge, take courses and subscribe to curated knowledge in the form of videos, reports, guides, etc.

A Community often has a greater reach than the company. I myself am a member of several Communitys, such as “Singularity University Community” and “Bersin Academy”. In this case, it concerns the areas of interest ‘exponential technology’ and ‘learning’, respectively.

Starting Communities is an effective way to spread knowledge within an organization. Take, for example a bank. Each office has only a few individual business advisors. There aren’t that many to ask. By creating a Community of “Business Advisors”, the advisor gains access to the knowledge of the entire bank’s advisors, not least the specialists who sit centrally.

Dedicated groups in, for example LinkedIn can also be said to be a Community. I myself am part of several, for example “Learning & Performance group”.

We can help establish Communities that focus on knowledge exchange in your organization. Some things to keep in mind are:

  • Create a clear purpose, a community of interests.
  • Understand members’ needs, areas of expertise and engagement levels.
  • Organize Communities with “owners”, moderators, working methods, information structure, etc.
  • Engage ambassadors and communicate to build a critical mass of members.
  • Maintain and customize the content to suit members’ needs.

If Teams and Slack are typical platforms for the Team, Yammer and FB Workplace are community-appropriate platforms.

Professional networks

The outer circle is the professional network. It’s more loose than the Community and focuses on the relationship with people we’ve met.

In a Community, the focus is on a common area of interest, membership is limited and engagement is high. In the professional network, the relationship is instead in focus and how we can mutually contribute to each other, which is in any area.

LinkedIn is the typical platform for nurturing the professional network. I myself use LinkedIn for many reasons:

  • I am inspired by things that others share (in all sorts of areas).
  • I cultivate contact with suppliers, customers and other people I meet.
  • I’ll find people to network with.
  • I follow what happens in my own and other industries.
  • I use LinkedIn to promote and build my brand.

Cultivating a professional network provides additional access to ideas and knowledge, faster answers to questions, broader approaches and support in our future development.

We who work with learning & development can help train and coach our employees to build professional networks and share knowledge on e.g. Linkedin.

Many times, LinkedIn is also a way to reach employees in your own organization. We can lead by example ourselves and publish what we do on LinkedIn. It helps build the brand for learning within the organization. Some people who are very good at it are Hanna Schultz at ICA and Jeanette Almberg/ Kristina Mehler at Länsförsäkringar.

Conclusions – strengthening learning from others

It was a brief review of how we can strengthen and speed up cooperation and learning of others. The image below shows the flow of ideas, inspiration and knowledge from our network, Communities and others on the team. We test and experiment, ourselves and with the team. The experiences we create and lessons we learn, we share with others in the team, with the Community and with the network. In this, we strengthen our relationships with our network and increase the opportunities to get help and advice in the future.

For those of us who drive learning and development, there is a lot to do. We can:

  • Set up initiatives for job shadowing, mentoring, Communities m.m.
  • Communicate the value of collaboration and knowledge sharing.
  • Train managers and employees in methods such as coaching, feedback, building strong teams, “working out load”, running Communities, using collaborative platforms, etc.m.
  • Act as role models in providing feedback, driving collaboration, knowledge sharing, acting in Communities and networks, etc.m.
  • Implement and educate on the use of collaboration and knowledge sharing platforms.

Back to my initial view of how a traditional education organization can expand its support for learning in the organization. We have now replenished both the ‘experience’ sector and ‘social’ sector.

Start yourself

How do you work with the team yourself? There’s a lot to start with in your own team. Start sharing knowledge in Teams, run a “WOL circle”, swap tasks with each other, etc.

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