by Evan Hackel
Great things happen in companies where executives inspire people to learn. To name just a few . . .
- An enhanced ability to compete in the marketplace, because people discover and apply the best information, solutions and ideas
- More effective leadership, because executives who love to learn inspire others to perform on a much higher level
- Improved job retention, because the work that everyone does becomes more stimulating and engaging
- Enhanced operations, because people aren’t required to do things . . . they want to try out the newest solutions and ideas
How can you cultivate a culture of learning and enjoy more of those benefits?
Become a Lifelong Learner Yourself – and Talk about It
It might work to say to people, “Go find out about the latest trends in our industry.” But in my experience, people are inspired to do that when company leaders are lifelong learners themselves. In other words, great learning leaders model the kind of learning behavior they would like to inspire in others. Then they actively share their discoveries in meetings, in casual encounters with people, on the company intranet, and more.
The more excited you become about what you are learning, the more people will follow suit. One effective approach is to start meetings by talking about something you have learned, and then asking other to contribute too. Another strategy is to start book groups where employees read and discuss important new books; provide the books and hold the sessions during company hours, not lunch hours, to reinforce the idea that learning is a “must do,” not a “nice to have” activity.
Open the Doors and Seek Information in New Places
When you stop to think about it, you are surrounded by people who can help everyone in your company learn. They include vendors, executives at other companies, members of professional organizations, and more. As I wrote in my book Ingaging Leadership, you can learn a great deal from companies in other sectors that are targeting the same customers you are – in other words, competing for the same dollars. How are they marketing, delivering customer service, and more?
To stimulate this kind of learning, create task forces that are charged with the responsibility of visiting other companies, attending conferences, reading business books, and then reporting back about the solutions and ideas they have discovered. One powerful suggestion is to have groups of employees evaluate your competitors and then their present findings to you.
The more you integrate learning with work, the more energized your organization becomes.
Let Employees Step out as Company Experts on What They Have Learned
When employees have learned a lot about a topic, find ways to let them share their expertise with everyone in your organization. You can encourage them to blog about what they know, write articles in company newsletters, and lead training sessions.
Those steps inspire your most enthusiastic learners to learn even more, inspire everyone to identify and master areas of learning that interest them, and further build a company culture where learning is a priority.
Become a Teacher and Trainer Too
Over the last few years, I have been giving more keynote speeches, posting videos on my company’s webpages, writing articles and a book, and taking other steps to share the lessons that I have learned during the decades I have spent starting, building and developing companies.
I believe that the more I share the hard-won lessons I have learned, the more I demonstrate my belief in learning.
Put Educational Resources on Your Company Intranet, Website, Publications and Elsewhere
You can publish a review of an important article or book on your intranet with a link to download it. Or put an educational video on your website, or publish an article in your company newsletter. The more you demonstrate that you value knowledge, the stronger your commitment to learning becomes.
Create a Personal Development Plan for Each Employee
Instead of only conducting performance reviews, empower the process by creating a personal development plan for every employee in your organization. Discuss specific areas for growth and learning that they would like to investigate, then bring the process to life by adding specific target dates for learning.
Then get together with each employee monthly to review progress. I am a very big advocate for this process, because I have seen how powerfully it works to develop people. When people understand what they have to do in order to advance in your company, they are more motivated to learn, excel and serve as role models. Why review learning and growth only once a year?