Give a man a fish you feed him for a day. Teach him how to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.
Employees may not easily be predisposed to ongoing continuous learning. This passivity is inculcated through years of dependency that organisations have conditioned into their employees. We know that we cannot “instruct” employees to become self-directed learners. But what can we do to promote a culture of continuous learning.
A useful six step strategy to promote self -directed learning is the following. This approach has been successfully implemented in several well-known companies in South Africa and other African countries.
1. Bring Learning into the workplace
The easiest way to do this is to provide a guide for employees on what it is they should know and be able to do. Just this awareness will create a demand. The guides should contain questions not statements. They should encourage action. These questions are very similar to behavioural based interview questions. They are not statements that start with “the ability to”. They start with words like discuss or demonstrate. We call them learning objectives because they are designed specifically to encourage self-directed learning
2. Engage managers to coach assess and report on competence of their direct reports
When managers take responsibility for the development of their direct reports they place themselves in an ideal position to encourage self-directed learning. Managers influence employees to be curious and to explore new ideas. Discussions around the learning objectives provide a rich environment for knowledge sharing
3. Introduce a means to measure and set targets for development
We use the sign-off of learning objectives as a measure of progress. The sign off can be an assessment if the manager is a subject expert but it can also just be the fact that the question was discussed and debated. The number of questions or learning objectives “out there” forms the target. Managers can agree on a target to sign-off a certain percentage of the total learning objectives every month. This drives continuous learning and encourages self-directedness.
4. Encourage learning and capability from multiple sources.
Competence is “the thing” not how you got it. Learning is not a series of training programmes but rather the series of learning experiences. Encourage employees to read books and manuals, learn on line, create experiences and approach experts. There are some many avenues available and the world of knowledge has exploded with the advent of the internet over the past few decades
5. Focus first on excellence in the job you are in.
Too often employees strive for development for their next job while they still lack expertise in the job that they are in. Encourage employees to be the best at what they do. Give them the space and inspire them to become the leaders in the jobs they perform
6. Focus on dialogue driven learning
People learn more by talking than they do by learning. Getting employees to talk about work forces them to think. Thinking encourages learning and talking provides the opportunity to interact and get feedback. The learning objectives provide the ideal vehicle to encourage these conversations. New questions can be introduced at any time to try and raise the bar and challenge employees to grow and learn continuously.