Random Thoughts on Life and Work

March 2, 2007

What To Do With Learning

Filed under: Management,Non-Profit,Strategy — Darren Mullenix @ 1:12 pm

Michel Martin writes an excellent post about the concept of empowering employees by providing learning opportunities.  Michele lists the following ingredients as necessary for a culture of learning:

  • A passion for the work
  • Managers who nurture curiosity
  • Access to resources and learning activities
  • Access to learning tools and the encouragement to use them
  • An expectation that learning is something that happens on a daily basis on ‘company time’.

I want to add one more:

  • The opportunity to use the knowledge gained

Staff can learn all they want but if the opportunity to put that learning to practice is not provided, then we have not only wasted the staff member’s time but we have also wasted the value of the experience.   There are two avenues that many organizations take with regard to learning and knowledge gains.  1) “We don’t do that because our staff just ends up leaving and taking that knowledge somewhere else” or 2) “We provide learning opportunities but we would ask that you just continue to do your job”.  In my humble opinion, the first is probably preferable.  At least it is honest.  The second borders on the criminally incompetent and should be avoided at all costs.  (Strong words maybe but the ramifications really are huge.)  By providing the opportunity to gain knowledge and therefore necessary skill sets and then not taking advantage of that knowledge, the staff member is frustrated and the organization ends up losing any advantage they may have gained.  And more than likely the person is going to leave anyway.

So how do non-profits use the knowledge gained?  A couple of things come to mind:

  1. Provide opportunity to manage projects.  It doesn’t matter that the staff member may be “lower tier” on the org chart.  Let them learn through the experience.  Even a mistake or a failure can be valuable.
  2. Provide opportunity to have input on macro level issues.  What do they think about this direction or that direction.  You never know what will come of it.

The opportunity to gain knowledge and put that knowledge to work provides a lot of satisfaction in ways that makes up for many of the other challenges that come with working in the non-profit realm.

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1 Comment »

  1. Excellent point! I can’t tell you how many trainings I’ve conducted where staff said “what’s the point? We aren’t going to be able to use these skills anyway.” The problem with learning is that what we’re really talking about is change and that’s something most organizations struggle with. If we create a culture where staff are learning all the time, we also have to create a culture where things are changing all the time as they try out their new skills. A lot of organizations aren’t comfortable with that, I’ve found.

    I agree with you that saying to employees “here’s something new to learn, but please do your job the same as always” borders on the “criminally incompetent.” If nothing else it’s a huge waste of nonprofit resources to do this, falling under the heading of mismanagement of funds in my book.

    Comment by Michele — March 2, 2007 @ 2:31 pm | Reply


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