WTF is a Learning Mindset?

As the world moves faster and faster around us, companies and their employees are struggling to keep up with the pace of change.

“Change has never happened this fast before, and it will never be this slow again” –@graemewood

Therefore, constant learning has never been been more important than today. But first, the old adage “we learn not for school, but for life” rings hallow, as the the skills we are taught in school resemble only a small subset of what is needed to master one’s life. Second, once we have completed our education, we join a company, take on a role and become a vertical (domain) expert. Back in 1991 David Guest already proposed the T-shaped professional, where the vertical bar represents the depth of related skills and expertise within a certain domain and the horizontal bar reflects the ability to collaborate across disciplines and apply knowledge in areas of expertise that are not one’s own. Granted, that was within the context of IT professionals but should be true for probably most roles in the modern workplace.

Many companies today resemble fragmented information silos. Employees in different departments work in sequence along the value chain. Each department has its own purpose, processes and even culture. Each individual becomes a master of his trade during his professional career. However, that is not good enough in today’s world. As the world becomes more complex and intertwined, companies need to adapt accordingly and create networked structures with interdisciplinary teams, promote a collaborative mindset and encourage and empower their employees to constantly learn.

Hang on, are companies not already spending a fortune on trainings, development courses, external coaches, you name it? Indeed they are, and I am not going to make the point that all that is futile. I very well believe that there is a case for such trainings and coachings but it is only one side of the story (remember that vertical bar of T?!). If companies really want their employees to grow, want them to be curious and inquisitive, they need to lay the foundations for a learning mindset, especially when it comes to soft skills and mindset, since you cannot “learn” these in a classroom or e-learning or similar.

Differences between a training and learning mindset

Here are some aspects that in my view define a “training mindset” and “learning mindset” within organizations.

Overview of training and learning mindset

How to assess a learning mindset?

To assess whether an organization focuses more on a training and less on a learning mindset, ask the following questions:

  1. Are employees that attended a training required to share what they learned with others within the organization or not?
  2. Are employees given time to apply their knowledge, experiment and most importantly reflect on the experiment (aka the learning process) or are they thrown back into their daily business once the training is over?
  3. Are employees encouraged to look left and right of their role for new things to learn or can employees only get training for things relevant to their role?
  4. Does the company openly and proactively provide the means (financial, time, space) for informal learning to happen or does it primarily offer formal training courses?
  5. Does the organization encourage employees to attend informal learning formats during working hours or only formal training sessions?

I can only repeat myself: This is not a black and white story. Formal training in whatever way has its definite place within organiziations. But if this is the only focus, an organization is blind on the other eye. It shows that it has not yet fully come to appreciate the importance of a learning mindset in this VUCA world. It woefully neglects the power of self-organized, grassroot, informal learning movements and methods, and that in my view is a big mistake.

In a subsequent blog post I am planning on looking at some of those informal learning methods for individuals, teams and organizations that might be helpful and relevant to you and your company.

helping employees to work out loud

Small and effective steps to help your employees work out loud

Congratulations! Your company has implemented an enterprise social network. You drummed up excitement with your fancy launch campaign, created initial content on the platform and training material to help your colleagues understand the why and the what. Yet after the initial hype, interest and activitity are slowly fading. Most people might have logged in once to look around, but are never seen again.

There are many reasons why this happens. One of them though is that people are thrown into unknown waters. They might have understood what is expected of them, but they still feel highly uncomfortable.  Simply telling them to share what they are working on or participating in conversations on the platform gives many people the chills. It may sound easy but it’s not! Very crucial steps towards becoming comfortable with this new way of communicating are missing that create barriers to participation.

What I have seen successfully working in my projects is showing  people a clear path towards making full use of an enterprise social network. Explain what they can do at the different levels to become more comfortable over time. Explain that they don’t have to post anything in the beginning. Normally, people don’t appear at a party shouting what they have to say. Normally, people listen to conversations first and if they feel comfortable and have something to say they will participate. It’s very similar in an enterprise social network.

Steps to helping your company work out loud

The ladder below shows the different levels of engagement. You will need to read it bottom-up.

Helping your company work out loud

Helping your company work out loud

Any good learning material takes the fears and concerns of people into account. It explains the Why, the What and the How in a language that is relevant and easy to understand by the audience. I have seen many training and awareness material created for enterprise social network platforms, but many fail to speak to the target audience. Often the Why is  primiarly based on why the platform is good for the company but not the individual. The What is often describing abstract use cases and user scenarios and the How talks about the functionality to make the magic work. Maybe I will write a blog post about the right content of ESN learning material. 

To sum it all up, if you want to influence behaviour, do not only look at the end game. Take good care that you make your target audience comfortable by taking small steps without much risk. It may take a while longer, but in the end it will all be worth it.

A book on Networked Organisations

A couple of day ago I received my personal copy of a book called “Vernetzte Organisation“, in English “The networked organisation” or even “Social Business”. In the context of the book the word “social” is a synoym for “related”, “connected”, “networked”.

Vernetzte Organisation - Book

I contributed a chapter in which I describe a practical method for influencing effective behaviour change called “6 Sources of Influence“. It’s a method by Patterson which I have come to use in some of my client projects. It’s a great way to think through the different methods and pressure points that can be applied to an individual or target group to influence their behaviour.

The book is comprised of a large number of contributions written by academics and practioners from various view points but all talking about the future of work and organisations. It provides the theoretical framework to grasp the changes that organisations need to face if they want to be successful in the networked century. This is followed by various practioners presenting their respective projects and programmes which they initiated to prepare their organisation for the necessary changes and related challenges. Last but not least, the final third of the book is devoted to methods and toolkits that can help to successfully navigate the difficult waters of organisational change.

I am very grateful to be included in the book. Alexander Richter, the publisher of the book, managed to assemble a very impressive group of academics and practioners to create a thorough, practical and inspirational guide for anyone interested in the future of work and organisations.

Alex created a Twitter list of the authors, which also provides a great stream for inspiration and learning.