To enhance learning, you need to have an environment permeated by awareness, trust and choice. For many colleagues this was a kind of a discovery, only three simple words. You first need to be self-aware of what you have to or need to learn. This is also a different way to make colleagues think about feedback, as a real gift. Not only the person interested in learning needs to be aware, but also the people around him.
About trust. Trust is both from outside—you need to be trusted that you can learn and recognized for your efforts—and from inside—you need to trust yourself that you can do it. Unfortunately many people are afraid to embark in learning experiences because they are not confident about their ability to learn and change. This is of course a way of protection.
Then we go back to the deliberate choice. We need to be aware that we cannot learn every single day from every situation if we stay with our 'role model'', with our way of thinking. For learning you need to ask yourself, before the experience itself, "what do I want to learn out of this experience?" Learning something that you didn't expect can be only a nice side effect of an experience, but you cannot rely on this.
The lesson learned by us in the last four years is that the most effective way to learn is to learn from others as they learn from you. The more you are able to build an environment where people can learn one from each other, the more effective will be the learning experience and the results.
Learning needs a deliberate choice
KEY LESSONS LEARNED ON LEARNING ON THE JOB
Something that we are doing at the moment and that goes in this direction is an extensive learning on the job pilot launched mid-June 2011 in Italian branches and in August 2011 in Polish branches. The pilot has been put in place after collecting some good practices coming from experiences of the group and other companies worldwide, and is focused on the integration of what we do in the learning space into the work place. We are in fact redesigning all the learning activities to support the learning on the job, aimed at enhancing learning in the real life practice.
We have actively involved so far both juniors and senior employees, and what we discovered is that this approach is even more rewarding for experienced people and the individual learning experience is even more impactful for senior roles (professional or managerial). By contrary, group sharing modules are more effective for juniors or hierarchically lower roles. Participants are selected based on their being good performers aiming at excellence, or stretched in a specific or new role.
The learning methodology behind, so far validated both for technical contents and leadership skills, starts with a first phase of exposure: exposing colleagues to the right on the job experiences is essential for the effectiveness and for a good outcome of the process itself. In fact nothing teaches like experience, but benefits of all on the job opportunities are not guaranteed. To maximize the learning and development potential that lies within work experience, you need a plan, and you need to identify those experiences that have the most impact on you. Understanding what you are gaining from the experience, what is missing, and how to fill any gaps, this is all part of the game. A second phase of extraction sees the person engaged in the activity effectively capturing learning from the experience through self-reflection and reflection through others. Successively application is what drives performance: that is, the amount of what employees learned from an experience that gets put into action in the same or other activities.
Talking about the design of the process, we started with the analysis of operational needs to identify the learning needs, accurately addressing a mix of competencies, people and roles involved, activities to be done, resistances and roadblocks. The involvement of the managers has been crucial for the success of the project itself, which has been monitored during the development phase.
Participants to the process are supported with a toolkit that provides managers and employees with tips and guidelines for creating and implementing on the job learning experiences. Tactics suggested can be further implemented at the workplace within the framework of regular work tasks.
"By-products" of the project include the generation of practice communities, widespread engagement, sense of inclusion, organizational integration and colearning. Moreover, the project has a direct connection to sustainability, because the process of learning makes the performance and the learning itself more sustainable.
We are testing good ways to enhance learning on the job practices with the support of an anthropologist who is trying to find out what are the archetypes of learning in the day to day activity. Learning is relationship: it is defined by specific contests of action and must be observed in the social interaction net; learning is participation, the individual who learns, acquires the ability to act. Learning is awareness: there is a need to define learning on a conceptual level and identify it in the daily practice. Usually lack of learning is associated with no or poor practice. Most of the times, at the organizational level, practice needs to be encouraged and facilitated. Another additional aspect of on the job learning is that where the circulation of knowledge and abilities between peers or almost peers is possible, learning is faster and more effective. For example, peers become colearners, where one learns from the other. Within this frame, the most seniors try to learn the best possible way to mobilize others to change, while the most juniors are involved in the definition of the learning objectives, in the processes and in the choice of the learning setting. Moreover, the cyclical relation junior/senior overcomes the old concept of learning as a one way relationship: both parties become more experts on what they decide to learn, benefiting with no end of this circular frame.
Taking part in a learning on the job activity does not mean doing simply flanking: at least it implies a situation of partial participation. Being in a learning condition means that both individuals are in that learning condition.
As in any process of change, resistances and conflicts are not infrequent. Conflict can be also positive (diversity), and generates different perspectives on practice and further development. Other major aspects of this approach are inclusion, alignment and communication. The role of the language is a powerful source of indications for additional ways of participation. Language is part of practice itself.
During the pilot we faced some natural resistances coming from managers and HRs. They are mainly related to the time needed and the perceived risk of loosing control over resources. In details, some managers and HRs complained that the approach so far was not enough standardized, which caused a loose of control over delivered messages and contents. This acknowledgement is helping us in designing the new phase. From the employees' side, only very few skeptical learners and demotivated buddies hindered the process, with a general strong participation and enthusiasm.
Our next steps will be focused on systematizing what we have experienced so far, engineering the process with Italy and Poland L&D (Learning & Development), and not last extending the use in a full commercial area, identifying specific needs and roles critical for building a competitive advantage.