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Creating a learning environment

Colin LonerganMost organisations strive to develop and maintain a culture that leads to a focus on continuous improvement. Link Asea's experience in working with clients is that a key determinate of whether an organisation can continuously improve its work quality and outputs is the extent to which it values learning.

A lot of traditional staff learning takes place in local coffee shops, pubs or at social functions. Management usually does not have the opportunity to contribute to these informal discussions and not all that is discussed is based on accurate information. The other common way of learning within an organisation is via formal in-house training sessions. These training sessions are of varied quality, but if professionally conducted and inclusive, are highly valuable.

In addition to the traditional tools new approaches to learning are increasingly being used in corporate and government America.

Over the last several years many of these have been adopted in Australia and the lessons that have been learned in the USA have reduced some of the dangers that can accompany the introduction of new work practices.

Here are four modern learning tools It may be of use for readers of this blog to note how many are being used in their workplace, and of those that are used, how many are effective.

  • BBLs (Brown Bag Lunches): are visiting experts or staff from other offices, asked to give a short talk over lunch time to interested staff?

  • On line information: do the CEO or senior managers provide knowledge about emerging issues or topical information through the web? Do staff have the chance to interact with the manager or his/her nominee on line?

  • Is there peer group support and review available on line? The modern work force is very comfortable with social networking. Their familiarity with twitter, face book, YouTube and Linkedin makes tools like an on-line “ask the expert”, or seeking advice from peers through a discussion board, or accessing stored knowledge through a web accessed knowledge bank easy for them to use.

  • Are Business Plans prepared within work units? And if so, are they as a tool for team building and for shared knowledge development? Does everyone have an equal role in their preparation? Does everyone get a chance to be part of a review process to check progress against the plan?

Clearly there are a lot more tools that can be used to create a learning culture within an organisation. And equally clearly a great deal of planning and careful implementation needs to be taken to ensure they are effective when introduced. The final thing that is abundantly clear is that organisations that do not embrace learning and continuous improvement are in trouble. The world is getting smaller and competition is increasingly keen. Organisations have to work smarter to stay in business.