In today’s organization, speed has become a weapon against learning.
Time to market, time to innovate, and time to exploit are now bullets in the gun. And that gun seems perpetually cocked. In a world governed by the need for growth, employees are under stress to complete things as quickly as possible. Indeed, we now scurry from task to task and action to action in a continuous rootless state.
A perpetual influx of meetings litters our calendars, at times from early morning to late afternoon. Emails flood our inbox. Instant messages, texts and other social streams haunt our to-do list, even if they may be deemed unimportant and non-urgent.
On the topic of to-do lists, the corporate mantra of “do more with less” is ironically adding more to the plates of employees than its intended proclamation. The result? Employees are stressed, overworked, and failing to take the time to think. Busyness is now king. It’s the queen, too.
Employees have become so busy they have given up on learning. I find this a frighteningly worrying trend.
According to LinkedIn’s 2018 Workplace Learning Report, there is further irony to report. Ninety-four percent of employees indicated they would stay at their company longer if it invested in their career development. The irony? From the report: “The No. 1 reason employees say that they feel held back from learning is because they do not have time to learn the skills they need.”
It turns out employees are so busy that they’re not even aware the organization most likely already offers a wide array of learning options. If they somehow stumble upon a learning option—be it a class, eLearning, video, or job aid—the second hurdle now has to be overcome: Do they have the time in their overly busy calendar to consume the learning and then apply it to their role?
It’s no secret that levels of employee engagement have remained stagnant for the better part of two decades. About a third of the organization is engaged—willing to go above and beyond the call of duty while motivated and feeling valued in their role—whereas two-thirds of all employees are either checked out at work or worse, chronically disengaged to the point of sabotaging business processes like customer service.
Part of the reason for the stagnation in employee engagement is how frenetic and busy our schedules have become at work. Consequently, employees feel as though there is no time to learn. When there is no time to learn, the employee distrusts the organization. “This company doesn’t care about me or my career, so why should I put in any extra effort,” some will charge.
Senior leaders see it differently. According to the LinkedIn report, 90 percent of executives suggested learning and development is a “necessary benefit to the employees at the company.” While they may view learning as a necessary benefit, executives also have to ensure time is appropriately allocated to an employee’s bandwidth for the benefit of turning it into a positive outcome. Otherwise, any available learning and development option is merely an idea rather than a tactical application.
What to do?
The first step is to analyze how employees are spending their time. I often recommend a time or calendar audit. If there are too many unnecessary meetings, it’s time to rethink how the organization meets. If there is too much email or point-to-point communication preventing people from learning (or doing their work), it’s a good time to rethink the organization’s time management norms.
Second, ask employees their predilection for learning. Knowing how, when and where employees like to learn will provide the context for a new way of learning. In the LinkedIn report, employees reported their preferences as follows:
- 68% of employees prefer to learn at work
- 58% of employees prefer to learn at their own pace
- 49% of employees prefer to learn at the point of need
Third, redefine the term learning such that it incorporates three key types: formal, informal and social. Then spend the time re-educating the workforce on the definition (I coined it Pervasive Learning in my first book, FLAT ARMY) and help both employees and managers with the change.
Not every type of learning occurs in a classroom or needs days off at a time. There are ample informal and social ways in which we can learn these days.
The key is to bridge the gap between how we are spending our time, and what the actual definition of learning looks like in the 21st century.
Stop being so busy, and start not only redefining what learning is but allocating some time in which to make it happen.
WHILE YOU’RE HERE…
I call it Open Thinking, the return to a balanced archetype of reflection and action; the poised intertwining of Creative, Critical and Applied Thinking.
Full details are found in my new book, OPEN TO THINK: Slow Down, Think Creatively, and Make Better Decisions, now available for purchase.
It is time to rethink our thinking.
And why not watch the TED Talk?