Create a Learning Organization

Jeff Shiver

Before you attempt to ask people to learn something new, you should take a few minutes to diagnose their needs and how they might learn best. Not everyone learns the same way, at the same rate, or has the same background or experiences that you do. At the end of the day, you aren’t the one learning; they are. Let me share a few experiences with you to highlight the point.

I’m often asked to engage with individuals or groups in a coaching fashion to help them address or overcome some issue that the organization is facing. It was during one of these sessions that I was sitting with two front-line supervisors who were discussing the lack of motivation of some of their team. As a side note, when supervision and leadership issues like this come up, I always try to get people to look in the mirror first. This provides a moment of reflection to see if they themselves are the issue.

Anyway, they went on to cite how they had developed a ton of procedural documentation that existed in the computer. They complained that the people would not go and pull up the information to facilitate the job, and errors were being made.

Probing later in the conversation, I asked how the team handled e-mail activities. Basically, not at all was the reply. One laughed and recalled a story about one of their reports recently getting an e-mail from his daughter. He threw up his hands and asked the supervisor how he could reply back to her. The supervisor, short on time and knowing the level of difficultly required to effectively answer, simply told him to “call Susan,” the worker’s daughter. He was implying for him to pick up the phone. The worker looked at the computer and loudly told the computer to “call Susan,” expecting fully that the computer would allow him to respond to her e-mail in that fashion.

This supervisor was the same one expecting that gentleman to open procedures constantly to do the job and without training to improve those skills. While the individual most definitely can learn, it will not happen overnight.

Back when I was a practitioner, I worked beside individuals who were very effective at doing the same repetitive types of maintenance and production jobs every day. Talking with them, you would have assumed that they had at least a high-school education. In the end, some did and some didn’t, but that didn’t take away from the fact that that they were hard workers. I started noticing that some individuals tended to distance themselves from computers and manuals, as an example.

When I started digging deeper, I found out that they could not read. No, these were not old-timers; one was in his mid-30s and a high-school graduate. They were masters at hiding what most would consider a handicap in today’s society. They had learned to adapt and survive. You can imagine how that impacted their ability to take on new tasks or learn from equipment manuals when a new machine came in. When they completed a work order, you didn’t expect much detail in the closing statements. As a sidebar, when things like this are discovered, you really need to work with human resources to help the individuals raise their skills in these areas.

There are a surprising number of people with learning disabilities, many of whom were never diagnosed at an early age. Learning disabilities are problems that affect the brain’s ability to receive, process, analyze or store information. There are many different types. It’s never too late to seek out help. One supervisor I know shared that his children struggled keeping up in school until he learned of their disability. He spends thousands of dollars every year in special learning programs designed to teach those with such disabilities how to better comprehend the material. It really paid off for his children.

I know of one mechanic who is great on his tools but really struggles with reading documents. When you give the individual a document with a lot of text, the words reverse themselves when he attempts to read it. As such, he doesn’t do well on tests, and it has hindered his ability to advance in the workplace.

I encourage you to create a learning organization. Just keep in mind that not everyone learns the same way or at the same speed, so take a few minutes to consider your methods prior to starting. Put processes in place to measure the results and allow people the opportunity to apply what they learned immediately.

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About the Author

As a managing principal for People and Processes, Jeff Shiver helps organizations implement best practices for maintenance and operations. Prior ...