Okay so I’m on the phone with the CLO of a large manufacturing company. We’re talking about ways to improve performance, specifically time-to-performance for new hires. I make a fatal mistake.
“Have you thought about developing more of a learning culture to replace your training culture?” I asked.
“Culture?” she replied. “What’s a learning culture? I’m not even sure I know what the culture is.”
My bad. I was guilty of not jumping far enough behind my assumptions about what someone in her position would know. It should have gone like this …
“I think we can definitely help improve the new hires time-to-performance in ways that will be observable and measureable, and directly impact on the profitiability of the company. Did you ever look at the difference between training and learning?”
“More or less. How do you define them?”
“Well, training is knowledge people may need that is pushed out to them, usually from your group. It can be pushed out in many forms but it is pushed because it is often an event they are told to go to, or an online program that becomes part of their annual performance review.”
“But you can get our elearning materials anytime and anywhere.”
“That’s true but aren’t you still defining and developing the lessons and pushing them out there?”
“Well that’s what I mean by push. What they learn is being pushed out to them. Pull is when they need to know something and they need to find the information themselves. They pull it from a variety of resources.”
“Resources from a classroom or elearning program?”
“It could be, but it’s more like finding the answer by talking with someone who knows, or looking up an expert and asking for help, going to someone who has been designated as a mentor. There can be many different ways to get to the answer but the key is that the person who needs an answer does not wait until they get to a classroom or watch an entire online program.”
“And how does that relate to the difference between learning and training, they seem to be same?”
“Well think of it this way. Training is push, and learning is pull. In a classroom the teacher pushes the training and the student learns by pulling the information into their brain. Take the teacher out of the equation and the student still needs to pull in the lesson only now they become responsible for finding and pulling the lesson or answer on their own when and where they need it. There’s no one around to do the pushing.”
“Okay I see how one is pushed out and the other pulled in. What’s the point?”
“Imagine your organization without any teachers or classrooms or long courses placed online that you needed to sift through to find a the piece of information you need. You could be a sales person about to go into a sales call, or a person on the assembly line confronting a problem that requires a quick solution so as not to stop the line. You might be a manager confronting a problem employee. In your case you have a bunch of new hires and you need to get them up-to-speed as quickly as you can, and there’s no classroom or orientation session that will do the job.
So you create what we call a learning culture, in which everyone is responsible for finding the answers to their questions and learning what they need to learn. You supply as many tools and resources as you can for them to make it easy. It’s like a performance support system spread around the manufacturing floor that can find the answers to questions just-in-time. It’s like a Google for manufacturing. It’s an expert locator to help you find the person who is an expert about attaching parts A and B.”
“Okay but why call it a culture?”
“Remember last month when we met at your office? I walked in and we shook hands. We didn’t think about shaking hands we just did it. That instinctive reaction in that situation is one of the things that defines what a culture is. Hundreds of instinctive reactions that govern how we behave with one another.
“I’m not sure I get it.”
“Okay. What would we have done if we were in the same situation and we were in Paris?”
Silence on the other end of the phone.
“We might have kissed each other on both cheeks because that is their culture. That’s why it’s so hard to determine what your culture is since it’s almost unconscious, simply a part of what is expected.”
“So what’s a learning culture or a training culture?”
“Great question. A training culture is one where people expect the training to be given to them and wait around for it to be pushed, you know, assigned or scheduled. They don’t go looking for the answers because it’s just not done. And they don’t take risks. It’s not part of the culture. It may seem disruptive to ask a question and disturb other people, or you don’t want people to think you don’t know how to do something. That’s a training culture.
In a learning culture people are expected to go and find the answers. To ask questions when they don’t know something. To take advantage of all the tools and resources in place to help them get the answer. To learn from their day-to-day successes and failures. It’s what you do automatically when you need to know something. You need an answer, you go get it, you don’t wait until it’s handed to you.”
“I need an example. I’m still not clear on what it is.”
“Okay, one of your new hires is shadowing a more experienced person on the assembly line. The new hire watches and tries to learn but they both know there will be classes that the new person will be going to, so the new hire is really just tagging along since she knows that she will not really be getting to work until after she passes the class. The new hire is probably more concerned about where to go for the best lunch, or how many days you get when you’re sick.
Now if the new hires were told they would need to start working and performing as soon as the orientation was done, and that they needed to know how to find the answers to their questions on their own, using all the resources they had, they would not only pay greater attention, they would feel confident about starting since they had all the resources they needed, and they knew in your company learning was their responsibility.”
“Hey, we have people who are new hires who can barely read English.”
“Then their resources come in two flavors, their native language and English. They can still go to class to improve their English language skills, but their time-to-performance is way faster because they are comfortable learning, pulling in what they need to know, since it’s in their language. You are still telling them that in your company they need to learn how to learn.”
“So tell me more about this learning culture idea.”
And so it begins …