Monday, May 30, 2011

Learning Is Doing

In these tough economic times more and more workplaces, both business and government, have sharpened their pencils, gotten down to brass tacks, cut out the fat, tightened their belts, and adopted new production measures - because we all know "what gets measured gets done."  It has been very important for managers and leaders to be able to prove that each and every employee is doing what needs to be done, every minute of every day.

Top management has said that if you are not at your post, focused on your assigned task, you are not doing anything.  And, if you are not doing anything, you are wasting the company's time and money.

The concerns of management certainly can be understood.  Stockholders are unforgiving of companies that do not operate efficiently.  Citizens are unforgiving of governments that waste taxpayer dollars.  In either case, dissatisfaction with the organization's leadership can lead to changes at the top.   CEOs and politicians alike hold positions that are constantly at stake.

So it is not surprising that management's emphasis has remained on ensuring that employees are doing something that contributes to the success of the organization; doing those things that can be measured, proven, and demonstrated with hard facts.

In the face of this emphasis on facts and reality (See blog posts on The Leadership Diamond and Reality), true leaders are faced with the dilemma of finding ways to operate a profitable and efficient organization while still encouraging employee growth and learning.  These leaders understand the need to take care of today by delivering efficiency and quality, and to take care of the future by investing in the managers and leaders of tomorrow.

In a recent blog post (Learning and Teaching) the need for learning, both adaptive and generative, was discussed.  Adaptive learning is the learning that helps us survive.  Organizations, like individuals, must learn in order to compete, gain resources, and survive in a competitive climate.  Generative learning is the learning that "enhances our capacity to create" (Peter Senge).  It is this learning that lets the organization move beyond mere survival, create new and better solutions, and reach new levels of achievement. 

If an employee spends time learning, improving the chances that the organization will survive or will reach a new level, then that employee is doing something that contributes to the long-term success of the organization.

Even when the immediate results of the learning cannot be measured in profitability, number of widgets made, or popularity in the polls, learning that leads to the creation of good and competent managers, leaders who can take the organization to the next level, or creative thinkers that discover new ways of solving the problems of today is essential to the success of the organization.

If you are a leader, manager or politician, you have the opportunity to ensure that your organization is taking time to step back from the business of the day to take in the big picture (see The View From The Balcony), encouraging creativity and experimentation (see Everyday Creativity), expanding knowledge and skills (see Knowledge Skills and Talents), and improving the health of the organization.  All of these efforts will help you create a successful organization.

In successful organizations learning is doing.