Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Learn from your own employees

What happens when your best employees leave your company? Or they might not leave at all, but you make them just stay there and eventually "figuratively die" there.

When these things happen, you are not managing your organizational learning and you are losing out on knowledge and ideas that might have helped your business in a big way.

Organizations do not learn, individual employees learn. Your organization now needs to capture, evaluate relevance to your corporate ideology and goals, disseminate to all employees who could use them, get feedback on how they applied the knowledge, capture, distill, and so on and so forth.

This is the gist of my paper on "Aligning Organizational and Personal Learning for Excellent Business Results" which I delivered at the enormously successful Summit on Globalization of HR in Taipei last month.

What usually happens in most companies is that knowledge is shared only with an elite group, a.k.a. management team or your own working unit. For example, every year this company holds an Economic Briefing by a well-respected economist in the country. After the briefing, it is business as usual for the attendees as if the briefing never happened. Or they talk about the economic forecasts among themselves and in whispers even. No cascade of learning down to those who need and who could use the knowledge.

Or you send your management and staff to seminars, conferences and workshops and all you require them to do when they are back is to liquidate financial obligations. Or somebody comes up with a bright idea, and everybody else gangs up on the idea and the bearer of the idea with a mission to kill or simply ignore the idea. Or management simply gives idea creators the usual pat in the back then back to normal.

The Malcolm Baldrige Criteria for Business Excellence defines learning as a learning that is directed not only toward better products and services, but also toward being more responsive, adaptive, innovative, and efficient—giving your organization marketplace sustainability and performance advantages and giving your workforce satisfaction and the motivation to excel.

Actually learning is embedded in the way any organization operates. They are regular part of daily work; practiced at personal, work, unit and organizational levels; results in problem solving at their source (root cause); focused on building and sharing knowledge throughout the organization; and driven by opportunities to effect significant, meaningful change.

Organizational learning results in enhanced values for customers; new business opportunities; reduced errors, defects, waste and related costs; increased productivity and effectiveness; and enhanced organizational performance in fulfilling its societal responsibilities and its service to the community. It comes from mostly from employees' ideas and also from research and development, customers input, best practices sharing and benchmarking.

Management guru Peter Senge defines organizational learning as the continuous testing of experience, and the transformation of that experience into knowledge—accessible to the whole organization, and relevant to its core.

It becomes imperative, therefore, to extract, capture, manage and use knowledge and ideas from employees. This gave rise to what businesses call knowledge management. It is kind of technical and verbose to be described here.

From my own experience, there are five ways to access implicit knowledge or knowledge that reside in the mind and heart of an employee. This is vicarious learning done through straight talk (written and oral presentations), storytelling, digital (blogs, emails, pictures), crucial conversations (gossips and grapevine) and structured conversations (world café, focus groups, meetings).

I remember this story: I've always been handy at fix-it jobs around the house and I've tried to train my children to follow suit. Recently I asked one of my sons to hold the flashlight while I replaced a faulty electrical switch. Only mildly interested, my son asked me after a short pause. 'How did you learn to do this stuff?' I replied, "By holding the flashlight."

URBAN SPA cordially invites you all to their 5th anniversary celebration tomorrow, Oct 21, 1-3pm, at the 5th Level Wellness Zone, Shangri-la Plaza. There will be a photo gallery exhibit of cool breastfeeding moms (Tessa Valdez, Sandy Romualdez, Tintin Bersola, and others) until Oct 31 and Bench Kids & Blissful Babes fashion show.


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