Successful Selling: Is your company a learning organization? - Oct 2021
By Sandy Smith
For the last few years, we have been hearing the term “learning organization” used to describe progressive, forward-looking companies. As a consultant to a variety of businesses, I had an inside seat to the onset of significant business trends and have witnessed learning organizations emerge.
Prior to the emergence of learning organizations, managers often insisted that their employees do more and do it better and faster with fewer resources. If the employee complained, the managers typically responded, “That’s why we call it work.”
Several years ago, I was a part of a team leading a three-day educational conference for a ceramic tile distributor. At the close of our seminar, the audience gave us a standing ovation. After the meeting, I went to the elevator to get my bags. As I stood in the crowd waiting for the elevator, I overheard one of our class participants say to another, “Wasn’t that a great learning experience?”
“Yeah, it was a great learning experience, but I won’t ever get the chance to use any of it,” the classmate responded. After a brief pause, she continued, “For the last three days, I have been getting text messages from my manager asking, ‘When is your charm school over? You are sitting comfortably in a conference center listening to motivational speakers, while we are drowning here.’”
I realized then that this young woman was returning to a work culture that was far from a learning organization. When she walked into her office on Monday morning, there was virtually no chance her manager or colleague would even ask how the conference went and what she learned, much less get on board with her to implement any new ideas.
LEADERS MUST LEAD IN LEARNING
Fortunately, though, through my years as a corporate consultant, I have worked with organizations that have strived to create learning organizations. In every case, I found that these organizations were led by CEOs and senior managers who were willing to openly share their personal stories of successes and failures throughout their careers. That kind of transparency made these leaders and managers more human and approachable. These managers sought to create a culture where employees at all levels clearly understood that their very presence and performance added great value to the company.
Some time ago, I was asked to give a brief presentation at one of my client’s all-hands meetings. Afterwards, a few of the attendees lined up to speak to me. One of them was a young man whom I had never met. He surprised me by saying, “Sir, I sure did like your talk this morning. They usually don’t invite us to this kind of meeting.”
I noticed his name tag and said, “Eric, I am pleased you came to our meeting. What is it you do for the company?”
Immediately, he raised both hands in a defensive gesture and said, “Sir, I am just one of the warehouse guys.”
I wondered what he meant by “just.” Somehow, he had not received the message that his presence and performance mattered. Or he didn’t believe it.
In learning organizations, lifelong learning is a mindset. In our complex world, it is no longer K-12 but K-90. The futurist Alvin Toffler once said, “The illiterate of the 21st century are not those who can’t read and write, but those unwilling to learn and unlearn and relearn.”
Today’s “street smart” leaders understand that learning is a competitive advantage in the marketplace. Continuous learning is positive for our health and well-being. Learning is not just about earning degrees or attending major universities. Nor is learning just about the workplace.
According to recent reports, medical, technological and health advances say our lifespans have been lengthened considerably. On average, most adults are living a decade longer than their parents, and two decades longer than their grandparents. Children today will live on average to the age of 104.
Take a moment and reflect on the following questions:
1. Who do you know, family or friends, that you would consider a lifelong learner?
2. What is unique about them?
3. What is it like to have a conversation with them?
4. What life lessons can you learn from them?
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