Continuous learning is a path to leadership development and a competitive strategy vis-à-vis other organizations. What can companies do to foster continuous learning?
Learning should be a continuous loop.
Encourage and Teach
First, of course, make it clear that continuous learning is an important activity in the business. Managers can learn more about business strategy and what works and what doesn’t through continuous learning, even if it’s only reading. It’s estimated that the most successful people, such as Microsoft’s Bill Gates and Tesla’s Elon Musk spend at least 5 hours a week reading. That’s one hour per day, and most people can carve out at least that much time.
Second, bring in consultants to teach on occasion. Choose areas where you need to develop competencies. These can range from gaining more knowledge of search engine optimization (SEO) practices to learning a language spoken in a country into which your company will be expanding.
The more employees see everyone modeling new learning, the more continuous learning will be valued and embraced.
Encourage employees to teach each other new skills.
Recognize How People Learn
Third, when you do bring consultants in, recognize how people learn. New information has to be gathered slowly. Perhaps you remember – even fondly – all-nighters in college. The fact is, most people don’t remember information they’ve crammed into their head all at once. Many different study periods, spaced apart, do more to incorporate information into people’s heads.
People need to take notes, review them, and come back for more. Take a break in between sessions.
People also learn well if they teach something. If you’re bringing consultants in, it’s a good practice to have them pinpoint the employees that seem to be learning the most. Pick from among those people, test them, and have them train selected coworkers. The testing and training process will ensure that you have a core of employees who really know the consultants’ material at the end of the process.
Another way people learn is by transferring knowledge. One of the best ways to learn is by assessing whether you know something really well and then trying to apply it to a different area. An excellent salesperson, for example, could apply sales skills to presenting at meetings or conferences. They are similar in that both involve itemizing the benefits of a particular plan or goal and, in effect, selling it to the audience.
Emphasize the Importance of Continuous Learning for the Future
Finally, emphasize the importance of continuous learning for a future which is rapidly coming. Big data, artificial intelligence, and other technological innovations are very likely to change the way in which work is currently done. The old ways will become outmoded. Employees who can’t learn new methods or new tasks will be left behind.
In addition to bringing consultants in, encourage employees to take classes, either in fields directly related to their current positions or positions in which they might be interested. If your business can support flex time or tuition reimbursement, make your commitment clear by offering one or both to people who embrace learning by taking a class.