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Employee Learning Lets the Light In

It’s inevitable, and often positive, that we fall into habits at work.

We learn ways to do our jobs that work well, or at least well enough, and these habitual ways of thinking and behaving enable us to get things done as needed. The problem with rote ways of thinking and doing is that they represent a missed opportunity for innovation and don’t work well with quickly evolving organizations. There may be better ways to approach a task, a problem, or a even relationship at work. If we don’t take the time and resources to learn and reflect, employees and the company as whole can become stagnant. Such stagnation is a drag on the individual’s and organization’s success.

Prioritizing learning is pivotal way to get employees to think through their habits — individual and corporate — and develop better ways to do things. When thinking about the benefits of supporting employee learning and development, consider these three reasons that justify the investment:

Learning is the basis for innovation.

We look at the world using assumptions and habits we find useful. They allow us to get things done, without getting bogged down in thought over minor tasks. There’s a well-documented upside to habits, and the habits of an organization can be the deciding factor in its success. The downside is that habitual ways of thinking and doing blind us to other opportunities. It’s crucial for an organization to provide time, space, and resources for employees to learn and reflect upon new information, technology, and ways of doing things. Learning allows us to see past what we already know and do. It enables improved organizational habits.

Knowledge begets knowledge.

With opportunities to take in new information and connect it to what they already know, employees not only deepen their knowledge, but learn more easily as their knowledge increases. Learning today makes learning tomorrow easier. Knowledge begets knowledge. We know this from the research on learning. Daniel Willingham, a professor of psychology at the University of Virginia, studies how students learn and writes that cognitive science shows “the more you know, the easier it will be for you to learn new things.”

The implication of this insight from research for employers is profound. Investing in employee learning not only increases their knowledge, but increases the ease of future learning. It’s an investment in the potential of an employee.

Learning helps employees feel engaged and connect with a sense of purpose.

Fostering employee growth and development is a key part of employee engagement and, ultimately, retention. Giving employees the time and resources to pursue questions that interest them and experience the intrinsic reward of learning new things allows them to connect to a sense of excitement and the deeper meaning behind why they show up to work everyday. Maybe they are motivated to help others, or maybe advancing research or design is what drives them. An employee who has found meaning at work is a employee who sticks around and contributes, even on tough days.

Isaac Asimov wrote, “Your assumptions are your windows on the world. Scrub them off every once in a while, or the light won’t come in.” Learning is what enables employees to let the light in and see new possibilities. To support employee and organizational success, give employees the time and resources necessary to deepen their knowledge, reexamine habits and assumptions, and develop their potential for innovation.

Nanci Appleman-Vassil

Prior to establishing APLS Group in 2000, Nanci was a corporate training manager for R.H. Donnelley, the largest independent sales, marketing and publisher for the Yellow Pages industry. In this capacity, Nanci provided a full range of training and organization development services, including identifying, coaching and developing managers and other upper-tier employees to build a high-performance culture.

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