Continual Learners And Learning Organizations: A Two Way Street Or A Dead End?

Author

Kotter International

September 28, 2016

It has been five years since I quit my job in advertising to explore why Gen Xers/early Yers were checked out so early in their careers.  Immaturely, I raged against a boundary-less corporate life where email flew unregulated, self-reflection was at a minimum and time to pursue one’s passions was non-existent.  I launched a company (more like a defiant campaign) called counSOUL to inspire my peers to rise up and get unstuck. As you might imagine, this was noble, timely and – well – ineffective.

It’s hard to find a work environment that provides the space, dialogue and discipline to grow. The daily grind of what needs to get done clouds an organization’s focus to nurture its most important asset.  At the same time, I increasingly recognize my personal responsibility to contribute to the evolving organization itself – the young people coming up behind, the things that can vs. can’t be done.

So what will it mean to be a continuous learner in the 21st century – that is, someone who gets up every day with purpose, energy and curiosity?  And what will it mean to be a continuously learning organization – teams who come to work every day unjaded, open and focused?  Wouldn’t it make sense that these two be intrinsically linked? Who is responsible for keeping each of them healthy?

Five years ago, the burden was on the individual to set boundaries and seek opportunities.  Now, the conversation has shifted to an organization’s responsibility to simplify work practices and personalize career journeys.  What is lacking is a genuine, mutually beneficial covenant that I will help you grow if you will help me grow.

I believe we need to find ways to support the continual learner and the continually learning organization simultaneously. Here are four ideas that both might keep in mind:

Get clear on your vision and stop the blame game: On the organizational side, I am shocked by the number of senior leaders who complain about their people, yet haven’t articulated the reason why they should care about where the organization is going, the role they can play and what’s in it for them.

On the individual side, it’s so easy to shut down and stop trying when the right processes are not in place. The glass is half full just as much as it is half empty. Get clear on what you want to get done, what you need to get it done and do it.

Human beings can’t change that fast: Inside companies, it is not uncommon to find teams who are executing 20-30-40 strategic initiatives at one time. No wonder change fatigue is the status quo.  When organizations focus on 2-3 initiatives and define measurable goals, it’s pretty amazing what can be accomplished. Surprisingly, few do it.

As a type A person, I want organizations to change faster than is humanly possible. I hate when nothing is happening. I constantly remind myself to stay focused on the small proof points inching us forward, rather than the negatives.

Slack (or the productivity tool du jour) doesn’t solve the mindshare problem: It’s widely known that 40-70% of our time at work is wasted responding to unimportant email and sitting in meetings.  Few organizations dare to operate differently, while the opportunity is enormous.

Personally the amount of time I spend responding to messages grossly outweighs the amount I read and talk to my colleagues, prospects and clients. Whenever I make a commitment to turn off everything, it feels more productive and the result more valuable.

Do less, think and feel more: Leaders complain they don’t have enough people who can think strategically. Many corporate cultures today breed employees who can execute, but can’t initiate new ideas.  Productivity does not equal sitting behind a computer screen. Get people out of the office and into a realm where they can meet customers and tap into their best thinking.

As individuals, we live in our heads more than we live in our bodies. Swim, meditate, vacation, socialize, do something else.  Take responsibility for keeping the work thing in perspective – no one will do it for you.

In an age where we spend more hours at work than we sleep, I don’t believe I’m alone in desiring to get more from my day and to contribute more to the work I give so much of my life to.  The continual learner and the continual learning organization can do more for each other.

 

This article was written by Kotter International from Forbes and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.

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