Why is it so hard sometimes to do what we know is good for us? We know that eating our vegetables and getting to the gym will make us feel better. We know that regular maintenance on our car can prevent long-term problems. But it’s so darn hard to get around to doing it. As individuals, doing what we know delivers results is hard enough. It’s even harder for organizations.
In looking at data from Brandon Hall Group’s 2014 Learning and Development Benchmarking Study, a very interesting and disturbing trend emerged. Of the four learning modalities that organizations rated as being the most effective, three are being used widely by less than one-third of the organization.
What’s behind this disconnect? It seems that the majority of organizations are still stuck in a classroom-based view of learning. In-person, instructor-led training is an important element of learning, and will likely never go away. And nearly two-thirds of organizations still rated it as a highly effective modality. But organizations clearly need to do a better job of supporting this kind of formal learning with coaching and mentoring, on-the-job application, and informal peer to peer learning. The good news is, these can be some of the least expensive learning investments organizations can make from a hard-dollar perspective. The bad news is, they require an organizational commitment and a culture that supports this kind of ongoing learning environment. And as we all know, changing behaviors and culture can be a challenge.
So what can your organization do to bring focus to these informal, but highly effective ways of fostering learning? If you already have formal learning programs, determine where you can add ongoing on-the-job projects to extend the learning back into the employee’s day-to-day work. If you want to start a mentoring program, look for examples that already exist in your organization where mentoring or coaching relationships have naturally formed. Highlight these, recognize and reward them, and hold them up as examples for the rest of the organization. Formal mentoring programs often struggle because forcing artificial connections can be difficult. But leading by example and showing people how to seek out like-minded mentors, or coaching from people who are in positions they want to achieve, can be highly effective. Also foster peer-to-peer learning by assigning people to stretch projects, creating cross-functional teams, and thinking carefully about how you structure work assignments. Some of the most effective learning happens in the context of real work, so treat every project or activity as an opportunity to partner people with other experiences and skills they can begin to learn from one another.
What are some ways your organization helps to foster informal learning and on-the-job application of skills and knowledge outside the classroom? I’d love to hear your ideas for implementing these effective, but not widely used, practices.