Since my arrival at Ardex in 2008, I have focused at least 50 percent of my attention on people’s learning and development. We have adopted a culture of learning that focuses on boosting and energizing our organizational memory. At Ardex, excellence from our people is a must, and they deserve to get the skills and knowledge to reach it.
Books, magazines and academic papers being distributed to the extended management base materialize this learning culture. Employees are invited to participate in lunchbox sessions, departmental training programs or advanced external programs.
Budgets for learning and training are protected from cutting initiatives during tough times, since the skills needed to face ambiguity and uncertainty require specific traits and behaviors.
Your organization has a long-term memory. It includes collective beliefs, behavioral routines and official standard operating procedures as well as formal and informal work routines. Scholars state that memory relates to a repository for collective insights contained within policies, procedures, routines and rules that can be retrieved when needed. It is stored information from an organization’s history that can be brought to bear on present decisions. But how do new things get added and accumulated in that memory?
Skills and capabilities get added to memory through the learning process.
Organizational learning is the development of new knowledge or insight that has the potential to influence how people interact, do things and accomplish goals. Learning is cumulative. New things come into the memory and get added to prior knowledge, which then in turn confers an ability to recognize the value of new information, assimilate it and apply it to commercial ends.
Generally speaking, barriers to adoption of new learning and best practices lie in the recipient’s lack of absorptive capacity, which means that new things do get absorbed but do not stick. Organizational memory is the backbone of a learning philosophy.
Based on leadership experience and the multitude of books I have read in the field, I can share the following lessons with you:
Learning needs to be a philosophy and part of the business culture.
Check how much you have in your annual budget for training and learning. Compare that to how much cash you spend on your fixed assets in plants, computers, tools and equipment. Now think about this – why would you not invest more in your people assets? Does your collective memory contain state-of-the-art concepts, insights and theories relevant to your industry, your people and your products?
Learning needs to become a strategy to leverage your people’s strength.
Do you have a purposeful and strategic view of how much your people learn and what they learn? Your employees are eager to learn and become better contributors. In a climate of learning and experimentation, they will strive to be the best they can be.
Learning does not have to be expensive.
You can leverage the knowledge of your internal experts, your network and your local consultants. You can get trained yourself and become a trainer.
Learning is for the long term and cannot stop and go based on economic conditions.
Make it a sustainable and strategic initiative, make smart investments in it and champion the process yourself.
Learning is not the same for everyone.
Some people learn by doing and experimenting. Others like to read and summarize materials. Some people like classroom training, and others like practical training in labs. So your training strategy will have to respond to a variety of learning styles.
Learning has to be aligned with your strategic goals.
Business is complex and dynamic. Train people on the competences and skills you need to support the strategy, and custom design your overall approach to these focused areas. My experience has shown that embracing a learning philosophy improves the organizational climate, your employees’ sense of belonging, their sense of commitment to the strategy and their overall productivity. Give it a try. You will see the amazing potential that lies in your people.
Stephan Liozu is president and CEO of Ardex America Inc. (www.ardex.com), an innovative and high-performance building-materials company located in Pittsburgh. He is also a Ph.D. candidate in management at Case Western Reserve University and can be reached at email@example.com.