Continuous improvement is essential for any modern organisation. Without it customers will go elsewhere, competitors will gain market share, good employees will be lost and the organisation will be at risk of failure.
I’m convinced that there can be no continuous improvement in organisations without a continuous learning culture, and I believe there are 3 keys to creating this:
1) INSTIL THE HABIT OF REVIEW AND REFLECTION
In the 21st century organisation there is ever-increasing expectation of producing more and more, often with diminishing resources. With this rapid pace of work there is pressure to move immediately from one project or initiative to the next without pausing to reflect on how things have gone. In the short-term this “continuous effort” approach appears to maximise output. The problem is that continuous effort can’t deliver learning.
For organisations to establish the learning culture that is necessary for continuous improvement it is absolutely necessary that there is time and expectation for review and reflection for the whole business, work teams and individuals. Learning comes when organisations, teams and individuals regularly stop and ask “what were the results?”; “what was done well/ not so well?” and “what will we do differently next time”?
2) ENCOURAGE EXPERIMENTATION AND RISK TAKING
When a child learns to ride a bike she or he needs to experiment and take some risks. Along the way there will more than likely be a few scrapes and bruises but eventually this risk taking and experimentation pays off and the child rides around happily.
In the organisational context risk taking and experimentation is essential too. Through the process of trying new ways of working there will certainly be some failures, however it is this process of trying new things and failing which enable the learning. The appropriate level of risk taking will, of course, vary across organisations. For example, Google, which is dependent on its creativity will always be able to tolerate far greater risk taking than an insurance provider which is dependent on its accuracy. However, all organisations need to have a degree of experimentation and risk taking for learning, improvement and survival. Taking no risks is, paradoxically, the riskiest approach for an organisation to take.
3) PRIORITISE ONGOING LEARNING FOR ALL EMPLOYEES
Organisations with learning cultures make it clear to all of their employees that there is an expectation of continuous personal and professional learning. These organisations encourage employees to learn, provide them with time to undertake learning activities, co-ordinate processes which enable learning and, where relevant, help with the costs of learning. These organisations also make it clear to employees that each person is primarily responsible for his or her own learning.
Many managers and employees still equate learning with attendance at training courses, but we know that the richest and most enduring learning comes from work-based practice and interactions with others. Organisations with cultures of continuous learning can use this knowledge to provide opportunities for learning activities such as job rotations, special project opportunities, mentoring, work-shadowing and peer learning networks. Some organisations worry that they will invest in the learning of employees and that these employees will go elsewhere. The alternative, not providing learning opportunities and having under-skilled, stale employees stay, is far worse.
Organisations which apply these 3 principles will be well on their way to a culture of continuous learning. As a result continuous improvement is almost assured and results are likely to be impressive and enduring.
If you could use a hand to implement a culture of continuous learning in your organisation please click on the contact tab above to see how Elephant Capability can help.