Managing Yourself: The Power of Non-Stop Renewal

Non-stop renewal focuses less on the accomplishment of a particular learning objective and more on instilling a disposition to look for learning in day-to-day work routines.

Photo of plants growing from soil heaps with MENTORING conceptual words written on paper cards

As the demand for talent continues to outstrip supply, organizations are looking for new approaches to learning and development (L&D) in the workplace. Consider, for example, a 2020 study by and Development Dimensions International, in which 91 percent of HR professionals find that utilizing a journey-based approach with learning in the flow of work can be very effective. This is just one of the many learning innovations firms are exploring to find a better return on investment made in L&D. In the meantime, the race for closing capability gaps continues.

Here’s a thought: Would learning be even more effective if learners receive it when they are least expecting it? What if, for instance, employees are exposed to interactions with customers, and the conversations reveal new perspectives on the product? That’s learning. Here, people pick up insights through interactions, build learning relationships, and over time, develop mastery. We call such a learning experience non-stop renewal. For individuals, non-stop renewal entails a mindset to be open to learning in day-to-day work encounters. For organizations, it entails a culture that fosters learning through such encounters.

Let’s look at the implications a commitment to non-stop renewal has for L&D and how it can yield rich dividends for organizations.

Exploring Non-Stop Renewal

A mid-size product engineering company employing approximately 1,000 professionals finds itself in the midst of rapid changes in product development technology and an acute shortage of talented people in the market. The firm must develop skills and capabilities from within its workforce. Some of the firm’s practices are indicative of a commitment to non-stop renewal. For example, it conducts project retrospectives focusing on learning, invites customers to talks, conducts hackathons, maintains a continuous rewards and recognition system, and issues “teach your boss something you know really well” challenges. Moreover, the firm exposes individuals to cross-functional teams, creates shadowing opportunities, and encourages coaching relationships. The firm celebrates “developing people” as a core value.

In contrast to traditional learning and development approaches, non-stop renewal focuses L&D leadership on fostering a mindset of staying in sync with markets. Instead of waiting for capability gaps to become apparent, employees are encouraged to stay one step ahead. The approach for non-stop renewal is massively multimodal. The number and variety of work situations in which learning may occur far exceed the limited repertoire of traditional training modalities. Non-stop renewal focuses less on the accomplishment of a particular learning objective and more on instilling a disposition to look for learning in day-to-day work routines. Indeed, non-stop renewal makes people look for learning.

Why Non-Stop Renewal Matters

From an individual’s perspective, balancing work and life is always a challenge. Falling behind at work not only creates demands on time but also produces stress. When working in a culture of non-stop renewal, a person learns new things as opportunities arise in work. Learning makes work invigorating, and the development of mastery creates confidence. When an employee is steeped in the non-stop renewal paradigm, there is no need to sensitize them about every learning opportunity because they are already in a mindset of continual learning. Something that may not even seem like a learning artifact can still provide a learning experience.

In contrast with a learning program that leaves you with new skills or knowledge, non-stop renewal goes further. It creates and rewards a mindset to look for learning opportunities at work. Consequently, the benefits of non-stop renewal provide a holistic experience of motivation, fulfillment, and confidence.

From the organization’s perspective, the biggest payoff of non-stop renewal is that it can potentially shrink the size of the learning challenge—it generates fewer skills gaps to fill. Employees remain in sync with the evolving learning needs and embrace change more openly. Non-stop renewal accomplishes this by addressing the missing dimensions of workplace learning as it is practiced today. It highlights other learning opportunities by going beyond traditional training methods. As the example of the product engineering firm illustrates, a whole shift in organizational culture is imminent when individuals embrace non-stop renewal. When the L&D organization went beyond traditional training to help employees discover opportunities for growth and renewal, workplace learning became a great platform to tap hidden strengths and discover pathways for continuing skills development.

Implications for L&D

Workplace learning is a powerful tool to help employees acquire new skills, knowledge, and competencies. This leaves L&D with an opportunity to play an important role in creating a learning culture within the organization. In the traditional setting, the role of L&D is largely limited to the delivery of learning and training artifacts. When it opts for a non-stop renewal mindset, L&D is seen more as an evangelist. It can look beyond just creating training programs and focus on influencing the culture of an entire organization.

Non-stop renewal broadens L&D’s mandate beyond designing and delivering learning programs. It encompasses all aspects of a culture of renewal—the language, rituals, and symbols—as well as how workplaces are organized, including the architecture of spaces and layout.

Needless to add, the mindset of non-stop renewal must start at home—L&D professionals must practice what they preach. It’s all about embedding a learning culture into an organization’s DNA, starting with L&D’s own.

In a world of flux, sustained organizational success increasingly depends on how well people stay in tune with the changing environment. A key function of workplaces, therefore, is to help people continuously regenerate their capabilities. A culture of non-stop renewal encourages individuals to be curious, to experiment, and above all, to recognize learning opportunities. It also demands a commitment from organizations to foster a culture in which it is OK to stop and ask questions such as why, what if—and, wait a minute, what can we learn here?

Dr. Vikas Joshi
Dr. Vikas Joshi is the founder and CEO of Harbinger Group, a software firm that helps tech companies build enterprise software products. For eLearning users, the company markets its products and provides custom content solutions. Dr. Joshi is a business leader passionate about product development and technology entrepreneurship. His mission is to help create software products that make a difference, particularly to inspire tech professionals and entrepreneurs to grow and develop. He earned a doctorate from the University of Pennsylvania and is an alumnus of the Harvard Business School. Dr. Joshi’s doctoral research in entrepreneurship addresses the co-evolution of technology firms and founders. This work, showing how entrepreneurs learn and develop, has been honored by the American Educational Research Association.