The ideal of continuous learning is hard to attain. Employee schedules and company resources often are so stretched that the time and funding to make training ongoing is hard to find. However, as a recent article by Stephanie Ciccarelli on Huffington Post notes, there are ways to do it that aren’t that hard.
That article got me thinking of ways I would incorporate continuous learning if I were a company owner. Here are some of the ideas I came up with:
- Monthly mentoring. Once a month, each employee at the company would be matched up randomly with another employee, and each employee in each pair would be required to teach the other a trick to getting their work done better and more efficiently. Ideally, no one would be matched up with the same employee twice, but if they were, because of the small size of the company, they would be required to share a different tip. We would have a place on our intranet or online work portal where each employee would have to input the tip or lesson they learned and the tip or lesson they passed along. The tip passed along could even be a recent life lesson they were able to apply to their job and work life. For example, maybe the employee recently experienced a difficult interpersonal situation outside of work, and learned as a result of it, how to compromise to get an important task or goal accomplished.
- Quarterly visits to other businesses. Each quarter, work groups would visit other businesses, whether large and multinational or just local, independent shops or service providers. Each member of the work group would be required to bring three questions to ask the business owner or manager, and would be responsible for writing a summary of what he or she learned, including specific changes or improvements that could be made at my company based on what they learned. If you live in a small town without many businesses, you can still offer this kind of learning, thanks to the ability to meet “live” online. There are many non-competing companies that doubtless would be interested in partnering with you. Their employees can, of course, ask your employees questions and learn from the way you do business, too. Your local or national professional or industry association may be able to help you get in touch with other companies that would be open to participating in this kind of activity.
- Internal crowd-sourced Q&A. At the end of every week, employees could be required to log into an intranet or online work portal and detail the key tasks or goals accomplished that week and the key challenges they continue to experience, along with related questions for managers and/or co-workers. The challenges and questions would get posted automatically to an internal social network to be viewed by managers and other employees. Employees would be required to provide answers or guidance at least three times annually to a question or challenge posed by a co-worker or manager.
- In-office book club. Once a quarter, in the 4-5 p.m. hour, each work group would meet to discuss a book assigned by the manager. The books would not have to be dry and business-oriented. They could be enjoyable, fun novels, as long as there was a point the manager could tie back to the company and how employees could do their jobs better. The specific lessons learned from the books would not be as important as the cognitive exercise reading provides, and the practice using critical thinking skills to discuss what was read and what it might mean. I always have a book I’m reading (usually very slowly), but I’ve heard I’m in the minority, so an exercise like this might be particularly helpful to your employees’ intellectual development.
- Innovation exercises. Biannually, you could require employees to come up with another way (however idealistic or slightly crazy) of generating new streams of revenue or making the company more profitable, new products the company could launch, or a better way of doing work processes. The ideas would need to be well thought out, including the resources that would be necessary to bringing the idea to fruition and the projected return on investment. The executive board would review the ideas and the person with the winning idea would be given a reward (a gift card or maybe something more substantial such as an iPad). More importantly, the person whose idea was recognized would be given a development opportunity to further his or her career. The names connected with the ideas would be hidden while the executives conducted their review to make the process as fair and objective as possible.
- Improving staff meetings. I’ve written a lot about what a waste of time I find most meetings to be. Luckily, there are easy ways to make meetings learning opportunities rather than platforms for loudmouths. Require participants to e-mail ideas or potential solutions to the meeting leader ahead of time, and then the leader should systematically go around the room ensuring each person has a chance to speak. Another thing you can do is ask each participant to come to the meeting ready to discuss an event in the news and how that event might affect the company or present an important opportunity. For example, maybe a new law was passed that opens a market for a new product or service your company could sell, or maybe a new trend related to the products you sell suggests that you should alter or enhance your products to take advantage of the new trend. Or maybe there is news of a company or an executive who got into big legal trouble. The employee could raise questions about what your company is doing to prevent the same thing from happening to all of you.
The options are endless. The key is to get your employees thinking—and keep their minds engaged in finding ways to make things better for your customers or clients.
How do you facilitate continuous learning at your company? What new approaches are you thinking of trying?