Learning From a Learning Leader’s Failure

And four practical steps to build an effective learning environment.

Ever wonder whether your Learning leaders take organizational learning seriously? Naturally, you hope they’re learning champions, but a recent encounter at a fast-food restaurant left us second-guessing this assumption.

While having coffee, two young employees sat in the next booth for a training interaction that blended live coaching and e-learning. It had a promising beginning. The instructor clearly explained training’s purpose. But our enthusiasm dissipated quickly as the instructor continued, “OK, let’s just get through this stuff.”

Over the next hour, they flipped through slides, stopping at one about handling incorrect orders. The instructor recounted her experience about a customer complaining about pickles on his burger. She said, “They’re the worst. You just have to put up with them…don’t argue, just give them a new one.”

When it came time to complete a quiz, the young instructor said, “Most of this stuff is a waste of time, so I’ll help you answer the questions.” This defeated training’s intended purpose on so many levels.

This training had many discouraging moments, but most disheartening were the Twitter interactions between a colleague and the restaurant’s CLO. The CLO defended the poor training, while the colleague said, “It’s no big deal. This is only basic orientation and compliance training. It doesn’t matter.”

We replied, “Would you consider eating here if food safety isn’t a big deal?”

Never dismiss the most fundamental training; it sets a standard for every subsequent training event. Dismissing it implicitly sets a poor example for staff, and it eventually is reflected in their lack of quality, effort, and care. Worse, if this became public, it could ruin the chain’s positive reputation. This CLO isn’t leading by example—either for the employees being trained or the Learning team developing the training. His misplaced defensiveness and resistance goes against learning’s intent.


Most business leaders and CLOs are open to developing learning environments but expect them to be practical. Here are four ways to develop a businessdriven learning strategy and help employees and business leaders alike overcome learning FEARs:

Focus: Business leaders articulate focus through a mission and vision. Together, they provide the core business objectives the organization must achieve. This is every Learning practitioner’s, and CLO’s, starting point.

These core objectives provide a direct line of sight to the primary operational areas essential to achieving the mission. Working with operational managers allows you to precisely identify areas to improve. Subsequently, it builds consensus and ownership for the mission.

Engagement: This misunderstood term is more than getting employees to be immersed in a course. It’s about listening to what and how employees want to improve in their jobs and themselves. It gives them the power to discover and engage in learning opportunities they want.

Accessibility: Companies speak about how their employees thrive in a knowledge-filled environment. But scratch the surface, and you discover it’s often style over substance. No reasons exist for learning, and knowledge is not readily and easily accessible. The technology exists—it’s affordable and easily integrated on any platform.

Retention: Employee retention is more critical than ever, and many companies now are genuinely listening to their employees’ needs. One need rising to the top is training and education.

Taco Bell, for example, now offers an educational support program to its 210,000 team members and saw a 34 percent increase in retention over six months for employees enrolled in the pilot program versus those not enrolled. And Starbucks committed up to $250 million to ensure each of its U.S. employees can attend college and graduate without any tuition debt.

Most people perceive learning positively. But everyone experiences hesitation and sometimes fear when it comes to learning new skills. Help employees and business leaders conquer learning FEARs and cultivate a practical learning environment.

Ajay M. Pangarkar, CTDP, CPA, CMA, and Teresa Kirkwood, CTDP, are founders of CentralKnowledge.com and LearningSourceonline.com. They are employee performance management experts and three-time authors—most recently publishing the leading performance book, “The Trainer’s Balanced Scorecard: A Complete Resource for Linking Learning to Organizational Strategy” (Wiley)—and assessment specialists for Training magazine. Pangarkar was named ELearning Magazine’s 2016 Thought- Leader. Help them start a “Workplace Revolution” at blog.centralknowledge.com or contact: ajayp@centralknowledge.com.

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