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There is so much written about culture in business. Do a Google search and you will find what seems to be an unlimited list of articles, discussions, and posts on business culture. No matter what type of culture you are creating, there is one item that must be written into the DNA of any company for it to grow, sustain, or innovate… its learning. Unless a company brings learning to the center of its organizational universe, stagnation will eventually become the culture. Its out of learning that innovation occurs. Out of learning where sustainability begins, and out of learning where the true creative genius begins. Consider a company that you hold in regard as very innovative and on a growth projection. You will likely find learning to be ingrained in its people.
While creating such a culture can take time to build and grow, there are several things you can do right now. None of these take huge planning or preparation, but take a conscious decision and commitment.
Model it. Ok.. this may be an obvious one, but think about yourself personally. Is learning something you really model? When people think of you, is your thirst for knowledge and growing personally the first thing that comes to mind? If not, it might be time to do a self evaluation. It is going to be nearly impossible to commit your staff and personnel to growth if the one leading the charge is not committed.
Allow people to safely fail. I am not suggesting throw caution to the wind here, but people will not take risks if the repercussions are detrimental to their position. Ensure safeguards are built in so that your people feel free to think outside the box. Knowing there will not be severe repercussions will open opportunities that may not otherwise surface.
Push decision making outward. While things may be very comfortable when one person makes all the decisions, this may not be the best approach. Leverage the talent you have hired. You brought them on for a reason, now utilize it. If an employee comes to you with a decision to be made, walk them through the process. Ask open ended questions like, “What would they do? Why would they take such an approach? What are the options?” If you bring them along in the decision making process, you will begin to find the workflow will occur with less need for you to be hands on.
Listen more than you speak. As the old saying goes, “There is a reason we are born with two ears and one mouth.” Such is the case when dealing with groups. Now I would suggest there is a big difference between hearing and listening. Hearing means you are just picking up the words. Listening means you are hearing and really trying to understand what the person is saying. Instead of mentally formulating your next thought, just focus on what the person is saying. Try to understand and be clear their point. Its amazing what you will suddenly pick up… or shall I dare say… learn.
Challenge (and be challenged) points of view. I recently read a book about the company Amazon.com. One of the things that stood out is that Jeff Bezo always challenged opposing views strongly. It was acceptable to have an opposing view, but you had better be ready to defend it. Consider this in your own company. Do people in your organization feel comfortable providing an opposing opinion? if so, do they provide a solid position to support their view? If not, consider ways you can open this door and build more of a collaborative environment.
Whether you are startup or large corporation, building a learning culture creates long term sustainability for any company. Culture is not about of one person or group within the company, it is the role everyone involved in the organization. Its not something that can be delegated or outsourced. It begins with the leadership and filters out from there. As well, building a learning culture does not need to start with a lot of planning or preparation. It can begin with a few simple steps.