The Company as a Place of Learning

By Mariana Acosta Checa
May 18, 2020 10:00 AM ET
Blog

Turning our organizations into places of continuous learning is our responsibility. And the key to achieving this lies in our culture.

In a world where learning must be continuous and lifelong, the times when academic institutions were the chief agents responsible for imparting knowledge are coming to an end. In the same way that with the digital revolution technology has ceased to be an independent sector and has permeated the core of all other industries, the same will happen with education in the years to come.

Re-training talent is today a constant need. Education no longer corresponds to a limited period in our lives, but it must become a constant throughout them. Companies and organizations have a new responsibility: We need to create the conditions that allow our collaborators to make learning a central part of their daily lives.

How do we achieve this? Here I share with you three principles we have learned in recent years from organizations on this path. A hint before starting: The answer lies, as with almost everything else, in our culture.

First, it is essential that every person takes control of their learning process.

Nobody makes learning a constant when they are forced to do it. It is not about studying to pass an exam, it is about learning to grow, to challenge ourselves and to add more value to our users. In order to make it last, the hope to acquire new knowledge to improve our job must be intrinsic. Do we have a culture that promotes sharing knowledge and  lessons learned? Are our collaborators genuinely concerned about their users, which motivates them to do a better job each day? If the answer is “no,” we must start creating a space where learning is voluntarily fostered every day by each person.

Second, an open and trusting culture is fundamental to learning. In order to acquire not only knowledge, but also new ways of doing things, we must work in an environment in which we listen to each other and we are willing to question our ideas and change. This only happens when we value the diversity of perspectives, encourage constructive feedback, and develop trusting relationships. We must do it in the leadership of the company and throughout our teams. If we have a culture that runs contrary to those values, it does not matter how much we invest in training people: We will not bring about long-term change.

Third, we need to understand that we learn by doing: For this reason, it is essential that we, the leaders, let others do. Active learning—in which we apply, interact, and reflect upon the individual and collective process—is the best way to understand new concepts. Before taking a class on remote working, for example, it is best to start working remotely and to reflect upon how we learn along the way. Concepts help, but they will not change our habits. Practice will. And we must give our teams that opportunity. We will surely run more risks than if we were in a classroom, but the biggest risk is not doing it.

The ability to learn fast and continuously, both at an individual and company level, is no longer a choice. Change is a constant, and if we want to survive, we must sail new waters every day. The crisis we are facing due to COVID-19 is a clear example of that. Those organizations that live a culture of learning will be best prepared to adapt and to change the way they work and to find new opportunities amid this challenge.

About the author: Mariana is Co-founder and CEO at Laboratoria, an organization that trains people to work in the digital age, with operations in Lima, Santiago, Mexico City, Guadalajara, and São Paulo. She holds a BA in International Relations from the London School of Economics and an MA in Public Administration from Columbia University.

This article was first published by Semana Económica