Learning at Work

How is your work day going? What have you learned from your job, from your peers? If you aren’t learning at work, how rewarding is your job, really? In addition to working to maintain a satisfactory standard of living, informal learning at work adds to an individual’s work satisfaction.

Various reports hold that informal learning in the workplace accounts for about 90 percent of everything that employees learn. This may be an accurate number if we consider Albert Bandura’s social learning theory positing that we learn through observing others’ behaviours and attitudes as well as the outcomes of those behaviours.  

In his book, Social Learning Theory (1977), Bandura explains that there are four conditions for modelling behaviour. These are: 

  • Attention. Different factors can increase or decrease the amount of attention paid to a particular behaviour. This includes the behaviour’s distinctiveness, its effect on your emotions (positive or negative emotions are more likely to be remembered than a behaviour that did not evoke an emotional response), prevalence and complexity of the behaviour, functional value (e.g., how important is the behaviour to your job?). An individual’s characteristics also affect attention to the behaviour (e.g., sensory capacities, arousal level, perceptual set, past reinforcement, etc.).

  • Retention. This refers to remembering what you observed. This is impacted by symbolic coding, mental images, cognitive organization, symbolic rehearsal, and motor rehearsal (i.e., practicing what we observed).

  • Reproduction. This is about “doing” what we observed. It includes attention to our physical capabilities to reproduce the behaviour as well as feedback mechanisms through our own self-observation of the behaviour. How well are we reproducing the observed behaviour?

  • Motivation. To imitate behaviour, we need to have a good reason to do so. This may include motivators such as history (e.g., perhaps past behaviours did not result in good outcomes, so a new behaviour is desired) or it may involve promised or imagined incentives.

Like many social and cultural theorists, Bandura believed that the world and a person’s behaviour cause each other – we behave based on our environment, but we also create an environment based on our behaviour. Either way, organizations should take heed of the role that informal and social learning have in the workplace and encourage appropriate learning to maximize efficiency and performance. Following are five ways to increase informal learning in the workplace (adapted from: Growth Engineering).  

  1. Mentoring. Coaching and mentoring help improve training and learning. Knowledge sharing is also a great way to retain knowledge in the workplace and prepare for succession.

  2. Sharing. Social learning flourishes when people get into the habit of sharing their knowledge. Having a center of learning available on the corporate intranet or some other internal forum will go a long way to help employees collaborate and boost their learning.

  3. Experts. Provide expert resources for employees – knowing who to turn to when you have a question will go a long way to helping employees learn from each other.

  4. Rewards. Some companies reward an employee’s hard work with accolades such as “Employee of the Month” or “Top Contributor,” etc. This makes learning more fun. Another way to make learning fun is through gamification – who doesn’t love a good game of Scrabble for Business?

  5. Mandatory Learning. Ensuring that employees complete one level of learning before they can advance to the next level is a good way to ensure that they are reading the corporate handbook (so to speak!). This can be done readily through an online learning platform. This ensures that collaboration and social learning become part of the employees’ learning journey.

Would you like to know how you can learn better from work? Check out the Learning Innovations Laboratory report about the “three stances that make a difference” at work.

Drugs and Workplace Productivity

Productivity doesn’t just happen. It takes focus and sustained effort to accomplish work tasks. However, the amount of focus and effort varies, depending on the difficulty of the task.

The opposite is also true. That is, non-productivity does “just happen.” It is so easy to be non-productive – that’s why many of us can slide into a weekend of rest and relaxation without any effort!

But while at work, it is important to do our best to be as productive as possible. And in order to do that, it is equally important to respect our bodies and not use substances that can inhibit our work performance. Ever.

According to the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence, drug abuse costs employers $81 billion annually.

As well, workers who report having three or more jobs in the previous five years are about twice as likely to be current or past year users of illegal drugs as those who had two or fewer jobs.

And, an astounding 70% of the estimated 14.8 million Americans who use illegal drugs are employed.

The Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse in 2003 estimated that legal substances (tobacco and alcohol) account for 79.3% of the total cost of substance abuse, while illegal drugs account for 20.7% ($8.2 billion) of costs.

With the recent explosion of “medical marijuana” retailers, these numbers are estimated to increase. Employers now find themselves in a situation where they need to consider even more so the impacts of once-illicit drugs on their workforce. The impacts on work productivity are difficult to ignore.

I continue to be in awe and amazed at the silence of the medical community about the ill effects of cannabis (usually termed “marijuana”). In terms of the workplace, however, cannabis has an immediate and ongoing effect on productivity.

It has been documented that cannabis causes the following side effects (this is not a complete list):

  • Decreased focus
  • Decreased concentration
  • Decreased alertness
  • Decreased memory and thinking capabilities
  • Decreased motivation – as such, this affects the employee’s ability to relate to their colleagues, clients and customers
  • Increased risk of developing dependence
  • Increased risk of respiratory illness
  • Increased risk of mental illness
  • Diminished relationships – think about how this impacts teamwork in the workplace with added pressure being placed on non-users including poor collaboration on projects (as an example)
  • Increased absenteeism
  • Increased risk of injury of self or others (resulting in loss of time and potential workers’ compensation)
  • Decreased driving performance

Of note is that marijuana is the most commonly used illicit drug in Canada, with 10.6% of Canadians reporting past-year use in 2012. As well, Canadian youth have the highest rate of past-year marijuana use (28% in 2009-2010) compared to student in other developed countries.

While governments are starting to “give in” to the demand for legalizing marijuana, this legalization has put the onus on organizations to conduct their own workplace drug testing. In addition, organizations need to ensure adequate workforce training in identifying potential drug use.

Human resource departments are now even more critical to the organizations’ functions to ensure the business’s bottom line is not being impacted by drug use.

One of the ways in which HR can help is to build relationships with managers and employees. When you know someone, it’s much easier to identify changes in behaviour and productivity and to provide proper intervention.

In addition, implementing policies and procedures will help all workers be aware of the signs and symptoms of drug use. Much like personal issues or inter-staff and management issues, keeping substance use/abuse top-of-mind helps to identify the problem, so it can be addressed quickly.

 

Capitalizing on Strengths

Do you feel “stuck” in a job? Even before the workday is done, can you hardly wait to get out of the office? If so, you may be in the wrong job. 

Feeling stuck may be a sign that you are not using your strengths on the job. If you aren’t using your strengths, resentment builds and frustration ensues. Not only that, you are not being productive on the job – think “deadwood” and you’ll get the idea! Let me explain.  

Let’s say that you’re a decision-maker by nature. But you find yourself in a job where you neither contribute nor make organization-wide decisions. As a result, you second-guess the organization’s decisions and you start resenting its decision-makers. On top of this, you start to dislike your boss and co-workers because you see them as part of the problem.  

You might say that you can’t help it – you need to work somewhere. Fair enough – most of us end up in temporary jobs that are nothing more than a way to pay the bills. But for long-term career happiness and productivity, you need to understand your strengths.  

In addition to identifying our strengths, we need to understand how we work best. And how we work best depends on our personality.  

Our personality determines how we perform, no matter what it is that we do – from how we organize our breakfast in the morning to how we process our daily tasks to how we relate to people. Each of us has an inherent capability of how we manage our “to-do’s.” 

But consider this fact:  While our habits can be modified, few (if any) people can outright change either their strengths or habits. Instead, what we can do is identify our strengths and habits and then choose to improve both in a way that moves us further in our careers. 

Here are five ways that you can improve your strengths and use them to catapult your career to the next level. 

  1. Pay attention to feedback. What do others say about your strengths? What do they notice about you? Sometimes, we instinctively know what we’re good at, but for whatever reason, we become blind to our strengths. It may take several people to point out your strengths before you start to pay attention.
  2. Tune in to your performance. How do you produce your best work? Is it by working alone or in teams? Do you prefer to learn through reading, listening, or viewing? What time of day are you most productive and why at that time? By understanding “how” we work, we will be able to understand the unique characteristics of what comprises an ideal work day for us and when we are most productive.
  3. Notice what gives you energy. When working on a task, does it make you feel tired, bored, overwhelmed, interested, or is the work challenging? Does the task motivate you to work even harder to get the job done? Do you feel alive? If the work makes you feel so energized (even if you’re physically tired), then that’s the type of work you need to be doing.
  4. Do not comprise your values. The place where you work must reflect your own values. The organization’s policies should be in line with their practices. In other words, the organization should practice what it preaches. If your beliefs are in line with the organization’s culture, then you have a match made in heaven.
  5. Contribute like there’s no tomorrow. Based on your strengths, work on improving the organization’s systems, processes, methods, policies, and other practices. This will serve to not only make a positive difference to the organization, but also to help you feel a sense of accomplishment. If you can feel as if you have accomplished something, you know your strengths are serving you well.

Roman philosopher Lucius Annaeus Seneca said, “Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity.” Substitute “career” for the word “luck” and you can see how our strengths can be used to build happy and productive careers.

 

 

 

Bridging the Gap between Training and Proficiency

Now that your staff completed training in your organization’s newest program, everyone knows what to do and how to do it. This is a reasonable expectation, but the reality is that training does not mean that learning has occurred. Even less so, there is no guarantee of proficiency.

In their book, Made to Stick, Chip and Dan Heath present six ways to make ideas “sticker.” These include:

  •  Simplicity
  • Unexpectedness
  • Concreteness
  • Credibility
  • Emotions
  • Stories

These guidelines for making ideas stick are applicable in a variety of situations – from selling to teaching! And while all of these methods can make learning stick, they can also go a long way to enabling proficiency.

 Research shows that retention of learning varies by modality. For instance:

  • 10 percent retention through reading
  • 20 percent retention through hearing
  • 30 percent retention through seeing
  • 50 percent retention through hearing and seeing
  • 70 percent retention through repeating the material (saying)
  • 90 percent retention through saying and doing

What the above demonstrates is that the more involved the learner is in the training, the higher the retention and the greater likelihood of higher proficiency.

Make training simple. This means that training should be logical and not complicated. Short bursts of training are more effective than are lengthy modules.

Introduce the unexpected into training. If the training is about records management, stage a short play that introduces real life work scenarios about handling information. Sing a song about libraries or show a video about e-mail. Get creative and introduce the unexpected!

Make training concrete. That is, ensure that training demonstrates specific behaviours and steps, allowing learners to practice the behaviours and steps both during and after training.

Both the trainer and training needs to be credible. Learners need to trust the source if they are to take the material seriously. The trainer’s body language affects the learners’ perception of credibility by 55 percent, voice accounts for another 38 percent, but what the trainer says only accounts for seven percent. Pay attention to your body language!

Make training emotional. The best way to do this is let learners know “what’s in it for them” (i.e., WIIFM – what’s in it for me). Perhaps learning the material may mean an increase in pay or a promotion at work. Nothing is more powerful than an emotional connection between the learner and the training to ensure that learning sticks.

Tell stories. Stories provide examples. People can relate to stories and are more apt to remember the story rather than the training material itself.

Using all of the above techniques can help training stick, but pairing learners with coaches or mentors helps reinforce learning, so that learners become proficient as they practice their learning.

And don’t forget to audit learning. At intervals of one month, three months, and six months post-training, follow-up with learners to discuss if they require further information. It is through follow-up that training reinforcement occurs and any issues that may arise are quickly resolved.  

Out with the Old; In with the New

Here’s a surprising fact: Most of us have NO difficulty accepting change. And this is despite the fact that 80 percent of change initiatives fail first time out of the gate. What’s wrong with this picture, you ask? 

It appears that the difficulty in implementing change is not in accepting the idea. The difficulty is in the sustained practice or application of the idea (or improvement initiative). In other words, the problem with our reaction to change does not relate to our ability to let new ideas in. The problem is in getting our old ideas out.  

Either you believe the new initiative is the best way or you believe that your old way of doing the same thing is better. Believing in both simultaneously creates discord.  

You can’t have it both ways:  Discord leads to failed change initiatives. 

Successful organizations remove the discord and it is likely that they incorporate the practice of bio-psychology of change into their change projects. According to Sherry Campbell, Director of Management Consulting at Sierra Systems, there’s a difference between a rational approach to change management and a bio-psychological approach.  

It is only through the bio-psychological approach that change initiatives are successful. Here is how it works. 

  1. Communicate the vision. Before change can occur, people need to be aware of potential changes. Working in small groups and with key individuals will go a long way to ensuring that the idea for the change initiative is firmly planted and people are primed to listen.
  2. Identify the area for change. Have individuals focus on the change and relate their thoughts, feelings and experiences around their existing circumstances. In doing so, individuals are able to “see” that their existing circumstance is in need of change.
  3. Assessment and diagnosis. With existing circumstances described, have the individual talk about their conflicting behaviours, feelings, and thoughts that may get in the way of accepting the change. What coping patterns are they using in the existing circumstances?
  4. Plan the change. Once assessment and diagnosis is complete, ask the individual what behaviour they can do less of (e.g., coping behaviours), so that they have room for this new behaviour (new change initiative) in their brain map space. Discuss their feelings relating to letting go of the old behaviour.
  5. Implement the change. Through pilot projects or visualization steps, implement the change incrementally until you reach your goal. Repetition of incremental steps may be necessary until you reach success.
  6. Monitor the change, successes and risks. Use coaching to help individuals stay on track with their new behaviour; accepting the change, and inserting it as the behaviour of choice in their brain map space.

Conducting regular check-ins after implementing change will help identify areas for further improvement. Early detection helps with early correction of failures and continuing reinforcement of new behaviours. 

Facilitating through the Storm

Let’s face it. Anyone with any amount of facilitation skill can lead a group that is performing well. That’s the good part.

But what about groups perpetually stuck in storming? These groups pose bad and ugly scenarios that must be resolved before the group can perform. In fact, a group stuck in storming can be a facilitator’s worst nightmare (no matter how skilled he or she happens to be).

So what can you, as facilitator do to break through the storm? First, consider the things that you must never do such as: ignoring the problems being put forward by the team, avoiding arguments that are occurring, and telling people what to do.

None of the above will solve any problems. In fact, they will make the situation even uglier and create even a less manageable team.

To help move teams from storming to norming and then performing, employ these actions:

  1. Get the team to raise all problems/issues and solve them. Note that the team must work on solving them; the facilitator only facilitates.
  2. Encourage members to debate ideas in a non-personal way. Set up a safe environment for discussing issues and coming up with solutions.
  3. Offer clear options for resolving the problems and encourage the team to take control of implementing the solutions.
  4. Help the team identify strategies and action plans, but don’t tell them what to do.
  5. Help members identify their problems and work to resolve them. Don’t solve the problems for them.

Working with a team through its storming stage is the most difficult to manage for any facilitator. In storming, feelings are typically running high and conflicts (old or new) can affect the team’s overall morale. And if not already present, this stage can surface clearly dysfunctional behaviours.

Facilitators navigating the storming stage must remain absolutely neutral and have a high degree of assertiveness. Here are some suggestions for successfully maneuvering through storming:

  • Tension in groups is normal. Accept it.
  • Maintain your neutrality in the situation. Stay calm.
  • Create an environment that encourages expression of feelings. Think Vegas!
  • Admit that there’s conflict – no sense hiding from it.
  • Invite the team to give their input about the situation. Write solutions on a flipchart for all to see.
  • Intervene to correct dysfunctional behaviours. If you have to, quietly dismiss “unmanageable” individuals from the group.
  • Be assertive when refereeing heated discussions. Don’t be afraid to be assertive.
  • Facilitate open and honest communication. Silent disagreement can kill team morale and any good works coming from the group.

In addition to the above, teams deadlocked in storming need an opportunity to vent and resolve their issues. If this does not occur, there is little chance that the team will ever perform well as a group.

Letting Go

When was the last time you tried something new? How did it make you feel? If you’re adventurous, you probably felt thrilled. If you’re fearful, you are probably still wondering if the experience was worth the risk. So it is with organizations. Adventurous (or proactive) organizations thrive; the fearful (or reactive) survive—just barely.

Organizations (and individuals) that cannot let go of “dead ideas” are doomed to failure. Think about how many processes your organization manages every day. How many of these processes are preventing you and your staff from being maximally productive? Why aren’t the processes updated? Is it because everyone is so overworked that there is no time to address the issue?

If there is no time now to address the issue, then when? Constantly relegating issues to the backburner is like clinging to the old ways in the hope that the old ways will somehow magically reinvent themselves. These old ways are nothing more than dead ideas. And there is no place for dead ideas in productive organizations.

The sad news is that this way of thinking is not confined to individuals or the executive boardroom. Governments also think this way. This inability to let go of tired thinking is decaying everyone and everything.

Much has been written about change management because change is difficult to accomplish (think about changing just one of your habits—it takes at least three months of solid effort to build a new habit). But what seems to be coming through in organizations is that for change to occur, all employees need to be onboard. This requires changing old ways of thinking.

So how do we let go of old ways of thinking, of dead ideas? According to Matt Miller, there are three steps.

  1. Identify the ideas that matter. Since we can’t boil the ocean, pick the projects or ideas that will really make a profoundly positive impact on your organization or your life. These ideas will typically be strategic—those “sacred cow” ideas that no one has dared question until now.
  2. Understand each dead idea’s “story.” This comes down to identifying the root cause. How did this process become so entrenched with sub-processes? Why did this process seem to make sense in the first place? By understanding the root of the idea, it’s much easier to discern an action for change.
  3. Reach for new ways of thinking. Don’t dismiss ideas because they seem counterintuitive. If they seem counterintuitive, this may be a sign of how skewed our thinking has become; entrenched with only one way of doing things. Brainstorm. Look at possibilities. By reaching for new ways of thinking, we expand our minds.

In the end, we owe it to ourselves and our organizations to continuously improve and grow. By shedding old ways of doing things and inventing and implementing new concepts, we all thrive. Don’t get stuck in an outdated paradigm just because it’s been there all along.

The Good and Bad of Habits

Habits allow us to not “think” about what we are doing, they’re an automatic response to stimuli. They can be useful when we are engaged in rote or mundane activities like the way we get up in the morning, the way we shower, or the way we clean the house. Because we don’t have to think about these activities, we can do them quickly and free our mind to think about other things such as planning our day.

While habits can help speed up some activities, they can also inhibit us from being successful. In fact, if you examine the results of your life and if you’re honest with yourself, you can quickly attribute your results to your habits. For instance, if you choose to procrastinate, if you consistently neglect to deliver on promises, if you handle work more than once (i.e., keep shuffling your “to-do’s” to the back of the pile consistently), if you save opened email in your inbox; then all of these habits lead you to experience a more stressful life. And with repetition of bad habits, stress compounds to  create even more stress.

Research shows that up to 90% of our behaviour is based in habit; but research also shows that habits can be modified in as little as 12 weeks. While the reasons why we engage in self-defeating habits can be as varied as the individuals themselves, there are ways to get on the track to success. Here are the steps you can take to eliminate your bad habits:

  1. Identify your negative habits. Write them down and have a good look at them.
  2. Select one habit that you wish to improve. (Yes, only one!).
  3. Identify behaviours that will replace the one habit you selected.
  4. Start practicing the new behavior(s) every day and keep practicing it for at least three months until it becomes habit. To help with this, use reminders–perhaps by placing post-it notes in locations you can’t miss, using pop-up reminders/alarms in your email calendar, or engaging others to assist you (e.g., coaching, telephone or other reminders, etc.).
  5. Commit to a “no exceptions” rule to stay on track with your new habit.

The last item, committing to a no exceptions rule is very important. If we decide to waver even slightly, our efforts may not pay off. Imagine if organizations decided to be “flexible” with their policies and procedures and allowed some exceptions, claiming that 99.9% is good enough. This would mean that your municipality would be okay with providing one hour of unsafe drinking water per month or two unsafe landings at major airports each day are acceptable or it’s okay for doctors around the country to drop 50 newborn babies at birth every day–I’m sure you’ll agree that none of these scenarios is acceptable.

If you replace one bad habit with a new behavior every three months, you will acquire four new positive habits each year. This translates to at least four steps closer to a more successful life–whatever success may look like for you.

Effective Leaders Enable Productive Organizations

As an effective leader, you know that certain competencies are necessary to your success on the job. Things like building yourself as a whole person (emotionally, intellectually, spiritually, creatively), building winning teams, being respectful of others to earn their respect, communicating effectively, inspiring others to build trust … just to name a few. You may also know that proven leadership methods aren’t always the answer in every situation.

Enabling others to be as efficient, effective, and productive as possible is a key tenet of leadership. What is your staff working on? What systems, processes, and tools are they using to accomplish organizational goals? Are these systems, processes, and tools as efficient and effective as possible? These are questions that every leader should be asking, since the leaders’ accountability is (first of all) to their staff to enable organizational productivity.

In addition to looking at overall organizational productivity, leaders need to talk to their staff and customers to understand the big picture. Talking to other leaders or mentors is not going to get you information about what your customers are thinking. And, sometimes, neither will talking with your staff.

Instead of talking with your staff, why not experience what your staff experiences? The show “Undercover Boss” sets a great example for leaders. Putting yourself in your staff’s shoes will teach you more about your organization’s operations than you could ever learn from the company’s policies and procedures manuals or strategic planning sessions.

And what about mentors? Every leader needs two mentors–one mentor half their age and the other twice their age. Currently, a huge number of baby boomers are retiring or semi-retiring. Those that semi-retire continue to stay in the job market in a part-time or entrepreneurial capacity. At the same time, Generation Y (those born between the late 1970s to the early 2000s) is entering the job market for the first-time. The collision of these two generations in the workplace is already seeing a shift in the way information sharing is executed. A decade ago, leaders didn’t need to think about tweets or texts;  now they do. Seek mentors to help you bridge the gap between these two generations.

The bottom line is that leaders must continually evolve and practice their knowledge, values, skills, and behaviours. Taking elements of the tried and true methods such as those discussed above, and modifying them to fit current situations enables good leaders to become effective leaders in productive organizations.

 

Dimensions of Change

Are you and your organization productive and efficient? Most people say that they and their organization are both. However, I have found this not to be the case in many organizations.  

At a recent process and value stream mapping exercise, staff expressed a desire to change their operations for the better and acknowledged that they had many process issues that needed “fixing.” However, they were confused about how they or the organization should proceed. They were also frustrated, indicating that their busy schedules would hamper change. This organization is not atypical in its reaction to change.

In managing organization-wide change, researchers have identified six elements that must be in place for change to be successful. If any of the elements is missing, successful change will not occur. Here is how these elements impact organizational change:

  1. If there is no vision, there is confusion.
  2. If there are insufficient skills, there is anxiety.
  3. If there are no incentives, there is resistance.
  4. If there are insufficient resources, there is frustration.
  5. If there is no action plan, there are false starts.
  6. If there is no collegiality, there is isolation.

When an organization has a vision, it focuses on achieving the vision. Whether it is through strategic, business, or service plans, the vision must be clear and it must be communicated to all staff. And it must be understood. When the vision is understood, the organization’s goals and objectives are clear.

Insufficient skills to meet the organization’s strategy are a key component in change. If skills are lacking, staff will feel anxious about their roles. When anxiety is present, inefficiency and poor productivity are also present. Provide training, coaching, and counseling to ensure that staff have the necessary skills to do their jobs.

Incentives are very important for motivating staff to change. Both financial and non-financial rewards can be equally effective at stimulating change. Examples of financial rewards include fair compensation, bonuses for work performance, or relocation support and housing. Non-financial incentives may include a quality culture, public recognition and awards, study leave, and mentoring in the work place, to name only a few.

Resources are another important factor in successful change. Simply stated, if there are insufficient resources to make change happen, then change will either not occur or will be slow to occur. Depending on the organization’s desire for change, resources must be ample, so that staff do not become discouraged with the pace of change.

Sometimes organizations forget about the importance of having action plans in place to guide change. Having an action (or implementation) plan provides everyone with a “road map” to change. In short, it allows all those involved in the change process to know exactly what is expected, who is responsible, and the timeline and process for achieving tasks to effect change.

And don’t forget about collegiality. It’s much nicer to work with colleagues with whom you share mutual respect than it is to endure hostility. Organizations need to ensure that their staff are well suited to the culture and that the culture promotes collegiality.

Managing change is not an easy task, especially if the change involves a large-scale project, but if all of the dimensions of change are in place, successful change can be a certainty.