Article by Dr. Pratik P. SURANA

Chief Mentor and Founder

Quantum.

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“An investment in knowledge pays the best interest.”—Benjamin Franklin

Whether you are a customer-centered or an employee-focused company, success hinges on sustaining a culture of lifelong learning. Happy employees equal happy customers, and in study after study, they show that the happiest employees are the well-trained ones who receive ongoing education.

We often think employees want more money, benefits, bonuses, etc. It’s not that they don’t want these things, but we often find that employees want training—tools to do their job and to know what is expected of them.

They want to be involved and to have the opportunity to advance in their career. “All we must do is tap into their knowledge base, and give employees the ability to think critically and creatively, the ability to communicate ideas and concepts, and the ability to cooperate with other human beings in the process of inquiry and action,” according to The Institute of Adult Learning, Theories.

A study on Continuing Professional Education (CPE) reveals there are several important dimensions to creating a positive learning culture. This type of culture for an organization is based on openness and trust, where employees are supported and rewarded for learning and innovation. The dimensions include leadership, relationship to organizational strategy, teamwork, empowerment, and mentoring.

Leadership: When enthusiasm for life-long learning starts with a boss, it can have a cascade affect through those who work for him/her. As a customer service and sales trainer in the hospitality world, I work with groups of employees in a learning environment, and I see them during their “happiest” moments—as most of the employees I meet are like sponges and want to learn.

It’s even more exciting to find a leader who wants to continue learning. I am thrilled to work for owners who invest in their people, especially since training seems to be one of the first “extras” to go, especially during difficult economical situations. The fact that they continue to see training as a critical component to overall customer and employee satisfaction is fantastic. However, to see the leaders working on improving themselves, as well, is rare and very special.

Learning is Must for Change and Change is Must for Learning:

There is a lot to learn about the human relationship to change. Just as the nature of change varies, so do the human responses and reactions to it. Some people seem confused and confounded by change and unpredictability, and do their best to avoid it. Others find the prospect of uncertainty invigorating, often seeking out situations that promise opportunities for new adventures and exploration.

You can see this difference in how people experience things in the way two people will describe the same event. What is exciting to one may be a major crisis to another.

The ancient Chinese seem to have understood this paradox of perspective well, as the character for the word crisis is a combination of the characters for the words danger and opportunity. Likewise, people relate to change in unique, varied, and sometimes unpredictable ways.

While people may feel differently about change in general, when it comes to change in the workplace, research shows that most people are open to it — an astounding 78 percent in fact. That’s according to research of more than 5,000 mid-to-upper level managers*. The bad news is that most of those managers and executives don’t know how to effectively lead others through that change.

The good news is, they (and you) can learn. In fact, through increased awareness of your own and others’ differing change styles and preferences, you can help your company do more than just handle change — you can create an organization that lives it.

Don’t confuse change style with change competency

Often the discussion on change revolves around simplistic ideologies that label some people as “pro-change” and others as “change resistors.” Predictably, the pro-change forces are seen as good and the resistors as the evil enemies of progress.

The problem with this thinking is that the people who frame these arguments have their own unique attitudes, beliefs and preferences about change. The fact that the pro-change person may lead his/her organization into a disaster or that the resistor may present very reasonable objections is often overlooked. In other words, personal change styles are often confused with change competency.

Understanding change styles

Research indicates that people have different habits and preferences when faced with change. If you can recognize these differences in yourself and others, and address them when communicating and implementing change, you are much more likely to face fewer misunderstandings, complaints and saboteurs along the way.

In the effort to help organizations recognize these differences, Discovery Learning Inc. has taken the aggregate results from 150,000 change-style assessments performed using the Change Style Indicator® and grouped people into three categories according to the way they deal with change: Conserves, Pragmatists and Originators.

On the far left side of the change preference continuum, you’ll find the Conserves Conserves prefer to work within the existing structure to create change incrementally. When facing change, Conserves appear deliberate, disciplined and organized. They prefer change that maintains the current structure. They honour tradition and established practices and usually operate from conventional assumptions. Conserves enjoy predictability so they may appear cautious and inflexible.

In the middle of the continuum you’ll find the Pragmatists. Pragmatists deal in outcomes and seek practical, functional solutions to problems. When facing change, Pragmatists appear practical, agreeable and flexible. They often operate as mediators and catalysts for understanding and are open to both sides of an argument. They may take more of a middle-of-the-road approach and often appear more team-oriented.

To the far right are the Originators. (Here is where you’ll find most entrepreneurial types.) Originators sometimes favour something that’s different just because it’s different. When facing change, Originators may appear unorganized, undisciplined, unconventional and spontaneous. They prefer change that challenges current structure and are likely to challenge accepted assumptions. Originators enjoy risk and uncertainty. While they may appear as visionary and systemic in their thinking, they can also be impractical and miss important details and often treat accepted policies and procedures with little regard.

These descriptions make it easy to see how all three change styles are necessary when leading and accomplishing change within an organization. The key to making these styles work best for your organization is to know your own change style preference and understand how that dictates the way you should interact with people with similar and different preferences.

For example, if you are an Originator (many entrepreneurs are) you might be perceived by others as impulsive and unfocused. If your colleague is a Conserver, you may view him as too cautious or as inflexible. If your direct report is a Pragmatist you might view her as indecisive. And while she might understand your point of view, she may feel that you’re too risky in certain situations.

And just in case three change styles wasn’t enough to consider, there are a couple of other players you also should be aware of: change agents and resisters.

Change agents are often consultants who come in from the outside and without really understanding your company’s culture or needs, try to impose the changes they think you need. Change agents can also be overenthusiastic members of your own organization who, just like their external counterparts, run the risk of alienating the very people necessary to make the change work.

Resisters, on the other hand, are often seen as people who don’t care about the company’s success. It’s important to remember however, that often the biggest objections to change come from the people most devoted to the company. Hearing and acting on the concerns voiced by resisters may help you head off problems you hadn’t anticipated. Being able to tell the difference between hardcore resisters who will fight any change no matter what and the concerned employees described here is crucial. If you treat every sceptic as a hardcore resister, you risk encouraging alliances between these two groups that could further stall needed changes.

Teamwork: Though individuals need to take responsibility for their own learning and professional development, teams and networks have an important role to play, as well, with CPE. When you share the learn load, more topics can be covered and fed back to each other.

Send employees out to learn, bring them back and ask them to teach others what they learned. As Confucius said, “Tell me and I’ll forget; show me and I may remember; involve me and I’ll understand.” The employee will retain it longer by having to teach others, and you will get the biggest bang for your buck if you have your employees share what they learn with the rest of the team.

Organizational Strategy: The more a company can involve its employees in the strategizing of the company goals, the better. And the more transparent organizations are, the stronger the loyalty of the employees will be. Let them be part of the plan—to contribute and to learn, to help you meet your business objectives. Strategy is the key link between theory and practice in any CPE activity.

Empowerment: If the employees were involved in creating the overall company vision and mission, they need to be empowered to drive and deliver results. Individuals need to be empowered within their day-to-day duties to gain the maximum development within their immediate work environment.

Mentoring: Do individuals always have the skills or the expertise in assessing their own needs and can they be expected to make an objective assessment of them? While they must be included in their own CPE, consider mentoring as an important part of any support framework for ongoing learning. A mentor can help the employee discover what to learn, where to start, and how to choose platforms that help the overall goals of the company, as well as the individual.

Lifelong learning is about opportunities to learn throughout life, in different settings, and through different mediums. It calls for innovation, as well as a more holistic, flexible, and open-minded way of looking at education. It is an education without a start and a finish.

Creating happy and loyal employees who will create happy and loyal customers happens in a culture of lifelong learning. Remember to include the fundamental importance of visible leadership, role models, and “champions” of the cause within the organization. The closeness of the relationship between CPE policy and organizations strategy, the power of teams and teamwork, empowered individuals, and the critical role of mentoring in terms of support, facilitation, and providing an independent and objective perspective, all play critical roles in the lifelong learning process.

“Commit yourself to lifelong learning. The most valuable asset you’ll ever have is your mind and what you put into it.”—Brian Tracy

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