Learning is personal reflection

Stefan Op de Woerd
Stefan Op de Woerd

Learning is essential to be able to innovate and keep on improving. But, how do you go about developing a learning culture in your organisation? And, how do you encourage your employees to adopt new behavioural patterns and make sure the change is permanent? Stefan op de Woerd, founder of Dialog, picks up the story.

Learning is essential to be able to innovate and keep on improving

But, how do you go about developing a learning culture in your organisation? ‘Ownership is the magic word’, believes Stefan Op de Woerd, founder of Dialog. ‘We all know if you try and make a child do something, they will usually dig their heels in and resist. Children want to discover and experience for themselves. 

That’s what learning is all about, and it’s no different for adults. In practice, a learning culture often means that managers only see employee development in terms of the organisation. As a result, ownership of their learning no longer resides with the employee. If you really want to create a learning culture, you need to invest in the responsibility for learning with the employees themselves. 

You start with the employee saying they want to develop in a particular direction and how they think this will be good both personally and for the organisation. It is then your job to support the employee and together identify the learning outcomes. This generates positive energy, so that you are working together to bring about a learning culture.’

What should HR do to promote a learning culture?

Stefan believes that HR professionals should ensure that employees feel and assume this responsibility. ‘Don’t just reach for the traditional tools of the performance management cycle. The idea behind the cycle is undoubtedly a good one: to provide a framework. But, investing in learning and development should not simply become an end in itself. 

If you want to see organisational development from a learning perspective, look at what you want to achieve and how the resources at your disposal can support this, in consultation with management. Your ultimate aim is for performance to improve: you might call it ‘performance support’. In other words, how you enable development ultimately to drive better performance, and also make this fully transparent for employees and the organisation. You can then link this to the performance management cycle and make a business case, demonstrating the benefits of investing in learning and development.’

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How do you encourage new behavioural patterns?

‘The biggest mistake you can make is thinking you are responsible for someone else’s intrinsic motivations,’ believes Stefan. ‘But, that’s unrealistic. The employee is personally responsible for their own motivation. You want training to lead to new behavioural patterns that become embedded and ultimately lead to better results. But, behaviour change is not usually addressed in any training. 

So, it is important that you facilitate employees to practise new behaviour, ensuring they become masters of change. This means giving employees the tools to change the ‘way they’ve always done things’ where appropriate. Something you have been doing for a long time eventually becomes a habit. New behaviour and working practices need to become ingrained and replace old patterns of behaviour. A new pattern of behaviour only becomes ingrained once you are doing something often. Doing it often means you are doing it in a very conscious way. And, people will only start to work on things consciously if they actually stop and reflect on them. So, it is about reflective capacity, personal leadership and your personal reflection that is focused on what you want to change. 

None of this will happen of its own accord. It is something you have to facilitate within the workplace, for example by ensuring new behaviour becomes embedded for employees. This is best done in short-term cycles that will enable employees to gradually achieve their goals.’

How do you encourage employees to be independent and take ownership?

Stefan reflects that organisations often pin their success to hierarchical leadership, and that personal leadership among employees comes a poor second. ‘You need to make sure that personal leadership is a key part of your organisation’s success. The employees are your organisation, so their personal leadership is an invaluable resource. 

If you encourage and support this type of ownership, you reduce your dependence on managers while employees are enabled to take the initiative. The manager then acts in more of a coaching leadership role. You also need to facilitate managers to form clear agreements with their employees. You should give your managers the responsibility to work these out themselves.’

Make performance management simple and effective?

Download our e-book “7 steps to transform your Performance Management”

How do you give ownership legs?

Stefan was one of the speakers at the recent National Training & Development Conference. ‘I showed how to facilitate ownership and encourage new behaviour, how to give ownership legs, how it works in practice and where it can lead, as well as the potential it offers to realise change within an organisation. I explicitly showed how technology can support change processes. I used examples you can try out for yourself, to see how it works in practice.’ 

Stefan gives an example: ‘Suppose I’m a domineering manager: I like to keep a tight hold of the reins and, rather than giving people the freedom to get on with their job, I feel the need to be in control all the time. But, I’m aware that my working methods are counterproductive and this is a concern for me. It creates a lot of work stress and pressure. I want to change, and I make an agreement with my manager that I will make steps in this direction.’ The important thing, according to Stefan, is to start small. ‘Freedom and trust are quite vague, open-ended concepts. So, you could ask what behaviour would you exhibit that would demonstrate trust and give others more freedom? In other words, make it specific. It could be something really simple like giving a compliment every now and again. 

You could practise giving compliments more frequently every day for 30 days. The technology that I talked about at the National Training & Development Conference helps you to introduce new behaviour patterns in a very short cyclical way so that they become embedded over time. You’re not on your own here. Your colleagues can assist with micro feedback. It’s all part of reflecting on your practice.’

Jochem Aubel and Stefan Op de Woerd are the founders of Dialog, surprisingly simple software for effective performance management based on regular 1-to-1s. Want to know more about how Dialog supports employees and managers to achieve this? Take the product tour.

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