Are Organizational Processes Hurting Your Learning Culture?

In theory, organizational processes are created to enhance productivity and accuracy. But what happens when those processes result in unintended consequences—like hindering the development of your learning culture? In this post, we’ll discuss how some common processes can stand in the way of learning and what you can do to avoid or resolve those roadblocks.

While most processes are designed to make a positive impact across an organization, some may be doing more harm than good when it comes to your L&D initiatives. And following our theme of using movies and TV shows in this series, we’ll be using the movie "Monsters, Inc." to help illustrate examples of when processes are designed to:

  1. improve productivity, but result in people being penalized for taking time to learn.
  2. avoid mistakes, and discourage people from admitting they need training.
  3. ensure mandatory training is completed, but results in poor quality training content that people put off or dread completing.

1) Time is money—including my bonus!

In general, it makes sense to incentivize people to work hard and achieve performance goals.

Organizations might use incentives such as bonuses, prizes, leaderboards, and positive feedback to reward hard work and good results. Or organizations might use timesheets, supervision (like Roz in Monsters, Inc.), and warnings to discourage slacking off and poor performance.

The problem comes when these approaches make it hard for people to find time for training in the short term—even if that training improves their performance in the long term.

For example, your sales team has to choose between:

  • keeping up their sales figures to hit their bonus, or
  • taking time out of their day to train, possibly risking their bonus.

Let’s be real—the bonus is going to win. But that means the team is sacrificing training that could help them significantly boost sales figures, and the organization’s bottom line, down the road.

So what’s the solution?

The solution isn’t necessarily to scrap performance- and effort-related incentives. Instead,  consider how you can incentivize training to make it more attractive. For instance, can you offer the same (or better) level of rewards to compensate for any incentives that people may lose by taking time for professional development?

Keep in mind that leadership’s buy-in is going to be very important in order to achieve this type of trade-off. Leadership will need to be involved in helping change processes that are: getting in the way of learning; and approving rewards and incentives related to learning.

Having senior leaders publicly encourage learning and development can go a long way toward shaping a good learning culture, so long as that encouragement is supported by processes that help cultivate the learning culture rather than stand in its way.

2) I need training, but I’m scared to ask for help.

An organization’s processes also may be set up in a manner that discourages people from admitting mistakes and weaknesses—which is an important step in developing themselves and others.

If we can’t show weakness, it’s difficult to seek help. And if we can’t share mistakes, we can’t help others learn from them.

No one is perfect; we all make mistakes. But it can be difficult to share those mistakes if we’re faced with negative consequences. That means we’re sacrificing opportunities to learn and improve in order to save face or avoid punishment.

The plot of Monsters, Inc. offers a great example of this scenario. Sulley commits a huge mistake by letting a human child into the monster world, but instead of reporting it, he makes every effort to hide his mistake and the child. This makes for an entertaining movie plot, but it’s not a good example of a learning culture that uses mistakes as a way for people to better themselves.

So what’s the solution?

Establish processes that encourage people to share mistakes and develop a culture where people can support one another. At Watershed, as part of our quarterly planning, we always take time to think about what went wrong that quarter or what’s not working, and then consider lessons learnt so we can improve together.

3) Mandatory training is boring, so why bother with other learning?

L&D’s processes can be a barrier to developing a good culture of learning. Getting people excited about taking ownership of their professional development and seeking learning opportunities won’t be easy if they’re used to boring mandatory training.

It’s important to create learning that’s both effective and engaging. To help promote learning programs and encourage learners to participate, try using a leaderboard to show a list of your most active learners or most viewed pieces of content.

So what’s the solution?

First, ensure the new content you’re promoting actually is high quality and useful by:

  • testing content and resources before releasing them.
  • monitoring continued usefulness and relevance.
  • actively removing bad content.
  • prioritizing quality and effectiveness over quantity.

Second, get people acclimated to using new content and taking responsibility for their own learning. Think about how your processes can help shape behavior. For example, you may need to continue, at least in the short term, the mandatory aspect of training people are used to until you can share new, improved content.

And while the number of training hours completed is a terrible measure for showing progress, setting a minimum level of learning completed can be an effective short-term method to encourage people to access learning content they haven’t previously used. As a result, those people can now experience your new-and-improved learning content.


How can learning analytics help develop good learning processes?

Learning analytics can help change your organization’s processes to create a good learning culture by highlighting areas of your organization where learning isn’t happening as it should—possibly due to process issues.

The earlier sales example, where the process encourages efficiency and output, may uncover surprising issues. Analyzing sales metrics alongside training data may show that reps who exceed sales targets and have below-average training hours, consistently close shorter contract terms that rarely renew. In investigating further, you may uncover that reps who exceed sales targets and have met your benchmark for training or coaching consistently close multi-year contracts that renew. The data may not tell you exactly how to change the process, but you can get plenty of insights to inspect what’s going on.

Learning analytics also can be used to support processes that encourage learning.

For example, if you run a competition to encourage the use of a new learning experience platform—pitting departments, regions, or teams to compete against one another—you can use learning analytics to monitor the competition and determine the winners. Further, you can analyze the competition (learning) activity data alongside product knowledge or sales data to uncover gaps or opportunities in your content.

Or, data may show that mistakes during training or do-overs without penalty result in better retention or performance. For example, during mock code-blue (emergency) simulations in a hospital, your observation and simulation data may show that those who have completed multiple simulations because they felt safe enough to make errors and start over, end up having better performance when it comes to certification or during high-pressure situations in the real world.


Up Next: That’s not how we do things here.

Change is hard. People get used to doing things a certain way, and it takes a real effort to shift to a new way of doing things. In the next post we’ll explore this barrier to developing a learning culture and how you can tackle it.

Monsters, Inc. is used here only to illustrate the examples in this blog post. Watershed is not associated with, sponsored by, or affiliated with Pixar Animation Studios and/or Walt Disney Pictures.

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