Learning and development is a two way street, isn’t it? We can’t just force someone to learn. Most effective learning organizations understand that discussion is critical to success. It sounds easy, but the practical implementation of discussion is possibly one of most difficult tools to use effectively. To much discussion has all kinds of down sides like stagnant growth, confusion, lack of execution, and flaring tempers. On the other hand, to little discussion has its own downsides. When discussion is absent there is no creativity, no innovation, and no learning. That list doesn’t even include the incredible effect discussion has on employee motivation. The wrong mix of discussion can bring employee motivation and engagement to a screeching halt. The same is true of your customers. It is incredibly important to have two way discussion with your customers, but the wrong mix can have detrimental effects on customer engagement. You know those companies that want your feedback on EVERYTHING! You just want to yell at them, “I’m not going to do your job for you”!
A great learning organization has the right selection of official policies to encourage discussion and unofficial culture to develop conversations. Here are a few practical tips for implementing and developing the critical conversations without going overboard.
KISS: Yeah, this would be one of those great opportunities to keep it simple stupid. A lot of times people are ready to talk, you just need to let them. Don’t overcomplicate it by trying to get to involved or force things along. Just focus on providing easy, clean, simple ways for customers and employees to have a conversation with you. This could like different for every company, but it always involved being where your people are and not requiring them to come to you. Be present where matters. Maybe that is social media or a website. Maybe for you that is implementing extended call center hours or launching a mobile app. Whatever it is that makes conversation accessible from employees customers. Just keep it gimmick free and simple.
FACILITATE: As a leader, think of your job as a facilitator. The most important thing you can do to encourage conversation, learning, and development is to ask the right questions. You don’t have to do all the talking, or really any of the talking. Just ask questions and facilitate the conversation with more questions. Active listening.
PROVIDE THE PLACE: Where does conversation and discussion happen in your office already? Your goal should be to design places where discussion can happen. For instance, put together a room wtih comfortable charis, wireless internet, and white boards where people can go and work. These types of places will encourage conregation and discussion. Maybe discussion happens offsite over lunch. Why not bring lunch into the office once a month and provide a relaxed atmosphere for discussion of ideas and problems.
ACT: Often times discussion and creativity will begin to happen organically if you foster it, but it will die quickly if it seems to go unheralded. It’s the old adage that you “get what you reward”. Be sure you are acting upon what you learn from discussion with both your employees and customers. Action will inspire more discussion, more learning, and more innovation.
GIVE TIME: The discussion of ideas takes time… valuable time. Leaders have to buy into the fact that open discussion is a valuable use of time. We must learn to be patient with the process. Be open to talking about ideas, procedures, or products. Be engaged in these conversations, and really take time to consider things. Learning and development will only take place if you take the time to have the conversation. Yes, that means you and not just everyone else. You may think your time is more valuable than others, but leaders at every level need to set aside time for discussion and learning. You might be thinking, “well, I’m too important for that”. Not true. Consider Howard Schultz at Starbucks. He invited everyone in the company to e-mail him personally with their thoughts and ideas to make the company better upon returning to the CEO position. If the CEO of a struggling iconic company has time for thousands of ideas, then you have time. You just need to buy into its value.
Innovative and learning organizations are open to the discussion of new ideas, practices, and directions. They have official policies to support the discovery of ideas, and unofficial cultures that develop great solutions. Discussion is critical to your success as a learning organization. You must see to it that the open discussion of ideas is happening.
Read about all 10 Disciplines of a Learning Organization here.