Educate: Disciplines of a Learning Organization

Possibly one of the most important truths when it comes to developing organizations of any kind is this:

Organizations grow in direct proportion to their people.

This is something we overlook far too often. Companies and nonprofit organizations are all, at the very core, a collection of people. The point here is that great learning organizations understand the importance of educating and developing their people. This would be the time when we often hear the collective groan of the C-suite. Developing people can be kinda messy. Leaders can find it difficult to implement the right “program”, and even more difficult to find any direct links between those development programs and any sort of increase in the bottom line. Isn’t it just easier to do some more advertising or something? Or maybe just keep hiring smarter people from the outside instead of developing the people we already have? I can sympathize with this, but no one ever said becoming a great organization is easy. If you’re looking for the fast and easy way to become great, you’re reading the wrong post. These are disciplines, and they take work and focus. Even so, developing and educating yourself and your people doesn’t have to hard. Here are some tips:


Often times people have a natural curiosity and desire to learn. We can be quick to implement “programs”, when we really need to simply facilitate learning and foster the curiosity our people already have. Education doesn’t always need to be directly linked to a concrete business objective. Creativity and innovation will often result from new ideas and different perspectives that might come from any number of avenues. Fostering this desire for knowledge can be effectively done by recognizing those that choose to continue their education. This might include any number of rewards like public recognition, monetary gains, or more creative ideas like a new office space or more flex time. When it comes to facilitating the educational drive your people already have, consider a few options like education reimbursement plans, flexible schedules, and onsite study areas.


What is it that your people need to know? One of the most important things you can do is take an audit of the organization based upon the skills and knowledge you expect your people to know. This type of audit can be a huge breath of fresh air in the hazy world of education and development. It allows leaders to concretely see how their organization is doing, and where they should focus development efforts. It also provides the critical piece needed to measure education efforts against prior results. A word of caution though, we can all take a lesson from the public school systems here. Don’t fall victim to the same standardized testing fate. This is simply one important tool, but not the only way to educate or measure results. Don’t get all test crazy on people or you’ll effectively squelch any internal motivation there may have been.


There are two great things about mentoring that organizational leaders might find intriguing. First, it allows you to leverage the knowledge your organization already has. No paying for additional content. Secondly, it allows you to use the people you already have. Mentoring not only increases the concrete knowledge of your people, it has a great side effect of culture development. Mentoring can also be a great reward for some of your more seasoned employees. Many of them will welcome the opportunity to share what they have learned by experience.


The most difficult part of every training or education program, no matter what field you are in, is creating and organizing the content. Luckily there are great educational institutions all over the US that would love to partner with your company to put together a custom education plan with the classes and content they have already developed. Partnering with a local college can be a great way to put together an education program. It increases the likeliness of quality content, and provides a structure, platform, and staff.

Great learning organizations help their people learn and develop. Without this commitment, you will not effectively grow and develop as an organization. If you have never before defined any type of learning and development program for your organization, I encourage you to do so. If you have a program, I encourage you take a hard look at it and asses its relevance and effectiveness. The millennial generation increasingly values an employer that they feel will help them become the best they can be. Development plans are not only critical to your current people, but also critical to attracting and retaining the best new talent.

You can read all ten of the Disciplines of a Learning Organization here.

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