'Learning up' strategy - full circle learning culture
You can learn from anyone, if you open your mind to it. In today's
knowledge-driven economy, managers and entrepreneurs need to get
strategic in creating workplaces that value 'learning up', where they
can learn from people they hire and work with. In most companies in Sri
Lanka, however, training and information still flows downhill and not
uphill. Innovative and more modern organizations should have the full
circle learning culture by making sure knowledge flows up, down and
sideways, increasing knowledge capacity and thus competitiveness.
Break down the barriers that the people below you have lesser
knowledge than you just because you are their boss and because you work
for me, I shouldn't learn from you.
Learning from your employees is one of the most powerful and least
utilized tools in the leadership tool box. And I'm not talking about
listening to your people when they try to make a point - that goes
without saying. I mean something more serious and more purposeful.
Identify something that one of your employees does well and make it a
point to learn from him. Make it his goal to get you to learn from him,
and hold him accountable for delivering on that goal. Engagement is as
much about employees as it is about managers. Employee engagement can be
made easier when the manager humbles himself to be coached by his
employees. The cost aspect shouldn't be ignored either. Learning from
within whether it's learning up or down saves a lot of money for the
Hire people who can bring new skills. Smart managers and
entrepreneurs 'hire up', meaning they hire people who bring the latest
skills in technology, sales, accounting and other fields.
This is an excellent strategy - until you stop keeping up with how
the work is changing. How can you create a 'learning up' strategy?
First, managers need to acknowledge that they can learn from
rank-and-file employees. This needs a cultural shift, and it's hard for
most leaders, who would rather have a root canal than admit knowledge
gaps. Do you have someone on your team who is world-class at interfacing
with the IT team to get thoughtful, prompt responses? Then tell him he
needs to coach you on how to do a better job of that.
Later, he can help teach the rest of the team. But first, I recommend
one-on-one coaching in which your employee coaches you on something
specific that you want to learn from him.
Define each employee's expertise because it legitimizes everyone's
role as an expert in a particular area. Figuring out who can teach the
latest software package or which salesperson can share selling
techniques takes pressure off managers, too. It creates a greater level
Make continual learning a part of your hiring process. Ask management
candidates how comfortable they are with learning from employees. Can
they put their egos aside to ask a rank-and-file person how to do
something? If not, this person might not be a good fit for the learning
culture you're trying to create.
Learning from employees is the only way an entrepreneur or a manager
can stay on top of what's relevant? Information doesn't flow in just one
direction. It flows in a circular direction. You've probably worked on
how to get better at coaching your employees. But have you worked on
getting better at being coached by your employees? Good students lean
forward in class, ask questions when they're confused and look to make
connections between the new things they've just learned and the old
ideas they've already had in their heads. Are you a good student of the
people who work for you?
Show yourself learning and you'll instill a learning culture. The
more you make yourself ready to grow, the more you role model a growth
mindset in others. The person who coaches you will naturally be more
willing to learn - not just from you, but from others.
Display the confidence to make yourself vulnerable enough to learn
from your team, and you'll reveal yourself to be a humble, human,
authentic leader. It's a challenge to teach the boss
But if it's fun, different, and a stretching challenge, it can drive
additional engagement at work. And it's a great way to breathe new life
into something that someone has been doing for years.
Your high-performing employee might not know exactly why she's so
good at the thing you want to learn from her. Ask her to coach you, and
now she must reflect on what exactly she does. It's great development
for her to convert her tacit knowledge into explicit lessons that can be
more easily conveyed to others.
Don't forget the most obvious benefit - you'll learn something new
and improve your own skills-set. This only works if it's genuine. You
must pick an area where you honestly respect a team member's abilities
and you genuinely want to improve your own skills.
Think of every person who works for you as a teacher. What do you
want to learn from each of them? Everyone on your team can coach you to
be better at something. Build your learning plan, and leverage the
potential coaches all around you.
Like anything else having a flipside, there are risks to learning up.
Employees might think teaching the boss gives them more say than they
really have. It could encourage some to ask for a raise. At worst,
employees might worry that teaching others their unique expertise could
make them expendable. So this has to be managed. Make it clear that itís
a part of your culture to learn from each other and let everyone be
convinced that full cycle learning helps everyone to stay competitive.