A short while ago my partner Mike Brush wrote “3 Critical Steps to Effectively Align your Structure with your Strategy” – a blog post that explained our three-step process designed to align your organizational structure with your strategy.
A critical but often overlooked element of our process is continuous learning. Broadly speaking, continuous learning refers to the ongoing expansion of knowledge and skills that an individual chooses to undertake in the course of their working life.
Contemporary management and leadership practices recognize that learning does not end when an individual graduates from whatever formal (or informal) schooling process they have undertaken. In the past, a graduate degree from a prestigious business school was often enough to pave the path to an executive leadership career.
However, as the world has become progressively more complex due to a variety of factors (sociological, economic and technological) there is, increasingly, an awareness that continuous, lifelong learning is part of the price of entry for those who aspire to leadership roles at any level.
We believe that learning shapes behaviour and this belief is reflected in our approach and methodology.
In my experience, when people in the workplace know how to do something (i.e., they have learned the required skill or process) they will do it. If they don’t know how to do it, they will seek the knowledge they need (they will engage in knowledge-seeking behaviour). Often this behaviour includes involving their manager in their work – thereby “pulling down” the manager into day-to-day work and preventing the manager from doing the longer-term work that is an important part of their role.
Simply put—if someone knows how to do what they are required to do, they will do it. If they don’t, they will look to their manager to help them do their work—a type of “reverse delegation” (I can’t do this, so you have to). And that has downside consequences for the entire organization.
Employees feel that they don’t have the skills and knowledge to do their work. Managers feel like it’s “easier to do it myself” than to delegate and oversee. Which, I believe, brings us back to continuous learning.
When we are engaged with our clients to redesign their organization, we employ continuous learning by acknowledging that our field of knowledge (Stratified Systems Theory) is highly technical and specialized. It is not the body of work that most managerial leaders are familiar with. And yet the managerial leaders in our client organizations need to understand the basic principles behind accountability-based management to fully engage with and leverage the system they are a part of.
We begin with education—what does accountability mean? What is work? How does work complexity affect roles and structure? We begin this education before the start of any engagement.
After establishing these baseline principles, we shift the focus to behaviour—what does it look like to effectively delegate work? To follow through? To hold people accountable?
The results can be remarkable. Managerial leaders begin to adopt the new language. They start to talk about accountability… levels of work… about cross-boundary functions. In short, they begin to describe their organization and the work they do, in a new way. Their peers begin to use this new language as well. And in so doing, the seeds for changing the culture of the organizations they are part of are being planted.
Even if you’re not working with us to improve and reshape your organization, here are three reasons why you might consider continuous learning:
1. You will set an example for your team
New managerial leaders often believe that their team expects them to know everything. Nothing could be farther from the truth. By acknowledging that you are acquiring some new skills and knowledge, you invite your team into the learning journey. And you demonstrate something that they (in all likelihood) already know—you are not the world’s greatest expert on everything. It’s rather humbling.
2. You will gain new insights
There’s nothing quite like a new way of looking at things. Someone defined insanity as doing the same thing over and over and expecting different outcomes. New learning can contribute to new behaviours – which can create different (and improved) outcomes.
3. You will find new ways to engage with your work
For most people, the prospect of showing up in the same place and doing the same thing day after day is not entirely appealing. Everyone who’s seen the movie Groundhog Day can relate to Bill Murray’s character, Phil Connors. Stuck in an endless loop and living the same day over and over, Phil grows increasingly disconnected from the people he is engaging with. It isn’t until he learns something new that Phil can break the cycle and engage in a meaningful way.
When we are helping our clients make decisions about talent, we often ask “will the skills that got this candidate to this level of success, carry them to the next level?” Sometimes, the answer is no.
If you’re thinking about yourself as a managerial leader, you might give some thought to engaging in a continuous learning process. There may be a critical skill or subject that would be particularly helpful. Or it just may be that continuous learning—of virtually any kind—will contribute to your success as an adaptable and agile leader.
Ed McMahon, Partner with Core International specializing in creating organization designs structured to deliver strategy and improve performance. For more information on how we at Core International can help you get the best out of your business, book a call to talk things over click here or email email@example.com or call 905-339-9502.