Since you are reading this blog, I know you are interested in how people learn, and how we can leverage learning to improve performance in the workplace. Employee Learning Week is an ASTD awareness campaign highlighting the important connection between learning and achieving organizational results, and its going on right now. I’d like to encourage you to participate.
There are so many ways to promote employee learning, and some of them will only take a few minutes of your time. I’ve focused on a few ideas for you that have a link to brain science, in honor of our blog focus. If you tell ASTD what you did to celebrate Employee Learning Week by December 20, they will include you in their recognition of “Champions of Learning.” Not too shabby for doing something that’s part of all our jobs.
Employee Learning Week Idea #1: Ask People to Make a Commitment
Studies show that the moment we verbalize an intention to do something we create an image in our brain. We see our future intended performance and feel the satisfaction that comes with the achievement. This instantaneous reaction is backed up by another brain process that kicks in shortly thereafter: Our brains become more attuned to information that supports the new intention. For example, if you decide that you want to learn how to play a musical instrument, you might start paying more attention the music all around you, you might pause over an ad for music lessons that you would otherwise have ignored, or remember that a friend of yours is taking piano lessons and give him a call.
As you start talking to people about your goal, they may start to send you tips and leads to help you along the way. The more you start noticing these little reinforcements in your day, the more highly focused your brain becomes on achieving your goal. So why not ask every employee to verbalize one thing that they are going to learn in the next year? Make sure the event is public and positive, and you are on your way.
Employee Learning Week Idea #2: Help Everyone Relearn Something
As we know from discoveries about neuroplasticity, we are constantly remaking our brains, forming new neural connections. That means that older, less used pathways are also being decommissioned, causing your employees to forget things that they once knew. In fact, the “Curve of Forgetting” was actually discovered and quantified by Hermann Ebbinghaus in 1885. He was able to show how rapidly we forget what we have “learned” over time. The only way to fight against the curve is through reinforcement.
So take a look at your training programs and make sure there are follow-up reinforcement activities built in to reverse the forgetting curve. You might take a look at important corporate messaging and consider releasing it more frequently, using a wider selection of media to deliver the message. If you are a manager, ask yourself if you are reinforcing your coaching messages frequently enough to have an impact.
Employee Learning Week Idea #3: Start a “No Multi-Tasking” Campaign
The evidence against multi-tasking is overwhelming. Trying to do more than one thing at a time only slows the brain down, taking precious processing time to switch between tasks, and adding to brain fatigue. Why not ask everyone to spend one hour doing just one thing and then report the results? It’s a simple concept, but many of us will find it very hard to do.
Just pick one thing that you need to get finished, start a timer and do it, without multi-tasking. That means no instant messaging, no checking email, no talking on the phone while working, etc. Really. A recent study showed that people not only take more time to accomplish tasks while alternating between several tasks at once, they also commit more errors. So do everyone a favor and give them permission to drop this unproductive habit.
Employee Learning Week Idea #4: Get Attention for Your Accomplishments
If you feel that your department is a bit under-appreciated, the fault may be your own. When was the last time you promoted some of your team’s accomplishments to senior management? Our brains are bombarded by a constant stream of stimuli all the time, even when we are sleeping. So the brain has a mechanism for filtering out what doesn’t seem important.
If you aren’t linking your achievements to other matters that are already on your CEOs mind, chances are she isn’t thinking about your team very often. Why not grab the CEOs list of goals for this year (It is probably hiding in your inbox from January) and match specific accomplishments from your team to as many of those goals as possible? Put together a quick note and then give it as much exposure as possible. See idea #2 above and do it again in a different format in a couple of days.
Employee Learning Week Idea #5: Change Some Light Bulbs
In the 1930s, companies started experimenting with workplace conditions in order to increase productivity. One of the most famous experiments took place at Hawthorne Electrical Works. Researchers theorized that brighter lighting would enhance performance, so they created three groups: one group got new, brighter bulbs; another group got dimmer bulbs; a third group got new bulbs with the same wattage as the previous one. A surprising thing happened: all of the groups improved.
The resulting “Hawthorne Effect” has been described as the tendency of people to work harder simply because they know that they are being watched. This conclusion has since been challenged, and there may be other reasons for this surprising result. My own personal hypothesis is that in all cases something changed. And change alone makes us pay attention. So, take a look at your human capital systems and just change something, and see what results. You might stimulate employee learning without even trying.
Have some other ideas? Feel free to post them here. Happy celebrating!