ATD Blog

Want to Unleash a Can-Do Learning Culture?

Thursday, April 27, 2017

Unleash Can Do Attitude
To unleash a can-do spirit for learning on your team and in your organization, try these three strategies.

Remember: Adults Learn Best When They Have Their Own Reasons for Learning  

When adults have strong reasons for learning, they are more likely to keep at it. That’s a basic precept of adult learning theory that’s easy enough to understand. But the real challenge is figuring out how to identify and unleash people’s most powerful motivators when facilitating learning. 

We have found that the true source of the can-do spirit—when it comes to learning—can be found in what we call the “VITALS” motivational profile in Becoming a Can-Do Leader. When used properly, the VITALS acronym, which stands for Values, Interests, Talents, Ambitions, Longings, and Style, can serve as a mental checklist that will help you identify the factors that excite and engage people when you facilitate learning. 

Pay Particular Attention to the Power of On-the-Job Learning

The notion that most of what employees learn comes from job-related experiences is a well-established phenomenon, with estimates running as high as 90 percent or more in some organizations. What’s more, studies have demonstrated that the retention of information and the impact of learning on performance are often greatest when gained in a practical context. 

In fact, ATD Research reports in Experiential Learning for Leaders that the majority of employees interviewed liked on-the-job training more than other experiential learning methods, including structured formal experiences. Actually, people will always be learning something on-the-job, but perhaps not always what you want them to learn. ATD Research also found that “unstructured on-the-job learning” is not always productive. As ATD research analyst Clara Von Ins wryly points out, “We’ve all shadowed individuals that are examples of what NOT to do.” 


This leads to the question: Are your managers truly ready, willing, and able to facilitate on-the-jo learning? 

Help Your “Too Busy” Managers Become Partners in Workforce Development

We have found that many managers say they are just “too busy” to be your best partners for encouraging productive on-the-job learning. This is most likely the case because so many managers have to continue to perform hands-on work to help their teams solve complex problems or pitch in with day-to-day tasks because they are short-handed. 

To make managers partners in learning, you need to be able to help them:   

  • use “multi-impacting” strategies that enable hands-on managers to work in ways that also accelerate the learning of their team 
  • use situations during hands-on work to identify and unleash their team members key VITALS motivators for learning 
  • use their leadership LENS to be a role model for creating a learning culture by: 
    • requesting and giving “positive-negative feedback” in a way that positively reframes corrective feedback
    • giving and receiving coaching on-the fly
    • conducting “Blue Angel” style post-event team debriefing sessions. 

We call this way of helping managers: “Make the Can-Do Mind Shift.” And when it happens, your “too busy” managers become your best partners for unleashing a Can-Do Learning Culture! 

Want to learn more about these proven strategies for unleashing a can-do spirit for learning in your organization? Please join us at the ATD 2017 International Conference & Exposition for the session: Want to Unleash a Can-Do Learning Culture? Here’s How. We’d also like to see you at our “Meet & Greet” book signing on Monday, May 22, at 5:30p.m.—even if you don’t buy one of our books! 

About the Author

Dr. Frank Satterthwaite is a professor of organizational leadership and a past director of the MBA program at Johnson & Wales University in Providence, Rhode Island. Frank, who has contributed numerous blogs to ATD’s Community of Practice, is co-author of Becoming a Can-Do Leader: A Guide for the Busy Manager (ATD Press). He is also the senior author of The Career Portfolio Workbook: Using the Newest Tool in Your Job-Hunting Arsenal to Impress Employers and Land a Great Job (McGraw-Hill), a bestselling career book that was selected as an “Editor’s Choice” at the Wall Street Journal. In addition to his cover story for TD Magazine, “The Delegation Conundrum,” his articles have appeared in national magazines, including Esquire. He has appeared on nationally broadcast radio and TV programs in the United States and Canada, and is currently doing webcasts for ATD. Frank also has a management consulting practice in which he helps managers become Can-Do Leaders. He studied psychology at Princeton and received his Ph.D. in organizational behavior from Yale. Earlier in his career Frank was a member of the U.S. national men’s squash team. Frank and his architect wife, Martha Werenfels, live in Rhode Island and are proud parents of their two sons, Peter and Toby.

About the Author

Jamie Millard, co-author of Becoming a Can-Do Leader: A Guide for the Busy Manager (ATD Press), is the executive partner and co-founder of Lexington Leadership Partners, an executive coaching and customized leadership development and training firm focused on developing can-do leaders who demonstrate commitment, competence, and courage. He formerly led the national organization change management practice at CSC Consulting. Prior to that, Millard was a partner at Harbridge House, where he led the continuous improvement and project management customized training and consulting practices. He holds a bachelor of science degree from the US Military Academy at West Point and an MBA from the University of Rhode Island. He is a proud veteran and member of the Global Educator Network with Duke Corporate Education.

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