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Learners Look

April 1, 2014

Continual learning environment is a must. Executives and managers make it happen. Leadership is involved. Learning is the never ending story. An organization with a bend towards learning produces excellence.

 

Learning is not training. Training is a part of learning. Learning is a lifelong commitment, a morning attitude, and an approach toward information and experience. It is a must.

“Personally, I’m always ready to learn, although I do not always like being taught.” Sir Winston Churchill, British Prime Minister

At a time when individual operations and entire organizations cannot afford to make mistakes, it seems there is great potential for highly-visible errors. The complexities of implementing multi-channel, response-driven customer communications pressure. Learners LookModified workplace rules, legislative and executive mandates on business, and global pressures stretch staff. Can we expect operations run on a shoestring budget with no time or money for skill upgrade to accomplish adapting? Can we expect staid operations and staff, who’ve become resistant to change, to survive? Not really.

You Don’t Want This To Be You: Learners Look

The US Army sent out letters to families of soldiers killed overseas. They featured a salutation of “Dear John Doe,”. What probably happened? Did someone put “John Doe” as a place holder into a mail merge letter and forget to merge? Did the data scrub go bad? Was a routine process double check missed while someone checked Facebook?

But why did it not get caught? No one noticed that all the letters had the same salutation? Was it because the shop doing the work was rushed? Or did the shop not have a quality- control person who knew what to look for? Or was the QC person off running some production equipment and never had the chance to check before the mailing went out? We may never know.

The end result is damaged reputation and emotional distress. This error is reported by national news organizations. The shop was named in the articles. The price they charged the Army was published. An Army official was quoted as saying the Army was contemplating “appropriate action against the contractor.” Ouch! Worse was the impersonal impact on grieving families.

Oh, and a General (the Army Chief of Staff) had to hand-sign 7,000 apology letters. I wouldn’t want to be the shop that made this unfortunate mistake, and I feel for them. But it is a good example of what can happen when processes are not followed or things get rushed. This particular error may not be attributed solely to a learning issue, but inadequate attitude of attention and learning could certainly have played a part.

There are three active attitudes in a learners’ team.

Learners constantly assess, inspect, and appeal. They are ‘in the stuff” every day, all day. A learner will see an error outside of expected routine checks. They notice compliance variances and modify.  They see process issues that threaten on time delivery of services. They become experts at their jobs. They invent shortcuts for production and service delivery that speed customer time to market. You will find a learning shop team huddled over an issue as a team coming up with solutions.

Learners are led. Executives and managers set the curve. One astute client executive commented, “I’ve had a good day, I learned something new about this operation.” This was the senior most executive in a large insurance company. He looked every day to learn something new about the trench work. Managers should be bringing fresh insights to the team. Managers should be increasing their customer knowledge every week. An executive or manager cannot be the best at what their people do, but they should be the best leader at what they do. Be curious.

Learners look. If it ain’t broke, break it. There is no excuse for lax process. Learners take apart what looks fixed. They don’t break it to be mean. They break it to find a better way, a cleaner routine, a process stripped of extra steps, or a more predictable performance. Learners learn by looking under the hood.

Summary: The “looking learner” environment in an operation will produce predictably excellent results. Unfortunately, our workplaces easily drift into drone mentality through blind adherence to institutional objectives. Creativity takes spark and acknowledgement from leaders. Learning is stimulated by example.

 

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