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The East African : Nov 24th 2014
44 The EastAfrican BUSINESS NOVEMBER 22-28,2014 MANAG E R How to c≥eate a wo≥kplace whe≥e people’s jobs become thei≥ classes A colleague recently made this prediction: People who work together will soon start asking one another, “What courses are you taking?” It will be the new “What are you reading?” He is probably right, and that worries me a little — but not because I don’t like learning. I like it so much that I would have stayed in school for a few decades if I could have paid my bills. I am just not sure how I would tuck a bunch of seminars and “massive open online courses,” or MOOCs, around the edges of my wonderful job and my life as a parent who already sets the quality bar lower than she would like. In a sense, though, I am still in school — most of us are. At work we are not only allowed but expected to be perpetual students. As we make our contributions and manage others, we grow and adapt, and so do our organisations, creating new reasons and ways for us to stretch. Some employers help by providing venues for mentoring, coaching and networking. But there is a big difference between professional development and structured learning. And although some forwardthinking employers with plentiful resources have corporate universities, most companies seem to view continuing education as self-directed — something that people take on in addition to their regular duties as invested members of their organisations, families and communities. Learn or die Where should the respon- sibility lie? Edward D. Hess, a Darden business professor, urges companies to assume a greater share of it. His new book, Learn or Die, offers what he calls a blueprint for building stronger learning environments. While it is not quite that precise, it provides useful guidance. Hess draws on a large body of research into the cognitive, emotional and behavioural factors that promote learning and on the kinds of leaders, cultures and policies that enable businesses to change and survive. And he holds up several exemplars — describing in some detail, for instance, how the investment firm Bridgewater Associates structures internal conversations as debates, exploratory discussions or teaching moments. Learning efforts can easily fall flat without institutional muscle behind them. Sure, leaders may encourage em- Create a workplace where people’s jobs become their classes — where learners experience positive support and positive challenges. COMMENTARY LISA BURRELL “Learning efforts can easily fall flat without institutional muscle behind them.” ployees to sign up for extra training and courses — but how many people will find time to engage properly, or at all, if their workloads remain the same and their studying must be done after hours? How many will even feel safe seeking support in areas where they have “room for growth” if learning is not integral to their organisations? The solution, Hess sug- gests, is to create a workplace where people’s jobs become their classes — “where learners experience a combination of positive support and positive challenges.” That includes providing good role models, granting sufficient autonomy, measuring progress and giving rewards such as promotions and stock ownership to fuel engagement. Meanwhile, of course, indi- viduals still need to do their part by honing their learning skills — and adopting the “growth mindset” that Stanford University’s Carol Dweck famously identified as a selffulfilling prophecy. Liz Wiseman, a leadership adviser, even makes the case that a predisposition to learning often gives inexperienced people an edge over their more seasoned colleagues, who may be encumbered by what they know and assume. In her new book, Rookie Smarts, Wiseman says rookies close their knowledge and skills gaps by scanning the landscape for information, marshalling as many experts as they can, listening carefully and making connections. When facing brandnew challenges, they work their way toward mastery incrementally but quickly, conducting small experiments and frequently checking in with stakeholders to mitigate risk. Wiseman, like Dweck, argues that working and living on a continual learning curve serves people well in a fast-moving world. But what if that outlook does not come naturally to you? The consultants Sebastian Bailey and Octavius Black say you can develop it with the many mental exercises they offer in Mind Gym. The book is meant to help you think more positively and creatively, exert more influence and in general make the most of what you have got upstairs. Despite the care that Bailey and Black take to tether their advice to scholarship, their book feels a little light, maybe because the overarching goals are vague (to improve “performance” and achieve “success”). But it includes some interesting tools — such as a brief self-assessment to identify why you are procrastinating. I can’t imagine ploughing through all of them, though you may dip into certain chapters (on getting more from people, sparking creativity and so on) as various needs arise. And the exercises are fun, in small doses. Brain Gym’s creators, Paul and Gail Dennison, say that 26 activities dramatically improve concentration, organisation, academic performance and relationships, “even though it is not clear yet ‘why.’” Critics take issue with the Dennisons’ research and their claims that the programme “builds, enhances or restores natural neural pathways in the body and brain to assist natural learning.” Dubious neuroscience aside, Brain Gym has something going for it: It is designed to make education both fun and doable. That is a real need, given the emerging mandate to sustain our learning indefinitely. If my colleague’s prediction comes true, we will be scouting for many of our own growth opportunities — as we should, and as we have done all along. But even the hungriest of us will make much more progress if our organisations set us up for success. They will reap the benefits, too. Lisa Bu≥≥ell is a senio≥ edito≥ at the Harvard Business Review. Business is all about people. Make this your top priority. Making hi≥ing top p≥io≥ity By RICHARD BRANSON Special Correspondent WHETHER YOU are planning a start-up, preparing to relaunch or expanding your business, it is often hard to know which tasks to delegate, which to delay and which to tackle right away. In my experience, if there is one area in which you should definitely do a lot of the work yourself, it is the hiring process. Your choice of whom to hire will make or break you — and this is true no matter how big your company is. Putting your imprimatur on key management is simply something you have to do. Remember: These are the people to whom you are going to be handing a lot of important decisions, so they’d better be people with whom you feel 100 per cent comfortable! If you are reading this and thinking, “But my company is big, and I am way too important to busy myself with something as mundane as hiring staff — that is what we have a ‘people department’ for, isn’t it?,” think again. Hiring decisions At Virgin, I have always insisted on being involved with seniorlevel hiring decisions at all of our companies, even if it sometimes means flying the applicants all the way to Necker Island to spend time with me (something about which I have received very few complaints!). Even at Google — a $400 billion company that is still hiring more than 4,000 people a year — the co-founder and CEO Larry Page insists on being the final arbiter on whether to make a job offer to anyone being considered for a leadership role within the company. I know from personal conversations with Larry that he sees his involvement in the hiring process not as some symbolic role that he has to make time for, but rather as one of the most important aspects of his job. Given that Google was incorporated in 1998, I am sure that Larry and his partner, Sergey Brin, vividly recall the fact that the founders of any company must wear many very different hats during an enterprise’s first few crazy years. Business is all about people. Make this your top priority and success is bound to follow.
Nov 17th 2014
Dec 1st 2014