Safe Learning Environment

In today’s business environment, full of uncertainty and rapid change, learning has proven to be one of the key activities for building a “future proof organization”. Recent research shows that more and more companies are investing in various projects that support constant learning and development.

Have you ever wondered why children learn best and fastest? Because they are unencumbered by “trivial” things in life or have a lot of room to progress? Do they have a good education that provides them with all the necessary knowledge for their age? Maybe.

What is certain is that most children who grow up in “normal” conditions are provided with one thing that makes them such great “students”. Children grow up in a safe environment. That environment is provided by the family in which the child lives. The child thus has the opportunity to learn whatever he is interested in, without any fear of failure, because the family is there to absorb all these teachings and look at the whole process with benevolence. A child will not be “fired” if he breaks a plate while studying the hardness of porcelain. We are often inclined to say that naughty children are the ones who “learn” most. And best of all, children are learning today with a very popular “learning by doing” methodology.

To what extent are today’s organizations able to provide a secure environment for growth and development, both for individuals and teams? The answer to this question defines the potential success or failure of a company. Is the organization willing to forget about its KPIs for a while, or at least put them aside and focus on its employees and their learning? How much do leaders in organizations really believe that the whole system can be improved by focusing on the individual? How many leaders are able to tell a member of their team that it doesn’t matter what he did wrong, it is just important that he learned something from that mistake. These issues, as well as many others, define the culture of an organization. Only an organization that changes its thinking and culture radically and focuses on learning can become resistant to most of the changes in which they develop their business. There are basically two types of company reactions when it comes to the changing environment in which they operate.

The first is that they try to react to changes by changing processes or procedures, which is very logical, at first glance. Management will analyze the new crisis situation, define the criteria for and against and make some strategic decisions. Such strategic decisions are further transformed into new procedures and processes and move with additional training of all employees. Depending on the industry, it often happens that a new change in the market appears, which needs to be reacted to as soon as possible. The management of the company is back together, a new strategy, new decisions, processes and procedures are sent again to the rest of the company who need to learn and adopt them. The general impression is mostly the following: the company has a great management that reacts in a great way and solves every new situation. We also have the rest of the company constantly wondering how long they will learn new procedures and rules and why they are constantly being buried in them. The rest of the company is not educated, the rest of the company is simply trained to adopt and work according to those new rules. This model of learning has proven to be unsustainable in the long run and often causes a large outflow of staff from the company.

A different type of reaction is when the company clearly and transparently communicates what is happening in the market. When they talk about the challenges ahead of them in an honest way, but also the benefits if they are successfully overcome. The company then starts executing the communication strategy, and various workshops are held on the topic of new changes and the reasons for their existence. Teams at all levels are working to find a new business model that is more suited to the new market situation. There are two benefits to this approach. First, everyone knows and understands what is happening in the market and why a reaction is necessary. Secondly, one gets the strong impression that everyone has contributed to the development of a new and better business model. In this way, the organization really educates people to understand the changes and not be afraid of them. It educates them to recognize new opportunities in change, to accept them bravely and to learn to live with them. This is exactly the reason why every new change will be accepted as something that is normal and expected, and the processes and procedures are there only to additionally support the employees in that. The organization encourages its employees to research and experiment and to dare to do something they believe is good. The culture of such an organization is a culture that is not afraid of mistakes. On the contrary, this culture encourages someone who made a mistake while looking for new business models and provides him with the best conditions to learn from that mistake. Thomas Edison himself had a great saying, “I didn’t make a mistake 100 times, I just found 100 ways something doesn’t work!” Such bold statements require a safe learning environment. In such an environment, team members will not laugh at someone who made a mistake, but will encourage him to learn a lesson from it together with all of them and LEARN something from it. An employee who is not afraid of mistakes and does not carry the ballast of a culture of fear in which he points his finger at the one who makes a mistake, achieves great results. Unencumbered by “false” responsibility, the employee paves the way for his creativity and innovation, and great results are achieved.

Creating a safe environment requires a huge shift of mindsets. The organization needs to have the courage to pause, set aside KPIs for a moment, and think carefully about which business model is right for the current environment. Will the optimization of people and processes lead to the realization of KPIs, or will they boldly optimize their business model and implement another, much more resistant to change? More time that pays off many times over. It just takes courage to accept the process of change and its duration.

About Srdjan Pavlovic 40 Articles
Srdjan is a professional and agile coach with more than 20 years of experience in the field of leadership, professional and agile coaching. He is guided by the mission of creating synergies between professional and agile coaching, combining best tools and practices. He is Certified Team Coach awarded by Scrum Alliance, Professional Certified Coach awarded by ICF (International Coaching Federation), and Agile Team Facilitator awarded by IC Agile. Srdjan was the first Director of Internal communication at ICF Serbia chapter. His focus is business agility and new ways of doing business. It helps companies develop agile mindsets and processes, different types of leadership, and new business models. In March 2018, he established a people development magazine “Business coaching”. That is his contribution to the best practices and knowledge sharing. The magazine is free of charge and supported by many individuals, organizations and corporations.

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