Use Learning to Engage Your Team

I’ve changed job in March 2019 and shortly after came across this Harvard Business Review Podcast posted one year earlier, titled “Use Learning to Engage Your Team”. It resonated with me as it described pretty well what I was experiencing. Maybe something you should consider too, when changing job, hiring or on-boarding newcomers.

This post is inspired by both the podcast episode and my own experience. The original podcast and its transcript can be found here : https://hbr.org/ideacast/2018/05/use-learning-to-engage-your-team.html

Hire someone who still needs training

The podcast starts with this intriguing question about which person to hire: “someone who has all the skill and experience and can hit the ground running, or someone who might need a little additional training?” While many managers would probably go for the person who can just do the job well from day one, Ms Whitney Johnson, an executive coach, adds a warning: a person who can come in that doesn’t need any training will get bored really quickly, and this brings up an unexpected problem.

The rationale of hiring someone who still needs some training instead is based on the S-shaped learning curves of a path of learning. Learning something new, including the way the new company ticks, the rules, the rituals, etc. starts at the bottom of the S. Beginners and newcomers are inexperienced and confused for a while.

It will take some time for a new hire to make sense of the job and the all there is to know in the company, maybe as much as six months or even more, depending the complexity of what is to know, the available training material, management or peer guidance, mentorship, etc.

This is important to be aware of for both the new hire and management because it will avoid discouragement and disappointment. Management should take the S-curve into consideration when planning the milestones on expected outcome, achievement, etc. but also as a means of motivation.

Fact is that it is motivating starting at the low-end of the S and building up confidence as well as competence over time. It is exciting to climb up the learning curve instead of getting bored mastering everything too soon or not learning anything new at all.

The top of the S-curve is where the excitement of learning exhausts. Continuous learners or those longing for the feel-good sensation of learning will look to disrupt themselves in order to start all over. This could come at the expense of the actual company.

Beyond motivation, opportunities

Letting newcomers have opportunities to learn is not only a matter of motivation, it can also lead to uncover improvement or business opportunities, potentially strategic opportunities within the organization with the questions of newbies. This works regardless of prior experience.

It is common to ask new hires to share their first impressions about the company in a ‘discovery report’. This one should not be used to gather praises but to surface improvement ideas thanks to the fresh eyes.

People on top of their learning S-curve are the most suitable to mentor the learners and find motivation for themselves. Not necessarily in additional learning, but in taking care of the newcomers, as mentors, coaches or buddies.

Confronting learners and experienced folks can lead to discover new opportunities, think differently or even disrupt the current way of doing things.

Ignoring the S-curve is bearing the risk for people, newcomers as well as experienced, to stay too long on the top plateau where they’re “going to get bored, and when people are bored; they either leave; or they get complacent and they stay”, Johnson warns.

There is of course a lot more shared in the podcast, especially about people not eager to learn new things and those comfy in their routine, etc. I encourage you to listen to the podcast or read the transcript.

Why it resonates with me

Most of what is discussed in the podcast applies to my own situation as of April 2019, less than 3 months after changing job. I was hired because of my experience in industry and consulting among other things, but was also put in a favorable learning position.

By favorable learning position I mean make it clear that it will take time to get familiar with the company rules and rituals, the offering and the customers, the skills and competences in-house and those still to be developed and that’s okay and time and resources are allocated for that. Then for me as a perpetual learner, giving me the chance to access a huge knowledge base and freedom to experiment is both great and uplifting.

Even you readers may have some benefit as many upcoming posts on this blog will be inspired by my learning, my readings and discoveries in the coming months. If you like it, tell it and share it!

About the author, Chris HOHMANN

About the author, Chris HOHMANN

View Christian HOHMANN's profile on LinkedIn

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