Time and again, we have been told that people matter. Human beings are not just numbers. We are not designed to punch in a time-clock and go through the motions. In fact, experts have pointed out that they have a humane desire to nurture and develop people who work for companies. After all, it feels good to be optimistic; we want to create a better and more just society.

However, such soft-hearted and romantic notions may not hold much water. What stands in the way is the reality of the workplace.

Do companies really allow and encourage individuals to develop to their full potential? After all, executives are often poor communicators. They are unable and unwilling to challenge the status quo. They can’t seem to learn from their own experiences. Change is a bad word in their dictionary. Even when new ideas are implemented, the old theory of control is left intact.

Moreover, there tends to be a mismatch between people and companies. Frequently, employees feel constrained. They are limited by a lack of opportunity for personal and professional growth. In turn, employees have failed to develop themselves. Nor do they accept responsibility for their actions. Even so, responsibility is not a one-way street. Companies change their parking space but are reluctant to change mindsets.

However, today any company that wants to succeed in the tough world of business needs to understand one truism: success depends on learning. Yet, most people don’t know how to learn. Arrogance sets in once people assume they are very good at learning. The problem is, many professionals are successful at what they do. So, they rarely experience failure. That’s why they don’t know how to learn from failure. As a result, success breeds complacency and a sense of entitlement. And then you end up wanting to rest on your laurels.

Unfortunately, companies also tend to be Machiavellian breeding grounds of politics. For example, executives become experts at covering up personal challenges or bypassing such topics during discussions. Thus, meetings tend to focus on trivialities. Moreover, people tend to avoid discussing important issues and blame others for their problems. Such internal wranglings consume too much of he productive energies of the company. Even highly trained and intelligent executives fall into such traps.

As for education, academics tend to be romantic in the pejorative sense. They don’t help such employees connect the dots; nor teach them how theory will help them in practice. After all, reading a 800-page tome on business management won’t necessarily make you an expert. Those theories and principles need to be tested in the workplace.

That’s why critics have pointed out a love-hate relationship between academics and executives: academics tend to live in their ivory-towers and build castles in the sky. By contrast, executives tend to be shallow and are only interested in the pay-off. That’s why turning the learning company into a company which actually implements and practices learning strategies has proved such a daunting task.

The reasons for this are as follows:

  • It requires new skills. Employees must learn to listen with empathy. They must learn how to act like facilitators. Simply dictating adds no value.
  • Trust. Employees find it hard to trust each other because they have been reared on the concept of divide and rule.
  • Dealing with uncertainty. The learning company creates uncertainty and ambiguity in areas which were previously clear. Employees must learn how to manage this nebulous environment. It can be challenging to figure out.
  • Accepting responsibility. Individuals must take responsibility for learning. They cannot blame others for lack of development opportunities. Instead, they must pursue and create their own.
  • Issues over relinquishing power. It is human nature to want to cling to power. In a learning company, managers may have to surrender power to employees. In a learning company, everybody buys into the game. It’s not just the executives who enjoy the perks of power. Each and every employee needs training. Seminars, conferences and modules are not just for the elites.
  • Learning requires flexibility and willingness to risk. Employees are ill at ease with the idea of learning from their mistakes. Instead, they are more likely to sweep those mistakes under the carpet. People feel embarrassed to have to admit to mistakes. They may consider it a personal failure and fear being laughed at. They don’t want to take the blame for making mistakes or even risk social disapproval. Instead, it is better to take it out into the open and attempt to learn from your mistakes. Needless to say, this is easier said than done.

What do you think?

Have you come across some of these tendencies in the workplace?

Would you be willing to share some of your experiences?

Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments.


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