When a person starts a new job they expect to be provided the resources, information, and tools to perform the functions of the job. This expectation applies no matter what level they are hired for in the organization. In turn, the organization expects that person to bring all the knowledge, skill, and potential for which they were hired to contribute to the organization’s success. An initial partnership is formed. Is this basic expectation set sufficient for ongoing success of the individual and the organization? In very few cases it might be. However, in most jobs, the organization hopes for and expects growth in that individual, whether it is in increased proficiency, expanded roles, or leadership and promotion. Stagnation is a huge risk for the individual as well as the organization. So, how do we promote appropriate growth for individuals working in organizations?

Could we consider that focusing on educational excellence in the workplace may be necessary beyond the “on-the-job training” that generally and naturally occurs? Educational excellence means focusing on strategies that are effective for employees and the organization.  As was quoted in an email from our CEO this week, “No one can do your pushups for you, only you can decide to learn and use the information.”  So education in organizations is a combination of employer and employee responsibility. The employee must be self-motivated to learn and grow, and the organization can focus on using approaches, strategies, and educational opportunities that best promote useful expansion and growth.

The great organizational theorist Peter Sengee captured the term “the learning organization.” In his book, The Fifth Discipline, Sengee proposes “the basic meaning of a ‘learning organization’ is an organization that is continually expanding its capacity to create its future. For such an organization it is not enough merely to survive. ‘Survival learning’ or what is often termed ‘adaptive learning’ is important – indeed it is necessary. But for a learning organization, ‘adaptive learning’ must be joined by ‘generative learning,’ learning that enhances our capacity to create.” In his work Sengee speaks of the whole organization as a “learning organization.” In this system, individuals collectively make up this generative learning process.

Organizations promote educational excellence in a variety of ways:

  1. TQM or the total quality management movement has focused on efficiency improvement. This can affect all levels in an organization to inspire a focus on creating better processes to create better results. Educational opportunity such as “six sigma” and “lean six sigma” have focused high-level education primarily on upper level managers to create greater efficiency.
  2. In our EAP services through MINES and Associates, most of our client companies contract for a certain number of training hours. These contracted hours can be used for “lunch and learn” presentations offered to a wide range of employees on various topics such as communication, time management, financial issues, nutrition, or even humor and creativity in the workplace. Companies may choose to target these educational hours towards managers growing their management skills or to specialized departments on their interests or skill development needs.
  3. In our work in BizPsych we may determine from an organizational assessment that a work group needs specific skill building such as conflict management skills or alignment skills.
  4. Many organizations offer tuition assistance for employees to promote their own education, either related specifically to their jobs or to help them grow and develop in the directions of their choosing.

In any of these cases, if we consider it to be an organization’s essential responsibility to focus on providing educational opportunities for employees to grow in their work, it is important to focus on strategies that are most effective. Thus, many larger employers create “Learning and Development” teams and specialists dedicated to this pursuit. Strategies that are effective would define educational excellence in organizations. We may then move closer to Sengee’s ideals of creating learning organizations who build the capacity to “create their futures.”

Patrick Hiester, MA, LPC
Vice President, BizPsych