Learning to Learn: How to Leverage Knowledge in the Office, and How Self-Development Books Can Help

by Maren Fox

February 12, 2018

As 10,000 baby boomers reach retirement age each day, it’s no surprise that millennials have replaced baby boomers as the largest segment of the U.S. workforce in 2016. With this growing workforce turnover, a “knowledge transfer” continues to unfold between baby boomers and younger generations. To foster that exchange, business leaders must leverage a complete package of employee development tools to create a culture of learning.

With Fortune 500 companies standing to lose more than $31.5 billion each year because employees fail to share knowledge with coworkers, it’s vital now more than ever for organizations to ensure baby boomers don’t retire and take critical knowledge with them. Business leaders should implement well-rounded training structures that leverage self-development books and other training materials, as well as structures that use experiential learning and mentorships to put new ideas and concepts into practice.

Setting the Stage for “Humble Learners” With Traditional Training

Reading has a powerful impact on how we perceive ourselves and the outside world. In fact, research has indicated that reading about an experience can be almost as powerful as living it. That’s because detailed descriptions, powerful metaphors, and personal interactions that we read about activate the same area of the brain that processes experiences. So, when it comes to changing perceptions of ourselves and others, engaging the knowledge behind traditional training resources like self-development books holds great potential.

In How You Learn is How You Live, Kay Peterson, an organizational development consultant and founder of the Institute for Experiential Learning, and David Kolb, an educational theorist who focuses on experiential learning, write that learning first requires us to give up the certainty of knowing something. The “humble learner,” the authors continue, recognizes that learning is a never-ending process, which “allows them to admit limitations and mistakes and be willing to learn from others.” In other words, you can’t learn unless you’re willing to learn.

Of course, books and traditional training materials that evoke powerful reactions in one person might not have the same affect on another. Here are two ways to effectively incorporate self-development books into training and development programs to help nurture humble learners:

  • Self-guided opportunities. Empower employees to seek out growth and learning opportunities on their own, and reward them for dedicating time to learning. Offer access to digital learning platforms, reading lists, or even an old-fashioned library. Self-development books that speak to personal goals and aspirations will speak the loudest. Giving employees some say in the material—or incorporating their feedback when selecting new materials—also can help.
  • Book clubs. Pharmacy residents at Tampa General Hospital formed a “leadership book club” in which they selected a book, broke it down into four sections, and held discussions and leadership training for each section over the course of a year. A subsequent study on this leadership book club found that it had successfully achieved longitudinal training goals across multiple residency programs. Using a club format can boost engagement and encourage employees to learn together.

So, how can self-development books help cultivate a workforce of humble learners? By helping people acknowledge their limitations, see new perspectives, and be open to learning new things. This, coupled with organizational structures that combine traditional training programs, experiential learning, and mentorship programs, will effectively leverage knowledge in the office.

Leveraging Knowledge in a Learning Culture

Creating opportunities to engage new experiences is a crucial component to employee development and learning. Mentorship programs are a great way to create new experiences and enable knowledge transfer between employees.

As Peterson and Kolb writes, “Without new experiences there can be no real learning.” That’s because old “habits and beliefs tend to engage automatically,” which transforms new experiences into “an old pattern of response.” At its core, experiential learning offers a path for employees to convert concepts learned in more traditional training programs into real world experience. Kolb has broken this type of experiential learning down into four key steps:

  • Concrete experience: doing or having an experience
  • Reflective observation: reviewing and internalizing the experience
  • Abstract conceptualization: drawing conclusions from the experience
  • Active experimentation: planning or trying out what was learned

According to research in Clinical Child Psychology and Psychiatry, mentorship programs can help foster this experiential learning process. How? A mentor can help direct the mentee’s reflection on the experience, question variables, continue the experience into “uncharted territory,” and identify opportunities for continued education.

Mentorship programs have also emerged as a popular path for organizations to facilitate knowledge transfer among employees. This can be especially effective considering that millennials value career development opportunities above anything else—including pay, according to a Gallup report. Here is how younger employees can put knowledge acquired in a mentorship program into practice:

  • First, mentors can impart specific knowledge and skills about a job that they’ve learned over many years.
  • Second, mentors can connect mentees to professional networks, demonstrate how to manage relationships, find answers to challenges, and resolve conflicts.

Taken together, mentorships allow mentees to put new knowledge and skills into practice more efficiently.

What is the value of knowledge if it isn’t shared? Not much! In fact, it can cost organizations—billions and billions of dollars per year. By creating a culture of collaborative learning, traditional and experiential learning can help foster successful knowledge transfer—and cultivate the next generation of organizational leaders.

Topics: Your Organization, Talent Development, personal development, Organizational Change and Development

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