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


Posted by Maren Fox - 12 February, 2018

Millennials replaced baby boomers as the largest segment of the U.S. workforce in 2016, and 10,000 new baby boomers reach retirement age every single day. As the workforce turns over, 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 learning culture.

Analysts estimated a few years ago that Fortune 500 companies lose $31.5 billion each year because employees fail to share knowledge with coworkers. And the rapid shift in workplace demographics that’s taking place could put the actual costs much higher. To ensure that retiring baby boomers don’t ride off into the sunset without sharing critical knowledge, 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 indicates 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 are processed in the same area of the brain as those we experience. So, when it comes to changing perceptions of ourselves and others, engaging 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. And 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 effect in another. Here are two ways to effectively incorporate self development books into training and development programs to help nurture humble learners:

  • Self-guided. 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 our personal goals and aspirations will speak the loudest; giving employees some say in the material, or incorporating their feedback when selecting materials, 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 parts, and held discussions and related leadership training for each part over the course of a year. A study on the leadership book club found that it had successfully achieved longitudinal training goals across multiple residency programs. Using a club format can boost engagement and help 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. That, 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 both create new experiences and enable knowledge transfer between employees.

As Peterson and Kolk write in How You Learn is How You Live, “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 us to convert concepts learned in more traditional training programs into real world experience. Earlier in his career, Kolb broke this type of experiential learning down into four key steps:  

  • The concrete experience, or doing or assisting with the task at hand
  • Reflection, or understanding and internalizing what was experienced
  • Abstract conceptualization, or drawing conclusions from the experiences
  • Active experimentation, or applying what was learned in the process

Research that mentorship programs can help foster the experiential learning process. 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 additionally 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, Gallup reports. A meta analysis of the impact of mentorship programs identified a few key ways for younger employees to put knowledge 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’s the value of knowledge if it isn’t shared? Not much!, unfortunately. In fact, it can cost you. Analysts estimated years ago that Fortune 500 companies lose $31.5 billion per year from employees failing to share knowledge with coworkers. And, as an average 10,000 baby boomers reach retirement age each day, the cost of lost or unshared knowledge only continues to grow. By creating a culture of collaborative learning, traditional training and experiential learning can help foster knowledge transfer — and cultivate the next generation of organizational leaders.

Want to know more about the BK Way?  Check out our new leadership paradigm infographic!

Topics: Your Organization, Talent Development, personal development

Recent Posts