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How to Build a Continuous Learning Culture - A Conversation with Nigel Paine

The great folk at Deloitte did some research that found companies with a continuous learning culture are more successful than their counterparts. 

They’re 46% more likely to be first to market, they experience 37% more productivity and are 92% more likely to innovate. 

But how do you build a continuous learning culture? 
 
And is it possible to transform an organisation where learning has always been about classrooms and courses to a place where learning drives high performance, retention and employee happiness? 

According to Nigel Paine, it is.

With over twenty years’ experience in leadership, innovation and online learning, Nigel has seen and been part of some incredible transformations. 

He recently joined our very own Ilona Brannen on a webinar to talk about how to create a continuous learning culture. He shared some incredible stories of transformation with us.  

This episode 👇 is the recording of that webinar and it’s absolute gold!

Here are some of my favourite parts from the conversation 👇🏼


  • [05:00] What is a learning culture?  ”It is not a static thing, you don't have it or you don't, you don't switch it on on a Monday switch it off on a Tuesday afternoon. It's a dynamic process
  • [06:00] The importance of nurturing curiosity “I can't see any substitute for curious. Well informed staff who not only help themselves learn, but share that learning and behaviour in a collegiate manner across the organisation. That's absolutely critical”
  • [17:20] Why trust is fundamental and how it drives engagement. “People get up in the morning, looking forward to their job, doing way, way better. They’ll be much more willing to share, learn, build themselves and their career and with that company”
  • [22:30]Why learning isn’t training. “If you read the last Towards Maturity report, something like 68% of organisations focus their efforts on building learning programmes. And yet 90% of the staff said that what was important was the conversations with their peers, that's where they learn the most”
  • Throughout, Nigel shares stories about how organisations like Microsoft, WD-40, HT2 Labs, Southwest Airlines and others transformed their businesses through building a culture of continuous learning. 

    Happy listening! 

     

Links We Love ❤️

Say hello 👋🏽 to Nigel on LinkedIn or Twitter

Check out Nigel's website 🖥
Listen to Nigel's podcast 🎙 From Scratch 
Read this book 📘Hit Refresh: A Memoir by Microsoft’s CEO Satya Nadella
Read this article 📝 How WD-40 Created a Learning-Obsessed Company Culture 

Transcript

*There’s a chance this transcript has a few spelling errors. I use a wonderful transcription tool called Otter to transcribe the audio. He's usually super accurate but he does get the odd word wrong. But please don’t hold it against him 😊


[Ilona Brannen]
Now today's webinar is very exciting and I can't wait to introduce Nigel and get started.


[Nigel Paine]
Thank you and welcome everybody. I really appreciate you all coming and giving me an excuse to talk about learning culture. It's something that I spent a year of my life researching, and then another six months of my life writing about it. So I've got something to say you might disagree with me, but at least I've got some strong views and some evidence to present to you.


[Nigel Paine]
This is the book workplace learning how to build a culture of continuous employment. I'm a presenter of learning on our television show, I do a weekly podcast called From Scratch. I write a lot and I work with a lot of companies. I'm about to leave the UK for the US this weekend. And I'm presenting at the learning 19 conference in Orlando, the amazing Learning Conference in Orlando. So I get around, I'm going from Orlando to Mexico, before I get back to London. So there's a lot of people from a lot of countries who are interested in these ideas. And I really am very, very pleased to share them with you, whether you're from Indonesia, or just down the road in London. 


Let's have a talk. Let's work out what we're going to do. But I really have one only one goal coming out of this webinar. And that is, I want you to feel that you've got enough from the webinar to begin the journey or to enhance the journey if you're already there, is I want action to happen as a result of this webinar. So the the focus will be on what you can do to overcome the challenges or first steps or what steps you need to take if you move in this direction. And I think it's a very important direction. And I'll explain why I think it's an important direction as we go forward. So if you want to People the chat box with what you want to get out of the webinar that will be very, very helpful. So just tell us Continental 40 years in online learning. My goodness, as if 40 years seems like, Look, there was no online learning. But of course, when you go back 40 years, it's only in the 80s. There was much going on in the 80s. 


And my book, he goes back to the 80s, and 90s, and traces the history of the learning organisation and learning culture, from those great thinkers then and brings it all up to date. 


But anyway, let's talk about learning culture. And this is my strong, strong metaphor that runs through the book and that is, learning culture is like an organisational gyroscope. And what I mean by that is, is very simple, that when you fly in an aeroplane, there is a gyroscope, probably lots of gyroscope. So there's at least one gyroscope in the cockpit. And that gyroscope has one unbelievably important function. It tells the pilot where the horizon is, and it then tells the pilot where the nose of the plane is in relation to that horizon. 


So that means when it's pitch dark, thick fog Pilot knows where the plane is in relation to the external environment. And that is pretty vital. And that invention was one of the critical inventions that led to modern aeroplanes and modern aviation. So I extend that as a metaphor. 


And what I think is that an organisation, learning and an organisation, is the gyroscope that allows the organisation to keep on track. And what spins that gyroscopes, a gyroscope, if any of you had a gyroscope as a child, it's a lump of metal until you spin it. And when it's spun, it's got the most extraordinary energy and capability is a really interesting piece of physics. When you look at the forces at work in a gyroscope. I think it's learning that creates those forces and allows the organisation to see where it is and where it's going. 


So I would define a learning culture as follows. This is my definition. I don't really care what other people say. This is what I invented. It emerged From my work with large numbers of organisations and from reading about learning culture, so I think it is not a static thing, you don't have it or you don't, you don't switch it on on a Monday switch it off on a Tuesday afternoon. It's a dynamic process. 


And the key is that you take insight and knowledge from outside the organisation, and share it across the organisation, and turn that insight into action. So that learning then becomes embedded and influences every part of the workflow. 


So it is about enabling the workflow and allowing people to make those adjustments sometimes or sometimes to be in the light of a very volatile and choppy, external environment. And for me, I can't see any other way of doing it. I can't see any substitute for curious, well informed staff who not only help themselves learn, but share that learning and behaviour in a collegiate manner across the organisation. That's absolutely critical. 


If you can think of other ways, please share them with me, I've never found them. But the point about it is, and this is where I think a lot of focus on learning culture goes wrong, they focus on the individual, we increase the quantity of learning up pops a learning culture, I think exactly the other way around. 


If we focus on building a learning culture, up pops the learning, and where you have an organisation where you've got expert individuals who don't share and focus on their own needs, you do not have a learning culture, and it's actually very destructive, and very, very difficult. And you often run into this. 


[Ilona Brannen]
Yes, sorry. We've had a couple of questions which really relate to this quite well. And it's the people who want to understand a bit more about changing that mindset. So how to get organisations to understand that training isn't learning, they're changing the culture from order taker to almost, you know, self actualised learners to transform this culture. 


[Nigel Paine]
That's a really very, very good point. And, but what I would say is that you have to start having a big conversation. Not a small narrow conversation, I wanted to call the book ‘Look Up’. And the publisher said that was the most ridiculous thing I've ever heard of. And there are 150 books called Look Up. So that was thrown out. But the point is that if you start to look at the whole organisation to understand what's going on in the inside the organisation going on in the organisation, rather than focus on let's develop another programme or let's get let's get a bit of training going, you then have a different conversation that isn't about we need a training course. You have a conversation about how do we engage employees? How do we begin to problem solve better? How can we share best practice passed around the organisation? How can we better understand what our customers need? How can we see the issues and challenges that our staff face in order to do their jobs? 


They're the kinds of conversations that you need to have. So it's a bigger, more holistic conversation. And then you get those four points in the on the right hand side of the screen collaboration, sharing, purpose and autonomy. It's about collaborating and being willing to collaborate and share, but doing it with a sense of purpose, everyone facing in the right direction and with autonomy so that you've got an area where you are trusted to move forward on your own. 


And I was working in Australia with a group and one of them was my bank. And he said, You know, I've realised that the purpose that we allow in this bank really only concerns about 30% of the staff, or 70%, who have no real contribution to that purpose. And he said, we've got to change that we've absolutely got to change that. And it's that sort of insight. So you have a common purpose. 


And you focus on that collaboration and learning and for the learning team, it's about facilitating, enabling, working with not about controlling, delivering, providing, because if you can get it right, the learning will take care of itself. 


Almost people will find their own level. They will come to you and say we need some help with this. And that won't be ‘give us a course’ it will be ’Can we have a better place to share?’ 


In my model, you don't just bring in technology. If you say, for example, we're gonna get Fuse and Fuse will be a brilliant way of collaboration and sharing it is. But you have to have the right climate, in order for Fuse to flourish. Just bringing in technology does not solve your problems. 


Technology is an enabler, works with moving things forward, but it doesn't do it all on its own. If you have people who are miserable and don't want to share and don't collaborate, sticking in the most wonderful technology in the world isn't gonna help you much. 


And then you're going to complain a year later, well, no one's using it. They're not using it because there isn't a culture of using work on the culture, get the conditions right. And back. The whole thing was so good, thank you. I'm really pleased about that.


[Ilona Brannen]
Let me see what else have we got?


[Nigel Paine]
I'm just trying to look through the chat. I'm going to stop and ask you to do a poll. Maybe I'll come on to the poll now. Ask if you can just answer the question. Where are you in the learning culture? So are you right? You know you're coming to this webinar, because you really don't really know much about it at all. You're right at the beginning of the journey, trying to get your head around it. Are you moving somewhere down the path? We've made real progress, or are you done and dusted? I suspect that those were done and dusted. wouldn't wouldn't be here. So let me know if you could answer. One of those, pick one of those. And we'll see. Meanwhile, I'm going to go back through so much contribution already. I'm really delighted. Thank you. I profoundly thank you for making the points that you're doing. It's great and makes me feel like there's a real real group of people out there. I'm not just talking to blank screen or to a brick wall. So I appreciate this enormously.


Through mindset change, and mindset change means you have to tell people what is expected of them and help them make that move. And we live in often hostile territory in organisations, where a sharing curiosity mindset is frowned on. Now let's get back to work. I didn't tell you to do that. Don't ask questions. Don't waste my time. Don't talk to anyone else. Just do it. And there was a famous bank in the UK whose motto was JFDI. That was what it was known for. If I won't go into the exact meaning the best but I think most of you can guess what it is. It's around the place whenever any issue was there, that command from the manager will be just effing do it. In other words, no questions. No curiosity. No. Why? Just do it? Guess what? In the first ripples of the financial financial crisis, that bag disappeared, almost. And it was awful to see it. Part of that was a culture that didn't allow anything close to them. 


[Nigel Paine]
That's great. So don't just ignore percent, as I suspected. And that's a really good number 60% somewhere on the journey. That's great. So what I hope from today is that we can progress a little bit further down that journey. So, any advice or developments I can use mentioned to my clients practical suggestions, what people need to be doing? Yes, let me just come on to that in one second. And what I want to get: how do I get senior managers on board? And I think that you get senior managers talking about a learning culture and necessarily talk about making this business fine. 


Talk about dealing with some of the issues and conflicts that those managers know all about, talking about the blockages that need to be unblocked in order to make progress. So there are organisations that, to me, embody a learning culture but they never use that phrase. 


So it depends whatever floats your boat. If that is a good conversation, use it. 
If they roll their eyes when you talk about learning culture, don't use it. Talk about increasing productivity, talk about increasing engagement. Talk about about bridging the skills gap talks about a workforce that is updating itself day to day and is pleased and happy to keep up with the changes in role changes and skills. That's the crucial thing. So I'm going to close that poll. Thank you very much for that. That's, that's a very interesting result. 


And onto the next slide. This is the model that I came up with in my book. I try to make it simple. I looked at Josh Burson excellent reports on learning culture, he has 40 criteria for learning culture. So where do you start when there are 40 so I want you to keep it really simple. So there it is there. 


There is an inner and outer circle and what Seems to be clear from the organisations that I worked with was that unless the outer circle was in place, there wasn't much chance of the inner circle working. So for example, I discovered again and again, that there is a massive difference between high trust and low trust organisations. And that may be your starting point. If you're in a low trust organisation, what would it mean to increase the level of trust? Because if you don't trust people, why would you share? Why would you admit mistakes? What you do in a low trust organisation is displace the blame onto someone else. 


Always cover your backside. 
Use BCC as a weapon in the organisation. Never take the blame, never admit, all you do is take the glory whenever the glory is anywhere close to you, if that means stealing the glory from the person who did the work, so be it because it's about us surviving against everyone else collapsing. 


So trust is fundamental, absolutely fundamental. And with trust goes engagement. People get up in the morning, looking forward to their job, doing way, way better. And I'm much more willing to share, learn, build themselves and their career and with that company. 


And those who get up dreading the thought that they got to walk into some place or log on to someplace. And then empowerment - people need to feel that they have some agency in the organisation. Far too many people, very many layers feel they have no agency, no empowerment. And often those people rely on hard power - a designated role to get what they want. This creates a toxic culture I'm referring to.


It's about soft power. It's about people who do things and help because people want to work with you, want to help you, want to be part of your team. Leadership has to embody those. You can't have an engaged empowered and trusting workforce and a toxic leadership. 


Leadership reflects above all the values and the attitude, but the behaviours and the characteristics of the organisation. 


Now it's quite possible for a workforce that is head of the leadership to influence the leadership and help them move the organisation forward. It's also possible for an enlightened leadership to gradually pose some kind of mindset change on the workforce. But things like trust are very hard to win. Unbelievably easy to lose, you can lose trust at the absolutely at the drop of a hat. All you have to do is say one thing, and then do exactly the opposite. And many, many organisations, many leaders seem to think that it doesn't matter what they do. It's only what they say that matters. But we all know that the human brain doesn't work like that. 


I was at a conference the other week in Scotland. And one of the speakers said, Put your hands on your head, everyone put their hands on the head, put your hands on your ears, everyone put their hands on your ears. And then he said, Put your hands on your nose, and then he touched his chin. And immediately everyone put their hands on their chin. They did what he did. I didn't do what he said. And that's just a classic illustration that we watch. And we learn from watching. We don't necessarily do what people say and when there's a contradiction, we always default to behaviour. So behaviour is really important and consistent. I go through the organisation. 


So once the outer circle is beginning to work, then you start with the inner circle, getting opportunities for collaboration, having shared spaces. And this is where technology is really important. I can't say you can do without technology to be honest. You need places where people can question, they can share interesting information, they can ask questions and get them answered. And they can do that with a degree of autonomy. 


If you answer someone's question, it has to be cleared by three other people at a higher level in the organisation, that is not autonomy. Autonomy is where we trust everybody. And the most interesting example of that is the Intellipedia that the CIA launched. 


They have like a Wikipedia of intelligence, and after massive fights. over many years, they experimented and what they discovered was that they could trust their field operator operatives to update the Intellipedia in seconds when anything happened, and it would be reliable, more reliable than effect refer everything back to headquarters in the US. And then back out to the field and also so much more rapid and so much more creating a sense of trust and, and autonomy in the organisation. 


So in to me one answer when people say ‘oh, we never get that in our organisation’. If the CIA complete, I think anyone can do it. They are so Super, obviously super, super security conscious. 


But you've got to trust people. And if you build your organisation around the wickedness of a teeny handful of people, and therefore you default to the worst, you're never going to build a learning culture.


A learning culture defaults to the best. And tries to get people to scale up to the best and not scale down to the worst. 


So then the next question is, who owns the culture? And how do you build it? This? These are some of the questions that you're asking. And I'm just trying to read your comments. So Louise says learning is what is absorbed in embedded as a result of training, reading, watching conversations that take place. Yes, I'm not I'm not saying that training is a terrible thing. We should never do it. But what I am saying, Louise, is that if the sum total of what you consider to be learning is what is trained, then you're missing reading, watching conversations. All of those things have to be enabled. It's very interesting if you read the last Towards Maturity report, something like 68% of organisations focus their efforts on building learning programmes. And yet 90% of the staff said that what was important was the conversations with their peers, that's where they learn the most. So you need to have an organisation that recognises that facilitates it doesn't punish people for daring to be audacious enough to ask a question, or have a conversation. And around that is the whole issue of being able to admit where you what you don't know, admit where something went wrong, and that’s hard in an organisation with low trust. 


[Ilona Brannen]
So there was a comment that I thought was quite pertinent here a question actually from Margaret. And it says, L&D don't always feel empowered to shape culture. So how can they influence it?


[Nigel Paine]
That is another excellent point. Again, what I, one of the starting points that I suggest to organisations is to L&D people, if you're in that position, L&D where, hey, there's a whole od group and there's a whole group here as HR people stick to what you're supposed to do get another course out on the on the LMS. 


Go talk to staff, they'll tell you what stops them doing their best work, what the things that drive them absolutely insane about the organisation are, the kind of blockages, the things that don't help them move forward. If you do that, you can come back and when you present the kinds of challenges anyone without only half a brain will see that this is way more than just ‘it's a training problem - they need more training’, it's much more complicated. And if you're going to move the organisation forward, then the L&D people have to be involved in that bigger picture. 
So maybe not the whole picture, they certainly need to be part of the team that helps build a different kind of organisation. So it's really everyone facing in the same direction, and each group, taking on their level of expertise and doing what they can do best. So you're part of the conversation, you're on the agenda, and you've got some big targets about the way we want the organisation to change. 


So that you know, I don't wanna keep going on about L'Oreal. But in L'Oreal, you've got the CEO saying, ‘we need some fundamental changes in this organisation. Therefore, everybody has to be involved in delivering that’. So that the L&D people were putting on the big programmes and creating the climate and the conversations around the mindset change. The OD people were making structural changes in the organisation. The leadership were pointing towards successes and quick wins as they moved down on the journey. So they were all on the same journey. Each group had their specialists role to play but it was only the total impact that will begin to shift the organisation. 


You don't often shift an organisation through one learning programme, you shift an organisation through making people think differently about the place they come to work for every day. And that's that's much more challenging.


[Nigel Paine]
Yes, I think it is important for the CEO sees the need for change, but if you can open the eyes to see you know, one of my ideas about the model is that organisations are like kind of cells, biological cells, they have very strong walls that are it's very difficult to permeate the cell. And the CEO insulated and isolated than most, because people tell the CEO what they want her to learn. What they think she wants to know. And it all looks pretty good, pretty good from her perspective. 


It's when you confront the CEO with the reality of customer experience, appalling trouble that staff of got trying to do the simplest things, you know, over levels of bureaucracy, bullying, toxic culture, best people leaving all that stuff, you suddenly find a CEO who is doesn't really see any and he thinks things are going along nicely, gets that wake up call. And when they get a wake up call, they will start to... the next question is okay, I get that. So what do we do? You've got to have an answer to that one as well. Not so yeah, it's terrible, isn't it? Agreeing that everything is terrible, it's not great way to move forward. 


And it is true also when a CEO joins, they have not got that impermeable cell wall. They just walk in from outside you go wow, you do that. You treat people like this. You create this. You know, I've been in organisations where they've had attrition rates you know middle managers running at 50% a year. Just Well, that's the way it is, isn't it, you say it is not, that's not true at all. You can reduce that to maybe 10 or 14%, quite easily, really. And you suddenly see little eyes lighting up, because that's going to save them millions and millions of pounds a year, just without having to do unnecessary recruitment. 


So it is about helping people see with fresh eyes, and building an alliance of those people who get it and not worrying too much about the people who don't get it, because they will eventually get it. 


And it's just if you're moving forward in this direction, if you want to change to say to the CEO, we want to change the whole organisation overnight, you're unlikely to get that. If you say, look, can we work with this department, and that's a small group. They're ready for it. Can we experiment with a small group and if it fails, we've lost very little, if it's successful, we’ve got a model for the rest of the organisation, you're much more likely to win. If all else fails, learning team you model the behaviour you model what a learning culture might look like in the learning team itself. 


I remember working with Southwest Airlines and the learning team there. They met every six months and they divided up new ideas, new technologies, new things that they should be aware of me. They said you research that you research that you research that you research. And then they came back again, months later and said, right let's share the learning. And some ideas went nowhere, didn't work, tried it for a week or two, no good. Others became the essence of how they're going to evolve their learning organisation. So they model the behaviour, they wanted in the whole organisation and you can do that to


[Ilona Brannen]
And well, I think we've got some questions that have come through, but I'll save them for a little bit because it'd be great to see what examples we've got.


[Nigel Paine]
There are lots and lots of companies and I'm not going to go through each one of those laboriously but the point this slide should make is that big and small, tech and non tech, public and private, small not for profit and large for profit. There's evidence that it's beginning to work in many different organisations. 


And if you just look at Microsoft, there's a in the book, there's a case study of Microsoft, and I am just, I'm almost overwhelmed with admiration for such an Satya Nadella and what he's done to Microsoft. And he said at the very beginning, when he took over, we're going to be a company of learner tools, not a company know-it tools. And if you worked with Microsoft, as I did, in the old days of Steve Ballmer, it was full of people who never listened. They simply told you, this is our strategy. This is what you need to do to help us with our strategy. You're not interested, clear off, we don't want you. And they will renowned for a level of arrogance and a level of Unknowing about the world. What Microsoft did was right and anything else was rubbish. 


And also for these incredible wars they had between the various divisions of Microsoft, you know, they all seem to be fighting each other for supremacy. 


And what Nadella came in and said, hey, let's focus on the customer. The customer doesn't see 20 different Microsoft's they see one and he's focused on leveraging what they have, and what he's done, for example, with, with Office 365, the amount of apps that link those various key apps like PowerPoint and Word together, the stuff that does the analysis around Outlook is quite extraordinary. 


And the Microsoft Team app that sits in the middle of all of that is a brilliant way for building collaboration. So he's saying, let's focus on making the way people work better not on selling word 25.3 to a group of people and give them features that they don't need. Let's focus on making all of this integrate. 


And what he's done with Office, he's done with the whole organisation. So you end up with everyone being part of the Microsoft team. 
And whether they're in hardware or software, big enterprise software, small desktop software, it's now all integrated. 


And the result is spectacular. What he's done to the market cap of Microsoft is quite extraordinary. It's growing faster than Apple or Google or anyone else over the four years that he's been there. If you'd have stuck a 100 dollars in Microsoft shares on the day here right now that'll be worth close to 1000 now. 
It's just amazing the way that he’s revved up the company, and made everyone feel really proud of what Microsoft does, big and small that he flew to Africa to go to an internet cafe. Because the staff in this internet cafe, pay a pittance in a very small internet cafe in the back streets in some city in Nigeria, what they done is developed an app for those who were disabled to help them make use of the resources and Microsoft app, Microsoft software. 
And he flew to that shop to thank them and to recognise what they'd achieved. And that they that place isn't going to make Microsoft any additional profit. It's not going to boost anything, but it's just a recognition that they're the people who can really enhance the product focus on the needs of specialist needs of customers. They're the people that we want. 


And I just talked about WD-40. Someone said to me the other day, what did you pick WD-40? It's a very simple answer to that. The fact that everybody knows what it is you've got a can in your cupboard. 


The chief executive Gary Ridge came in 10 years ago, when WD-40 had a market cap of 220 million dollars, which is okay. It was seen as an incredibly boring safe investment. It trickled along and grew by, you know, 1 or 2%. Everyone bought their can every, you know, three years or whatever it was, in just a few countries manufacturing in one place. 


10 years on the market cap is now $1.6 billion in manufacturing in 40 countries on sale in 120 countries and continuing to grow strongly. 


And he's done that through empowering his workforce through learning. And one of the phrases in WD-40 is not how you are doing or how brilliant are you? But what did you learn today? What did you learn today means sharing the mistakes as well as the successes. And often we learn more from mistakes than successes. 


And he has a kind of server, I think he calls it Blue Vault where everything is. From the formula of WD-40 through to marketing campaigns, analysis of different markets that they're in successes and failures. It's a kind of repository. And he says, we just make that richer every single day, the company exists because everyone wants to contribute and share the knowledge. 
Everything is transparent in the company. Everyone knows what everyone is paid, it's not a great, it's not a great pay that’s way above the market rate they pay at market rate, but that they pay fairly, they distribute the surplus fairly among staff. 


And the other thing about WD-40, is that if you're a manager, you're not called a manager, you're called a coach. And your job as a coach is to make sure that all the staff who report to you live the values, do their job to the best of their ability, and that is your job. That is your job to enable the people who work for you. 


So it's a very interesting culture focused on creating an environment where staff can flourish. And the results are amazing, I think absolutely amazing. 


And HT2 Labs which is a small UK software company now owned, owned by Learning Pool it was bought while just after the book came out, and Ben Betts who runs the company now. Even though it's a small software company, and even though there's a huge market for good programmers, as you all know, highly competitive market. HT2 had not lost a single coder for five years, that's amazing. Everyone else lost between 40 and 80%. And they stayed because they learned because they love the place. 
And they have staff in Boston, they have staff in Oxford, they have staff in other parts of the country. And once a week at least either Ben or his father who actually works in the company, senior role in the company, they phone up every single member of staff not actually in their main office to make sure everything's okay and find out what they're doing. And on a Friday, they have virtual parties. They stop work at four o'clock, wherever anyone is in the world. They stop at the equipment before but pretty good if you're in the US, because it's only 11 it's only 11am in Boston, and you just have a beer and you talk about a week, how's it gone? What are the issues, and they just stay in touch with each other in an amazing way?


How the company does he's on a whiteboard in the main office for everyone to see. They don't hide stuff, they don't pretend they're doing well when they're not, or pretend they're not doing well when they are. 
So it's a transparent culture that focuses on helping people be their best, and allowing people to completely reinvent their job, if they see the need, if they understand the benefits that could accrue to the company. 


So all of these things are really important. And they make a big difference to every single one of those organisations. And they don't necessarily call themselves learning cultures, but they do call themselves organisations that are happy to share mistakes, happy to build, and learn and grow and get better, day by day, week by week. And that's another important part of the learning culture. 
As I said, at the very, very beginning, a learning culture is not static. It's dynamic. So the way Microsoft was a year ago, it's better this year. It'll be better next year. It's a big company. It's got a way to go on its journey. But it's still on that journey of being a company of learner tools, not a company of knower tools, and I think that's a fantastic expression. And how many of you can put your hand on your heart and say, Oh, yeah, my company is full of learner tools not know it tools. Sadly, most of us don't work in those kinds of organisations. So again, I'm going to pause there. 


This is moving towards the challenges that you face. So can you use the chat box if you agree with me, and maybe some of you will be resisting very hard. But if you agree with me, what's stopping you? And that's what I mean by the greatest challenge. What stops this happening in your organisation? Let's have a look at the challenges, then I share some of the common challenges that people have told me, and maybe some suggestions. I don't have all the answers, but I have at least some of the answers. And often, if you start small you attack if not the whole challenge, part of the challenge. It just gets you into the conversation, and then you begin to have an interesting movement forward. And that's what it's about. It's about moving your organisation forward.


[Nigel Paine]
Doesn't that's a very good question. Let me just pick that one that one Glen ‘Does a learner tools learn the answers information, or is it more about helping them to to learn how and where to find the answers?’ 
It's much more the latter. But a learner all rather than a know it all is someone who is basically humble and curious and asks questions. So you learn what it's like, for example, Microsoft, they spend time listening to customers explaining the challenges they have trying to integrate trying to use some aspects of the software. 
Previously, they had customers who they wanted to listen to to tell them how great Microsoft was and what wonderful products that they created, and they didn't care much beyond that. 


So it's about humble questioning, and about getting at the root cause. Jeff Bezos says it's five or six levels of why. So why does that happen. And then, why does that happen. And why did that cause that to happen. And Jeff Bezos view is that you need to get down to the root cause. Probably layer five before you understand the truth, many organisations rest on the surface. They don't have complex conversations about difficult challenges. That's where you know, accuracy, the Harvard professor who worked with Sergey, in the 80s and 90s and he only died recently he's, he's in a remark or he talks about wicked problems about double loop learning. It's not good enough just to think you have the answer. You have to question whether that is the real answer or whether there's a different problem hiding masquerading amongst the superficial answer that you have to really investigate and you need to be questioning and listening and sharing and consulting, to be able to deal with that, and that's I think why action learning, which was invented in the 70s and died to death in the, in the 90s and 2000s is coming right back because the action learning is about a group of colleagues, asking questions to really profoundly understand the issue that they're dealing with, and more and more people are having to deal with what Agrius will call wicked problems eye problems that can't be solved superficially and need time and effort, and more than one brain, and certainly not an expert. 


Experts know the answer to certain things, experts in wicked problems can often get in the way because they come up with a pat answer, whereas you need to drill down an organisation where that kind of profound learning takes place solves its problems, far, far quicker than an organisation that appears to have all the answers, and it has all the answers until it collapses. 


And it's also part and parcel of that learning culture, colleagues coming together and solving problems, and I just wrote a report on innovation and leadership development across 14 big companies in Europe. And interestingly, peer learning is one of the big trends in leadership development now because waiting for someone to do it to you. When you've got a, it's too complicated. You need to do it to yourself and work it out together is by far the most useful way forward because things change so quickly by the time you've brought the person in to tell you what to think of what to do. It's already changed. So focusing on peer group learning usually through action learning that's the most common form of peer group learning that I've discovered certainly in leadership development.


[Ilona Brannen]
We've had a couple of questions come in actually about budget. So yes, you have any comments about budget being a big challenge for this?


Yes, I have. And I think it's true that if there is no money to do anything it's very hard to do anything. But often, the problem with budget is overestimated that you can do stuff, just by getting people to work, you can do stuff by negotiating someone else's money, and someone else's budget if they think they're going to go to a result, they'll pay for it. 


And in some ways, not coming laden with goods is a good way of encouraging people to really look at where the benefits lie and putting their money where their mouth is. 


In the US, there is a qualification for an action learning facilitator, no such thing exists in the UK, and there are 10s of thousands of action learning sets which go on very successfully around the UK, which have been kicked off for around the world being kicked off by someone who's not certified, but knows what they're doing, and often that's the learning person. And the learning person, then can share their expertise with someone else and they can take over. So facilitation is important, but it doesn't have to be certified facilitation. 
That can be helpful, but it's not essential. 
So I think where you're looking for money to get someone qualified to do something that no one's clear of the benefit is unlikely to succeed as the first thing they do is say you're not sure about that. And then you've got you're paralysed. I think you've got to make progress without needing to get some big external validation, maybe that comes later. 
You know, it's like saying, If I had an MBA, I'd be much better at this. So would you pay for an MBA, the answer is probably in many instances, no, I wouldn't pay for an MBA, but there's stuff you can do that allows you to get some of those skills, and implement some of those skills, without actually having to go through an MBA, but maybe somewhere down the track.


[Ilona Brannen]
We have had a really interesting question actually coming from Vera just about any ideas on language. So you know we're working in 20 plus countries working in an organisation which is global. So how do you decide what needs to be distributed on a global versus what is not necessarily.


[Nigel Paine]
Yes, I think that's true. And there's always that battle between Central and distributed and central culture, and local culture. To me, if you're if you're having these conversations what you're aiming for is a set of behaviours and a set of actions, but you're not determining the exact pathway. For example, in some organisations. Getting peer to peer communities to open up is more challenging than others. So, if you impose that, you're not going to get a good result. If you work with those cultures where that is familiar and comfortable, and then show those cultures where it isn't the kinds of benefits, then they will work it out themselves, and they'll get there. So I think you allow as much flexibility in terms of the local environment and the local culture, but you don't you don't compromise on behaviour for example you don't say well in this, in this particular culture bullying is just as regularly what people do so, we just turn a blind eye to that. No you don't, if you're serious about building a learning culture. If you have bullying and shouting, that is not acceptable, maybe more difficult to deal with in certain places. And, but that's still no excuse for putting up with things so you just work out what you need, you work out what are the outcomes you want to achieve. And then you expect everyone to begin to deliver those in the way that is most appropriate.


[Ilona Brannen]
Yes, yes, we have about five minutes left so I just wanted to give enough time to have any final questions and so to wrap up. 


[Nigel Paine]
These are a few challenges that that people will tell me the problem of building trust. Getting leadership support influencing the organisation. How do you create purpose. And, of course, how do you develop engagement. And what about places to share. So, there are just I'm not going to read those out because that'll be enormously tedious, but you can see that there are
always places to start. And you've got to work out your own particular direction and work out where the biggest challenges are, particularly the biggest challenges that are relatively easy to overcome. And then you can begin to transform the organisation. 


If you look at these, for example, in terms of leadership support, ask for executive sponsorship of any programme. If you ask for sponsorship, you're not demanding support, you're getting the person on the executive who is sympathetic at least and say, would you sponsor this. Once you've got someone sponsoring it, guess what, they're committed. And if it's a success, you take them in and you show them the elements of the programme. They then talk to other executives and that little simple thing that costs nothing that takes no time or effort, and it's very little very non onerous for the individual concerned, can be the key that opens the door to the whole leadership team. 


So it's very important that you find out what you need to do to understand what needs to be done in the organisation to take it forward and there is no formula. You need to work out the small things that unlock the bigger steps to progress that's absolutely critical. 


Once I was in the US and I wrote programme with mme and someone said hey you're in the US, why don't you spell like us. So I made a point of changing my spelling depending on where I am, which is really good until I start writing stuff and then I get hopelessly muddled up with bad spelling behaviour and break, and so on. But I think you're right. If you are in the US, it's definitely the best way to spell, if you're in the UK, it's probably not the best way to spell that sound. Let's celebrate everyone else's differences.


And the purpose around helping everyone live values. You can do so much work on helping people understand why the organisation has values, and what it means to live the values, and many organisations still just kind of put them up on the wall. That's the last you ever hear, see or do about the values, whereas at the heart of the values can be a massive guide to behaviour. And in WD-40, they have the values in a hierarchy. So, when there's an issue you go to value one, if that's okay, you go to value two. And that is enormously helpful they claim that it sorts out virtually any conflict. Go back to the values. 


So,there are ways forward, which you could develop learning around the values for example, if you think of, if you're if your perception is that's a bad one, but they are badly used. 


Right so we're coming up to the end. So and pick up any last points, or we don't have time left the question but we can follow up with any questions, and by email afterwards because we've actually run out of time for today.


Yeah. So, please, that would always take some action.


What are you going to do just just it when, when we finished this webinar which is in less than 30 seconds. Please don't just go off, go back to your calls and just sit and think a little bit and say, What did I really get out of this. What would I do as a result of this, and then write down the one action, we're going to take. 


I think that will make things so much more tangible and helpful for you coming all the way. But thank you for so many comments have been almost impossible to keep pace with number of comments and if I miss something I really apologise. I did my best. But um, I couldn't scroll through everything as fast as it was, It was airing on the screen. So


I think we're, we're done. It's great, thanks thanks for sticking with it. 
There's so many coins coming in saying thank you so I think for everybody but for everyone. And certainly, thank you for mastering today it's been really illuminating.


Thank you very much indeed. Thank you all at Fuse Universal as well for having the idea of the webinar, facilitating it so well. And also getting so many people online. Fantastic. Thank you. 

Nihal Salah
Jun 29 2020

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