The value of learning ‘in the flow of work’
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The value of learning ‘in the flow of work’

What does employee learning look like? Is it mainly a matter of formal training courses, delivered on- or off-site?

It doesn’t have to be. In fact, one of the most impactful — and cost-effective — approaches is what training professionals call “learning in the flow of work.”

Executives at Amazing If, a career consultancy, say this concept is built on the principle that learning is an integral part of work, not just an event or series of events. “Whereas we used to go to work to learn a job, learning is now the job,” they wrote in the Harvard Business Review. “The priority is to increase the learning people gain from the meetings, projects and tasks that are already part of their jobs.”

For learning in the flow to be effective, they say, it needs to be embedded in the rhythms and routines of people’s way of working.

Action steps

What does this mean in terms of action that managers can take? The authors prescribe three practices:

  1. “Mistake moments.” Managers can encourage employees to share with someone else when they make a mistake. People then examine what can be learned from the mistake. These moments can be normalized by using a phrase that people feel comfortable with, like, “I’ve had a mistake moment. Do you have five minutes to talk about it?”
  2. Spotting strengths. Managers can point out what individuals or teams are doing well, prompting people to think about their strengths and how to build on them. This positive feedback can sound like, “I see you at your best when you …” or “One of the ways I see you have a positive impact is …”
  3. Three Ps. Pitch, prototype, pilot. Experimenting with new ways of doing things, or fresh project ideas, is a great way for employees to learn. Managers can give people room to learn without risking undesirable business outcomes with the Three Ps technique. The manager encourages people to propose (Pitch) their ideas, helps people understand what would have to happen for the idea to be implemented (Prototype), and assists in setting up a trial (Pilot) of the idea.

Nobody ‘owns’ learning

The authors point out that learning in the flow assumes a shift away from the idea that learning is “owned” by anyone, like managers or training pros. Instead, they say, learning should be seen as a collective responsibility and part of the culture.

It requires that individuals and teams take consistent action to foster learning — not wait for it to be delivered on a silver platter. Remember, learning is now the job.

This blog entry is based on the following article: Tupper, H., & Ellis, S. How to Help Your Team Learn in the Flow of Work, Harvard Business Review, Feb. 15, 2023.

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