The Emperor has no clothes — and sometimes that is ok!
Knowledge management; identifying, sharing and expanding the organisation’s knowledge base — is a key success driver for many organisations. On a daily basis I am in conversations about how to improve the knowledge of employees, and how that knowledge or lack thereof impacts the company's bottom line.
Knowledge is often seen as something to be controlled, to be shared in organised forms like formal classroom training or eLearning sessions.
This leads to organisations adopting a hierarchical approach to knowledge sharing, with instructors and managers being “experts” — fountains of all knowledge.
Since we take a top-down approach to communication, we control not only the information we pass out, but also the questions that are being asked. In essence we go around saying: “The Emperor is fully clothed — we have all the answers”. We avoid situations where an “expert” would be asked questions that they cannot fully answer, or uncomfortable challenges on policy/process decisions.
It is a very “safe” place for an “expert” to be in, but is it right for today’s rapidly changing business environment? Increasingly we live in a world where people are curious, and immediately google for any information they don’t know. We need to be able to ask others, and spread information from the first point at which an individual tackles a problem and finds a solution. The world moves too fast to pass the message up to the top, create training, and cascade it out to all.
Even more importantly, is this structured, top-down, expert approach to learning the right way to build up teams that are agile problem solvers, able to deal with changing circumstances, and figure things out for themselves?
What if it is sometimes ok to admit weakness? If so, we can admit that we as trainers don’t know everything - and work together with the trainee to find a way to clothe the emperor? We can see it as our role to encourage trainees to show curiosity, feel free to challenge and take the initiative to solve problems as key parts of the knowledge management process.
To be successful in taking such an approach — a few underlying truths need to be accepted.
Passion is not something to be feared
The more we (a manager, a trainer, a person) can get inside the heads of other people, the more we can really connect with them on an individual basis. By taking time to build that insight, their passion becomes not something unknown and risky, but a fire we can fuel: “What will make you love this workplace?”
Curiosity is a powerful force. We naturally desire to understand our world better - and includes our workplace. This also means challenging existing processes: “How it has always be done.”
Knowledge is not something that is only transferred from a central source
Trainers also learn and grow in knowledge through working with different people. It’s a natural part of the process of learning, even on topics they are teaching others. True confidence is shown by trainers who can say “That’s a really good question - I’ll have to think about that” or “I’ve never thought of it that way - but you’re right”. This rewards active learning.
P2P (person-to-person) learning is happening all the time in the workplace. So you need to stop thinking about ‘teaching’ and start to think about ‘creating a situation and rewards within which learning takes place’.
Sharing responsibility for learning with trainees feels scary because it makes you vulnerable. But in the 21st century it is critical to step up, to allow learning to spread beyond “the acceptable borders” of the lesson plan. Experts, policies and process may all be questioned. Both trainers and managers must be prepared for this - indeed relish it.
The trainer’s role is not just that of a demagogue, preaching the truth, but also a facilitator and a diplomat
Trainers and coaches should be skilled at distilling valuable information from discussions and sharing this. After each session, a good question is “What did I learn from this - and who else can it benefit?”
A core skill for both trainers and coaches - which is harder and more valuable than presenting, is to ask questions and use these to guide discussions. Questions can be used to explore a person’s understanding of a subject, as well as their feelings on it. However, even more important is the power of giving trainees the excitement of exploring a subject and working it out for themselves.
Company culture needs to support curiosity driven learning
Right from induction, training needs to have problem solving exercisers as well as P2P learning discussions.
L&D must promote the real tangible value for the company of this approach, through sharing success stories, and celebrate individual and group initiatives in overcoming challenges and learning from others.
Instructors giving feedback on what has been observed during the training sessions; Individual, performance and observations that may benefit others.
How will such an approach benefit the company as whole?
This curiosity driven learning will have positive effects on employee engagement, and their retention within the organisation. It carries the statement that “We are passionate about our work — we wish to improve the workplace world, and I as an employee am an active participant in this change”. In contrast to the view “This is only a job — where I just have to do what I’m told, and be the passive receiver of all change.”
This approach lays the foundation for transference of knowledge across different layers, because with this approach you have a greater number of people to draw on to find solutions to challenges.
When faced with something unexpected, all staff already have the experience and confidence needed to be problem solvers - and they all know how to share their discoveries with others.