Organisational culture is accurately compared to the tip of an iceberg. On the surface, you can only see a small part of it and what is the most important is often invisible to the outsiders. When talking about the culture of an organisation, which places emphasis on learning and development, you can hear about very specific activities and events. And only after that you start to wonder how the things work, why specific activities have been taken, and what are the results that drive the organisation to further action. At REHAU, the story began 12 years ago. For more than a decade, over two months of each year, company employees learn to tap dance or sing as part of preparations for a charity performance, which they give to earn funds for a foundation of their choice. Is it all about the performance or maybe about a range of skills that are acquired in the course of such activities? Monika Dawid-Sawicka talks with Edyta Paul about learning organisation building, taking small steps towards high culture and, of course, the role Zorro plays in the project.
Monika Dawid-Sawicka: How do you define a learning organisation, which focuses on learning and personal development at the workplace?
Edyta Paul: A learning organisation is an organisation, which is open to change and can learn from its own mistakes. However, in order to make sure that these values are cherished at a company, you need a culture of learning that starts with employees and managers who view learning and development - and I am not talking about traditional training here - as a priority. The prime concern for learning organisation’s management is to build the atmosphere of trust, and to foster in their staff members curiosity and eagerness for exploration. You also need to know that you can build a learning organisation only if you accept mistakes and learn from them.
MDS: How do you introduce learning culture to an organisation?
EP: You should start with small steps like asking simple questions at meetings, analysing what lessons have been learnt from a given situation, challenging assumptions and testing hypotheses. It also takes openness in sharing errors and failures within the organisation. Learning organisations have learning, development and self-improvement in their DNA. And this DNA includes really small-scale actions taken by the management and staff on daily basis.
MDS: We are talking about small, everyday matters. Which areas you need to focus on to make sure that the development programme will work?
EP: A development programme needs to respond to individual needs of the staff. If you think that people will be willing to continue learning and developing without a motivation in the form of a benefit they can derive from it you can forget about the success.
You should also remember that learning organisation building without taking bottom-up initiatives into consideration will only be another top-down programme imposed on staff. In such a case, you cannot expect that people will actually contribute to the development of a learning organisation. All you will be left with will be just another slogan in corporate jargon and marketing gibberish. As I have already mentioned, the success of any development programme and change is to create environment, in which people can make mistakes and are willing to learn from such experience. At the same time, they should have advanced skills in the scope of giving and receiving feedback. And here I mean all staff members, not only top management.
MDS: During our previous conversations, you have emphasised that saying: “over the next two hours, you will learn to...", is not as effective as using every opportunity to learn at any time, and you do not necessarily need to call it training. If we can return to the already mentioned method of taking small steps, which ones do you use in your work?
EP: I can think of a few simple practices, which have proven effective in everyday work. First of all, you need to ask a lot of questions like, for example: what have you learned from this situation, discussion, experience? It is worth using every opportunity to deepen your knowledge. When working with clients, we can learn from their experiences. You should think how to make the most of their practices. This means reflecting on and discussing what you have learned from your client. I can see also see the power of feedback provided each and every day, which indicates the actions that we need to repeat, avoid or limit. Mini workshops conducted by employees, as part of which they share valuable skills or knowledge with their colleagues, are very effective. The same is true about tools; it is well worth building internal knowledge bases.
MDS: When talking about these activities during the HR Directors Summit conference you have mentioned Zorro, that is the dream, which helped you embark on the mission. How did it all start?
EP: When launching charitable activity 12 years, REHAU decided to find a use for the dreams and passions of individual staff members, boost their commitment to innovation and stimulate creative thinking. The idea was put forward by one of the directors of the purchasing department who during a company meeting talked about something unrelated to the topic and mentioned that he had always dreamt of being like ZORRO. And this was an impulse, which made us realise that many of our employees were volunteers who willingly become involved in charitable activities and provide help. In this way, the dream of our staff member, to be like a Zorro, was the first step leading to a rather spontaneous concept for staging performances, in which our employees will be actors with a view of raising funds for charitable purposes.
MDS: What can a staff member learn when dancing and singing? What can you teach your employees by involving them in charitable actions?
EP: We wanted these actions to contribute to team building and to teach staff members how to cooperate with internal clients, as well as negotiation, public speaking, design thinking and project management skills. Often, the simplest and the most significant result is such that people come out of their silos and acknowledge the benefits resulting from cooperation with others.
MDS: What is your advice for those who do not avail of big budgets, who work at small companies and want to build a learning organisation, where employees want to develop?
EP: Reach out to the people you work with and commit them to cooperation. Ask them how they learn, why they do it and what use they have of it. Invite your to clients and partners to cooperation. Organise creative workshops, brainstorm ideas, and start with the introduction of the most basic solutions. Development is not the question of budget, but the way of thinking.
Edyta Paul - Change Pilot; REHAU Poland
She initiates and coordinates projects related to change management, staff development and innovation design and implementation. She uses LEAN, Agile, Design Thinking and Systematic Inventive Thinking tools to build positive emotions and experience of employees and customers of an international production company. Certified FRIS coach, change management coach, moderator and Design Thinking practitioner. She shares her experiences on a blog: www.edytapaul.com
Monika Dawid-Sawicka - author of texts, analyses and studies on labour market, human resources management and human capital. She has worked in the HR sector for 15 years. A certified trainer for FRIS thinking and acting styles diagnostic tool. ECPC coach working with individuals who wish to change their professional careers. EPALE Ambassador.