A new (2017) study looking at staff learning at an organisational level found that while management frequently decrees that learning should take place during working hours, time is rarely given to staff to do that learning.
This research briefing was sent to members in June 2017
- Implicit and explicit knowledge
- Management will vs practical won’t
- Strategy / practice alignment
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In organisational learning circles there are two types of knowledge that need to acquired:
- Tacit Knowledge
- Explicit Knowledge
Tacit knowledge is the type of knowledge that cannot be easily verbally expressed and is therefore not easily written, articulated or transferred between people, such as how to navigate the politics in an organisation, the ability to speak another language etc. Tacit knowledge is estimated to be about 70% of one’s work learning experience.
What tends to happen in organisations is that people with tacit knowledge and skills in an area tend to get used in that area. An example from the study was in an IT consultancy, those with better people skills were tasked with interacting with clients, yet those who had fewer developed skills of this kind were left to deal with coding and other back office work. This is hardly a developmental approach and can cause problems when or if the person with those skills leaves.
Explicit knowledge is the learning one takes from schooling or training usually through verbal and written explanation and can be passed on easily. This obviously is less of an issue.
Whilst management is usually keen for knowledge, both explicit and implicit, to be shared within the teams, it tends to be picked up informally rather than occurring in any formal or planned way.
In theory, this would ensure that staff would continually develop their skills in the workplace and develop the organisation from their own learning. While this was all very well in practice, the study found that the opposite was the case. Staff complained that they were given high workloads that used the knowledge they had gained already and were given little time to develop new knowledge or skills. An illustrative example given was one employee who said, “This place is pretty much self-learning. You need to be proactive”.
Others complained that individuals jealously kept the knowledge they had accrued and were not willing to share. This it was found was a real problem for developing organisational competitive advantage. In effect internal competition stifles organisational competitive advantage.
The problem it transpires is down to the contradictory pressures managers are under. First and foremost comes the pressure of productivity in their own area of responsibility. This pressure is immediate and is based and focused on productivity in this period / quarter / month. The pressure to develop team members comes a very poor second in this competition.
The solution the study found was to create alignment between the intentional organisational strategy of creating long term competitive advantage, which involves developing the staff and creating a learning culture or environment and current management practices.
Pushing learning out of the working space and time is counter-productive to this end.
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