In the last blog I talked about change – how it’s happening all around us, and that to be an effective leader and manager, you must accept change, adapt to it, find opportunities in it, and then take the actions necessary to actually change and develop a culture of learning and adaptability. Failing to do so will have you and your organization frozen in time or decaying.

So, how do you create a culture of learning and adaptability?

I think there are several steps:

  1. Create an open culture. By open, I mean a place where anyone can challenge authority and speak up on any subject. Here’s why this is important. Jeff and I truly believe in the saying that “there is wisdom in counsel.” That everyone, all around us, no matter who they are, where they are, what job they have, what education they have – no matter their ethnicity, their gender, their religious or political leanings – everyone has something to say, a nugget of truth that can be used to help us learn and adapt to change.If you believe that, which we suggest you should, then you will set about creating an environment in your organization where people can add value anywhere. It’s in that buffet of ideas and opinions that you find wisdom to discover your way in a sea of change. So, first, create a culture that is open – where opinions and ideas are welcome.
  1. Identify areas (programs, approaches, philosophies, etc.) that need to change. Make that list. Involve everyone. If you have truly created an open culture, the ideas and opinions will flow. There will be a lot of bad ideas and opinions. That’s ok; those will fall by the wayside. Focus on identifying what truly needs to change.
  2. Don’t let a focus on short-term results and performance measurements take your attention away from what you need to change. Here’s why. Learning and change cannot easily occur in an environment where all that matters is what you can get done in the short-term. It could be that what you need to change will take a long time. If your horizon is just around the next corner, how are you going to deal with the larger changes you need to make? You won’t.I’ve seen national organizations that are so focused on the success of their short-term outlook that they are literally dying as an organization. It is something to see. In those situations, you have leaders and managers who do not have the courage to make the changes they know they should. So, they just stay with “what has always worked,” even though it actually isn’t working anymore.Look at where your current philosophy, plan, and outlook are taking you. If you’re honest, it’s probably leading you nowhere fast. So, break free of that short-term focus and take steps to adapt and change.
  1. Reward curiosity. This is a big one. First you allow your people to speak freely and identify what needs to change, encouraging learning and adaptability. Now, it’s time to release your good people to exercise their curiosity about all these things, to wonder what can be done, to ask questions, seek new angles, find new ways and have out-of-the-box thoughts. This is what curiosity does. It opens up possibilities so you can see new ideas. And that is good.
  2. Spend money and time on new approaches. That means TRY THINGS. Don’t be afraid of failure. You know what’s not working. You know what needs to change. Get going on DOING something about it. Get your brain trust together and create a plan to do something different. Then spend some money and allocate the time to test the idea out. Yes, some of your attempts at change will fail. So what? If you’re not failing some of the time, then you’re not learning.
  3. Fully execute the new discoveries that you think will work. Here is where real change that springs from learning and adaptability will begin to occur. You have created an open, dynamic environment where ideas and opinions are welcome – where anyone can challenge the status quo and where your people are encouraged to help make change happen. And you have discovered, in point #5 above, that the exploration you have encouraged has resulted in some very practical and workable ideas. Now, you need a plan to fully execute those ideas – to invest significant time and money in them. And all of that will change how you operate.

Do you see how this works to create a culture of learning? It starts with creating an open environment where your team can dream, critique, explore, suggest, and give input. Then it requires you to try some new things, which will eventually lead to real systemic change.

It’s not easy, I know. But it’s a path you can follow to build a changing organization that embraces learning. Get started today.