Google quite famously encourage their staff to set aside their day-to-day work every Friday to explore new ideas, new technologies. I’ve known this for years and always thought what a great way to develop new products it was. Talking to Craig Hanna the other day, what I came to realise was that the biggest plus for Google is not in the form of New Product Development (NPD) but in the learning that takes place. The interesting thing (maybe I’m wrong here – maybe I don’t know enough about Google Fridays yet) is that it seems to be the employees who choose what to learn i.e. it’s a bottom up approach not top down. To what extent does that happen currently in organisations?
More than we think maybe? If informal learning accounts for 70% of total learning and peer to peer 20% then that only leaves 10% for formal training and that’s quite often bottom up e.g. “I’d like to go to this event boss”. But I still can’t help feeling there’s an opportunity being missed here. Maybe Google’s approach is successful because employees get to work on real problems? Maybe it’s the level of empowerment, the fact that they get to choose the area in which they learn? Maybe it’s the level of collaboration it encourages?
Maybe the job of organisations is not to train their staff but to remove the barriers to learning. If 70% of learning takes place informally, who are we kidding if we think we can control what our employees learn? Our employees network includes pretty much anyone who has an internet connection, so maybe we should focus our effort on using that network to the full and not worrying about it?
As long as our vision, our values, our objectives etc are clear and we have staff that believe in them then surely we should trust them to identify their own learning needs and in an ideal world, share their experiences with their network. It might even save us a few quid in the process.