Corrections or additions?
Author: Melinda Sherwood. Published in U.S. 1 Newspaper on January
26, 2000. All rights reserved.
Survival Guide: Learning on the Job
An organization that focuses on creating fast-learning
employees is the only kind of business that can stay competitive in
today’s market, says Bob Guns
(908-522-9202). "The increasing pace of change, competition, and
globalization is driving our organizations to a point that if they
don’t learn faster they’re not going to survive," says Guns, a
consultant for companies like Merck, Duracell, and Allied Signal.
"The primary way to competitive advantage is to learn faster than
But learning is much more than the regurgitation of information, as
we’re often taught in school, says Guns. "Learning in the work
place is for me a process of figuring out what works or what works
better," he says. "It’s different than school learning which
focuses on acquisition, not the figuring out processes. Figuring out
processes have to do with stimulating creativity, new ideas, and
that have to do with problem-solving, making decisions, planning,
Guns talks about "The Faster Learning Organization: The Key to
Sustainable Competitive Advantage," on Tuesday, February 1, at
8 a.m. at Pitney Hardin Kipp & Szuch, 200 Campus Drive in Florham
Park. Call 609-419-4444. Cost: $30.
Guns earned a bachelors in education at the University of British
Columbia, Class of 1965, and completed his PhD at the University of
Oregon. After several years consulting, he wrote a book called
Faster Learning Organization," based on research he conducted
on companies’ attitude towards learning in the workplace.
What he discovered, much to his amazement and disappointment, is that
many employees are not open to new ideas in business. "Either
they feel that they know it all, or they’re afraid to learn because
they associate learning with a lot of bad experiences in their
he says. "It’s really quite depressing because you think that
adults would be reasonably open to learning. I was startled with the
results. It doesn’t reflect well on our corporations."
In "The Faster Learning Organization" Guns describes two
types of operations: a performance-based organization, and
organization. "Performance-based organizations focus on a bottom
line for this particular quarter and give little credence to
he says. "Learning-based organizations make an investment in
and focus on the longer-term, larger picture."
Performance-based organizations are doomed to fail eventually, says
Guns, because to stand the test of time a business must be able to
face change and stimulate leadership. To do that, businesses must
make their employees life-long learners. "You want to make it
easy for people to learn" so you integrate it into the day-to-day
operation, he says. "At the end of a project people should get
together and ask what did we learn from this?"
Other keys to a faster-learning organization, says Guns:
leaders stretch their employees without backing down, says Guns.
learn, psychologically, financially, academically, and socially.
growing, or in the direction it is moving.
from the parent business.
know, says Guns, who has embarked upon research with Technology New
Jersey to answer that question. Gun guesses that curiosity is a trait
of the fast learner. "That would be manifested by people asking
questions, asking good questions, and listening attentively,"
he says. He also thinks people who network a lot may be faster
because, he says, "when people build expert and influenced
that they can draw from they keep their learning at the leading
Communication styles are often an impediment to learning
in an organization, but because the way we communicate is so personal,
and somewhat intangible, these problems are often ignored. A boss,
for example, may find he or she is constantly unable to communicate
to an employee an idea or need; colleagues may find they’re never
quite on the same page, and managers may find that they just can’t
motivate a particular person.
Different communication styles usually indicate different approaches
to learning, and sometimes recognizing these differences is essential
to completing a project, or getting a point across, says Mary
Davis, a consultant and practitioner of neuro-linguistic
the science of how people communicate. With Ed Andriessen
consultant, Davis cofounded the Princeton Center for Neuro-Linguistic
Programming, an institute that teaches people how to employ different
communication styles to forge better relationships, in business and
Davis will be giving a free introduction to Neuro-Linguistic
on Monday, February 7, at 7 p.m. at the Lawrenceville Library. The
Princeton Center for NLP begins sessions on February 19. Call
"NLP works well because it expedites the process of communicating
effectively," says Davis, who spent 20 years as a crisis
consultant for the U.S. Postal Service, and has a BS in business
from SUNY New Paltz, Class of 1963. "You learn to pick up certain
language patterns. Some people may be visual — why do some people
need post-its? With NLP you become more sensitive to other people’s
patterns, so if you’re talking to someone you can step out of your
own way and listen effectively. You can then identify ways to build
that communication to build rapport and speak the other person’s
"When we look at language we can see how people motivate or
themselves," says Davis. A proactive person, for example, prefers
to dive into projects, whereas a reactive person prefers to weigh
all the options carefully. The problem arises when two such people
are forced to work together. A proactive person may be demoralized
by the reactive person’s cautiousness. "If I’m proactive and
reactive, and you say `Mary, I want you to analyze this,’ you’re going
to lose me," says Davis. Likewise, some people like lots of
and to act entrepreneurial, while others are glued to a process.
you have somebody who likes to work independently and you put them
in a cooperative state, that particular person is going to start to
shut down," says Davis.
The next time a communication problem arises with a colleague or
Davis suggests doing the following:
focus on why a problem is occurring, but focus on how you can
the goal. The "why" question is a self-fulfilling prophecy.
"If you’re focusing on a problem, it’s only going to bring up
a problem," says Davis.
a new solution, i.e. "You might think about doing it this
Says Davis: "It takes away people’s defenses."
says Davis, but managers and coworkers need to know how to energize
people, how to speak their language. "As a boss you have to think
about making it all cohesive," says Davis. "By changing just
one or two words you can communicate more effectively."
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