Tom Peters once spoke of a sausage company
in the U.S. that determined pay scales, in
part by the amount of new things that staff
learned. So, when a sausage assembly line
worker learned something about accounting,
that was five bucks an hour more on the pay
cheque. It's great to be able to have the
luxury to do things like that. However, the
closest we in government are going to get to
such schemes is to eat the sausage made by
the person who got the extra five bucks.
If you follow the trends
(and fads) in the organization development
field, you are probably aware of one of the
newest: the learning organization,
popularized by Senge. Time will tell whether
this perspective "takes root" (it won't),
but there is no question that learning is an
important process in any organization that
wants to sustain success. So putting aside
the sometimes abstract philosophy of the
learning organization", what can individual
managers do to encourage and support
learning on the part of staff?
One way is to put in
place a simple, straightforward process to
plan and support learning experiences.
Strategic learning contracts (and their
companion learning experience contracts) can
be helpful in this respect.
Learning Contract: What Is It?
We know that a good deal
of learning (e.g. from training) is wasted
because the goals are ill- defined, and the
workplace supports to apply the learning are
missing or absent. Stories abound about
people who attend computer training, only to
return to work and not have the hardware or
software arrive until months after training.
By that time, almost any benefits are lost.
Stories also abound about being "sent" to
training...people who have been asked by
their managers to attend something, but not
told why, or what they are expected to gain
and contribute from the experience.
Learning contracts are
designed to help develop shared expectations
about the purpose, process and results that
are to come from any learning experiences.
They are also used to plan learning for the
upcoming year for each staff member.
We define the learning
contract as a strategic planning document.
It is done (at minimum) once a year,
preferably after each employee's
responsibilities and job tasks are set for
the upcoming year. Once those
tasks/objectives are set, the question that
follows is: What kind of learning/skills etc
would help the staff member complete those
responsibilities more effectively?
That yields the learning
objectives or goals for the year. Once those
are defined WITH the staff member, the next
task is to determine what methods would be
most appropriate for creating the required
learning. It might be a training session,
but it could be mentoring or coaching,
secondment, job exchange, etc.
The contract should also
contain some reference to how the learning
is to be applied in the workplace, (this is
actually the "why"), and any supports
required by the staff member to apply the
To summarize here are the
What does the staff
member need to learn this year that will
help him/her achieve the goals
negotiated for that particular year (or
What is the best way
for the staff member to acquire the
How do we expect this
learning to be applied in the workplace
(how would we know it wants a waste of
What supports are
needed in the workplace to ensure that
the learning CAN be used in the
It's a simple but
powerful process and one that can be
expanded in time and scope to link up to
larger personnel and career development
issues, or succession and promotion
planning. The resulting document could be as
small as one or two pages. One thing to keep
in mind: the key element here is not the
document per se but the communication and
clarification process that comes from the
dialogue between staff person and manager.
While the strategic
learning contract is more long range,
sometimes learning or training opportunities
"come up". For example, a major seminar may
be offered that might be of some use. A
staff member would like to go. How do you
maximize the benefits from the investment?
The learning experience
contract is more specific than the strategic
learning contract, and applies to a
particular experience (e.g. training
The document itself can
look very much like the one described above.
The questions are similar.
What is to be learned
by being involved in the specific
How are these
"learning’s" linked to the staff
member's job function, organization
success, career development, etc.?
How is the staff
member expected to apply what has been
learned? (May include things like
sharing information with other staff,
direct job applications, producing
summary of the training points, etc).
How can the manager
or organization support the application
of the learning in the workplace?
Some estimates suggest
that the majority of formal and structured
learning experiences (such as training)
bring virtually no practical benefit to the
organization, or even those directly
involved. There are many reasons for this
ranging from very poorly implemented
training and learning, to lack of workplace
support for the application of the learning.
In addition, a good amount of training and
learning is not "thought-through" so
experiences become "a vacation" or a
"change". Given restricted budgets, there is
a need to ensure that investments in
learning are not wasted, and that we link
them to both personal and organization
effectiveness. The strategic learning
contract and the more specific learning
experience contract provide a simple, but
formal structure for linking learning and
training with real outcomes.
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