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  • Writer's pictureHelena Eketrapp

The world of work is changing – we need more engaged employees, not more “educated”!

Updated: May 20, 2021

There is no doubt, the key to success in our changeable world, is to engage your employees in a learning environment.The question is: how you can drive sustained engagement to transform your organization to meet the future and to empower your employees? Many organizations still trust in traditional methods to “educate” their employees by one-way communication, command-and-control and pushing out content. But you don’t create a learning culture and more engaged employees in this way!

The ongoing discussion today, how to meet the work of the future, takes many different turns. To build a learning organization and culture goes hand by hand with the change that is needed.This is well-known and organizations are investing huge amount in methods and technology that support learning, but the truth behind many of those investments is that they truly are just about implementing a platform or method that supports formal learning, that pushes out content to the employees. There is still a belief that “to learn” is the same as “to educate”. There might be some support for social learning, but there is no effort spent to drive organization and cultural change.The result of the investment can in a worst case be a disaster; the employees feel that they are not trusted, they don’t see the alignment with the company’s purpose and will be even more disengaged.

To get it right we need to deeply understand the factors behind the transformation of the way we work – How does a modern workplace of the new culture of work look like? What are words like “workplace” and “productivity” mean today? What does it mean to be engaged?To understand the big shift and transfer that impact all of us we have to understand the factors behind the transformation (and also the human needs in the new era).

Back in the days, we had strategies that can be illustrated by a stopwatch; focusing on efficient and optimized processes, doing the same thing repetitively, at a scale with maximum efficacy, working with the margins, communicating with the workers on strictly to know basis, with hierarchies and principles of command and control. In this environment the traditional way to educate, pushing out formal content (by different methods) to the workforce was the easiest way to go.And this strategy worked really well when information was scarce, when the world was predictable and stable enough.

Almost every day, I meet companies that still act in this way – and I would like to challenge them to rethink their strategies!

But it is no longer sufficient when the environment is evolving around you rapidly, not once a decade, once a year but every week or day. Suddenly a team, or a company, find it very efficient doing the wrong thing. And an organization can find itself with a very disengaged work force and that becomes a real problem, it becomes a survival problem.

How are you going to adapt, evolve and respond, as an individual, as a team, as an organization, when the world around you is in a constant state of flux? How can you continuously learn and stay up to date?

I think that highly effective organizations are the ones that are creative, innovative in their ability to respond, and this would be driven by an engaged workforce and a new culture of work.The traditional way to educate” by one-way communication, command-and-control will definitely not create more engaged employees!

In light of this, we need to understand what is motivating people to lean in and to do their best work, to innovate and to collaborate?

Work is not a purely functional thing in our life, we spend 8 hours per day, at least, trying to create something, to contribute, to be recognized. Most of us want to make a difference to archive something. So, work has this deeply important, even emotional part of our life. If we don’t feel trust and understand the purpose of the work, our mission, we will never feel connected to our company nor become engaged.

In order to achieve that a new set of strategies is needed:

  • Transparency and clarity of purpose give better result than protectionism. It builds trust and align purpose.

  • Collaborating and finding the answers together is clearly a better strategy than struggling alone in the face of information abundance.

  • Empowering decision-making, pushing it to the edges is faster than command and control. It results in sustained engagement over time.

They are all interlocking and driving the transformation that is needed. When workers, employees and leaders are equipped with the bigger picture, when they have the tool to communicate and are engaged in real conversations, when they can share and learn from each other’s experiences, when they are empowered to succeed in their mission, it automatically creates a more healthy, more innovative, responsive and effective organization.

Every one of us can achieve amazing things alone but when we feel connected to a larger mission our work takes a new meaning and we can all achieve so much more.

With this in mind, instead of (or in addition to) investing in formal command-and-control-education, you need to stop playing safe and open up for new ways to meet the future.As an organization you have to empower your employees, spending more effort in working with culture change and leadership, building trust in the organization, creating open communication and implementing technology and platforms that support the strategies that drive engagement.

It is a big culture shift, it will cost time, sweat and tears, and it requires a lot of bravery, but it’s the only way to go!

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