Manar Al Hinai: Learning on the job works for everyone

As a start-up entrepreneur or if you are managing a small to a medium-size business, how could you foster a learning environment at work? Here are suggestions from Manar Al Hinai.

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When Henry Ford introduced the assembly line at his car plants, the finished products could be assembled faster and the work did not require workers to move a lot as they stood at their stations.

This kind of repetitive process did not require employees to think creatively.

Nowadays, many businesses require the exact opposite from employees. Employers such as Google opt for candidates who demonstrate the desire and will to keep on learning. An article published in Industrial and Organizational Psychology highlights that people's employability now, to have and to maintain a job, no longer depends on what they know – or what they have learnt at school, but on what they are likely to learn on the job, and their willingness to do so.

While organisations such as Google are ahead of their game demanding such commitment from their employees and actually creating learning and a working environment simultaneously, many other businesses are yet to pay attention to that, and instead focus on academic qualifications and certification.

Although we could not disregard the importance of academic qualifications, learning on the job often takes place in a different setting, and to have a team member who is eager to juggle tasks, achieving targets, and as well develop themselves, could be quite challenging.

As a start-up entrepreneur or if you are managing a small to a medium-sized business – how could you foster a learning environment at work? From experience, I suggest the following:

Be highly selective when choosing a training programme to send your team members to, and make sure that you are sending a member who has demonstrated willingness to learn. That way you could guarantee a return on your investment and ensure that whatever they have learnt is applied in the job.

Just think about it this way: would you send someone to learn about history if they have showed no interest in it whatsoever? They would not do great. Of course this should take you back to when you start hiring, and just like Google be selective when hiring a staff, and to ensure that not only are they interested in the company, but are also passionate about developing their skills.

Create a learning environment. As a business owner, your vibe will rub off on your employees. If you want to encourage your team to do something, you also have to do it. Aim to create an environment where learning and expanding knowledge is encouraged. My mentor had a great habit of sharing valuable books, articles and facts he has learnt with his staff.

He would do that during the morning meetings, and would then open a room for discussion. If an employee shows interest in a certain department or something new, he would encourage it, and would allow them to research the new pursuit they are interested in and then ask them to show them how they could incorporate it in the company. The results were brilliant. Not only did he encourage employees to learn and to think outside the box, but also as a result new products were introduced, and the company’s profile was raised in the community for all the good things that it had been doing.

Last but not least, you have to acknowledge it. It is not enough just to hire people with the right skills and provide them with the right environment, but also to show them that their effort is appreciated and rewarded.

It does not have to be in a monetary form, but could be in a form where they are presented with a new challenge, such as structuring a new division.

In my mentor’s case, he rewarded behaviour by having his team members be the leaders of certain projects, especially ones that they suggested would improve the business, even if there were more senior members in the company more eligible to lead.

Although people in general express different interests when it comes to learning, as a business owner you should cultivate a learning culture, which eventually would attract those eager to learn and who would like to develop your business further.

Manar Al Hinai is an award-winning Emirati writer and communications consultant based in Abu Dhabi. Twitter: @manar_alhinai.

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