Comment: Learning and the bottom line

Nic Haralambous is the founder of advisory and funding platform Slow-Hustle. Here, he explains how to introduce change into a business, the importance of curiosity and more.

Nic Haralambous is a business coach, consultant and host of the It's Not Over podcast, where he chats to business owners about their stories of success, survival and failure.

Organizations thrive when they're learning, curious and evolving. Stagnation is an early warning sign of impending death. It can be difficult to convince your team to push through the daily grind and to then expect them to learn something new, challenge themselves and remain curious about their work. 

Change is difficult – it's supposed to be – but without it, there's no evolution. It's a mistake to think that promoting a culture of learning isn't useful to your bottom line. Learning organizations, by their very nature, are set up to be agile in their thinking and in execution. A learning organization is one that is skilled at creating and transferring new knowledge, while being able to execute those changes effectively and modifying its behavior towards the best results. 

Learning organizations don't just appear; it takes dedication and focus to ensure that everyone in the business is on board to grow and learn. Yet many organizations are afraid of failure, and often this is because the stakes are too high. We give ourselves one shot to make it, or everything blows up. The key to embracing learning is to lower the stakes. One way to do this is to make your company's experiments smaller and more frequent. Instead of putting a year's marketing budget into a campaign, try spending a few weeks of the budget on a smaller version of the campaign, then test and refine using the results. 

I also always look to promote curiosity. Curiosity isn't some ethereal concept with intangible results that businesses should fear. Promoting curiosity in an organization leads to fewer decision-making errors, more innovative thinking, reduced conflict, more open communication and better team performance. It can help people and organizations to avoid confirmation bias. In a recent Harvard Business Review study of 3,000 employees across multiple businesses and industries, 70% of respondents said they felt there were barriers to asking more questions at work. 

Allowing your team to engage their curiosity can unleash agility and new ideas – and their potential. If you have the best people on your team, you should trust them to explore and make relevant use of their time for the betterment of your business. After all, learning isn't owned by HR. Everyone in the company should take ownership of learning and teaching. The best ideas and freshest thinking emerge when everyone is empowered to learn and to teach. 

Your business can't be expected to know everything about everything all the time. You need to bring in experts to address your team, educate them and engage them in new and different ways of thinking. Consider partnering with your clients or suppliers to exchange knowledge or hire external experts such as keynote speakers to give your team a shot of knowledge to start their week.

Finally, if you want to build a learning organization and engage the best minds that you work with, then you need to remove the fear of mistakes. Mistakes happen all the time. They're a normal and vital part of building and sustaining a business, but many businesses punish any mistakes swiftly and brutally. If your brightest minds are too scared to try anything new, to think outside of the organizational consensus or speak up for fear of reproach, your organization will never learn anything new. 

Remove the fear of mistakes, make experiments smaller, lower the risk and people will likely begin to thrive. 

This article was first published in Courier issue 44, December 2021/January 2022. To purchase the issue or become a subscriber, head to our webshop.

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