No time to learn? Perhaps you’re doing it wrong

January 16th, 2017

The biggest challenge that we often come across for HR and L&D professionals is the lack of time that their people have – especially the senior people. But those people who argue that they are “too busy for development work” are likely to be the ones who need it the most.

Therefore L&D and HR often resort to taking training in-house, on-the-job and integrated into leaders’ roles.

But is this really the best option?

We believe that taking training in-house and on-the-job often denies leaders the opportunity for extremely valuable aspects of learning to happen – to stop and reflect and to think creatively and outside the confines of the day-to-day job – impacting dramatically on the quality of the training.

Creating the right learning environment is hugely important to the success of any development programme. There is a wealth of research from the world of Environmental Psychology and neuroscience that supports the need to take leaders away from their day-to-day business environment. Place Attachment (PA) Theory explains that we attach personal importance (both negative and positive) to particular places and that we all perceive our local surroundings in different ways based on our previous life experiences and sensory preferences. Some environments can fulfil physical needs, giving a sense of safety and security or offer necessary conditions for achieving personal goals; and some environments can do the exact opposite.

This has a direct impact on the emotional and cognitive processing that ensues and thus the behaviours that we exhibit in these environments. The Reasonable Person Model described by Steven and Rachel Kaplan takes Place Attachment a step further by suggesting that “people are more reasonable, cooperative, helpful and satisfied when their environment supports their basic informational needs.”

So, if learning is taking place in an environment that is usually stressful and demanding – e.g. a leader’s desk – or if they have negative connections to a learning environment – e.g. the office in which they’ve had many poor performance reviews – then the quality of the learning can be compromised, even if they are not consciously aware of it.

However, do the same learning in a place where leaders have no negative emotional connections, and you could see a dramatic improvement in willingness to learn, engagement and therefore how well the learning is remembered and embedded.

So, if time is the issue, you may find that learning happens much quicker and is of far better quality if leaders are taken away the office. The negative emotions and feelings that are often generated by the poor psychological environments in many modern businesses (especially prevalent at senior levels) act as a significant barrier to good quality learning. By taking leaders away from this, even though it seems as if you are asking for their time out of the office, you may find that it actually saves a great deal of time compared to ‘on-the-job’ training.