Want improved performance? Instill a commitment to life-long learning

by Michael Haberman on July 26, 2017 · 0 comments


Life long learning is a necessity,

I have done a lot of teaching in my career. I am now on my 18th year of teaching HR certification courses. I also conduct approximately 20 webinars a year on various HR subjects. If you are reading this on Wednesday morning I am teaching an HR certification class at this moment. In every class there are students who are thirsty for knowledge and I love working with those students.

Management guru Tom Peters tells the story of working with Warren Bennis. Bennis is a life-long learner. According to Wikipedia Bennis  “was an American scholar, organizational consultant and author, widely regarded as a pioneer of the contemporary field of Leadership studies. Bennis was University Professor and Distinguished Professor of Business Administration and Founding Chairman of The Leadership Institute at the University of Southern California.

What have you learned?

Peters tells about having Bennis as a mentor. Bennis would begin each meeting with Peters by asking the question “So what have you learned since I last saw you?” That was a daunting question coming from someone with Bennis’ credential. I would quail the same way being asked that question from Tom Peters. But that question made me think “What a great way to start off a performance review meeting.” Quiz your employees not only on what they learned on the job, but also what they have learned in other areas as well. Employees with broad-based knowledge typically are your better employees.

Résumé as review

Peters even suggests that, rather than doing a regular performance review, you have the employee present their résumé, revised to reflect what they have learned and accomplished since last year. His premise is that if it is not different than last year’s then you haven’t been progressing. In my post A quick tip to keep you and your employees on their toes I quote Peters saying “I strongly believe that an explicit focus on ‘lifelong learning’ for everyone on board could well be the most sustainable advantage an organization of any flavor can have.

James Canton, author of Future Smart, says that we need to reward people for learning. He suggests paying people “to learn new things, to go to trade shows, to learn a new language or to learn a program.

I suggest the following:

  • Hire people who want to be constant learners. What have they read recently? What blogs do they read? Who do they follow?
  • Reward people for being constant learners. People do what they get rewarded for doing. If you want learners, then reward learning.
  • Hold people accountable for being constant learners. Don’t just let people go to conferences without having them come back and teaching others.
  • Ask them what they have learned. ASK THEM ALL THE TIME. And ask yourself the same question.


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