One of the barriers to creating and sustaining a learning culture in organizations is the no-time myth. Managers resist attending formal training events and participating in other kinds of learning activities (elearning, mentoring, coaching, action-learning, communities of practice, internal wikis, etc.) using the excuse that they are too busy. While it’s true that many managers in today’s business environment are feeling pressure to “do more with less” and are overwhelmed by high expectations, failing to develop one's abilities and effectiveness is not a problem of time but rather a problem of will.
In the blog post titled, Are the managers you’re training “too busy”?, Kieran Hearty argues that the reason managers don’t show up for training courses and, if they do attend, don’t put the learning into practice is that they perceive themselves to be too busy. Kieran writes:
As employees follow an upward career trajectory, is their willingness to make personal sacrifices and out-work their competitors favourably reviewed? It’s a common, and understandable, but misplaced virtue, resulting in the accurate perception that many leaders are too task focused and not strategic enough.
Kieran suggests that if managers were less task-focused and ran better meetings, they would have more time and, therefore, would be more likely to attend learning events. I disagree. While it may be true that managers are overly task-focused and attend too many unnecessary and inefficient meetings, I don’t think freeing up more time is the answer. The problem is that managers don’t make learning a high priority.
As I wrote in a previous blog post:
Learning interventions do not necessarily require much time. A water-cooler conversation about expectations and performance improvement, an informal inquiry about what was learned from a recent training program, an on-the-job suggestion to improve technique, often do not take more than a few minutes. And short, weekly conversations between managers and their direct reports would be far more than is typical in organizations today and could go a long way to support learning.
Also, action learning, which is learning in the course of doing, when designed as a reflective exercise, shouldn’t take much more time than the activity itself and is essential to the success of any new program or project.
Johanna Rothman makes the point in her blog post that the learning process doesn't have to take much time and can fit into the daily work schedule. Regarding formal training, she writes that every employee has things they need to learn in order to be more effective and, therefore, we can’t afford not to train employees.
Providing prompt performance feedback to individuals and teams is one of the most effective learning methods that managers have and it doesn’t take much time. In fact, because it is part of the job, it doesn’t add any time at all. If managers can admit that they don’t know something, they can ask others on-the-job to share their knowledge and skills with them without disrupting the work process. This is learning, too, and takes little, if any, extra time.
In today’s fast paced, quickly changing, highly competitive, knowledge economy, learning is the key to organizational success. We need organizational leaders to make learning a priority, not just something nice to do when there is time. These leaders need to recognize and reward learning. If senior leaders do this, then managers will make learning a priority.