A very interesting discussion followed one of my recent posts about people not willing to learn. There were a few different threads there but the one brought by David Moran is definitely worth its own post.
David pointed it is manager’s responsibility to create learning opportunities and incentives for people to exploit them.
At the first thought I wanted to agree with that. But after a while I started going through different teams and people I worked with. I recalled multiple situations when opportunities were just waiting but somehow barely anyone was willing to exploit them. The rest preferred to do nothing.
I believe most of the time it is not the lack of opportunities which is a problem but lack of will. Now the question is: whether a manager or a leader should create incentives for people around? If so what kind of incentives should it be?
First of all, I don’t believe in all kinds of extrinsic incentives which are aimed to encourage people to learn. If you set a certification or exam passed as a prerequisite for someone to be promoted people would get certification just to get promotion. They won’t treat it as a chance to learn but as one of tasks on ‘getting promoted’ checklist. You get what you measure. If you measure a number of certificates you will get a lot of these.
The results are even worse when you create a negative incentive, i.e. you don’t get bonus money (you’d earned) unless you submit your monthly article to knowledge base (seen that). What you get there in majority of cases is just a load of crap which looks a bit like knowledge base article. After all no one will read it anyway so why bother?
What options do you have then? Well, you can simply talk with people encouraging them to learn. “You may find this conference interesting.” “Taking language course would be a great for you.” “I’d appreciate that certification.” Unfortunately it usually works with people who are self-learners in the first place and don’t really need an incentive – the opportunity is enough (and they probably find opportunities by themselves anyway). The rest will most likely agree with you but will still do nothing.
You may of course promote self-learners over the rest and most of us probably do it since people who feel an urge to learn are generally considered as great professionals. Unfortunately this mechanism isn’t completely obvious and is pretty hard to measure (how would you measure self-learning attitude?) so its educational value is close to zero.
Coming back to the point, I don’t think that it is manager’s responsibility to build incentives for people to learn. I think the role of a leader ends somewhere between supporting everyone’s efforts to learn and creating opportunities. Besides if learning is enforced it won’t build any significant value.
And yes, it is manager’s role to have a knowledgeable and ever-learning team but forcing people to learn is neither the only nor the best available approach.