Can you use the Covid crisis to become a “Learning Organization”?

April 8, 2020

By Eliza McDevitt

If you are considering creating a culture of learning in your team or organization, COVID-19 presents an opportunity to institute new norms and behaviors previously thought impossible. Here are some ideas for organizations trying to help teams learn better and faster.
Right now, we are experiencing a massive shift in our daily lives out of necessity brought on by Coronavirus. But, the global rate of change was increasing before this novel virus arrived and sped it up. What are you doing now that you were not doing three weeks ago? Change requires that we modify the ways we think and behave. As a colleague poignantly said the other day, we are going to have to “learn our way into the future.”

WHY is Learning Crucial?

THRUUE shares the beliefs of leaders like Peter Senge who evangelize the imperative to become a learning organization – it’s the only way to keep pace with unrelenting change. We define learning as the process of acquiring new, or modifying existing, knowledge, values or behaviors. Last week, THRUUE hosted author and future of work strategist, Heather McGowan for a conversation about the changing nature of work. Heather reminded us that adaptability, which enables us to navigate ambiguity, requires learning. Humans have an incredible ability to adapt through rewiring our brains towards new ways of thinking and behaving.

HOW Can Organizations Help Employees Become Better Learners?

Gather outside perspective. Heather McGowan’s presentation offered a macro view of major shifts across the country over the past 100 years and how COVID-19 is increasing empathy and speeding up learning. Her insights are enabling the THRUUE team to apply a broader view of how organizations adapt and learn. Encourage employees to seek out external perspectives that offer a new way to approach existing challenges.

Focus on learning as the skill. Rather than teaching skills that will go stale in an ever-changing environment, Alexi Robichaux, CEO of BetterUp a professional coaching platform, urges leaders to consider, “You don’t need training to learn new skills, you need [employees] to learn how to learn.” Organizations can build employee training programs that tackle strategic problems while improving learning as a skill.

Cultivate the right mindset. Psychologist and researcher Carol Dweck popularized Growth Mindset, the belief that one’s basic skills and abilities can be developed through hard work and dedication which creates a love of learning and resilience needed for achievement. Schools and organizations around the world have used Growth Mindset to help students and employees become better, more resilient learners. Praising learning and effort on the way to achieving outcomes is one way to cultivate Growth Mindset in employees.

Finally, organizations can provide key ingredients of a learning environment. By intentionally designing the (virtual) working environment with dedicated learning time, opportunities for reflection and self-awareness, support in the form of non-judgmental mentorship and coaching, and structures for sharing discoveries, organizations can cultivate learning on teams.

Learning is the new meta skill leaders must cultivate. Without an ability to learn in a changing environment, employees’ existing skills and knowledge cannot be effectively leveraged in new ways that achieve outcomes. Learning may not help you make the perfect choice on the first try, but it does allow you to course correct actions as you go. Organizations who learn faster and better will win in today’s market.

1. Senge, P.M. (1990). The fifth discipline: the art and practice of the learning organization. Random House.
2. Dweck, C. (2006). Mindset: the new psychology of success. NY: Random House.