28.07.2015

4 Tips for Creating a Culture that Learns and Grows

By Marcia Reynolds
Marcia Reynolds

People don’t remember things just because you told them it was important to remember. Even if they remember, they won’t change their behavior just because they were told it is the right and best thing to do. The most inefficient way of teaching is telling. In order for people to learn, they have to be emotionally engaged in the topic. This post shares what doesn't work as well as tips for what does.

Two ways of learning that don’t work well

When you tell people what to do, your words go into their short-term memory. This container is limited in capacity. Your words compete with worries about current projects, the list of tasks and phone calls to be made, the scores of emails that just popped up, Internet articles, interoffice mail, family matters and what they judge you mean even when you didn’t use those words.

If you want someone to remember something for more than a few hours, or even minutes, then these bits of information must be transferred to one of the two other major memory centers, primal memory or long-term memory. However, primal memory is inefficient in the long run, too.

Primal member is activated when you scare people into learning, For example, when you give people an ultimatum or indicate that there will be negative consequences if they don’t do something, what they learn will be remembered in their primal memory. When people feel their security or predictability about work or life is threatened, they learn what they need to survive.

The problem with learning due to fear is that even if people remember what they are told, when they face similar situations in the future, they are only able to act in one way. Primal memory prompts people to react a specific way when a threat appears. So anytime they face a similar situation, they react in the same way. They behave the way they learned in order to survive this situation. There is no analysis. There is no considering possibilities. They focus and perform well repeating what they learned under duress.

This is why people resist change – they learned to do things under pressure and fear. They learned to do something one way and now it is difficult if not impossible to change their minds. It is easier to learn new behavior than to try to rewire the brain to do things differently when it comes to a behavior learned through fear.

The best way to teach people to learn and grow

If you want people to be able to act thoughtfully, creatively or strategically, activate emotions in your conversation that trigger neurotransmitters to store information in long-term memory. When people experience pride, dignity, laughter, compassion, gratitude, joy, social connection, achievement, contribution, insight and personal breakthroughs, the memories stored in long-term memory are accessible and flexible, leading to more creative thought processes when new ideas and practices are needed.

Tips for creating a culture of learning and growing

  1. Teach people by sharing inspiring and humorous stories, relevant cartoons, identifiable and meaningful metaphors, and compelling examples. Information delivered with pleasurable and heartfelt emotions are quickly transferred into long-term memory. The facts may be lost, but the stories and the message live on.
  2. Make sure they know your intent is to help them achieve one of their desired goals. People don’t forget those who helped them. The most memorable leaders are those that helped us expand how we see ourselves and what we are capable of achieving. People listen to leaders who care about them and their futures.
  3. Whenever possible, coach instead of teach. Be curious and ask questions as if you are learning too. Let them explain how they see their situations. As they tell their stories, ask about the desires, disappointments, and fears you sense they are feeling. Ask them what else could be true or possible. When you help them see how their emotions play into their thinking and actions, their blind spots come to light. This helps people learn for themselves. The pleasure that goes along with discovery triggers a wave of brain activity.
  4. Encourage trials and experiments. Praise effort as well as results. Learning is enhanced by practice and they need praise to go the distance. Adults need approval and acknowledgment as much as children do. They also need a little flex room to learn from their mistakes.

If you want people to change, grow, and create, be inspirational, show you care about their futures, listen, and allow for mistakes. A learning culture produces smart, productive employees.

This article was first published on The CEO Magazine.