Pull, Don’t Push, Employee Learning

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S. GillStephen J. Gill is a contributor to The Business Thinker magazine.
He is an organizational learning consultant, he facilitates a workshop for ATD titled, “Essentials of Developing an Organizational Learning Culture”, and he is co-founder of Learning2BGreat.com, a resource for creating and sustaining a learning culture in organizations. He publishes a blog at: http://ThePerformanceImprovementBlog.com
DavidDavid Grebow, Chief Executive Officer of KnowledgeStar, is a nationally recognized expert in creating organizational cultures that optimize learning. David is the co-founder and former director of the IBM Institute for Advanced Learning in Zurich and one of the co-authors of Creating a Learning Culture. For 25 years, Fortune 500 companies have employed him to assess the value of their current educational strategies, and create a forward-looking sustainable approach that positions them for success in the Idea-driven digital economy.

The major change in business today is the rate of change. For example, it used to be that the time between conception of an idea and market acceptance was five to seven years. Now a new car model goes from idea to market in 24 months. “Internet time” is just a few months for most things. My public offerings of JP Industries used to take months or years. Now, crowdfunding can raise millions of dollars for a new business in a few weeks. – John Psarouthakis

As the digital revolution continues to fuel the faster rate of change, transforming all aspects of business, from supply chain management to communication, the highest-performing corporations are abandoning traditional “push” training for the “pull” learning model.

Push training is a centralized, top-down model that occurs when management determines what it is people need to know or do and ‘pushes’ educational programs out from a central training group. It’s going to a class or taking an assigned online program.

“In a push training model, learning is test-based. It is all about what you know.”

The push training culture was developed to serve the old Industrial Economy that no longer exists. Long before “Internet time”, producing products and delivering services changed slowly. The shelf life of both, compared to today, was almost glacial, and most workers did not need to learn volumes of information to perform their jobs. Despite the change from the Industrial to the Knowledge Economy over 100 years ago, the vast majority of organizations are still pushing out training to employees the same way now as they did then.

We are hard-pressed to think of any other business function still managed as it was a century ago. Especially when the research clearly shows that push training is an inefficient way of developing skills, abilities and attitudes. Estimates of the learning transfer rates from push training programs to the workplace range between a miserly 10 to 20 percent. This is a huge waste of 80 to 90 percent of the investment in those programs.

Pull learning is the model for the new Knowledge Economy. It is a decentralized, bottoms-up approach in which employees access the information they need when it is needed. Employees are connected and collaborative and make the best use of the supporting technology which connects them to one another and to the sources of information. Imagine employees facing a new situation in which they require more instruction. The employees can find the relevant information in a variety of ways because it is there just in case they need it, when and where they need it.

“In a pull model learning is performance-based. The focus is on what you can do when you need to get it done.” 

Figure 1: Push vs. Pull

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Replacing Push with Pull: The Learning Culture

Replacing push training with pull learning transforms an organization into a learning culture. A learning culture is an organization that can provide relevant, useable and on-demand access to the knowledge and skills employees need to perform their jobs. This includes technical, operational, and managerial skills. Our research over the past two years shows that corporations that have made this commitment to become a learning culture experience measurable, significant and sustainable increases in on-the-job performance, talent-retention, sales revenue, and innovation.

Our research and consulting with leading corporations has convinced us that the smartest, highest performing, most successful organization in the current global idea-based economy are learning cultures. They can respond instantly to the ever-changing requirements and demands of a fast-paced, hyper-competitive marketplace. Their employees can quickly access the technology and support to find what they need to know, when and where it is needed. Shifting from training and knowing to learning and doing improves the thousands of job-related actions and decisions performed each day, and makes mission-critical corporate-level decisions more immediate and effective.

Yet surprisingly few organizations and their leaders have fully grasped the enormous benefits to be realized by becoming a learning culture. It has become obvious to us that a fundamental shift needs to occur in the way senior managers think about how they provide knowledge and know-how to their workforce. It is time to stop seeing the workplace as a relatively static 9-5 schoolplace where employees receive an occasional invitation to a training event. Leaders need to reimagine the workplace as a constantly moving beehive in which employees continuously learn whatever knowledge and skills they need to do their jobs more effectivley.

If you would like more information about what it takes to transform your company into a high-performing learning culture, contact Stephen at sjgill@learningtobegreat.com or David at david@knowledgestar.com

One thought on “Pull, Don’t Push, Employee Learning”

  1. By John Laskaris June 18, 2015
    I really like this concept, David. ‘Pull’ means to me ‘customized, personalized’ while ‘push’ means imposed. Maybe the first one is a bigger challenge for companies and the second is something they are used to do from ages. Anyway there’s this ‘customize everything’ trend and I think it’ll be applied to Learning Culture eventually.

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