Changing Knowledge Worker Attitudes  

I commented on Tony’s post re: how growth and learning are happening at a slower pace than business needs that part of the problem from my perspective is that many knowledge workers regard training and professional development as the responsibility of the organization, not their own, particularly once they’ve completed their initial education for their occupation. Having heard too many times, “I’d do X, but the company hasn’t trained me on it yet,” I believe a fundamental change of attitude is in order.

This is something I’ve written about previously on my blog in a post called Who’s in Charge of Learning? Here’s some of what I wrote:

In a knowledge economy, knowledge and information is power. The more you know, the more you can do with it, the more marketable you are. You can’t AFFORD to let an organization tell you what you should be learning–too many organizations, businesses and nonprofits alike, are so busy struggling for survival that they aren’t even sure what needs to be learned anyway. All of a sudden they look up one day and say “Oh no–we need people who can do X or Y.” Waiting for someone else to tell you what you should learn is a sure ticket to the unemployment line.

I think we’re operating from old knowledge and learning paradigms that developed in an industrial age when companies owned the means of production. As a worker, you couldn’t make a living if you didn’t have access to the (expensive) machinery owned by the company. So you waited for the company to tell you what you should learn–they knew best. But now, WE own the means of production–it’s in our heads. It’s what we know and can do. Do we really want to turn that over to the organization to decide? Or do we want to be the people who say “I’m going to take charge of my own learning. I’m going to be curious and pay attention to what’s changing and where things are going and I’m going to pro-actively prepare myself for those things, regardless of whether or not the organization tells me I need to learn this.”

To me, this is really why personal learning and creating a personal learning environment is so critically necessary. I don’t believe that we can rely on the organizations that employ us to drive what we learn. Yes, we need to be responsive to what they need us to know–we need to attend the trainings our bosses suggest, etc. But as individual workers, I don’t believe that we can afford to wait around for someone else to tell us what to learn. We shouldn’t be waiting to receive permission or be empowered. We should be seizing that power and doing everything with it that we can. Our knowledge and skills are the only “job security we have.” And we’ve seen time and time again what happens when we turn over job security to someone else.

This is something I passionately believe. Yes, organizations need to provide staff development. But if we rely on organizations to do all of it, then when we end up unemployed, we have only ourselves to blame. I also think that this attitude makes organizations less adaptable and creative.

In response to my comment on his post, Tony asked what we can do to begin changing this culture of disempowerment. I believe that we have to start with making people conscious of the fact that they own the most precious resource in just about any organization today–the power of their ideas, social connections and thought processes. In a connected age, turning over the development of these things to an organization is not only foolish, but dangerous, in part because the very nature of the wirerarchy is for the power to be in the nodes, in each of us individually. There will be no further development if control is centralized; growth flourishes when we all take responsibility for our own nodes and connections.

As part of this issue of taking responsibility for professional development, I think there’s a larger issue of people managing their own careers differently. This is where I think Dan Pink’s ideas on how we pursue professional development have some real merit. In a nutshell, they are:

  1. There is no career plan–you can’t truly anticipate where things are going to go. There is only a way of pursuing a career. Therefore you need to make choices about your career and what you do based on their intrinsic value–because these activities will benefit you regardless of where they may lead.
  2. Build on your strengths, not your weaknesses.
  3. Improve your life by improving the lives of others (i.e., customers, your team, etc.). It’s about how you can add value to anything.
  4. Persistence trumps talent. This also suggests that you can’t just rest on your laurels–you have to focus on continuous improvement.
  5. Make excellent mistakes.
  6. Leave an imprint. Make an impression.

That’s the start of my answer to what we can do to start changing attitudes and thinking differently. What ideas do you have?