The Case for Learning at Work

WHEN PRICE WAS THE KEY DETERMINANT OF SUCCESS, WE NEEDED TO focus on ways of keeping prices down. When the nature of the product was most important, product development and quality assurance were where we put much of our effort. So, why are more and more people showing an interest in the minds of their employees? Why is learning becoming more important in the new economy? It must surely be because of a renewed interest in people.

Listen to what these business leaders have to say. Colin Marshall, chairman of British Airways, argues:

Learning is extremely important as a vital raw material, but it is the inventive application which creates the true competitive resource. Continuous learning at all levels and across all functions is the life blood of truly innovative companies. The more we know about ourselves, about our markets and about the way we do things, the more we can deliver to all stakeholders—customers, shareholders and employees—alike.

Sir Bob Reid is adamant:

You have to be at the top of the learning curve to be successful, offering imaginative products which meet customers' needs.

Sir Michael Bichard is passionate in his beliefs:

Learning is central to competitiveness. We must invest in high-quality learning for all our people and do something about our serious adult basic skill needs.

A number of leaders emphasize the context of rapid change. Chris Mellor at Anglian Water puts it like this:

You need bright flexible minds in a world of change. We haven't realized more than a fifth of our potential. Give a person the right environment and they can learn and soar.

Joyce Taylor is even more specific:

Learning has to be linked to business strategy. It matters to us because the sector is changing so fast. Learning is about flexibility, having minds which cope well with this sort of fast-moving environment. Employees have to learn to have open minds.

For companies whose business is the delivery of services, like Virgin One Account, learning is really important. As Jayne-Anne Gadhia says:

Flexibility is going to be hugely important as we have more service-led organizations. Workforces need to be as adaptable and empathetic as possible. This is what matters.

The same is true for an organization such as the FI Group. Hilary Cropper explains: "Learning is essential for a business like ours which is all about relationships."

Zoe van Zwanenberg, chief executive of the Scottish Leadership Foundation, makes it clear that there is just as powerful a case in the public sector:

Learning is critical. If public services are to be of value, then we have to learn to respond to wants and needs.

The leaders I interviewed had the learning of themselves and their people high up their organizational agenda.

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