What motivates lifelong learners

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Seeking to stay ahead of the competition, companies today are creating lifelong learning programs for their employees, but they are often less effective than they could be. This is because they do not inspire the right kind of learning: the creation of new knowledge (and not just the transfer of existing knowledge over existing skills). The author’s research shows that those who are motivated for this type of learning are not stimulated by the fear of losing their job, which is often the motivation given, but by what he calls the “passion for learning”. ‘Explorer “. The article describes this mindset and how companies can create it among their employees.

It seems like everyone in business today is talking about the need for all workers to engage in lifelong learning in response to the rapid pace of technological and policy changes around us. But I’ve found that most executives and talent management professionals tasked with teaching their employees don’t think about what drives them. real learning – the creation of new knowledge, not just the transfer of existing knowledge. As a result, many companies miss out on opportunities to motivate their employees to engage in the type of learning that will actually help them innovate and keep pace with the changing needs of their customers.

Today, it is not enough to involve employees in development programs. These training programs are largely focused on sharing existing knowledge, skills that already exist. But in a rapidly changing world, existing knowledge quickly becomes obsolete. We need to broaden our definition of ‘learning’ to include creating New awareness. We need a marketer to experiment with new social media and analytics tools. We need a factory worker to find new uses for a “job killer” robot. We need an IT technician to find a new way to deal with tickets using AI.

This article is part of a series on “The Human Imperative”, the theme of the 13th Peter Drucker Global Forum. See the conference program here.

Developing new knowledge in this way requires significant and sustained effort and risk-taking in the workplace, much more than a traditional development program. Thus, learners need to be much more deeply motivated to engage in it. But I rarely hear executives asking Why their employees would like to continue their lifelong learning. When in a rush, the answer tends to be that workers need to pursue because if they don’t, they will lose their jobs as their existing skills become obsolete. So the motivation that leaders rely on is fear – your fear of losing your job.

My colleagues at the Deloitte Center for the Edge and I suspected that fear is not the most powerful motivation for people to learn. We wanted to know: What really drives this marketer to test new tools, the factory worker playing with the robot or the IT tech playing with AI? Based on years of research into the motivations of people at work, we conducted a to study 1,300 full-time frontline workers in the United States in 15 industries and multiple employment levels to understand the mechanism at work when we saw an extreme improvement in performance.

We found that instead of fearful, employees who learned and grew this way tended to manifest what we called the explorer’s passion. This passion is a very powerful motivation for learning. (I explore it in much more detail in my new book The journey beyond fear.)

As we observed in the employees we studied, the explorer’s passion has three key elements:

  • Explorers have a long-term commitment to making an impact in a specific area they are passionate about everything from factory work and financial services to gardening and surfing the big waves.
  • They are excited in the face of unexpected challenges. Explorers see these obstacles as an opportunity to learn and have an even greater impact. In fact, if they aren’t faced with enough challenges, they get bored and look for environments that will give them more.
  • When faced with new challenges, Explorers have an immediate desire to seek out and connect with others who can help them get better answers faster so they can increase their impact.

Our research has shown that people who are passionate about this learn much faster than those who are motivated by fear.

But here’s the challenge for organizational leaders looking to instill this passion in their employees. This same research we did found that, at most, only 14% of working Americans express this form of passion about their work.

Why are the numbers so low? And is it possible to change them, to instill this passion in your people? Or are some people just unable to be passionate this way?

I believe we all have the potential for this form of passion. Go to a playground and supervise children aged 5 to 6. They have all the required elements: curiosity, imagination, creativity and a willingness to take risks and connect with others.

Instead, I think the reason the numbers are so low for adults is that most of us have been discouraged from pursuing something that is inherently human so that we can fit into institutions that want to. that we become the cogs of a machine, following the literal manual process, faster and cheaper. This is because employers traditionally distrust this form of passion. Passionate explorers ask too many questions, they stray from the assigned script, and they take too many risks.

Take an acquaintance of mine who worked in a procurement department for a large automotive company. As someone enthusiastic about improving the company’s supply network, she created and started testing a new intake form to assess supplier reliability. She was fired for not using standard purchase forms.

Large institutions around the world are guided by a scalable model of efficiency where the key to success is to get things done faster and at lower cost. The challenge is that strictly specified processes are only effective in a stable environment when situations are known in advance. In a fast-paced world with increasing uncertainty, frontline workers find themselves consuming much more time and effort as they have to deviate from strictly specified processes, so scalable efficiency becomes more and more more ineffective.

But once we recognize the importance of the Explorer’s Passion, we recognize that we need to make a transition from scalable efficiency to progressive learning where the focus shifts from doing routine tasks to helping everyone learn together faster. To do this, we need to rethink our business practices and work environments to cultivate the passion of the explorer in all of our workers (and not just those in research labs or innovation centers).

You do this by first identifying a part of the business that is facing significant performance issues and finding ways to help employees start solving problems that have never been resolved. For example, Quest Diagnosis was experiencing significant customer dissatisfaction in its customer call center operations. She encouraged employees in her call centers to work with IT and find ways to automate many of the routine tasks that took up a lot of their time and attention. As the capacity of the workers became free, they were encouraged to focus on the more difficult questions they received from clients and come up with much more creative approaches that could increase the value delivered to clients. As a result, customer satisfaction improved dramatically and call center workers became much more excited about their ability to add value – the explorer’s passion had started to surface.

Cultivating the passion of the explorer allows innovative thinking in the organization on a whole new level. Institutions that restore our humanity in this way will trigger a much more powerful form of learning among all workers, which will lead to exponentially expanding opportunities. But harnessing this opportunity forces us to move beyond fear and find and cultivate the passion of the explorer that is waiting to be discovered in each of us.


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