One in four people plans to look for a new job when the threat of the current COVID-19 pandemic decreases. Within this group, four out of five are concerned about their career growth while almost three-quarters are rethinking their skill sets. The report advised businesses to develop cultures of internal mobility and prioritize lifelong learning to stay competitive and win in the war on talent.
The report corresponds to a conversation I had with a couple of friends from my days as a lawyer. None of us are in the legal practice anymore, each having moved on to different roles and career paths. One mentioned that she may return to postgraduate study, as she could not imagine doing the same work for the next few decades. She is seeking a new challenge and wants to reskill herself.
How Lifelong Learning Can Increase Resilience
The stable lifetime employment, of doing similar work throughout our professional lives, is a relic of the past. With better healthcare and education, we may expect to live longer than our parents and grandparents, with the implication that we will have longer working lives as well. The rapid rate of technological advancement may also mean that the jobs that we started our careers with are likely to be disrupted unless we continue to evolve and grow with the current market.
This need and desire to reskill and upskill tie in with the shifting business landscape of creating a positive impact on people and the planet. As we move from shareholder capitalism, where profits take precedence, to stakeholder capitalism where the interests of employees, customers, suppliers, investors, and the environment play equal importance, we need to rethink our assumptions and the way we do business. Shifting our perspective requires learning new skills, and evolving the business may require developing new business models.
Learning new skills is one thing, but learning in itself is a skill and a habit that can be developed. The ability to grow quickly and to adapt will be a desirable hiring trait. Developing lifelong learning as a skill starts with the mindset of curiosity. In The Altruistic Capitalist, I personified Curiosity as the Five-Year-Old. Curiosity is the desire to learn and discover. The journey starts when one sees a gap in their knowledge, and proceeds with finding out the answer to their question. At times, curiosity is a pleasurable almost playful experience because one finds novelty and satisfaction when the answer is revealed.
What is The Curiosity Mindset
The benefits of being curious cover areas from the psychological to the emotional. From the perspective of building prosperous and sustainable businesses, people who have this mindset are observers of their surroundings which may prompt them to ask questions. As the business context needs to evolve with social and environmental issues, this type of behavior enables the team to create innovative solutions and respond quickly as they gather new information. Curious teams are more likely to be more engaged and contribute more to the problem at hand, leading to high achievement and performance at work.
Patagonia recently announced that they would no longer produce corporate branding on their products. The blog post explained that they want to encourage their consumers to use their products for a longer time. The decision may cause the company some loss of business because this was a source of revenue for them. Patagonia demonstrated its willingness to improve the way they support the planet. By inviting companies to suggest ideas in response to this decision, they also showed their curiosity to learn how to better serve their customers.
How to Develop Learning at Work
So how do we make learning part of the team culture? Most employees are under the prevailing impression that learning and development is an extra-curricular activity. Learning takes a backseat to one’s daily work and deliverables. So, HR managers often face employees postponing or canceling their training courses. Leaders should communicate and role model continuous learning to counter the thinking that learning is a nice-to-have at work. Learning need not be tied directly to a particular job or role. The objective is to learn outside of our comfort zone. The message should be that learning empowers the team to drive the business forward and to be more resilient.
In addition to communicating this regularly and consistently to the team, leaders can encourage learning by being voracious readers. Set up reading challenges within the team (e.g. read one book a month), exchange book recommendations, or start a book club to encourage open dialogue beyond the confines of project deliverables and work roles. Leaders can develop their knowledge across varied topics and deepen their relationships with their teams by creating a learning culture through reading.
Sometimes, people at work will choose to do the tasks they are good at. They may be afraid of failure or fear of looking incompetent in front of others if they took on stretch goals. Team leads can establish a supportive learning environment by celebrating learning achievements. More important than celebrating wins and successes, is celebrating openness to share and learn from mistakes. Foster critical thinking and encourage everyone, no matter their title, to speak up in discussions. Employees should feel safe to challenge authority where they see value to do so. Such behavior should be applauded publicly to encourage others to do the same.
When we have a curiosity mindset, learning becomes a natural journey to see different perspectives. We are better equipped to innovate and create solutions to solve sustainability issues—whether related to people or the planet. Teams become more resilient even with changing business conditions. By taking on stretch goals or sharing openly about mistakes, teams evolve and adapt more rapidly. Such businesses are more able to create a positive impact while achieving financial success.