MOST organisations today adopt a management style based on manufacturing-era standards — people are considered as work-producing units controllable for variability and output.

Efficiency is emphasised and rightly so, for in business, it is often a race to be the first to get your products and services to market.

Productivity is the overriding concern and organisations work hard at getting tasks completed and completed right.

However, today’s knowledge-driven economy requires performance in areas that are not as easily quantifiable, and a sole focus on execution is not enough to sustain long-term profitability.

Learning through experimentation and reflection is the crucial success factor for today’s economy.

Is it safe?

A willingness to experiment is driven by curiosity to find out what will work, and what won’t.

However, experimentation always carries with it a chance of failure. In view of time, effort and resources wasted, conventional wisdom cannot help but consider failure negatively.

Yet, some of the biggest and most successful companies today encourage experimentation by doing away with the stigma of failure. They know that each failure is also a golden opportunity to learn, and learning faster than the competition allows them to come up ahead.

Learning and experimentation require openness and directness from the people on the ground, and to get employees to speak up, companies must build a sense of psychological safety in their ranks.

Knowing that input is welcome, and even important, employees will speak their minds and share opinions and findings, ensuring that critical shifts in trends do not catch the company off-guard.

Successful learning

The accelerated pace with which knowledge is being discovered today guarantees that there is no such thing as the best practice, only the best practice at the time.

Recognising this fact, businesses in knowledge-based industries should realise that learning is imperative if they wish to succeed.

Here are some factors for implementing learning successfully:

1. Standardise routine processes

The rationale for implementing standardised processes is two-fold:

* To streamline work for employees, helping them in executing their tasks more efficiently; and

* To set the ground for organisational learning.

With standardised processes in place, discrepancies that arise between process and customer needs are readily highlighted, presenting opportunities for innovation.

2. Provide information needed

Employees who are given ready access to the relevant information they need will find it easier to collaborate with their peers. In turn, enhanced collaboration among employees leads to greater degrees of learning.

This is especially valuable when knowledge workers encounter unexpected or new problems, as such situations are also great circumstances for learning.

With access to vital information on-demand, frontline workers are able to tap on the collective knowledge of their colleagues to generate an appropriate response.

3. Record what happened

Instead of establishing rigid protocols that have to be followed, allow employees to assess the situation and choose the best solution based on their own judgment.

Thereafter, invite staff to contribute to the learning of the organisation by sharing why and how they deviated from established procedures.

Performed in the right spirit, the practice of recording what happened can serve as a valuable source of learning, highlighting the areas needing improvement, and how to improve them.

4. Make time for reflection

The purpose of recording data on what happened during work is to allow the organisation to understand its successes and errors, and prevent future mistakes from occurring.

To analyse the information and generate meaningful conclusions, companies should make time for reflecting on the data they have collected.

Organise regular sessions where employees from different departments can get together to share what they have learnt, and suggest improvements or alterations to future process guidelines.

Luxury or requirement?

With the pressures and competition companies face today, it may seem like a luxury to ask for time and room for experimentation and reflection.

Cost-constrained or overwhelmed businesses especially would typically prefer to focus on short-term objectives.

However, as demonstrated by many top-performing companies, making the effort to incorporate learning pays off in terms of long-term success.

With the economy evolving increasingly into a knowledge-driven one, the real question is really how much longer can companies afford to put off learning.