Learning with people, not technology

This morning I revisited the delightful story of how people learn to do their jobs at New Seasons Market, a chain of nine natural food stores in Portland, Oregon.

New Seasons exemplifies taking a non-training alternative to workplace learning.

That New Seasons is a people-oriented business echoes in their approach to learning.

  • New hires receive a brief orientation and are then let loose to learn by walking around and asking questions.
  • The HR director explains “New employees are given time to look around and get to know the products, ask questions, go online, read literature and shadow experienced employees. From a training perspective, we’ve created an environment where an employee’s learning style is accommodated because they learn their own way, at their own pace and in an order that makes sense to them.”
  • New Seasons executives host a Disorientation to go over values and what it takes to be successful a month after people come on board. It makes so much sense to conduct this after new hires understand what makes the organization tick.
  • People keep up to speed by attending short two-way sessions with a dozen or fewer colleagues on the job floor.

New Seasons trusts its employees to do their best — and the employees return the favor by doing it.

Todd Hudson describes the New Seasons experience on his Maverick Institute blog. I fully agree with his takeaways:

  1. How you deliver training should reinforce your values and business model. Is customer service key to your success? Face-to-face methods like mentoring might be best. Yes, everyone’s jumping on the e-learning bandwagon today, but before you do, ask yourself ‘How does sitting at a computer taking in information align with the value our employees deliver?’ There are plenty of situations where e-learning is the right choice. Just make sure it’s your situation.
  2. Training should align with the environment. Learning by walking around at a grocery store is great. But at a copper mine? Not on your life! Too dangerous; more structure would be needed. Walking around ‘virtually’ in a simulation would be a great alternative. Whenever possible, let the work environment organically teach employees as much as it can and at their pace.
  3. Training and learning should be a part of the natural rhythm of your company’s work day. Don’t let training stick out like a sore thumb and disturb your business. If you have night shifts, train at night. If your company’s work pace is irregular, then training should fit into these periods of inactivity. Here’s a simple rule: If people are complaining about training, you’re doing it wrong.

Todd’s white paper on Lean Knowledge Transfer is worth a read. I’m going to bring this to the attention of the Stoos Network; we’re on the lookout for examples of enlightened next practices. If you share my interest in mashing up agile development and corporate learning, you may want to check out Unmanagement.net.