'If they want to learn, they will' - well, no.

Dorottya Nagy-Jozsa PCC Dorottya Nagy-Jozsa PCC today 2022-11-18 label english

I hear the above sentence 7-8 times per week on average, considering the number of meetings and project launches in my calendar in February. Of course, I’ve never heard it in a parent- teacher meeting.

Don’t even let me start on the “obligatory vs optional training” debate, I’m not going to open that can of worms. I can still tell you my opinion, though. That’s what our blog is for, isn’t it? :) I can’t imagine anything worse than making people go to obligatory training programmes. If it was up to me, I would eliminate this practice from the university, but I would certainly never make it obligatory in the workplace.

Yes, I know, making the programme optional usually means that everybody comes to the team building except the one you want to integrate into the group, but nothing is perfect. 

On the other hand, we might give some thought, at least in a blog post, to the idea that “if they want to learn, they will”. If this adage were true, we could also say, for example, that if they want to do sports, they will. Or if they want to eat healthy, they will.

Now I can picture you throwing away the Bounty wrapper or staring sadly into the darkness because you didn’t go running today even though it was 14 °C. You know what I’m talking about. It would be great if people would just do what they want to do.

But they don’t.
Hell, no. 

I think it’s a very-very long shot to assume that just because you booked the trendy trainer, the trendy coach and the trendy programme or you put together a trendy e-learning package, people will participate. For that to happen, you need to sell the idea much harder than you ever imagined. No wonder so many personal trainers, running coaches, running club, group workout programmes do exactly that, for example. They ask for a considerable amount of money with a considerable success rate for something that everybody want to and could do on their own - and for free, too.

The question is, how can you do it yourself at your company?

How can you get the people who want to learn, to actually learn?

In a way you’re right that if someone is not interested in how their behaviour affects other people, or how they could hold a 20% more sensible meeting or keep 8 more employees afloat, you can’t teach them. Neither can we, so please don’t make them come to us if they don’t want to. 

But you’re wrong when you think that if they want to learn, they will say they have time for it at 9 a.m. on Tuesday. They didn’t have the time to go running at 5 p.m. today, and they didn’t have 80 minutes to read in the last 40 days or to bring a healthy salad to the office for lunch instead of junk food. Even though they wanted to do each of these things so badly!

So, no matter how firmly I believe that “individual responsibility” is the worthiest slogan for a laminated display on your office wall, I’d rather not connect this issue here. Your job is to arouse their interest and get them to want to participate and learn, to have a platform to share what he learnt with other people, to try new things, to have a mentor they are willing to ask how they could improve, to have a mentor that truly mentors them because he doesn’t only want to mentor them some time in the future when he has nothing else to do. 

As the head of the organization or the HR department or L&D leader, it’s your responsibility to learn everything you need to know about a learning organization and start applying it to practice.
Step by step, all of it. No, don’t start with the high-key solutions that cost a gazillion dollars. Start with the free ones.

Some will work for you, some won’t. Because something that works in Japanese corporate culture might not work in Hungary. Some methods will help you to get 3 people to start learning, of those
who want to, while some other methods will get help you to get 300. It might not be you, but one of the first three who are already learning. 

But don’t tell me “If they want to learn, they will”, because it’s not true.

Believe me, I know for sure that not all people who want to water their flowers actually water them.

But at least they work out and lay off the Bounty bars.

Per aspera ad astra.


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