“Why can’t you just tell me what to do?”
I asked my manager, two months into this job.
Every other week, we have one-on-one sessions to check-in on how I’m performing at work, what my goals are and if I need any support. For context, I’ve been through the most Western curriculum – I studied European philosophy. I lived in the UK throughout some of my most formative years. Empowerment is not a foreign concept to me. I understand the motives behind these prompts, Yet, I still remained resistant towards them. Why?
At the core of it all, I still work with an ‘Asian’ mindset. Compounded by the fact that I jumped into this role after two years of working in Mainland Chinese media, through the craziest of times when COVID-19 broke out and centralization of power was tighter than ever. Simply put, it was a fast-moving environment in which learning took place with each new directive. Implementing learning initiatives are even more of a challenge when you operate in emerging economies where business environments are constantly changing and developing. So, how can your business find the right pace when it comes to forming a workplace learning culture?
It’s not that employees aren’t receptive to learning. The way we learn is just different. In hierarchical organisations, subordinates will pick up any skill necessary to complete the assigned tasks. Frankly, it can be even more efficient to learn on the job.
“Here’s a camera, go gather some interview footage.”
Would I list video shooting under my skills? No.
But will I produce quality content anyways? Yes.
HR literature (and just about every self-help book) will tell you that learning, and adaptability are essential to good career and business development. In developing economies, it is even stronger of a survival instinct.
If you are in charge of gathering feedback for your company’s learning and development strategy, more often than, not you will be met with little and unenthusiastic responses. How then do you engage in workplace learning in a stereotypically traditional Asian organisation?
Start by asking a different question. Instead of, “What do you want to learn in the next quarter?”; Ask, “What have you learnt this month?” And keep asking that question.
By encouraging retrospection, employees will be more aware and attentive to what they are learning throughout the process. When the concept of active learning is ingrained into their mindset, they will start thinking of what they want to learn. In this scenario, it is important that they have the right channels to communicate their learning desires. Here, we begin to see culture shifts take place.
When we talk about upskilling, the usual tagline is “employees will not only be equipped with the skills that they need to perform in their current job, but also prepare themselves for their next role”. But how do employees know what their next job will be, not to mention the skills that will actually be relevant to the role when the time comes?
For entry-level roles, instead of assigning ‘training’, it may be better to expose employees to more opportunities in order for them to discover what they want. It is impossible to know what you want to learn when you don’t know what’s out there.
A couple more months into the job, I asked for more opportunities to sit into sales pitches as part of my personal growth and development plan. This was only possible because I had the chance to sit into a sales pitch and discover what interested me in the first place. Learning does not have to be confined to any existing job scopes.
Given the emphasis that traditional Asian cultures places on seniority, senior members must take the lead when it comes to initiating cultural change in an organisation. Start engaging with juniors, guide them, nurture relationships with them.
3. Recognize their value
Job satisfaction doesn’t necessarily come in the form of formatting excel spreadsheets (i.e. I don’t have to love what I do), but also the value you bring to the organisation. Beyond the self is a greater community which takes precedence in our traditional value systems. Sometimes employees don’t realize the value that they are creating for their organisation. This is where leaders must step in to help them recognize that. The logic is simple, if I am happy in my job, I will want to perform better in it for my continual satisfaction and also for a greater purpose – the overall business that I am a part of. Learning unlocks performance.
Sounds like more spoon-feeding than the impression given by mainstream HR literature where we empower each employee to pursue their goals, right? But that’s the reality we have to work with. The key is – communication.
For us at TalearnX, we believe in technology to push HR in the right direction to cultivate a more empowered workforce. But we also believe that we have to tailor solutions honestly, according to cultural contexts.
There is no one size fits all approach to HR. It is equally meaningful for us when we help our clients solve their specific pain points and empower them to thrive by eliminating the pre-existing burdens.