Supervisors aren’t ideally suited to help workers develop, says one expert, who insists there’s a better alternative.
Focusing on mentoring at the expense of authority is at the heart of what Kim Shepherd's company Decision Toolbox does. L&D professionals can learn a lot from this approach.
The work environment can either get in the way of learning or enhance it, said David Boud, Emeritus Professor at the University of Technology, Sydney.
Moreover, workers can actually learn a lot more from constructing their work environment than they can from direct instruction, he added.
This then leads to another point: bosses are not ideal for helping their workers learn.
Why is that the case?
“Workers want their boss to think well of them,” said Boud.
“You want your boss to think you’re a capable person who is somebody who deserves the salary you are getting.”
He explained that in order for workers to learn new things it’s necessary to show that they are deficient in certain areas.
“That places you in a very difficult position as a worker. You don’t quite know how much you can say you need.”
“You think: If I say too much then my boss is not going to think well of me.
“Even though the person who supervises you might have all the information you need, to actually reveal to that person that you need it is problematic.”
In fact, workers actually learn effectively when they are confronted with a challenge, he said.
He added that people learn when they need to learn and are stuck in a situation when they have to do something about it.
Boud provides an example from the medical profession where the intern or resident goes on rotation and experiences lots of different challenges, conditions and environments.
“You learn to deal with that because you are confronted with the challenges and there is no choice,” said Boud.
“You’re not learning it because you’re learning it for an exam. You’re learning it because there is somebody sitting right next to you who needs your help.
“I’m very much interested in the ways which you can construct opportunities and situations that help people learn, and also help get the job done as well.”
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