Sunday, 29 April 2012

Can learning influence motivation and engagement at work?

Dan Pink is well known for his ideas related to motivation and in particular, the factors that drive engagement at work. Dan Pink identifies three key elements - autonomy, mastery and purpose - as essential ingredients for motivating and engaging individuals at work.

These critical elements shouldn't be seen in practice to be separate entities. When we consider work to be learning and the learning to be the work, these inter-related elements become integral to the informal learning process.

Let's assume that an organisation recognises the value of shifting to a culture that embraces these elements. What does this mean for learning at work? How do we embed the elements in our learning and development programs to enhance motivation and engagement at work? How can we create a learning environment at work to facilitate a sense of autonomy, mastery and purpose?

A significant challenge for some organisations is that individuals may need to learn or relearn what it is to be autonomous at work. For many individuals accustomed to working in a 'command-control' environment, a shift to an unfamiliar model based on a degree of self-directed activity can be unsettling.

Individuals will need to adjust by identifying themselves as knowledge workers, embrace a culture of learning and understand that autonomy does not mean working in isolation. The organisation should promote collaboration in their work by creating workspaces, both physically and through social media to support conversations, and the sharing of information and knowledge. This may require a considerable shift to recognise social learning as an agile 'just-in-time' support for the autonomous worker.

Inherent in this more autonomous model will be a transition away from 'push' learning, by empowering individuals to 'pull' learning as required to meet the challenges of work. If the knowledge worker is to achieve mastery, they'll need to pull information and knowledge in a timely way and synthesise it into action. To develop higher order problem solving and strategic thinking skills they'll need to share ideas through conversations with people across a learning network. Conversations provide immediate feedback and enable ideas to crystallise and be refined.

The organisation can facilitate pull learning and just-in-time solutions through online resources (eg Wikis, controlled document sites), social media (eg Yammer) and collaborative structures. The provision of a broad platform to support social learning may be optimal to enable a spectrum of learning. This includes meeting learning needs based on individual development levels and the preferences of the workforce demographic. Further, workspaces need to support social learning by design that supports conversations as 'the way we do business around here'.

Collaboration not only provides a vehicle for distilling solutions for challenges on the job, it potentially provides a sense of community and clarity of purpose. The broader interactions we have with people, particularly beyond our own silo, often helps us to define the bigger picture and recognise the value of our work.

Social learning may have the potential to influence motivation and engagement at work. Paradoxically a lack of motivation across an organisation may hinder engagement with activities that facilitate social learning. The challenge for an organisation is to create a social learning environment that has the momentum to cultivate the key ingredients - autonomy, mastery and purpose.

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