Introducing "Tracey’s Takeaways," a new feature focusing on employee development, management issues, leadership and organizational culture.

I have a confession to make … I am a Learner and I LOVE learning. Are you a Learner, too? Learners are people who can thrive in a dynamic work environment, challenged to continually learn and apply new knowledge. The Gallup organization in their CliftonStrengths® assessments and research describes someone with the Learner strength as being "energized by the steady and deliberate journey from ignorance to competence."

How many Learners do you have on your team? When I am talking with co-op CEOs about what's challenging them, a common concern is a "we've always done it this way" mentality among their employees. How does such a mindset line up with what you believe will be needed to adapt your co-op's services, programs and policies in an evolving industry with changing technologies and member expectations?

Please don't misunderstand me. Employees who are not Learners aren't bad people or bad employees; they have other strengths. But if you want to shift your co-op to a more continuous improvement culture, having more Learners can help. Here are three things you can do to include and encourage more of those adaptable Learners:

1. Take Advantage of Hiring Opportunities to Bring More Learners On Board

Learners tend to be excited to share what they are learning, so they can bring others along. Here are a few questions you can use to identify Learners in the interview process:

  • Tell me about a time when you really failed at something. How did you handle it?
  • What is the most recent thing you learned professionally? How could you see that being applied here?
  • Can you describe a situation where you were presented with a problem outside of your specific area of expertise or responsibility where you were able to come up with a creative solution?

2. Make Learning Psychologically Safe for Your Team

Many people resist learning a new way to do something because the feeling of incompetence and risk of failure as they navigate the learning curve is extremely uncomfortable. Be clear that you don't expect to see mastery from the outset. Use mistakes as coaching opportunities. Acknowledge and positively reinforce any progress you see.

3. Keep Your Learners Engaged by Providing them Opportunities to Try New Things and Acquire New Knowledge

Give them research projects, such as investigating other co-ops that have deployed some technology your co-op is considering. Let them cross-train with someone in a different functional area. Send them to a conference or training program where they can learn from subject matter experts. Ask them to lead a brown-bag lunch discussion on a topic you assign them.

Tracey Steiner is NRECA's senior vice president for education and training. Her 25-year career at NRECA has spanned a variety of roles starting in communications and marketing positions then 15 years as an attorney focusing on cooperative governance and public policy issues before moving to Education & Training in 2012.

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