So how did I make changes to my working approach? How could I capitalise from all of the rich experiences available in the workplace? I needed a tiny bit of theory – not much, but enough to provide some rationale for the subsequent steps ahead. First I had to understand what was meant by ‘Concrete Experience’, the process of actually experiencing something. As there was no shortage of experiences at work, the most difficult part proved how to select an experience to start with.
Once an experience had been chosen, a brief account of the experience was written down on paper (we didn’t have blogs then!), in a purely objective manner, paying particular attention not to form judgements or reach any conclusions at this stage.
A second piece of paper was then used to list a series of ‘learning points’ or ‘opportunities’ to learn from the experience. Finally a list of actions derived to address the learning points was generated, together with due dates for completion. This action plan then resulted in more experience and the cycle of experience, reflection, learning points and action planning continued.
These two pieces of paper formed a ‘log’ that could be used to review later, or direct learning towards achieving a particular aim. All in all this proved straightforward, with the added benefit that whilst the method used daily work experiences to create an action plan, the discipline of the learning through the use of short ‘learning logs’ helped reveal learning traits. Since the experiences were documented, it was easier to measure progress against a plan. It was also interesting to review what had been achieved from time to time, even over relatively short periods. I believe that this point alone played a major part in retaining my sanity.
Another benefit was that the process significantly altered my focus, in that I was much more conscious of learning and therefore actively took more note of my surroundings, even if I didn’t put pen to paper.
For instance, mastery of SAP’s Human Resource modules is one thing; you may even know some ‘killer’ methods for deploying HR screens via a portal. But do you really understand how HR operates? Do you possess the skills necessary to manage change in the workplace? Can you deal with organisational blockages? After practising the technique for a while, other paybacks became apparent. I was now openly selfish in my thirst for learning during training, and had no problems in asking questions.
I was now in a position to maximise the benefit of ‘off-the-job’ courses, tailoring, where applicable the learning to my own on-the-job needs. Similarly, during the course of my duties, I actively directed probing questions at suppliers, customers and colleagues, with the assurance that information of any significance would be used to further my development. This alone dramatically improved my learning, demonstrating its increasing worth to myself as an aspiring professional. It also underlined the fact that whilst the fundamentals of learning on-the-job are correct, the means by which you can capture the maximum advantage of this experience requires a little guidance.
It is important to bear in mind that it wasn’t all ‘rosy’ – logging experiences means including the ‘bad’ ones as well as the ‘good’ bits. Looking back through the logs doesn’t always evoke pleasant memories, but there is a sense of triumph when a similar situation arises later, to be dealt with successfully.
Personally I find that this is where the power of the approach really lies, as you are forced to question your own actions and draw objective conclusions. It is possible to reflect and read the evidence to prove that learning, and the benefit derived from it, has occurred.
In the last article of this series, I describe an SAP case study where tangible business improvements were realised through on-the-job learning.