“Knowledge has to be improved, challenged or increased constantly, or else it vanishes.” Peter F. Drucker

Why should an organization invest in education for its employees? According to Peter Drucker, the founder of the modern study of management, employee knowledge development contributes to operational excellence, financial health and competitive advantage. From the individual perspective, his quote above reminds us that “use it or lose it” is an axiom of brain function. Individual employees will use information that comes quickly to mind and bring quickly to mind information they use frequently. Any organization that wants to grow and lead in its field needs to have an educational strategy and methods of employee education that identify the knowledge that characterizes and maintains its culture and how that acquiring and maintaining that knowledge will be seen as an asset that creates competitive advantage. Knowledge that is not part of that plan will disappear, only to be replaced by randomly included information that becomes wide spread but counter-cultural.

Consider these dimensions of the problem:

  1. Learning is ongoing: People are constantly learning from their experience. If they don’t, they tend to repeat the same behaviors and get the same results. An organization that doesn’t teach its employees what it wants them to know will have employees that learn otherwise and put that knowledge to use in the way they do their work. All organizations feature informal practices that arise from improvisation (so called “practical subversion”) that arise when work-arounds are created to deal with the daily pressures on the job. The problem arises when these become shared with others through informal means (at the lunch table or while working) and take root as normal by virtue of their frequent appearance. This frequency and visibility act to give the impression that they are part of the preferred knowledge base that supports the organization’s culture when in fact these “good enough” shortcuts lead to culture drift. If the organization’s educational activities don’t establish what knowledge is valued, something or someone else will.
  2. “We’ve always done it this way is a justification for not improving that arises from not setting the educational as a strategic priority in your organization as described in #1, above. If an organization fails to replace old and dated institutional knowledge with new information, it runs the risk of diminishing its performance capacity. This risk arises when the most insightful, curious, skilled and motivated employees become frustrated, bored and worse yet, demoralized and burned out. They take the tacit knowledge that is made up of new information that has been job tested and that your competition doesn’t have with them when they leave. As a result, performance declines, as those who stay are those content to do it as it was always done despite evidence that outcomes are suffering. Paradoxically, the investment in education can reduce turnover and the associated expense of replacing good employees by keeping the high performers who have been developed and made better by the organization’s knowledge cultivation efforts. A good rule of thumb is that if an organization’s educational program and contents haven’t changed in 5- 10 years, it is time to start pruning and to grow new educational resources.
  3. Walk the talk: An organization that hopes to lead in its field and outperform the competition would not market itself by claiming to be “as good as the other guys”. Marketing language aims at telling the story of how an organization is better than the competition and where it offers a superior value proposition to the customer. A culture characterized by stale or obsolete knowledge or where the culture has drifted away from the vision and values articulated in marketing materials soon exhibits a gap between how it describes itself and the reality of internal and external customers’ experience with it. An educated workforce is an important way to align promises with performance if the organization understands how important it is to make knowledge infusion a critical part of its strategy for superior operational and financial performance that drive competitive advantage.

Ask yourself how you view your workforce and how that translates to workforce excellence. We in aging services are in a rapidly changing and increasingly competitive environment. Creating well-educated employees is a significant path to help them do their jobs in the new ways that this environment demands.

Dr. Ronch is Dean and Professor of Practice at The Erickson School of Management Aging Services at the
University of Maryland Baltimore County.

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