The most important step is for the manager to be a learner himself

The most important step is for the manager to be a learner himself

How business can encourage lifelong learning

Danny Van Assche

Danny Van Assche of the UNIZO entrepreneurial organization

A change of mentality is not only necessary among employees. Entrepreneurs will also have to make a change to create a learning society. This can pose a challenge, especially for smaller companies, says Danny Van Assche of the UNIZO entrepreneurial organization.

“It is not always easy for an SME to implement a learning policy. Because work always comes first, it is often done piecemeal and ad hoc: training is only provided in case of urgent need. However, it is better to think in the longer term and, as an entrepreneur, to ask questions such as: how is my market evolving? What are the current trends? Which competencies do I need to respond to them? Does my company already possess them? If not, where can I find them? If so, how do I keep them up to date? This can already be done through, for example, performance interviews. Then you can ask your employees what they need to do their job even better. Which competencies do they want to strengthen? If you follow this up, you can proactively respond to your needs as a company by means of a learning policy. The government and entrepreneurial organizations can help companies draw up that learning policy.”

But in order to conduct a learning policy, “leading by example” is key, according to Van Assche.

 

“The most important step that a company can take to become a learning company is for the manager to be a learner themselves and then to introduce that culture into their company. As an entrepreneur you have to invest in yourself and keep up with current trends. This can also be done in an accessible way. For example, at UNIZO we organise a seminar for business leaders every year, to which we invite the authors of 10 high-profile management books. These authors share the key insights of their book with the public in 30 minutes. This form of learning is a huge success, with over 1,000 participating entrepreneurs attending in order to absorb knowledge”.

Marion Debruyne of Vlerick Business School agrees that managers are eager to learn.

“The older generation of managers is continuously upskilling themselves. At Vlerick, we have been organising the ‘Take the lead’ course for 5 years in a row. Our mission is to bring entrepreneurs along in the super-fast digital transformation that is taking place in society. The senior managers are non-digital natives and are aware that they have to help shape this transformation. There are some highly experienced sixty-somethings among the participants, as well as twenty-somethings. That interaction is interesting, they can learn a lot from each other. Today’s leaders are aware of the importance of lifelong learning.

If you want to continue to lead in a rapidly changing society, you have to keep learning. If you stand still, you’ll fall behind. Your learning curve as a business leader will have to be faster than society’s change curve. Or, as the Flemish entrepreneur Tim Van Hauwermeiren said in a lecture to our students, “you should attach more importance to your learning curve than your salary curve.”

Andreas Schleicher also touched on this shift when he stated: “The polarisation today in our society is about money. In the future, it will be about human capabilities.” Danny Van Assche concludes with a piece of golden advice for every entrepreneur.

“Do away with the delusion that training, which does not have an immediate return on investment, is a cost. Even if there is no immediate ROI, that learning culture is still important, because it yields returns in the long term.”

“Your learning curve as a business leader will have to outpace society’s change curve.”

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