Why good learning habits are important for HR professionals

When HR professionals take learning seriously, they become experts in their own fields, says Dexon Electrical's HR head

About the author

Laurence Yap has 20 years of industrial experience in organisation development and HR development. He has served in multiple multinational organisations in Asia-Pacific, including PayPal, Western Digital, First Solar and Pfizer.

Currently he serves as Head of HR at Dexon Electrical Engineering in Malaysia. 

Renowned MIT senior lecturer Peter Senge once said: “The only sustainable competitive advantage is your organisation's ability to learn faster than the competitors.”

This continues to ring true today, especially in the present age of business disruption. Organisations can compete better by leveraging learning to improve performance, and to innovate their products and services.

Employers should create an environment that secures time and resources to enable constant learning among their employees, such as by using the 70/20/10 learning model. This not only increases employee engagement levels, but also helps to develop key organisational competencies. 

There is much talk about employees undergoing training, but how about HR specifically? HR professionals can also benefit from taking learning seriously. When HR professionals cultivate a habit of learning, overtime, they become experts in their own fields, whether it is organisational development or recruitment. 

Here are four forms of learning that have helped me not only in my own career, but those of my team members as well.

1. Learn from people. Communicate to your staff to find out who the experts are within their circles. Learn from these people. It is also crucial for you to provide information to them.

In my own personal professional network, I have come to know many experts who I can call to ask for information. I expand my network through attending conferences and seminars, joining groups on Linkedin, and participating in networking events.

For example, I was once tasked by the chief operating officer to launch a productivity and lean manufacturing initiative to drive cost, culture and leadership. I started reaching out to my contacts for their advice.

2. Learn from the Internet. The Internet provides zillions of gigabytes of information. A simple search online, and one can access the views of experts, best HR practices and the latest trends. If you keep focusing on one subject matter, you may soon be on your way to becoming an expert in that area.

Websites such as ASTD, Chief Learning Officer Magazine and Slideshare are few of my favourite sources of gaining fresh information in organisation development. Such types of learning have equipped me with brand new methods, models and approaches. Over the years, I have used the knowledge gained to help my organisations gain competitive advantages over their competitors.

I have also applied the Appreciative Inquiry, McKinsey 7s, John Kotter Change Management, Business Sustainability Model and Performance Consulting theories in my work.

3. Learn new competencies. It is your own responsibility to develop your career. By developing the needed competencies for your current or future job, you can contribute more value-added works to your organisation. When I was the senior training and organisation development manager, I started to learn new competencies such as business acumen, organisation design and culture, talent development and stakeholder management. By learning these competencies, I was able to take the organisation to a higher level of performance and engagement. I am also able to deal with the needs of business leaders in different regions. 

4. Learn by doing. I experiment and apply all that I learn in my work. For instance, I adopted the Green Project analysed by Professor Nitin Nohria from Harvard Business School on what really works in business. From the studies, as an organisational development practitioner, I used his model to look into eight factors of sustainable business practices to advise the senior leadership team on corporate strategies and organisation growth. 

You may want to look into current corporate strategies and business challenges.  For example, I discovered that the sales and marketing department was facing major challenges to achieve customer satisfaction. I adopted the action learning model from Roy V. H. Pollock in The Six Disciplines of Breakthrough Learning: How to Turn Training and Development into Business Results. After six months of efforts, the marketing department managed to achieve desirable results. 

So it is a win-win solution. Your company benefited from your efforts of learning. At the same time, you have also built up a credible credential and developed new competencies. In the long run, the competencies you pick up will go a long way in your career. 

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