A Business Learning Culture, How Did It Grow Our Business?
Business is all about learning…. what worked well? what didn’t work at all? what makes a perfect employee? what does the business need to look out for? who are the customers the business wants most? etc. etc.
Building a learning culture is a prudent business approach because it encourages the lessons from ‘day to day’ business to be incorporated collectively across the business.
When people are all driven to continually learn, then, people are all driven to continually improve also.
Leadership Sets the Precedence
Like everything in business/leadership; when a business is going well go straight to the top, and, when a business is struggling then look no further but at the top….
Because if the person at the top has a strong belief in learning then the business will intuitively connect with that persons learning culture and become a strongly influenced business with a learning culture also.
Because leaders lead…. and leaders know they are responsible for the business, its people, its customers, its stakeholders and its performance over time and in the future.
Learning Lays the Foundation
I was fortunate that through my apprenticeship I was actively involved with learning opportunities provided by my employer. My employer pushed for up-skilling its employees.
I knew that any opportunity I could take to learn would promote future employment prospects and enhance my professional capabilities, so I made it my business to learn, learn, learn….
As time progressed, I had completed a reasonable magnitude of ‘on the job’, and, ‘off the job’ training that gave me the confidence to establish my sole trader plumbing business.
It was time to start my 1st business with ‘Learning Culture’ being a strong focus from the beginning.
But as the business grew, and when I began to diversify into other trade related areas I had to learn new methods and practices.
You see, my business was the first to create a diversely skilled trade related (plumbing, electrical, civil, welding, concreting, instrumentation, draining, gas fitting etc.) business based from the extremely isolated region of the Bulloo Shire located 1,00km’s inland. It was typical for business to grow based around a single skill, but because of the remoteness my business had to diversify.
Grow, Strengthen and Collaborate Business Learnings
I would build my on the job ‘construction tradesperson‘ knowledge and then incorporate additional ‘tertiary’ learning; develop a robust management system that was practical and ‘fit for purpose’ while continually advancing our skills to combine under a ‘turn key‘ construction business.
Whilst I spent time on the tools, it was important for me to expand my knowledge and understanding of electrical and instrumentation requirements. I initially spent 5 years working with electricians to understand the spectrum of domestic and commercial electrical installation works, I wanted to understand the ‘best practice’ techniques that I could utilise across our business. I incorporated these learnings into our business systems.
It then became time for me to learn more about the fabrication and pressure welding components I wanted the business to grow into. I became heavily involved with welding and developing the welding procedure specifications that we needed to manage our project weld integrity. Ensuring welding practices were fit for purpose for (1) complying with industry specifications, (2) suiting remote construction work, and (3) our clients requirements.
The pinnacle qualification to develop and supervise welding for our business was an AS 1796 Cert10 Welding Supervisor qualification. Using the knowledge and qualifications I already had, I enrolled in a 6 week course (1 week a month) to learn the ‘off the job’ knowledge I was missing.
I made it my business to become an AS1796 certificate 10 welding supervisor.
It was onerous, travelling 12,000km’s to complete the training. The course took 6 months to complete and finished with 8 hours of written exams. Completing the training while operating an expanding business was terribly difficult, but the learnings became an incredibly useful body of knowledge that these skills enabled me to introduce into our business.
From the training, I was able to scrutinise the systematic fabrication processes and adopt those learnings into the business system accordingly. The approach that metal fabrication processes take on ‘construction integrity’ heavily influence the manner in which our other trade disciplines were scrutinised.
Combining Tertiary Learnings
As the business grew the fundamental ‘business management’ controls needed to be managed properly. While employing ‘in house’ accountants, management professionals and core business personnel. I wanted to make sure every component was always on my radar, that a pragmatic and diligent system controlled the business.
Even though I knew I would not have the time to study to become an accountant or a lawyer (because my business required an immense amount of time and effort). I still had to understand the ethical processes, principles and disciplines that made each fundamental business component combine into a lean and efficient systematic business.
To make this possible, other certified tertiary training became important to me and I wanted to combine the ‘on the job’ and ‘off the job’ skills from each different trade and business discipline. I subsequently undertook and completed 4 advanced diplomas while growing my business before the business became dual ISO certified (related article).
Business Learning Culture Goes ‘Full Circle’
Whilst my own learning journey was underway, our business also incorporated learning to everything that our company had grown to deliver.
Every employee would receive training – when people left our company, they would be more skilled then when they started….
This began with a comprehensive business induction; pre-requisite business employment training modules and company specific training that ensured the workforce was practically competent whilst learning ‘off the job’ skilled knowledge to the betterment of the identified skill.
Our employees became engaged in learning, building their skills, learning new techniques, embracing change and incorporating improvements for the best outcomes for our customers.
It was clear to everyone, we wanted to be the best, and we gave all our attention to ensuring our people were given the greatest opportunity to also develop and grow (related article).
We built a comprehensive team, a workforce, of higher educated employees through widespread learning/training campaigns.
Key Business Achievement – Through a period of 10 years, our remote business employed over 100 apprentices and trainees. We had delivered well over 3,000 different training courses.
Those skills advancements had encouraged learning and professional development for every employee. It empowered employee growth and professional development; but for our business, it created a greater level of skill diversity and continual improvement for the business.
As the company became increasingly skilled, those learning were shared and improvements were constantly being driven. they were driven from the workforce up and from management down.
Consequently, our ‘construction integrity’ and ‘project management’ combined to build a comprehensive ‘Integrated Management System’. The system was tailored to our business needs, our customers and the core principles of each trade related discipline.
Through the course of my career, the opportunity given to me as an apprentice then became the opportunity to ‘give back’ to young apprentices on a similar scale. But best of all, we gave every employee opportunities to develop and grow….
Written by Geoff Pike, Entrepreneur, Speaker & Business Mentor
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Geoff founded a sole trader plumbing business in a remotely located and vastly underpopulated location in outback Australia. Starting business with only enough money to pay 4 weeks wages, Geoff persisted by growing the business into a multi-disciplined trade services company. Over a period of 12 years, the company Geoff established grew to employ a workforce of over 300 personnel covering an area almost half the size of Europe, receiving international award recognition with an annual revenue of over $30mil. Geoff knows what it takes to overcome adversity.