From the ground up: How we’re building a learning organization

Teamwork-puzzleLast month I talked about how my company, Duke’s, is working towards the goal of becoming one of New Jersey’s Best Places to Work. It’s a very introspective process but we are truly realizing what is important to our employees and in turn, Duke’s. The thing that was no surprise to us when we surveyed our employees was that they all responded that they love what they do. They might have some issues with things along the way, because let’s be honest, no company is perfect, but all in all, 99% of our employees said they truly enjoy what they do every day. That is a pretty beautiful thing as an employer. It made me and my management team brainstorm two things; 1. How did this happen? and then 2. How do we keep this happening? The answer to both these questions is that we have evolved into a learning organization and keep on evolving.

Before you say “What exactly is a learning organization?” I’ll tell you this, it’s a fancy HR term for something that probably happens naturally in most companies but isn’t labeled, recognized, or supported. It’s when a really great foreman walks along side a crew member and explains to him not only why you should trim around the buildings in a particular order but then walks around with him, watches him, and encourages him, when he does the job well. It’s when in your safety meeting a crew member raises his hand and shares a story about an incident and then gives a suggestion to everyone how he might have done things differently had he had the chance to do it again. It is when people in your organization teach and share information in a way that is supported, encouraged, and cultivated.

We weren’t always a learning organization. Years ago, our safety tailgate talks and our pesticide classes were the only true on-going education we did across the board. In turn we saw that good employees were leaving us, going to other places where new opportunities were being offered. We realized that while we were teaching our employees, we weren’t a true learning organization, an organization where learning is at the core of its mission. Slowly, we began to build the teaching environment. Quite literally we built a dedicated classroom in our offices to teaching. Once we had an arena to teach we just needed to supply the knowledge.

Now our classroom is busier than ever. This month alone you could walk into our classroom early on a Friday morning and take part in a class about crew management or a Duke’s University class focused on Plant ID or Basic First Aid. It makes me so proud to say that our employees play a huge role in where our company heads in the future and are actively engaged here. They most certainly play a large part in the sharing of knowledge and are building Duke’s into a thriving learning organization.


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