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Expand Your Horizons

If your organization is focusing all its energies on production at the expense of learning, you’re missing out.

This is a milestone year for my wife, Debbie, and me: We’re celebrating our 35th wedding anniversary, and we’re both turning 60 years old. So, we’re embarking on an adventure to mark the passage of time and our lives together. We’re going on a cruise that will take us through Hungary, Austria, Germany and the Netherlands. It’s been fascinating to plan, and we’re both already feeling the anticipation grow. To prepare, Debbie challenged me to relearn how to read and speak German.

I took up the gauntlet and started daily language lessons using the Duolingo app on my phone. I have to say, I love it! I know I could use Google Translate or some foreign language artificial intelligence bot on the trip instead, but that seems like an easy out.

I wanted to accept Debbie’s challenge for several reasons. The first is that it will be cool to be conversant and understand the language and signage that we’ll encounter throughout most of our trip. Second, I took German for one year in college, and it was wonderful. My heritage is a mix of German on my mother’s side and Irish on my father’s side. Also, I was born in Nuremberg, West Germany (that’s what it was called back then), on an Army base, where my father was stationed. Finally, one of the stops on the trip is Nuremberg. To be able to speak to people in the city of my birth will be amazing!

There are also untold benefits to being someone who’s constantly learning. I’ve always been a curious person who’s more willing than others to take risks. I get itchy if I fall into too many predictable patterns in life. There’s always something new you can learn.

Back in the 1990s and 2000s, there was a concerted effort for people to become “lifelong learners.” I remember blog post after blog post on the topic. (I probably wrote one or two of them myself.) It’s a great aspiration, but many of us learn only when told to, or for a reason. The focus at work is production, and the message of the day is about hitting our numbers, driving results or analyzing data, then coming up with methods to get those numbers consistently better.

I don’t think learning and performing are separate functions. Far from it: They’re intertwined. We perform far better and more consistently if we take the time to learn first. And we have the time. We just choose to blow through it because of the incessant pressure to produce at all costs. This is a miss—a big miss.

As HR pros, we should be the ones pumping the brakes inside our organizations. We should be intentional about making learning and development part of the fabric of our company culture. And these efforts shouldn’t be a one-time program or a reactive response to another inane performance-review list of goals.

Learning, like work, should be continuous. It should flow seamlessly and be encouraged regularly so we—and our colleagues—don’t get stagnant and stuck in our ways.

So, be on the lookout for where learning can happen for yourself and others, and then jump in. I’ll be looking for those opportunities myself—and continuing my German lessons!


Steve Browne, SHRM-SCP, is chief people officer for LaRosa’s Inc., a restaurant chain in Ohio and Indiana with 11 locations. The author of HR Unleashed!! (SHRM, 2023), HR Rising!! (SHRM, 2020) and HR on Purpose!! (SHRM, 2017), he has been an HR professional for more than 30 years.


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