Modernising Learning, The Smart Way: Why Reflection Improves Performance

by | Jun 9, 2014 | Articles

It’s official – taking time out to reflect improves job performance. The Harvard Business School has just reported on new research by Francesca Gino and Gary Pisano.

In a working paper Learning by Thinking: How Reflection Aids Performance, the authors show how reflecting on what we’ve done teaches us to do it more effectively the next time around.

Essentially, the researchers hypothesized that learning by doing would be more effective if deliberately coupled with learning by thinking. As part of the study, researchers studied groups of employees in their initial weeks of training on specific customer accounts. One group was asked to spend the last 15 minutes of their day reflecting on lessons learned that day, another was asked to not only spend that time reflecting but also add an additional five minutes to share their thoughts with colleagues. The control group just worked right through to the end of the day.

The results of taking time out? Both the reflection and sharing groups increased performance on the final training test by more than 22% compared with the control group, despite the fact the control group had put in an extra 15 – 20 minutes per day.

To what extent are we applying this to our own learning design?

This research is critical for those designing effective learning. Our own research shows that compared with average top learning teams are twice as likely to agree that their organisation encourages and provides time for reflection. They are also twice as likely to proactively support the reflective process using online learning communities to support action learning or actively encourage learners to collaborate in building knowledge resources.

And this is contributing to performance with top learning companies are almost twice as likely to agree that staff put what they learn into practice quickly and that on the job productivity has increased.

The improved performance reported by top learning organisations isn’t just down to reflection alone. In ten years of research we’ve identified a range of characteristics that set those organisations apart. One of which is that:

L&D leaders from top learning companies spend time reflecting on their own performance

Compared with those in the bottom quartile of our learning maturity model, top learning companies are six times as likely to agree that they benchmark their learning strategy and practices against other companies in our industry and five times as likely to agree that they actively use benchmarking as a performance improvement tool.

Formal benchmarking is so much more than just taking a survey or attending a conference. As a business improvement tool, benchmarking provides an opportunity for leaders to step back and reflect on what they have learned in the past year by comparing their progress against a backdrop of effective practices established by top performing organisations.

Businesses have been benchmarking since the early 90’s in order to develop new strategic direction and to improve performance. Since 2003, Towards Maturity have been applying best practice benchmark principles to help L&D departments do the same.

The Towards Maturity Benchmark is considered one of the most comprehensive independent reviews of how organisations are establishing successful e-enabled learning strategies in the workplace.

Benchmarking takes time – spending an hour once a year to reflect on what’s worked, what hasn’t and what still needs to be done may seem a big investment when life is so busy.

But it is worth it – if reflection is good for our learners, it is good for our L&D leaders too.

Take time out and Benchmark today:

As Harvard Business School Professor Francesca Gino  says “Now more than ever we seem to be living lives where we’re busy and overworked, and our research shows that if we’d take some time out for reflection, we might be better off“.

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