Learning: “Not a Big Part of My Job”

More than 1,300 readers have responded to our learning survey so far. Anne Mackinnon and I are seeing interesting patterns — some of which, quite honestly, have surprised us.

In one question, for example, we asked people to describe their level of responsibility for learning inside their organizations. Two-thirds (67%) said that, in addition to their own learning, they’re responsible for enabling others to learn. Another quarter (26%) said they’re really only responsible for their own learning. The remainder (7%) reported that learning is “not a big part” of their jobs.

We decided to break that last number down by sector. Among respondents working in nonprofits, 6% said that learning is not a major part of what they do. The share in government was quite a bit higher, 12%. Among respondents in philanthropy, 7% said, “No, learning is not a big part of my job.”

Looking at philanthropy respondents by job description, we discovered that 8% of administrative staff and 11% of program staff gave that answer. Now, that really gave us pause. It's not unusual to hear administrative staff say they feel frustrated by a lack of learning opportunities, but program staff? Isn’t working in philanthropy, especially on the program side, all about learning? Are all those respondents just “curmudgeons,” or do they have a point?

Looking further at the responses of the “no” group, we found some instructive insights into organizational learning — and what can keep it from being part of everyone’s job. You might see yourself, or your organization, in some of their answers! Here’s a sample:

  1. "Our foundation recently grew in size very rapidly. Given the rapid work pace, there is little or no time for reflection. There is individual openness to new ideas, but that openness doesn’t seem to hold at the organizational level."
  2. "My foundation has a very homogenous management team. Therefore, new ideas and differences are not dealt with often."
  3. "Because our work pace is so swift, grantees return reports that don’t get read, much less analyzed or integrated into organizational learning."
  4. "I believe we learn every day and learn from each other but not in an organized, structured way. I am not sure we know we are learning!"
  5. "Interestingly, we are strong in all four [characteristics that support learning: psychological safety, appreciation of differences, openness to new ideas, and time for reflection], but there is a feeling that this doesn’t really help learning. The learning that happens is not translated into an ability to change the way we work, the types of things we fund, or the way we examine them."


About the author(s)

Senior Partner
The Giving Practice