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Quick growth is a blessing and a curse, and organizations often don't take the right steps to stave off the curse because they are so busy growing. This is a mistake.

Growth means change, and change is uncomfortable. Discomfort will fester and grow right along with an organization unless it is hit head on. How can you do this? By treating change as an opportunity to learn and develop as an organization.

Fast-growth companies may feel there is no time for “learning and development," but if constructed effectively, L&D can often be accomplished within the work environment, and indeed, help strengthen the very foundation of your company. Here's how to make that happen.

Focus on Dialogue

Learning in a start-up is all about dialogue: What needs to happen, what did happen and why and what can the organization learn moving forward?

We still cling to the concept that learning occurs in a classroom, but that concept is stale and old-fashioned. Learning occurs when individuals and their team see a problem, seek and try a solution and then, most importantly, reflect on why the solution did or didn't work. Defining the problem and seeking solutions is communal work, but learning occurs on both the team and individual level.

Let's say a founder and CEO of a two-year-old small parts and service company found out that a sale to a long-time customer was lost because they didn't have the part available. The founder knew how to get the part, but the sales person simply checked the inventory and said it was not available.

If you approach this as a moment for learning instead of a "failure" on the part of the sales person, there's an opportunity for growth. The founder should discuss the situation with the sales manager and the sales person, explaining that she has contacts that can usually get difficult parts, and that the sales person should always call her before saying “no."

The sales manager and sales person learn a great deal about the nature of the business' relationships, the connections of the founder, and the founder's customer service philosophy: "Let me be the one to say no." The founder has the opportunity to hear the team's thought process, and help them shift to a process better aligned with her strategy.

Use Real Business Examples as Teaching Points

Founders often keep everything in their heads, but the information needs to be shared in a way that allows everyone to learn if fast-paced companies want to maintain the quality of their services as they grow.

How can everyone learn? Use a real life business example as a teaching point.

With real-time examples, the team learns. They learn how to communicate with each other, they build and execute processes, they share responsibility — and then learn to trust each other because the candid evaluation of the solutions effectiveness can only be made when each stakeholder has an opportunity to be part of the evaluation.

The individual learns. He learns about the work of his peers, so he gains insight into a larger part of the organization. He learns to build relationships with his peers. He learns how to effectively communicate, and if he is thoughtful during the reflection, he can find his own way to improve. With the new found trust, he can also ask others what he might do differently next time.

This kind of experiential learning accomplishes two important things: the actual effectiveness and efficiency of the work, and the ability to continuously improve both as a team and as individuals.

Learning and development really shouldn't be an add-on; it should be an integral part of the work of the organization. That way, the learner develops skill, but also develops context about how his role fits into the work of the organization as a whole.

Photo: Creative Commons