General Electric’s former CEO Jack Welch famously once said, “An organization’s ability to learn, and translate that learning into action rapidly, is the ultimate competitive advantage.”

If that’s true, why do so many organizations — perhaps including yours — evaluate employees purely on performance instead of their ability to learn, and translate the learning to action?

We know that tracking performance without regard to how it is achieved is problematic. We’ve all known someone who gets results but leaves destruction in their wake, and is toxic to the organization. Some organizations have tried to mitigate this by looking at competencies — how someone does what they do, but this tends to be secondary, most organizations are focused on just getting the results.

What if you shifted your whole evaluation and reward structure to focus on how people are applying what they learn to challenges they face at work?

What would this look like?

  • You would document and measure how learning has been leveraged — including providing a way for employees to share their learning experiences and tell stories about how their training, mentoring, coaching or other experiences have helped them with a challenge on the job.
  • You would reward those employees who show they are making the most of available resources by providing them access to additional opportunities (assignments, projects, job changes) and resources (experts, mentors, coaches, training courses and programs). For example, an employee who shares the story of how mentoring helped them make a leap to a new role is a good future candidate for executive coaching.
  • You would make access to high potential and leadership programs contingent on demonstrating ability to learn, and would make the process transparent and accessible to all.
  • You would encourage employees to act as experts and mentors, and make it easy for them to connect with people they can help.

What effects would this have?

  • You could measure how the organization is improving its ability to learn so the organization can “learn how to learn”.
  • Employee engagement would improve significantly because you’d be providing clear learning opportunities and development paths.
  • You would have a continuously reinforcing development loop — truly creating a learning culture in the organization.

Can you change the way you evaluate performance? Is your organization already headed on this path? Can you achieve the ultimate competitive advantage?