Baby Steps to Learning

by Jan Yuill

I drove my daughter to school this morning. We were running behind schedule, and she had a lug of things to carry. As I left the school yard, after the late bell had rung, I noticed a boy (about 13 years old) walking down a neighbourhood street alone toward the school. He had a backpack on his back, and he was taking baby steps. Literally. He could not have been walking any slower or making any less progress.

This might have escaped comment, except that as I drove off to do some errands, I noticed another boy of about 10, walking alone along a busy street. He too had a backpack on his back. He too was walking in heel-to-toe baby steps.

These two boys have been in my thoughts all day today. What was on their minds that made them look so reluctant and heavy-hearted as they trudged toward school? A disinterest in academics? Unmet learning needs? Problems with relationships? A daydreaming habit? Rebellion against authority? A need to count steps?

I will probably never know.

But it’s not unlike our experience in organizations, in the adult world. Most people conform to workplace expectations. Afterall, it is how an organization is able to commit to producing and providing goods and service to their customers. There must be some conformity to routines and methods, in order to be fair, efficient, and predictable.

But many people drag their feet to the office. For whatever reason, they are reluctant. Perhaps, they are not doing work that interests them; perhaps, relationships are strained; perhaps, they are ill … . Every Human Resources professional can expand on the costs and consquences of those in an organization who are not performing. Often these people are marginalized, and the fact that they are not pulling their weight is seen as a problem, rather than an opportunity.

In the Organizations Alive! model, job expectations, performance criteria, work evaluation, schedules, etc. fall into the Resource Management quadrant. A person’s motivation, creativity, sense of belonging, health, etc. fall into the Membership Potential quadrant. Resource Management and Membership Potential create real tensions in the workplace. The former concerns effectiveness, efficiency, and economy. The latter is very personal and often difficult to describe and understand. But both are necessary for success.

It is September 11th today. In the past five years, we have felt the impact of individual differences in the workplace.

How can we better understand and value diversity? Where do we start to make them work for us, rather than against us? Perhaps, it’s with those who are taking baby steps to school.