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Encouraging a Love of Learning

Monday, 21 October 20195 minute read
Rich Roberts
People Director
Pure Planet

How do we encourage a love of learning and self-discovery?

Imagine you’re at work. You’re in your company’s People department, responsible for looking after a diverse team across your organisation. You’re thinking: wouldn’t it be great to do something really special for people’s learning and development, you know, something very different, groundbreaking and memorable… so you turn to your boss and say: “I know, let’s take everyone out for a really long walk in the country”.

And that is exactly what I did.

I look after our people at Pure Planet…

As a renewable energy company with an award-winning ‘people first’ culture we encourage our people to enthusiastically seek out new information, topics and skills. Everyone has access to an e-learning portal and is given a sum of money to spend on whatever learning activity they like. ‘It’s up to you’ is our motto and you can choose to learn anything from French to Environmental Science.

We wanted our people to develop themselves further with some structured coaching. But, from experience, personal development can be a ritual of banalities, bureaucracy, and bizarre role play, interfering with the job you need to do.

It was time to test those ideas around conventional learning. Pure Planet personal development needed a rethink and put its people first. So, this is what we did.

  • Provide the structure to address each person individually — without huge overheads — to learn about their strengths, limitations, different needs and styles.
  • Allow people to work with others at all levels in an open-minded environment, learning from different experiences, tools, and techniques.
  • Help people engage thoughtfully in the content, without perpetual checking on email, and build on their personal development.

We developed Pure Me with Liza, an amazing Company Culture Specialist, to help us provide an effective and enjoyable session to kick start the process.

The start was an online questionnaire, and a small vow of secrecy so that everyone could enjoy a day their own way. Then, in groups, on separate days teams were given a packed lunch and a taxi to the Somerset countryside for a leisurely guided stroll. The weather was excellent. The mobile reception terrible. We had swapped whiteboards for green hills. Not a Slack chat or work-request to be seen.

Walking meant further disruption to the routine and provided a conduit for conversation about self-learning. Pairing up with people not met before (some-times embarrassingly from neighbouring desks) was a great opportunity for everyone to learn more about and from everyone else. Pure Planet is a diverse team. Energy is what we do now, but our consumer first approach means a far broader range of talent.

What we learned along the way

Our walking guide David from Foot Trails kept us sure-footed, eyes open to see skylarks and landmarks. For the team we had a mind map too, to identify and build strengths.

The Pure Me programme is all about self-discovery. We wanted to encourage the team to think about what they want to be better at, to explore their curiosities, keep an open mind and to use their signature strengths — and we really wanted them to challenge the assumptions that may be limiting their thinking and self-belief.

Here are some of the questions we asked:

  • What would you like to be better at?
  • What ways inspire you to learn?
  • Where and when do you do your best learning?
  • What personal beliefs stop you from being your best self?
  • How might your beliefs affect your confidence, natural strengths and abilities?
  • What are your top 5 signature strengths?
  • What are you most proud of?

The walk covered about 4 miles. We had approximately 10 people in each group. Each enjoyed a great packed lunch from our favourite Bath deli Roots and Shoots. Along the way were hedgerows of blackberries, and conveniently we ended in a small village with a brilliant pub called the Pack Horse that was revived by its own community.

The feedback has been brilliant generating comments such as:

  • Really useful and helpful
  • I have done lots of Pure Me type things before and I hated it, this one was really good …. really different and I learnt sooo much
  • The best team build I have been on

And yes after 25 years of HR practice, I actually enjoyed a personal development session. It came from the realisation that people don’t engage over tedious theory delivered in stuffy rooms by ‘Death by Powerpoint’. They engage when, instead of development being delivered ‘at’ them, they themselves are integral to the process.

What’s more, you are genuinely in the driving seat — this process is about helping discover what you are good at and what they want to improve on — and they take responsibility.

Perhaps this is another reason why Pure Planet in just two years has earned a 5 star rating on Glassdoor and have been voted Bath’s Happiest Workplace.

Rich Roberts
People Director