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Training and Development - 29 March 2011

The gentleman in this photo is Allan Stewart. He already holds the Guinness World Record for being the oldest university graduate on the planet, but last year at the age of 95 he enrolled in yet another degree at Southern Cross University. He’s got six kids and 17 grandchildren, and he’s living proof that age is no barrier to education.

He believes in four key principles: (1) Fitness of body; (2) Fitness of mind; (3) Spiritual fitness; and (4) Purpose of life fitness.

What is it that makes Allan so keen to learn when people half his age are reluctant to do so? Especially when their employer funds the learning at work? One answer rests with a term created decades ago by a professor at Harvard, and that term is psychological safety.

In Allan’s life, it’s psychologically safe to keep learning. And that psychological safety is driven by his four principles. As he says, it meets Fitness of Body because the degree via distance education “is a more flexible study option for older people like me”. It meets Fitness of Mind because it keeps “my mind active with study”. It meets Spiritual Fitness because he gets to complete uni with his daughter with whom “it would be fun to be studying together”. And it meets Purpose of Life Fitness because “I get to research my passion.”

At work, the same thing applies. If you want employees to be open to learning, to embrace training, and to implement what’s being taught, it needs to be psychologically safe for them to do so. And there are many different models and tactics that have been used over the years to ramp this up. But I reckon Allan’s philosophy is just as good, if not better.

Fitness of Body: Make it easy and convenient to learn, and ensure that training spaces are bright, comfortable, and modern. A training room should inspire and energise, not deflate.

Fitness of Mind: Many courses are too basic and patronising. Target the material to the audience so that people feel intellectually stretched, and make certain the trainer is credible.

Spiritual Fitness: This is about interaction. Minimise the trainer’s monologues and maximise the participants’ conversation. Make it okay for people to disagree and voice their opinion.

Purpose of Life Fitness: Before any program, make clear the benefits and reasons for its existence. Link it not only to business goals, but personal objectives, too.

None of the above is difficult or time-consuming to put in place. And as Allan says, “As long as you keep pedalling the bike, you won’t fall off.”

 

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