Changing NAOF: Continuous learning requires efforts from both employees and employers

Modern-day working life requires both employees and organisations to engage in continuous learning. Working environments and organisation cultures should support learning and encourage open discussion. The NAOF's new strategy focuses on continuous competence development. In this blog series, we discuss the changes taking place in audit work and our operating environment from the perspective of our new strategy.

One of the discussions I followed at SuomiAreena – a public debate forum held in Finland in July – was about who is responsible for continuous learning, which is a must in modern-day working life. The discussion highlighted the need to find balance between three actors: society, the employer and the employee. Each individual is responsible for their own competence development at the different steps of their learning and career path. The final decision is always made by the individual – motivation for training is mainly intrinsic. Learning cannot be outsourced.

So far there has not been a proper discussion about how continuous learning should be financed and by whom. In addition to money, learning also takes time. Employers are often willing to be flexible when the employee’s and the employer’s needs and wishes coincide. The Finnish working life may, nevertheless, also become faced with ‘the Silicon Valley culture’, where people study hard with course modules even in their free time and also pay for this themselves. I am no stranger to study engagement myself – I find intensive studying both sensible and immensely enjoyable. At the same time, however, the (long) hours used for studying inevitably take time from relaxation and recreation.

An important question is therefore how to build in competence development in the organisation. Learning can be seen as a continuous process integral to work. The working environment should be developed to support learning. In my opinion, Leenamaija Otala, a researcher specialised in competence development, crystallised this perfectly when she wrote that “workplaces should be made good learning places”.

The NAOF aims at linking learning with each individual’s development needs in line with the NAOF’s targets. The aim is to provide specialists with more diversified learning experiences in addition to their regular duties. It is of utmost importance to have a reflective attitude to your own work. Failures can result in the biggest insights.

The fear of mistakes should not prevent collaborative learning

Management literature often refers to the 70–20–10 model of on-the-job learning, presented by Robert Eichinger and Michael Lombardo (1996). According to this model, 70% of (managers’) learning at work takes place through performing challenging work duties, 20% comes from interacting with fellow employees, and only 10% is the result of formal training.

However, this ratio has also been questioned. To what extent is on-the-job learning enough if there are radical changes in the work content or in the work practices or if you are expected to develop completely new solutions in your work? Intensive further or continuing training can in some cases improve your capabilities to take the ‘tiger’s leap’ necessary for learning.

In addition to on-the-job learning, it is important to learn together. Learning experiences shared in collaborative learning improve your competence. Unfortunately, the fear of mistakes can prevent this, as learning involves lots of feelings of insecurity. It would pay to be brave and allow your colleagues to assess your competence every now and then. Sharing experiences can give a great deal to both the employee and the organisation. It offers both of them an opportunity to learn.

Changing the culture is not easy but worth trying

The NAOF has revamped its strategy and management model with the aim to achieve a wider impact on society. To support this change, the NAOF has set up four competence centres, which serve the agency’s employees in competence development and supervisory work. The aim is to ensure diversified and up-to-date competence at the agency and to give the employees an opportunity to develop their competence continuously.

The working culture plays a key role in the change. In view of the nature of the audit sector, the NAOF’s change is not easy in this respect. The audit world operates according to standards and guidelines, and it is not natural to “simply do things in a new way” or to apply the “trial and error approach”. The NAOF is considered an expert body, and auditors aim at accuracy in their work. When the sector where an organisation operates is undergoing sweeping changes, it is crucial to retain confidence and transparency.

To succeed in this change, organisations must solve the question of how to create an atmosphere that promotes learning and reflection and that encourages people to share their mistakes and insecurities openly with their colleagues.

The blog post has been inspired by ideas and thoughts presented in the SuomiAreena discussions in Pori, Finland – both on site and in social media.