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Learning to Love Learning

To develop a smart, happy workforce, a company needs to focus on soft skills, said Misha McPherson, senior director of sales enablement at Mixpanel, a web and mobile analytics company. “They kind of run hand in hand in many ways.”

A 2014 article in Harvard Business Review, “How Companies Can Profit from a “Growth Mindset,” backs up this argument advocating a learning culture, stating that “growth-mindset firms value potential, capacity, and a passion for learning.” The article also stated that Google now hires more employees who don’t have college degrees, “but have proved that they are capable independent learners.”

McPherson said she values that active learning quality in potential candidates and looks for people who are genuinely curious. She identifies this quality by asking what people do outside of work, their hobbies and how much they read to gauge their passion for learning independently rather than being told they have to.

A passion for learning is part of being curious, a trait Southwest Airlines also looks for when recruiting. Angela Sanders, senior manager of Southwest Airlines University (SWA U), said the company finds curious people through an extensive interview process. In 2014, she said the company processed 178,299 resumes and hired just 2.3 percent of these people, or 4,136. “We spend an inordinate amount of time in the recruiting and hiring process on purpose,” she explained. “We could interview up to 100 people for one position to ensure the right fit for our Southwest family.”

According to Elizabeth Bryant, vice president at SWA U, that rigorous hiring process is intentional because tapping into employees’ personal growth, curiosity and hunger for learning are and will continue to be a competitive advantage. “How we did something yesterday isn’t necessarily what our solution would be tomorrow,” she said.

Be sure to look for this article's accompanying feature in our October issue.