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Culture of learning can spark channel innovation

Channel partners seeking to drive innovation should become learning organizations that encourage risk-taking and creative thinking, according to speakers at CompTIA's ChannelCon.

Channel partners should take steps to institute a culture of learning, assessing employees, fostering an environment where they can experiment and make mistakes, and tapping low-cost or no-cost training approaches to stretch budgets.

That was the advice from speakers at CompTIA's ChannelCon 2020 online conference this week. The speakers suggested changes wrought by the COVID-19 pandemic provide an opening to revisit how partners think about training, learning and development.

"I think we are going to look back at this and say … the quarantine, the stay at home, [was] the catalyst, the impetus point, for learning to really change," said Kristine Stewart, vice president of client success and marketing at Channel Impact, a company that focuses on channel staffing, strategy, marketing and enablement.

In the current environment, companies that focus on learning "will be the ones that will move ahead," she noted. "It will become a competitive advantage."

The task for channel partners is to elevate learning from a checkbox that employees are compelled to tick before their next review to a philosophy that spans the entire company.

James Foxall, president and CEO at Tigerpaw Software, a Bellevue, Neb., company that offers business automation for MSPs and other technology providers, said many people wrap learning around specific skills. Learning, instead, should support the constant evolution of personal growth, he noted.

"For us, learning is a mindset," Foxall said.

Culture of learning: Assessing employees, encouraging risk

One step toward cultivating a learning culture is conducting employee assessments to develop an individualized learning track.

Stewart said this approach offers a good opportunity to promote inclusivity. Channel companies can "take the value of each person and the kind of background and the cultures they come from and be able to provide them with learning opportunities that fit with how they identify and where they want to go with their lives and careers," she said.

Shuchi Rana, senior director at HeadSpin, a digital experience platform company based in Palo Alto, Calif., said a learning culture helps bring her company together, especially when employees are working remotely. Rana leads go-to-market efforts at HeadSpin and HeadSpin University.

We tell all of our employees, 'You are allowed to make mistakes.' Don't be afraid of making mistakes, but take accountability, take it as a learning opportunity on how we can learn from this and grow..
Rekha VenuthurupalliVice president of human resources, vCom Solutions Inc.

Promoting curiosity and risk-taking among employees is another important aspect of a learning culture, according to ChannelCon 2020 panelists.

VCom Solutions Inc., a San Ramon, Calif., provider of IT lifecycle and spend management software and services, has set up a rewards program for employees who take the initiative to learn and grow. "One of the key behaviors at vCom is curiosity, which is defined as pushing yourself regularly to learn and change to make yourself more valuable to the company," said Rekha Venuthurupalli, vCom vice president of human resources.

A potential result of trying new things is failing at them. So, organizations need to create a workplace that tolerates missteps and turns them into learning opportunities, Venuthurupalli said.

"We tell all of our employees, 'You are allowed to make mistakes,'" Venuthurupalli noted. "Don't be afraid of making mistakes, but take accountability, take it as a learning opportunity on how we can learn from this and grow."

Companies should allow employees to fail in a controlled environment and "use it as a coaching opportunity," Foxall added.

If organizations want to drive innovation, Stewart said, they should let employees be curious and take risks -- celebrating the aha moments along the way.

The encouragement of risk-taking can result in a multiplier effect within organizations. Venuthurupalli said recognizing employees who take risks and come up with innovative ideas "motivates other people to look for a way to be more creative."

In this way, the culture of learning dovetails with the channel's opportunity to break new ground in the COVID-19 economy. Speakers at an earlier ChannelCon 2020 panel suggested partners have room to innovate amid the pandemic, citing emerging technologies such as AI and business consulting services as examples.

Learning on a budget

Freeing up dollars for learning can prove challenging in an economic slowdown. But CompTIA conference speakers said channel partners can seek ways to minimize the expense. For example, companies that take an inventory of employees' skills can find opportunities to spread knowledge siloes across the organization. Foxall said employees can cross-train other employees.

Rana also suggested pairing people up or doing cross-functional training, noting "there is so much we can do with the resources that we already have."

Venuthurupalli cited free or low-cost training from vendors as another possibility for offering learning opportunities on a budget.

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