Workplace Teacher: Role of Pedagogy


I had two work experiences in the workplace to share. In the first, I was asked by my Chief Executive Officer as to why employees do not do what they are told to do or supposed to do. The second is a Managing Director (retired military General) who I was involved with in an interview panel to hire a key Senior Operations Director. He was more fearful of hiring someone that he would not have no control over because the person’s technical expertise is outside of his ream of knowledge and experience, rather than looking for someone to can do the job extremely well.

I had worked since 1980 and I have found that these two examples are commonplace occurrences. They are a result of management concepts of mechanistically run organizations, no longer relevant for the management of businesses in the 21th century.

Organizations are Organic in Nature

Today, nearly all businesses are mechanistically organized. This is as a result of management thinking traced to the industrial revolution era. In reality, organizations are organisms simply because they run by human beings and by nature human beings are living organisms.

Peter Senge who wrote the Fifth Discipline, only provide us with a picture of what the learning organization should look like. Although his book is popular, however (in my view) there are far and few truly learning organizations for the fact that they are all being run mechanistically.

Breaking Point

With the globalization and the invention of the personal computer in the 1980s, and when China opened its doors in the late 1990s, organizations are feeling the impact of a growing volatile business environment.

The question on whether Globalization is beneficial for the World or harmful, is still unsolved and very controversial. The reality is that all that is mentioned are here to stay.

Companies cannot adapt fast enough using a rigid mechanistic model for 4 simple reasons:

  • People are finite in their natural talents and learned expertise; their span of management; their fixed number of hours they have in a day; their ability to be at more than 1 place at any one time; limitations in their personal energy and the fact that most people can only see things from their own perspectives.
  • Companies cannot continue to be bigger because of increased complexity, limitations in market share and the need to focus. They would need to break up in order to sustain.
  • Service to mankind and not money should be the business purpose.
  • Education will slowly return to its original purpose to develop the full person who can work for himself or herself as a way of expressing their talents rather as a channel for providing manpower to businesses.

On the last point, I believed that there are 3 fronts:

  • Governments will slowly realize that schooling children so that they would eventually develop their talents into a thriving business would be the best way to solve the unemployment problems.
  • Large companies will realize that in order to break up into smaller businesses to sustain, they need to be in diverse businesses; and that they can only do that by collaborating with existing and potential small business owners.
  • Every parent’s deepest desire is that their children will never worry about where their next meal is coming from or forced to take jobs that they hate just because it provides an income.

Obviously, a new way has to be found.

Charles Handy: Grow Different, Not Bigger

Peter Drucker: Competition

Three Key Components for a New Way

I personally believed that the 3 key components for the new way are:

  • (Conducive) Environment
  • Pedagogy
  • Character (building)

I personally believed that instead of sending business leaders for leadership courses, it is better to send them for a course in pedagogy.

I believed that when a business leader understands how people learn:

  • He will know how to select the best people.
  • He will create a learning environment where new ideas would be heard and sponsored.
  • He will create a learning environment that allows risks taking (experimentation), accepting failures, learning from one’s and other’s failures.
  • He will be able to better appreciate the value of cultivating talents and building character.
  • He will evangelize the need for the great purpose in business to serve society at large.

Why These Components?

First, imagination is the key to our future. It is the key to turn on the engine of innovation. It is the reason why we value diversity (divergent thinking). We will not be able to enable  it if we want everyone to conform and to do what we want. Command, control and conformity kill curiosity and initiatives. Filling a room with people who thinks in the same way as us will not help create new ideas.

Second, learning continues after school because all human beings are, as Maxell Maltz in his book Psycho Cybernetics puts it – servo mechanisms (organisms that rely on feedback systems to maneuver through life). Failures are feedback – they do not mean that we failed as a person. The feedback system is an essential mechanism found in all organisms, including plants, insects and fishes. It is how we function.

Third, leaders are found not created. A teacher is always talent spotting.

Fourth, you cannot motivate people. Only people can motivate themselves. You will have to inspire them. This is because people are unique. A teacher understands the importance of the self-image and the need to inspire. The greatest teachers are great story tellers.

Fifth, critical and divergent thinking skills are important. Those skills need to be developed and put to use. You need a great teacher to do that. When companies operate on the mechanistic structure, people are required to leave themselves at the office entrance and bring their body to work. How then can problems be solved and new products created, if nobody can speak about them?

Sixth, character development should not stop once school ends. A person’s fortune grows only by working harder on himself or herself. An employee with a great character translates into a valuable employee. The fortune of the enterprise grows with the individual’s fortune simply because a group comprises of many individuals.

Seventh, the role of a great teacher is to teach about service to humanity, in words of Charles Handy : “ A business should be a community with a purpose to improve, to add wealth and benefits to society; a community in which individuals would be prepared to subordinate their own needs for the greater good of the community and society; one in which demarcated chain of responsibilities and accountabilities; one in which if you want to keep your customers, you have to continuously innovate, rely on creativity and constant improvements on high quality.”

An Example: Jack Ma

The obvious example that I think of is Jack Ma, founder and Executive Chairman of Alibaba Group. He is both an entrepreneur and a philanthropist. He started his business with the dream (purpose) to help small businesses succeed.

He attended Hangzhou Teacher’s Institute (currently known as Hangzhou Normal University) and graduated in 1988 with a bachelor’s degree in English. This was the worst university in the city at that time. He later became a lecturer in English and International Trade at the Hangzhou Dianzi University. He is known to be a man with a strong social conscience and fervent idealism.

Joe Tsai

Jack Ma

Porter Erisman


Concluding Remarks

I hope that this article explains the relevance and priority of pedagogy over leadership and managerial courses. I also hope that clear the cloud of confusion between the terms advisor, mentor and coach by refocusing on the aim of making sure that learning takes place at the workplace.

I believed by making this important change, can we as HR practitioner bridge the misalignment between the education system and businesses.

We cannot change our bosses’ mindsets but we are in a direct position to influence the design of our company’s employee training and development curriculum and programs and the revamp of the broken employee suggestions scheme.

For Your Further Interests

For your interests, you can watch the presentation by Charles Handy on Qualities of Vision and Leadership on Youtube. In that presentation he spoke of a book “The Puritan Gift: Reclaiming the American Amidst Global Financial Chaos,” written by Kenneth Hopper and William Hopper. It talks about the great American management culture that lasted from 1920 to 1970. You can watch video interviews with the 2 authors in Youtube by searching for Kenneth & William Hopper – The Puritian Gift Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4.

The following videos are about Jack Ma. It is in Chinese.

Jack Ma: Part 1

Jack Ma: Part 2

Jack Ma: Part 3