August 24, 2022
Behind the Scenes
Emily Weissang

How the Team at Runn Makes Learning a Priority

Curiosity is the rule, not the exception! At Runn, we embrace self-directed learning - and in this post, we’ll explore how we do it.

When we’re young, whether we love school or hate it, most of us take it for granted. But when we get into the workplace, our relationship with learning becomes more complicated. 

Putting our best foot (and our résumé) forward, we proudly present the X years of experience we have under our belts - all our skills and the frills. We may even feel pressured to pitch ourselves as “the finished article” with nothing left to learn, ready to crack on and be seamlessly productive. 

But, in truth, nobody ever has all the answers, and nobody is ever truly “done” with learning. And, luckily, it seems that we are becoming more and more willing to embrace that reality.

Attitudes around workplace learning are changing. As the digital transformation of our work continues (and accelerates), companies are starting to hire with the mindset that some reskilling and upskilling will be par for the course. And in this environment, the people who stand out the most are not those who claim to have it all figured out. It’s those who know how to say “I don’t know; let me go and find out.”

That’s why there is more of a place than ever in our lives for continued learning.

The benefits of continuous learning

We all know, on an instinctive level, that more learning is a good thing. It can help us become better problem solvers, develop greater empathy, and become more confident articulating our unique perspectives. But continued learning and development hasn’t always been encouraged in the workplace. 

In fact, more traditional management theories actually relied on a degree of fixed certainty around the skills that employees brought to the table. There was little room for development, improvement, and learning. 

This may have worked in the past. But it shouldn’t come as a surprise that this approach is far less compatible with the kind of knowledge work that the modern workforce is increasingly engaged in.   

If anything, it’s going in the other direction. As technology develops more and more rapidly, customers’ expectations also change. To keep up with this, workers have to be adaptable and flexible, upskilling throughout their careers. 

By empowering your employees to keep learning and upskilling, customers will benefit from a more refined experience that meets (and even exceeds) their expectations.

But it doesn’t only have a positive impact on customers. Much ink has been spilled over the past few decades by scholars trying to understand the reasons for employee turnover. But one thing stands out time and again: people who are given space to learn are happier and stick around longer.

However, despite these enormous, evident benefits, workplace learning and development is frequently one of the first things to get deprioritized when the going gets tough. Unless we make dedicated time for learning, it falls to the bottom of the list.

How we do learning at Runn

So, given that organizations largely struggle to make learning a priority, you might be wondering what it is that we do differently at Runn. How do we make sure that learning never drops off the radar? 

Well, primarily, it’s down to these two principles:

  1. We give learning the prime place it deserves by ring-fencing one day every month to develop skills and pursue our curiosities. Everyone gets free choice to decide which day they want to use as their learning day.
  1. We self-direct our learning projects based on what skills we want to develop and what our interests are.

“It’s an opportunity to dive deep into a topic that interests us,” says Iryna Viter, Runn’s Head of Content, “It means we have dedicated time to explore new ideas and learn best practices from other teams, which helps us stay up-to-date on what's happening in our fields.”

Step one: autonomy & curiosity are key

The prevailing psychological theory is that humans are naturally curious, and that curiosity functions a bit like hunger.

The psychologist George Loewenstein famously defined curiosity as “a cognitive induced deprivation that arises from the perception of a gap in knowledge and understanding.” And so, just as being hungry drives us to eat to fill the “gap” when our body needs food, curiosity drives us to consume knowledge when we realize there is a “gap” - something we don’t know, but would like to know.

Curiosity is an intrinsic motivation - motivation that we bring to the table ourselves. In the long term, this is more sustainable and effective than external motivators. And that’s why you generally see better outcomes when your learning activities are driven by your own personal curiosity.

Runn’s learning days are entirely self-directed, and we encourage people to spend the time on subjects that genuinely inspire their curiosity.

Here is one example of what that looks like: our Head of Growth Marketing, Steven Male, has been using his learning days to deep-dive into the topic of accessible marketing and equitable digital experiences. This is what he had to say:

“One thing I'm really interested in is inclusive and accessible marketing practices. For example, some common UX decisions really make a trade-off in terms of the user’s stress levels, because it leads to better looking metrics in the short-term.
A red notification icon might lead to more people clicking the icon, but it's only leading to that outcome since humans have a hard time ignoring red exclamation marks and pulsing icons. So, it's taking advantage of that. People aren't clicking because they want to - they're clicking because they have to. 
On the surface, it looks like your website is getting great engagement. But in truth the user is having a less pleasant experience. They may find interacting with your site stressful or exhausting, since it is constantly initiating their fight or flight response. 
Another thing I'm learning is how to build truly accessible websites. I used an accessibility auditing tool from Deque to see how our site measured up. In the screenshot you can see 15 issues still remain on our homepage. This number used to be over 40!”

Steven has been testing our website for accessibility issues and learning about equitable digital experiences with Colab Cohorts. Our CTO, Rowan Savage, has also joined this cohort!

Step two: we run experiments!

As a relatively young company, we absolutely pride ourselves on being agile and nimble. We embrace an experimental mentality: could we be responding to a challenge differently? Are our processes working? Are we improving as rapidly as we’d like? The best way to keep innovating is to test, test, test! 

As Runn’s Lead Developer, Ingo Schommer, points out, security is one of these areas that really needs a testing mentality. It’s a constantly changing landscape; you have to be excited to learn and ready to keep experimenting with new, improved solutions. So, Ingo spent a recent learning day doing just that:

“Running a secure web application requires constant vigilance,” says Ingo, “New attack vectors can pop up anywhere and we need to keep learning.”
“During my learning day, I compared Snyk Code and Github CodeQL as solutions to perform Static Application Security Testing (SAST). SAST involves analyzing the code without running it, which can uncover certain classes of vulnerabilities (e.g. SQL statements using unsanitized user input).
Some SAST tools run daily and provide reports, but the best ones give feedback while the code is written or reviewed. Snyk Code really impressed me with its comprehensive coverage of Ruby, Typescript/React and Typescript/Node, and a great VSCode integration.
But Github CodeQL is also an interesting idea, open-sourcing a framework to leverage “security queries” from a wide community, or write your own ones.
Snyk Code has already found a (low impact) vulnerability in our code, and runs continuously against code changes now - a great result for a learning day!”

Step three: we think of the big picture

In our day-to-day work, it’s easy to get caught up in what needs to get done. It’s a classic case of not being able to see the forest for the trees. The trouble is that zooming out and looking at the big picture takes precious time.

However, having a dedicated learning day each month gives us the chance to do that big-picture thinking. Exploring the big ideas behind why Runn does what it does helps us all stay on the same page - and get firmly focused on the path ahead.

Iryna Viter explained why this is particularly important for her role as Head of Content:

“Content marketers can't just dip their toes in the water! To do a good job, we need deep insights. That equals more time for purposeful reading and learning our space better. So, I'm very grateful that Runn gives us all the opportunity to do this and pick up on what we believe is important.
So, this month, I used my learning day to dive into the future of work, and had a really great time with Aaron Dignan's book "Brave New Work", which was recommended to me by Tim Copeland, our CEO. 
Dignan's book answers the question of what's stopping teams and organizations from doing their best work. It provides guidance on how we could turn this ship around and step confidently into the future of work.”

Wrap-up

Giving our team the freedom to follow their curiosity and solve their favorite problems involves a lot of trust. But to this we say - “Yes; that’s the point!” To paraphrase Lee Iococca, the former President of Ford: we hire smart people, and then we get out of their way!

And the benefits are evident - you only need to look at the examples in this article to see how. Whether our team is researching how to create a more accessible experience, exploring new security improvements, or examining the ideas and trends that are shaping our industry, all of these projects lead to added-value that will benefit our community of users.

We’re not saying we get everything right all of the time. But when it comes to workplace learning, one thing’s for sure: we’ve got an amazing team of curious people who love to learn. So we just focus on creating the best conditions for them to excel and follow their curiosity!

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