The New Learning Organisation

By Guest Author October 22, 2018

Recently, the idea of becoming a learning organisation has been the sole aspiration of the L&D department. It paints a picture of a business where staff connect and engage in L&D initiatives without continual cajoling or enlisting. It symbolises the perfect culture that results in self-directed learning and fabulous net promoter scores!

The learning organisation is a group of people working together to enhance their capabilities to create results they really care about. So the learning organisation is not just a distant hope for L&D, it is a shared responsibility for making change happen. That mutual responsibility lies with leaders, individuals and yes, people professionals.

Towards Maturity’s research shows that we need to work smarter not harder. Organisations that track in the top 10% (Top Deck) of the Towards Maturity Benchmark are three times more likely to report benefits relating to growth, profitability, transformation and productivity than the rest. What’s more, Top Deck organisations are continually evolving their learning strategies in line with changes in their businesses. They are willing to change, and to take risks and champion new ways of working and learning, even when everything is apparently moving along just fine.

The Top Deck’s transformation journey has resulted in six common characteristics that we define as the ‘New Learning Organisation’.

Characteristic 1 – Clarity of Purpose
A shared vision of outcomes that matter

Shared purpose across the business sits at the heart of the new learning organisation, and within the Top Deck organisations we see responsibility for learning shift from the L&D department to a place of mutual decision making. For example, business and L&D leaders at this stage are more likely to work together to identify the business outcomes associated with learning and therefore support the learning process, and 88% of Top Deck organisations agree that senior managers work with L&D to define what key performance indicators need to improve. Staff also have a clear understanding of how their work contributes to the overall performance of the business.

Characteristic 2 – Holistic People Experience
A trusted brand that expects and facilitates continuous learning from start to finish

Formal programmes are still important, but Top Deck organisations highlight that the emphasis is on behaviour change. These organisations are using formal learning programmes to model change for managers and leaders as well as for those joining the company by embedding more technology into the process. Top Deck L&D leaders communicate more and are starting to help staff to connect and share at their point of need.

Characteristic 3  – Thriving Ecosystem
Individuals, managers and the extended enterprise working towards common goals

A strong characteristic of Top Deck L&D leaders is that they see the individuals in their organisations as connected contributors to the learning environment. 71% of learning professionals agree their staff know how to work together to connect and share knowledge productively. L&D are tuning into the voice of their staff and are proactive in finding out how staff learn for themselves.

Characteristic 4 – Agile, Digitally Enabled Infrastructure
Supporting and enabling a fluid exchange of ideas and skills

Digital transformation isn’t just changing the way that new learning organisations deliver services and connect with customers, it also enables the exchange of learning and sharing of new ideas at speed. Technology is a pillar of these organisations, and Top Deck L&D teams are starting to leverage its full capability.

All organisation are using live online learning, such as VoIP (voice over internet protocol) tools, webinars and communication tools. The Top Deck are also prioritising the skills needed internally to support sharing. They recognise their weaknesses in facilitating collaboration, but the difference is that 44% of the Top Deck have set this as a priority area for skills development now compared with 25% average.

Characteristic 5 – Continual Engagement
Self-directed, connected, accumulating collective understanding

Top Deck organisations shows us that while continual engagement in learning is essential it is not the sole responsibility of learning leaders. Managers also play a role and are not only active in ensuring formal learning is more successful (88% discuss aims and objectives of learning with team members vs 38% average) but they also support an environment where individuals have permission to share and encouragement to grow.

Characteristic 6 – Intelligent Decision Making
Using performance analytics to inform and adapt

Business and L&D work together to make learning decisions, and there is also a significant increase in the use of data to inform those decisions. While this is still an area for improvement, Top Deck organisations are over twice as likely both to gather data and to use it to improve services.

Responding to change

A key feature of the new learning organisation is that it is constantly evolving as it responds to change. Becoming a learning organisation also requires continual change and transformation of the L&D teams.

Here are three things that learning leaders can do now to support the shift:

  • Learn from the Top Deck
    Don’t be intimidated. Top Deck organisations are organisations like you: small, large, private, public and not-for-profit. Benchmark your strategy against theirs to identify small changes that can make a big difference
  • Learn to let go
    Some of our past successes can hinder our future progress
  • Learn to learn
    Yes, we are busy, yes, we are overwhelmed coping with now let alone the future, but growing our own skills in new areas will build confidence and courage to play our critical role in the new learning organisation.

This article was originally published in Issue Seven of the Curve 

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