“If the rate of change on the outside exceeds
the rate of change on the inside, the end is near.” (1)
– Jack Welch
As a business leader you are aware of the undeniable shifts in the environment your organisation is operating and competing in. The fourth industrial revolution is gathering momentum, characterised by automation and the adoption of Artificial Intelligence to augment the work of people. Ironically, in the same era of massive technological change, there is increased emphasis on human experience. The high expectation for seamless customer experiences makes customer-centricity an essential core competitive strategy. Similarly, employee engagement and experience are key differentiators to attract and retain a talented workforce. As lower order skills are automated, higher order human skills like critical thinking and emotional intelligence are increasingly important to deliver required levels of customer experience.
Many organisations have already recognised the volatility and pace of change mean they need to be more agile, and this demands new ways of thinking and working. What has not been widely recognised by business leaders is that building momentum amidst these shifts demands that new, more agile ways of learning be embedded into the DNA of your organisation.
I’ve seen a recent wave of redundancies of learning professionals and teams across a range of Australian organisations. This is typically a short-sighted cost-cutting measure. It demonstrates limited insight into the potential contribution of learning at a time when momentum is more important than ever before. If you are doing this, or thinking of doing it, it’s imperative you stop before you lose a critical business asset. Instead of getting rid of your learning professionals invite them to reinvent their role. Let them lead the way to implement more effective, faster and transformative ways of learning in your organisation. Continuous learning embedded in how things get done every day will ensure the rate of change on the inside of your organisation exceeds the rate of change on the outside.
I speak with learning leaders on an ongoing basis about their aspirations to make a bigger impact on business results. I also facilitate a program to equip them with practical skills to work with stakeholders to co-create more effective solutions to deliver business results. I mentor them to act on these aspirations and engage with business leaders such as yourself to help transform their organisation. I can tell you unequivocally they are ready to work differently with you to radically shift learning and build the business momentum needed to thrive and innovate amidst ongoing change.
Like you, they recognise traditional training is too slow to keep up with the speed of business. It’s easy to fall into the training trap. It may be the predominant approach to learning you have experienced. However, this is defaulting to command and control and stifles momentum. It impedes agility and constrains you from making the critical shifts required to remain competitive. It’s imperative to make a shift now, and to draw on people who understand real learning to make this happen.
Rather than having people wait for training to be ‘done’ to them, give them permission and support to learn as they go. Build continuous learning into daily work. There is a myriad of ways this can be done. Run learning campaigns and challenges people can undertake as they work. Provide flexible, on demand resources for people to access whenever they need. Build reflection and feedback loops into natural points in the workflow such as end of shift, regular meetings and project gates. Build digital, collaboration and networking skills, and make it easy for people to connect with others inside and outside your organisation to solve problems, get fresh ideas and innovate. Encourage experimentation. Enable managers to support their people to learn from their daily experiences. All these things are achievable – it’s what I support organisations to do.
When you integrate learning into the flow of work it no longer needs a label. It becomes about working better, solving problems, improving and innovating. It simply becomes part of the way people work. To make this shift happen requires people who understand real learning and have the imprimatur to engage with leaders and systems across the organisation to bring this vision to life.
Ironically, the more transformative the contribution of your learning professionals, the more impact they have on your business success, the less visible they will be. Stop thinking about making your learning your team redundant and invite them to reinvent their role and create business momentum.
Michelle Ockers works with business leaders who believe in learning. She mentors L&D managers and runs workshops to help them, their teams and stakeholders build business momentum and impact. Michelle welcomes contact from senior leaders who want to harness learning and make it a key lever to achieve business results. Her recent clients include Qantas, where she has guided strategic transformation of L&D.
Welch, J 2000, 2000 GE Annual Report, https://www.ge.com/annual00/download/images/GEannual00.pdf.