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Today was Learning Uncut podcast recording day.  Our guest was Shawna Murray from Coal Services. We discussed the work she’s done over the past two years to introduce human-centred design (HCD) as a way of working in her organisation.  Note that we were not talking about using HCD to design learning experiences.  The conversation focussed on how work happens, and how improvement in process and practice happens.

Shawna’s job title is “Organisational Development & Learning Manager for Transformation and Strategy.”  Yeah, it’s a mouthful.  If you break it down there are a couple of important things to notice.  Firstly, she has responsibility for both Organisational Development (OD) and Learning.  Secondly, her reporting line is not in HR or an operational business unit.  Rather, it’s in Transformation and Strategy.

Throughout the episode Shawna refers to shifting ‘ways of working’ across the organisation.  She did also speak about ways of learning, and sometimes about both in an integrated way.  It’s rare to have a conversation with a learning professional which is truly focussed on how work happens and introducing working practices that enable learning.  Towards the end of the discussion I asked Shawna about whether she could have made the progress she has introducing HCD had her team been embedded in the Human Resources function.  You’ll have to listen to the podcast episode to hear her answer.*

My take is that the structure that Shawna is working in is pointing the way forward for learning in organisations.

I’m coming across more teams where OD and Learning are combined.  More in medium-sized organisations than large ones at this point.  The goal of OD is to improve organisational effectiveness – it is about shaping organisational culture. Combining responsibility for OD and learning recognises that integrating work and learning improves organisational responsiveness and adaptation.

Making learning part of Transformation and Strategy reduces the friction that many learning leaders face in exerting influence necessary to align their work with strategy and to be seen as having a key role in organisational transformation.  The value that Coal Services place on learning is clearly communicated by the decision to make it part of this team.

It’s certainly possible for learning professionals to exert the influence necessary to shift from controlling learning to supporting and enabling learning in the flow of work from anywhere in the organisation.  However, there is less friction and challenge if the team is positioned somewhere that gives them the formal remit to influence ways of working.

* Learning Uncut Episode 32 featuring Shawna Murray will be published on 6 August 2019

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