Are You Working In A Learning Organization?

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Since the Information age two decades ago till the Digital age today, knowledge still commands a premium. The more you know, the more you grow. So, are you working for a learning organization?

There are lessons to be learnt

A Learning Organization? What is that?

learning organization is the business term given to a company that facilitates the learning of its members and continuously transforms itself. The concept was coined through the work and research of Peter Senge and his colleagues. (Peter Senge, 1990 – The Fifth Discipline, Pg. 5-13, Random House)

It is an organization that has a clear picture of his future knowledge requirements. It does not suffer from what Theodore Levitt described as ‘Business Myopia’. An organization that is on the learning curve, knows its business and is up-to-date on everything, from customer profile, to competitors, to target markets, technologies, and even production processes. Yes, it’s the one that pursues information actively.

So how do you know whether your organization is high on the curve?

Does the Organization have a defined Learning Agenda?

Learning organizations have a clear-cut learning agenda. The dynamics of sectors like e-commerce, digital, telecom, information technology and financial services are like quick sand, changing constantly. Learning organizations tend to identify the broad areas where they need to beef up their knowledge. Once these topics are identified, they are pursued through multiple approaches, including experiments, simulations, research, post-audits and benchmarking visits. Education and training alone will not bring in the requisite information.

Does the Organization ‘shoot the guy’ who brings in discordant information?

If an organization regularly “shoots the messenger” who brings in either unexpected or bad news, it’s obvious that the environment is hostile to learning. For, dissent (within limits) is part of learning and growing. An organization that is not open to criticism or contrarian views will suffer. Generally, sensitive issues – dissensions, unhappy customers, preemptive moves by competitors, problems with new technologies – are tackled in hush tones and messages, if communicated to the top at all, are first filtered and if necessary even watered down.

Does the Organization avoid repeating mistakes?

Learning organizations reflect on their past, distill it into useful lessons, they share this knowledge internally and ensure that the same errors are not repeated.

The experiences are varied – Cost, Quality, Service and Speed on the one hand with Product, Information and Documentation on the other. Companies can use Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs), network databases, training sessions, and workshops to learn from their past. Even more critical is the need for a mindset that enables corporates to recognise the value of productive failure as compared with unproductive success. Productive failures give organizations insights and understanding, and thus strengthen the organization’s wisdom. An unproductive success occurs when a company is able to carry off a project with energy, style and enthusiasm but is unable to figure out the how or why behind this success.

There is a peculiar logic at work here: to avoid repeating mistakes, managers must accept them the first time around.

Does the Organization lose critical knowledge when key people leave?

This is an all too common story. When a talented employees leaves, organizations lose critical skills. Why? As knowledge remained unarticulated, unshared, and locked with one employee. It’s understood that every piece of skill and information cannot be replicated, however, learning organizations ensure that critical ones have some backup.

Learning organizations do not make the mistake of storing information and skills with one individual; they institutionalize essential knowledge and skills. Whenever possible, they codify policies and procedures, retain it in reports, disperse it to many employees and build it into their operating practices. Knowledge becomes common property, rather than the privileged domains of a few individuals. In brief, learning organizations live by the creed that knowledge begets knowledge.

To explain with a very old example; on May 15, 2000 Late. Steve Jobs, Apple Computers Ex-Chief Executive while addressing the World Wide Developer Conference in San Jose said that 3.4 million iMac computers have been sold since they hit the market two years ago. If Jobs is still revered in industry today, it’s not only because he headed Apple Computers but rather that he is been credited with rescuing the company from the brink of collapse. And, how did he do this? He slashed product mix and reinvented its computers and two years ago in May 1998 offered geeks the iMac desktop. Old incident, but golden bright example.

Now the question, did Apple hit the doldrums after Jobs? We did not see that at all.

The post-Job Apple, saw Tim Cook implementing Jobs’s intuition, which he accomplished with a quiet diligence.

According to Bersin & Associates, organizations with cultures of active learning are significantly better at doing business than other companies.

In fact:

  • They are 32% more likely to be the first company to create new products and services.
  • They are 26% better at delivering quality products.
  • Their employees are 37% more productive.
  • Their employees are 58% more likely to have skills for the future.

Does the Organization act on what it knows?

Learning organizations are not just repositories of knowledge, they take advantage of their learning and adapt their behaviour accordingly. Information is power but needs to be used. If it languishes or is ignored, its impact is certain to be minimal. Which means, if an organization discovers an unmet market need but fails to act on it, it clearly is not on the learning curve.

At a meeting early in his tenure, Cook was told of a problem with one of Apple’s Chinese suppliers. “This is really bad,” he said. “Someone should be in China driving this.” Thirty minutes later he looked at an operations executive sitting at the table and unemotionally asked, “Why are you still here?” The executive stood up, drove directly to the San Francisco airport, and bought a ticket to China. He became one of Cook’s top deputies.

The same can be said of corporates that identify their best practices but do not transfer them across departments or divisions. At Coca Cola, for example, success depends on “having people who can identify and act on the vast opportunities that exist for our business” this means building a culture among employees in which learning and innovation dominate their business lives. In support of this effort, in ‘9s, the soft drinks heavyweight set up the Coca Cola Learning Consortium, a group dedicated to making learning a core capability. The Learning Consortium is entrusted with the responsibility of building culture and systems as well as processes that staff needs to “develop the knowledge and skills to discover and act upon opportunities better and faster than ever”. “Learning has got to be connected directly to the business,” say Judy Rosenblum – VP and Chief Learning Officer at the Coca-Cola Co.

That said, even Small & Mid-Size organizations too can be Learning Organizations. They may lack the showy display of a well-built self-owned branded learning infrastructure but they do have the learning mindset in place and that suffices. They prove that learning is a more matter of willingness than ability, They have the mental infrastructure in place to do so. They have serious learning interventions in-build in the system almost for every one at all levels. Their philosophy is “Learning Not Documented, Is Learning Not Done”.

© Satyakki Bhattacharjee

 

 

 

 

How could the Training Industry landscape trend from 2015 onwards?

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Indian Economy seems to be coming out of the troubled waters and 2015 is expected to see a 6.4% growth. The head hunters are gung ho, the ‘make in India’ vision getting an okayed action plan from PM himself, is all set to enable and boost the Indian Manufacturing environment. The Global Economic activity too is broadly strengthening and expected to increase further in 2014-15. However, the top questions that remain for Learning & Development Professionals and Managers in the Training Industry are:

  • Will all these ‘Feel-Good’ translate into ‘Do-More’?
  • How would the Training Industry landscape look like from 2015 onwards?
  • What is trending in the Training Industry?

Curating the experience from the past few years and estimating the future of the training industry, the following trends could be useful for the Learning and Development strategists.

  1. Organization Development (OD) & Learnings in VUCA – No matter how much pleasant the economic breeze feels, the monster of Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity and Ambiguity (VUCA) is yet to go away. Risking to sound pessimist though, it would be wrong to assume that happy days are here forever. The monster of VUCA could be in hibernation or hiding until another 9/11 wakes it up. The probability for which can never be believed to be zero, ask the world leaders. So learning and development managers need to devise their strategy and present a plan that is fairly VUCA proof. This does not mean that the Instructor Led Programs (ILP’s) are gone forever but prompts us to make sure that Self Directed Learning Interventions and Informal Learning Interventions are well included in the plan and forms an integral part of the strategic OD intervention of the organization.

The next few years are going to see an upraise in OD work. Organizations, however small or big, despite the cool breeze of economic growth will still need to have special focus on managing change. Rather, an impetus for change to align with the overall positive economic stimuli will be experienced by most organizations. Deeper and serious top-driven organization-wide interventions to bring about a planned change will be back in radar, with Boards outlining enterprise-wide organization development strategies to plug the gaps in its results page and focus on untapped Market opportunities deploying People Strategies. More and more internal people could see developing as OD professionals and authentic OD Consultancy would stand starkly separated from gift of gab.

  1. Answering PE & VC’s (Private Equity and Venture Capitalists) – My last visit to an engineering school in India recently firms up my belief that the Next Gen does not compulsorily agree to appear for the campus placements. They dream to own startups and soil their hands in making business sense out of things that are interesting though elementary. And there you go, the PE’s and the VC’s are putting money and betting on them, cheering them in the race. The PE firms and the VC’s invest in the business and make money by exiting. Good or bad, while they are there, they demand results. The entrepreneurs have to answer the PE’s and VC’s on results and this is where training the people sooner to give faster results gets mandated. Thus the need to train up their people soon to show quick results to the PE’s and VC’s. Learning and development professionals must gear-up to meet this challenge. Yes, learning interventions now must be like “quickies” which can give visible results on-ground in much shorter time. Time as a luxury would no more be available to Learning and Development professionals. Yet, beware, the expectations are even higher.
  1. Content would be God – One of the ways that learning and development managers handle the pressure of yielding sharper results in lesser time is by re-orienting the Content and redesigning the delivery.   An important aspect of learning and development, which I feel the L&D professionals have not paid serious attention to and practiced, is that of Instructional Design (ID). It’s time that we believe that designing a training program is a Science. Principles of ID deployed in program designing increases the efficiency of the training program as the design then is specifically tailored for the learning results. Unlike what most training and development professionals believe, effective Instructional Designing is actually much more than just organizing the information to be shared. With the demand to deliver learning results in short span, time has come for all of us to believe in and practice authentic instructional designing.
  1. Mobile Learning – Mobile technology is changing the way we learn and is beginning to change the way we deliver learning, either in isolation or as a combo offering with other computer based technology(CBT). If only Learning and Development professionals accept the fact that the content they create can be delivered in a way that is ‘Convenient’, ‘Comfortable’ and can be ‘Carried Along’, they have delivered what is Mobile Content. With smart phones, tablets and E-readers almost replacing the note-books and the ball point pens, Training would survive only if, a large part of it can get into these mobile devices. Increasingly, organizations are pushing their academic and corporate learning activities through this emerging platform.
  1. Learning Management System – The next few years would see an augment in delivering, measuring and monitoring processes in the training industry. Whereas now, all the managing, monitoring and control of the Learning and Development activities in an organization is largely devoid of a standard centralized e-based application, it won’t be long before organizations serious about Learning and Development, adopts an LMS and in a way the training industry gets a sort of an ERP fever.
  1. MOOC (Massive Open Online Course) – Free is Big and Open Source is a Great Source. With Comfort and Convenience becoming a significant aspect determining learning effectiveness, MOOC is getting soon to be on top of the charts. The MOOC platform gives us the L&D professionals, course creation tools which are easy to create quality courses online. It helps to control the content and enhance the learner experience driven by latest tools for great interactivity. This is one trend that is going to transform the learning community soon integrating the world of academia, corporate businesses, government institutions and trainers and facilitators offering Training Industry a One Globe Platform.

Not to say that the Management Development Programs (MDP’s) would dry out and INSEADs and Harvards would have to hard-sell; is just that the offers to these programs would be even more selective and only the fittest would survive to experience these famous class rooms.

Wishing good luck and a year of accomplishments to all my L&D colleagues.

Satyakki Bhattacharjee

© Copyright Satyakki Bhattacharjee