Organization skills

Creating a learning organization is no longer an option

A learning organization is now essential. If your organization is not constantly improving, it is falling behind. The reality is that the skill lifecycle is shrinking. For example, in technical fields, the half-life of skills is only three years.

The tight labor market that has emerged from the pandemic makes the learning organization even more valuable. Your business competes on its ability to attract and retain the talent you need to develop and execute your business strategy. Research shows that job seekers want growth opportunities; therefore, your ability to find and retain talent depends on your ability to create learning opportunities for them.

Not every business can compete in such a tight job market. The most valued skills include data science and artificial intelligence capabilities, but factors often prevent companies from developing these cutting-edge skills: budget, geography (where some highly technical skills are rare), culture, corporate brand flexibility or concealment (or lack thereof).

Developing employees with adjacent skills is an alternative strategy that allows you to develop the talents you need.

Whether you’re competing to recruit potential employees with a strong desire to learn and grow or to hone your existing talent, learning is a critical capability at the enterprise level. Leaders say building a learning organization is a top priority for them.

From a fixed mindset to a growth mindset

One of the obstacles to the development of learning organizations is that companies often assume that employees are fixed entities. Managers tend to assume that employees’ abilities are inflexible – they are what they are and cannot learn and become anything else. Employees are defined by job descriptions that reflect only a small part of what your employees actually offer or who they can become.

This fixed mindset is also present in employees who are reluctant to take on unfamiliar challenges or learn new skills due to discomfort and uncertainty. They were hired because they were smart and had the right skills. They avoid further endeavors because they may not look smart or qualified right away.

The opposite of that fixed state of mind is a growth mindset, where companies assume that everyone in the organization can learn and grow. Not only box employees learn and grow, but a growth mindset assumes they will if given the right opportunities. With a growth mindset, no one fears failure; it is seen as a natural consequence of learning.

Leaders with a growth mindset actively support and model learning. Growth-oriented companies hire motivated and curious employees who can develop the skills the company will need tomorrow.

Satya Nadella transformed Microsoft by placing a growth mindset at the center of the organization’s values. When Satya became CEO, the company had become rigid and top-down. But Microsoft’s core business is constantly developing new technologies, which requires a culture driven by curiosity, collaboration, and synergy among people with diverse perspectives.

Microsoft has fostered a growth mindset by expecting employees to question everything, while always looking for a better approach or breakthrough innovation. This curiosity is what creates a learning organization. Satya also emphasized coaching; Microsoft managers learn to “model, coach and nurture” their employees, which facilitates personal growth.

Microsoft responded to Satya’s leadership and became a renewed company, appealing to bright and promising young people who want learning and growth to define the employee experience.

Need for 21st century approaches

Companies that attempt to follow Microsoft’s lead in emphasizing a growth mindset often find that their learning methods are outdated. The traditional approach to learning was often classroom-based. This method does not work in new remote and hybrid environments. With distributed teams, it is impractical and expensive to move all learners to a central location. Digital learning is available, but adding online courses to an already Zoom-fatigued workforce is not a recipe for successful learning.

More effective learning models involve learning while doing, supplemented with videos, blogs and books that reinforce key principles. Some organizations have found that small on-demand learning opportunities can be effective. Employees who don’t have time to attend training can learn in small steps, each addressing an immediate need. For example, when learning a new skill, an employee might watch a YouTube video of someone performing a related task while practicing the skill. This approach to learn in the workflow is becoming a popular method of employee development.

Cisco Systems has created an innovative method to facilitate learning in the workflow. It was one of the first companies to leverage internal project opportunities to expose employees to new technologies, new managers, new mindsets and new processes that allow employees to learn while continuing to contribute to important company projects.

When Cisco Systems transitioned from a server technology company to an Internet of Things (IoT) developer, it could have laid off its existing workforce and hired new IoT talent. But there was a talent shortage in the broader job market in the areas Cisco needed. They took a different approach: teaching their existing workforce the skills they needed to succeed with their new business strategy while continuing to perform the tasks that kept the business afloat.

To facilitate the development of its workforce, Cisco has created an internal opportunity platform. This platform allowed employees to sign up for small project-based assignments where they learned new skills by engaging in IoT projects. People took on these assignments, in addition to their existing jobs, because they knew they were honing their skills to become useful to the company when it finalized its pivot to IoT.

This example shows the importance of learn agility: the ability not only to learn new information quickly, but also to adapt the knowledge you have today and apply it to new situations.

Becoming a learning organization may require a culture change

A learning organization can involve cultural change, which above all requires the support of leadership. If you want to change the culture to create a learning organization, leaders at all levels must communicate the importance of learning and model it. This means not only talking about the value of learning, but becoming learners themselves. Performance systems in learning organizations incentivize and hold managers accountable for supporting the learning of their staff.

Top-level leaders must affirm that the learning organization is a core value that supports the company’s mission. The next step is to train people to support culture change, and then recognize and reward them accordingly. Organizations can also create symbols that reinforce new norms, values, and behaviors that support the learning organization as a pillar of corporate culture. For example, a company can create an award for the manager who is most successful in developing their talents.

A learning organization guarantees there will be a tomorrow

A learning organization is essential for the present and the future of your organization. This requires a growth mindset where an organization learns to value curiosity and experimentation. The digital revolution continues to introduce innovative technologies that regularly enable new ways of working. To take advantage of these innovations, we must always learn.

The pandemic has brought many changes and proven that creativity is necessary in your approach to learning and development. Proven methods are becoming obsolete and you need newer and faster ways to develop people. For example, learning in the workflow happens faster and more efficiently than learning in an artificial environment like an off-site classroom, because the immediate application of learned knowledge embeds it more effectively into the brains of people than passive learning experiences.

Becoming a learning organization may require a culture change. It starts with leadership articulating values ​​and demonstrating them – walk the talk, as they say. Companies need to discover the best ways to empower, recognize and reward managers for supporting learning within their teams.

The learning organization is worth the effort. Research is emerging that shows that learning organizations are more effective. If you persist, you will see measurable and visible improvements that produce business value, such as increased productivity, increased sales, increased customer satisfaction, and better retention of key talent.

Given the current pace of change, learning is no longer fun. It is an essential ability.