Thursday, November 04, 2010

Learning Culture Makes a Big Difference

I am participating in David Mallon's session at DevLearn where he's talking about the importance of learning culture in building a high impact business strategy. Now I must tell you that I'm a big fan of David and his talk last year gave me a lot of inspiration in creating ThoughtWorks' learning strategy. He is one of the best analysts you'll meet in the L&D space. Bersin is a great research organisation that you need to definitely know about and perhaps even be a member for and they are Josh Bersin's company -- he's an absolute god in this industry.

The research from David talks about data from 425 organisations worldwide. This is a very important topic for us. There's a force for transformative change in the learning function and the business at large today. The Business climate is changing because of growth, the economy, globalisation, etc. The workforce is changing with it's mix. The technology is changing at an astronomical pace and the organisational dynamics are affecting HR and L&D decisions in a huge way. We have a very different workplace and workforce today.

One of Bersin's pieces of research is called Talent Watch - this is about Leadership in HR and Learning. The top challenges for 2010 have been around pressure to cut costs, the need to accelerate innovation, growth and global expansion. This has implications for us as learning professionals. Do we have the skills to thrive, now that we're coming out of a downturn. Do we have the next generation of leaders in place? Are we prepared for scaling and growth. 44% organisation are focussed on new products and services. 52% are seeing accelerating growth in the current environment.

Why are some organisations better than others?

Today's topic however is about learning culture. What is it that enables certain learning organisations to do significantly better than others? The short answer is:
  • alignment with business
  • doing effective things
  • doing things efficiently
We contribute in three ways:
  1. Skills and Competency Development
  2. Talent and Capability Development
  3. Learning Culture Development
Increasingly talent needs drive learning organisations. High performing organisations are 3 times more likely to have a strong learning culture, reveals David Mallon. Remember that this is part of research from over 425 organisations! But what in the world does a learning culture mean?

Learning culture is driven by business outcomes. Bersin has studied ten performance measures for this:
  • Productivity
  • Innovation
  • Learning Agility
  • Workforce Expertise
  • Time to Market
  • Market Share
  • Customer Responsiveness
  • Customer Satisfaction
  • Customer Input
  • Cost Structure
What drives the learning culture?

But even all of what I've written doesn't answer what would drive a strong culture of learning? Bersin has come up with a High Impact Learning culture model and includes a few values:
  1. Building Trust - jow do we rely on people to learn from each other?
  2. Encouraging Reflection - do we value reflection and learning from our mistakes?
  3. Demonstrating Learning Value - how does the organisation demonstrate that learning is an important thing?
  4. Enabling Knowledge Sharing
  5. Empowering Employees - learning happens when we take risks and step out of the box? Is making mistakes and failing fast a good thing? How ok is the organisation with failure - because this leads to bigger successes down the road.
  6. Formalising Learning as a Process : Learning is not an event, it's a process. How does the organisation support continuous learning?
We need leadership and management to drive the ability to learn, the motivation to learn and the acquisition and application of knowledge and skills.  Here are the top 10 practices (of the 40) we need to focus on:
  1. Leaders are open to bad news.
  2. Asking questions is encouraged.
  3. Decision making processes are clearly defined throughout the company.
  4. Employees frequently get tasks or projects beyond their current knowledge or skills level in order to stretch them departmentally.
  5. Employees in the organisation have influence over which job tasks are assigned to them.
  6. The organisation values and rewards employees who learn new knowledge and skills.
  7. The organisation values mistakes and failures as learning opportunities, and provides structured opportunities for reflection.
  8. The organisation believes that learning new knowledge and skills is a valuable use of time.
  9. Employees generally believe the learning and/or developmental opportunities offered by the organisation to be of high value.
  10. Employees in the organisation take active part in their own personal development.
Most of this doesn't count as stuff that we control as L&D and this goes with my argument of ensuring that L&D partners with leadership, management and HR to ensure that we have a strong learning culture. Doing these things has strong value, because strong cultures = high performers. David is showing us some crazy ass graphs that prove this with empirical evidence. This isn't just about learning - this is good, sound business strategy.

Most of the surveyed innovative organisations do most of the things that you see in the top 10 list above. Do you want your organisation to be innovative?

Examples from the Real World
Cisco has a leadership development program. Cisco has a strong action learning approach to Leadership Development. This means that we learn the best to have a real world problem to solve. Cisco runs their program for 15 weeks and is a mix of formal and informal learning. The first 2-3 weeks is about self-directed learning. The second phase which is about 9 weeks where they actually work in a group to solve existing business problems. Phase 3 is all about feedback and development planning. It's a highly prestigious, and everyone wants to be part of it. Everyone's talking about it and the model is getting transferred to other programs as well.

ING Direct is an 'unbank' that wants to be low-cost and high touch. The CEO is always talking about learning and the fact that the people who are learning are the absolute rockstars. This is an example of leaders promoting learning and demonstrating learning value. The Orange Code of ING is all about learning as a culture.

Kelly services, one of the world's best recruiting firms invested in a good onboarding program and reduced turnover in a huge way. Strategic onboarding not just aids learning but creates a sense of connection to the company.

Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland integrates knowledge sharing program and processes with their organisation's objectives. They've got some of the most innovative social learning programs that you can think of. They've integrated knowledge sharing with performance management and they've made it a core competence for many in the company. They've constantly rewarded people for participation. They have collaboration days to actually help people to have extra time just to collaborate and learn from each other. The encourage employees to see knowledge sharing as a leadership development opportunity. This is an example of how the organisation believes that learning new knowledge and skills is a valuable use of time. Learning is part of the DNA of the company.

We need to be looking at learning culture as the foundation for our learning strategy. Bersin has a great piece of advisory research for this.

Getting started
David has some excellent suggestions for us to get started with developing learning cultures. This is golddust, read carefully:
  1. Make learning strategic - integrate it in support of capability development
  2. Make a belief in learning part of the organisation's culture of leadership.
  3. Make a great first impression for learning. Use onboarding programs to encourage employees to take personal responsibility for learning.
  4. Make full use of captive audiences. Use required training activities to prove the value of the organisation's learning offering and strengthen the L&D brand. This is a good lesson for stuff like compliance training.
  5. Make work educational. Use embedded learning like feedback, customer feedback, stretch goals,  job rotation and retrospectives.
  6. Make knowledge sharing an organisational habit
  7. Make performance management a driver of development. Think coaching and development.

Yet again, an awesome session by David, I like his sessions a lot and I thought it was a pity that some people left early.

1 comment:

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