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Edmund Monk



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Driving performance through learning in 2020


Learning is, without question, undergoing a renaissance. It wasn’t so long ago that many L&D professionals were bemoaning the relentless onslaught of AI, automation and other emerging technologies as threats to their very existence. Skilled jobs in finance, HR and legal were surrendered to the machines, and L&D looked to be next in line.

But these proclamations were premature. L&D reconnected with its human soul and realised that irreplaceable qualities such as critical thinking, teamwork and creativity could join forces with technology to forge new advances in the field.

L&D isn’t immune to automation but its willingness to innovate and drive positive change is what makes it such a dynamic and vibrant industry in which to work. And the market is listening. Linkedin’s 2019 Workplace Learning report found that talent development teams were enjoying higher levels of investment from the business, compared to only two years ago when limited budgets were their biggest concern.

The global corporate training market is well over $200 billion and this growth is set to continue. Learning, and its intrinsic link to performance, is firmly on the management agenda, and, with increased buy-in from leaders, L&D can only benefit.

L&D must be the conductor, orchestrating a unified vision of learning to the entire company.

Continuous learning

It’s now accepted that learning as a one-off event, delivered as an interruption to the workflow, is not enough. Learning and work are now so intertwined that it’s difficult to say where one ends and the other begins. Continuous learning, in social, informal, and experiential contexts, mirrors the ‘real-world’ more closely and means working and learning can happen concurrently.

As Janina Kugel, CHRO at Siemens AG, said in her opening remarks at the Unleash World annual summit: “I personally believe that no organization in this world will ever reach whatever they have on their business agenda if they do not invest in continuous learning and continuous personal growth.” Linkedin’s survey agreed – 94% indicated they would stay longer in a company that invested in their development.

Continuous learning is also a sound strategy to survive in a skills-turbulent job market. In her article, Learning is the New Pension, Heather McGowan suggests that remaining employed or employable depends not on one’s formative education but on one’s willingness to learn new skills or re-train – a view met by 74% of the 10,000 people surveyed in PwC’s recent report

This is the perfect scenario for those of us passionate about learning and performance. People want to learn in order to stay relevant, and businesses want to invest in order to stay competitive. Music to the learning professional’s ears, right?

An L&D function that is tuned-in to the business, digitally-fluent, and change-agile, can bring those who need closer to those who know.

The five challenges for learning leaders

However, this music isn’t yet harmonious; the players still need to fine-tune their instruments. For the past three years, the LPI has surveyed learning leaders who register for LEARNING LIVE about their toughest workplace challenges. From over 1,200 responses, five common issues arise:

  1. Creating a learning culture

  2. Developing the workforce of the future

  3. Digital transformation and digital learning

  4. Leadership and management development

  5. Self-directed learning

The location of learning

Each of these topics could be a separate article, yet a single concept unites them: location. For L&D to effectively tackle these issues, it must be where the learning is happening and not be an isolated function delivering a cost service back to the business.

The L&D function has an obligation to the individual and to the organisation, so it needs to listen critically, set the tempo, and interpret the score. L&D must be the conductor, orchestrating a unified vision of learning to the entire company.

With learning now the collective responsibility of the enterprise, modern L&D teams are thinking less like ‘command-and-control centres’ and more like performance advocates; the torchbearers of all that is good in learning.

They don’t mandate courses or schedule training – they recognise that a learning organisation requires interventions at the point of need, in the flow of work. And so they ‘notice and nurture’, continuously scanning for knowledge gaps and providing guidance when and where it is needed.

Their number one challenge – creating a learning culture – may appear utopian but it can be tackled by nudging behaviour. L&D itself cannot create a ‘learning culture’ but it can create supportive infrastructures that encourage people to build, discover, and share information as part of their work. An L&D function that is tuned-in to the business, digitally-fluent, and change-agile, can bring those who need closer to those who know.

Technology to drive performance

The use of technology to enhance our work, our learning, and our lives is a key factor in how we improve organisational performance. But technology improves rapidly and with each iteration comes new questions of privacy and morality.

Do we really need that software to aggregate millions of data points on the workforce to build learner profiles? Will it help us drive organisational performance or will it drive an ethical and moral wedge between L&D and the business?

And what about the challenge of self-directed learning through interfaces such as YouTube, Siri and Alexa? That’s invaluable search data that goes directly to Google, Apple and Amazon, and not to the L&D function where, clearly, it would be equally valuable.

In fact, in 2017, the Economist wrote that data is a more valuable resource than oil and there is no doubt of its essentiality to understanding and improving organisational and individual performance.

We can now confidently move away from traditional, siloed training delivery models and become involved with everything. Technology is here to support us.

When we have data, we can interpret it to gain information. The processing of information leads to knowledge, and the application of knowledge leads to wisdom. It might also be said that wisdom can lead to performance improvement because we know what to do, when to do it, and why.

Unfortunately, these are areas in which L&D struggles. The LPI’s Capability Map, which helps learning professionals discover their skills gaps, reports a significant shortcoming in L&D’s ability to evaluate impact, assess performance and analyse data. This should be a concern to L&D leaders for, without data analytics, there can be no real knowledge or wisdom.

Artificial intelligence is proving to be a useful tool in gathering and interpreting data – one need look no further than Google or Facebook to appreciate the power that data+information can wield in a connected society (and the morality issues that arise from it). The gaining of knowledge remains a uniquely human skill and, although AI is evolving quickly, it still needs human help to learn and adapt itself to business challenges. Wisdom, however, remains firmly out of reach of the machines.

Become a performance advocate in 2020

In this age of rapid technological change, the sharing of knowledge and wisdom will be led by people, context and culture. And the drive towards performance will be led by learning.

L&D has the opportunity to capitalise. We can now confidently move away from traditional, siloed training delivery models and become involved with everything. Technology is here to support us.

All we need to do is focus, listen to the business, capture only enough data to understand what decisions are right for our people, nudge people towards continuous learning, nurture, support and champion. Only then can we increase our knowledge and wisdom to drive individual and organisational performance through learning.

What do you think makes a great learning organisation?

What traits, cultures and capabilities make somewhere a great place to learn? Take part in our one question survey.

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