Author Profile Picture

Kerryn Kohl

The Coaching House


Read more from Kerryn Kohl

googletag.cmd.push(function() { googletag.display(‘div-gpt-ad-1705321608055-0’); });

What is a SADEL organisation and why should you transition towards this model?


In part 1 of an 8-part series, organisational behaviourist and learning strategist Kerryn Kohl introduces us to the Self-driven, Agile, Digital, Exponential Learning (SADEL) organisation, and highlights the need for companies to move towards this framework in order to be successful within a fast-moving digital age.

Learning is fast becoming a business-critical priority. We can all ‘feel’ that the pace has accelerated, but it’s not just a feeling. According to researchers at Deloitte (Global Human Capital Trends 2016), it is the result of operating under Moore’s Law.

To keep pace organisations are needing to become increasingly agile, not only in how they operate and execute but in their underpinning philosophy too.

With the advent of the Internet of Things (IoT) and the Fourth Industrial Revolution, we need to accept that knowledge no longer only resides within us – it now exists external to us with life of its own. Our physical world still exists but how we relate to it has changed.

A new type of organisation

In order to respond to our changing environment and to meet the demands required of this massive shift from physical to digital, from material to virtual, we need a new breed of organisation.

The solution, at least the best I have seen so far, comes in the form of what Salim Ismail refers to as the ‘Exponential Organisation’ (Salim Ismail with Michael . S. Malone and Yuri van Geest. Exponential Organisations: Why new organisations are ten times better, faster, cheaper than yours, and what to do about it. Diversion Books: 2014).

According to Ismail, this type of organisation has evolved to manage the limitations of resources that constrain traditional organisations. It does so by embracing an abundance mindset. Its emphasis is no longer on ownership and ‘stockpiling’ of scarce resources but instead on looking for opportunities to access and leverage shared networks.

Think about organisations such as:

  • AirBnB: the world’s biggest temporary accommodation provider and do not own a single property

  • Alibaba: the biggest retailer without owning any inventory

  • Facebook: most popular media channel but doesn’t create any of its own content

  • Uber: massive personal transport provider that does not own a single vehicle

The thing that these organisations listed above have in common is that they got over the need to own assets and instead looked at how to leverage and share assets through the creation of networks.

In other words, they ‘flipped the VUCA’.

Taking a different approach

The term VUCA, which stands for volatile, uncertain, chaotic and ambiguous, is bandied around a lot these days, and it is an apt descriptor when referring to our current reality.

However what these organisations were able to do was ‘Flip the VUCA’ – they reframed their thinking about how to approach this new industrialisation that the rest of us are floundering through.

They have moved into this Fourth Industrial Revolution with velocity, they approach it with unorthodoxy, they seek collaboration, and of course they function with agility.

Flipping the VUCA can’t be achieved with our current way of thinking. We tend to think linearly, from a scarcity mind-set, with high value on beating the competition.

Our current level of thinking is still so inspired by military strategy and views, including the term VUCA, which “is an acronym used by the american military to describe extreme conditions in Afghanistan and Iraq…” (

This is in stark contrast to the views and thinking held by Exponential Organisations and require us to make some key paradigm shifts if we are to successfully navigate our way through this Fourth Industrial Revolution.

Three ways to develop the SADEL organisation

I see there being three major shifts that we need to make if we want to establish and grow the Self-driven, Agile, Digital, Exponential Learning (SADEL) organisation. These include:

1 Shifting towards a self-driven learning culture

Before organisations can truly embrace and benefit from learning we need to develop our ‘self-directedness’ and we need to be empowered to do so.

You see, the potential to be self-directed exists within us; however, the capability must be developed and enabled. Self-direction is a skill and a learned behaviour, but its development is often stifled within organisations, especially hierarchical ones. Therefore organisations must focus on allowing us to develop this capability and enable it through true empowerment practices.

2 Adopting an agile philosophy and mindset

Agility is now a core competence. Let me clarify, agility and adaptability have always been a core competence, it’s just that the world is changing faster than we ever imagined it could and thereby greater emphasis is being placed on agility.

Agility is about how fast we are able to adjust our paradigms and behaviours in response to changes in our environment. To me this means the ability to learn, unlearn, and relearn… at a rate of knots these days!

3 Moving from physical to digital

Physical training methods i.e. learner guides, training notes, workshops, facilitators etc. are fast being phased out. If I’m honest, I don’t really think they received the returns on investment we really hoped for anyway.

With digitisation, we have seen an increase in digital learning technologies. Although digital learning is a silver bullet it does enable learners to grasp concepts faster and gain deeper understanding, connect theory and application more adeptly, and engage in learning more readily.

It also helps improve instructional techniques, enable better usage of instructor time and facilitate the widespread sharing of knowledge. (

When organisations digitise learning they allow employees to become proactive and engaged learners who are partners in the learning process. However to harness these benefits we have to enable self-directedness first.

Within the SADEL organisation digital learning is harnessed effectively because it assumes that we are natural learners and gives learners control over what I call the 4Ps of learning: Preference, Pace, Place, Path. This allows us to unlock our learning potential because it encourages autonomy, curiosity, and self–directed learning.

In the new digital world, building a SADEL organisation is critical to survival, and in part two of this series we will be taking an in-depth look at the framework required.

In the meantime I hope you share your thoughts and insights through the comments section. Let’s start a conversation!


Salim Ismail with Michael S. Malone and Yuri van Geest. Exponential Organisations: Why new organisations are ten times better, faster, cheaper than yours, and what to do about it. Diversion Books: 2014.


Author Profile Picture

Get the latest from TrainingZone.

Elevate your L&D expertise by subscribing to TrainingZone’s newsletter! Get curated insights, premium reports, and event updates from industry leaders.

Thank you!