So far in this series of posts, I’ve set out a vision and strategies for transformation in workplace learning and development as they would apply to some generic organisation. Needless to say, that organisation only exists in abstract. If you’ve been following the series, then hopefully you’ll have bought into some of the ideas (otherwise why would you still be reading?), but you’ll also probably have encountered recommendations which make little or no sense in the environment in which you work. Clearly every organisation needs its own vision and strategy for transformation, shaped around its own unique characteristics.
So what are the characteristics that make the most difference? In our experience, they can be summarised under three headings: the requirements in terms of learning, the characteristics of the employee population, and the particular opportunities and constraints that shape decision making. My colleague, Phil Green, calls these the three Ls – learning, learners and logistics.
Each organisation (and each department, division and horizontal slice within this) has particular requirements for learning. Strictly speaking these requirements are actually for improved performance because, unless the organisation is a school or college, it is only indirectly measured in terms of the learning it manages to bring about. And if, as learning professionals, we focus our efforts on improving performance, then we have to take a broad view of what ‘learning’ actually encompasses. Increasingly it is not just learning (evidenced as knowledge, skill or attitude) that is required to support performance, but access to just-in-time information. This cannot strictly be regarded as learning, because the information just needs to be used rather than memorised, but that does not diminish its importance in our overall strategy for transformation.
An organisation’s requirements for learning (and just-in-time information) should be directly aligned to its goals and strategy (if you remember, in an earlier post, I presented alignment as one of the six key elements in our vision for a transformed l&d). An organisation’s requirements are likely to be many and varied, but one or more of the following types of learning is likely to be of particular importance:
- Understanding and committing to the organisation’s mission, values, policies and strategies.
- Understanding the organisation’s work processes.
- Keeping up-to-date with inevitable changes and developments in what we need to know and be able to do.
- Performing routine administrative tasks.
- Solving problems and making judgements.
- Communicating using electronic media.
- Interacting person-to-person with peers, direct reports, customers, suppliers and other third parties.
- Interacting with the physical world, with vehicles and with equipment.
You will undoubtedly think of more examples. These distinctions matter because each type of learning demands a different approach. It addresses a different form of knowledge, skill or attitude and impacts, therefore, on the extent to which you will want to make the six strategic shifts described in earlier posts. For example, in some organisations the prime consideration may be to keep its highly-educated professional workforce up-to-date with technological developments. This is going to support the shifts from synchronous to asynchronous, from courses to resources, from top-down to bottom-up and from face-to-face to online. For another organisation, a critical determinant of success may be the way they interact with their customers, as it would be in a retail environment. In this case the shifts away from traditional approaches will still be relevant, but are likely to be more measured, with a continuing reliance on face-to-face learning.
The second major way in which organisations differ is in the characteristics of their employees. Each of the following is going to have an impact on which sliders you push, how far and how fast:
- Their prior knowledge.
- Their motivation to learn.
- Their confidence in using new technologies.
- Their expectations in terms of learning at work.
- Their independence as learners.
- The discretion they have over how they allocate their time.
- How long they tend to stay in the job.
All decisions are made within the context of constraints and opportunities. Any of the following could make an important difference to your l&d strategy:
- The attitudes and opinions of senior managers.
- The availability of funds to support learning.
- The speed with which the organisation must respond to change.
- The availability of the necessary hardware, software and bandwidth.
- The size of the organisation.
- The geographic dispersion of employees.
Again, you will undoubtedly be able to add to this list.
Without a clear and detailed knowledge of the three Ls, it will be difficult to come up with a strategy for transforming l&d which will really work. If you are unprepared and ill-informed, there is a danger your efforts at change will be rejected as inappropriate or ahead of their time. If you tailor your transformation strategy to the needs of the organisation, you could find you are pushing against an open door.