A #1 New York Times bestselling author, coach, and renowned speaker who has sold more than 25 million books in 50 languages, John Maxwell, once said, “The greatest gap in the world is between knowing and doing.” I was reminded of this when I started looking at the state of learning in today’s businesses.
In the 2016 Brandon Hall Group Learning Strategy Study, 25% of organizations said that a “people strategy” (which includes learning) was the most important strategy to achieve business success; it was considered even higher than the business strategy itself. It would seem that the business world hasn’t even reached the “knowing” part yet.
Sadly, even those few who believe in a people strategy still struggle to develop and execute learning programs that align with their overall business strategy. Less than 40% of organizations say their learning strategy is effective.
And although 85% say that aligning their learning and business strategies is either important or crucial to achieving their business objectives, only 18% are prepared to take action to create that alignment.
But the news isn’t all bad.
After a decade of sitting, watching and waiting, finally, the #1 learning priority for organizations today is to explore new or different learning technologies.
44% of companies say they are actively looking to replace their current learning solutions – an increase of 16% in just one year. Why the big jump in one year?
Because, according to 87% of respondents, there is a high need to improve the user experience.
Businesses are finally getting serious about exploring learning experiences more in line with how people naturally learn. In fact, 78% of companies cited experiential learning as either important or critical to their business – twice that of formal or informal learning.
But only ~40% say they are either ready to take action on employing experiential learning.
What about the other 38%? It would appear they are still stuck in “the greatest gap in the world” – the knowing, but not doing. They haven’t matured into a learning organization.
Characteristics of a learning organization
The label “learning organization” came out of the research of Peter Senge who coined the phrase to describe an organization that facilitates learning for its staff in order to help the business continually transform itself and remain competitive in today’s dynamic global economy.
According to Senge: “The rate at which organizations learn may become the only sustainable source of competitive advantage”.
Learning organizations acquire knowledge and skills from experiences and that learning is shared and incorporated into its practices, beliefs, policies, structure and culture.
It doesn’t rely on serendipity of knowledge transfer happening as a by-product of day-to-day work. It actively promotes, facilitates, and rewards collective learning to:
- Maintain high levels of innovation and remain competitive
- Respond more effectively to external pressures
- Link resources to business goals and objectives
- Improve the quality of work, outputs and services
- Reduce employee churn
- Attract talent through recognized brand affinity as a people-oriented business
An easy way to test whether your company is a learning organization is to ask the question, “What is the first budget item that gets cut in a tight economy?” If it’s training, then you have your answer.
How to become a learning organization – embrace innovation
Brandon Hall’s industry training perspective report recommends four “critical calls for change” for businesses and institutions in their journey to becoming learning organizations.
Focus on the learner
When it comes to learning, one size does not fit all. And yet too many organizations invest in courses and classroom instruction that does not meet the unique needs of a person in their specific job.
Learning and development has to be seen as part of their work, not as a separate activity. Experiences that align with how individuals work and how they learn are far more effective. That can only happen with a clearly defined strategy that puts the learner at the forefront.
Explore New Learning Methods
Instructor-led training still dominates most businesses’ learning programs, despite the fact that it has been shown to be less than effective for the modern workforce where critical thinking and problem solving is required.
Although it still has its place in some circumstances, companies need to look beyond passive classroom training and incorporate learning modalities that enable employees to personalize and build on their learning experiences so they can apply them directly to their work.
Although bigger increases in engagement and productivity are seen when organizations have a better developed learning technology strategy, 33% of companies have no learning technology in place at all.
But for those that do, research showed that informal and experiential learning is often featured within the more advanced learning technology strategies. In fact 66% of High-Performing organizations (HiPOs) – businesses that see annual increases in Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) such as customer satisfaction, market penetration and revenue – develop scenarios and simulations that allow employees to learn new skills by practicing them in no-consequence environments.
So instead of focusing on creating more and more instructor-led courses, organizations need to embrace technology that allows them to maximize the ROI on the 80% of learning done outside of a classroom.
Change learning from being an isolated episode to becoming part of a continual growth experience by combining a learning strategy with the right technology to capitalize on the value of experiential and informal learning in a blended environment.
Realize the Potential in Mobile, Social and Collaborative Technologies
It probably comes as no surprise that we are more engaged and retain more learning when we are able to collaborate with others. So investing the latest digital and mobile technologies that facilitate learning from each other can have a very positive impact on both the individual and the business itself.
Learn from the best
HiPOs are already executing these strategies and reaping the rewards. 75% of these organizations say they will increase or significantly increase their focus on informal learning, and almost two-thirds said the same about experiential learning.
Isn’t it time to take a lesson from forward-thinking learning organizations and shift away from old-school, static modes of training where little of what is taught is applied or retained? Revitalize your learning programs with new modalities and technologies that meet the needs of the modern workforce and align with your business strategy.
Because, if you were to ask the man considered to be greatest manager of the 20th century, CEO Jack Welch of General Electric for 30 years (considered a very high performing learning organization) he would tell you, “An organization’s ability to learn, and translate that learning into action rapidly, is the ultimate competitive advantage.”