Organisations need to rethink their approach to learning. It is no longer a function and an oft-neglected subset of the role of HR. Now it is clearer than ever that learning and the realisation of human capability is the function of organisations.
Why do we come together?
Organisational models are changing. There is much discussion of the potential of new ways of working and organising work. We are thinking about the post-work economy, the Uber-economy, holacracy, responsive organisations, the human-to-human economy or many other forms of the debate on the role and shape of organisations.
What is clear is that in an era where the friction of information, interaction and collaboration is reducing is that organisations to survive must enable people to be and do better together than they can be on their own. Realising the human potential of individuals and teams becomes a critical part of the rationale of organisations, whether that simple rationale is in turn justified in lower transactional costs, trust, scale, access to funding, need for community, collective security or some other rationale.
From Execution of Processes to Learning
When we focus on our organisations existing to better realise human potential we shift the focus of organisations away from the traditional rationale of efficient execution of stable business models. We must recognise that as our people’s knowledge, skills and capabilities grow so can the ways we work, we engage others and we create value. Highly competitive markets and fast followers will compete away value that is not based on organisations continuing to improve their ways of working, their value for customers and that takes collectively learning.
Start-ups are just one example of organisations designed for the purpose of learning. First a start-up seeks to learn what problems need solving. Then it starts to build business models that more effectively address these problems and create value. All the way through this journey, the people in the organisation are challenged to work in better ways, to learn more and to realise their potential. Start-up organisations have become innovators in the ways of working as they have found ways that better enable the potential of their lean teams to be realised. Many of these work practices are now becoming commonplace e.g. agile delivery, lean, customer centred design approaches, experimentation, data analytics, holacracy, collaboration, etc.
From Learning to Big Learning
Increasingly large organisations are seeking to apply these skills to their work to compete and to grow. Slowly learning is being seen as it should have been seen all along, as a critical capability to enable the delivery of strategy and ensure organisational survival against disruption and entropy.
However, learning in this context is no longer a function of HR. Learning becomes a function of every role, every process and every action in the organisation. We are not applying 70:20:10 with the goal of making learning programs better. Now the entire organisation seeks to use the capability of every individual to learn and improve to better achieve its goals and better create value. Organisations will succeed on the extent to which its group of individual learners outperforms the learning going on at competitors. This is Big Learning.
Individual practices like lean thinking, agile, design, experimentation, analytics etc are not implemented to perfect a practice or make work more efficient. Each of these practices are part of creating step changes in performance through learning, a mindset of Big Learning. These practices are developed to enable the organisation to realise its purpose of enabling its people to realise their potential faster and more effectively than competitors.
Big Learning takes a new System
Big Learning takes a new systemic approach to the development of people’s potential and the processes of work in the organisation. Declaring your organisation a learning organisation or increasing funding your learning team won’t cut it. There is no one product or service to purchase. Every organisation needs to develop its own Big Learning system. The changes will involve every role, process and function. The approach will depend on its customers, its strategy, its people and its culture. The answer will depend on what best realises its ability to create increasing value over time.
A New System Takes Change Agents
New approaches to help organisations and their people to learn and share their capabilities, and work in new ways are being created every day. Managers and workers already have a wide range of tools and approaches available to begin their experimentation. Change agents need to be enabled to start to make this change happen. Organisations need to start challenging themselves today whether they are realising the potential of their people to create value for customers and the community.