Michael Hruska and Daniel McCoy Thu, Apr 02, 2020 15 min read

Future-Proofing Your Organization Through Learning And Development

If we want to do things differently, we need to start thinking differently.

What Is Going on?

The business landscape is shifting faster than ever. Technology acceleration in areas like Mobile, the Internet of Things (IoT), VR, and AI will continue to disrupt most marketplaces. In addition to this combinatorial innovation, exponential growth organizations like Uber and AirBnB are shifting markets in unprecedented ways. 

The question is: What is going to disrupt your company's position, and what (if anything) can you do about it?

Inside most organizations, there is another chapter to the story. 90% of business leaders believe that L&D programs are the key to closing skill gaps. But only 8% of CEOs say they actually see the business impact of their Learning and Development (L&D). Fewer (<4%) see a clear Return on Investment (ROI). 


 Source:  LinkedIN Learning 2017 Workplace Report


Simultaneously, L&D has its own challenges. These include the reactive, rather than the proactive use of training; the difficulty in getting management buy-in for new learning initiatives; the business not making time for training; and the complexity of implementing new learning technologies. There is also the challenge of aligning training outcomes to measures of effectiveness and engagement.  Here are some recent results from a crowdsourced kiosk at ATD’s ICE conference in May 2019.

 Source:  Association for Talent Development (May 2019) conference


The Center for Management & Organization Effectiveness (CMOE) also has their own Top 10 list of challenges facing L&D. They identified the number one challenge as “dealing with change”.  Given the external impact of emerging technologies, the necessary and inevitable internal changes in any organization will only continue to exacerbate this challenge.
A recent survey from HR.com on the effectiveness of Learning Solutions discovered that only 16.5% of people strongly agree that L&D in their organization excellent.
How can you help or even get started when this is the case?


Emerging Thinking

First, the good news is that C-level and Chief Strategy Officers are taking a hard look at where their businesses need to go. They are generally aware of impending market shifts and the inevitability of change. 

It is the perfect time for L&D to align the learning function with organizational outcomes and emerging business strategies. Doing so will require a deliberate, persistent, and incremental approach. This journey will also require new ways of thinking and improved toolkits. 

Many organizations have taken on "Agile" and "Digital Transformation" initiatives—both positive moves towards a more future proofed organization. However, other than delivering training content, these corporate wide projects are generally not tightly coupled with learning and development. Read more on this in an article in Forbes “Companies are Lagging Behind When It Comes to Digital Transformation”.

But, what if the L&D function transformed in ways that would provide a competitive advantage to the business? What if L&D could move beyond its current position to be seen as a highly strategic advantage for the business itself?

You might assume that your organization has come to realize (or will soon) that: 

  • People are the most important resource in an organization.
  • Investing in growing and developing people should be a business imperative.
  • This investment will make a difference across the business from morale and tenure to business transformation.

These fundamental requirements for survival are in different stages of evolution for any organization. Where does your organization sit? What does the C-Suite believe?

Adapting these core tenets will be paramount to success. Yet, moving to belief and adoption is just the first step. 


New Models

If we want to do things differently, then we need to start thinking differently. This means we need some new models. 

First, ecosystems thinking is critical. By this I mean that we need to consider our Learning and Performance Ecosystem. This is a holistic approach where people, process, content, experiences, measurement, and analytics are aligned with business strategy and supported by technology. Here is some additional reading on Learning Ecosystems thinking and design.  

Second, we need a new metaphor for how we think about L&D and its relationship to the organization itself. If people are the most important part of the organization and they and their development are valued, we might consider them the "hardware" of the organization. The "software" that our people run is distributed by the output, or "software update" from L&D and corporate communications. 
Taking this a bit further, we should start to think about how L&D functions for the overall organization itself. If we imagine the organization as an organism, then we might consider L&D as the central nervous system. In that function, L&D can sense a variety of changes and needs, augmenting the "software" updates to the elements of the organism in order to ensure that those elements are operating at optimal levels. 
The move from flexible to agile is transformational for organizations. An agile organization can stretch, move quickly, fail fast, and recover. But is that enough? Should we also be thinking about how our organization can be truly adaptive?
An adaptive organization is flexible and agile, senses deeply, and can respond quickly to changes. An adaptive organization espouses both agile and lean thinking and seeks opportunities for advancement without fear of failure. 


So What Is an “Adaptive Learning Organization?”

You've probably heard of adaptive learning by now. Adaptive learning systems emerged from intelligent tutoring research. These systems adapt content and tailor it to the individual learner needs. We are talking about something different here when we refer to an "adaptive learning organization". 

An adaptive learning organization is an organization that models ecosystems thinking, acts like a central nervous system, and provides the connectivity for the business to sense, respond, and adapt continuously. 

Thinking beyond agile and towards an open adaptive learning organization means more than using Design Thinking or believing that people are our greatest asset. It means that we consider a new set of principles for our L&D function and across the organization.  An Adaptive Learning Organization should have the 10 following guiding principles:

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These items are key principles of an adaptive learning organization that is positioned to create transformative effects for their overall organization. These principles should serve as a guiding framework for your L&D work to begin to understand where you might be in the framework to work towards a better future state.
Where do you rate on a red/yellow/green for each? Use this scorecard with your team to get an understanding of the starting point for your potential journey towards an adaptive learning organization. 
Beyond these principles are tools and methodologies that you can introduce to your world to start to move along this journey. 


Michael Hruska is a technologist and design thinking (DT) practitioner with experiences spanning across standards, emerging technologies, learning, and science. He is a former researcher at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST). Mike provides technology, business model and innovation solutions to Fortune 500, government and startups. He researches, strategizes, designs, and makes advanced technology solutions and products. His team has built award-winning products and delivered solutions that support millions of users and billions of hits of daily web traffic.  Michael’s experience spans the continuum between advanced research on adaptive learning ecosystems and emerging technology solution/product design in a variety of industries. 

Daniel McCoy is an experienced Chief Learning Officer and strategic learning leader for industry, education, and Government sectors. Dr. McCoy is an admired presenter regarding electronic and distributed learning and has spent his career deploying learning as a key strategic asset to develop adaptive organizational cultures and talent strategies built on scalable, personalized, and embedded performance systems, distributed technologies, and just-in-time analytics. Dr. McCoy earned him Ph.D. in Curriculum and Instruction from the University of Florida and has held positions as a software developer, product designer, creative director, editorial supervisor, and executive producer for learning platforms developed for dental and medical education, professional development in early learning, mental health treatment, graduate and professional education, and college-level curriculum. 




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