Few people would question HR’s role as champion and keeper of learning and development within the organization. Training programs and learning initiatives have traditionally been in HR’s wheelhouse and have focused exclusively on the people within the organization—an arrangement that made sense and was, for the most part, effective. But this familiar view of learning is being shaken as a result of a much broader reshaping of organizations themselves.
Our most recent offering in Deloitte’s Perspectives on Innovation series, Institutional innovation: Creating smarter organizations to scale learning, discusses this fundamental shift. It looks at how the very rationale for why institutions exist is changing. Even today, most companies are driven by a rationale of “scalable efficiency,” where success comes from the ability to drive down costs by concentrating economic activities within the organization’s own four walls. Given the changes occurring in our global economy, companies will need to adopt a different rationale, “scalable learning,” where success is defined not just by size, but by the ability to harness scale to learn more rapidly in order to keep up with a rapidly changing environment. By accelerating learning, organizations can accelerate performance improvement. And rather than simply innovating at the product or process level, a much more powerful level of innovation—institutional innovation—becomes possible as participants explore all the implications of adopting a very different rationale.
One of the key enablers of scalable learning is to expand the organization’s knowledge potential beyond the talent within its four walls—it goes back to Sun Microsystems cofounder Bill Joy’s famous comment, “No matter how many smart people there are within your firm, remember that there are far more smart people outside your firm.” So, learning becomes a matter of figuring out how to get more people inside connecting with people outside in ways that can help all participants learn faster —a puzzle that adds a new dimension to HR’s role as a driver of learning and development, if not completely reframing that role. Learning is no longer just about training programs, but about enabling day-to-day interactions, in the workplace and across institutions with business partners, customers, suppliers, and others, where the focus is on creating and sharing knowledge to accelerate learning, rather than on buying or selling.
If institutional success or failure in the future is going to depend on how well the organization learns, organizations have a lot to figure out. What type of workplace design would help people learn faster? What practices would help them learn faster? How do you measure whether people are learning faster? While achieving institutional innovation isn’t on any function’s list of mandates yet, these questions alone make a strong case for HR to own the effort.
As an HR leader, how would you even get started? Here are some ideas: