Work is learning and learning is work: Becoming a High-Impact Learning Organization

Work is learning and learning is work: Becoming a High-Impact Learning Organization
Posted by Josh Haims and Dani Johnson on August 8, 2017.

New research from Bersin by Deloitte, Deloitte Consulting LLP, on what it means to be a mature, High-Impact Learning Organization (HILO) sharpens the urgency for the learning and development (L&D) function to evolve or potentially risk becoming irrelevant. CLOs: it’s time to strategically consider and put on your four faces; you have a tremendous opportunity (and an obligation) to drive the change needed to create and support a culture of always-on learning. C-suite and business leaders: you can’t afford to be complacent; you also “own” learning. How can you, as senior leaders, move your company toward high, Level 4 maturity as a true learning organization?

As outlined in our recent post on disruptions affecting corporate learning, senior learning leaders are wrestling with numerous issues that are turning the L&D function on its ear. The most mature organizations appear to have mastered these disruptive forces, exhibiting what the Bersin by Deloitte study calls a “quantum leap forward” in their approach to employee development and learning. Four key takeaways from the research:

  1. In the most mature organizations, learning is work and work is learning—the entire culture and structure of the organization is set up to encourage learning; no matter where, no matter who.
  2. The “learning organization” does not mean the L&D department—instead, the term refers to an organization that learns…that not only provides the right culture for learning to occur but also learns and grows and makes better decisions based on the data in the organization.
  3. L&D’s traditional bread-and-butter activities are losing effectiveness—the methodologies, technologies, and capabilities that L&D has typically brought to the table don’t have as much impact on business outcomes or learner experience as they have in the past, and will likely have even less in the future.
  4. L&D is in a tenuous position—the study showed that the majority of factors associated with higher business and learning experience outcomes fell under the responsibility of the larger organization, not just L&D. If L&D expects to be part of the learning organization in the future, it should figure out how to influence and drive these factors—and do this quickly.

Making the flip: Three things CLOs can do
Organizational leaders should integrate learning throughout the organization, enabling employee development wherever and whenever it happens. This admittedly demands a different mind-set for the organization as a whole, but especially for the L&D function. Consider the following three practices to support your journey to becoming a learning organization—one that encourages employees to develop and learn in the flow of work, shares information, makes better decisions, and evolves as necessary to meet market demands.

  1. Own the stewardship of employee development in all areas of the business. As learning becomes integrated with work, the entire organization should take ownership of development. However, C-suite executives, particularly CHROs and CLOs, have the responsibility or stewardship for what employee development looks like—and to represent this new mind-set throughout the organization and in all business decisions.
  2. Focus on conditions, not content. User experience and great content continue to be important, but if it is only being considered as it relates to traditional learning methods, you’re missing the boat. Learning organizations should focus on creating conditions that make the overall environment more conducive to employee development.
  3. Develop new L&D skills. As we mentioned, learning organizations are much more than the L&D department; however, L&D departments will likely need new skills in order to take the lead in stewarding employee development. Specifically, the research pointed to three main categories of capabilities: those enabling the building of conditions technology, (data, analytics, and the like), business capabilities (marketing, communications, strategy), and performance (consulting, performance improvement).

Recognize it’s a long game—and get to it.
In some ways, L&D is back in start-up mode, figuring out ways to organize and position itself in the organization to be a trusted adviser to the business and a competitive asset. But it’s not a square-one proposition. The levels of maturity our HILO research identified and the mature organizations already at Level 4 serve as valuable guideposts and guides. We have data about organizational and talent trends to help guide the vision of what learning should become.

The digital learning puzzle pieces are falling into place, with technology and content providers rapidly stepping up to fill emerging needs.

As the saying goes, it’s a marathon, not a sprint, but that doesn’t mean you should take your time. Remaking the L&D function and maturing into a true learning organization likely won’t be a fast process, but if it takes too long, the organization may just move on without you.


Josh Haims is a principal in Deloitte Consulting LLP. He is a senior leader in Deloitte’s Learning Solutions practice, co-dean of Deloitte’s Chief Learning Officer Forum, and sponsor of the Wall Street Learning & Development Executive Roundtable.
Dani Johnson is the vice president of learning and career research at Bersin by Deloitte, Deloitte Consulting LLP. She has spent the majority of her career writing about, conducting research in, designing, and consulting on human capital practices.

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