While the responsibility to learn belongs to each person, not to the organization, it is the responsibility of the organization to create an environment in which this can happen. Collective learning is needed to make an impact towards meaningful and lasting change.
For this, an organization must understand that individual change is a learning process. They must play a significant role in facilitating and enabling people undergoing change to learn as quickly and effectively as possible. Consider: How can I make my teams more innovative? How can I get them to really take on more responsibilities and be more autonomous? It’s necessary, assuming survival is necessary, to implement the competence of continuous learning to better prepare your people for change and to ensure organizational growth.
There are no magic wands to implement the organizational learning needed to transform your teams. However, there are several key areas of focus and specific actions that can be taken to lay the groundwork for a successful journey.
(Since I am going to cover a lot of information and tasks, I formatted this as a bulleted list to help make it more digestible.)
Identify Knowledge and Skills
The growth of the whole group will emerge as a spontaneous consequence of individual growth. And the baseline for that growth is directed and controlled by managers. It is their responsibility to focus on “managing the system” and making sure that all people have the necessary skills to achieve what we expect of them:
- Evaluate the existing knowledge and skill level on an individual basis and collectively as a team.
- Measure their performance.
- Identify the necessary competencies for each team.
- Identify the gap between the level of development that each team member has in each of these competencies and the level required in your organization.
- Clearly define what makes your teams competent. Aim to structure your teams using a T-shaped competence model. Optimized teams include profiles with a high level of specialization, but with sufficient cross-cutting knowledge to be able to add value to other teams and other challenges (elimination of micro- or specialization silos).
- Help each person be more productive by providing training actions that are specific to their needs. Define personalized, clear, and achievable learning paths. Help your people choose the best growth journey, but leave room for learning in other disciplines that might become of interest to the person and/or team.
Create an Environment that Fosters Learning
Focus on creating an environment that contributes to the effectiveness of learning and speed at which the learning is applied. An environment that enables learning and individual growth will provide the foundation to develop a continuous learning model for your organization.
- Eliminate the fear of error. Enabling people to learn new ways of working in an organizational context is more successful if done in a safe environment that allows failure. Daring to change is easier when we are not afraid to fail. Hence the concept of ‘experimenting’. Experimentation in a safe environment is an inexhaustible source of learning. When faced with complexity, experiments are the only way to gain valuable insight to determine if what you are doing is right or wrong. Plus, if what you were doing was wrong, the impact to the business is minimal since you were “testing”. One of the best things about testing is that we can use experiments for any kind of change, including cultural changes.
- Encourage peer learning. The ability to learn from someone else’s similar experience is powerful. Establishing an open form of communication between the people in your organization and across departments will provide a place for them to not only learn from others, but also to share and teach others. An organization that shares is an organization that doesn’t stop growing.
- Training actions must be “pull” and just-in-time. Develop a system that allows people the option to “demand” the training they need to improve their skills, in the moment that they really need it (just in time).
- Change how you use feedback. Instead of an annual event, encourage feedback as an on-going conversation between not only levels of management, but between the team members themselves.
- Make transversal collaboration spaces available. If you want people to collaborate, give them the space to do so!
- Start making data-driven decisions instead of making decisions based on assumptions. The first step in this is to make the data available to the people making decisions. My co-worker, Alfred, shares more on this in his Keep Your Eyes on the Data to Make Better Business Decisions article.
Implement Levers to Stimulate and Encourage Learning
Levers help to create an environment where organizational learning is possible and to facilitate the adoption of change. Let’s take a minute to look at a few of these levers and how they can be, well, leveraged.
Place Change Agents throughout the organization to promote and encourage others to change by framing the change as desirable, real, and achievable. Change Agents can emerge from any area of the business, at any level. The most important characteristics of a Change Agent are:
- Global Visionary
- Equal Player
For more on how to become a Super Change Agent, each of the characteristics, and an infographic, see my Alfred’s article: The Super Change Agent: Making Change Contagious.
Encourage continuous challenge of the status quo. I recommend approaching challenges with an Observe, Challenge, and Experiment cycle:
- Observe your environment, ask questions, and go deep into the reasoning for why your organization works the way you do.
- Challenge the status-quos, make proposals, think about different ways of working and evolving.
- Conduct experiments (in a safe environment) and measure the results, observe the outcome, and decide from there. If it worked, embrace that change and scale. And if it didn´t work, nothing happens. You were in a safe environment. Try a new experiment!
Training is a valuable lever to introduce and promote new behaviors or ways of working. As the training is implemented, change will continue to take place every day. However, training alone is not enough; it is important that any organizational change includes aspects to prevent the impact of training from being diluted over time. Some of these levers could be:
- Ensure that the training is not just a one-shot, but that there are more opportunities over time to refresh and expand knowledge. Develop training programs that cover a long period of time (several months).
- Offer coaching and mentoring to help solve difficulties encountered when applying changes.
- Like we talked about above, this also helps create an environment of continuous learning; there are many benefits to sharing knowledge!
Build (or Adopt) a Framework to Facilitate Change
Building a Change Framework for your organization is an important element to ensure change is constantly happening and that the efforts you make are actually being implemented and improved upon. Additionally, a framework for change will influence you to consider how to measure progress of your organizational learning transformation from the beginning. Select the KPIs that will allow you to monitor both the execution and the impact on your organization.
The Kotter Model promotes a common vision and strategy to guide you towards change.
- Establish a coalition for change made up of different areas and levels of responsibility within the hierarchy.
- Define and communicate the vision.
- Recruit volunteers for change.
- Focus on producing quick wins by generating and maintaining an inertia of change.
Lean Change Management helps to ensure flexibility and learning by encouraging experimentation to validate hypotheses and learn continuously through proven techniques and practices.
- Collaborative techniques and tools for the agile definition of change.
- Approach based on experimentation and learning.
- Focus on cultural change.
Agile Change Management uses an agile structure to drive the understanding of your problem or customer need and determine the best approach to change.
- Agile structures drive change.
- Structure change based on increments.
- Adaptive benefit-oriented approach.
Systems Thinking is based on the idea to always consider the relationship of each component to the whole system.
- Know how to identify the parts of the system and their interdependencies.
- Always look at the system as a whole.
- Don’t apply isolated solutions, because everything is connected.
- Nurture the environment to enable learning, and change will emerge in complex systems.
- Generate reinforcement cycles.
Even though I’ll spend the least amount of time on this characteristic, it is the most important: time. Without time, all of the other characteristics (defined learning paths, an environment that encourages learning, effective levers in place, and a robust learning framework) are irrelevant. People HAVE to be allotted the time to learn, experiment, innovate, and continuously improve. Organizations need to make time a priority.
Time is tight. Use it in way that matters. Use it to learn. Because there is no change without learning. #alwalyslearning