A New Model For Corporate Training: The Adaptive Learning Organization
Among all that’s happened this year, one of the most important parts of business has been learning. More than 40% of Americans have changed jobs; reskillling and upskilling continues to be critical; and there’s even evidence that there are labor shortages in certain critical roles again. How have companies dealt with all this? Through a massive investment in training.
Many years ago I studied best practices in corporate learning and we found that a unique combination of a highly federated operating model, a focus on standardized tools and practices, and a strong expertise in performance consulting were key. Well this year we just completed a massive new study of this topic and the answer is in: Adaptive Learning practices are now the key to success.
This research was done in partnership with NIIT, one of the leading L&D consulting and outsourcing firms, and we identified 15 critical practices that drive success. The report is called The Adaptive Learning Organization, with a focus on helping you understand how to build learning strategies that are both “high-impact” and “highly relevant.”
Over the last twenty years, as we have been advising and consulting companies on their L&D strategies, I’ve always found that there are three fundamental challenges in corporate training:
Effectiveness: what programs, tools, and strategies will best “move the needle” on developing the capabilities and skills for success?
Efficiency: how do we strip out the noise, reduce waste, and keep L&D investments focus on the most important areas? It’s very easy for L&D to become cluttered and messy.
Alignment: how do we continuously realign the entire L&D function (and our learning strategy as a whole) toward the most important urgent and strategic issues in the company?
During times of growth, people focus on effectiveness. During times of financial stress, people focus on efficiency. And during times of change and uncertainty, we focus on alignment.
What our research found is that Agile Learning Organizations, those who invest in the 15 areas above, are 59% more likely to be growing this year, they are 27% more cost-efficient, and they deliver significantly higher engagement, retention, and leadership scores. These practices are no longer just a good idea, they are now essential.
What are the practices of Adaptive Learning Organizations?
They fall into three areas: Sensing, Decision-Making, and Innovation.
Sensing – Adaptive Learning Organizations Listen and Manage Data Well:
As we learned about in all our research over the years, the most important part of alignment is knowing what to work on. ALOs are deliberate about this. They have learning councils, they are engaged with senior business leaders, and they understand skills and technology trends throughout their industry. They also know what their employees are doing, they understand how their programs are performing, and they continuously study the skills and capabilities needed in their company.
Yesterday we chatted with a large technology company which has fallen well behind its competitors. As we talked with the chief talent officer, he shared with us that the company has been so focused on execution and results that the entire management team has lost touch with the new skills they need to compete. They are going through a massive effort to reskill and mobilize their engineers to learn more about AI, IOT, and advanced new technologies in manufacturing.
Microsoft famously missed the market for search engines, social networking, mobile, and cloud computing. This “lack of learning” was well recognized at Microsoft, and now the concepts of Growth Mindset are the core of Microsoft’s massive success.
Decide – Adaptive Learning Organizations Have Good Planning, Governance, and Alignment:
The second family of Adaptive Learning Organization practices have to do with governance, planning, and decision-making. It is devilishly hard to decide where to spend money on L&D (and where to outsource), and these decisions are key to success.
As we learned about in this study and many before, the key here is to empower local L&D leaders to build, adapt, and respond to learning needs. This means companies have to create learning business partners, Capability Academies, and strong performance consulting skills to help identify performance issues clearly and continuously.
The research also found that high performing L&D teams are heavily involved in “future of work” plans, talent mobility strategies, succession management, and all other focus areas in HR and leadership. Internal mobility, and all the issues it creates, must be part of L&D’s mission – so as you consider your evolution to the Talent Marketplace, L&D must be deeply involved.
Evolve – Adaptive Learning Organizations Innovate and Experiment:
The third category of practices fall into the areas of innovation, experimentation, and technology. As most of you know, L&D is one of the hottest markets for new ideas and tools – Adaptive Learning Organizations are always keeping up on them.
Think about all innovations like VR and AR, Learning Record Stores, micro-learning, and Learning in the Flow of Work. These are not just wild ideas – these are groundbreaking new technologies and solutions that radically change the way people learn. Adaptive Learning Organizations study these innovations, experiment, and use them.
I remember when I entered the L&D market in the late 1990s the biggest “innovation” at the time was PowerPoint (it replaced the famous slide projector and the plastic “foils” we used to produce in training classes). I actually spent ten years of my life flying around the west coast with two pounds of plastic “foils” to use in customer presentations.
Well we’ve come a long way since then, and the innovation has accelerated. How are you using Microsoft Teams or Salesforce or Workplace as a learning platform? Are you aware of innovations like Conversational Micro-Learning and spaced learning solutions? Are you investing in VR to replace face to face safety and compliance training? The list goes on and on.
Practices like design thinking, journey mapping, and agile development practices (stories and sprints) are all part of this new world. But it goes beyond “adopting Agile” – it means “being agile” as a team. All these ideas: agility, innovation, experimentation, and iteration – are all part of success today.
In this year of Pandemic, economic and job transformation, and faster than ever digital transformation, being Adaptive in your L&D organization is now critical. I want to thank NIIT for working with us on this research, and I look forward to helping you with your own L&D solutions.
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