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The Learning Organization as Social Business

McKinsey has repeatedly published very aggressive outlooks for the value that could be created from companies progressing to the social business. In a 2012 report, the research firm estimated that social business technologies could improve productivity across the value chain as much as $1.3 trillion annually, just for the enterprise sectors of professional services, CPG, advanced manufacturing and retail financial services. According to McKinsey, two-thirds of that forecast value aligns with improving collaboration and communication within and across enterprises.

But for such value to be achieved from transformative collaboration, enterprises must change culturally, operationally and strategically to accommodate new ways of learning, sharing and applying knowledge that benefit individual and organizational performance. Only through cultures conducive to widespread collaboration and knowledge sharing can enterprises find their way to the competitive strength of the Learning Organization.

Such strategic changes impact how the organization operates internally, and how it does business externally — essentially how the organization engages and inspires the human ecosystem that is truly needed for the company to survive as a successful business.

The Learning Organization as Social Business

When learning organizations work well, collaborative learning connects disparate groups in the enterprise, resulting in highly effective cross-functional learning networks. Communities of practice can promote knowledge sharing as an integral part of business activities, which in turn propagates a pivotal facet of competitive advantage.

Many of the capabilities that enable social business are also the transforming enablers of agile corporate learning: social networks and communities, wikis and forums, collaborative processes, gamification, mobile apps, video and audio. The Consumerization of IT has dramatically changed the enterprise, impacted the social business and has paved the way for mobile learning to become the preferred channel for just-in-time learning and knowledge sharing.

But organizations are still wrestling with how to find the path to becoming a social business, especially with a focus on what will bring the most value to the company. When it becomes clear that the learning organization is a large part of a social business, companies should quickly understand how the value accrues. Learning contributes to social business value through:

  • Planned, well-organized learning programs that align with how employees work
  • Learning strategically connected to corporate goals at all levels
  • Quickly locating the right people or content for the expertise needed to solve problems
  • Agile cross-functional communication and collaboration
  • Continuous learning available "anytime, anywhere"
  • Connecting corporate learning to performance improvement
  • Continuous metrics to gauge improvements to: achievement of company goals, agile responsiveness to change, innovation, all customer and partner interactions.

Learning: A Top Partner for Business

Corporate learning must perpetually evolve as enterprises change, to remain relevant to business needs and requirements. The transition from training to learning emphasizes the change in mindset about the best environments for faster learning that can immediately be used on the job.

The overarching driver for corporate learning should not be cutting costs but the need to relentlessly transform the way organizations empower and engage employees. Agile learning brings valuable new benefits in terms of being able to work in ways that weren’t possible before, leading to continuous organizational improvement. Learning is now about investing in the organization in every way possible.

Social sites and technologies have exposed many people to new ways to work, communicate, collaborate and learn. Younger employees have positive experiences with e-learning from different levels of education. Knowledge and learning networks are growing, both as support for corporate learning initiatives and on-the-job support. So high expectations for new ways to learn continue to impact more organizations. Motivated organizations make sure employees connect to communities of practice and value-add information that will ensure that the development of skills is aligned with business goals and objectives.

Ninety percent of 500 global L&D (learning and development) professionals in our study felt it was either critical or important for learning to be integrated with work. — Towards Maturity: Aligning Learning to Business - 2013

Driving Business Results

Learning programs cannot persist as yet another silo. They must be deeply integrated into the "business" of the organization. The learning organization connects learning to business goals, and establishes the basis for metrics to measure progress, changes to productivity and contribution to desired business outcomes. While it’s good to measure learning programs in terms of the quality and effectiveness for end users (employees, partners, even customers), organizations also have to focus on how learning contributes to the achievement of strategic objectives, growth and continuous improvement.

 

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