The Learning Organization as Social Business

7 minute read
Julie Hunt avatar

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 transformingenablers 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 organizationsempower 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.

Organizations should be able to answer these sorts of questions regarding the effectiveness of their learning programs:

Have innovation and idea generation improved for our business? Are we more in tune with and responsive to our customers? Is everyone quickly finding the information and experts that they need to do their jobs more effectively? Are we ready for anything that the business environment is going to throw at us?

Learning Opportunities

The most important make-or-break point for learning happens when employees leave training sessions and go back on the job. If the organization has provided an environment that enables the use of learning on the job and methods for reinforcing what was learned, the business impact from learning increases dramatically, with lasting effect. However, the only way this will happen is if upper management is on board with learning as a strategic driver for the organization.

organizational benefits.png

Source: epiclearninggroup.com

Business Value for the Learning Organization

Learning is clearly a strategic investment for building an organization of individuals who are prepared to sustain the business and drive forward into the future. The potential of learning organizations is to transform learning into a proactive catalyst for change and growth. For this to happen, upper management must include learning strategies in the corporate DNA and as a constant in all strategic thinking and decision making.

A study from T+D Magazine focused on the opinions held by CXO and CLO positions regarding the key indicators that signal real integration of learning with strategic business objectives and needs. These indicators fell into three main categories:

  • Integration indicators monitor how well the learning function is integrated with the business goals and work processes
  • Operation indicators monitor how proactive and responsive the learning function is in meeting business needs, the level of learning access and usage, and the talent within the function itself
  • Perception indicators monitor executive, business unit leader, and employee and learner satisfaction

best of measuring.png
Source: The Best of Measuring & Evaluating Learning – 2010

What About Learning from Mistakes?

Critical facets of a Learning Organization culture are first, the leeway to make mistakes, and then, responsive learning processes to help employees rectify missteps -- and learn from them. The “learning from mistakes” process also includes sharing the experience: the problem, the misstep trying to solve it, what it took to turn the situation around and move to the next step. This sort of knowledge sharing is invaluable. The 24/7 availability of e-learning and mobile learning apps to help employees go through the process from diagnosis to remedy, and then sharing, is a smart competitive move.

And of course, the effective Learning Organization only thrives when upper management is on board with support, both culturally and in practice, across every group of the enterprise. When the strategy is to nurture a work environment where employees have the room to think through work activities, reflect on mistakes and figure out what should have been done, and then develop and share expertise and knowledge, the results add greatly to competitive advantage and sustained corporate health. A highly skilled workforce achieves continuous performance improvement and productivity, innovation and the ability to roll with the constant change in strategy and new challenges that many enterprises must address to stay competitive, relevant and fresh.

About the author

Julie Hunt

I am a Consultant & Analyst for B2B Software Solutions

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