Many large organizations and senior executives know that what gets measured gets done and that numbers don't lie. They will therefore make strategic decisions based on metrics they track and are concerned about. For this reason, they all keep a close eye on the bottom line and other metrics like safety, customer satisfaction and employee engagement to keep track of how they are doing as an organization. This leads to a neglect of the non-obvious metrics that rarely has a visible effect on the organizations wellbeing. For that reason, learning and organization development has sometimes become an after thought for many organizations even though it can be the source of competitive advantage.
For many organizations expenditure in staff development, is a luxury only allowed when the finances are in plenty and a quick casualty when finances are tight. An organization is a complex being with a unique character, needs and qualities that are subject to many variables largely due to the individual and collective abilities or inabilities. Organizations with a depth of talent, knowledge and ability that are translated into a vibrant productive and innovative corporate culture have been known to outperform their peers dramatically.
In the diagram above, organizations that embraced and used design and used it to innovate, have outperformed other listed firms by over 228% according to the Design Management Institute.This lends credence to the fact that learning and development which is manifested in innovative products and approaches to problems facing organizations is able to add tangible value to the all-important stock value over time. The converse is also true. Jim Collins in “How the Mighty fall’ states that the firms fail when they fail to remember what made them great and take it for granted that what has worked before could work again. They make statements like “We’re successful because we do these specific things”. Instead they should be focusing on “We are successful because we understand why we do these specific things and under what conditions they would no longer work.” Collins cites the story of Motorola who invented StarTAC cell phones, which were the smallest phones in the world, using analog technology where digital slowly became the next wave. Motorola became arrogant and did not listen to the market, stating that “43 million analog customers can’t be wrong.” Their arrogance gave their competitors a growing market share and they fell from being the number 1 cell phone maker in the world to only having 17% share by 1999. By 2003, the number of employees dropped to 88,000- losing nearly 60,000 jobs from their 2001 figures.
From the perspective of the balanced score card (R.S Kaplan and D.P Norton) you can view organizations from the customer perspective, the internal business perspective, the financial perspective and the innovation and learning perspective. To remain relevant, profitable and competitive in an environment that is constantly shifting and being disrupted, learning and development is mandatory for all organizations in the 21st Century.
The speed at which organizations perceive shifts in the external environment, innovate, learn and improve is directly proportional to its value and long-term viability. Firms that have been slow have fallen by the wayside as changes around them have overwhelmed their ability to cope. So how do companies at various stages of their growth remain on the top of the intangible but very important learning curve.?
1. Stay Hungry.
Organizations must commit themselves collectively to the search of new knowledge that impacts the way they respond to this shifts around them. It cannot be business as usual from the top to the bottom.
Knowledge is no longer valuable for its own sake in the Knowledge Age. Knowledge must be sought to solve challenges and applied appropriately.
In this age, knowledge and ideas are the are the main source and drivers of economic growth and advantage. New patterns of work and business practices are constantly being developed and a new breed of workers is required. This new breed must be dissatisfied with the status quo and seek to constantly reinvent the way they work. This is a state of mind that only an active and vibrant learning and development program nurtures.
Unfortunately, most education systems that produce graduates for the workplace have not evolved and are still using archaic education systems, curriculum and testing and churning out graduates who must be retrained on the job just to fit in. Most of our current systems do not develop a curiosity to learn, discover and innovate.
Organizations that are to avoid falling to competition and change must be learning organizations that are hungry to learn. This hunger must be displayed through self-driven learning ,organization driven learning and a situational awareness as they go about their work where they are constantly seeking to better understand their business, their competition and the environment they operate in .Knowledge workers must therefore must be life-long learners to remain valuable team members. Leaders and supervisors must lead the pack by exemplifying a strong hunger to learn and use the learning to enhance their teams and firm’s productivity.
2. Knowledge and behavior change must always go hand in hand
Attending a training or class does not automatically mean learning has taken place. A lot of learning does not result in change in behavior despite the basic premise that man is a logical intelligent being who when presented with compelling information should assess and respond accordingly.
The lack of change in workplace behavior, adoption of new better business practices, the ability to develop new products, create more value for customers and enhance operational efficiencies has been the deathbed for many organizations. This has led many to firms to deprioritize learning since they see little return on investment in the form of change in behavior.
The litmus taste of learning is a change in behavior especially work behavior that leads to better result. If ones learning programs do not lead to change in behavior, then they fall short of the high expectations.
Learning affects both the conscious and the unconscious aspects of the individual. When one truly learns one’s psyche, attitudes, behavior and paradigms change which is good. A learning program that does not affect the whole person is weak and lacking in its promise.
Learning and development programs should therefore be geared to addressing both the conscious and unconscious aspects of the knowledge.
The brothers Dan and Chip Heath in their book “Switch-How to change when Change is hard “stated that there a strong need to address the conscious and unconscious aspects of the individual to achieve lasting change. Learning must therefore not only speak to the conscious mind but also to the unconscious mind.
3. The Collective Best Knowledge/Practice must be institutionalized/curated and systematically transmitted to have a positive impact
Many organizations have over time learnt the hard way that sometimes important information critical for the well-being of the firm or its different departments is the preserve of a few.This means that there are a few stars who have figured out how to do work easier, get clients easier and solve problems faster due to their experience or aptitude. They become indispensable to departments and firms who over rely on their expertise.
The ability of a firm to identify this type of innate and critical knowledge, collect it, store it and make it part of its retinue of training and development is important if success is to be replicated across the organization.I once heard of an individual who was working for a top organization in Kenya who went on leave and while on leave had to be on call to handle emergencies. He narrated how once he had a call of over an hour while in his farm upcountry helping people back at the office figure out how to fix a problem that had arisen.
In another firm as the individual realized his indispensability he demanded a higher and higher pay until they could no longer afford him. They let him go eventually but again asked him to come back when they needed his specialized knowledge for a special project they were undertaking at a price that was way above the market rate.
Top sales people have figured out how to sale their products to their preferred customers and have developed the art and science of selling to the point that they innately do what’s right and keep on winning the sales. Others struggle and never learn before they are sent packing. Good learning organizations identify this innate knowledge or skills, distill it, document it and ensure it is passed to other staff to enhance the collective awareness and consciousness that impacts performance. A team of 10 stars is much better than a team of 1 star.
Information technology according to Michael Porter goes beyond the hardware or computers to the information that businesses create and use as well as the technologies that firms use to store and process that data into useable business intelligence to gain an advantage. The rise of big data also demands that staff continually find ways of using this to make better more informed business decisions. Some of the insights from this big data will be new, some old and some drastic. The learning organization must capture,curate and disseminate this across the firm.
A dog can learn new tricks with sufficient motivation. What are you doing to make the carrot for learning more attractive?
Emmanuel is the Director of Human Capital development at Wylde International and an experienced facilitator of a variety of interventions for individuals, teams and organizations who has worked with an international range of clients locally and abroad for close to 10 years and constantly seeks to enhance what he offers clients based on his insatiable need for applicable knowledge and insight from his daily experiences and reflections.
Reach him at
for more information or call him on +254-720761003 for further discussion on the same or join us for a breakfast on the 23rd of February at where we shall delve more into this discussion.