The Need for Agility in Corporate Learning

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Earlier this year at our IMPACT conference we launched our big theme for HR in the coming years: building the Agile Enterprise.  (You can view the keynote slides here.) Let me briefly talk about agility and what it means for corporate learning.

Agility is a hot topic right now, because it addresses the most important problem in business – moving fast, responding to customer needs, and adapting to changes in your own market. Technology has transformed nearly every industry, driving a need to become agile in retail, hospitality, manufacturing, healthcare, financial services, professional services, and every other industry.

In the area of corporate learning, Agility plays a big role. Our new High-Impact Learning Organization research, which will be introduced to members this Fall, shows clearly that high-performing organizations demonstrate agility in two ways:

  • They deliver L&D programs which encourage and foster agility
  • Their L&D organizations themselves are agile.

Both these strategies are critical to your success.

Building Organizational Agility:

Organizational agility comes from a new set of practices in management, leadership, communication, and measurement. Managers must be empowered to make local decisions. Leaders must empower but direct teams to move. Teams must be small and independent. And business data must be transparent (without real-time business information, teams and managers cannot make rapid decisions.)

Our research on organizational agility also shows that agile organizations develop people with deep skills.  Apple, for example, is known for keeping people in silos and hiring for deep skills.  Expertise and learning culture create the insights you need to adapt well.

L&D must take the lead in all these areas. Is your leadership development creating agile management techniques? Are teams trained how to work together rapidly? Have you trained your entire organization in business acumen and how your company makes money? Have you built a "capability model" which shows how each individual in the organization can improve their skills?

These types of initiatives are critical.  Andre Martin, the CLO of Mars, told me that the Mars University is focused entirely on building the skills that managers need to operate in an agile way. Mars is a very high-performing company, one which functions in a highly decentralized way and in many markets.

Delivering Agile L&D:

The second goal is to make L&D agile itself.  We've started an "Agile L&D" working group for our members, and what they're talking about is how they can shortcut the instructional design process, implement agile tools for expertise capture, and develop deep skills in content editing, curation, and design.

Let's face it, if you don't have a "highly capable" L&D organization, you can't move quickly either. So one of the big themes in our upcoming High-Impact Learning Organization findings is the tremendous need to develop and hire highly skilled L&D professionals (and build these skills internally as well).

Shift your Thinking to Continuous Learning:

If you think about where corporate training has gone over the last ten years, we have moved from the era of "e-learning" to the era of "blended learning" to a mild stop at "informal learning" to where we are today:  continuous learning. Today's high-impact learning teams help their companies put in place programs, content, systems, and a culture which creates continuous, high-value learning. 

It sounds fluffy I know, but it's a whole new way of thinking about the problem. If you want to contribute to your company's agility, you have to remember that your job is not only to train people, but to put in place programs and strategies which create a continuous learning environment. This is what our High-Impact Learning Culture program is all about, so call us if you want to discuss. 

I will be writing a whole series of articles on the topic of Agility.  Watch for more as we uncover the keys to business performance in today's rapidly-changing economy.

And as always, I welcome your thoughts and feedback.

Josh Bersin

Josh Bersin writes on the ever-changing landscape of business-driven learning, HR and talent management. His favorite topics include strategic talent management, creating high-impact learning organizations, and how organizations drive business change and competitive advantage through talent strategy and technology.

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