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Will We Ever Learn?

January 27, 2018


In today’s fast-changing world, we tell ourselves that learning is the most important skill anyone can develop.

Why, then, don’t more organizations encourage their employees to embrace continuous learning?

We’re living in an era of disruption. Yesterday’s print co-ordinator is today’s SEO expert. Bank tellers are financial consultants. Executive assistants are now project managers. And who knows what new skills and outlooks we’ll have to learn next!

Most companies now know they have to change, quickly and constantly, to adapt to new opportunities, technologies and consumer behaviors. But the people who will actually transform these organizations, from the front lines to the executive suite, aren’t getting the tools they need to embrace and lead effective change.

Yes, I’m biased. I’ve spent 25 years helping organizations raise their people’s performance levels through strategic learning and development. I’ve seen companies evolve from offering rote, task-oriented training (with titles such as “Effective Customer Service,” or “Excel for Non-Accountants”) to creating whole libraries of self-guided content that focus not on tasks, but on professional habits and attitudes.

Most organizations, however, still see “learning” as “skills training.” And while they might insist it has always been a priority, “training” has usually been seen as a low-impact, reactive cost centre. So it comes as no surprise that most businesses lag when it comes to helping employees learn the new attitudes and perspectives they need to become agile, creative contributors in the changing digital workplace.

Today’s business world demands that employees, managers and executives all understand and embrace new tools, techniques and models for creating business success. Growing emphasis on innovation, time to market and error-free service requires that all staff know how to create ongoing, exceptional value for customers, and remedy problems on the fly. But you can’t pick this up in a “lunch and learn.” Organizations today have to make perpetual learning, at all levels, an ongoing priority.

We can’t afford to get this wrong any longer.

In 1990, MIT systems scientist Peter Senge wrote The Fifth Discipline, a book that explored businesses’ need to become “learning organizations.” His logic was flawless: As businesses become more complicated, management must move beyond skills training to personal mastery – a discipline that includes clarifying and deepening one’s personal vision, focusing one’s energies, and developing patience. Then, said Senge, business must go several levels deeper and focus on building shared vision, emphasizing team learning, and adopting systems thinking.

Unfortunately, few businesses mastered these new ways of tapping employees’ full creativity and engagement. Which explains in part why aggressive young companies such as Amazon, Google, Facebook and Tesla now have so many established industries on the run.

As more and more companies face the challenges of technological and market disruption, senior management has to try again. True leaders must take over the file for organizational learning. What’s the point of developing a bold new strategic plan if you don’t invest in the learning and the culture that will enable employees to carry it out?

At Icicle Learning, we work with C-suite executives to develop custom-learning solutions. Whether you are rebranding, striving for innovation and intrapreneurship, or gearing up for tough new global competition, we use applied learning to support your whole team with new tools and new ways of thinking, focused directly on your changing needs and strategies. This increases employees’ resilience and buy-in, making your transformation more solid, successful and enduring.

When companies embrace perpetual learning, anything is possible. You can turn on a dime, innovate, and delegate. You can explore new frontiers with confidence. The sky is the limit because you are constantly building and reinforcing alignment, resilience and trust.

In the weeks ahead, I will be writing more posts on this topic, giving examples of the transformations I have been involved with, and outlining the steps you can take to master business renewal. It starts with one idea: your employees are partners in change. They want to know what the next step is, and how they can help.

Don’t let them down.

Next month: The Challenge of Innovation: Why learning must become an essential part of corporate strategy.

By Vivian Hisey

An accredited training and communications professional, Vivian works to align sustainable learning strategies with core business objectives for a more productive work environment.


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