Director Clarity Learning and Development
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Is learning and development essential for organisational survival?

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Now that 2020 has drawn to a close and we can all breathe a sigh of relief that the Covid vaccines are being rolled out, it feels like a good time to reflect and consider what needs to happen to ensure that our organisations survive the short term and thrive in the long term.

6th Jan 2021
Director Clarity Learning and Development
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I have not worked with any organisation – private, public or not-for-profit – where continuous improvement has NOT been a part of the conversation. Often though the concepts of continuous improvement are applied to processes rather than people, and conversations about L&D are separate from the conversations about quality and improvement.

As we look to the future of the workplace and consider what work is really all about, I would love to see learning as one of the critical success factors for all organisations, whatever their sector, structure, culture and composition.

We MUST learn – continuously – or else our organisations will not survive and we will be facing a very difficult future.

In doing some internet-based reading to support this article I came across an interesting website which looks at some of the misquotes which have been attributed to Darwin

I was going to reference the quote that states those who are most adaptable to change are the ones who survive – which is apparently from a management textbook!

I also like this quote, often ascribed to Darwin, which is from a text called ‘Civilisation past and present.

“In the struggle for survival, the fittest win out at the expense of their rivals because they succeed in adapting themselves best to their environment.”

What these two authors have highlighted is important. Being able to survive is about being able to change. Being able to change is about being able to observe, reflect and learn from experience. Survival is about being able to quickly acquire new knowledge and skill; it is also about being able to apply existing knowledge and skill in different settings and different ways.

You might be reading this and thinking “tell us something that we don’t know”!

What we need to get good at (or better at) in learning and development is convincing our organisations and our budget-holders of the need to maintain investment in learning activities. Of course, investment is not all about funding, it’s also about time, although as the saying goes, ‘time is money’.

What can we do to ensure that learning is at the top of the agenda in 2021?

1. Reflect on the learning that has taken place in 2020

Document your reflections. Begin a lessons-learned log or some other repository so that learning can be accessed by all.

2. Take a leaf out of marketing’s book

Learn some lessons from our colleagues in marketing so that our lessons-learned log is not simply another place on the intranet that people don’t visit.

Turn it into something exciting. Find the influencers in the organisation and use them to promote the ideas and learnings in ways that draw everyone in. Ask ourselves how they do it on Instagram!

3. Ask the difficult questions

Questions such as ‘what will happen if we don’t…?’ and ‘where did…go wrong?’ Look at what we can learn from the experience of other organisations in other sectors and locations. 

4. Look at what the futurologists are saying

Become the ostrich that extracts its head from the sand and is tall enough to look around and scan the horizon.

Use both the towards motivation and the away from motivation. I don’t want to encourage scaremongering, but perhaps taking a cold-hard look at some of the evidence of what is happening in the world in its widest context, not just the world of work, could be the motivator that will cause senior managers to hear what L&D has to say. 

Plan positive learning interventions that offer all our team members hope – for themselves, for their teams and for the organisation as a whole. This means building confidence and belief that:

  • Learning is possible – for all of us, whatever our age, ability, attitude or background

  • Learning is important for everyone at all levels of the organisation

  • Learning can be done quickly and easily. After all, ‘every day’s a school day’!

  • Learning can take place anywhere. It can come from a moment of reflection and it can come from a quick conversation. It can come from a walk in nature or a team meeting. It can come from a pleasurable experience or a painful one. 

  • Errors and mistakes are hugely valuable sources of learning and as such should be cherished and shared, not hidden or turned into a cause for blaming and shaming.

  • Learning and training are intricately linked but can also be mutually exclusive. When we invest in training, we need to consider how we will ensure that learning takes place and is applied. 

What else can we achieve?

In conclusion, it is my belief that we MUST learn – continuously – or else our organisations will not survive and we will be facing a very difficult future.

We’ve seen this year what is possible – the creation of a vaccine in record time, the coming together of people from across the globe to achieve a common aim and, crucially, learning how to get through a global crisis. Just think what else we can achieve when we point ourselves in the right direction!

May 2021 be full of learning, full of hope and full of excitement for what is possible. 

Thank you for reading and please do share your thoughts on my thoughts!

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Mac Macdonald - open necked shirt
By Mac Macdonald
14th Jan 2021 13:17

Hi Jackie and I loved your article, thank you.

Regarding quotes, I like the Darwin (or not) survival of the most adaptable... and love Churchill's "We must take change by the hand or rest assuredly, change will take us by the throat."

I try to point out to senior leaders that learning is a natural constant in our own lives as we must learn and adapt to improve, so why on earth would it not be the same for organisations!

You said "Just think what else we can achieve when we point ourselves in the right direction!" So true and here's hoping for a great 2021 for all.

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