An increasingly global economy, rapid technological advances, and a more networked world have accelerated the pace of change organizations must cope with to stay competitive. And while the world is changing more quickly than ever, most organizations have done a fairly poor job of adapting the employee development systems, processes, methodologies, and mindsets that enable workforces to effectively respond to change.
Our new High-Impact Learning Organization research provides a vastly different picture of what organizations should be doing to effectively enable their workforces. Mature learning organizations are disregarding or testing long-held beliefs about how learning should occur in organizations. They are exploring and experimenting, often prioritizing innovation and risk-taking above efficiency or security. While in some cases our data confirms what previous research had already found—for example, we already knew that more traditional methods of L&D are not meeting the needs of the business while employee development is simultaneously increasing in importance, the new data points to several significant shifts for mature organizations.
Finding 1. The Convergence of Learning and Work
As hinted at by our previous research, our findings indicate a much more intertwined relationship between work and learning. While the L&D industry itself has tended to keep learning and work separate for nearly a century, technological advances have now made it possible to bring them together again, both using work itself to provide employee development and utilizing development to improve work. And with innovations such as advanced data analytics, artificial intelligence (AI), wearables, continuous feedback loops, integration with calendars, databases, and instant delivery systems rapidly becoming an everyday part of the world of work, this trend can only continue.
Finding 2. A Broader Definition of “Learning Organization”
Our findings make it clear that the definition of a learning organization has itself expanded. In the past, the term “learning organization” usually referred specifically to dedicated learning and development (L&D) departments. But our new research clearly indicates that “learning organization” now refers to the organization as a whole.
Of the 96 survey items included in our study, we found only 12 to have a positive relationship with the business and learner experience outcomes we defined—and only 2 of those 12 fall under the direct purview of the L&D department. More mature organizations see development as an organizational responsibility that should involve executives, line-of-business leaders, managers, and employees themselves, in addition to those in L&D roles. This broader definition of learning organization means that what L&D does and how it integrates with the rest of the organization needs to change. Increasingly, learning and development are no longer seen as standalone, isolated activities. Instead, they are being integrated more fully into the organization, and are occurring within the flow of work and at the point of need.
Increasingly, learning and development are being integrated more fully into the organization, and are occurring within the flow of work and at the point of need.
Finding 3. Attention to All Phases of an Employee’s Career
Mature learning organizations consider and support development for employees during all stages of their careers. This includes supporting performance in their current roles, preparing them for the next position within the organization, and helping them achieve long-term career success. Very mature organizations scored significantly higher in helping employees achieve long-term career success than did their less-mature counterparts.
Very mature organizations scored significantly higher in helping employees achieve long-term career success than did their less-mature counterparts.
Finding 4. Use of Technology to Experiment and Innovate
Mature organizations are not using technology to do the same things better. Rather, they are doing completely different things. They are drastically changing the types of developmental opportunities they offer and enabling learning in the workplace—not only through the implementation of learning technology but also through repurposing technologies already integrated into employees’ work.
Finding 5. Use of Data to Measure Outcomes Rather than Activity
Mature organizations collect more data at more frequent intervals from more sources and are therefore better at understanding their organizations and what they need in order to make work better. More mature organizations are more likely to utilize metrics and data sources that measure outcomes rather than activity.
Finding 6. Creating the Right Conditions Instead of the Right Content
Mature learning organizations are thinking less about creating specific, curated content. Instead, they are concentrating on creating the right conditions, context, and culture for learning to take place. This means less focus on courses, curricula, and curation, and more on infrastructure, feedback loops, and collecting data that can help employees make better decisions about their work and their own development.
Mature learning organizations are concentrating on creating the right conditions, context, and culture for learning to take place.
Finding 7. Employment of Design Thinking
Mature organizations put the employee front and center, thinking through both experiences specifically tailored for development (courses, stretch assignments, etc.) and work itself to build in opportunities for reflection and learning from mistakes.
Finding 8. Empowerment of Employees
Modern employees are more empowered than they have ever been before. More mature organizations not only recognize this shift but also adapt to and take advantage of it. These organizations are making their employees active participants in their development processes. Employees in these organizations can find what they need when they need it, seek feedback and data that will help them improve, self-organize to get work done, and make changes both to further their own development and to improve their work overall.
Mature organizations are making their employees active participants in their own development processes.
Staying competitive in a world where competition is defined on a global scale, where technology changes at the speed of light, and communication is instantaneous requires concerted organizational efforts. Our research has found that high-performing learning organizations manage these challenges through the group efforts of a dedicated, highly trained, adaptive workforce. Our top research findings for such learning organizations can help companies not only strive toward the future, but also thrive.
- Work and learning are not separate entities in a mature organization. Both activities are intertwined and integrated.
- Mature learning organizations consider and support development for employees during all stages of their careers.
- New technologies are not simply used to do old things more efficiently and effectively; they are used to imagine new, previously undoable things.
- High-impact learning organization collect and analyze data to enhance outcomes, not activities.
- Mature learning organizations focus less on courses, curricula, and curation, and more on infrastructure, feedback loops, and collecting data that can help employees make better decisions about their work and their own development
- Employees in mature learning organizations can find what they need when they need it, seek feedback and data that will help them improve, self-organize to get work done, and make changes both to further their own development and to improve their work overall.