Organisational learning is rapidly changing. It concerns both the methods and processes used by the organisation and processing at the individual level. However, if we accept that we have no idea what the world will look like in the next 5, 10 or 20 years, what does learning and development need to look like to facilitate the emerging future of organisations.
The history of individual learning has been shaped by psycho-social theories ( each with their own particular frame of reference). These include:
- Social learning theory
- Social constructivism.
We look at the evolution of organisational learning and we believe that the U provides a framework to capture the history, but importantly to give an insight into the future.
Theory U has evolved from the Presencing Institute and provides a dynamic framework for systemic change and development. The concept of ego to eco is a powerful but simple way to capture this journey.
0.0. Learning was in its purest form, where learning had no parameters. Learning was directly applied to your environment and circumstances. There was lots of innovation and creativity. Transmission of skills and knowledge was through direct observation/ experience and word of mouth (storytelling) and was therefore confined to localised communities.
1.0. With industrialisation, training was a mechanism of control and exploiting resources, the most important being human beings. Learning was about instilling discipline and compliance. Training only benefited the learner in the realms of them being able to fulfil their function (and often stay alive). Therefore learning is linked solely to employability. Creativity is stripped totally away from the process.
2.0 Externalities associated with the rise of capitalism are mediated by the introduction of regulation. Examples include legislation to protect employees and the rise of the welfare state. Access to formal education becomes more widely accessible.
Organisations see the benefit of developing staff with more generic skills, to provide more flexibility. Learning is still dominated by the current and immediate future needs of the organisation but sold to staff as relevant upskilling. But learning is autocratic and the learner has a passive disposition in the experience. Organisations design learning to allow staff to function within defined parameters. There is an implicit discomfort or fear of allowing learning beyond parameters. Staff respond to 2.0 with a sense of entitlement. “Tell me what to do”, “Give me the answers”, “Give me the handout”. Such a culture doesn’t encourage any sense of critique, reflection or challenge.
A key cause of the fatal accident of KAL flight 8509 out of Stanstead airport in 1999 was the Korean Air’s autocratic cockpit culture. At that time Korean Air trained cadet pilots to respect hierarchy first and foremost. This meant not opposing (challenging) their Captain what ever happened. In the flight 8509 example, the First Officer knew of the imminent danger, but, in line with his learned culture, he kept quiet. A more autonomous thinking style would have led to a different decision, saving the lives of himself and the other crew members.
3.0. Here we witness the shift from ego to a eco. Technology is prominent in the shift from 2.0 to
- The first level is the utilisation of technology. Digitial platforms for learning will see virtual reality and augmented learning as a common feature within years. MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses) are providing amazing platforms that take distance learning to extraordinary levels. A MOOC hosted by the Presencing Institute was able to engage a global audience of 75,000 at no cost to learners.
The second level of technology is a maturing understanding of the learning process. Neuroplasticity provides revelatory insides into the brain’s ability to form new neural connections throughout life.
Organisations began to recognise and respond to individual needs. A more holistic type of learning such as well-being, mindfulness illutrate a shift well beyond an individual’s role. This change also reflects the changing relationship between the organisation and individual. Jobs for life, loyalty and dependency disappear from the vocabulary. This recognises a shift in power in which the individual’s expectation of organisational behaviour increases. (Less need to focus on IQ more on self awareness and EQ)
And so to the future….
A lot of organisational learning processes and platforms provide the capacity to understand the past. For the majority, learning is reflective and helps us to understand the past so we can function in the present. But learning is part of the creative process for defining a new future. What if our current learning cultures and processes have no correlation with our potential future? That means that rather than learning being a liberating process, allowing us to prepare for the best and intended future, we become slaves to the past and simply tinker (rearranging the deck chairs). So in order to ensure that learning is fit for future purpose, we must answer the following questions:
- What future is trying to emerge in your organisation?
- What are the learning processes that are required to facilitate that future?
- What role, using self as the most important change agent will you undertake in the learning?
ORGANISATIONAL NEEDS are the core of why learning exists, its purpose and the consequences of its purpose. Organisations that are profit driven will traditionally have a narrow scope of activity. If it doesn’t add to the bottom line, there is no or little justification in engaging in a learning activity. An example is the diversity agenda. Many organisation push back on diversity and inclusion, because they don’t see how it adds to the bottom line.
If organisational needs are centred in an ego mindset, what shifts an organisation from ego to eco? The shift will be caused by a maturing organisational consciousness. Organisational consciousness is the place in which an organisation’s intention and impact extends beyond its organisational needs. Organisational consciousness is an amalgamation of organisational, individual and societal needs.
INDIVIDUAL NEEDS are where stakeholders, staff, management and shareholders care equally about organisational needs and organisational impact. They want to work for organisations that do good, and this extends to other societal issues. Employees want to develop and grow in ways which traditional organisations did not encounter.
Most learning is geared to only allow a few to shape the future. But if you were able to galvanise the potential of the majority of the organisation, what type of future could they help you to shape and how much quicker. A crucial feature of the future is that organisations need Autonomous Critical Thinkers. Such staff have a stronger emotional, political and social connection to organisations because the relationship is mutually beneficial.
SOCIETAL NEEDS are defined as fundamental disconnects that result in major negative outcomes for majorities. Customers demand more from organisations they engage with. They expect more integrity from products and services. They expect organisations to do good and make organisations more accountable. Abolishment of child labour was driven by customers, not by board members.
We shouldn’t see organisations as simple reactive to these shifts. These are external drivers, but already we are seeing organisations shifting.
ORGANISATIONAL CONSCIOUSNESS is important because it will be fundamental to the learning culture and platforms that organisations will need to create their emerging future.
So for learning and development here are 3 key questions that will help you to shape the future of your function:
- How do we create the learning culture and platforms that allow our organisations intended future to emerge?
- How do we facilitate learning that allows employees to “connect to their best me”?
- How do we facilitate learning that allows our organisation to respond positively to societal needs, that exist beyond its organisational need
Some features to consider
Some of the features of learning could involve the following:
Organisations need to be aware of their challenges and successes – actual and potential by asking for and acting on feedback from all parts and levels of the organisations – they need to create a culture where ‘failure’ is seen as a learning opportunity – takes time to learn so sometimes need to slow down to speed up!
Organisations will need to be more transparent to staff who are autonomous critical thinkers. If you want to optimise the potential of your organisation, then staff need to have a greater understanding, so that they can help shape the future wanting to emerge
Learning is a dynamic process that needs to facilitate, creativity, exploration and discovery.
Learning experience must accelerate the opportunity for innovation – taking calculated risks. The impact is a more innovative culture, change is manageable and positively embraced and failure is quick. Cost effective
Learning experience should break normal boundaries and be inclusive of different clusters of staff, suppliers and clients. Learning and development becomes part of all working parts of the organisation rather than simply an add on or mandatory compliance process.
The so what is how important is your future and what investment are you willing to make? Change is inevitable, but the challenge is are you simply tinkering or are you truly allowing your potential to emerge.? We advocate that your emerging future is going to be deeply influenced by the quality of learning and maturity of your organisational consciousness.
Akin Thomas is the CEO of AKD Solutions, an international Organisational Change Consultancy.
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