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Written by: Alex Andrews, CPHR

I was once asked if I felt I was qualified for the role I was being considered for, and the first though that came to mind was “no, if I were, I would have nothing to learn.”

In the most recent Alberta HR Trends survey, however, over 64% of participants stated there was little to no increase in learning and development (L & D) spend this year, and over 20% said that there will be moderate to significant decreases to their L & D budget. In this day and age of exponential information creation, to stay current and competitive, we all need to be learning.

Recently I was listening to an interview with Liz Wiseman, previous Executive of Oracle, where she stated that “if you’re not learning, you’re not growing,” and business is no exception.

Just over 20 years ago, Joseph Bower and Clayton Christensen, referencing their work on Disruptive Technologies started that “no matter the industry, a corporation consists of business units with finite life spans: the technological and market bases of any business will eventually disappear” (Disruptive technologies: catching the wave,” Harvard Business Review, 1995). Therefore, to stay relevant, remain in business and thrive, learning must be an essential element of our culture. We must adapt, change, and learn at every opportunity. Every day. All the time. Becoming a learning organization is, therefore, the fool proof way to accomplish this and remain competitive in this market.

As we adapt to the ever-changing landscape we have to rethink the way we approach process improvement and not look at our strategies as just a series of destinations along a path. In learning organizations the path never ends. Process improvements, reengineering, reducing waste, etc., are but part of a learning organizations overall objectives. Learning organizations are relentless at practicing skills and principles at all levels of the organization.

So, how does an organization become a “Learning Organization”?

There are four essential interrelated systems that need to be assessed to build a learning path: the organizations, the people, the technology and infrastructure, and its knowledge.

The Organization

A learning organization is one that has the commitment to learn as part of its very fibre. It is valued from the top to the bottom and all individuals hold learning as essential to their success. This can be demonstrated by having a clear and inspiring vision of how learning is intimately a part of who they are and who they want to be.

Adequate resources are set aside for learning to take place. Budgets aren’t constrained in uncertain times. This is essential when considering deliberate learning strategies – developing specific strategies for the needs of the organization. Emergent learning strategies are necessary as the competitive environment changes and unforeseen adaptation is needed.

The People

Learning organizations need individuals who have a greater curiosity for their work, who are hungry to improve and increase their knowledge. Individual development strategies are of primary importance as there is an increased focus on strengthening the talent they have invested in.

Learning organizations focus on grooming and coaching their people through formal and informal mentorship programs. Leadership skills are developed at all levels of the organization. Not just at the top.

Technology

Paramount in a learning organization is the ability to communicate effectively throughout all levels of the business. This can be accomplished through formal and informal communities of practice, keeping all abreast to changes or developments in the organization, and the infrastructure that facilitates the sharing of information and knowledge.

This can be through blogging, using webinars, podcasts and other social network platforms, as well as, intranets, online communities and networks, and other work spaces that encourage collaboration. These are all essential in supporting a learning organization.

Knowledge

Lastly, knowledge. Being in the information age, knowledge is vital to the success of any organization and is central to a learning organization. Many organizations competitive advantage is its knowledge. Knowledge of the design and delivery of its products and services, procedures, and resources need to be managed and guarded accordingly.

There is no one-size fits all program, but with a deep analysis of one’s culture, mission, strategic objectives, core competencies, and the environment in which it operates, a learning strategy and path can be developed.

Alex Andrews, CPHR is a member of the HR leadership team for one of Canada’s largest agricultural and construction equipment dealership groups where he oversees the organizational development and training programs. He can be reached at aandrews@rockymtn.com.