Thursday, July 17, 2014

High-Impact L&D

On my way to work today, I was scrolling through my blog roll and LinkedIn posts and came across this (as always) thoughtfully written post on It'sTime to Redesign HR by Josh Bersin. He emphasizes the importance of re-thinking the role of HR and defines some of the aspects that make for a high-impact HR team. And one of the important points he raises is the need to consider HR as a talent function, moving beyond some of the typical administrative tasks that are typically seen as defining parameters of HR roles. To quote him here: “Our research found that only 7% of HR's real value comes from its role as an internal people operations team: more than 5 times its value comes from its role in supporting, developing, and identifying leaders.”

For a detailed understanding, do read the post.

I am not an HR specialist, but as an L&D person (and I am going to switch to calling ourselves P&D – performance and development – as described by Clark Quinn in his Revolutionizing Learning and Development, another must read for L&D/P&D folks), I can see the utmost need to work closely with HR to not only draw up training calendars but also to move an organization towards becoming a high-impact learning and performing org.

Josh Bersin has defined a few characteristics and adaptations that would make for a High-Impact HR team. Drawing inspiration from him, I have tried to capture a few aspects of a High-Impact P&D team. I am also stimulated and inspired by Clark Quinn’s book mentioned above. For those following my blog regularly, some of the points may seem a repetition of earlier posts since I have been writing about L&D on and off for the past few months. This post is a synthesis of my learning, observation and analysis so far. To be fair, none of the ideas are highly original and I stand on the shoulders of giants who are leading the way through innovative thinking, bold vision and an incisive understanding of the current and future state of work.

Here are some of my thoughts…

High-Impact P&D teams must have deep specialists – while it is important to have generalists with an understanding of the various forces at play today, it is vital to have specialists with focus. Like HR, P&D team’s scope of work and influence have multiplied manifold. It is essential that they understand the different nuances and the impact of the forces affecting the workplace today and the future skills required to remain relevant (and survive). It is not possible for everyone to be an expert in all aspects. And with the landscape of work and economy shifting faster than we can comprehend or adapt to, it becomes critical to have each individual in a P&D team focus on certain aspects of their passion. By working together, a team of deep specialists can enable an organization to continually evolve and be on top of the changes and churns.

High-Impact P&D teams are diverse and Interdisciplinary – I strongly advocate Scott E. Page’s book The Difference: How the Power of Diversity Creates Better Groups, Firms, Schools, and Societies. It’s a complex book but one that provides plenty of insights. One of the key points he makes is the importance of having diverse thinkers and experts. The point I am trying to make is the importance of staffing a P&D team with people of varied skill-sets, passions and experiences. We often fall prey to a standard JD which reflects levels of seniority and formal degrees but not a diversity of skills and experiences. In today’s world of increasing complexity and interconnectedness, it is important to have a team of people (especially a team responsible for the performance and learning of an org) who understand and can take advantage of the varying forces at play – social, mobile, analytics and cloud to name a few. Add to these the drivers that Ross Dawson mentions in his Future of Work infographic given below, and it is evident that it requires a highly poly-skilled, diverse and interdisciplinary team of people to make sense of all that is happening around us, and craft performance development and capability building strategies.

High-Impact P&D team must engage in systems thinking Peter Senge’s seminal work The Fifth Discipline is based on systems thinking and its role in the building of a learning organization. It is becoming increasingly important – almost imperative – to take a systems thinking approach to developing P&D strategy today. Senge’s work makes a very critical point that all P&D professionals need to keep in mind today: “Survival learning” or what is more often termed “adaptive learning” is important – indeed it is necessary. But for a learning organization, “adaptive learning” must be joined by “generative learning”, learning that enhances our capacity to create’ (Senge 1990:14).” -

Today’s orgs can only “survive” and “thrive” if they take generative learning into account. The ability to handle and respond to complexity, learn rapidly and on the go through handling exceptions, share that learning to generate new and innovative ways of working are all going to be the hallmarks of learning organizations today. And only such orgs will survive. P&D has an important role to play in bringing about this transformation. John Hagel has written at length about scalable learning (similar to generative learning described by Senge) over scalable efficiency – the former will drive the orgs of 21C. Read John Hagel’s post here for a better understanding of scalable learning and the importance of systems thinking.
High-Impact P&D teams must act local, think global – I think this has become a meme today that everyone uses. I have tried to define what it means in the context of P&D. With most organizations – at least most of the employees – being dispersed, it is a challenge for both HR and P&D.  Add to this the myriad kinds of employees – on the rolls, contractual, project-based, telecommuters, consultants, etc., and the challenges multiply by orders of magnitude. How does one ensure skills and capability building in such situations? P&D thus needs to understand not only the immediate needs of the organization and the existing skills of employees but also foresee future needs and be prepared for the same. This is no mean task given that each employee is likely to have unique needs. With the workplace becoming more and more focused on performance and productivity, P&D has to be cognizant of the various drivers and align their performance development solutions and support to meet the needs of a varied user base.

High-Impact P&D teams must be connectors and collaborators – they have to act as “organizational glue” by connecting people and enabling collaboration. For generative learning to take place, it is important that people converse, exchange ideas and hold discourses. The era of becoming an expert in isolation is gone. Today, in an era of ubiquitous connectivity, expertise comes from one’s networks. The richer and diverse the network, the faster one learns. And it is the role of P&D to enable the creation of such networks within the org. John Hagel describes this beautifully when writing about collaboration curves in the context of the hugely popular online game, the World of Warcraft: “the more participants–and interactions between those participants–you add to a carefully designed and nurtured environment, the more the rate of performance improvement goes up. … Collaboration curves hold the potential to mobilize larger and more diverse groups of participants to innovate and create new value. In so doing they may also reverse the diminishing returns dynamics of the experience curve and deliver increasing returns to performance instead.” (Introducing the Collaboration Curve)



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