Sunday, December 28, 2014

Re-imagining Work & Learning in a Networked World

"The nature of work is changing. People’s relationship with work is changing. The changes to society will be vast" by @gapingvoid

We are on the eve of 2015! Most of us do a retrospection of the year gone by, and a future-spection of the year to come. I thought I'd do the same from an L&D and workplace learning perspective. Two books I have recently read influence my thoughts in this post. These are The Shift: The Future of Work is Already Here by Dr. Lynda Gratton (a book review coming up soon), and The Second Machine Age by Andrew Mcafee and Erik Brynjolfsson. The former identifies shifts in specific areas that will and already are having a far-reaching impact on the way we work, learn, communicate, and engage with the environment and society. The latter talks about the impact that the changing nature of technology is having on us. The Shift identifies the following five forces that are transforming everything we do, and in the rest of the post I will focus on this line of thought. The five forces are: 

We are already feeling the impact of each of these, and it will increasingly become even more palpable. As technological capability increases, the cloud becomes pervasive, and the power of social and mobile become progressively evident, these will transform the way we function. As Dr. Gratton says in the book: 
"A crucial question for understanding the future of work is predicting what people will actually do with this unprecedented level of connectivity, content and productive possibilities. Over the next two decades we can expect the knowledge of the world to be digitalised, with an exponential rise in user-generated content, "wise-crowd" application and open innovation applications." 
This has wide-ranging implication on learning and the future of work. And that future is rapidly becoming our present. Some questions I keep asking myself...
  1. How do we as L&D tackle this? 
  2. Will L&D as we know it continue to exist? 
  3. Will we still continue to speak about learning as an activity to be undertaken in order to be effective at work? 
  4. Or will work itself subsume learning enabled by a transformed L&D / facilitators / coaches / mentors and the "right" organizational culture? 
  5. How do we help organizations see that social and informal learning is not a new and fancy way to learn but an essential requirement in a complex, rapidly changing, and uber connected world?
It is obvious that L&D has to reinvent itself to keep pace and metamorphose with these changes. Managers and leaders have to don the hats of coaches and mentors for organizations to become learning organizations that adapt and move with the tide. However, most organizations are still floundering caught between practices and processes that have become obsolete (hierarchical decision-making, 9-5 office hours, yearly appraisal cycles, mandatory training hours, and so on) and a new and transformed world informed by the convergence of social, local and mobile. The key question then is:
"How do we re-imagine the workplace such that organizations become platforms for individuals to come together to collaborate, and innovate, and deliver services and products that are valued?
L&D definitely has a role to play in this metamorphosis albeit in a different avatar. 

Right now, we do not have a defined roadmap to reinvent ourselves to re-imagine the future of workplace learning. I thought I would take a step-by-step approach to see if I can come up with some tentative suggestions of what we (L&D + organization) need to do. The shifts outlined above have wide-ranging impact, some of which are listed below:
  1. Globally connected workers and organizations
  2. Fixed workplace gives way to "work from anywhere"
  3. Power of social, local and mobile felt in all spheres
  4. Emerging economies enter in a big way making an impact
  5. Five generations work side-by-side with baby boomers on the verge of retiring
  6. "Jobs for life" replaced by "life of jobs"
  7. Economy of individuals on the rise
  8. Hierarchy & bureaucracy losing effectiveness; ushering in the era of networked orgs 
  9. Mega organizations and micro-organizations coexist
  10. Working lifespan increases; need for re-skilling on the rise
We also have to recognize that ubiquitous connectivity and mobile devices have fostered the growth of a collaborative economy which operates on very different dynamics compared to a competitive economy. IMHO, the shifts and their impact delineated above will enforce and require collaboration -- between individuals, among organizations, between individuals and organizations, among project teams and communities of practices, and such. Some of the principle drivers and needs around collaboration are given below. 

The complexities and challenges wrought by the shifts will be beyond the capabilities of individuals to comprehend and resolve. These complex challenges will continually defy norms and call for radically different skills to solve. We are aware that working and creating value in the 21st Century entail new skills, and we will feel this pressing need as technology continues to evolve and globalization takes on different shapes and forms. Some of the skills that are identified as pre-requisites to being effective today are:
  1. Sense-making
  2. Social Intelligence 
  3. Cross-Cultural Competency
  4. Novel and Adaptive Thinking 
  5. Transdisciplinarity
  6. Design Mindset
  7. Cognitive Load Management 
  8. Virtual Collaboration

What are some of the steps we can take to enable organizations to meet this change? I have captured a few possible ones in the diagram below. 

We know that training is not enough and employees cannot be trained for skills that are still emergent. Training focuses on known needs and identified skill gaps and is essentially past focused. Today, organizations must leverage technology to reach and connect with a distributed workforce. While individuals have to take on the onus of driving their professional growth, organizations have to facilitate it through integrated learning and performance strategy making both formal and informal learning pathways available to all. This requires a holistic L&D strategy and a set of new L&D roles and skills.
Social & Informal Learning Evangelist 
  • Will enable workers to take control of their own learning
  • Will help them and team to build their PLN and PKM
Community Manager
  • Will facilitate collaboration across groups on ESNs, enable community building, and provide curated content
Business & Data Analyst
  • Will focus on trends and patterns based on data analysis
  • Will map business requirement and data to craft impactful strategies
Technology Enabler
  • Will help users and team members to use the latest tech for learning, collaboration, and communication
Performance Consultant
  • Will liaise with business stakeholders to design learning ecosystems based on business matrices
Learning Management
  • Will take care of program / project management, learning evaluation, stakeholder management, supplier management for the formal programs
Learning Delivery
  • Will carry out tasks like facilitation / presentation of learning events for the in-class or virtual sessions, where needed
Learning Design
  • Will conduct needs analysis, design principles, structure learning events for different delivery channels
As I have written earlier herehere, and here, community management will increasingly play an important role in organizations. Technology with the characteristics of socialmobile, and personal are already changing user behaviour. L&D will have to be cognizant of the impact of these characteristics on:
  • user behavior 
  • organizational identity 
  • learning design & access 
  • communication protocol 
  • collaboration and social learning skills
Today, people are seeking solutions to their challenges -- both on the professional and personal front -- in various ways: 
  • Asking their networks 
  • Collaborating and participating in online communities 
  • Googling  
  • Taking a MOOC 
  • Sharing 
  • Working out loud 
  • On the job
The concept and practice of employees waiting to be trained before being put on the job is fast disappearing. Even onboarding new employees is becoming a social and experiential learning journey. Employees want to feel a sense of belonging and purpose when they join an organization. Connecting them to relevant communities and groups foster that sense of belonging and lessens isolation and disconnect, especially important for those working remotely, from client locations, from home or elsewhere. Thus distributed organizations can stay connected via communities and build an identity as well as generate a sense of purpose. 

To summarize, social and collaborative learning is no longer a good to have add on but a necessity driven by some of the following principles:

  1. There are no users, learners, or managers of learning. Only adults doing their work.
  2. Working adults will make the best use of all available resources to connect, collaborate, cooperate and build communities of practices.
  3. Communities, conversations, and colleagues connected via mobile devices, social tools, and the web will be the keys to learning.
  4. L&D will transform organizations to become “social” organizations by facilitating PKM and community management.
  5. Social is NOT a set of tools. Social is a set of behaviours that encapsulate transparency, collaboration, sharing, fearless mistakes, experimentation, and edge work. 
What are the actions steps we can take to transition to a new way of working & learning? 
1. Bring formal learning to the Enterprise Social Network (ESN) to:
  • Let the conversations and context build around formal courses
  • Provide users with the choice of moving back and forth across the learning continuum
2. Encourage Working Out Loud to:
  • Builds sense-making skills
  • Foster practice of sharing
  • Facilitate recording of work process and tacit knowledge capture
3. Build Communities of Practices to:
  • Enable distributed workforce to learn from each other and contribute
  • To facilitate diverse thinking and dialogue
  • Remove silos from within the organization
4. Enable the building of Personal Learning Network (PLN) and Personal Knowledge Management (PKM) to:
  • Build self-driven learning skills
  • Build a learning organization
Last but not the least, it is imperative to get the buy-in of key stakeholders in making this this transition to a collaborative and continuously learning organization, and this means working closely with HR, with the C-suite and all other relevant departments and individuals. The transitions is not impossible if there is belief and the right supportive culture. 

And finally, what is the cost of NOT making the shift? 
1. Siloed organization
Distributed workforce will lack connection and one-ness with the org
2. Operational Inefficiencies
Reinvention of the wheel will continue
3. Loss of Innovation
Diverse thoughts and ideas will be lost through lack of conversation and connect
4. Loss of tacit knowledge
Attrition, retirement, siloed pockets – all lead to the loss of tacit knowledge so critical to organization success
5. Loss of talent
Smart knowledge workers leave for orgs where scope for learning and mastery are higher
6. Exception handling becomes difficult
Outside of “norm” requires collaboration and crowd-sourcing of ideas and solutions
7. Stagnation

Without the influence of diverse thinking, old processes and hierarchical thinking continue to exist

Organizations have much to do to meet the changing nature of work with equanimity and thrive. While the future will continue to be unevenly distributed, it will eventually reach us wherever we are and in whichever industry we happen to operate. Be it retail or manufacturing, hospitality or pharma, automobile or telecom, the rules of the game are rapidly changing. What is essential to survive and thrive is a connected workplace with committed and passionate workers collaborating and sharing to create value. This will not happen by chance or by merely putting an enterprise social platform in place but will require the concerted effort of all stakeholders, L&D and HR to build organizations that have the right culture with the right vision and strategy to make this transition.

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