Monday, June 1, 2015

L&D's Role in a Purpose Driven Workplace

This post is inspired by last week's #ihrchat on Twitter hosted by Dr. Tanvi Gautam and supported by Team #ihrchat. The chat was full of insights and learning, as always. Flood of tweets poured in with inputs and suggestions on this thought-provoking topic - Reinventing HR for a Purpose Driven Workplace (PDW). And the trigger for this post was the question: How will learning & development shift in a PDW ?

I have been writing about the shifts required by L&D to meet the connected and collaborative knowledge economy for some time now. Here are links to some of the earlier posts:

One of the running themes across these posts have been about organizational change and how L&D will deal with the trends and shifts impacting us today. The diagram below illustrates the key trends:

The new generation of the workforce, today's employees, want much more from work than just a pay check. And we have to acknowledge and respect that. They are focused on the three qualities of work defined by Daniel Pink in Drive: AutonomyMastery and Purpose. They want to work for organizations with a Purpose. They want to know the Why  and not only the What or the HowSimon Sinek expresses this brilliantly in his popular TED talk: How Great Leaders Inspire Action:
But very, very few people or organizations know why they do what they do. And by "why" I don't mean "to make a profit." That's a result. It's always a result. By "why," I mean: What's your purpose? What's your cause? What's your belief? Why does your organization exist? Why do you get out of bed in the morning? And why should anyone care?
Employees today want to be part of a community where the work and the workplace will be an extension of themselves, their passion and vision. One of the criteria today's workforce look for is a vision large enough to inspire participation. I am reminded of Abhijit Bhaduri's post on Talent Communities in relation to this post. Talent usually congregates around a purpose and talent also acts like a magnet for other talented, passionate individuals. An organization with a defined purpose and vision is thus likely to become a community growing around a domain. Take the Linux community for example. Take organizations like Google, Apple or Zappos. They have a defined vision that drives everything they do and every decision they take giving employees something bigger than themselves to strive toward as well as a sense of pride in belonging. Aaron Hurst in his latest book, The Purpose Economy, says:
Like the information economy, which has driven innovation and economic growth until now, Hurst argues that our new economic era is driven by connecting people to their purpose, “It’s an economy where value lies in establishing purpose for employees and customers—through serving needs greater than their own, enabling personal growth and building community.” (Italics mine -
Assuming we have such Purpose Driven Workplaces (PDW) what would be L&D role here? What would be the defining characteristics of such an L&D? What would they do differently?

Re-thinking L&D in a Purpose Driven Workplace?

So far, the role of L&D has been to define programs and training based on past data - identified skills gaps, best practices and established processes, explicit knowledge residing in experts or documented processes. Individuals are selected or nominated to attend "requisite" training and get back to work and be efficient. The training hours per individual seemed like a good enough matrix. We know how obsolete and redundant that matrix is in today's context. And it is definitely obsolete in the context of a PDW. 

Words like creativityimaginationvisionpersistence, etc., come up when we mention purposeIt is evident that a purpose driven workplace with passionate and engaged employees will require an entirely different breed of L&D. To start with, L&D needs to be integrated with business. Passionate, purpose-driven individuals do not need hand-holding and a checklist of training thrust at them to develop skills they require. They do not need stringent monitoring and managing. They take ownership of their learning and work because they don't perceive these as distinct from each other or from themselves. They are working because they believe in what they do and are proud to be a part of something bigger then themselves. For them, work becomes learning. Such a workplace will require L&D who not only understands business imperatives but will also be community builders and facilitators, connectors and enablers. 

IMHO, a PDW is: 
"A community of engaged and passionate individuals working and collaborating towards a common cause, stretching themselves to achieve what often may seem impossible, viewing failures as learning and using the possibilities of a networked organization to the fullest."

A PDW cannot operate in a wholly hierarchical, command and control manner. The more I think, I feel that a PDW has to have the characteristics of a social business. A social business that operates on the principles of trust, self-organization, autonomy to solve problems and collaboration forms an ideal basis for a purpose driven organization. In such an organization, L&D needs to become community managers and connectors. The need is not to train people but to facilitate connection between the right individuals, and enabling the network that exist in all organizations. The presence of an Enterprise Social Network (ESN) can be a benefit in a PDW. L&D's task would be to:
  1. Help the organization to use the platform to listen to different inputs - from business, from front-line employees and from customers
  2. Help people build communities around projects, domains and areas of interest
  3. Foster 21st Century skills that will help them to optimally participate in the network
  4. Surface diverse thoughts and ideas being shared; curate relevant content
  5. Build community management skills in others 
In summary, L&D role will shift from:

  • Designing training programs to facilitating communities 
  • Developing skills based on past analysis to fostering 21st Century skills 
  • Measuring number of training hours per employee to evaluating community engagement

P.S.: The diagram below captures the skills people in a purpose driven workforce will need:

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