To be an earner, you must become a learner: read on to learn the importance of employee learning.
It’s not news that the pace of business is accelerating. The adoption rate of new technologies is on the rise: customer demand shifts with the click of a mouse, and new and disruptive competitors appear out of thin air. Increasingly, the clock speed of your company—its strategic and operational response times—is becoming a key determinant of its survival and success.
How can you increase your company’s clock speed? The first and perhaps best way to start moving the needle is to help increase the speed of employee learning.
Work is Learning
More than a half-century ago, Marshall McLuhan, the Canadian media guru, wrote, "The future of work consists of learning a living (rather than earning a living).”
And so it has: Since the 1960s, fewer and fewer employees are doing rote work, and more and more of them are being called upon to do processing work—that is, work that requires ongoing employee learning. Thus, the ability to learn quickly has become a key enabler of both employee performance and organizational clock speed.
In an era when work is learning, long-established ways and means of employee training and development (T&D) are approaching their sell-by dates. Pulling people off the job to impart knowledge and skills is inefficient at best.
Increasingly, it’s ineffective, too. That’s because of the half-life of much of the knowledge and many of the skills that are being imparted is shrinking—especially when that employee learning is focused on jobs that people are doing today, but are less and less likely to be doing tomorrow.
Instead, companies should be enhancing the ability of employees to learn many new skills and to respond to constant change on the fly. They should be following the example of what we at Bersin call “High-Impact Learning Organizations” or HILOs.
Creating the Conditions for Accelerated Employee Learning
Bersin research reveals that HILOs are more intently focused on the conditions that foster learning than on learning content. They seek to fully integrate employee learning into the flow of everyday work and deliver it at the point of need. In this schema, employees decide what they need to learn and their employers provide the means needed to obtain it.
There are many ways to intertwine work and learning. Innovations such as advanced data analytics, artificial intelligence, wearables, continuous feedback loops, and the integration of information with calendars, databases, and instant delivery systems can all be enlisted to help employees learn and improve continuously.
The key task for leaders, however, is to understand how they can help create the conditions—that is, the culture, work design, infrastructure, and employee responsibility and accountability—needed to accelerate employee learning.
Three Ways to Accelerate Employee Learning
In the past, companies could simply teach employees the skills and knowledge—the learning content—that they needed to do their jobs. But now that content is changing too fast for companies to keep up. Instead, companies need to provide staff with personal learning toolsets that enable them to identify and access employee learning content on their own.
Personal learning toolsets have two broad components that support meta-learning—that is, the ability of employees to take control of their own learning.
The first element is mindset: companies can promote an employee mindset that embraces a willingness to learn and to take an active role in the learning process. They can promote the value of curiosity and collaboration, and the recognition that learning and performance go hand in hand.
The second element is learning skills: by teaching employees seemingly simple skills, such as how to use a search engine well (a skill that a surprising number of people have not mastered) and how to use notes software to collate knowledge and access it as needed, companies can help employees become better learners and more efficient processors.
Enable Employees to Develop and Access Personal Networks
Decades of research into organizational networks confirms that one of the defining characteristics of high-performers is their ability to use their personal social networks effectively. Accordingly, your company can help employees become more effective learners by teaching them how to build and leverage their networks.
One way to achieve this is to ensure that employees understand how and when to use networks. The other way is put in place collaboration platforms and processes that make it easier for employees to find and connect with the people in their networks. Deloitte, for instance, has given me an app that knows which office I’m in at the moment and notifies me of everyone in my network in that office at the same time.
Anticipate, Support, and Augment Employee Performance with Technology
As consumers, we’re rapidly acclimating to our cars and personal digital assistants providing us with the information we need to make decisions. It’s time for companies to do the same for their employees.
HILOs are already taking advantage of a wide variety of technologies to support work and employee development. They are integrating employee learning into their work systems—for example, adding microlearning to tools like Slack—and they are hunting for emerging technologies that will facilitate immediate access to information when and where it’s needed to enable employees to make better decisions more quickly.
As technologies like AI, voice recognition, and augmented reality continue to become more sophisticated and prevalent, your company’s ability to anticipate, support, and augment employee performance will become ever more powerful.
The clock speed of your company determines how quickly it can anticipate and adapt to changing conditions. To increase it, you need to ensure that employees never need to stop doing their work in order to get their work done.
To achieve that, embed learning in their work, provide them with the tools they need to learn quickly and in the right moment, and eliminate anything that stands in their way.
As used in this document, “Deloitte” means Deloitte Consulting LLP, a subsidiary of Deloitte LLP. Please see www.deloitte.com/us/about for a detailed description of our legal structure. Certain services may not be available to attest clients under the rules and regulations of public accounting.
David is the Head of Research at Bersin by Deloitte and sets strategy, ensures high-quality efforts, and drives continuous innovation for Bersin's research team. He is the former steward for Bersin’s Learning and Development research practice and has been the primary force behind their work in continuous learning, learning cultures, high-impact learning organization maturity, and learning management systems. He is also central to Bersin’s thought leadership related to HR's operating models, governance, and the evolution of key roles such as the HR business partner.