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There’s an old saying that change is the only constant in business. If the coronavirus pandemic has taught us anything, it is to remind us of the enduring truth of this adage and of the fundamental imperative for companies to keep learning. Companies master change only by keeping up and adapting as conditions evolve. Today’s knowledge won’t help with tomorrow’s challenges. Only organisations that put a premium on learning will survive, much less thrive. Yet learning is given short shrift by most companies.
Companies offer plenty of training, but organisational learning is more than training. But few companies are adept at identifying the ‘what, how and why’ of the best practices needed to stay ahead of change. With the disruptions of COVID-19, the need to learn and adapt has never been greater.
My podcast conversation with Kantar thought-leader Mark Visser, Senior Partner and leader of our Amsterdam office, dug into the things that organisations must do in order to tap into the only remaining barrier to entry in a digital age — a culture for and a commitment to organisational learning. Organisational learning is no longer about transmitting skills that are known to be needed. It is about learning what skills are needed in the first place. This is particularly true as companies look ahead to the post-pandemic marketplace in which nearly everything will be up for grabs.
In our discussion, Mark described several key principles for organisational learning, including it’s too late to learn, not waiting to be perfectly right before acting, segmenting learning by type and needs of different learners, think ahead of trends, go beyond mere training, enlist senior level support and endorsements, and tie learning to objectives. At the top of the list, though, is the overarching idea of course correction. This involves testing hypotheses and making immediate adjustments. This has been much discussed as a corporate culture of experimentation, but it is more than that. It is a corporate commitment to viewing knowledge as contingent and always in need of improvement. If nothing else, the coronavirus pandemic is bringing this lesson home for companies the world over.
Course correction is accomplished through an organisational process that Mark describes as impact management. This means tying knowledge transfer to specific behaviours that an organisation wants to promote. The way to assess success against objectives is to see if the specific behaviours of interest have changes. That’s what organisational learning is all about — identifying best practices and replicating those within the organisation.
The COVID-19 outbreak has shown that best practices are different. They are different now just to survive and they will be different tomorrow in order to thrive. Organisational learning has never been more important as the key ingredient for competitive advantage and marketplace success.