Josh Bersin makes a surprisingly bold statement in this article.

Not only should your organization understand the basics of training and development, but you must integrate it with the company’s talent practices (career progression and leadership) and also create a “culture of learning.” As Peter Senge and many others have uncovered, learning culture is perhaps the most important asset a company can build. (emphasis mine)

Think of all the other assets that could have been listed.  Patents, authors or musicians, physical holdings, even its brand.  But a learning culture was ranked higher than all of these.  Why?  There is a direct link between learning and innovation.  Patents are a result of innovation.  A brand is developed and established through innovation.  Knowing what talent or physical asset to pursue is influenced by innovation.  The one thing listed above that cannot be acquired is innovation.  It must be developed and a structured learning program that provides formal learning opportunities and supports informal collaboration is a necessity to support innovation.

Think about the history of companies like Nokia who lost their market to new competitors like Apple, or the many search companies who lost the search market to Google. These companies don’t fail to innovate. They simply fail to learn.

Bersin’s company created a hierarchy for corporate learning.  The model provides a model for companies looking to improve their corporate learning program.  Of course, Bersin would love to send in a team to help you, for a fee.

I want to highlight a few more points from his article.

[W]hen there is no formal training at all, managers and staff tend to coach each other to try to do their jobs more effectively. This form of organizational learning can be effective, but it doesn’t scale well and is dependent on the skills of the senior people.

This is the case even when there is a training program in place.  Nevertheless, this approach is dependent on the skills of supervisors and other management staff.  Even the most conscientious supervisor struggles to balance employee development with his or her regular responsibilities.

Today companies tend to have a lot of level 1 training taking place, even if they have a well run corporate university (Level 2). There is never enough money or resources to take on every training problem, so incidental, manager-led training is going on all the time.

Not only is there never enough money, but there is also a limit to what can be accomplished through formal “training.”  It has to be supported by upline management and tied to organizational goals.

 

At Level 4, which few organizations have achieved today, companies bring together these formal and informal tools with a laser focus on direct job capabilities. Here the organization should turn itself inside out: rather than thinking about skills and job needs, they look at “audiences” and “audience profiles.”

What, for example, does it take to turn a good sales person into a leading sales person?  What does it take to develop a good engineer into a great engineer? The answer is not some form of “training” – it is a combination of training, coaching, performance support, and employee assessment. And the answer is likely unique to your organization.

The focus of this level of talent development is capability development.  An example Bersin provides for this level is ” is the US Military. As one General put it to me, ‘We have only two missions:  to train and to fight. When we aren’t fighting, we are training. And when we are fighting, we are learning.'”

This is the mindset required to be successful.  It takes the highest level of organizational leadership to make it happen.  Everyone in the organization has to value learning and look beyond their job duties.

I believe most organizations have a vast amount of capacity and capability that is untapped.  Putting the proper learning program in place and supporting it with the right mindset is a key to the getting the most of an organization’s talent.

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