Much has happened in the world in the two years since IBM published its first Global CEO study in 2004. At that time, still feeling the effects of recession, CEOs were seeking to regain equilibrium, as it were, looking to return to growth by generating more and new sources of revenue from their products and services.
As the recently released 2006 CEO study reveals, growth is evermore top of mind, yet business leaders realize they must not only achieve but sustain growth, and that will require the ability to navigate ongoing fundamental change.
Despite this changing landscape, some priorities have remained constant. Key among them is people skills. In 2004, even in the face of an ongoing concern to contain costs, 75 percent of CEOs interviewed believed employee education was critical for future enterprise success. In 2006, along with “market factors,” CEOs believe people skills will be the most important external force impacting their organization over the next two years.
Where does this place the CLO? Potentially center stage if CLOs find new ways to contribute not simply to the success of their function but also to the success of their organizations. For CLOs, this is a time of significant opportunity to drive strategic value from their learning organizations, set expectations with their business partners and deliver results. Specifically, CLOs can make particularly important and timely contributions in the areas of innovation, collaboration and closely tying the value of learning to organizational performance.
The Innovation Imperative
Why is this the optimal time? It is because of the continually evolving ways CEOs and other key stakeholders are looking at their organizations. More than ever, they view their organizations as engines that run on innovation. Innovation is the key to achieving the kind of fundamental change that leads to sustainable growth. In turn, it thrives via six vital enablers:
- 1. A climate for creativity: a working environment where inspiration can thrive and creativity can flourish.
- 2. Idea generation: securing a continuous source of creativity and the flow of new ideas.
- 3. Incubation structures: supporting the development and growth of ideas from innovation to delivery.
- 4. Metrics and incentives: measuring outcomes from creativity and recognizing talent at organizational and individual levels.
- 5. Collaboration and partnering: working externally and internally with organizations and specialists who have the strongest capabilities for innovation.
- 6. Integrating business insight and technological capabilities: achieving innovation.
Research also has proven that visionary leaders foster climates of innovation. The learning construct in general, and the CLO specifically, can and must contribute a central role in setting the expectations and driving the effectiveness of many of these enablers.
Developing and implementing an innovative learning model provides a tremendous leadership opportunity for CLOs. Managing the changing nature of work and the workforce, encouraging collaboration beyond normal boundaries while integrating learning processes, content and technology to achieve the needs of the growing stakeholder community provides exciting challenges for the CLO.
Breaking Down Barriers
For example, learning leaders have pondered for some time the changing nature of work, and, by extension, the changing nature of learning. We’ve all considered the familiar Department of Commerce statistic that 80 percent of employee learning happens in the workplace. What stakeholders say when they talk about a climate of creativity and an environment that ensures a continuous flow of ideas is that the time has come to break down the barriers, not simply between “formal” and “informal” learning, but between the process of learning and the process of work itself. An organization that must continually innovate must continually learn, and learning must be deeply and completely embedded into entire workflows.
In some cases, rapidly changing demographics drive change in the nature of work. Consider specifically three industries: utilities, telecommunications and government. In many segments of these industries, the average worker age is in the mid-40s, and as much as 40 to 60 percent of the workforce will be eligible for retirement in the next three to five years. This, coupled with the entrance of a new generation of workers, places the CLO in the pivotal role of supporting the unique convergence of a multi-generational workforce.
In other cases, it is the nature of the job itself that requires new responses to managing both workflows and learning. Consider salespeople, for example. They spend no more than 30 percent of their time at their computers, and even less at an office environment where they could possibly participate in formal classes. Their learning must take place in the field and on the job. For them, a learning moment might take place when they sit down for a coffee break between sales calls with their managers to review a meeting that just took place and prepare for the next call. An innovative learning program must be able to capture and codify that “coffee table wisdom” so that salespeople, their peers and their managers can make the next coffee break an equally effective learning opportunity.
Collaboration Without Walls
What stakeholders look for from collaboration that goes beyond company walls is access to experts and innovators anywhere and anytime. Expertise taxonomies, detailed profiles of both learners and experts, must include not only employees, but also business partners, academics and other outside experts and even customers. Enabled by existing collaboration tools—from audio conferences to blogs to instant messaging to even e-mail—collaboration not only can transcend the four walls of an organization, but also can be much more than a one-on-one phenomenon. Small communities of interest can converge for dynamic teaming. Formal teams can attack a specific work challenge or an extended ecosystem can weigh in on a specific challenge.
For example, the UN and the Canadian government needed a way to engage a worldwide community in planning and creating demand for the 2006 World Urban Forum 3 Conference, a biennial meeting that addresses the issue of rapid urbanization and its impact on communities, cities, economies and policies. The organizations met the challenge as a collaborative learning opportunity with Habitat Jam. A 72-hour event with seven moderated forums in two languages, Habitat Jam took place in an Internet-based, collaborative environment that enabled real-time dialogue and other forms of exchange. Roughly 40,000 participants took part, not only providing the ideas that set the stage for this year’s conference, but also giving a crucial voice to those who too often go unheard. The Habitat Jam analysis showed that some of the most active participants were slum dwellers in cities such as Nairobi, New Delhi and Lima who waited hours to weigh in at Internet cafes and township meetings.
Collaboration “without walls” also means drawing no distinction between whether a learner is an employee, a partner, an agent or a customer. If there is a need to learn, the solution must encompass all participants. National City Corp.’s decision to switch treasury management software in a 60-day timeframe impacted not only its own employees but also 15,000 users and roughly 5,000 wholesale banking customers. A learning management system provided a controlled environment with a training-mode version of the new software, customized around specific job responsibilities. By including the customer in the learning equation, National City not only met its conversion timetable, but earned high levels of customer satisfaction. Indeed, customers made plans to continue to use the system to train new employees, making external collaboration an ongoing phenomenon.
Finally, collaboration in the extended ecosystem might challenge traditional notions of company loyalty, but in the process it builds new and even deeper loyalties to an innovation that emerges from shared learning and work. This is particularly important when considering the younger workforce, gen Xers and millenials, who define loyalty outside traditional terms. A “lifelong” commitment to one employer takes on a different meaning to a generation that values “real-time” feedback, object-oriented learning and immediate rewards for individual contributions. Commenting on this phenomenon, Hitachi Vice President Koichiro Nishikawa recently remarked in the 2006 IBM Global Innovation Outlook 2.0, “Leaders face new challenges as they look to motivate morale and passion among people working on a project or a team. For some people, the passion may be more for a chip itself than for a Hitachi, a Samsung or an IBM. But that’s okay – it’s also an opportunity to motivate and reward people in new ways.”
A New Look at Valuing Learning
How does the CLO justify an investment in “coffee-break” learning or in collaboration that might—at least at first glance—benefit the ecosystem or the individual over the traditional organization? Again, we would argue, he or she does so by being willing to re-examine and potentially let go of conventional wisdoms. The CLO that drives innovation is willing to take risks and even thrives on ambiguity. This includes a willingness to take an entirely new look at evaluating and valuing learning.
The CLO must relinquish a focus on justifying the merit of the learning function in favor of a focus on meeting stakeholder expectations and driving stakeholder value. This is not the time for another ROI study, or, even worse, no evaluation at all. Estimates are that of the $60 billion-plus spent on training in the United States each year, less than 10 percent is evaluated at an impact level.
Yet, we believe the time has also passed for an evaluation program built solely on a long-accepted taxonomy, such as the one Donald Kirkpatrick first set forth more than 45 years ago. Kirkpatrick’s four-part evaluation method has remained popular, at least in part because of its simplicity and accessibility. Research has shown that up to 77 percent of learning evaluation models might include the Kirkpatrick taxonomy:
- Reaction – Did the students like the program?
- Learning – Did they learn?
- Behavior – Are they applying their learning on the job?
- Results – Does this impact the business?
For today’s CLO to drive effectiveness, this is the time to turn Kirkpatrick on his head, as it were, and design, build, deploy and measure learning programs based on a model we would call “return on stakeholder expectations.” The taxonomy itself is sound—what needs to change is the order in which we ask the questions and of whom we ask them.
- Results – What results are we looking for?
- Behavior – What behaviors are needed to accomplish those results?
- Learning – What knowledge and skills do people need to acquire those behaviors?
- Reaction – How can we present it so that students will react favorably?
Using a return-on-stakeholder-expectations model holds many potential benefits. It enables both formative (prospective) and summative (retrospective) evaluation. It brings more voices into the decision-making process, making it more likely that a range of stakeholders feel their perspective has been taken into account. It provides guidance on what to measure to demonstrate the expected value contribution of a learning investment.
In 2004, we believed stakeholders would have told the CLO that the value of learning should be measured in terms of growth deriving from product and service innovation. In 2006, the stakes are even higher, and business leaders are looking for sustainable growth from even more fundamental drivers: innovative business models; collaboration that extends beyond the enterprise to the ecosystem; leaders that foster and orchestrate a climate of innovation from the top; and a climate that is more team-based, rewards individual innovators and does a better job of integrating business and technology.
Today’s CLO is in a position to make a profound contribution to enabling organizational innovation. Informing that contribution must be the perspective of multiple stakeholders within an organization and the CLO’s own belief that his or her primary responsibility is not simply to deliver and measure training efficiency and outcomes, but to use learning to drive enterprise-wide performance and sustainable growth. In turn, the CLO will be better able to drive effectiveness by using stakeholder expectations as actionable guidance to design and deliver learning that will succeed.
Mary Kay Vona is the global learning executive and partner for IBM’s Human Capital Management Practice. Dr. Vona has more than 24 years of training, change management, learning integration and business process experience, focusing on organizational transformation through learning. She can be reached at email@example.com.
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