Workplace challenges are increasingly going to be unique requiring skills like analysis, problem solving, learning agility, adaptability, pattern sensing and exception handling; therefore, instilling the skills of “learning how to learn” is of paramount importance
We are in a VUCA world, a world characterized by Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity and Ambiguity. This is heralded by the big five shifts which are the forces of globalization, technology, demography and longevity, society and the energy resources. We are already feeling the impact of each of these, and it will increasingly become even more palpable. Ubiquitous connectivity, exponentially increasing technological capability, and the affordances of Social, Mobile, Analytics and Cloud (SMAC) have forever changed how we communicate, interact, live and work. As working professionals and L&D personnel concerned with training and organizational learning, capability building and talent development, we cannot ignore the implications of this changing landscape. The future of work and learning are now being shaped at the intersection of the five forces, the VUCA world and SMAC environment.
There have been paradigm shifts in every aspect of work and life, some of which are summarized below:
Hence, the skills required to meet the challenges and opportunities of the VUCA world are vastly different from those that were needed to thrive in the Industrial Era, which was stable, predictable and efficiency-driven. An increasingly global and uber-connected workforce, globally distributed organizations, dispersed expertise, the potential of seven billion connected devices, and the economy of individuals are giving rise to completely different working and learning behaviors. Today’s users with their mobile devices, anytime anywhere access to the internet, and connected to their networks via social platforms operate under completely different paradigms. The concept and practice of employees waiting to be trained before being put on the job is fast disappearing.
In the light of these transformations and disruptions, It is glaringly evident that L&D departments can no longer function the way they used to, at least not if they want to be relevant and be a business partner to the organizations. Today, L&D must be future focused and leverage the existing and emergent power of technology to design workplace learning. It is also critical to understand that global connectivity and mobile devices have fostered the growth of a collaborative economy which operates on very different dynamics compared to the competitive economy of the Industrial Era. What are some of the steps we can take to enable organizations to meet this change? I have captured a few possible ones in the diagram below.
Training is not enough and employees cannot be trained for skills that are still emergent. Training is past focused and addresses known needs and identified skill gaps. While individuals have to take on the onus of driving their professional growth, organizations have to facilitate it through integrated learning and performance strategy making both formal and informal learning pathways available to all. This requires a holistic L&D strategy and a set of new L&D skills, some of which are described briefly:
Building Personal Learning Network
Workplace challenges are increasingly going to be unique requiring skills like analysis, problem solving, learning agility, adaptability, pattern sensing and exception handling; therefore, instilling the skills of “learning how to learn” is of paramount importance. This necessitates individuals to practice Personal Knowledge Management (PKM) and build their Personal Learning Networks (PLN). To enable the workforce acquire these skills, the L&D team must "walk the talk". Since not all L&D members possibly use social media to drive their own professional development, acquiring the skills of PKM will require some time and effort. While most people today use multiple social tools, using these specifically to enhance and support continuous learning and professional development may not come naturally. Conscious effort must be made to build one’s PLN and transfer the skills to the workforce. One example of how to build one’s PLN using Twitter is shown:
Understanding the Technological and Demographic Landscape
Today, L&D is faced with the challenge and the opportunity to empower a workforce spanning five generations and working in a ubiquitously connected environment. Workers will use mobile devices including wearables to learn at the point of need, access their network and communities of practices to solve challenges, share user-generated content in response to the community needs or just to share their learning. Social media and open resources like MOOCs will foster an era of self-driven learners who know what they need, where to find it and take their pick. The learners will come with a consumer mindset--valuing what they need and not what is thrust on them. L&D will have to ensure that we have the requisite skills to facilitate this move or risk becoming redundant.
Managing Communities and Networks
Learning in the workplace will increasingly take place in communities – these could be Communities of Interest, Communities of Practice (CoP), or even communities formed out of project groups. Some will be temporary like those of people coming together for projects; some will be long term like CoPs where workers from across the organization come together to evolve their domain, learn from each other and add to the knowledge pool. While people may still come together to share and learn as they often do without L&D intervention, support from L&D in this area will not only make it more efficient and bridge silos but will also benefit the organization by providing a platform for the capture of the organizational hive mind. This is directly tied to the skills of community management and facilitation of virtual collaboration. The role of community management will be one of the most crucial because of the global nature of organizations and dispersed teams working across time zones and continents. L&D will have to don the hat of community managers to make this transition seamless.
None of these are likely to happen overnight. Nor are they one-time activities. Putting in place a learning ecosystem where individuals engage as self-managed learners require constant vigilance, robust design thinking, application of sound community management principles and a strong change management focus.
The onus lies on L&D to gauge the impact of these shifts on workplace learning, leverage technology and herald the change.