Article: Learning wants to be free: Laurence Smith, Digital Transformation Leader


Learning wants to be free: Laurence Smith, Digital Transformation Leader

In an interaction with People Matters, the leader of digital transformation and innovation culture, Laurence Smith shared some key trends and challenges in workplace learning in Singapore and gave some tips on building an impactful learning strategy.
Learning wants to be free: Laurence Smith, Digital Transformation Leader

The wave of technological disruption has not left any industry untouched. With the changing trends and the increasing demand for new skills, even the learning and development space today needs to transform. But, is L&D ready for the evolving workforce structure, the shifting competitive landscape and the perpetual permutation of technology?

Laurence Smith, Global Head of Digital Transformation, believes that in today’s scenario, it’s ‘learning that wants to be free.’ In an interaction with People Matters, he highlighted innovation as one of the important elements of a successful L&D strategy and talked about the changing learning needs in the face of digital disruption. 

Here is an excerpt from the interview:

Having a solid learning & development strategy in today's rapidly changing business has been identified as a critical agenda for every organization. According to you, what are the elements of an impactful learning strategy?

It is easy to say that the most important aspects of learning strategy are helping the CEO achieve the business results. But the question is how? I believe, there are four critical aspects.

Firstly, you need to align everything you do with the organization's purpose. Also known as the DEEP Purpose - why the organization exists, why people choose to spend their working hours there. At DBS Bank, for example, we choose the seemingly crazy, yet audacious purpose of ‘Making Banking Joyful’ (MBJ). This drove everything else we did and became both a powerful motivator, as well as a decision-making framework. 

Above and beyond annual goals and KPIs, purpose drives the organization - thus it drives your learning agenda.

Secondly, the customer experience has to be at the heart of everything. For DBS, Making Banking Joyful for customers meant that we had to also make banking joyful for employees. So just as we measured and tracked customer engagement, our employee engagement scores showed that people valued learning and career development, and that drove a lot of our strategies. 

Thirdly, governance. Alignment with the CEO’s scorecard and quarterly meetings with each of the business unit heads to track progress on each priority as well as re-prioritize as required.

Lastly, innovation. It doesn’t matter where you are working, there will be an increasing amount of digital disruption in the environment. Therefore, it’s imperative that your learning team also continues to innovate. They should apply design thinking, be agile and have a startup mindset to deliver ever greater value - and lead by example.

How do you think technology has disrupted the learning space itself?

Knowledge sharing has seen an immense transformation as platforms like Google are democratizing knowledge. Anyone and everyone, today can create and share knowledge. Whether HR & L&D are ready for it or not, people are stepping forward and taking ever greater self-initiative for their own learning. There is a massive rise in user-generated content and peer to peer learning, people are going to platforms like YouTube, EdX and Khan Academy where corporate L&D is too slow.

Also, I see organizations increasingly turning to mobile micro-learning platforms to try to better engage learners, deliver more relevant company-specific content and finally provide the ‘just in time & just enough’ learning we have been promising for 20 years. 

For instance, the Singapore Institute of Banking & Finance is currently using a ‘mobile peer-to-peer knowledge sharing platform’ to future skill the entire financial services industry. The IBF is smart enough to realize that they are not just competing with email and meetings at work, but also YouTube, Candy Crush and other distractions individuals are vulnerable to during their commute, and in their evenings and weekends. 

Learning is no longer restricted from Monday to Friday 9-5, people demand to learn 24/7 and if L&D won’t provide it, people will try to find it for themselves. 

Stewart Brand once said that ‘Information wants to be free.’But in today’s scenario, I would propose that learning is making itself free - indeed ‘learning wants to be free.’

Which key things should the HR professionals keep in mind while adopting a new L&D technology for their organization?

Too often HR leaders fall in love with the latest shiny object in the form of a new HRIS, fancy hiring tool, chatbot, or AI interviewing platform. 

There is never a technology silver bullet - don’t fall in love with the solution, rather ‘fall in love with the problem.’

Leverage design thinking to really understand the ‘Jobs To Be Done’ (JTBD). Recognize the customer or employees you are trying to serve, decipher the problem to be solved, or ‘job to be done’ from their perspective. Observe, create personas, build prototypes, run experiments and get data. 

Also, consider whether you are simply moving from paper to pdf or iPad, or are you fundamentally going back to the customer or employee JTBD and completely re-thinking how the value proposition could be transformed by technology. 

Don’t think small. Apply 10x thinking. Aim for TEN times better and not for a 10 or 20 percent improvement. 

What are the current key trends and challenges in workplace learning in Singapore?

The biggest challenge - and opportunity - I see is ‘Future Skills’. The financial services industry, the large firms and both local and multi-nationals are all concerned with skilling workers in the face of AI and chatbots that many fear will take jobs and displace humans.

There are many worthy initiatives underway. Both Skills FutureSG (SSG) and the Civil Service College, have recently run hackathons, facilitated by Padang & Co to create prototypes and run experiments on the future of learning. The SSG hackathon was, in fact, open to members of the general public and people ranging from the age of 8 to 80 and they spent a weekend to help invent the future of learning in Singapore.

While many are leading towards innovation, there are still other institutions who are trying to do new things in the same old way. While they are excited by the learning and engagement potential of mobile micro-learning, they still continue to write massive Request For Proposals (RFPs), requesting for all the bells and whistles nobody ever uses. 

How will the learning needs in workplaces transform in the coming five years?

HR must get digital, agile and lean, else it will be left behind. 

L&D will be more about curating from the open source ecosystem. L&D leaders will have to pick up the general content available from the cloud and tweak it to make it unique to their company’s culture and business. This practice would give organizations an L&D plan which is less costly and more efficient than building the entire program internally by the L&D department. 

In the short term, experiential learning, guided discovery learning, simulations, hackathons, designathons and makathons would be more relevant and useful. Traditional e-learning and classroom will further decrease.

In the medium term, all of the above will become smarter and more personalized as we proceed and gather better data through various learning activities.

In the longer term, we will each have a smart AI-powered virtual digital assistant who will not only manage our calendars and schedule meetings, but provide responses in natural language to our knowledge and learning inquiries, curate learning materials and experiences and even enrol us in virtual knowledge communities - or participate on our behalf - to learn the next set of future skills. 

Indeed at some stage, the challenge may become separating the knowledge, skills and expertise of our virtual assistants with what we know and can do ourselves, or will that even matter by then?

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Topics: Technology, Strategic HR, #DigitalTransformation

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