In the book titled The Fifth Discipline, Peter Senge coined the word “Learning Organizations”. Learning organizations can be defined as a group of people who are continually enhancing their capabilities to create what they want to create. The basic rationale for such organizations is that in situations of rapid change, only those that are flexible, adaptive and productive will excel. In a hyper-competitive, complex, and volatile business environment, organizations are constantly pushing their employees to perform better and bring more to the table. But the same forces are disturbing the business ecosystem and are also overwhelming employees, driving up their fear of job-loss, and compromising their capacity. Hence, it becomes absolutely imperative for the C-Suite leaders to focus on building a high-im¬pact workplace learning culture.
The People Matters and BITS Pilani WILP (Work Integrated Learning Programmes for Individuals) study is designed and conducted with the objective to understand how leading companies in India invest in regular upskilling, add value, and nurture the potential of employees and creating a high-impact learning culture. The survey saw the participation of 129 companies across industries and sectors. The study covers three broad points: (i) Top priorities and agenda — Recruitment priorities for the year 2018 and how the vision and capabilities of the function have evolved over the past two years. (ii) What defines a high-impact workplace learning culture? (iii) Building a high-impact workplace learning culture — What are organizations doing in building a high-impact workplace learning culture?
The research studied how organizations’ top learning priorities and agendas have evolved over the last two years; and while assessing how true the function has remained to last year’s vision for itself, the research also attempted to dig deeper into the importance of a high-impact workplace learning culture; a culture that would be effective in navigating the future of work. In a high-impact learning culture, organizations make learning a part of their business success (69 percent); empower employees to take charge of their own learning (61 percent), and make knowledge sharing an organizational habit (54 percent). While most studies and leaders argue that companies should upend traditional models and empower employees by putting them in charge of their own learning, a key finding from the research found that only 2 percent of the organizations allow their employees to take the final decision on the domain and technology-specific courses they want to pursue. 36 percent of the organizations shared that the CEO decided on the courses and training for an employee.
Top L&D Priorities & Agenda
In 2016, People Matters first launched the survey in partnership with BITS Pilani to record the L&D Trends for the year 2016, which found that the L&D function had finally identified the building blocks for the success of the function. There existed a focused approach on converting these priorities into business outcomes as reflected by the synergy between the priorities, organization readiness levels, future areas of investments and the expectations from such investments.
Benchmarking the data of 2018 against the previous survey of 2016 and 2017, it was found that building skills and capabilities required for future across the organization continued being the top priority for the L&D function (57 percent). Similarly, like the previous two years, this year again, aligning L&D strategy to the business (46 percent) and improving employee productivity and performance (43 percent) completes the suite of the top three priorities for the next 12-18 months.
In 2016, it was found that while organizations had a high level of leadership buy-in for these priorities, building a learning culture and enhancing capabilities of L&D team needs to be focused upon. This year, getting a leadership buy-in to take these priorities to business outcomes observed a dip from the previous year.
Investments in the L&D function have been going up year-on-year. 57 percent of the organizations said that their learning budgets are going up. And as the organizations prepare to invest their budgets in this direction, adopting innovative learning methodologies, creating new content, and building the learning culture of mentoring and coaching were rated as the top areas of investments by 69 percent, 54 percent and 49 percent respondents, respectively.
A High-Impact Workplace Learning Culture: What does it mean to business?
The fourth industrial revolution, as some might call it, has disrupted industries across the world. The industries are experiencing rapid advancement in technologies, changing workforce demographics, job losses, and changes in global policies. This new age requires significant “right-skilling” – retraining the workforce and acquiring people with the right skills to fill the gaps. Rapid changes in the business ecosystem require different and new talent solutions and skill sets from employees. To prepare the workforce of the future, organizations need to have a strategic plan for talent to make the shift — a plan of building a high-impact workplace learning culture. A growing number of forward-thinking organizations (72 percent) concluded that a high-impact workplace learning culture is characterized by making learning a part of organization’s strategic success. The other attributes of a high-impact learning culture as defined by the respondents include empowering employees to take charge of their learning (63 percent) and making knowledge sharing an organizational habit (58 percent). It was found that businesses, leaders, and HR can improve the learning culture by aligning learning with business goals (77 percent), upskilling the existing workforce (68 percent), and formalizing continuous and informal learning (64 percent).
The challenges faced by organizations while building a high-impact workplace learning culture include non-involvement of key stakeholders (63 percent), inability to measure learning outcomes (51 percent), and learning not being recognized or rewarded (42 percent). It was also found that while the organizations face challenges in recognizing or rewarding employees’ learning, most organizations (79 percent) believe appreciating and recognizing employees can be a motivating force for employee learning. The other ways identified for motivating employees to learn consist of sponsoring a course (47 percent), and salary increment (22 percent).
To sustain a culture of high-impact workplace learning, organizations are adopting a number of ways like linking learning to career advancement opportunities (70 percent), encouraging active leadership participation (67 percent), and regular review of the strategy (51 percent).
Building a High-Impact Workplace Learning Culture
How can organizations align people ecosystems with strategic and operational business plans? How can organizations prepare to address future learning needs of their workforce? How can companies leverage workforce planning processes to assess capability gaps and develop a strategic plan to address these gaps? While there is no one approach, having a strong learning culture can transform the organization for a future enabled by advancement in technologies, and policies. On being asked about how organizations identify employees that require upskilling, we found the most popular means adopted were performance ratings (79 percent), employees demonstrating interest in a new function (51 percent), and leadership interviews (47 percent).
To ensure the organizations are fostering a high-impact learning culture, companies are investing in a number of formal and informal methodologies like job enrichment, mentoring and coaching, stretch assignments and projects, short-term courses and higher-education. Interacting with various experts from top organizations, we found that organizations are leveraging a number of online learning platforms to curate content, make learning faster, etc. However, the experts also feel that the importance of higher education to support a high-impact learning culture cannot be neglected. Prashant Khullar, CHRO, Mahindra Holidays and Resorts India Limited, shares, “Apart from these programs, we regularly partner with the best of the institutes to make, both online & blended courses available for our employees. We believe that business specific interventions should be wholly customized & therefore designed internally. Functional and leadership education through quality institutions provides the much-needed global perspective to our employees.”
We found that organizations also sponsor higher education and offer short-term courses to improve their learning culture. In fact, the survey reveals that 47 percent of the organizations sponsor employees’ course/learning as a means to motivate them for continuous learning and 75 percent of the participating organizations said that they sponsor 1-250 employees yearly for university courses to upskill them in the technical domain. While most studies and leaders argue that companies should upend traditional models and empower employees by putting them in charge of their own learning, a key finding from the research found that only two percent of the organizations allow their employees to take the final decision on the domain and technology-specific courses they want to pursue. “Learning should be in the hands of the employees, they must have complete authority to define their learning paths i.e. what, when and how they want to learn,” says Janesh Kumar, CHRO, Airtel Payments Bank.
The results of the current study and comparison of similar inputs from last year’s study indicate that the L&D leaders have been able to maintain their focus on aligning the function to business strategy and building/upgrading skills across functions in the organization. To compete with the ongoing disruption, having a high-impact workplace learning culture is a necessity. “A culture should be built on the pivot of allowing people to make decisions fast, be agile, be truly courageous to navigate complexities, drive change, take risks, and still manage to inspire people to achieve something successful,” says Shalu Manan, Global Capability Leader - Shared Services, Genpact.
Through the research, it was found that building or improving a learning culture requires involvement of the key stakeholders and HR leaders, and the L&D team can drive a high-impact workplace learning culture by formalizing continuous and informal learning, upskilling the existing workforce, and aligning learning with business goals. Prashant Khullar, CHRO, Mahindra Holidays and Resorts India Limited, shares, “There is enormous ownership that lays on business, L&D and HR leaders in fostering a culture of learning. Business leaders being the end customer, provide the core purpose of initiating any learning events. Their involvement in the design & delivery process helps in bringing “Floor Expertise” to “Classroom”. HR leaders facilitate the learning culture through potential assessments and potential mapping. L&D leaders bring in the solution expertise, customized to the audience.”
The other key learning that was derived from this research was that a high-impact learning culture is sustainable until employees are empowered to take charge of their own learning. Goutami Dutt, Head of Learning and Development and HRBP, OLX India says, “Do not to try to push people to learn. Create a pull so attractive and so much for them that if they come, you have done a good job. Today’s generation has a complete belief that if it is good for them, they will go. Provide the right value and you are doing the right thing that will benefit the employee and help create a sustainable high-impact workplace learning environment.”