Article: Saving your organization from 'Learning Disability'

Training & Development

Saving your organization from 'Learning Disability'

Here's what causes learning disability in organizations and what can companies do to save themselves
Saving your organization from 'Learning Disability'

“Learning is not compulsory, neither is survival” - Deming

Organizations have a high pre-mature mortality rate. It is estimated that the average lifetime of the largest organizations in the world is less than forty years, roughly half the lifetime of a human being. One-third of the firms listed in the “Fortune 500” in 1970 have disappeared by the late ‘80s. In another striking episode highlighting ephemeral existence of even successful organizations, of the 11 companies that the author Jim Collins named as "Good to Great", three have ceased to exist, five have been mediocre and only 3 have outperformed, retaining the “great” status. It is noteworthy that one of these companies, Fannie Mae, ran into poor performance, was involved in a securities fraud, got delisted by NYSE and contributed to gigantic financial meltdown in 2008.

Living things face pre-mature mortality rates when they are unable to learn fast and adapt to changing circumstances. In other words, their learning disability and their inability to change proves to be fatal. The same seems to be true for organizations. Most organizations don’t end up living to their full potential because of learning disability and inability to change. What’s even scarier is the thought that even successful organizations may be plagued with same issues. What we call “excellence” today could just be “mediocrity” that is waiting to perish.

So what causes learning disability in organizations and what can companies do to save themselves? Let us understand the causes first.

Cause #1: Learning is not aligned to the vision and strategy of the company

This is akin to a football team competing in a prestigious competition but the players get trained for beach volleyball. Silly as it may sound, this is exactly what many organizations are unfortunately doing. Professionals are put through a battery of standard training programs. From the business side, training talent is seen as an unavoidable cost. It can be safely said that poor alignment of learning with vision and strategy leaves the organization under-prepared to meet complex challenges while executing the strategy.

Cause #2: Organizational survival is a team sport, but individuals train for their narrowly defined roles

Going with the football analogy again, this scenario is akin to a football team playing to win a match, but players training independently and showing up for the match. Team members need to share a collective vision and understanding of what it takes to execute. Unfortunately, organizations operate in deep silos and train independently without clear understanding of how to execute strategy as a team.

Cause #3: Organizations don’t focus on creating future ready professionals

As Alvin Toffler aptly said, “The illiterates of the 21st century will not be those who cannot read and write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn, and re-learn”. Current learning interventions at organizations focus very little on continuous learning. Professionals tend to get cocooned into their roles without a window to view what’s changing around them. Adding to the woes, we are now staring at a situation where tomorrow’s jobs don’t exist today and we are training our professionals on skills of the past.

Cause #4: Poor change readiness

In 1995, John Kotter published what many consider to be the seminal work in the field of change management, Leading Change: Why Transformation Efforts Fail. Kotter’s “call to action” cited research that suggested only 30 per cent of change programs are successful. In the last two decades, literally thousands of books and journal articles have been published on the topic. Today, there are more than 2,000 books available on Amazon.com under the category of “Organizational Change.” However, recent McKinsey survey of business executives indicates that the percentage of change programs that are a success today is still 30. The field of ‘change management’, it would seem, hasn’t changed a thing.

Not enough organizations have made change readiness and change management a priority. This is a big reason why a lot of companies fall by the wayside.

Saving organizations from learning disability

As discussed earlier, organizational learning disability happens when there is a deep business-learning divide. In a VUCA (Volatile-Uncertain-Chaotic-Ambiguous) world that companies operate in today, learning can no longer be considered as a nice-to-have option. It has to become a top leadership priority. On a similar note, Learning & Development teams can no longer afford to operate in silos and in a reactive mode. They need to be deeply integrated into everyday business and be a lot more future focused.

Here are some ways to obliterate the business-learning divide.

  1. Simulation exercises need to be done across the organization to promote business acumen across levels

    There is no better way to dismantle the silos than to make every associate in the organization aware of the vision and strategy. If formulation of Vision & Strategy is the responsibility of the leadership, then the responsibility of spreading it should be a major focus for L&D teams. Business acumen as a skill should no longer be limited to the upper echelons of the organization, but this has to built-in right from the entry level.

    Organizations need to promote creative visioning exercises, simulations and what-if scenario building to nurture business acumen across levels.

  2. Use of Continuous Learning Platforms for continuous, future focused learning

    Learning has to be continuous and constantly evolving for professionals to become future-ready. In the scheme of conventional learning, this is almost impossible. No organization has the bandwidth to commit resources to all of its associates to be constantly trained. The key here is to leverage technology.

    A continuous learning platform that complements Instructor Led Training by engaging participants after the training intervention is the need of the hour. In addition to reinforcing continuous learning, such platforms provide valuable analytics for the management. For L&D professionals who aspire to measure the effectiveness of training programs using the fifth level of Kirkpatrick-Phillips’ model, such platforms measure and enhance the ROI of training.

  3. Change readiness and change management simulations can help build organizational compentency in dealing with change

    Winston Churchill once said "To improve is to change; to be perfect is to change often." Very few organizations define change readiness and change management as an organizational competence. In the past, it was difficult to recreate scenarios to prepare individuals for change. But today, using technology, L&D teams have the ability to create a safe learning environment using simulations for preparing organizations on change readiness.


To sum it up, today there are new-age learning platforms and simulation tools that help obliterate the business-learning divide. Organizations can put these technologies to use to learn continuously and collectively. This is important because continuous, collective learning is the answer to continuous, collective survival.

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Topics: Training & Development, #BestPractices

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