Last week, I took CEOWORLD Magazine readers for a ride on my most recent learning journey and realized a few aha moments about what’s next and what we need to do to prepare for it. What I learned is preparing for what’s next isn’t going to cut it. That would involve trying to predict upcoming events and creating contingency/scenario plans. This approach exposes us to the likely prospect that we will have prepared ourselves for everything other than what may come our way.
Instead, we have to prepare ourselves for whatever is next. That’s a different challenge entirely. We can tackle it by learning and growing in entirely new ways that can help us learn more effectively, operationalize what we learn more efficiently, profit from it more directly, and prepare more reliably. Here are some steps that will help us get to what EGA Founder Jennifer Vessels calls future-ready, whether working from a centralized location or in the comfort of our own homes.
End the era of reductionist thinking – Surviving and thriving in a future we can barely imagine will be hindered if we keep breaking things down into its most basic components. You’ll never even understand the component itself without the broader context. “Systems thinking provides a means of seeing the system as an integrated, complex composition of many interconnected components that need to work together for the whole to function successfully” (Shaked, H. 2017). By training employees to be systems thinkers and providing them with the transparency, resources, and skills required to look beyond their immediate roles, we prepare them to deal with whatever is next.
Give employees unabashed freedom to explore and learn – This is among the areas where enjoying psychological safety pays its highest dividends. Making a move from a teaching environment (passive) to a more learning environment (active) inspires employees to learn the skills they need for their jobs and understand more fully the larger organization, industry, and world to which they are contributing. Despite a global learning and development spend of $370.3 billion in 2019 (Training Industry, April 2020), 70% of employees report that they don’t have mastery of the skills needed to do their jobs (Gartner). This fact suggests there is some room for improvement.
Look at L&D as the team sport it is meant to be – We learn better when we learn together. Nothing new there. German psychologist Hermann Ebbinghaus’s studies of memory in the late 19th Century eventually led to his discovery of The Forgetting Curve. He found that if new information isn’t applied, we’ll forget about 75% of it after just six days. This finding is consistent with Josh Bersin’s research that asserts that we’ll remember 28% of it for 24-48 hours if we review something once. If we examine it a second time, our memory climbs to 46%. Yet when we share experiences and our learning with others, the number rises to 69%. Providing forums for employees to learn together and encourage each other to apply what they learn helps them and the enterprise. Without it, all is forgotten. Under those circumstances, there’s no learning or development.
Build teams that are nimble and adaptable – When your employees have a command of their role, see the big picture, and are continually learning and growing, they’re in the perfect spot to make well-informed, responsible decisions at the point they should be made – closest to the stakeholder. The more you require an environment that demands running everything up the flagpole, the more you tacitly admit you don’t trust your people to do what you’ve hired them to do. Instead, you have senior-level people, further away from the stakeholder, making the decisions in a less timely fashion. All that does it create a greater potential for being wrong and slow. Hardly the outcome you’re looking for after you’ve spent all this time, energy, and investment into your L&D program.
Reframe big goals as rewards – When it comes to the best teams in any sport, especially those teams which are consistently excellent, year after year, they don’t look at their goals in terms of championships. They see winning a championship as the reward for a relentless dedication to setting their own standard of excellence and achieving the incremental goals that demonstrate they are getting better every day. By focusing on the quality of the output, they realize the benefits of the outcome they desire. Consider this framework as you reimagine your dashboards and create something that will inspire your employees and your organization to achieve optimal performance.
In many respects, there is nothing new here. I’ve assembled concepts, ideas, and findings that have been available for a long time. I hope to make the case that the more you recognize the power that lies horizontally in your org-chart (the power of peers), the more stable your company and the more prepared your people will be to handle whatever’s next – no matter what.
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