As a Client Engagement Partner, I’ve heard all sorts of visions from our clients for what they want to accomplish:
“We want to instill a growth mindset.”
And . . .
“We want to make learners take responsibility for their own learning.”
To . . .
“We want to grow skills critical toward our business’ future.”
When I look at all of these, my takeaway is they all have a vision around enhancing and accelerating learning agility.
What is learning agility?
Learning agility is the ability to learn, unlearn, relearn and remain flexible on all three afore-mentioned points. Learning agility is incredibly relevant for your individuals, teams, leaders and business divisions.
Learning agility is a key organizational skill when it comes to creating a learning culture, which results from many decisions made by people across your organization over time. Think about it: Your organizational culture didn’t just emerge with a big bang when your company was founded. It’s grown over years and may vary a bit from location to location or one business unit to another.
At the risk of overstating the obvious, change to culture and ways of working doesn’t happen overnight. Even switching your learning tech ecosystem to the best platforms available on the market today only enables change to begin. It doesn’t constitute full growth and change.
How to Create Learning Agility
You could say culture change is a bit like climbing your mountain of choice. As with any mountain, it’s necessary to take one step at a time. If you leap forward too fast, you run the risk of tripping over your own feet.
So what’s the first step? It’s to set up your “base camp,” which includes your team and tools. Do quite a bit of this work before you shortlist technology vendors. Next, engage your people, iterate to always be improving and, lastly, drive positive business results.
Let’s take a closer look at each step:
Set up your base camp.
This is all about preparing your initiative.
Talk to your business leaders: This isn’t optional. Read corporate strategy documents and connect beyond your L&D or talent colleagues. Ask: What are the strategic objectives for the organization as a whole? What skills do teams need to meet these objectives? Where are people struggling?
Perform a learning audit focused on your employees: Find out how they learn, where they get the information they need for work as well as for their personal interests, and what platforms they’re using. Are your employee’s taking formal courses outside of work? What are their favorite blogs, influencers or magazines? What skills do they view as critical to their career goals?
You’ll get a lot of data. Do your best to analyze and structure it. Put your best plan forward with data in mind, but don’t let the perfect become the enemy of good.
Shortlist business critical skills: Get the necessary buy-in from key leaders. This is not the same as recycling your existing competency models. Instead, think about what skills are key to your entire organization’s business strategy. This data will give you the basis for a skills strategy.
Consider technology: Notice we didn’t lead with this! Consider whether your current technology supports learning agility or whether you need to evolve your learning tech stack.
Upskill your Learning and IT departments: We see it time and again — teams charged with implementing a learning culture need additional technical skills as well as a shift in mindset. It’s a huge change and takes time.
How comfortable are your learning professionals with Agile methods? Does your organization embrace a true minimum viable product to help kick off your learning tech ecosystem? Are your learning designers in the habit of testing designs with actual learners, and do they market their products across your organization? How about your team’s basic knowledge of your business and people strategies? These are probably areas ripe for upskilling.
Once you’ve prepared your base camp, it’s time to plan your ascent. Ideally, you’ll have a good idea of your skills strategy before engaging with your technology vendors; it will be the first thing they ask you for. When you are keen to “get going” on a technology implementation, it can be disconcerting to stop and be asked to formulate a strategy. That said, Degreed is certainly be happy to assist you with this.
I see our clients choose one of four basic skills strategies for their first rollout of Degreed:
- Strategic skills: These are a limited set of skills applicable to most of the target launch population and critical to the business strategy.
- “Future of Work” skills: These are popular forward-thinking skills defined as important for all organizations.
- Focus on one function: You may have a strategic need to upskill your sales force or line managers. Choose these populations to focus on in your first launch.
- Job family framework: Do not lift and shift your competency model when rolling out your learning tech. If you allow the scope to get too big, you’ll get bogged down in the detail of content curation. Keep it simple, and iterate.
Whatever your strategy, it’s fine to select and test on a pilot population, but make it as broad as you can. A pilot population will give you data for your wider launch.
Once you have the first launch, it’s time to get your learner population and the business excited about what they can do with it. Learners often say they “don’t have the time” to learn, they aren’t sure what to learn, and they believe their manager doesn’t encourage it. Managers and individual contributors alike can fear their teams will judge them for “not working” if they’re seen to spend time learning.
Source: Degreed and Harvard Business Publishing, How the Workforce Learns, 2019
Overcome these common objections with trusty techniques:
- Get buy-in from senior management to earmark a certain amount of time for learning.
- Ask senior management to promote your product and share that learning isn’t a “nice to have,” it’s expected.
- Ask leaders to publicly share what they have been learning lately, and the impact it has on them.
- Create communities of practice, which are nurtured by recognized experts.
- Consider a “Champions” group of enthusiastic learners from the business (NOT L&D!) to promote your product.
- Run contests and award prizes to encourage a learning mindset.
- Ensure you have a product roadmap and marketing calendar for your upcoming initiatives.
As part of your implementation strategy, create a reporting and value realization plan. What will you measure in the first three to six months? Afterward? What is the business interested in measuring? (Hint: It’s not hours spent consuming learning content.)
You’ll probably read this and say, “Iterate? Of course!” But when you get pressure from the business to be all things to all people, your resolve may fall apart. Recognize your work is never really done. Your first launch doesn’t have to be perfect. It needs to be good enough to gather data and tweak.
Experienced Degreed clients say their No. 1 piece of advice to newer clients is “Don’t put pressure on yourself to get it all out there on your first launch.” If you do, you don’t have anything new to pique learners’ interest later.
Develop prototypes, test with a smaller group of real learners, gather feedback and adjust. You can do this!
To hear about how real learning leaders at Cargill do this, check out our on-demand masterclass.
Drive business results.
You may wonder, “What does the view look like when I reach the summit?” The easy answer is: The business drives learning. That simple statement is made up of a lot of everyday behavioral changes from individuals, teams, and the organization’s leadership, with some structure.
Clients who’ve made it to the summit eventually equip their L&D teams to become enablers of learning, not the executors. Picture this story from a successful Degreed client: This client runs a champions program with representatives from around the business who are formally certified in how to use Degreed as well as the basics of good learning design. Champions assist business leaders to rapidly deliver learning value to business-critical skills.
Meanwhile the L&D department coaches the champions to identify learning objectives and success criteria, curate (not just develop) great content and measure results. This “master curator” approach brings learning closer to subject matter experts in the business. Ultimately, it enables high-quality, business-critical learning much more quickly than was ever possible with SCORM courses or classroom training.
We at Degreed have helped hundreds of clients navigate the learning agility journey. We’re excited to help you too. Let’s connect, put together your packing list and ascend the summit together, whenever you’re ready.