HR departments may play important roles in creating faster and more agile competitive organisations through the acceleration of learning loops at different levels of an organisation, writes Wayne Brockbank
This is the second of a two-part article that addresses how to establish learning loops in the context of fast moving, uncertain, morphing and complex business environments. In the first article, we examined the implications of learning loops in today’s business environment at a system-wide level. We discussed that for optimal advantage, organisations must create learning loops at each organisational level. Individuals must learn from themselves and from each other. Feedback loops must also facilitate learning within and across teams. Departments must likewise learn within and across themselves. Feedback loops must also occur within and across divisions or business units. Finally learning loops should also occur between the organisation and its key external stakeholders.
As such learning loops become habits that continually learn from and reinforce each other, individuals, teams, departments, business units and the organisation as a whole become faster, more agile and more competitive.
By way of review, the intensity and frequency of feedback loops accomplish the following:
- They bring envisioned future states into present goals, activities and learning;
- They enable frequent evaluation and opportunities for reinforcement or midcourse corrections;
- They enable support functions to assess their alignment with the organisation’s primary value-creating activities;
- They enable the rebalancing of agility and stability;
- They encourage evaluating whether control functions (e.g. legal, HR, accounting, and audit) have reached their point of diminishing returns; and
- They shorten the life span of projects that might otherwise be drawn out in time.
- HR may add substantial value relative to the learning loops agenda in several ways.
“Leading qualitative metrics will undoubtedly become relatively more important as the behaviors of individual and collective learning become key to success”
HR can play a major role in identifying, building and leveraging learning loops that create the greatest value. For example, different organisations might find greatest value through individual learning loops whereas other organisations might find greatest value at the team, department or inter-business unit levels.
Depending on the nature of the work and the competitive environment, different weighting may be applied to different levels. A recent client found that 55 per cent of value was created across business units; 35 per cent was created through external environment–based learning loops; 15 per cent of learning loop value resulted from team-based learning.
HR can facilitate discussions about what learning content will provide greatest value. One company found that getting its leading research scientists to learn from each other would provide greatest value. Another company found that sharing best practices across business units was critical to optimise market capitalisation. Still another company found creating faster feedback loops with its customers was most central for market share growth. In each of these cases, HR facilitated the forums and processes for these learning looks to occur.
In order for learning loops to add value they must not only generate learning but the learning must result in practical application and performance results. The speed and agility with which this cycle occurs accelerates all three. This cycle must be reinforced by more flexible quantitative and qualitative performance metrics. Lag quantitative metrics need to be more agile since the direction and speed of change should not be constrained by measurements that are based on past rather than present and future realities. Leading qualitative metrics will undoubtedly become relatively more important as the behaviors of individual and collective learning become key to success.
HR departments might ask themselves the following: Have individuals or teams adopted and applied learnings from other individuals or teams. Have they provided learnings for other individuals or teams? Are people and teams rewarded for positive sharing and receiving? Do people or teams experience negative sanctions for not sharing or receiving feedback?
“In order for learning loops to add value they must not only generate learning but the learning must result in practical application and performance results”
One client has found that recruiting and developing technical specialists with greater breadth of expertise and experience has facilitated greater speed and agility within and across her teams. While deep knowledge remains important, the ability to learn quickly from others in response to changing market conditions is enhancing the performance of her business. She has worked closely with HR to change the recruitment criteria and development agenda for her unit to account for broader knowledge and learning agility.
Through such practices, HR departments may play important roles in creating faster and more agile competitive organisations through the acceleration of learning loops at each level.
Action steps for HR
- Embrace that HR has the potential to play a major role in creating competitive advantage by crafting fast and agile organisations.
- Identify the learning feedback loops that would create the greatest value: what levels with what content.
- Facilitate processes and incentives that encourage the providing and receiving of feedback.
- Recruit and develop generalists with the knowledge, skills and experience to facilitate learning loops across individuals, teams, departments businesses and between the organisation and its key external stakeholders.