It is becoming increasingly important that people’s professional development aligns with core business objectives to improve organisational performance. Therefore, there is a need to identify the learning needs and the development activities that enhance people’s performance and integrate these into the main business strategy.
In order to explain more clearly the central themes of new equalities legislation, core purpose and culture change, this report explores the relationship between the learning organisation concept and the Investors in People indicators. It should provide the reader with ideas about the changes needed and a way of achieving them within the current organisational activity. It will help define the role of the facilitator as a strategic partner in business development.
Everyone can make a positive contribution to their organisation, by improving their own and their teams performance, therefore enhancing people’s learning experience can increase shared effectiveness in reaching organisational objectives.
Investment in people’s development needs to benefit all members of the organisation equally. Only by providing a suitable range of learning opportunities at all levels can shared capacity grow to reach joint goals effectively.
Social change presents a challenge to all organisations, as they strive to respond to ongoing community demands by continuously improving their understanding of clients needs in order to reach their own business objectives. The complexity of factors affecting organisational culture can often feel confusing to professionals trying to reach a variety of goals while coping with the tension caused by their complexity. Learning activity, such as training or research, can facilitate an easier response to change by helping people adapt their more practice effectively, while different strategies for improvement may also contribute to key business objectives. Learning is important at all levels, and people’s career development should ideally provide with them with the skills needed to contribute to organisation, but also their own development particularly in times of high workforce mobility.
This report aims to cover the following points in order to help explain key aspects of learning:
- Illustrate the concept of ‘the learning organisation’ using the Investors in People framework and indicators.
- Identify key ideas useful in developing learning opportunities more equally across the workforce.
The aim of this document is to clarify the increasingly strategic role of training managers and external providers, and identify key themes in legislation and guidance that describe the concept of the learning organisation. These ideas will help individuals identify the key levers that impact most on culture and those strategic activities that will enhance the achievement of core purpose. Findings have been summarised and grouped under the following headings:
Culture Change. Strategic and leadership capacity.Learning and empowerment.Career management.Evaluation and Contribution to business .
In all organisations, there is a need for continual transformation as community needs change and business objectives adapt in response. Ideally, business plans should align with the vision laid out in legislation and guidance, as improving organisational performance will be easier if it is also improves internal culture and has a positive impact on wider social concerns. Therefore, complying to the guidance is not enough, a commitment to developing practice that is ethical is needed to insure core purpose also improves communities..
The increase in the rate of change has required a very different approach to learning. Today every job requires an increasing level of specification due to the growing complexity of knowledge required to do them effectively. This has made ‘learning to learn’ a central teaching problem of our time to which understanding learning as a personal experience is a key. Involving the learner in understanding learning is critical, as they need to be able to identify their own goals and be capable of managing their own development activities.
Through learning we become able to do something we were never able to do. Through learning we re-perceive the world and our relationship to it. Through learning we extend out capacity to create, to be part of the generative process of life. (Senge, 2009 Pg. 13)
With regard to culture, institutional design has a role: it needs to be decentralised, team-based and organic in structure, as these are preferable to hierarchical, formalised structures. Design fosters the teamwork, which facilitates relationships, the social element that helps people learn and improves their performance.
Here the learning organisation is defined as one that not only facilitates the learning of all its participants but, importantly, ‘continuously transforms itself’, reaching the alignment between personal career progression and organisational development.
The role of culture has become better understood in facilitating learning. It is one that enables the orchestrated movement that integrates the different elements of team learning to reach the organisation’s objectives.
The concept of a learning organisation is useful to describe its character: A “learning organisation” - an organisation that is continually expanding its capacity to create its future. (Senge 2006:15)
The principles underpinning Investors in People standards is useful to explain the underpinning strategy:Plan – develop strategies to improve the performance of the organisation.Do – take action to improve the performance of the organisation.Review – measure the impact on the performance of the organisation. In turn the indicators can be used as a benchmarking tool for assessing how successful the organisation is in achieving a culture of continuous development.
Defining the Learning organisation
People’s learning is central to defining purpose, identifying objectives, determining strategy and achieving goals. Learning helps people understand that what they learn in the short term will add to their capacity to respond to ongoing change in the long term.
As the first Investors in People (IiP) indicator states: ‘A strategy for improving the performance of the organisation is clearly defined and understood’. If workplace culture does not value learning then enabling the change required to make this a reality becomes part of strategic goals. This will moves the role of Learning and Development to a leadership level, and it requires an ability for system thinking.
Put differently, systems thinking views the organisation as an integrated task-orientated structure characterised by a small core centre and alliances that is unified and co-ordinated. Learning activity can facilitate greater integration as it takes place across institutional boundaries and carries responsibility for the communication of values and vision.
Learning activity is planned to achieve the organisation’s objectives (IiP Indicator 2), as The Lamb inquiry highlights: “There needs to be a strategic approach to the development and deployment of staff with the right skills.” (Pg. 4)
Enhancing learning opportunities of every individual needs to be part of the organisations’ core purpose and therefore the place of learning within the structure of management will impact on professional development, otherwise difficulties created by hierarchy and organisation design can push people to look for jobs elsewhere. As research shows evidence links exist between effective people management practices and business success.
Management strategies need to be designed to maximise potential (IiP Indicator 3), people at all levels are involved in activities and encouraged to contribute ideas to improve their own and other people’s performance.
Increasing volumes of regulations govern employment matters, and these have an impact on the strategies developed to create an increasingly inclusive environment. As guidance highlights there is a need to enable better learning partnerships between all stakeholders to promote diversity, increase collaboration and respond to need through innovation.
Activities that deliver on organisational purpose can also enhance learning where the opportunity is taken to share what is learned across all levels of the business. Developing ways of working that support full participation and fairer access to learning opportunities is important to all organisations, culture change can be used effectively to create movement in a shared direction.
It is important to view leadership as a capacity that can be learnt. Not a grade or title, but an ability to communicate knowledge and skills in ways that are clearly defined and behave in ways that shows that capabilities to manage are achieved through development.
The responsibility for finding learning opportunities is agreed and understood (IiP Indicator 4). Learning function has to support this different approach to leadership, moving away from one of control, to one less top-down which requires more responsibility in innovation at all levels and where people can give examples of how they have been enabled to create changes to improve team performance.
We can all develop these leadership qualities if only we get exposure to appropriate career experiences and training in the relevant skills. Moreover, these leadership qualities can be learned and applied at every level of the organisation.
The Equity Report highlights the need for leadership development at all levels: “Holistic government in particular places cannot be imposed top-down from a distance. If frameworks for co-operation are to be effective, they need to be more than lists of externally imposed priorities... Joined-up working must create room for personal initiative and creativity.” (pg. 32)
The importance of adapting to context, by developing collaborative approaches across departments and organisations and with the need to gain a deep understanding of the external environment as the key internal features. However this necessitates a great deal of autonomy, which in some cases will mean people need to learn the self-direction that comes with empowerment (IiP indicator 5).
Leadership and Equality Past research highlights the need for all employees to be engaged in work that develops their potential, as their contribution to organisation objectives is equally important irrespective of role. This means inequality need addressing to create fairer opportunities for progression and this often requires questioning the ‘norms and policies’ within organisations. Teaching practice, therefore, seeks to develop people through a personalised programme, where people can take control of their learning process (IiP indicator 6).
Learning strategies are understood as deliberate plans of action to reach specific goals, within which intrinsic motivation allows personal control and responsibility of learning . This means equipping learners with the skills to plan direction and enhance their own leaning experience learning self-managed activity. The importance of Continuous Professional Development in career management to reach the alignment between personal and organisations growth. Developing the capabilities of people can be seen as developing value to employers, and developing personal life purpose and mission.
The direct implication of this approach is that people will need to take responsibility, and be reflective about their current practice so that they can identify ways of developing their own understanding further.
Fay (1987) views reflection as a critical process moving three stages of enlightenment, empowerment and emancipation towards overcoming the forces that constrain practitioners from realising desirable practice.
Each level represents a level of learning: Enlightenment (understanding)Understanding why things have come to be as they are in terms of frustrating self’s realisation of desirable practice.Empowerment Creating the necessary conditions within self whereby action to realise desirable practice can be undertaken. Emancipation (transformation)A stable shift in practice congruent with the realisation of desirable practice(Johns 2004, pg. 8)
The time for reflection that CPD allows may not lead people in doing anything different - instead it may enable them to view what they do in a different way. In terms of skill development, experience and practice, the need for CPD is even more critical in the present economy because security no longer lies in the job or organisation but in the skills, knowledge and experience that we have within ourselves.
As the IiP Indicator 8 suggests, making CPD opportunities possible requires is both an act of public recognition and a respect for individual learning.
Learning and Empowerment
Managers need to be able to ensure that people’s learning needs are met through appropriate activities so that they develop effectively (IiP indicator 7).The skills for future success as coming from developing a learning capacity that unlocks people’s knowledge and creativity enabling continuous improvement and innovation. This vertical transfer, where one subject area acts as a basis for another, helps people develop their own capacity to adapt between and within jobs. Strategies for promoting learning, therefore, need a range sufficient to satisfy the learning needs of everyone in order to create the choice that allows personal control over career management.
Intervention is also required to promote learning at all levels, and will no longer simply be left to the good intentions of managers who feel well disposed to take people issues seriously (Pg. 7). Reid et al (2004) state that when managing learning, practitioners may need to decide whether to intervene through direct training intervention, workshop or conference, or create wider ranging learning opportunities within working activity in order to increase the natural learning process indirectly in working practice. Creating opportunities for reflection within working practice for example: “Newman (1994) commented that to view the world from a different perspective requires a paradigm shift which incorporates the old paradigm and transforms it. In transcending our own boundaries … we have to move beyond these boundaries and embrace new ideas and new language.” (Johns 2004) As relationships support an interactive process, people learn about each other and modify their behaviour accordingly by imitating others, the latter will have a better impact on both culture and personal growth. Therefore increasingly, professionals will need to act as change agents in targeting specific aspects of organisational culture in order to equip their authority for the challenges ahead (Reid et al 2004: Pg. 11). Added to which, practitioners will need to understand the business and its challenges and be able to translate business strategies into their human resource implications (Pg. 15). “Research recognised the need to develop high-level political influencing skills: the ability to make things happen by understanding the informal system, and bring about change without formal authority. Strategic thinking is needed at all levels, so that people can understand the implications of change and work in partnership with the organisation to deliver strategic solutions” (Holbeche 1999). Reid et al (2004) “Off-the-job learning/training requires reinforcement at the workplace: the attitude of the superior and the culture of the organisation are both powerful influences in determining whether learning is likely to be transferred to the working situation… Other observers have suggested that cultural variations explain the differences in organisations’ ability to innovate.” (Pg. 80)People need to be able to explain and quantify how development strategies have improved the performance of the organisations, therefore measuring impact on performance is important to inform future planning and justify investment (IiP Indicator 9). In theory investing in people’s learning makes common sense, but the positive difference it makes to reaching objectives more effectively needs proof.
Career Management Measuring the impact of change first requires an understanding of current culture as well as an appreciation of positive tension required to get to a proposed vision. This means managers can quantify the level of investment and how it has improved the performance of the organisations in order to justify the investment.
The following model is useful to evaluate the effectiveness of strategies discussed above:Level 1: Reaction of learners to content and methods. (people can describe how the activity is experienced and how it may impact on their performance) Level 2: learning attained during the training period. (people can describe how they can apply it to their role) Level 3: job behaviour in the work environment. (people can describe how learning has improved their performance)Level 4: effect on the learner’s department. (people can describe how learning will improve meeting team objectives)Level 5: has the training affected the ultimate well-being of the organisation, for example, profitability or survival? (people can describe how learning will improve the performance of the organisation) (Reid 2004 pg. 201)Evaluation and contribution
Findings:Literature suggests that the concept of the learning organisation could be a useful concept for those involved in creating culture change as it places learning within strategic activity. The key findings suggests that ‘Learning to learn’ has become is important for personal growth and organisational development, and underpin the key features of the levers that enable objectives to be met in response to community needs. These organisations share the following characteristics:
A public commitment to the learning of every individual; (people across children’s services are participating in learning activity)Creating a learning partnership with all stakeholders; (different departments and community groups are sharing learning opportunities)Centring all management processes on the enhancement of human potential; (strategic dialogue includes inquiry and reflection)Operating in a culture of continuous improvement, development and growth. (informal conversations share learning experience and describe changes in attitude)(West-Burnham and O’Sullivan, 1998:46)
Unfortunately, despite increasing opportunity to enhance human capital, the creation of social capital has not received equal recognition. Yet social capital is a key lever, increasing opportunities for working relationships is where difference can be made as it will enable people to learn together and apply their shared experience to improve performance. Despite training intervention, the relationships that support team learning across the organisation are not always valued or developed through policy. And the learning dilemma remains that “we learn best from experience but we never really experience the consequences of many of our most important decisions”. System thinking is seeing through the detail complexity to the underlying structures generating change, “what we most need are ways to know what is important, and what is not” in order to identify the key areas in which new understanding can bring about change most effectively (pp 125).
For organisations employing consultants this has implications in terms of outsourcing and the external practitioners role and contribution to the business. Partnership in strategy development seems to contribute most to the development of change in organisational culture as outlined above. There are certain benefits of working with consultants, specifically those working across agencies and within other organisations. In terms of knowledge: specialisms allow a depth of understanding that is not always available in-house due to the daily immersion in the subject and having to apply it across different organisations. Consultants may be in a position to gain a good perspective on system thinking, and can compare practice which may be useful in tackling the variation that exists between organisations and different organisations across communities.
References: Gardner H (1993) Multiple Intelligences, The Theory in Practice Basic BooksHarrison, R, (2009) Learning and Development, London: CIPDHolbeche, L. (1999) Aligning Human Resources and Business Strategy, Butterworth-HeinemannJohns, C. (2004) Becoming a reflective practitioner. Blackwell Publishing:OxfordMegginson, D. and Whitaker, V. (2003) Continuing Professional Development London:CIPDPedlar, M, Burgoyne, J. and Boydell, T. (1997) The Learning Company: A Strategy for Sustainable Development (second edition), Maidenhead: McGraw-Hill Reid, M. Barrington, H. Brown, M (2004) Human Resource Development, Beyond training intervention, London:CIPD Robinson K (2009) The Element: How Finding Your Passion Changes Everything, Allen Lane Senge, P. (2006)The Fifth Discipline, The art & practice of the learning organisation, London:Random HouseTaylor, S. (2002) People Resourcing, London: CIPDWest-Burnham, J. & Coates, M. (2005) Personalizing Learning, Transforming Education for Every Child, Network Educational PressWest-Burnham, J. and O’Sullivan, F. (1999) Leadership and Professional Development in Schools, Throwbridge:Times PressWhittington, R. (2001)What is Strategy - and does it matter? London:Cenage Learning Publishing
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