We are now living in an accelerated change time in all aspects of our lives: social, professional and eventually, personal. These changes, whether we perceive them or not, are induced mostly by the dramatic technological advances that 10 years ago were unthinkable. This speed of adoption of new technologies and the exponential rate of change makes us as individuals and as organizations to be confronted with the decision of two types of strategic postures: we can either lead the change through disruption or constant innovation, or we choose to be followers and try to cope with change.
It is not only the rate of emergence of new technologies that is impacting organizations by trying to update their processes constantly but also the pace of technology adoption is speeding up with direct consequences on the organizational learning. This setting drives increased competition as more players appear due to fewer barriers to entry and on the customers’ and employees’ side it means more pressure for organizations to satisfy their expectations of technology-enhanced experiences and to offer higher quality products at lower prices and, hence, to adapt to a new dynamic of the customer buying behaviour.
Therefore, digital transformation is the name of the game nowadays in almost every organizations, especially those established ones. Even more, leaders across any organizations, public, private companies from start-ups to global ones or non-profit are struggling to respond to the decision pressure regarding exploiting the opportunities and evaluating the risks brought by the new technologies. The pressure is coming either from the client’s side who is already using experience platforms like social media, Amazon, Uber etc. and they are expecting comparable seamless customer journeys from any other organization that they are interacting with, or from the competition side who is already doing what they are not doing yet in the digital field. The pressure is coming also from the so-called FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out) syndrome that we feel in the personal life, transferred into the professional life of a leader: “I know that I should be doing something to be a digital leader, but I don’t know what”.
This kind of pressures have already created a new set of competencies and skills called Digital Leadership, which are not replacing the traditional leadership skills and competencies but they are adding to them. Josh Bersin stated in a Harvard Business Review article titled Digital Leadership Is Not an Optional Part of Being a CEO that “One of the keys to this kind of digital leadership is an ability to morph the company as the business changes.” (2016, www.hbr.org)
Lead the company’s digital transformation
Learning managers were always well positioned at the forefront of the organizational knowledge architecture and creation; however, they are now facing a huge opportunity to lead their company’s digital transformation through taking the initiative of driving the change in the mindset of the organizations’ leaders and equipping their staff and even partners with the right digital skills to be successful. Nevertheless, like any change endeavour, the change starts from within.
So, what does it take to be a successful Digital Leader in the learning field?
Managing successfully the organizational Learning processes in the digital age does not mean that it is enough to adopt new learning technologies that look shiny and seem easy to roll-out, but it is so much more.
For a learning leader to position strategically, she and the learning function in the organization need to manifest new behaviours, the same way that all the other business leaders need to change themselves.
These new behaviours (based on the Deloitte digital leaders’ capabilities matrix) are on the spectrum of THINKING differently, ACTING differently and REACTING differently.
Conceptualizing possibilities in a virtual world
The growing volume of knowledge, which is becoming obsolete at a higher rate requires us to select from boundless digital information and decide what to consume and when. New technologies can provide more accurate data for decision-making than learners can appraise through their own self-perception. That lead to further questions: Who makes the best decisions about the right learning process and content—the learner or the system? How much self-regulation should be left to the learner? Learning leaders have to answer those questions and to decide what kind of different approaches of formal and informal learning are best suited for their learners.
Virtual reality used in onboarding new employees where they are exploring their workplace and meet their peers are starting to appear every day in companies, augmented reality for technical training at the point of need is becoming essential for blue collars staff like field service workers. Consumerization of learning should drive learning leaders to shape new approaches to the learning journeys and experiences that they are creating for their learners.
Handling ever-increasing cognitive complexity
We live in the so called “VUCA times”, a term that has been used a lot in business now, but originated in the military. Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity, and Ambiguity describe the attributes of the environment and circumstances of our today’s world. It is becoming increasingly clear that to thrive amidst these challenging circumstances requires developing our capacity to flip or transform the VUCA elements into their opposites elements of Vision, Understanding, Clarity, and Agility that can help us to build up a resilient mindset in this new digital age.
How can Learning leaders can enhance their Flip VUCA associated behaviours?
By being brave and curious through getting out physically from their offices, talking to other functions people in the organizations, to their company’s customers, to their business partners, to the vendors, to other L&D Managers, to university leaders, to students, to other industries employees, to Digital Leaders (both companies and individuals). This 360-degree view helps Learning leaders to formulate an intention that is seeking to create a future state of how their organizational learning is functioning, looking and feeling. These behaviours, in fact, build the leader’s capability of being brave in challenging how things are done.
Understanding what kind of jobs are doing the new technologies, how they are operating, what are the potential implications on their business, both on the work processes and on the customers’ offering and experiences is an essential skill, that being not just an act of knowledge but a continuous and structured process of the Learning Leader. It is not about only the learning technologies but all new technologies as innovation and disruption happens a lot by juxtaposing different industries, practices and insights from different realms and, then, extracting and applying them in your own setting. This capability will help the learning leader to REACT differently by having the confidence to take the lead in driving change.
Investing in information in conjunction with structural changes such as adding information analysis networks can reduce uncertainty. That approach can allow the learning leader to make decisions quickly without all the information.
Getting clarity to the complex environment is achieved by mind-mapping, restructuring, bringing on or developing specialists and building up the adequate resources to address complexity. Experimenting in projects that allow you understanding the causes and effects requires generating hypothesis and testing them so that the lessons learned can be broadly applied with Agility. This THINKING differently approach will enforce the leader’s ACTING differently capability of investing huge amount of energy into getting things right; trying, failing, trying again and her REACTING differently behaviour of tolerating an environment of risk and ambiguity.
Thinking divergently about new ways of doing things
Lateral leadership counts among a manager’s most essential skills encompassing a constellation of capabilities like networking, constructive persuasion and negotiation, consultation and coalition building. Many times a learning leader is not necessary at the top of his organization chain of command thus lacking the required formal leverage to induce the change in practices of technology adoption and more essentially in the digital mindset that can create an inner and outer environment which let go the fear of chance and accept it and embrace it.
One of the most important shift to be made by learning leaders is from the service supplier perspective to the experience facilitator. Personalization of the learning experience through AI supported learning paths or chatbots, microlearning, mixed virtual reality, user-generated content and preparing learners for their future challenges can only be achieved if learning leaders have a structured approach to following constantly and understanding the tech trends and by challenging the way things are currently done.
Adapting to constantly shifting power and influence
Envisioning and building learning and developmental ecosystems that are not limited to technological infrastructure like LMS, gamification apps, VR, collaboration platforms etc. is critical not only to build a vision but to implement it. Expanding learning to include all the stakeholders of the organizations create value by identifying human and material resources that once put together can innovate new products and services, and can contribute to the increase of employees’ engagement and retention through offering a framework of continuous development of a liquid workforce. Collaborating with ease across many different teams, learning leaders can contribute to new work partners and different interest groups. This capability will help the learning leader to REACT differently by showing resilience in the face of constant change.
Ultimately, how these new behaviours would look for the learning leaders, starting with the understanding of the opportunities and risks of new technologies, to creating a vision for a future state, to facilitate working in ecosystems, and even to challenging business to initiate disruption or adaptation strategies, will profoundly affect the chances of success, survival, or failure of a business. The fate of companies might be more than ever in the hands of learning leaders either they realize it or not. We are living this amazing time, so let’s get rid of our fears and embrace the future with fun and joy. It is always a recipe for success!