The world of work is changing. Just 14 percent of the companies listed in the Fortune 500 in 1959 are still on the list today, and the rate of change is accelerating at an unprecedented pace.
Consider how quickly information is being created. New material is uploaded every minute via YouTube, Facebook, Twitter and other online channels. Yet people’s ability to absorb information hasn’t changed. Learning leaders have to address how employees are to keep up with a continual bombardment of new data.
Some of it is working itself out. The workforce is more productive than ever, and employees are working harder than ever. Forty years ago, the workday began at 9 and ended at 5. Now, thanks to globalization, it can start at 5 and end at 9. Tools are always on, they’re more powerful and they’re more plentiful. In its white paper “More than 50 Billion Connected Devices,” Ericsson, a global provider of technology and services to telecom operators, said the title of its paper could be the true state of the world by 2020.
This flood of information and the ubiquitous access to it will catalyze changes not only in the workplace, but in global society. One that has come about is cloud learning. In January, New York Times columnist Thomas L. Friedman said, “The IT revolution is giving individuals more and more cheap tools of innovation, collaboration and creativity — thanks to hand-held computers, social networks and the cloud, which stores powerful applications that anyone can download. And the globalization side of this revolution is integrating more and more of these empowered people into ecosystems, where they can innovate and manufacture more products and services that make people’s lives more healthy, educated, entertained, productive and comfortable.”
This presents special challenges and opportunities for learning leaders working to create a development culture that will enable their organizations to be more agile and competitive. The first step is to realize that building a development culture is not about providing more information.
When everyone has access to the same information, information ceases to be a competitive advantage. Instead, focus on using enabling, collaborative technologies — cloud, mobile and social — to connect people. The same technologies that are causing so much disruption are also leading to a new learning paradigm, one that is not information-centric, but people-centric.
To help their organizations thrive in this people-centric economy, learning leaders must rethink how they connect people and provide a new level of transparency, with an always on, always accessible, global and local presence. In this environment, people with the right skills and experience can be easily found, aligned with corporate objectives, and brought together with other people, information and ideas to quickly get a job done. This kind of environment lets people direct their own development, exercise initiative and come together to generate results rather than merely fulfill policies or procedures. This kind of environment can accelerate, scale and globalize accomplishment, not just work, and it can only be enabled by providing a “people cloud.”
The People Cloud
The advantages of the people cloud start with extending the enterprise. People doesn’t just mean employees. It means customers, suppliers and partners — everyone in the organization’s value chain. Extending an organization’s reach this way can provide benefits that ripple all the way to the bottom line.
For example, let’s say a company sells parts to a major airline. How those parts are installed, operate and are maintained has a profound effect on the business and its customers. If a company can extend its learning reach to bring in the customer, both will be better off. The company will know what employees and customers need in terms of training and knowledge transfer, and the customers will understand how to get the most out of the products or services offered, which makes them less likely to go elsewhere.
“There is a need in today’s marketplace for solutions that provide broad and deep learning, talent and social capabilities to support knowledge sharing and visibility across the entire people value chain,” said Mark Smith, chief executive officer, Ventana Research. “This evolved culture of knowledge sharing promotes learning and trust, and fosters agility and speed of business initiatives among employees, suppliers, customers and partners.”
Using the people cloud can instill organizational transparency and make it easier to understand employees — who they are, what they do, what they know, how they are organized, what they need to be productive and how the learning organization can help accelerate innovation.
By contrast, when this knowledge is hidden away in personnel files, as much of it is today, there is no way for the organization to quickly mobilize people around objectives. The workforce is a theoretical construct, existing, literally and figuratively, only on paper. This lack of visibility into skills, experience, competencies and workforce expertise — which is often global — is the biggest obstacle to creating an organization that can operate at the speed of today’s markets.
“It’s all about the people in our organization,” said Nick van Dam, chief learning officer for Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu Ltd. “With formal and informal learning over people cloud networks, there’s a huge opportunity to connect our worldwide resources and employees to share knowledge.”
When learning leaders make this kind of connectivity possible, the resulting environment of transparency and collaboration fosters cooperation and autonomy and gives people something to work for as well as something to work on. Do not underestimate the power of the individual to direct his or her own trajectory and pursuit of excellence. Building a learning organization where that drive is encouraged every day is essential for individual and organizational success.
It’s also important to move learning outside the classroom. Some of the more powerful learning is informal, so learning leaders who facilitate this dynamic will move their organizations farther, faster. Learning and mentoring should take place in real time, anywhere. Learning organizations need to adapt accordingly through virtual classrooms, video and interactive webinars so people can share ideas and content before, during and long after any formal training is complete.
Real-time business collaboration also can take place across the extended enterprise through peer-to-peer social business networking, forums, micro-blogs, instant messaging and video channels. Mobile learning further empowers employees by allowing them to learn on the go.
Use the Cloud to Foster a Development Culture
In the changing world of work, the smartest, fastest companies will win. Building a development culture will help to address the challenges in an increasingly turbulent business environment. With a people-centric approach, learning leaders can build a development culture inside and outside their organizations, where expertise is identified and promoted, and workers of all generations are connected in a scalable way. A connected workplace with social networking removes barriers to knowledge exchange and real-time collaboration, critical attributes in an agile learning organization.
Also, in the changing world of work, access to world markets has shrunk to the size of a smartphone’s keypad. Customers can buy anything, anytime. That dynamic is here to stay, and it’s changing the customer experience. Likewise, learning leaders need to change the way they think about preparing their organizations to thrive in that hypercompetitive environment.
Social applications, mobile computing and cloud services aren’t going away. Learning leaders must embrace them to knock down organizational silos and allow business to be organized around functional groups that come together to get things done and then disband and reform in other configurations to achieve the next goal.
Learning leaders have to connect learning and development to the way people work and make that the centerpiece of development strategy to make knowledge and access to it ubiquitous. Further, it’s not a matter of if they should do this but when. Nearly 60 percent of companies today are deploying talent management in a software as a service (SaaS) environment, according to Forrester Research. The need to increase agility and maintain cost-efficiency was likely a key driver in these organizations.
Forrester also found companies increasingly favor the SaaS model for fast deployment, to eliminate costly upgrades and to build a leaner internal IT staff. The firm predicts more than half of enterprises in the United States and Europe will have enterprise social technologies deployed by the end of this year.
In a more transparent, better connected, highly collaborative workplace where people’s needs and goals are aligned with those of the business, everybody wins. That’s the only way to compete in this new world of work.
Bobby Yazdani is CEO of Saba, a talent management software provider. He can be reached at editor@CLOmedia.com.Filed under: Leadership Development