The bane of L&D teams’ existence - employee disengagement - has taken on a whole new dimension this past year.
With the COVID-19 pandemic upending workplace norms the world over, Learning and Development teams have unprecedented challenges in their path when it comes to cultivating true employee engagement.
Recent polling speaks to this issue: Gallup found up to 85% of workers report some degree of workplace detachment. Couple that with the increased risk of remote burnout, and the fact that 80% of US employees’ work days have been significantly disrupted due to the pandemic, and ‘employee disengagement’ goes from a thorn in L&D teams’ side to a full-blown crisis.
Luckily, L&D teams have a viable solution right within reach: the Learning Organization model.
Simply put, the Learning Organization model is an organizational framework that relies on active and continuous learning as the foundation for an engaged and productive workforce.
A ‘Learning Organization’ is one that has embraced this model to achieve greater employee engagement, not to mention financial outcomes and customer satisfaction. General Electric and IBM are two well-known examples.
An organization’s ability to learn, and to translate that learning into action rapidly, is the ultimate competitive business advantage.
Any L&D team can leverage the Learning Organization model as an alternative to the two predominant organizational structures in use: the hierarchical and the flat.
As we’ll explore below, neither the hierarchical nor the flat structure offer the optimum level of autonomy, creativity, or growth for the average employee - pre or post-Covid. The Learning Organization model, on the other hand, supplies a ‘middle way’ between rigidity and a lack of structure.
In short, a Learning Organization:
If you often receive feedback that management has a heavy hand, or conversely, that there’s a lack of guidance or mentorship at work, this is a sign that you should move in the Learning Organization direction.
This is especially true in 2021: What for employees might have been a back burner disgruntlement before March 2020, could very well have mushroomed into true workplace disengagement under the pressures of the pandemic.
This is why the Learning Organization model is so valuable: since it encourages social interaction, professional development and active participation through learning, it’s particularly well-placed to succeed in the face of COVID-19.
In other words, L&Ds can deploy this model to combat remote employee burnout and provide the professional development opportunities employees crave, as a remedy to the employee disengagement crisis. Let’s explore how.
The research is clear: employees crave professional development opportunities, and they are willing to leave their employer in search of them.
Just consider Gallup’s State of the American Workplace report, which shows that a lack of development and career growth is the No. 1 reason employees leave a job. Unfortunately, only four in ten US employees report having the right opportunities to learn and grow at work.
L&D teams that have embraced the Learning Organization model are well-placed to train managers to recognize and respond to this need for growth.
In Learning Organizations, employees declare a learning need, and L&Ds work with managers to create, ship and improve relevant courses. Managers get the training and necessary support to provide sorely needed professional development opportunities, and all employees achieve their growth goals.
The best part is that the framework relies on resources already found in-house - your company’s subject-matter experts.
If you’re currently operating within a hierarchical model - one in which communication is top-down and all decisions, big and small, need to be validated by management - you might want to consider lobbying for a change. Here’s why:
Since Learning Organizations decentralize learning and empower any employee to declare a learning need or create courses, communication is freed up. Managers work with L&D teams to iterate on courses, loosening up those dependencies and multiplying learning opportunities.
On the other end of the spectrum in terms of organizational models, many companies operate in a flat organization.
While this framework might seem like it addresses all the shortcomings of the hierarchical model, it’s not perfectly calibrated, either:
In opposition to ‘flat’ organizations, Learning Organizations champion in-house subject-matter experts to elevate their colleagues through knowledge-sharing. In this model, sharing one’s knowledge is as valued as completing one’s work. Employees also receive the mentorship and coaching through this active learning process that is often lacking in the flat structure.
We know that shifting from one organizational structure to another probably won’t happen overnight.
However, there are some simple steps you can take to begin reshaping your organization to be more in line with a Learning Organization model. Many of them go hand in hand with a Collaborative Learning approach, which we’ve found to flourish with Learning Organizations - in fact, we find them to be mutually supportive.
Here are five simple actions you can put in place to begin transitioning to a Learning Organization model:
Learning Organizations are getting the recognition they deserve - and for good reason. In fact, research conducted by Bersin & Associates has found that High-Impact Learning Organizations (HILOs) generate up to three times more revenue that other companies. And that was before the pandemic hit.
With the benefits of the Learning Organization model aligning perfectly with the challenges exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic, 2021 will be the year of the Learning Organization.
If you’re looking to even better understand the Learning Organization model, take a look at our Embracing the Learning Organization Model ebook. Inside, we deep dive into questions like:
Thanks for reading!