As leaders continually adapt to embrace the disruptive environment, how can formal learning programs keep up with their evolving needs?
To say the world has changed in recent times in an understatement. The pace of digital disruption has exceeded the ability of many companies to develop leaders equipped for the changing environment, while those who are embracing it are flourishing.
Adaptability, innovation and collaboration have become more than buzzwords—they are the key to leaders and organisations surviving and thriving in this constantly changing environment.
With the rate of disruption predicted to not only continue but accelerate, the paradigm for leadership has changed. Rather than being a perfect leader who is followed blindly, leaders today need to adapt to changing environments; be innovative to make decisions quickly; and collaborate with others to draw on their skills and knowledge at the point of need. With the right leadership, organisations can harness the opportunities and thrive in the new and evolving environment. But can formal leadership development programs keep up?
Traditional leadership programs assume that we need our leaders to know more, be exposed to new models, read more or simply access better training. In fact, what we need is to support leaders to learn from and through their own work, using development that can adapt with them.
In this evolving environment, it is tempting to abandon formal learning. The perception that formal learning programs are too slow to respond or that self-determined learning is enough increasingly prevails. However, this approach is insufficient. Self-determined learning has a place in development, but its impact is limited if leaders don’t have the self-awareness and reflection skills to challenge their own behaviours and mindsets.
Formal learning programs don’t need to be stagnant, either. It is no longer enough to design a program and expect it to meet all future business needs. Just as we ask our leaders to be adaptable, learning also needs to be adaptive. A carefully architected program with defined outcomes and a solid foundation in human-centred learning design can incorporate ongoing, responsive amendments.
This 'freedom within structure' maintains the integrity of the program while enabling the flexibility to adapt and evolve with the changing needs of individuals and the organisation. However, fluidity is perilous if not carefully managed and supported by the knowledge of what works in learning and leadership development.
Creating adaptive learning for adaptive leaders begins with asking the following five questions:
- Is it adaptable? Is the program flexible enough to meet the evolving needs of the organisation and its leaders? Is it able to provide reliable learning at the point of need? Are there clear links between program purpose, organisational goals, performance outcomes and application to work, and can these be continually revised throughout the program?
- Is it personalised for each learner? Is the learning determined by the learner for their unique development needs (yet still aligned to organisational requirements)? Creating personal relevance for learning is critical. The most successful learning is generated by the learner and can be immediately applied.
- Is it work-driven? Is the learning grounded in and drawn from work? Far from being an isolated event, learning should provide leaders with the opportunity to work though their own real-life challenges and immediately apply learnings within the workplace.
- Is it results-driven? Will the learning demonstrate verifiable improvement for the individual and organisation? Learning is an investment. Organisations need to witness an improvement in leadership capability and business results, and individuals must clearly see the value of their time investment.
- Is it credible? Is the learning from a trustworthy and credible source? Implementing a program that enables responsive amendments is only possible if supported by a solid foundation of research and human-centred learning design.
The rapidly changing environment generates conditions for previously unparalleled learning ecosystems. The result is learning that is 'planted' within an organisation and grounded in work; learning with the flexibility to grow progressively to address the ongoing evolution of learning needs; and learning with the structure to ensure realisation of performance and business outcomes.
Leadership learning in the digital age is an exciting domain.