merit summit 2018

22 january 2018

It’s the learnatics & learning organizations that will survive

Lifelong learning. Buzz word or not, it is key to understand that people are always implicitly learning and that managers and learning leaders cannot take full control over this process. L&D must ‘surrender’ control for lifelong learning to genuinely occur. Only organizations with a true lifelong learning mindset will thrive and survive. Therefore, the first objective for every organization should be to develop its workforce in order for all employees to be ready for #TheFutureOfWork with a focus on long term employability within or outside of the current role, function or organisation. For individual learners, it’s not about being up to speed, it’s about creating a plan B and continuously stretching yourself. For managers and learning leaders it’s about creating the context that encourages people to take action.

Last week HRbuilders #dreamteam members Sofia, Cecile and Lesley went to Lisbon to the #meritsummit. Happy to share 7 key take aways in this (long) blogpost. We also crowdsourced some learnings by interviewing speakers and attendants of the conference, we’ll be sharing our video soon, so stay tuned...

#1 The brain is always learning

Andy Habermacher, first keynote speaker, kicked off the conference with some neuroscience. He took the audience on a journey through the brain, its function and its impact on leadership. Using neuroscience knowledge can refine, assess and contribute to HR processes and approaches.

Implicit learning is ‘always on’ because neurons are constantly making connections and that’s how we learn. So you cannot actually ‘guide’ learning

It’s the networks that drive our brain, not the neurons, just like in business :-)


These connections - synaptic growth in the brain - are stimulated by (1) activation, (2) repetition, (3) exercise and most importantly... (4) sleep!

In other words, in order to learn, the brain needs to be activated, repetition is key (10.000 hours rule from Ericsson et al.) but limited to 4 hours a day, broken into blocks and with enough rest (sleep). This means the brain is most active when you’re inactive: sleeping, or daydreaming, or running, or doing things that require no thinking at all. Most synaptic growth, reset and detox happens while we are resting.

The brain is most active when we aren’t. This has implications for effective learning design!

The 4 emotional drivers for a healthy brain

Research has shown that in normal conditions neurons make lots of connections, but neurons in toxic stress make less connections and cause ‘disruption’ in neurotic growth. This means that people - when in stress either at home or at work - are physically not able to learn.

A healthy brain needs (1) self-esteem, (2) pleasure, (3) control, (4) orientation and most of all (4) attachment. If you do not have those needs, the brain cannot fully grow and people will not perform at their best.

Psychological safety is the most important factor if you want successful and effective teams!

SCOAP: Behavioural framework of needs and drives with 9 levels of intervention

Andy Habermacher has co-developed a behavioural framework which aims to plot all of human behaviour within a framework based on evolutionary neuroscience. And his research showed that most organisations only focus on 2 or 3 levels of intervention. If you want your employees - whose brains are ‘always on’ - to be able to learn, it is key that you set the right conditions, that you understand that needs fulfilment is critical, that they cannot build new reflexes when there operational all the time and that the behavioural framework has to be approached consistently and persistently.

Learning takes time: the business needs to understand this and provide that time

#2 Social HR versus individual HR

Also Jon Inghams session was on neuroscience. Jon did academic research, cross organizational surveys and organizational network analyses that all demonstrate the importance of effective social relationships and the impact of social groups.

People are not economically driven, we are social driven

We’ve reached the end of Peter Drucker’s knowledge workers. Enter social workers, Ingham states. The brain is always on and it is innately social.

They talked about the power paradox - the higher we move on the hierarchy, the more we lose our empathy and ability to connect with people.

They also discussed organization design and workplace design: horizontal teams, functions, networks and communities. Horizontal teams and functions are focussed on the task while networks and communities have a people focus. It is key to choose the right structure and the right workplace design for your organization as it has a huge impact on social collaboration. Despite the fact that most HR leaders are aware of the fact that focus should be on the teams, we continue to focus HR on the management, measurement, development and reward of individual employees. In order to move forward in organizations, it’s better to spot the social talents because they are the ones what will get things done...

#3 Investments in learning create value

Dave Ulrich, who has published over 200 articles and book chapters and over 25 books virtually joined the summit with a great keynote on creating value for the business through learning.

First of all it is important to understand the emerging context of work anno 2018, Ulrich kicked off. Second we need to recognize what value creation means and start seeing learning as a source of organizational value.

Value is always defined by the receiver, not by the giver

That’s why we need to understand our full range of stakeholders who gain value and this goes beyond immediate learners and managers. So who are the stakeholders for learning?

  • line managers: strategic value
  • employees: employee value and productivity
  • investors and owners: market value
  • customers: customer share
  • partners: collaborative value
  • communities and regulators: reputational value

Learning is about having impact and creating value

Third, we need to know where learning occurs: according to Dave 50% of all learning occurs on the job, 30% by education and 20% by life experience. Fourth, we need to be aware who attends and who teaches. We especially love the trend of bringing the customers and investors in to learn from. Fifth, what is learned (= wat are the learning outcomes): Learning should not be seen as is an individual interaction but for teams and even customers - and this demands an “outside in” perspective. Teams are more important than individuals!

Learning matters, teamwork matters

Sixth; how does learning occur? It is better to begin with a challenge instead of a theory. This is really scary as the trainer is no longer the expert in this case. Learning doesn’t occur by presenting theories or best practices, it’s all about co-creating! Seventh: how is learning being transferred to work (= learning sustainability). Dave told this great story about a group of turkeys attending a two day course learning to fly.

Sustainable change comes not from learning alone, it comes from applying the learning to everyday behaviour.

Sustainable change requires behavioural change! So how can you create learning sustainability? Leadership sustainability will increase when leaders:

  • focus on a few key behaviours that have high impact
  • put their desired behaviours into their agenda AND show up in how they spend their time
  • are personally and publicly accountable for making change happen
  • support their desired changes with coaching and infrastructure
  • measure their behaviour and results in specific ways
  • constantly improve by learning from mistakes and failures an demonstrate resilience
  • have a personal passion and emotion for the changes they need to make

Eight: how to leverage technology

  1. HR efficiency: build technology platforms to efficiently manage HR processes
  2. HR innovation and effectiveness: use technology to upgrade practices in people, performance management, communication and work
  3. information: share information for business impact, access (un)structured data, bring external data inside
  4. connection and experience: build emotional connection, create social networks and share experiences.

Ninth: how to create accountability. The final accountability for learning is the line manager, HR and learning professionals are facilitators and Tenth: we have to measure learning

Be sure to watch his video on the outside-in perspective

#4 Characteristics of the learning organization

One of our #dreamteam’s favourite workshops was the one on driving the new learning organization by Andy Lancaster, head of learning and development content at CIPD.

What is a learning organization?

We were challenged to define what a learning organization is. Proud to share our crowdsourced definition with you:

A learning organization is an organization where learning just happens, where the entire workforce is given time and space to learn, where the learning is also transferred so others can benefit and learn too, making everybody successful: the individual employee, the teams, the leaders, the organization and society as a whole.

6 characteristics of the new learning organization:

  1. clarity of purpose
  2. holistic people experience
  3. intelligent decision making
  4. continual engagement
  5. agile, digital infrastructure
  6. thriving ecosystem: a people led system just like a beehive that enables its people, teams and the extended enterprise to thrive and learn linked to common goals

And this has implications on the focus, capability and skills of L&D and HR teams.

Andy left us with 12 great ideas:

  1. learning must be aligned and relevant to current and future organisational needs
  2. gather and use appropriate data to inform learning needs and define impact and value
  3. role model and champion learning within the organization
  4. gain buy-in and support for learning from top down in the organization
  5. line managers must be accountable for learning within their teams
  6. L&D must operate as performance consultants to diagnose and suggest solutions
  7. learning must be agile in development and deployment
  8. learning must embrace and model the latest thinking
  9. undertake ongoing reviews about use of appropriate technology in the learning strategy
  10. support intergenerational learning with different approaches, sharing and collaboration
  11. understand and embed wider change within the organization’s culture
  12. ensure a ‘no blame culture’ allowing people to explore, discover and make mistakes.

#5 Why it is key to see the world through a paradoxical lens

The third keynote speaker, professor Miguel Pina Cunha invited the audience to see leadership paradoxes as an opportunity and not as a signal of managerial incompetence.

A good leader is a poet and a plumber at the same time

Meaning: a good leader has to be visionary and aspirational on the one hand and willing & able to get things done on the other hand. It’s about being able to zoom in and zoom out at the same time.

A paradox has 3 building blocks: opposition, interdependent and persistence. You cannot solve a paradox, you have to live with it. This is not the same as a dilemma or a contradiction.

Paradoxes manifest

  • in learning: we need to explore for the future (long term) and constantly improve what we’re doing (short term) > we need to become ambidexter organizations that learn for today and for tomorrow at the same time.
  • in performing: there’s a tension between the management (operational - short term) and leadership (aspiration - long term)
  • in belonging: how do you define as an organization what is a core while giving people the freedom to express different ways of thinking
  • in organizing: tension between control (predictability and efficiency but deriving people from energy) and freedom (give people space)

Professor Miguel Pina Cunha really challenged everybody to embrace paradox and even go look for them proactively, something that I personally have been doing throughout my whole career and life.

#6 Tsunami of information, apps and learning

Learning in the digital age means:

  • embracing what & how
  • one size fits none
  • bringing in design thinking!
  • social learning: peers!
  • user-centricity
  • user generated
  • no processes, just sign up :-)
  • creating (analog) experiences

It is important to see technology as a friend.

The need for capability building keeps going up, our workforce is changing fast. So what can we do to turn the workplace into a learning place?

Technology is a key driver, but people are overwhelmed. Not everybody will just ‘figure it out’. They need time to reflect and help when they cannot manage on their own.

#7 Shift in leadership

Hollywood movies show a shift in leadership : it is not about one hero winning the game anymore, it’s about a tribe of people working together to save the world. It’s not about having less managers, it’s about having and creating more leaders.

LifeLongLearning. Doesn't matter if it is a buzzword or not in our opinion.

What does matter is that learning is key to thrive and survive in the FOW for individuals, for teams, for Companies and for society

It is very clear to us that learning does matter and there's definitely a shift going on from learning providers towards learning consumers. Learning matters and it creates value.

always on learning lisbon 2018

We are happy and proud that our next HRbuilders workshop for our HR freelance community will be on the topic of learning: February 19th our colleagues Sofia Van Overmeire and Lesley Arens will be sharing our key take aways and insights on #meritsummit in Brussels and we’ve invited two Belgian speakers from this conference to join us: Christophe Vanden Eede, talent acquisition and development leader at Telenet and Kristel van Loon, manager global learning and leadership development at Mondelez.

See you there?

Always on learning #MeritSummit

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