Finding Your Leaders
Ideally you are the powerful, charismatic leader within your organization ready to cause and capable of causing radical cultural change. You recognize the need to transform the way employees and management approach and manage their knowledge, skills, and training, and you have the desire and ability to make that transformation happen.
If that is the case, congratulations on your new assignment ”to lead your company's transformation into a learning organization. It will be a long, hard journey but you can find comfort in knowing you've taken the first and most difficult step.
If you don't happen to be that charismatic leader, the next most ideal situation is that somewhere in your company is an executive just waiting to take on the task of championing this transformation to a learning organization. This person is an executive-level leader who understands the power and value of learning and is willing to commit his or her time and voice to helping you change the way employees gather knowledge. This person will support your cause, talk you up to other executives, and fight for every dollar you need to make this transformation happen because he or she knows that the only way for your company to continue to be successful is for it to reinvent itself as a learning organization. All this person needs is for you to provide the idea and a plan, and together you will make this process happen.
Unfortunately, both scenarios are extremely rare. The reality is that very few executives understand the true value of training and its impact on the bottom line.
What's most likely is that you are a trainer or learning director who is passionate about learning and who has the ambition and desire to support this transformation process, but you don't have enough power or authority on your own to demand the change necessary to make it happen.
Therein lies the irony in the journey to becoming a learning organization ”those who are zealous about learning are not powerful enough to enforce change, and those who have the power don't understand the tremendous impact learning, when it's tied to the business objectives, can have on an organization.
Fear not, however. You can still make this process work, but you will need help. No matter how much sweat and time you are willing to invest in the effort to turn your company into a learning organization, it won't happen without the power and support of executive leaders who are in a position to champion your cause. As a trainer, you may not have the corporate voice to inspire change, but when you are backed up by someone who does, someone who is not afraid to shake up long-held traditions and value systems that don't belong in today's economy, you can make things happen.
And the more champions you have, the better. There should be leaders all over the organization championing your cause so you can build support throughout the company in the shortest amount of time. The more leaders you have to support you, the more likely the masses are to follow along. Remember that one-third of the people will be happy to change, one-third will fight change tooth and nail, and one-third will remain on the fence until they know what everyone else will do. With many well-placed leaders, you'll get the support of the top two- thirds , and the rest will have no choice but to follow.
These leaders won't be involved in the day-to-day grind of the transition process. They will not be in charge of selecting vendors , interviewing staff, or managing the rest of the mundane details that a massive change initiative entails. They will be the voice of the project, the ones who demand that unit managers pay attention to your directives as you implement your strategic plan. They will fight for your budget, celebrate your successes, and advertise your strategic plan at every board meeting and in every employee interaction. They will be briefed regularly on the change process ”what's been done so far and what is left to do. And whenever necessary, they will use their authority and power to help push the process along, whether it's to get IT on board with the implementation of new technology or convince skeptical managers that the process is not only worthwhile, it's a mandatory part of the new reward and recognition system.
Because you are unlikely to find executives already committed to the learning process, you'll have to create them. This process begins by introducing yourself to them, showing a willingness to listen to their needs, and investing the time and energy to educate yourself about their business. People who are respected in an organization understand the business. If you don't understand the fundamentals of how the company operates, what its goals are, and what role training plays in achieving those goals, this lack of knowledge will severely erode your credibility.
Training departments often get bad reputations when they offer solutions without adequately examining the problems. To be taken seriously and to cause the transformation necessary to become a learning organization, you need to tie the strategic-learning transformation directly to the goals and objectives of the entire organization. To do that, you must have a thorough understanding of the company, how it operates, and what skills and issues are critical to each business unit.
In this phase of the project you will meet with every key leader in your company ”every executive and manager of a major business unit. This is the first step to creating the all-encompassing strategic plan that will define where your company is today, where it needs to be in the future, and how you are going to get there. It's time to put yourself in front of the executive team and let them know that change is afoot and to find out exactly how the organization runs, at an enterprise level and in each major business unit. In these meetings you will discover what drives their business needs, what their processes are, what frustrates them, and what they'd like to see done differently.
By exploring the business processes with these leaders, you will gain critical insight into the kinds of training changes necessary to achieve their goals. But, most important, you'll get valuable face time with key executives who will play significant roles later on in supporting and championing your cause.