Wednesday, 31 July 2013

SO HOW DOES OUR NEW LEARNING WORLD WORK RIGHT NOW?

This is the 3rd post in my summer series which tries to help people in organisations who have not yet addressed the internet and social media revolution and its impact on learning to understand what is happening.

That’s a question that is often asked and there is really no clear answer because it is a very mixed up world.  On the one hand, as I described in the first post in this series, there has been a massive shift in the way individuals and the social community at large interact, share and learn from one another. However, as always, organisations are much slower in adapting to the social changes around them – which puts those who cannot adapt and become agile at risk.

Before I begin to give some practical suggestions in my next post there is one important area that I need to explore to complete the scenario in which we are now working.

The shift from hierarchy through wirearchy to something very unpredictable is a challenge for organisations built around strategy, structure, process and procedure. It strikes at the very heart of the way they were created and have evolved to succeed over long periods of time. They evolved from military command and control thinking which held sway until after the 2nd World War.

The world has changed and enterprises in every sector of our society now need to re-examine their value proposition and the culture and organisation processes that enable them to continue to create value. Open information and the breakdown of societal belief in privacy means that there needs to be a re-think of what is Intellectual Property. Crudely, the answer is that there is much less than many would like to believe. Where then is the value in an organisation’s tacit knowledge? What is saleable from knowledge based companies (and academia and training organisations)? How do they seek to engage people in the culture of all this openness?

Before I attempt to address the exciting and fast moving world of the emergent new directions, platforms and tools in the learning arena, I need to step back once again and look at how sharing is now happening in the workplace and what that means for those whose work is in focussing that interaction to improve performance – managers and enterprise leaders.

The communications revolution challenges not just the formal but also the informal elements of organisations. Two in particular come under scrutiny – team working and leadership. For decades organisational hierarchies have been obsessed by trying to create coherence amongst employees in order to create alignment, focus, effectiveness and efficiency. The new order questions all of those dimensions as it works from a self-starting, self-regulating, self-motivating model that only aligns itself to anything corporate so long as it meets the individual’s perceived needs.

Human Resource thinking is still archaically chasing concepts like on-boarding, competency profiles and job descriptions as processes and procedures.  While they are doing that, the world around them is interested in individual relationships, feelings of belonging and access to information when it is needed. Jef Staes describes it as the creation of a generation of sheep. The connection between the organisation and its people is not working. Organisations are not adapting fast enough to the paradigms of the people on whom they depend. Closed minds in IT departments, rigid authority levels, outdated rules about working hours, rigidity in process and procedure are all part of the same equation.

Leadership is not about hierarchy, seniority, position, power and structure. In the modern world it is about enabling, supporting, opening doors, trust, freedom, listening and building on ideas.  So the old maxims of teams become outdated. People will find their own relationships, using the power of the connected world to help themselves move forward in their work and their lives. They no longer need to be told what to do and to be herded and regulated into doing it. The revolution means they will do it themselves – inside or outside of company firewalls! Restrictions hold up work and productivity.  Far-fetched? No-one knows yet, but what is certain is that the constraints and shackles of traditional organisation theory and practice are being swept away.

As a young Training Officer, I grew up in, and became a passionate promoter of team working. Inter-disciplinary collaboration, common direction, belief in one another, recognition and mutual harnessing of skills were the orders of the day.  Still relevant?  Some believe not – and I am coming to the conclusion that the concept of team as we knew it even 10 years ago is rapidly disappearing. We now talk about the positive deviant, the age of innovation, the focus on individual contribution. We have technology and tools that may be making that close bonding less relevant. The concept of Parallel Working is gaining ground – using emerging technology which expresses these ideas to enable people who in the extreme may may not initially even know of one another but who are aiming towards similar goals to share information, to organise it in ways that are useful to them and to share whatever seems important in order to help one another. 

It may not even be happening within the organisation – collaboration of this kind (crowdsourcing is a good example) is frequently amongst a diverse and global 24/7 community that rapidly assembles, does its work and disappears again. The concept of an organisation owning a community is problematic unless all its members agree it is closed and inaccessible to the outside world. What is clearly emerging is an ever increasing focus on contribution and value add.  So how does that happen in a modern organisation?


Without repeating myself, the characteristics are already laid out earlier in this series. Achieving them is a huge challenge – as we un-learn the ways we have learned in the past and enter into the realms of the virtual – classrooms, teams, communities, immersive worlds and beyond. New business models, transformed ways of co-ordinating work, providing access to information, breaking the restrictive taboos of IT, compliance etc will be a rocky road, but one on which those who think openly and with a “what if” mentality are more likely to succeed.

Next time I will highlight some of the possibilities that are already being widely exploited.

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