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Leading Off
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Skill building is a hot topic in the C-suite, with executives paying substantially more attention to it—and its payoffs in resilience and flexibility—since the pandemic began. But rather than claiming pride of place as an organization’s most forward-looking function, most learning-and-development programs struggle to keep up with business needs. Applying technology in a learning setting is just part of it—the real issue is how to best connect strategy, talent, and value creation through learning. This week, let’s smarten up on organizational—and personal—learning with the help of some new models, some classic ones, and even some old models made new again.
person's head with a rainbow coming out of the top
It’s time for the learning function to learn new ways
Companies rely on their learning-and-development functions to help employees learn fast, and then be able to react quickly to uncertain business circumstances. Too often, however, the function itself is in need of transformation. Learning managers focus on their programs and how to deliver them on a digital platform, rather than on how the function is organized and its capabilities to forecast and respond to an organization’s needs. Achieving good outcomes requires a balance between stability and dynamism that can help people improve in their jobs while the organization learns how to respond more quickly to changing market circumstances. Certain tools can also support integrating learning-and-development programs into a business’s goals.
That’s nearly two-thirds of 500 surveyed executives who identified leadership development as their number-one human-capital concern. And yet, leadership-development programs are often judged to fall short when it comes to improving the capabilities of managers and training new leaders, as this article from 2014 points out. To be effective, leadership programs must be shaped around business context instead of aspiring to be one-size-fits-all; reflection must be decoupled from real work; behaviors and mindsets must be accounted for in assessing and improving a leader’s skills; and programs must measure results—not just provide feedback.
“All of humanity’s problems stem from man’s inability to sit quietly in a room alone.”
So wrote French philosopher Blaise Pascal, long before technology and today’s “always on” working style recast the concept of what it even means to be either “quiet” or “alone.” That said, senior leaders, especially new ones, often face intense exposure and unrealistic expectations of self and others—particularly in an environment where things are constantly speeding up. Here’s one idea on how to slow it down: keep a journal. There’s strong evidence that replaying events in our brain is essential to learning, writes Dan Ciampa in the Harvard Business Review. In addition to keeping a record of events and developments (a benefit for managers and executives), a journal can capture the learning process that a person has gone through, which is often accessible only after the fact, in periods of quiet reflection.
Postpandemic skill gaps need to be filled, and the pressure for businesses to develop and reskill employees continues to increase. One problem is that formal learning alone won’t do the trick. In this podcast, McKinsey’s Lisa Christensen and Jake Gittleson explain how one age-old art—apprenticeshipcan be modernized and scaled to become central to an organization’s strategy for improving capabilities, learning, and culture. You can also read their recent article on the subject here.
How do you get to Carnegie Hall?
salmon going up stream
Well, to the classic punchline response—“Practice, practice, practice”—you can add deliberately. In the 2007 classic “The making of an expert,” from the Harvard Business Review, psychology guru Anders Ericsson and his coauthors make the case that despite what popular lore tells us about genius being born, not made, true expertise is mainly the product of years of intense practice and dedicated coaching, including “deliberate” practice, or a sustained focus on tasks that aspiring experts couldn’t do before. And for those with the fortitude and patience, even traits such as charisma and persuasiveness are attainable. Fresh thinking and decisiveness can also come to those who concentrate on adapting to new circumstances without falling into old patterns. And central to personal self-improvement efforts is having the growth mindset that characterizes so many “intentional” learners.
Lead and learn.
— Edited by Bill Javetski, an executive editor in McKinsey’s New Jersey office
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