Steven patiently waited at the reception for his meeting to start. This was his final interview for the position of Chief Learning Officer at Compusoft Inc.
He has been preparing for this interview for the last few days. He was confident in his answers to questions such as ‘what is his learning vision' and ‘how he will transform Compusoft Inc. into a learning organization'.
‘Perhaps I should have learned a bit more about the semiconductor industry' After all, the final interview was with the CEO, he thought as he doubted his knowledge about the industry.
Steven nailed his previous interview with The CHRO, the reporting manager for this position. They had a similar opinion on a need of a having a strong learning culture in the company and how they could create one. During this interview, he understood that Compusoft's CEO, Chris Collins was a dynamic leader with a strong commercial background. In just the first year of being in the company he had led a turnaround towards profitability, so he kind of had star status in both the company as well as industry.
"Mr. Collins is ready for you," the receptionist told Steven.
Steven entered a rather large room for an office where Chris was looking out of the window talking on his phone. He was talking about some deal in China and he gestured Steven to sit down and wait a bit.
After a few minutes, Chris finished his call and warmly greeted Steven.
" Hi Steven, Thanks for waiting, my name is Chris Collins"
"No Problems, I am Steven Finn"
"Yes, I spoke to Patrick and he gave a very good reference of your last meeting"
"I am glad" Steven responded.
"Let me tell you what I expect from you… I believe in training and I believe that training motivates people. I also think that we being in a dynamic industry need a strong training culture. I want our sales teams to be best trained on our products and sales skills. That's one of my top priority. Not sure whether you know but I started my career at Xerox and they had the best sales training in the industry. I want you to create a program similar to that. I also believe in training our customers and our dealers"
"It is great that you think as that" Steven responded. "In fact, Patrick and I think pretty closely on how we not only can transform sales but marketing, production, and other departments"
"Good, but sales is the biggest priority for me. Our sales guys should be the champions of our products. At Xerox, we went through 7 days of rigorous sales training before we were allowed to sell"
"Fair enough, sales will be our top priority. In my current job, we have managed to create a sales academy. We created a platform where during a product launch salespeople from different region collaborated with each other on ideas to sell the products in different scenarios. Imagine a salesperson from west coast interacting with a sales guy from Midwest on the product, customer issues and how the product helped" Steven responded.
"Yes, that's pretty fancy but I want a solid sales training plan. People should spend at least a week learning about the products before they hit the ground. Our operations team has good product knowledge and they can help in training our sales"
"I understand, we can create a blended approach where a salesperson starts with few online modules, then perhaps go to a classroom and then continue learning through an online platform where they get a chance to collaborate with others," Steven said.
"ok," Chris said with a confused expression "but I don't want them to spend too much time learning as well. Once the sales training is over, I want them to be in front of the customer"
Steven quickly understood that this conversation is not going anywhere so he diverted the topic to what he thought Chris would be more comfortable with "Can you tell me more about the industry? What are the opportunities and challenges we are facing in the semiconductor industry nowadays?"
Chris suddenly got his glow back. He smiled and went on to tell Steven about the company, industry and his take on it.
Learning Organizations Vs Training department
In my 18+ years of experience in the corporate world, I had the privilege to work with some talented, bright and extremely sharp C suite executives. In all my conversations they were unanimous that the single most important resource of a company is the human resource. They conveyed the need of having a workforce, which was smarter, more agile, highly motivated and go-getters. But somehow, they were not sure about how to get people to have these qualities. More so, they saw the role of their ‘Training department' completely separate than building these qualities in their workforce.
"We have a training department dedicated to product training and sales training," said one of the executives.
For these executives, the role of the corporate training department is nothing more than a number game, train more people, so that they can sell more and get more revenue. Of course, there is a place for number game in a training department but that's just a very small part of what they can do.
Their role is to create a learning organization. An organization, which is, brave enough to try new things and learn from it so that collectively they can progress. It is not a secret anymore that people are most motivated when they are learning on a constant basis. When they are motivated they find a purpose and meaning in what they are doing which directly results in customer satisfaction and hence more productivity in their work.
Business leaders can really achieve this by engaging their learning departments and learning leaders can achieve a lot more credibility if they start focusing on creating a learning organization rather than churning out training.
How to create learning organizations?
The top: It starts from the top. Most business leaders pride themselves on having finance, sales or operations knowledge. Learning is left to the HR in most cases. You have the most chances to create a sales savvy company if its highest leadership is sales-centric, similarly, you can create a learning organization only if your top leadership commits to life long learning and also displays it strategically.
Business leaders need to learn about the benefits of lifelong learning. They need to know how to create these learning organizations. Only when you know how to learn, you can teach how to learn.
A culture of failing forward: In most of the companies, there is a culture of 'failure not being an option'. People are afraid of taking risks and focus on following a well-laid path than a road less traveled.
However, the great business innovations have only been achieved by thinking out of the box and not by following a pattern.
The learning leaders need to be a crusader of learning by doing. Controlled failures should be accepted if that can result in valuable lessons. The learning leaders can practically create business projects where colleagues can collaborate and learn via trying new things. Cross-functional knowledge should be promoted for systems thinking. Learning from the customer should be encouraged for Design Thinking. I see in many organizations, meeting customers is just left to the sales team. Businesses need to understand that all learning starts with the customer, everything else will start making sense thereafter.
Adopting technology: For a lot of generation X and older (born 1980 and earlier), learning is being in a classroom where somebody gives instructions on how to do things. Now with most of the people in this category is at a senior position in a company, it makes all the more difficult to adopt new ways of learning.
Learning should not be limited to classrooms. Learners should be learning any time, just in time and all the time. Technology can help in that. Learning leaders can really get creative by having a blended approach to solution centric learning. On the other hand, I meet a lot leaning professionals who get extremely excited by new technology and have no idea about how to integrate it with business. Technology is a means to create learning and not the other way around. It can only help when its relation to its audience is understood, implemented and persisted, exactly in the same order.
Finally, as Mr. Jack Welch has accurately put it that the only competitive advantage a company has is its ability to learn and translate that learning into action. I feel the corporate learning has a more advanced role to play in it by not looking outside (new tools and technologies) but looking inside (their business, culture, and customers) and they can be a sparring partner with their commercial organization to take their companies from good to great.