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Stuck in the middle? Why learning maturity means reaching out more to the business

As organisations mature in their use of learning innovation, they tend to embrace a more architectural, joined-up approach informed by the 70/20/10 model. It is now clear that mature organisations are achieving some impressive results through these methods. However, with this maturity comes some grown-up issues. Looking at learning this way brings L&D into interaction with the business in new ways. In particular, with middle management.

These are findings that arose from the latest of LINE’s forum lunches, when senior learning and development professionals from corporate and public sector organisations met together in London recently to discuss the question of learning maturity.

Two introductory talks prefaced the discussion.

The glory of the garden

Few people speak with as much authority as Laura Overton on the subject of learning maturity. Her benchmarking research practice, Towards Maturity has studied the subject since 2003, through an internationally recognised, ongoing longitudinal study based on the input of more than 1,200 organisations and 3,000 learners.

Laura’s presentation kicked off with an alluring photograph of the garden at Le Manoir Du Quatre Saisons, Raymond Blanc’s multi-award winning restaurant and hotel in Oxfordshire. Food for the restaurant is grown in the garden, which was held up as the model of a thriving, well-tended and above all highly productive system. Laura developed this metaphor as she presented the latest results from the benchmark study.

Laura’s stats clearly show the effect of greater maturity on business results achieved through learning, with the top quartile achieving results for the business far above the average.

Maturity in action

John Helmer, delivering a presentation co-authored with Steve Barden, Senior Learning Consultant at LINE, reflected on LINE’s experience of maturity in its work with clients. Mature clients tend to show a more architectural, more joined-up approach to learning, informed by the 70/20/10 model.

The presentation showcased a number of case studies from LINE’s past endeavors.

Roundtable Discussion

A lively and wide-ranging discussion ensued on issues raised in the two presentations. These are summarised below in bullet-point form, however two main themes emerged, as summed up by Andrew Joly, chairing the event for LINE:

1. Middle management can be a great enabler, or conversely a sticking point. One delegate in particular had experienced an acceleration of her initiatives by getting buy-in from the CEO – but often top management is too far out of reach for their directives to mean much. People at ground level in a business are most likely to go to their line managers for help with development issues: if their managers have not bought into the change; have an old-fashioned mindset of seeing training as top-down, passive, information transfer, the they are liable to project resistance onto the workforce. Moving to greater maturity inevitably brings L&D up against The Middle, which therefore becomes a key focus for change management in transforming the organisation’s vision of learning.

2. Maturity of the learners in an organisation needs to be a focus as well as the capabilities of L&D. Learning transformation is working well where the learners are actively involved in the journey towards learning maturity.

Other points that came out from the discussion:

  • A wide range of social media had been experimented with among our delegates’ organisations, but no one tool seemed to work for everybody in all situations: Yammer was a great success in one organisation and a dismal failure in another; Sharepoint a hit with one, a miss elsewhere
  • Social media and Web 2.0 tools discussed as having been trialed with various levels of success included Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, Hubbub (Crowdworks), Yammer, Second Life, serious games, Netpromoter, and a variety of proprietary or customised inhouse tools
  • When it comes to learning content, alignment with business needs sometimes trumps design: even amazing content is no good if it’s not relevant and therefore is not used – relatively mediocre content, however, can work if it is really aligned to an urgent need
  • Using Hubbub as an ideas generator, with a leader board, had unexpected benefits for one organisation in that it highlighted the patterns that amplify or inhibit learning: it really showed up, for instance, where line managers weren’t supporting learning, and proved to be very democratic
  • Good communications are vital in promoting learning and often get neglected – pitch your message to your audience – however, the role of comms should start way back before you even specify a ‘course’
  • Try bringing together a group of learners to help steer the final shape of what you are creating: gather feedback from all levels, making sure all are involved in the changes – note that not all have direct input, or you can end up design by committee and output a camel where what you needed was a horse!
  • YouTube has changed all our expectations of production values: ‘good-enough’ media use can often communicate just as well – better in fact, sometimes, as it appears more ‘real’

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This post was written by John Helmer and first appeared on the LINE blog on 1st June 2011.