How can we work to build a truly developmental organisation, allowing new capability development to be for everyone, not just those closest to the customer?

With any transformation effort, it makes sense to target meaningful organisational capabilities rather than just desirable technology features or deployments. But in addition to creating new organisational capabilities, we also need to think about how they are joined up and connected so that they can be used more widely than where they happen to emerge.

Siloed capabilities represent missed opportunities for transformation. At the innovation, fast-paced end of the product/service spectrum, teams are moving at speed, learning, failing and developing together. The organisational capabilities being built are essential to the future of the organisation. But these capabilities are often siloed at the edges of the organisation, or within small departments. The further away from the customer you get, the more digital capabilities seem to become optional add-ons. As the freedom to experiment drops away, so does the opportunity to learn and the space to embed. KPIs, over-utilisation and personal uncertainty about when/where a skill will be put into practice, all act as barriers to entry for most teams (a good critique of KPIs and the barriers they create here).

We need to help everyone across the organisation understand where digital fits into their future value creation opportunities, as well as helping them to understand the flavour of digital most useful to them – is it agile, analytics or automation that offers them the best path for development right now? While there is a need for a small number of deep, digital experts who understand the biggest, most strategic view of digital, for many, they just need to learn enough to be aware of new ways of working, and then go deep in only one or two specific areas to allow them to get their job done in a better way.

For many employees further away from the edge of the organisation, there are always reasons not to engage. Maybe they don’t feel they have permission or time; perhaps it isn’t a team priority, or they don’t know where to start. Even if they do spend time learning new competencies and skills, the immediate opportunity to practice can be absent. The longer the gap between learning and putting to use, the less retention of knowledge happens. Ensuring that when employees are invited to develop new digital skills, there is sufficient, immediate opportunity to take time and space to practice is essential – in other words we have to put in effort to make digital development for everyone, not just the few who can use it right now.

How can we create bridging opportunities between learning and practice?

The challenge of creating a bridge between learning and practicing is ever present in the organisation. Whilst technology solutions (such as Microsoft Viva) are emerging to try and address this gap, it isn’t really a technology problem. We need to evolve how we up-skill the workforce and develop new organisational capabilities.

For example, we can learn from the world of video games, where in the early stages of an experience there are often simple, practical side quests that allow you to build small amounts of value – perhaps this is a useful model when designing for capability development across the whole organisation. This way, employees feel that the effort spent is worth the time, because a small amount of visible value is created. They have immediate reason to practice, they have context for their learning and contribute value to their team. Using basic game dynamics to create engagement can help employees move from initial motivation into habit building – crucial for turning consistent small efforts into big results, thanks to the compound interest created.

Context embedded learning material and the subsequent early stages of practice allows us to combine our previous experience and new learning leading to emergent interpretation, leading to better transfer for learning.

Learning-in-the-Flow is the game changer

A key problem exacerbating the gap between learning and practice is the continued evolution of the LMS (Learning Management System) as a special ‘other place’, somewhere that you need to go to – outside the flow of work – to get your learning done.

Our years of embedding new digital ways of working and behaviours into the workforce tell us that this is a key change that organisations need to embrace – unless the training being delivered is mandatory, regulatory or requires formal completion and sign off, then the learning needs to take place where the work is done to be effective – especially in the digital space.

A final hurdle to learning and practice merging, is the fear factor – many employees experimenting with digital need the security of knowing they are doing so in an a physically and digitally safe environment. Taking the time to design safe, experimental zones or sandboxes, alongside scenarios for skills practices can help bridge the fear gap for those not ready to jump straight in to real life practice! Explore further with this piece by Lee from the PostShift archives on using the Digital Workplace to improve digital skills uptake.

Interested in exploring the intersection between learning and practice in the digital space? Get in touch!