The “Self-Developing Organization”

selfd3I had a meeting with a client last week and we were talking about their learning strategy, content infrastructure, and the need to build an overall end-to-end culture of development. During the conversation I mentioned the phrase “a self-developing organization.” And the phrase seems to have stuck.

Think about the challenges we have in businesses today: technical skills evolving rapidly, an endless supply of well developed learning materials (MOOCs, online learning, internally developed content), and people who want and expect to learn whenever they need it.

And business and HR leaders are struggling to build a culture of coaching, feedback, development, and mentorship. More than half the workforce is now Millennials and what they ask for the most is someone to learn from.

To me this is the definition of the “Self Developing Organization.”

Rather than think about your learning and HR strategy as one of “delivering training,” think about it as “creating a self-developing organization.”

A “Self-Developing Organization” does the following:

  • Education and learning content is readily available to anyone, and it’s easy to find and use
  • People make time to teach and coach others, and they are rewarded for it
  • The company stops and investigates its mistakes, making sure teams learn from failures
  • Formal learning programs are easy to access and highly regarded, so people regularly use them
  • Leaders at all levels teach classes and workshops (professional, technical, and senior executives)
  • Onboarding is a serious and formal effort, with a focus on making people productive regardless of where they come from
  • Every job has a transition management program to help people learn the job from internal transfer
  • Learning technology is modern, easy to use, and fun
  • Individuals are rewarded for self-development
  • Books, magazines, and other external research is readily available (one hot company I just talked with gives free books to any employee who asks)
  • People are hired for their “learning agility” and ability to teach themselves (another client told me this is their #1 criteria for new hires)
  • Learning is valued as part of the culture, and remains in place during good times and bad.

Let me give you an example.

Deckers Outdoor Corporation, the makers of UGG boots, TEVAs, and other popular footwear, looks at learning as a core part of every job. Stephanie Demiris, the chief learning officer, is responsible for corporate learning, employee engagement, and employee communications.  As she states it, “learning is the most important thing our people do.” So with that vision, she and her team have built a fun, exciting, always-on learning environment that includes a digital learning portal, activities and artifacts in the office, and a focus on learning at all levels. She looks at learning as a part of employee engagement and communications, bringing all elements of learning into one focus.  Rather than only buildi a “training center” or a series of “learning programs,” she has developed a whole environment of learning which empowers people to learn every day on the job.

Is your organization a “self-developing organization” or are you always trying to push learning and development on people? Rather than focus on “marketing learning” and measuring learning to prove its output, maybe you should think more about making learning available, easy, and part of the reward system.

As I think back about all the companies I’ve worked with over the years, the best companies of all are filled with “self-development.” Engineers, sales people, managers, and executives are always learning, and it’s just part of the way they do business.

Think about this in the context of your own team:

In the coming years, “self-developing” organizations are going to out-perform and out-deliver their peers.

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  • They already outperform their peers.

  • Caroline Walmsley

    We’re developing a very similar approach with our #TotalLearning agenda, which brings all learning-focused activities – which for smart organisations really means ‘all activities’ – into a single platform and a single strategy. Key to this is unlocking the power of peer-to-peer social networks to move skills and knowledge through the organisation more productively than traditional comms procedures.

    But even more important I think is the vision and commitment to have a holistic understanding of how employees get better at what they do: ensuring learning is always at the heart of the workflow; empowering learners to experiment (and fail!) with new methodologies;and proactively championing the L&D function within the organisation to deliver real change and measurable impact.

    • Absolutely Caroline. One of the biggest things we’ve learned over the years is how important it is to “meet employees where they are” – get to know their working environment, location, experiences at their job – so you can bring them the “continuous development” they need. Would love to learn more about what you’re doing if you’d like to share!

      • Caroline Walmsley

        Thanks Josh – I’m sorry I can’t go into more detail right now, but I was interrogated on the Total Learning agenda by our Head of Marketing recently for this series of blog posts where I explained our thinking in more detail: http://ow.ly/JSUsJ

        If you’re more visually inclined there’s also our recent Total Learning ebook, which looks at some of the key trends and technologies that make this approach so suitable for today’s learners (and today’s leading organisations): http://ow.ly/JSUKz

        You can ask my team – they all know I’m happy to talk #TotalLearning all day, so feel free to reach out and ask me more!

  • I’ve also been writing about this as one of the trends I’ve been picking up on, at least in the UK, is a focus on intergrating learning into business needs and the workflow etc – eg http://strategic-hcm.blogspot.com.es/2014/05/cipdldshow–learner-and-learning.html

    And I’m not suggesting that we shouldn’t do this, but that doing it needs to be balanced with more focus on understanding our people – their needs and wants, as humans not simply job holders, to get them excited about learning, which will then lead indirectly to business needs being met. http://strategic-hcm.blogspot.co.uk/2015/03/atdmena-people-centricity-in-learning.html

  • Marc Wachtfogel, PhD

    I was responsible for training & development for a global company. One of my goals was to build a business education program to educate employees about our business cycle and how each role contributes to success. I brought together leaders from each department to outline the program. Leaders at different levels then delivered the program to groups of employee until the whole company was covered. When each round was finished the baton was passed to another leader in the department to represent the team.

    The question is, what do you think was the benefit of leveraging internal leaders to educate employees?

    Employees were able to demonstrate a clear understanding of the business cycle & how they contribute? (the goal)
    Or, leaders who volunteered were passionate and the program was informative and engaging?
    The leaders made it exciting to learn?
    The program matched stakeholder needs, was highly applicable and reflected the work context?
    Was it the cross-functional collaboration that was built while developing the program?
    Was it the appreciation team leaders now had for other departmental processes?
    How about the experience gained from working on a complex project with other leaders?
    Was it the networking that took place before and after the program?
    Was it the impact the role models had on employees?
    Was it the recognition of the baton being placed into the hands of the next leader?
    Perhaps it was the efficiencies gained by understanding the business process?
    Maybe, employees made new connections with colleagues from other departments?
    Was it the pride of feeling valued?
    Taking a part in something meaningful?
    Demonstrating one’s expertise and leadership skills?
    Recognition awards from the company president?
    Did the program enhance organizational culture?
    Or, the program provided a stepping stone for future initiatives?

    My intent was the initial goal and we ended up with all of these additional benefits. I learned a valuable lesson about a “self-developing” organization.

  • Greg Basham

    Josh, I like the themes of self developing as a culture of learning, development, coaching and mentoring as well as that of people hired for their ability and willingness to teach themselves and constantly grow. You can’t have one without the other. Interestingly there is now more growing awareness of the need for two parties to come to the table to ensure engagement is the outcome – managers and their employees. We continue to hear too much these days that ‘the company or my boss didn’t do anything for me’ versus them seizing the opportunities present. I have long believed that people are responsible for the condition they are in in a role and it isn’t always someone else’s fault.

    Rewarding those for their coaching and mentoring is as essential as well as not redirecting those who aren’t performing these roles while continuing to hold key positions is equally essential.