Driving the new learning organisation

by | Sep 7, 2017 | Articles, Featured

Change is happening across all sectors and it’s rapid.  Growth, transformation, productivity and profitability are top of the C-suite’s wish-list and the knock-on effect is that the pressure’s piling up on L&D.

Our recent research, sponsored by our strategic partner, the CIPD, proves the business case for making learning the centre-piece of an organisation’s strategy. In this article Laura Overton walks you through the state of play today and the principals behind the concept of the ‘New Learning Organisation’ – first introduced by Senge in 1990.


Who can we learn from?

In today’s increasingly fast-paced, global and digital environment, organisations need to embrace change or face failure.

Around the globe, C-Suites are prioritising four areas: growth in competitive markets, transformation, productivity and profitability. Digital transformation and critical economies add value or disruption to people and ultimately, an organisation’s success.

Learning and development are hungry to bring change and are expecting to deliver more than just courses. They want to help organisations adapt, improve and learn on a continual basis:

  • 96% are hungry to improve organisational performance
  • 90% want to drive business innovation
  • 96% want to increase self-directed learning

The drive to work smarter, not harder, is not a new one, nor is the language of change that applies to so many organisations. In 1990, Peter Senge introduced the concept of the learning organisation in The Fifth Discipline: The Art and Practice of the Learning Organisation. Senge described a learning organisation as: “a group of people working together collectively to enhance their capabilities to create results they really care about.”

Whilst Senge was brought into the spotlight with the publication, it is only after 25 years that his ideas are taking root. With the evidence to see what’s working and what’s not, we can shift towards a future-focused business, bring learning and business leaders together to affect change, which is needed more today than ever before.

Since 2003, over 5,600 senior learning leaders and 40,000 employees from over 55 countries have participated in the independent Towards Maturity Benchmark Study. This study has sought to discover which organisations are achieving the best results in terms of staff impact and business impact, along with what they are doing differently to achieve those results.

Benchmark reviews with these organisations over the past 13 years have highlighted six key areas that contribute to accelerating performance of L&D. These six, effective practice workstreams are described in the Towards Maturity Model™ and the extent of their practice in an organisation is measured by the Towards Maturity Index (TMI) – a unique score that organisations can use to benchmark their progress.

 The Towards Maturity Model

© Towards Maturity CIC Ltd. 2017

The Top Deck – organisations in the top 10% of the Towards Maturity Index – are starting to show significant results and have helped us shape the New Learning Organisation’s definition and characteristics. They are tracking consistently higher business impact against four critical areas; increasing growth in a competitive world, improving productivity, profitability and enabling transformation.

Our research with over 600 L&D leaders in the last year alone shows that Top Deck organisations are starting to deliver the results that are critical to business:[1]


The Top Deck are three times more likely to report achieving benefits related to growth in competitive climate. For example, they are 3x as likely to report that learning innovation has resulted in an impact on business innovation (42% vs. 14% rest) and on staff motivation (47% vs. 16%).


The Top Deck are four times more likely to report achieving benefits to help them respond faster to change (66% vs. 16%) and build the capability of the organisation to solve problems (53% vs. 13%).


The Top Deck are three times more likely to report achieving benefits linked to improving overall productivity including improving talent strategies to keep their best people (46% vs. 26%) and improving on the job productivity (76% vs. 26%).


The Top Deck are three times more likely to report achieving benefits related to improved sustainability and profitability including improving customer satisfaction (27% vs. 66%) and overall organisational performance (63% vs.

Through the success of the Top Deck, our data on learners, and the latest thought leadership on the future of work, we’ve pieced together six characteristics that explore the concept of the New Learning Organisation. This involves identifying roles and accountabilities from within business and from within L&D (and others responsible for developing capability) to ensure these benefits can be delivered and sustained at scale across other organisations.

The new learning organisation

A new learning organisation is one that intelligently facilitates the performance and learning of its entire people population, continuously transforming itself. It’s agile and fluid in nature, with the ability to move beyond learning interventions by learning at an organisational level.

Dynamic and trusted it has a people-led organisational model that allows people to ‘grow and glow’ through a common purpose, the respect of knowledge and the analysis, development and acquisition of knowledge, so that it can innovate fast enough to survive and thrive in a rapidly changing environment.

Mutual responsibilities of business and learning leaders

Throughout our analysis of top performing organisations, the mutual responsibilities of both business leaders and people professionals have underpinned success. Each of these characteristics reflect the collective opportunity to work together to deliver what is important to individuals and organisations today.

Six characteristics of the New Learning Organisation

© Towards Maturity CIC Ltd. 2017

Achieving Clarity of Purpose

As the central connecting characteristic, clarity of purpose is about a shared vision and an open dialogue on how people are valued and adapt to deliver the organisation’s performance.

Business leaders who show an overall commitment to learning see that commitment will flow through the organisation and business results, with individuals understanding how their work and level of competence is linked to organisational performance.

Learning and development need to create mutual and effective partnerships with business leaders to drive a strategy that reinforces a learning culture. L&D teams impacting results in the New Learning Organisation environment need to build a shared and collective learning vision – a practice of unearthing shared pictures of the future that foster genuine commitment and enrolment, rather than compliance.

Ensuring clarity of purpose is a role of L&D leaders is one of the ways that Top Deck are bringing stakeholders together.

  • 85% of Top Deck staff understand how their work is linked to organisational performance (vs 54% otherwise)
  • 90% of Top Deck senior managers demonstrate learning commitment (vs 36% of the rest)

Shared mindsets are critical to success, individuals and line managers must work together for the organisation to be treated as a living system that works together to adapt to emerging technology and the changing workforce to deliver success.

Achieving a holistic people experience

Achieving a holistic people experience is about becoming a trusted brand – one that keeps to its promises and develops innovative, commercial and continuous learning opportunities.

Business leaders have the most impact on whether it works. Leaders need to drive people to learn by doing and reward innovative initiatives. L&D need to ensure a supportive learning environment which takes learning to people in an agile and aligned way adding value to the people experience.

  • Top Deck organisations are 3 x as likely to encourage and provide time for employee reflection
  • Top Deck are 4 x as likely to apply techniques such as spaced learning to aid retention and application of learning

Shared mindset is key to success – encouraging individual and collective employability, ensuring skills and knowledge are continuously developed and exploring new ways to extend career paths that build individual strengths and contribute to the future help embed a holistic people experience.

Achieving a thriving ecosystem

This is the result of a people-led system that enables its people, teams and the extended enterprise to thrive and learn. Linked by common goals it creates mature processes and improves on peoples’ ability to deliver value to the customer.

L&D professionals play a critical role within the ecosystem; equipping the business with the knowledge, tools and expertise so they can support their people to thrive. They need to involve business leaders, subject experts and people in the learning cycle, design and engagement and align the learning governance process with the business ecosystem.

Business leaders can establish habits that reinforce a learning ecosystem by incorporating learning into their processes and enterprise / partnership meetings

  • 59% of Top Deck organisations equip line managers with resources so their teams get the most out of technology enabled learning (vs 23% of the rest)
  • 51% of managers in Top Deck organisations provide active support in the application of learning in the workflow (vs 10% of the rest)

Clarity of purpose and shared mindsets makes this happen with individuals encouraged to leverage both personal and professional networks with leaders championing change through internal and external networking.

Achieving an agile, digitally enabled infrastructure

By this we mean a virtual environment that enables a fluid exchange of knowledge, ideas and the adaptation of competence which is critical to business today.

Leaders must influence, shape, transform and ultimately utilise technology. L&D’s role in influencing the policy on technology-related learning resources is critical – teams who are equipped for the future approach learning with the end in mind, utilising all available learning mediums to create an agile, digitally-enabled shift in competency.

  • Top Deck organisations are 3x as likely to have L&D staff confident in incorporating the use of new media in learning design (vs the rest)
  • Top Deck organisations are 3x as likely to enable staff to access job aids online or via mobile devices

Achieving continual engagement

A dynamic community continually builds on business relationships which results in energy, resilience and growth. Engagement is not just about communication, it’s about building a relationship and leaders need to invest in engagement and build storytelling opportunities whilst L&D need to be future-focused – building a brand and leveraging their internal business experts within marketing, communications etc. to help collate and share insights and successes.

  • 83% of Top deck organisations provide a safe environment to share ideas ad work out loud
    (vs non-Top-Deck teams 32%)
  • 87% of Top Deck organisations ensure there is a communication plan in place for all key stakeholders (vs 37%)

Achieving intelligent decision making

A robust platform uses insight and performance analytics to drive organisational performance and a customised experience. Bringing insights and data to life by drawing out patterns and trends, you can connect the dots by telling stories with the data.

Leaders must actively involve people in important change initiatives, supporting them to learn and connect with others to learn about managing change. Learning and development professionals need to use their insight and analytics to form part of the learning cycle – particularly critical at the learning needs analysis stage.

  • 87% of Top Deck teams regularly review programs and check that they support and enhance organisational goals (vs 41% of non-Top-Deck)
  • 62% of top-Deck teams use learning analytics to improve the service they deliver (vs 15%)

Working towards the new learning organisation one step at a time

Business leaders and L&D leaders that are serious about impacting results need learning to become a strategic pillar and drive the six characteristics. The Top Deck are significantly leading the way, unlocking potential and impacting the four critical business results that matter to leaders; profitability, productivity, growth and transformation.

To be successful you need the buy-in of the business yes, but it’s the role of the L&D professional to understand and signpost what works. Shared mindsets will help drive change and using evidence will make decision making easier with the support and engagement from the business.

[1] Unlocking Potential, Appendix C: www.towardsmaturity.org/unlockingpotential

This article originally appeared in Training & Development magazine August 2017 Vol 44 No 4, published by the Australian Institute of Training and Development.



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