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  • Kate Earle

This time next year


As we come out of a summer that was not quite like any other, we find ourselves doing what Dave Gray refers to as liminal thinking, or “a way of using thresholds--or transitions from one state to another--as a way to create positive change for yourself and others.” Recently, we were asked two powerful questions that stirred up our liminal thinking in productive ways.


powerful questions


The first question came from a client (as so many of the best questions do). When we have a few minutes to spare at the end of a meeting, this client likes to ask provocative questions that shake things up and spark connections. During a recent Zoom call, he posed the following: What are your post-Covid resolutions? Most of our responses had to do with things we’ve discovered during this stay-at-home/work-at-home period that we dearly want to hold. Things like home cooked meals, down time with loved ones, and (re)discovered healthy routines were top on the list.


Since the call, we’ve been asking ourselves: What discoveries have been made about learning at work that we want to dearly hold onto?


The second question came from a colleague, who, in the course of a casual conversation asked: What do you think learning at work will be like this time next year? Together we reflected on the dramatic changes we’ve witnessed in the past 8 months and laughed at trying to anticipate what the next year might have in store.


But his question has us thinking about the signals we’ve been following and what they might be trying to tell us.


This Time Next Year


So let’s imagine. It’s September 2021. Learning at work is:

  1. How organizations solve their biggest challenges. A global pandemic and social discord forced us all out of our comfort zones. People and teams who effectively navigated new zones and grew in inspiring ways did so through experimentation, reflection, and adaptation. The growth of businesses required the growth of their people. As the Economist predicted, lifelong learning has become an economic imperative.

  2. A must-have in every business strategy. Those of us steeped in the world of learning at work have always been tuned into the deeply rooted connection between learning and business results. Degreed CLO Kelly Palmer said it best: “Learning shouldn’t be seen as a service. It should be part of your company’s business strategy.” Now we share that conviction with leaders across all parts of the organization And we collaborate to ensure learning has a central role in all business planning.

  3. The red thread connecting diversity, belonging, and inclusion. Epic political, social, environmental and public health events have “awakened companies to the inextricable links between the business and race, equity, and inclusion.” The best of companies are doubling down on all facets of their employees’ well-being, which includes restructuring the functions and roles that oversee essential wellness initiatives and interventions. One restructuring of particular importance has been the evolution of Chief Learning Officers into Chief Wellness Officers who harness the power of learning at work to build and sustain a diverse, inclusive culture of belonging.

  4. Partnering with people analytics to meet the skill challenge. Skills are a hot topic. Businesses continue to question whether their people have the skills needed to thrive in the future of work. Employees are eager to keep their skills sharp and relevant in the face of emergent change. In recent years, people analytics (PA) teams have been playing a critical role in helping organizations deeply understand their people’s current skill set and get real about gaps that need to be addressed for future success. Finally, learning teams are getting in on the action by partnering with PA teams to connect people with the right upskill/reskill experiences at just the right time.

  5. Prioritizing teams and ways of working (over leaders and competencies). Yesterday, we allocated the majority of our time, people, and money to developing leaders. Today, organizations have shifted their attention and resources to strengthen the system in which their people operate: teams. Team-based organizations are proving themselves to be “a more effective model for operating in the dynamic, unpredictable business environment typically seen today.” To empower teams to thrive we’ve discovered that it’s less about developing individual team member’s competencies and more about fostering collective ways of working all team members can master.

  6. The engine driving “new power” in the workplace. We’re undergoing a significant shift in power in the workplace. Jeremy Heimans and Henry Timms refer to this shift as a move away from “old power” which is held by few and jealously guarded towards new power, which is “like a current. It is made by many. It is open, participatory, and peer-driven...the goal with new power is not to hoard it but to channel it.” Learning at work is expediting this shift. People at all levels of the organization are empowered to develop vertically and are applying their new capacities for thinking and acting to make work better.

What does this time next year look like for your team or organization?


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