Donnerstag, 2. Juni 2022

HR and corporate learning - What's next? - Second Part of the interview with learning expert Charles Jennings

Continued interview with Charles Jennings (Link to first part) on the occasion of his keynote at the HR Innovation Day 2022 at Leipzig University of Applied Sciences.

Peter: The motto of this year HR Innovation Day is „Making companies better with HR“. If I look at your career, I am asking myself, what should be the future relation or collaboration between Corporate Learning and HR? Or asked differently, how can HR managers be sensitized to the specifics of modern learning?
Charles: I see the roles of HR professionals and corporate learning professionals increasingly overlapping. Equally, OD professionals and corporate learning professionals increasingly overlap. If HR professionals don’t look beyond individual skills profiles and individual learning, and if HR business partners fail to develop a high level of capability in problem analysis and performance analysis, then their corporate learning professional colleagues will always be playing ‘training catch-up’ rather than be able to work collaboratively with their HR colleagues and key stakeholders to create sustainable solutions to real organisational problems.
HR has a huge opportunity to ‘make companies better’ through extending the focus on learning beyond formal training and development. They need to work with their corporate learning colleagues to deliver success.

Peter: What needs to change therefore at HR?
Charles: I think there are three principal changes HR needs to address to have a measurable impact in this area:
  1. HR needs to develop deep expertise in performance consulting and an understanding of the ‘art of the possible’ with workplace learning. 
  2. HR also needs to think and work beyond the individual employee. No individual employee will create organisation-wide improvements (even the CEO!). Almost everyone works in teams. HR needs to focus on organisational and team objectives and processes as well as individual skills and objectives.
  3. Thirdly, HR professionals need to consider this observation by Geary Rummler and Alan Brache in their book ‘Improving Performance: How to Manage the White Space in the Organizational Chart’. “If you pit a good performer against a bad system, the system will win almost every time.” Rummler was one of the leaders in Human Performance Improvement and clarified thinking about the need to think and act in a systemic way if we are to make our companies better. HR needs to help improve employee performance, but HR also needs to understand what can be done to improve working practices, work processes, and the work environment. All these are closely tied. If HR and corporate learning professionals only focus on workers’ knowledge and skills will not deliver sustainable results.
Peter: HR Innovation Day is held at an university of applied sciences. As it celebrates its 30th anniversary this year, we are also looking to the future. So, the logical question is how can work be better integrated into learning from your point of view?
Charles: One important rule for integrating work and learning is to ‘start from with the end in mind’. What is meant by this is that whenever we are planning or designing solutions that involve learning we should always start with clarity about the outcomes. What are we learning for? What are we trying to achieve? How will learning contribute to the desired result? Once we start to think in this way, the natural result is the integration of learning with working. If we focus on outcomes, we naturally need to think about all the inputs needed to achieve the outcomes. These will include the basic ‘competencies’, the experiences, the team capabilities, the factors beyond individual and team capabilities – the ‘environmental factors’ such as processes and tools, supportive leadership, clear objectives, opportunities to learn from others’ experiences and so on. All of these need to be considered to achieve the best outcomes and results. And all of these will help integrate learning with work.

Peter: An important question relates to your view of the relevant developments in the field of corporate learning. What is really important here?
Charles: Some of the relevant developments in the field of corporate learning include:
  1. A better understanding of the way learning occurs, and the role played by context, which has emerged over the past 50 years, has driven new approaches. Even the definition of learning as ‘behaviour change plus attainment’ has helped clarify that learning is more than knowledge acquisition, and thus helped change the focus of formal learning programmes.
  2. The realisation that most adult learning in organisations occurs as a function, and a by-product, of working. Economists have led the field in this work, but HR and corporate learning professionals are catching up. This is helping drive the re-balancing of effort and resource towards supporting learning in the workflow rather than the separation of learning from working. The 70:20:10 model helps this re-balancing.
  3. Technology is playing an important role in changing corporate learning. Technology has broken the ‘richness versus reach trade-off’ (Evans & Wurster) and allowed easier access to expertise and resources to support learning and performance at the point-of-need. New technology advances such as artificial intelligence (AI), augmented reality (AR), virtual reality (VR), and machine learning are all starting to support change in corporate learning.
Peter: There is often talk of hybrid learning here, and the discussions reveal very controversial opinions on how to implement it. What is your opinion on this?
Charles: I think that hybrid learning, where little or no distinction is made between digital and on-campus/face-to-face participants, offers new opportunities for learning providers to extend their reach and break the ‘richness versus reach trade-off’. It also offers greater flexibility for students. The concept, and some of the practice, of hybrid learning is not new. Open Universities have been utilising it successfully for many years. The argument that remote students have a poorer learning experience doesn’t seem to be proven in fact. The learning experience for remote students is sometimes better than face-to-face learning, especially where it is supported by technology.
My own undergraduate studies utilised hybrid learning approaches in the 1960s. Of course, the technology then was not as sophisticated as it is now, but it enabled my undergraduate university (the University of Sydney, Australia) to enrol and support many more students than it could with a traditional face-to-face teaching model. When I later worked at the University of Sydney, we introduced self-paced learning in laboratories where students could carry out their learning at any time and for as long as they needed, without a tutor or teacher.

Peter: Without telling too much, what can the participants expect from your Keynote in general?
Charles: My keynote will explore the role that HR can play to build performance for the future workplace. I will explain what we know about effective learning, and why it is important to ‘work backwards’ when we’re building solutions for our organisations that involve learning. I will explain some of the pitfalls of limiting solutions to formal learning, and of limiting our thinking to improving knowledge and skills only. I will also talk about the important role of psychological safety, co-creation with stakeholders, and business impact for building an effective learning culture. The role of line managers, and of senior leaders, is critical in creating high performance organisations. I will describe research that highlights that fact and provide some strategies to engage leaders and managers.

Peter: Finally, a question I'd like to ask all the speakers and workshop hosts. Why are you participating at the HR Innovation Day 2022 at my university?
Charles: I have been involved in corporate learning and other HR practices for more than 40 years. I have had the privilege of working as an academic in universities, as a practitioner in corporate organisations, and as an advisor and consultant to more than 300 companies worldwide. My driving passion is still for pushing the profession forward to deliver greater value for both organisations and individuals. 
The HR Innovation Day in Leipzig is an excellent opportunity to share my own learning, and to provide some ‘hints and tips’ that others may find useful for their own practices. Lastly, I am participating in the event to learn from others who will be there. This is my ‘20’ learning. As my friend and former colleague, Jay Cross, wrote “conversations are the stem cells of learning, for they both create and transmit knowledge. Frequent and open conversations increase innovation. People love to talk.”
Peter: Thank you very much today for your support of the HR Innovation Day. I look forward to meeting you in Leipzig. 

My interviewee Charles Jennings a leading thinker and practitioner in organisational performance, culture, change and learning. He has more than 40 years’ experience in the fields of strategic organisational performance improvement and capability building. He spent many years researching innovative approaches as an academic and a university professor and, for the past 25 years, has held senior roles in the business world, principally as a senior executive and as a member of leadership and HR management teams in global companies. 

For seven years until the end of 2008, he was a senior executive and the Chief Learning Officer for Reuters and Thomson Reuters where he had responsibility for developing company-wide strategy and leading a 350-strong team. He led the Reuters Talent and Learning organisation through a transformation from a group of semi-autonomous traditional departments to an integrated business-aligned learning and workforce development function using the 70:20:10 model. The result was increased impact, value, and effectiveness, as well as >70% reduction in cost. 

His career also includes roles as Head of a UK National Research Centre, as a Professor at Southampton Business School, in senior business roles for global companies including as Strategic Technology Director for Dow Jones Inc., as an evaluator for the European Commission’s performance, learning and eCommerce research initiatives and as a consultant with leading organisations. He also sits on steering groups and advisory boards for national and international performance, learning and business bodies. 
Charles is a Fellow of the Royal Society for Arts (FRSA), and a Fellow of the Learning & Performance Institute (FLPI). Also, a Senior Advisor at the EFMD in Brussels. 

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