Arie de Geus, former head of Group Planning at Royal Dutch Shell, presented this strategic notion over two decades ago in a Harvard Business Review article entitled, "Planning As Learning." Subsequent research by David Ulrich of the University of Michigan School of Business and others has supported this notion, reflecting significant correlation between learning speed and competitiveness as well as between learning speed and innovation.
In spite of the existence of this evidence, many companies were a bit too slow in responding to the need for action that was presented to them. Many have only recently recognized that the ability to attract and retain highly qualified workers is a critical business issue impacting organizational competitiveness and worthy of targeted objectives, strategies, and accountability mechanisms.
Concerns about shortages of qualified workers are increasing in many industries, especially in relation to organizational ability to address the continuing challenge of sustained rapid growth in the demand for high-skilled IT workers.
It is becoming more evident that the potential benefits of providing training and development for employees clearly outweigh the potential costs of not doing so. At a rapid rate, new specialized certification or degree programs in the IT field are being developed by various educational institutions, joint alliances are forming between corporations and colleges to build pools of skilled, job-ready candidates, and online distance learning technologies and techniques are proliferating.
Research has shown that an employer's ability to facilitate individuals' personal growth and career development is a key concern among the existing and potential workforce and that this concern is a major factor in individuals' decision making about whether or not to become or remain employed with a particular company. Smart companies are beginning to recognize that providing training and development opportunities to their employees is a "win/win" solution, because both the organization's and the individuals' needs are met in the process.
Studies have shown that a common characteristic of high performing organizations is their ability to create a culture where people learn. Organizations that learn faster find out faster than their competition what works better. They are able to develop more innovative and economical products/solutions more quickly and create environments that employees are excited to work in, thereby enhancing their ability to generate and expand results, profitability, and market share.
Smart companies have recognized that if a sufficient number of qualified workers are not available from the external labor market, then they will need to enhance their internal efforts at training their existing employees in order to develop the specific skills, talents, and competencies required for success in their organizations. They also appear to realize that, by doing so, they will also enhance their ability to attract and retain the type of workers they need to sustain their organization.
Smart companies are working diligently to:
- Identify the specific competencies needed to perform successfully (now and in the future);
- Assess individuals' existing levels of those competencies;
- Perform gap analyses of required vs. existing competencies (for individuals, business units, and the organization as a whole);
- Identify areas for improvement and develop strategies to help employees enhance their competencies in these areas.
Organizations that do not recognize the urgency of the need to promote learning, especially fast learning, will suffer a great disadvantage in their ability to compete successfully in a rapidly changing economy and marketplace.
Is your organization a smart company? Is your company meeting the challenge of becoming a faster learning organization (faster than your competition)? If you haven't already addressed these questions, do it fast!
After you have learned how to train your employees, learn how to keep them. See Four Simple Strategies for Retaining Your Best Employees for more information.