“If the rate of change on the outside exceeds the rate of change on the inside, the end is near.” — Jack Welch
With this insight, Jack Welch defines an important strategic challenge for every organization operating today, including nonprofits. The pace of change is fast and accelerating. If we do not enable our people to keep pace with change through strategic learning, we will inevitably lose opportunities and fall behind. Here are five ways to help your organization optimize strategic learning.
1. Make Strategic Learning a Core Function
Nonprofits everywhere are facing the challenge of creating their future in a landscape of dynamic change. Beyond the pandemic, nonprofits must respond to changes in community demographics, the economy, technology, public policy, client expectations, partner expectations, donor expectations, and grant funding. The first response to this challenge should be focused learning to understand what is happening outside the organization, and develop the internal capabilities needed to survive and thrive in the emerging environment. We call this strategic learning, and it has to be a core function of every nonprofit in 2020 and beyond.
2. Link Strategic Learning to Your Mission and goals.
Strategic learning is focused on developing the knowledge and skills necessary to help your nonprofit organization sustain its future and accomplish its mission and goals. This means learning what is happening outside the organization, and using that intelligence to refine your mission, goals, and strategies. It also means assuring that everyone in the organization is equipped with the knowledge and skills necessary to optimize strategy execution at their particular level. In this context, strategic learning should be relevant, agile, flexible, inclusive, efficient, and continuous.
3. Create a Culture of Strategic Learning
While some people are naturally inclined to learn and share knowledge in the workplace, others are not. It is the job of leadership to create a culture where people are rewarded for contributing to strategic learning. A first step is for all leaders and managers to model the way for learning and sharing. A second step is to informally (but consistently) recognize team members who create and share knowledge. A third step is to formally incorporate learning and sharing into job descriptions, personnel evaluations, and decisions about compensation and promotion.
4. Create Efficient Pathways for Strategic Learning
In addition to a supportive culture, people need learning pathways that are relevant to their work and efficient with their time. One pathway could be peer-to-peer learning through team huddles, emails, chats, calls, and shared knowledge bases. A second pathway could be online access to external resources such as articles, podcasts, webinars, and e-courses (Elevation being one example). A third pathway could be traditional training, conferences, or courses. The key is to leverage all of these pathways into a flexible and focused learning program that helps people learn and share knowledge in efficient ways.
5. Assure Value in Strategic Learning
Strategic learning is an investment that should return value to the participants and the enterprise. To assure this value, clearly define your audiences and learning objectives. Then design your learning pathways to optimize access, impact, flexibility, and efficiency. Also engage your leadership team in creating a culture that supports proactive learning and sharing of knowledge. As you roll out the program, periodically check in with participants to see how they are engaging and turning learning into action. Be flexible and ready to make adjustments for assuring focus and optimizing value.
At Community Health Solutions we help organizations create learning programs that deliver real strategic value. If you would like to explore ways to apply organizational learning in your setting, contact us for a free, no-obligation consult to discuss the possibilities.