Crying Wolf? Changing Organizational Culture in a Downturn

Cry WolfOkay, these thoughts have been swirling around in my head and I can’t quite get a grip on them. I have delayed posting about them thinking that I could get a more well-thought out post on the topic, but it hasn’t happened…so, I’ll just spill it out on paper and see where it goes. Consider yourself forewarned! This is likely to be a rambling post…you know how a cat sometimes jumps up inexplicably and runs to another room – that’s what this post will resemble. (If you are a cat lover you know what I am talking about if not – go ask a cat lover and watch them smile knowingly!)

One of the challenges to any learning professional is how to build a culture of learning in an organization. As I have written previously, new technologies and the new landscape in today flat world require that learners take control of their own learning. However, not everyone sees the urgency in this imperative. In particular, C-level folks all the way down to mid-level managers have jobs to do and numbers to hit. There is no time for formal learning let alone building up a personal learning network. What’s a learning professional to do? Cry wolf? That only works for so long, particularly when you are only one that seems to see the wolf. So we are left with learning professionals using Twitter, pushing delicious, blogging and a host of other ways to learn each and every day on the job. But what about everyone else? How can we bring them along? Does anyone out there have experience with this? If the culture doesn’t value openness, connections, sharing, etc. how can we unleash the potential of EACH AND EVERY employee in the company? Anyone….Bueller?

The corollary to this problem is what happens to learning and training initiatives during a downturn. Namely – every time budgets tighten and the economy goes south, companies start cutting costs and drawing back on investments. Interestingly, during such times nearly every learning/training professional screams out: Now is the time to invest in human capital! However, here is the dilemma I see: If we talk about such investments, they look self serving, but if we don’t, the consequences could be dire. How do we engage the C-level folks to consider such investments during this time of tight budgets, let alone MAKE the investments! And another thing, where is the data to back up our claims? I must admit – I don’t have it. (And worse – I don’t know where to get it!) What evidence do we have as learning professionals that training investments during a down cycle have ever benefited a company when the cycle turned upward? Anyone….Bueller?

So you see, I have these two huge questions running around in my head and I really don’t have any answers to them. They seem to be linked in some way and both require taking a more holistic, organizational behavior approach (here’s to you Mark Oehlert!), but where to start?

I am interested to hear from others in the corporate environment out there: Have you been able to create a learning culture in your organization? If so – how? In addition, did this have a positive impact on your company – one that was measurable and would convince a C-level type to make such an investment?

To date, the silence has been deafening…I am hoping you all can change that!


2 responses to “Crying Wolf? Changing Organizational Culture in a Downturn

  1. There is a lot of talk about Learning 2.0 and creating learning organizations. I think a lot of the technologies mentioned (blogs, wikis, etc.) do have a place in the learning environment, but I also think it needs to be very informal and implemented almost in stealth mode. We shouldn’t call it “learning” or “training”, just tell people there are resources available. If the resources are good, people will use them, and ultimately will improve their job performance. Don’t start a new learning initiative, just start providing resources.

    I think people would rather be consumers of learning resources in the workplace, not content creators. Most people don’t have time to do their job, let alone create content for others. Unless, of course, you convince management that creating things like knowledge bases are a good idea and ultimately lead to great organizational productivity.

    The trick in a downturn is proving those ‘stealth’ initiatives have value. Simple web metrics can help show usage, but a simple survey might be better to gauge value. Don’t force people into an LMS, let them just access quick resources.

    Also, don’t discount formal learning. A lot of people prefer to get away from their desk to focus on learning in a classroom. Classroom training can be a good way to promote the new informal resources.

    • Gary,

      Thank you for your comments. You make a number of good points. In particular, I really like your idea of learning resources and the notion of providing resources – I plan to put that one into effect.

      I would agree with you that most people don’t want to be content creators – at least not under that label. I have found that people love to talk about what they know. That is what I am looking for in my organization. The ability to provide the tools to enhance conversations throughout the organization so that every shares what they know best and asks great questions.

      Thanks again for taking the time to share.


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