To be future-ready, we must be ready to learn

March 17, 2021

As much as 85 percent of today’s elementary school children will, by 2030, be working in professions that do not exist yet. What makes that statistic even more staggering is that it dates back to 2017 – several years before the onset of the global pandemic.

In the past year, the digitization of our world has continued to gather pace. And as we stand on the brink of a fourth industrial revolution, there has not, in our lifetime, been a greater need to prepare for future disruption.

Our priority has to be to accelerate the rate at which we can learn and adapt. And that really comes down to mindset. As businesses – and as people – we need to be flexible, open-minded and open to reskilling in real time. Those who are able to adopt a learning mindset are the most likely to thrive in our world’s next chapter.

What holds people back in this area is focusing too heavily on what they know and are known for. Clinging to accumulated expertise instead of looking at what you need to do to improve is a major hurdle to innovation. Overcoming it requires learning how to learn. After all, your ability to learn is like a mental muscle. It can be strengthened with exercise.

Indeed, developing this strength – or resilience – is imperative for even the most experienced of us. This is how we become future-ready.

So how can businesses kickstart this process and develop a learning culture? There are a few concepts for which to take ownership.

1. Embrace experimentation and risk.

The most valuable learning happens on the job, so companies should create an environment in which individuals and teams feel comfortable taking chances on new ideas. Failure should be acknowledged as part of the learning process instead of punished. This creates a safe space for people to make decisions and own their mistakes.

Creating formalized structures like feedback loops, and embedding the freedom to share ideas and opinions into your culture, will help to bring about positive change.

The key is not to overlook any level of the organization. Learning is not just for leaders, it should be encouraged for every member of the team. Some companies have found success in launching leadership programs for senior management and then scaling it to the rest of the organization afterwards.

2. Keep your teams connected and communicating.

There’s little question that the most valuable and accessible sources of knowledge are our peers. A learning culture should be founded on strong communication between everybody in the team.

This should begin with a competent knowledge management system that gives everybody access to the same knowledge. People should also have the ability to contribute their own knowledge. After that, keeping everybody connected and engaged with each other will help to promote learning within your team. It sounds easy, but the distance that was put between us over the past year has highlighted how easily we can drift apart and stop thinking in sync.

Establishing this ‘network’ within your organization also makes it easier to scale your accelerated learning systems as the organization grows in size.

3. Create opportunities for reskilling.

According to McKinsey & Company, around 87 percent of companies claim to have skill gaps within their organization. Addressing these gaps needn’t always require recruitment, which can be risky, time-consuming and costly. The valuable, trustworthy and high-potential people within our organizations should be given the opportunity to adapt their roles to new requirements. This encourages them to stay curious, which is key to their development.

Of course, effective learning requires a combination of formal training and gaining experience on the job. That means that, in addition to being willing to train members of your team to become more ‘future-ready’, there also needs to be a strong learning culture in which for them to grow.

You can gain ground by starting on these processes now. Test quickly to find out what works and what doesn’t. The sooner you can become ready to apply these lessons to future disruption, the greater your chances of success.

 

There are also some general learning tips that you can embed into your culture to promote accelerated learning.

Practice, practice, practice.

Although formal training is important, it’s difficult for people to retain information unless they apply their knowledge every day. Promoting learning should be about more than just throwing training courses at people in your team – you need to create space within their role to apply what they’ve learned.

Use the 80:20 principle.

The Pareto principle says that 80% of your results will come from 20% of your work. This continues to be a powerful concept, which helps us to increase efficiency. Although we don’t want to cut corners learning new things, we do however need to prioritize effectively. Learning just what we need to achieve our goals helps us to avoid being overloaded with information or becoming misaligned with our business mission.

Make everything measurable.

How can we know if we’re succeeding if we don’t have data to back it up? Performance should always be measured and goals should be clearly stipulated so that we all have something to aim for. This helps us to focus our learning on what actually matters, rather than falling into the trap of trying to simply fill our minds with as much information as possible.

 

We will soon emerge from pandemic lockdowns, but the way we used to work will never fully return. As we seek to become future-ready, there are multiple challenges that we must face. Adapting through learning is one of them.

Starting now to introduce a learning culture is essential to protect your business and your personal skills against the challenges of the future.

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