Learning to drive lifelong success

Picture_ Nick van Dam_NYEN_cropped

McKinsey and Company’s Global Chief Learning Officer Dr Nick van Dam

Organisations around the world are experiencing sweeping, rapid changes in what they do, how they do it and even why they do it.  Mastering current and future realities requires deep learning capabilities – the people who thrive and flourish in the 21st century are those who embrace new learning and who are motivated to acquire new skills and competencies.  But, as much as it’s the responsibility of the individual, organisations have a crucial role to play in up-skilling their people and nurturing new leaders. It may not be a simple task but, according to McKinsey and Company’s Global Chief Learning Officer Dr Nick van Dam and Founder of the e-Learning for Kids Foundation, learning is a critical key for organisations to be at the cutting edge of their profession and their industry.


With over 25 years of experience in the field of training and development and a recent recipient of the ‘2013 Leonardo European Corporate Learning Award’ for shaping the future of organisational learning and leadership development, Dr van Dam has the answers to some of the biggest challenges organisations face today. In an interview with ONLINE EDUCA BERLIN he shared valuable insights into the importance of continuous learning approaches, including blended corporate learning programmes, the role of MOOCs (Massive Open Online Course) both in hiring and development, and honing one’s ‘serial mastery’ of multiple areas of expertise during a professional career.


By Annika Burgess


Dr van Dam has witnessed how rapidly factors such as emerging technologies and increased competition can shorten the shelf life of knowledge in the workplace. He says organisations need to embrace this change and encourage learning on-the-job; stressing that continuous learning is the ticket to successful leadership development.


“John F. Kennedy, who was a lifelong learner himself, said, ‘Leadership and learning are indispensable to each other.’ If you think about leadership development, the leader must bring a learning mind-set to their work; these leaders seek out opportunities to learn new things every day. And since leadership learning is not just about self-motivation but is a process of experience, reflection, discussion and dialogue, the challenge lies in creating the right conditions to allow that to happen. If people are just running from meeting to meeting and to call after call, learning is cut short because there’s no time for such reflection or dialogue about what is experienced.  This is where just-in-time learning support is an indispensable organisational competency.


Not only do people need to be made aware of opportunities for learning on the job, an overall leadership development architecture – which includes a number of different development interventions – needs to be in place.


“It’s not just about a formal programme it’s about a rich and varied combination of opportunities to acquire mastery on important challenges: it’s all about assignments that people get; it’s about job rotation; it’s about mentoring  and coaching; it’s about making sure people develop  competences based on formal learning programmes, blended learning programmes, and learning interventions like shadowing other leaders.”


Blended learning programmes are ones which include both formal and informal learning initiatives. Dr van Dam believes organisations embracing the 70/20/10 model are on the right track – the 70/20/10 model dictates that to cultivate leadership learning and high performance, employees should spend 70% of time on core business tasks; 20% in coaching and mentoring; and 10% in formal training, either online or in person.  In fact, a study by the Corporate Leadership Council concluded that on-the-job learning has three times more impact on employee performance than just formal training.   And, to ensure the value of the ‘formal’ training, it should focus primarily on the benefits derived from social learning, bringing people together to a place where they have a chance to practice new skills, exchange experiences, pause on new insights and interact with others.


“Essentially, by bringing people to learning programmes or centres, where they have opportunities to reflect on their experiences, consolidate the value of the learning, and discuss these thoughts with others, is very powerful approach to embedding learning, where rapid, discontinuous change is keeping people incredibly busy.”


MOOCs: adding new avenues to corporate learning


A large percentage of people who take MOOCs are people who are in the workforce; who take personal initiative to learn. MOOCs allow people to develop themselves in a new area and build up their credentials. Now, more and more, organisations are actively encouraging staff to take advantage of MOOCs and are incorporating them as part of corporate learning programmes.


Agrowing number of organisations are starting to use MOOC- technology platforms and the pedagogy behind it to develop specific online courses which have proprietary learning content for their people. It’s a way to reach many people, and the social learning component drives collaboration with people from multiple geographies,” Dr van Dam says. “MOOC’s are a welcome addition to the whole suite of digital learning solutions that organisations can leverage to swiftly build new capabilities.”


When looking for new talent


Many of the leadership attributes and personal skills organisations are looking for today are not simply found by reading a candidate’s resume. However, if there’s an indication that a person learns independently, for instance by completing a number of MOOCs, then they are looked upon more favourably. Dr van Dam made the point that it’s not a replacement for a degree, but MOOCs certainly provide credibility in the hiring process.


You cannot take a whole MOOC portfolio to earn a degree – we are still at the early stage of that, but that may change over the next couple of years – but, obviously, if you look at someone’s resume see that they have several degrees and in addition they have a certificate of completion on a number of MOOCs in a relevant field, it indicates that they have the learning mind-set needed for 21st century organizations.”


“Linda Gratton, professor at London Business School, talks in her book ‘The Shift’ about the need for ‘serial mastery’.  This is an important contributor to peoples’ career success as it is the key to staying relevant at work. That is, over a career and lifetime people should acquire mastery of diverse areas.  As organisations seek well-rounded leaders, broad technical knowledge teamed with personal and professional skills is the essential combination.”


“On one level there’s a body of knowledge that people need to have – their expertise – but then research on emotional and social intelligence is finding that more important to high performance are relationship competencies.  In our work today, working with multiple nationalities and cultures is the norm, so cross-cultural skills are very important. Organisations keep changing, and this is not likely to stop, so when joining the workforce and moving up in an organisation, it is that ability to continue to embrace change, learn and grow that will ensure your ability to flex, adapt and lead.”


Nick van Dam will be a speaker at this year’s OEB conference, offering more valuable insight into leadership development.To see him live, register here for ONLINE EDUCA BERLIN 2014!

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