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Building Future Fit Teams: Encouraging ‘Self-Directedness’

“One of the features of this Fourth Industrial Revolution is that it doesn’t change what we are doing, but it changes us” – Klause Schwab, Founder and Executive Chairman, World Economic Forum

The question is how do we change in an attempt to stay relevant?

One change I think is critical is increasing self-directedness. Especially when it comes to career management and learning.

This is because the idea of one career or a single predefined career path in a lifetime is dead!

Instead people will pursue several different careers and career paths within their lifetime. This change is driven by the fast pace of technological advancements, both in how they will continue to disrupt our organisations, but also in the role technology plays in increasing our life expectancy. For example due to advancements of technology in healthcare, the life expectancy of a 40 year old woman is now 120 years.

This idea of several different careers in a lifetime is reflected in the Deloitte 2017 Human Capital Trends review, in which they speak about the concept of the “Career being shaken to its core” and Learning needing to be available “real time all the time.” (You can download a copy of their report here

In this future world of work defined by sudden and continuous disruption, multiple careers, and fast paced advancements, unlimited, unrestricted access to learning will become the game changer.

However, before we can truly embrace and benefit from unrestricted learning at an organisational or individual level we need to develop our ‘self-directedness’ and we need to be empowered to do so.

You see, the potential to be self-directed exists within us, however the capability must be developed and enabled.  Self-direction is a skill and a learned behaviour. However, its development is often stifled within organisations, especially hierarchical ones.

Organisations must focus on allowing us to develop this capability and enable it through true empowerment practices. This is easier said than done.

If we look at traditional Learning and Development (L&D) functions, my opinion is that they are still too far removed from business. They play an almost gatekeeper role between employee and potential performance. A request for learning often has to go through several approvals before employees can access the information they need, let alone enrol in a learning experience to build knowledge and acquire skills. Coupled with this is that the decisions about what an employee should learn is almost removed from them. Instead the decision usually lies with the line manager, business learning partner and then of course is dependent on which training providers L&D has negotiated contracts with.

So, when we use terms like self-directed learning, we need to understand the amount of change needed for it to be successful at organisational scale.

Yes, in our natural contexts we are self-directed learners. You only have to look at the popularity of Apps such as Pinterest to realise that people will go and search for tutorials on how to do things they are interested in, to recognise that we all have immense potential for self-direction.

However, something weird happens when we step into an organisation, we switch off our self-directed button and instead move into automatic pilot where we expect and wait for business or our Line Managers to tell us exactly what to do next.

In my view this is due to years of being programmed into this way of being. When we view life through this lens we can see that we are indeed a great success story of the school model. For generations our schools have successfully turned out viable resources ready to be deployed and told what to do.

We wait to be told by Line what we need to learn these days in the same way that we waited for teachers or lecturers to tell us what we would need to know in order to pass the test.

Now in what way is this empowering?

If our organisations continue to mirror this same kind of command control culture, the same hierarchical structures, the same ‘I’ll tell you what you need to know mode’, how will we ever build self-direction?

I am currently rolling out a learning programme for a client in which the focus is to encourage self-directed learning and empower individuals to make some serious career decisions.  Now I know the leadership teams gets this, but behaviour is slow to change. For example, one of the components of the programme encourages learners to research on line, however, by one of the leaders own admission, she still walks up behind an employee on google and her first reaction is to say to them “haven’t you got enough work to do?” Now I ask you with tears in my eyes, how the heck does this empower or inspire people to be self-directed learners.

As leaders we need to shift. We need to realise that people need time to learn, and yes learning happens at work. Learning should not be seen as a separate external event. Learning is a continuous journey.

My ask of you is that when developing your strategies for the future, and one of your strategic imperatives includes building a self- directed workforce, please, please, please, take the time to sit down and reflect on just how much of your current organisational culture will need to change to bring this to bear. The alternative is of course ending up with a host of sexy learning tech that people would like to use but are still waiting for permission to do so!

Building a workforce of self-directed learners is not going to happen through implementing cool platforms.  It happens through building an organisational culture that empowers and reveres self-directed learning.

To build a learning fit organisation our people need to know what to learn. They need some mechanism by which they can assess their gaps and determine their learning needs independently.

As leaders our role is to navigate and break down the barriers to learning, we need to ensure that our people are given time to learn.

Our L&D divisions need to inspire us to learn. Their focus should be on curating learning journey’s that expose learners to experiences where they can test knowledge, build skills and enhance performance.

Keep in mind that we are just in the beginning stages of the 4th Industrial Revolution. We are facing increased, unpredictable disruption as we implement more intelligent automation within our businesses. This revolution is unlike any other. We have no clear picture of what this future will look like. What we do know, is that to embrace this future we will need empowered self-directed individuals.

So, what’s stopping you from empowering your teams?

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