Never has learning and development been more important to an organization’s success. To say that the world is changing faster than ever would already be old news. To keep up though, you must commit to enabling your talent base to grow, evolve and turn on a dime to meet these ongoing changes. Older models of classroom learning and training sessions are almost comically ill-equipped to handle this urgent need, so what’s an organization to do? Well, here at Prophet, we’re learning.

The psychology of learning tells us there are distinct phases we encounter when acquiring a new skill. The models vary, but the basic story arc is similar. It goes like this:

Two years ago, Prophet set out to transform the way we learn. We had—like many organizations—relied on an ad hoc and highly idiosyncratic approach to learning, with much of this experience taking place on the job and without specific firm direction or guidance. And while people did grow and develop, the process was highly inefficient, left room for critical gaps and was difficult to scale and track to broader organizational goals.

We wanted to flip learning from random to systematic—such that learning became not just a series of activities, but an inextricable part of the culture. The only problem was we didn’t actually know how to do it. To become a learning organization, we had to learn how to learn.

How Prophet Transformed In Four Phases

Phase 1: We don’t know what we don’t know.

At the very beginning of this transformation, there were a lot of unknowns: from the size, shape, and scope of what needed to happen, to even what the real issues and problems were. This isn’t uncommon territory for us as consultants (where our clients hire us to navigate ambiguities like these), so we pulled a somewhat unconventional move and treated our own challenge like it was one of our client’s. We staffed the effort with a team of our own consultants, who had no experience designing or delivering learning programs, but who understood the needs at the front lines of delivering work. We did “customer” research with our own internal team members. We assessed the market and the competition. The one thing that became clear to us is that “off the shelf” or fixed training programs were not going to work for us and in our cultural environment.

Phase 2: We know what we don’t know.

At this point, we knew something we didn’t before: we needed to create a learning system as dynamic and adaptive as on-the-job learning, but driven by the organization’s needs and vision.  We started by taking stock of what the key gaps were, from the bottom up and the top down to identify critical gaps. These perspectives helped us to develop our initial prioritizations. And perhaps most importantly, we set up a recurring process by which these needs could be catalogued, updated, re-prioritized and re-aligned to where Prophet was moving.

Phase 3: We know how to do the thing we didn’t.

Based on this roadmap, little by little, we started learning to learn. We attacked a few topics and experimented with formats. We built infrastructure for creating learning—such as an online learning portal and methodology for training trainers. Each new experience we developed revealed more of the puzzle to us. For example:

  • Our people want to learn from their peers. Peer-to-peer learning is our best executed and best received method for learning.
  • Our global footprint and ever changing schedules require that we create multiple different formats for the same content: through live sessions, in-work practice, self-guided or digital modules and so on. One is not enough.
  • Our standards must be clear before we can teach something. The goal of teaching a skill is often the catalyst to clarify how we want people to do something.

Phase 4: We do the thing we didn’t know, without even knowing it.

At the beginning of our “learning to learn” journey, creating a learning module and getting all the appropriate people to attend was an epic feat. Today, we run weekly live learning sessions across all of our geographies, we have a small army of internal trainers and each month we can expect to see 4-5,000 unique hits to our internal digital learning portal.

Initially, learning was largely created and fueled by the designated team we had created, but now learning content is created, codified and delivered naturally and voluntarily from all corners of the organization. Learning went from a thing we needed to do more of, to a thing we just do.

The Learning Transformation Journey Continues

Organizations, in many ways, are very much like people; and learning to do new things is hard. The applications of Prophet’s learning transformation journey are transferrable for almost any type of organizational shift. You must first embrace ambiguity and frame up what you don’t know, then set your sights past behavioral or procedural shifts, to making this shift innate. When behaviors become implicit, these are the changes that stick, propelling growth and success.

We’re developing our learning culture bit-by-bit. We see the impact it has in our work, increased employee retention, improved employee satisfaction, and our day-to-day teaming. There’s still more to be done and we don’t have all the answers yet, but every day we’re learning.