Unlocking adaptability through learning

Learning is key to unlocking a skill which is so critical in today’s rapidly changing organisational environment; adaptability

However, potential of adaptability is only realised when learning is reflected at an organisational level. In other words, individual learning needs to be enacted and embedded, leading to real changes for organisational practices.

Just exactly how this is achieved can be a puzzle, particularly for organisations that have little time, money or expertise to invest in learning plans and strategies. In fact, such formalised approaches don’t always suit the needs of small and medium organisations, who often want something flexible and targeted based on short term need. On the other hand, a completely ad hoc approach is unlikely to be robust enough to demonstrate organisational learning. Therefore, often the middle ground is most appropriate to a small or medium business.

Firstly, this involves ensuring that learning is linked to the organisation’s long-term strategy. Skills can be a difficult concept to grasp, especially when trying to tie them to workforce qualifications and training, and then projecting this onto future business needs. Instead, it can be a more useful exercise to think about what major projects are coming up and who amongst the workforce could deliver them. Any potential ‘skills gaps’ can then be more easily identified; and once you know the gaps, it’s more straightforward to determine how they can be filled. This task is particularly important given the large number of organisations reporting skills shortages, which may be set to worsen in future. It can’t be guaranteed that the required skills can be brought in externally at the right time, especially if budgets are limited, therefore it makes sense to grow the right skills within the organisation.

This needn’t be a timely or expensive exercise. The People Skills Hub provides a wide range of suggestions of learning approaches which organisations can mix and match to meet their own needs. However, at the simplest level, providing employees with opportunities to develop ‘on-the-job’ is one of the most effective ways to build skills. It also ensures that there is an immediate organisational impact. Thereby, with a straightforward arrangement of more experienced staff mentoring less experienced staff, the right environment of trust and safety can be established that supports real practical learning.

Finally, and probably most importantly, reflection needs to be an integral part of learning process. Reflection can sometimes be viewed as a waste of time or a paper-exercise, but really the opposite is true. If learning isn’t reflected on, it may be lost to the individual, and certainly doesn’t benefit the organisation. Therefore, reflection is where much of the real formalisation of learning occurs by thinking about what went right and what (potentially) went wrong, and thereby what could be done differently next time. It is this simple but effective process that embeds that key skill of adaptability, for both individuals and the organisation.

Author:Helen Tracey is Senior Lecturer in Leadership and Human Resource Management at Northumbria University

Explore related resources

These areas of the People Skills Hub will help you to address some of the issues covered in this blog:

  • Learning and Development: Find out how to plan learning and development opportunities to improve your employees' capabilities, skills and competencies
  • Team building: Learn how to develop your team to ensure ongoing high performance
  • Performance management: Advice on how to improve and develop your employees' performance