Today’s learning landscape – how L&D is supporting democratisation, creativity & innovation, leadership & change

Sue Parr

Guest blogger: Sue Parr, Head of Executive Education at The Open University Business School looks at the business challenges behind the buzzwords.

This content first appeared on HR Magazine, an online HR publication for people-focused, forward-thinking, business leaders who want insight into, and examples of, business-contextualised HR to develop high-performing organisations.

Many managers are recognising that they have to adapt to new ways of working to meet the expectations of their employers and their employees.  New behaviours and ways of working are being driven by changes all around them, but what changes can be supported through developing capability and skillsets?

Complexity: Today’s managers contend with the complexity created by the many different perspectives of a multi- cultural, cross- functional, often geographically dispersed workforce spanning as many as three generations. In fact, there are more generations in our workforce than at any other time as those previously of retirement age extend their working lives.

For example, in areas of manufacturing companies who are increasingly aware of the benefits of sharing best practice and collaborating to drive innovation, in surprising ways, but ultimately to the benefit of all.  Commercial sensitivity is being nuanced and boundaries pushed.

Creativity and innovation: We’re not talking about being good with colour here!  We are talking about turning problems around, not going for same old safe solutions because ‘this is the way we’ve always done it ’. Organisations need their people thinking more broadly.  For managers who had stages 1, 2 and 3 of their career in a technically specific function, creative practice techniques can start to get them thinking more holistically about their whole organisation, the needs of their current market and exploring opportunities in new markets.  Although these tools and techniques can be learnt, but the prospect can be daunting for those who have bought in to a self-image of not ‘being’ creative.

Change: The themes of leadership and change have always been high on the management agenda but the focus of these has changed. As organisations recognise increasingly that what is needed to stay competitive is to be more responsive, agile and comfortable with increasing ambiguity, they are investing in their middle managers. As a result there has been a democratisation of management and responsibility. Where once the focus of executive education was on the most senior of senior teams, today’s companies recognise the need for developing leadership excellence at every level.

Connection not Control: The traditional workplace had a top down structure, hierarchies where orders were given and carried out. As more organisations use project teams spread across locations, remotely connected, the skills of influencing become much more important. Managers need to learn how to influence people to achieve outcomes where they don’t have direct authority or control.

Career Development: As the economy gets back on track the scales are tipping and businesses need to make the effort to retain good people. L&D has a proven track record as a powerful retention tool. Generation Y workers are much more likely to move onto new jobs quickly. Restless for new experiences, employees need to see a development pathway within their organisation or they will be tempted to move on. A structured, embedded talent management programme can help employees visualise their personal growth plan.

But on top of this, the managers on-the-ground, are expected to satisfy this quest for knowledge, development and progression. Coaching is a skill that can meet many of these needs, but how much should, or can, individual managers be ‘expected’ to fulfil this role?

(l&d) Centricity: Increasingly HR departments are embedding elements of leadership in learning and development right from the start of employees’ careers. Advanced organisations are incorporating leadership development and L&D at the centre of their organisational strategy. The leaders of these organisations act as ambassadors for this approach, realising that when L&D becomes a part of the DNA of a company it is much more successful.

We worked with a large UK-based retailer who wanted to change the whole way people accessed L&D and highlighting at every career stage, why it’s important. This cultural shift led to a company-wide holistic approach that supported the company’s strategy and goals.

(bite size) Content There is a definite shift towards a blended learning approach to executive development. Rather than taking people out of their workplace for long periods of time, face-to-face delivery is being supported by shorter chunks of online learning and interaction.

In the past executive education frequently included an online facility – a library of content. However this approach often wasn’t successful.  People simply didn’t use the library.  Now online is used to prepare for, and follow-on from, face-to-face learning.It’s all about making people more responsible for their own development, learning at their own pace and accessing information when they need it.

The virtual academy, or online campus, gives people the opportunity to access the content they need.  This can be particularly helpful for senior managers who are often expected to have achieved “sage status” or business “omniscience”.  The virtual academy provides a safe environment for them to fill in the gaps in their knowledge.

Overall, managers are expected to have a much broader repertoire of skills, often earlier in their careers: effective management will require highly developed communication and interpersonal skills, capability building though coaching and mentoring, problem solving through creativity, networking through social media savvy.  The pace of change is heady and the combination of developing hard and soft skills at all levels to enable individuals and organisations to adapt and thrive requires a commitment to professional development for a career-lifetime; both from the employee and the employer.

Change Management summary report

change management summaryHere we introduce you to our fourth Business Perspectives summary report in the series, which concludes the change management quarter with a rich collateral of global perspectives of managing change.

We invite you to download and share the report and send us any comments. If you would like to contribute your perspective towards future themes, please contact our Business Perspectives Editor at

Click here to download the report.

Change Management Masterclass – Al Shah’s Key learnings

Guest blogger:

Al Shah, Alumni Advisory Board member and MBA alum, attended the recent change management masterclass and shares the key learnings stimulated by speakers of the day.

  • Change management cannot be formulaic
  • We focus on changing the non-discretionary
  • We communicate the change from our perspective only which can convey badly
  • Even the pace of change was challenged by the brilliant speakers of the day

The interview with Cisco’s UK & Ireland CEO, Phil Smith, focused on the constant change affecting a company that acquires others so frequently.  Phil endorsed David Wilson’s notion of Discretionary behaviours (i.e. those not directly or explicitly recognised by the formal reward system) in the change process and how implementation affected staff morale following change.  Throughout their major change initiatives, morale rose but not in year one! The key learning being that long term strategies are required and therefore the organisation, and individual managers must allow sufficient time for change in behaviours, an early conclusion that change has not been effective can lead to ‘fish tailing’ and more initiatives kicking off.

Phil said that the change process cannot be formulaic, at any one time they have 5-6 change initiatives on the go and differ significantly enough that following a formula proves impossible.

Change programmes may have additional, unforeseen benefits, for example in Cisco’s example, video conferencing implemented to save travel costs (saving $1/2 bn and 80k ton carbon) led to greater engagement and agility as Cisco replaced quarterly 2 day on-site conferences with monthly one hour sessions.

Later the panel of speakers was asked to predict the future: what will change management look like in 20 years?  They explained the same human issues will exist but present in a different way. The shorter attention span and speed of expectancy will demand a greater focus on the essence of the change and not the detail.

This was in tune with the learning from Professor Brian Smith, whose research showed most change is non-discretionary and this needed to change to discretionary to stop failing strategy. The implementation of strategy required a commitment to the Organisation over a Group – displacing team spirit with affective commitment to the Organisation, favour projects over matrix structure moving away from consensus and towards consultation and decision and focus on Discretionary change SMART goals.  The message was to keep a clear and connected, holistic view with a guiding principle of focusing on the essence of change and not the detail.

Ben Hardy gave an insightful (and irreverent!) session on communicating change, that emphasised how our own bias is applied to what we read and write; we have to communicate to avoid employees/colleagues filling the blanks and that we are built to focus on negative information thus making it 3x more impactful than positive information.

In conclusion, the day provided multiple perspectives on change management, highlighting that implementation truly is the acid test of strategy.

Three ways to ensure your change effort is a success

Guest blogger:

Sarah_PlattsSarah Platts, Open University Business School MBA Alumnus, Change Consultant at FreshNetworks 


As explored in my last post, and at the recent Open University Business School event on change management: focusing on the implementation of change is obviously hugely important. In addition, focusing on the following three messages will further maximise the chances of your change effort being a success:

1. Be consistent, and persistent

A common message was that change takes more time than you think, particularly if you want people to genuinely live and breathe it. Therefore:

  • Be patient, and don’t get side-tracked by short-term goals – change is about the long-term view, so maintain your focus and be prepared for results to take longer than you think to materialise (i.e. years as opposed to days, months). Key to this is also not trying to change too much, but focusing on a handful of projects (e.g. no more than 5 at any one time). It’s also important to keep reinforcing why you’re STILL working on the change, as it involves a significant process of education, as well as considering everyone involved in an interconnected and holistic way. Also ensure to prioritise all the change projects you’re working on so you know which ones are most and least important overall.
  • Focus – it’s worth reiterating this again! Just as it’s important to keep focused on the change and not get side-tracked, it’s also important to focus within each change project on the 1 – 3 core things which will really crack it and make it succeed. Robin Tucker of New World Consulting referred to this as focusing on “the essence”, and not getting bogged down by the detail or minutiae.
  • Measure the change – all the same, don’t just wait and hope! Ensure to have measures in place so the results of the change can be determined, but don’t get too fixated with deadlines. Instead, focus on the outputs expected by those deadlines, and if they were really achieved (again, no box ticking). Finally, check in on the results on a regular basis; be agile and check the change is still aligned with overall company strategy, and if not tweak and realign things as necessary. Basically, beware of “analysis without synthesis”, and ask “So What?” at least every month.

2.  Know what your company is good and bad at in relation to change

Companies have to deal with the following aspects of change:

  1. Directional decisions – i.e. does the overall direction of travel make sense?
  2. Translation & specificity – have you worked out and communicated what the change will mean for and require of each team and individual within the business? “Vision hubbing” requires translating the central vision “hub” of the company wheel through to each of the individual spokes.
  3. Change management – governance of the delivery itself , which is often under-managed (e.g. Terminal 5).
  4. Delivery & operations – how to avoid a bad landing.
  5. Leadership & communication (people) – change is often poorly led and poorly communicated.

According to Robin Tucker, companies typically suffer most in relation to 2, 3, and 5. His advice is to focus on your company’s particular weak areas, and then start optimising each one.

3.  Don’t bother with creating “Change managers” and “Change departments”

  • Successful change is brought about by boundary spanners – managers with T-shaped as opposed to I-shaped skills (i.e. generalists rather than occupational specialists).
  • No change functions! Making change into a “function” with specific “change managers” is a problem because it becomes part of a political system, and a target, rather than a boundary spanner. Change should be driven forward by programme and project managers, and be project-based. Accordingly, make change the responsibility of all organisational departments – that’s the only way to get everyone involved and aligned. Ultimately, change is a process, not a function.

This article was originally published on FreshNetworks on 25 July.

Photo credit:

Why do so many change efforts fail? Bad implementation and embedding

Guest blogger:

Sarah_PlattsSarah Platts, Open University Business School MBA Alumnus, Change Consultant at FreshNetworks    

Having previously written about innovation and leadership following Open University Business School events, I went to another one recently on the topic of change management. According to research, over half of change efforts fail (52%) – but what’s the main cause of failure?

According to Professor David Wilson, the main issue nowadays isn’t getting the change going or sustaining it so much as embedding and locking it in. So how can companies improve the change implementation process?

1.  Provide effective strategic leadership

  • Create a compelling vision – senior managers should stop over-prioritising controls and mere box-ticking, and provide a compelling company vision and strong organisational culture and processes which facilitate change.

2.  Invest in smart people

  • Create a strong knowledge base – which is full of smart people who can create the required culture, rather than trying to change organisational culture and structures first and foremost. Phil Smith, CEO of Cisco UK & Ireland, also emphasised the importance of hiring the right people; self-starters adept at using an organisation’s network and resources, connecting with people, and collaborating across boundaries.
  • Invest in young people too – Mr Smith referred to Cisco’s interesting process of “reverse mentoring”, whereby a graduate employee can “mentor” an SMT member, enabling each of them to explore things from the other’s perspective.

3.  Embed change throughout the organisation at all levels, and lead from the top down

  • View change as habit – not an occasional exercise. However, while it’s important to ensure there’s enough change, there should equally not be too much. Furthermore, be positive rather than negative about change, and never think there’s more change now than ever before (there was plenty going on during the industrial revolution, and following all the many inventions that have changed the world!).
  • The CEO, Finance, and Sales & Marketing are key roles / departments which need to lead the change – and leading from the top-down is crucial. However, everyone in the organisation and all managers also need to be involved and share “ownership” of the change (it’s a team sport according to Professor Wilson). So the right balance between controls and structure, and empowering people at every level to suggest and shape things, is key.
  • Incentives and rewards are important – the economic piece of the change puzzle needs to be tight, and align everyone with organisational objectives.

4.  Use the right management styles, methods, and structures to aid implementation

In his session, Professor Brian D Smith recommended:

  • Consult and then decide (stop being so democratic!) – don’t overly focus on gaining cross-functional team buy-in, as collaborative decision-making actually diffuses ownership.
  • Engender commitment to the organisation as opposed to commitment to individual teams, or groups within the organisation.
  • Set up interdependencies within functions / teams – to promote collaboration and working together to get things done.
  • Establish a productive mix of SMART non-discretionary activities (the hard stuff that can be measured), and discretionary activities (the softer stuff which cannot be measured). The latter often get eclipsed (in practice, and change management theory) by the former, but discretionary activities lead to greater “affective commitment” (positive emotional attachment) which trumps mere “continuance commitment” (whereby an employee needs to work for the organisation more than they would otherwise want and choose to).
  • Get rid of matrix structures – which promote conflict over collaboration, and set up project teams instead, with project team leaders who have line management responsibilities.

I’ll be writing another two posts over the next few days, looking at 3 ways to ensure your change effort is a success, and also 3 ways to communicate change.

This article was originally published on Read more at Business 2 Community website on 24 July 2013. 

How to effect culture change in financial services

Guest bloggers:

jill traffordnatalie wharton

Jill Trafford (left) and Natalie Wharton (right) are consultants within Deloitte’s change practice

The financial services industry has been dealing with significant change following the banking crisis in 2008

Since then, close scrutiny and countless internal reviews and economic and regulatory reform has result in a wave of change activity across the sector.

Banks specifically have been adapting to a changing – and more challenging – market, with greater consumer awareness of financial performance and new banks competing for customers and employee talent. Those banks that haven’t yet considered their ability to adapt and change in this market will struggle to survive.

cc by EU Social

When the need for change is so significant and immediate, companies often react by looking at their internal structures and processes – in effect the tangible solutions. This has proven to be an effective short-term fix for many, but it has not been addressing the underlying issues that contributed to the financial crisis: culture.

Organisations now realise that sustainable change, which will have a real impact on a company’s long-term reputation, can only be achieved through changing the underlying culture that inspires people to think, act and make decisions.

We only need to look at the banking industry to see how culture can negatively impact a business, both in terms of profit and consumer reputation. While cultural change is a familiar concept, it is often difficult to imagine and implement real and practical steps and measures to encourage change. There is a perception that culture (and therefore cultural change) is somehow intangible and, as a result, many organisations are wary of committing the time and effort to something that they cannot see delivering definite, substantial and financial results. This often translates as something that is not worth doing, since it simply does not lead to immediate cost cutting and improvement in profitability.

Traditionally, boards have relied on internal employee satisfaction surveys to provide them with insight into how employees think and feel about their company and the culture of the business. The actions following such a survey often lack impact and ability to drive real change. This is in large down to managers viewing the activity as a ‘tick box’ exercise, the actions being deemed too difficult to manage, or outside a manager’s sphere of immediate control.

Any culture change programme must start with a clear understanding of the outcomes the organisation wants to achieve and the impact – good or bad – that the current culture is having on its performance. Organisations can define a future culture through breaking it down into specific categories and assessing or understanding where they would like to be against each one.

These categories can be across a range of areas including; appetite for innovation and transformation, the level of external focus, the style of leadership, the exposure to risk and regulation and the infrastructure or process requirements. A session to identify the culture vision would help any organisation identify the type of culture they are striving to achieve and the journey they need to take to get there.

After a new future culture has been articulated and visualised, and it’s fully endorsed by leadership teams; companies face another challenge: how do you make culture change tangible? How do you know it has worked?

Our experience on large change projects in different organisations and across industries has enabled us to develop definite ways in which companies can make culture change tangible:

  1. Developing organisational values and behaviours that are then embedded across the entire colleague lifecycle or employee value proposition including recruitment policies, development interventions and talent and performance management processes. The focus will then be on how the leadership population implements and executes the values as part of these people processes, and being ultimately held account.
  2. Analysing the business and identifying the critical moments that drive disproportionate value for the business, such as the first point of contact for a customer, or the security check for a cold caller. Then, identify the skills, knowledge and behaviour required to execute these and streamline the delivery of the business strategy to improve performance.
  3. Identifying a specific area of culture change to focus on first; responding to risk and regulation, developing innovation and transformation capability, defining clearer control mechanisms or defining how performance is managed. By focusing on one area, and using this as the catalyst for change, organisations can implement initial quick wins and employee engagement whilst developing longer term change to drive deeper change across the business

Organisations, especially those in the financial services industry, have recognised their part in the financial crisis and are engaging in the process of change to win back the trust of consumers. They must find a different way to transform their businesses to succeed in this new environment. Cultural problems have many causes and therefore there will be no single ‘silver bullet’ solution. However, changing the way they manage their people and therefore how their people behave will be the driver for success. The key change necessary for financial institutions to prosper will be cultural, and this is ultimately in the hands of business leaders.

This article was originally published under HR Magazine on 25 June 2013.

Change Management questionnaire

Flickr Creative Commons by Alberto G.This quarter, Business Perspectives focuses on strategic change management. We would like to gather your views on and experience of change management through a short questionnaire which will help inform discussions at our event on 11 July on “Putting it into practice: the acid test of strategic change“. At the event, speakers from Cisco and more will share their insights, alongside academics, to help individuals apply new thinking to their practice.

The questionnaire consists of 14 questions and should take no longer than 5 minutes.

Thank you for your participation.

Begin questionnaire

Business Perspectives event: Change Management Masterclass

“Putting it into practice: the acid test of strategic change”

Thursday, 11 July 2013. DoubleTree by Hilton, Tower of London.

cc by marsmetn tallahassee

The OUBS is delighted to announce the fourth event in the Business Perspectives series – a Change Management Masterclass. Led by David Wilson, Professor in Organisation Studies and Associate Dean for Research and Scholarship at The Open University Business School, the event will explore change implementation and what brings about the best and worst from individual and organisational performance, during periods of alteration.

Joining David will be Phil Smith, CEO of Cisco UK & Ireland who will share his professional expertise and outlook on change management.

Also contributing will be Dr Ben Hardy, Lecturer in Management at The Open University Business School, plus we’ll hear from other inspiring speakers from industry who will share real and relevant business insights into this topic.

The masterclass will blend presentations with group activities and Q&A sessions enabling participants to take practical tools and techniques back to their own professional environments, allowing you to improve your own change management processes and abilities.

Is your change going to fail?

Guest blogger:

Anthony-Greenfield_profileAnthony Greenfield, Director and Founder – The 5 Forces of Change

When you look back on your change 6 months after its gone live, will you be glowing with pride or wondering where it all went wrong?

Don’t wait to find out – do something now!

When it comes to organisational change there’s often a lot of pain, but not much gain. At the heart of the matter is the effect change has on people – the very things that drive them to excel at work are deeply threatened. No wonder people oppose or avoid change. No wonder it so often fails.

Organisation have to change, people don’t. And if people don’t change there is no change!

The good news is that by understanding what makes people tick you can reverse the situation. By working with the grain of human nature you can channel people’s energy and ingenuity in pursuing change rather than in opposing it – leaving looking back on your efforts with pride not regret.

5 forces of change

So how well are you doing right now?

You can gauge your chances of success by scoring your initiative against the forces that determine whether or not your people will change (The 5 Forces of Change). For each of the following five statements, score 1 if you ‘Strongly Disagree’ and 5 if you ‘Strongly Agree’ with the statement. Score 2, 3 or 4 if you think you are somewhere in between:

  1. Leaders are increasing people’s sense of Certainty throughout the change, i.e. they are communicating openly and often, and are displaying confidence and commitment to the change in words and deeds.
  2. There is a clear and compelling sense of Purpose for the change, i.e. the vision for the change is clear, concise and motivating and known to all those affected by the change. Plus it’s clearly aligned with the long term vision and values of your organisation.
  3. People affected by change feel in Control of their destiny, i.e. people have been consulted and / or involved in defining the change and / or in deciding how it should be implemented in their part of the organisation. They feel like part of the team rather than victims of the change.
  4. People are being helped to let go of Connections – things that must be consigned to the past for the change to succeed, such as old ways of working, old habits, old relationships and symbols of the past.
  5. Success is being nurtured during change, i.e. effective training is in place with coaching and support to help people through the early ‘teething period’ and up the learning curve. It is ok to ‘fail’ while trying out new ways of working, but unacceptable not to try.

Add your scores together. If you scored:

<12: It doesn’t look good – the chances are you’re heading for disaster – your people are keeping their heads down and hoping it will never happen, if they’re not already openly opposing it.

12 – 15: There is strong cause for concern. People will struggle to adapt, and when they hit difficulties, they are liable to abandon changes and revert to old ways.

16 – 19: You’re doing ok – with more focus on your areas of weakness you can still pull it off.

>19: Well done – you have an excellent chance of success. Unless the change itself is fundamentally flawed! However, with such and engaged workforce they’ll have pointed this out already and come up with a better solution.

For more details take a look at . Alternatively, you can read ‘The 5 Forces of Change’ or ‘5 Tales of Change’ both by Anthony Greenfield and available on Amazon.