In this turbulent business environment, shareholders and stakeholders, in particular young leaders, are demanding that organizations are able and willing to learn. Recent research (including Amrop’s exploration of ‘wise decision-making’) leaves little room for doubt: in order to effectively embrace change, leaders must constantly call into question the way in which they lead, and more importantly still, learn.
Organizational survival and prosperity are the rewards. Multiple failures to evolve mark the path to extinction. Yet it is precisely in the ability to evolve, and how that evolution takes place, that the answers lie.
Learn or die
Both organizational and executive learning have become central to corporate reinvention and renewed entrepreneurial vigor. In the recent past, organizations too inwardly focused on their own operations and industry have often failed. A bank looking at another bank for ideas on how to survive may well be looking in the wrong place. Key to understanding our world and to reinventing ourselves is to seek out ideas from where we normally don’t, from customers, suppliers, other industries, start-ups, NGOs or from people within our own organization other than the usual suspects. However, this is not an instinctive move.
Organizations coming under threat will often intensify their inward focus and become more effective at what they have always done – increased efficiency will leave them as ‘the last man standing’, or so the theory goes. But this ‘go lean and mean’ approach is today more often a race to the bottom. It may work in the short term, but it is essential to open up and consider foreign and disparate contexts to achieve long term prosperity.
As a business lecturer at IMD business school and a former executive, Lars Häggström is a passionate proponent of a new business dictum: embracing the new and managing the discomfort that often comes with it singles out the successful organizations and leaders from the rest.
In this honest interview, Lars shares his hard-earned insights into lifelong learning – at both organizational and individual level. Here are some highlights:
Organizational level – creating tandem impact
“Commonly, executives complain that their organization needs to be more innovative and agile,” says Häggström. “But those same executives then act in the same way as they have always done. They dampen the learning process by the way they act as individuals. It seems that executives are effectively saying “the organization needs to change, but I personally do not”.
The answer to the problem, according to Lars Häggström, lies in the fusion of organizational and executive learning – where the executive sees the benefits of openness to learning, both for the organization and herself personally. Openness means risk-taking, which for the individual executive is scary. But if the organization is set up to learn and is ready to embrace that risk, openness will become part of the culture and learning will become endemic. “Imagine a matrix with on one axis “individual learning and impact” and on the other axis “organizational learning and impact”. The most effective way to work with learning is to be in the upper right hand corner.”
Individual level – 4 reasons why executives stop learning
Ben Bryant, an IMD Professor of Leadership and Organization, has identified four distinct areas in which executives hold themselves and their companies back. Our human defence mechanisms underpin all four factors. We do not decide to employ them, they occur in us naturally and unconsciously.
Making learning a way of life – tips and tricks for young executives
Finally, I have some tips on how to best cooperate with executive search consultants. How to sort out your plans for the future, increase the chances of your plans being realized and make sure you’re aiming for an industry and/or a company where you’re likely to be successful.
Go here for the full interview.
By Richard Walker