Executing the CEO’s Agenda Through Targeted Learning

To execute on strategic goals and create competitive advantage, companies must embrace a learning function that looks different from what we know today.

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The Future of Workplace Learning

To meet the needs of a rapidly evolving, skill-centered economy, organizations must shift their thinking when it comes to workplace learning. This MIT SMR Executive Guide explores how business leaders across functions can work together to make transformational learning a reality.

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Executing the CEO’s agenda almost always requires people within the organization to adopt new ways of seeing, thinking, and acting. Success requires learning at scale, with speed, in the places where it will matter most. This is easier said than done. For most companies, organizational lethargy — rooted in the familiarity of the status quo and legacy ways of working together — poses a significant risk for execution.

Learning is a valuable tool for CEOs to drive change. But in order to be deployed in a strategic way and unlock execution, learning needs to look different from what we know today. We’ve gathered perspectives and insights from dozens of CEOs and board members of large organizations in different industries across the globe and found that most CEOs lack a playbook for driving strategic learning. In this article, we propose the use of targeted learning as a vehicle to resolve key execution problems and social challenges, and to drive strategic change.

While traditional approaches to learning focus on individual aptitude and skill, targeted learning focuses on the ways individuals work together — in other words, on disrupting and rewiring social norms. It is a process that improves the way people collaborate in the course of day-to-day execution.

CEOs should take four actions to advance their agendas through targeted learning:

  1. Develop a holistic view of strategy execution challenges.
  2. Use targeted learning to intervene in the places that matter most for the CEO’s agenda.
  3. Measure impact through leading metrics linked to execution.
  4. Position the learning function to address strategic problems from the outset.

1. Develop a holistic view of strategy execution challenges. Leaders often define problems so that they can be easily solved, which is, of course, convenient. But this can lead organizations to oversimplify and focus too narrowly. Teams often spend their energy and time on new initiatives and project deliverables rather than understanding the complexity of the overall execution problems that reside within the whole system. To reverse course, leaders must define problems at the outset, holistically and systemically, so that they don’t become disparate initiatives isolated from strategy execution.

One Australian financial institution learned this lesson the hard way. After investigating misconduct in Australia’s financial services industry, a banking industry royal commission reached some painful conclusions.

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Topics

The Future of Workplace Learning

To meet the needs of a rapidly evolving, skill-centered economy, organizations must shift their thinking when it comes to workplace learning. This MIT SMR Executive Guide explores how business leaders across functions can work together to make transformational learning a reality.

Brought to you by

Skillsoft
More in this series

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Comment (1)
Stuart Roehrl
I greatly appreciated this very thoughtful article about targeted learning, which focuses on the way people work together (para. 3).  I was very interested in your finding that customer satisfaction, safety, and performance are all significantly better where team members rate their organizational culture more favorably (para. 17).  One fine point:  I might change the word “culpability” (para. 19, line 8) to “accountability.”  The next sentence makes an excellent point, that quantitative measures should allow team members to see clearly the progress they are making from day to day.  I think that you sum up very well in paragraph 8, where you state that targeted learning looks at the full scope of patterns, behaviors, and ways of working that need to change.