Leaders Value Learning And Development - GM's Plant Closings Is Great News For Learning!
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An Example Of Why Progressive Leaders Value Learning And Development

General Motors sent shockwaves last week announcing (GM is reinventing itself) it will close seven major North American production facilities. Understandably, this wasn't what GM employees nor political leaders wanted to hear. This also wasn't good news for North American and possibly many western economies.

At first glance, this appears to be another 'right-sizing' or 'down-sizing' tactic designed to appease and even please shareholders. Reinforcing this perception was GM's share price rising 5% the next day! So, your skepticism and cynicism are well placed. However, when you step back and appreciate GM's position the picture becomes clearer.

GM is a legacy company attempting to survive within quickly vanishing conventional economic circumstances. Many now refer to this as the 'old economy', and the reality is that what many recognize as a stable and somewhat predictable economic environment no longer exists. If you don't believe me, look back at what happened to the other 100-year-old company Sears or the multi-generational Toys-R-Us. They didn't adapt or evolve but hung on to past, conventional successes, believing this would ensure their survival in the new economy. Guess what? It didn't.

With 25+ years as a strategic and performance consultant, GM's dramatic strategic shift is advice I'd give, and which I have actually given to many organizations. Every company, especially those born pre-information age, must change and kill their sacred strategic corporate cows or they WILL die. This means all, not some, of their people, will be out of work.

Now, GM's bold strategic decision doesn't guarantee its survival but following the status quo guarantees their demise. For better or worse, this type of news will become commonplace as companies make these significant decisions for their strategic direction and survival.

While it's not public knowledge, rest assured GM's CEO, Mary Barra, didn't arrive at this decision (one of many to come) impulsively. The first sign this is a well thought through decision is the change in their mission, which is now, "Zero Crashes, Zero Emissions, Zero Congestion".

But you're probably asking, 'What does this mean for Learning and Development?' The one thing practitioners quickly assume is their role and budgets will be cut first. If you get cut, then it's a sign you're not adding value for your organization and deserve the cut (please read: "My Training Budget Was Cut!" And You Deserved It!) but I digress.

Even though this is dire news for the short-term, one thing is certain; change is afoot. And with change comes a significant need for new knowledge and skills. This places Learning and Development's role front and center. Again, it's not public knowledge (and it wouldn't be) but it's certain that Ms. Barra will have her learning leaders actively contributing to the new strategic direction.

Recently, I've tweeted frustration about practitioners chasing questionable business-oriented learning solutions and, ultimately, failing to apply what leaders expect from them. Underlying this frustration are the numerous missed opportunities to build internal credibility. For 'new economy' companies, and those like GM who've seen the light, they have their learning leaders standing beside them. These learning leaders never chase opportunities. They recognize and contribute to opportunities as they present themselves.

If you're now yelling, 'that's all and well, but our leaders never listen to us', you have a good point. GM's learning leaders weren't always called upon, especially during GM's glory days. Becoming front and center is about a cultural shift, and it begins with organizational leadership. If your leaders aren't ready to change, then your efforts are pointless. It doesn't matter what you do, you won't change their minds. You either comply with the bullshit or find a company with a culture and attitude valuing change and growth.

For GM's learning leaders, it's not simply about designing and deploying more learning. If this was the case, trust me, Ms. Barra would not have given them a second thought. For learning to stand with the CEO and other GM leaders requires possessing a fundamental appreciation and understanding of the business, operations, and of course, change implications for the new strategic direction.

If you work for a progressive organization (e.g. the Teslas, Starbucks, Toyotas of the world) their purpose and reason for existence are clear. Essentially, this is the mission. If you don't know where to start, the mission is exactly this. GM's focus is now about, "Zero Crashes, Zero Emissions, Zero Congestion". Each of these focus areas requires significant support from areas such as IT, R&D, HR, finance, and especially, Learning and Development.

So, why do progressive leaders value Learning and Development so much? This is the sole internal support activity that enables every operational and support activity. These leaders recognize that employee learning is the champion for growth and innovation and underlies their differentiation. There's a direct correlation between how well and how much leaders invest in developing employees with organizational outcomes and results.

Expect Ms. Barra and co. to significantly increase learning's budget, role, and focus in the coming years. How will we know? This will be evidently apparent in their annual report when they report about their innovative capacity, and how they're achieving their revised mission. If they make the right strategic decisions and operational implementations, not only will learning contribute to GM's survival, but it'll also result in the organization's growth. If all the pieces fall properly into place, today's shocking economic news will be a distant memory. GM will show growth in innovation and in employment within areas not currently in place.

The new knowledge and skills will help GM to align with future economic needs and expectations and no longer having the company living in the past. In the next decade or so, GM will evolve into a very different organization from the one you recognize today.

If what I've said intrigues you, please, contact me. I'd enjoy hearing about your efforts and who knows? It may be the topic of my next eLearning Industry article. And please check out my LinkedIn Learning courses to learn more about developing your business credibility. Remember, #alwaysbelearning

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