Downturn Dilemmas

There’s no shortage of news coverage on the current economic recession, but how are learning practitioners tackling the dilemmas the downturn has created?

There’s no shortage of news coverage on the current economic recession, continued job cuts and the dire forecasts for near-term growth. But beyond reducing head count, how are learning practitioners tackling the learning and development dilemmas the economic downturn has created?

As part of a wide-ranging conversation on the state of learning as we enter 2009, Chief Learning Officer columnists Elliott Masie and Josh Bersin shared their insight into the downturn and how it impacts learning organizations.

Masie, chair and CLO of the Masie Center’s Learning Consortium, said the news is dire, but by embracing changing times CLOs can find opportunities.

From his work, Masie has seen three approaches to the economic downturn playing out in learning organizations:

1) Duck and cover: Some learning departments are simply absorbing budget and staffing cuts and stalling major projects.
2) Change management: Others are positioning themselves as agents to effectively manage the widespread change inherent during workforce reductions.
3) Reorganization: Learning organizations are examining their structure and finding innovative ways to approach their work.

“Whether you use [the economic downturn] as an excuse or rationale or a necessity, there are a lot of things that should and probably must be changed about how we do learning. And one can use these tough times as an opportunity to make those changes,” Masie said.

Economic indicators offer no clear idea of when the economy will rebound, so learning leaders should accept the inevitability of uncertainty and use it to their advantage.

“We have to embrace the uncertainty of it because it positions the CLO or the learning leader as part of the process of staying wise in an unprecedented moment in history,” Masie said.

Bersin, principal and founder of industry research and advisory services firm Bersin & Associates, said the economic downturn, while painful, presents an opportunity for learning leaders to position themselves for future success.

“What this is forcing learning organizations to do is get much, much closer their businesses,” Bersin said.

He identified trends that are emerging from his work with learning organizations:

1) Increased centralization: Learning organizations are moving to federated, central learning models.
2) Emphasis on talent management: CLOs are partnering with talent management partners and programs.
3) Business alignment: Learning organizations are focusing on initiatives critical to the business.

“A learning leader’s ability to embrace that one big thing that is going on and really make it part of their job is to some degree their success or failure for the next six to nine months,” Bersin said.

Listen in to a recording of their full conversation in the latest Chief Learning Officer podcast at Stay tuned for further highlights from dialogue with Masie and Bersin.