Scaling Up's CEO: Importance of Learning & Development

This month's featured guest was Verne Harnish, CEO of Scaling Up (a global executive education and coaching company), Founder of Entrepreneurs’ Organization with over 14,000 members worldwide, and author of three books, including one with the editors of Fortune. The conversation was facilitated by i4cp CEO and Co-Founder Kevin Oakes and Senior Research Analyst Tom Stone. Here are some highlights and insights from the meeting:

  • Wise words from long ago that feel especially relevant after the past year of the pandemic: "Don't stumble over what's behind you." - Seneca
  • On the importance of culture and values in an organization, Harnish gave an analogy to the importance of having fences around a children's play yard. Without fences, adults need to keep the kids in the middle and keep an eye on them. With fences, kids can spread out and adults can relax more and know things will be fine. Similarly, in organizations it is the values and culture of the organization that provide the rules, guidelines, and structure that, somewhat paradoxically, provide for more employee freedom.
  • Harnish noted that often people will say they want to treat their employees and organization like a family. Many families are quite dysfunctional of course, so perhaps a better analogy is to sports and a sports team. The rules, guidelines, white lines, coaches, etc. are like the culture and good leaders of the organization.
  • Regarding employee engagement, Harnish noted that this continues to be an issue at many organizations, regardless of the pandemic, remote work, etc. He quipped "More employees are working to move up the levels of Candy Crush than they are the levels of the organization."
  • Harnish emphasized two keys to the future of work and successful organizations, purpose and process, and how a focus on both is crucial to long-term success.
  • Harnish gave the example of the software company Atlassian, which regularly ranks (all around the world) very highly in lists of best places to work. Their values are strong and stated in plain language, see here.
  • Harnish also stressed the vital importance of learning and development. He used another analogy to describe how not training and developing employees is like not having or upgrading software in your hardware. He said he uses this analogy with any CFOs who see L&D as an expense to cut, but would be hesitant to do the same with software in the hardware they have invested in. Given that people are often the largest expense at an organization, and the part of the company that can make the biggest difference to ultimate success, this makes for a strong argument for regular upskilling and development.
  • In describing some of his own approaches to learning and development, Harnish emphasized the importance of blended learning and leveraging the strengths of both synchronous (in-person and virtual) sessions with asynchronous elements such as videos and more. Intentionally designing all elements to work well together, and avoiding "hybrid" approaches that often amount to the worst elements of each, are keys to achieving the strongest results.
  • Good onboarding is critical, and even more so for remote, younger employees. Harnish noted the power of experiential learning during onboarding, and how actually getting employees doing some work and projects during onboarding, rather than just listening to information they need to know, can greatly decrease their time to productivity once they start on the job.

Be sure to see the schedule of upcoming meetings in i4cp's Next Practices Monthly series.