Unleashing the Learning Potential of your Organization

philip horváth
7 min readFeb 28, 2024


Image credit DALL-E

Are you feeling like your daily work and what actually needs doing are not aligned? That you are stuck in a rut and still focusing on cutting cost while never getting to those really important tasks like learning?

In a world of constant change, rapid learning is key.

While our world is in the midst of transformation, many organizations are still stuck in the optimization phase, doing with fervor more of what is already insufficient to address today’s problems, let alone the many problems we will face tomorrow — and which are coming down the pike real fast.

The top companies of our world have already been living in the new paradigm.

Companies like Amazon, Google, and thanks to Satya Nadella Microsoft have been focused on continuous learning, on continuously identifying and testing potential new solutions for creating customer value.

They understand that optimization is a given, that any new solution gets to be optimized when the time is right (or that AI can take care of that soon enough) — but they don’t start there. Asking for ROI early on is one surefire way to kill creativity. Transformational companies’ focus is not simply on cost cutting and squeezing out some meager percentages to optimize their P&Ls. This, of course, has its place, but long before then, we need to create new business models in the first place.

Since the pandemic innovation has become an afterthought.

Long seen as a nice-to-have luxury (right there with developing your employees), the decadence of the fat years of innovation, when it was the buzz and companies spent money on table tennis and cool office furniture, have left a bad taste in many leaders mouths when it comes to innovation. But innovation is not about the “next cool thing” or fun sessions with post-it notes. Innovation is about planning for the future of your company by addressing real customer needs (whether needs of today, or even better, needs of tomorrow).

Instead of focusing on creating a clear pipeline for business models from ideation to eventual sunset, many companies have been focusing merely on their core business and cutting cost.

Eating away at your substance

Purely focusing on financial metrics will erode your product or service quality as studies even by the big five have shown (whose business ironically was based on efficiency gains and financial optimization). Only focusing on optimization will eventually leave you in the dust.

Organizations stuck in quantitative management show the typical symptoms:

  • Entrenched silos that compete instead of collaborating
  • Efficiencies to the point where resilience is no longer existing when changes occur (even simple changes, e.g. when an employee gets sick)
  • Important opportunities and innovations are missed due to a lag in response time
  • Leadership is struggling to keep existing business moving forward while needing to adapt to massive market changes
  • ERPs, often outdated, have lots of workarounds in Excel and shadow systems to make things work
  • Communication goes through hierarchies resulting in delays, lost learnings, and arbitrage, while creating misalignment
  • Obstacles and issues get identified too late, urgent surprises create reactive behavior and constant firefighting
  • Insight and innovation are seen as a threat to the core business
  • Delays in projects, missed deadlines, entrenchment and blaming and a general lack of accountability
  • Innovators and motivated change agents are leaving and employees lack in edge tech skills and an intrapreneurial mindset
  • Lack of urgency and focus in projects and routine tasks
  • Client experience is outdated and out of sync with expectations of responsiveness

Especially your top talent will not deal with this for long.

Often already turned on to their higher authentic functions, they need to have a clear purpose of why they are working for you. Money and status are insufficient motivators for this group. They need to have a sense that they are actually contributing to something meaningful and not just propping up an old obsolete structure.

What remains are individuals driven only by job security, rank, or money. This results in common leadership team problems, including personal struggles, exhaustion, competition for promotion, and harassment. More damagingly, it leads to short-term, unsustainable choices.

These decisions put the business at risk and weaken its long-term prospects.

So what can you do?

First an foremost, shift your focus toward increasing the Learning Potential of your organization. This will be key for years to come.

Start with Purpose

Learning is the new knowing. Make learning how to serve your customer not just today but also tomorrow your core purpose. Instead of a set strategy to execute on, create a strategy of continuous transformation and learning experiments. Have clear boundaries and focused domains, but allow your employees to discover where to go instead of telling them.

Develop your People

Thanks to our school and university system which was focused on learning once and then executing based on that for the rest of your life, many people forgot how to learn. Or, they don’t have the capacity and time to do so in a world where everything has been optimized to the point where they are working at over 100% capacity already.

So make time for learning. Give your employees space and time and not just offer thousands of classes or require them to fulfill on learning credits, but actively engage with them around learning new skills. And it’s not just about horizontal development and learning new skills, but also about vertical development and growing as individuals. For that, especially, active and applied learning is key.

Create new Processes

How do you discover new needs, and turn an idea and into something tangible? Many employees have never learned this. Most never even talked to a customer since 80% of people tend to serve someone else in the organization.

There have to be pathways for exploration, incubation and acceleration of ideas. While many companies have taken steps toward design thinking and playing with a first idea, many are lacking in pathways for innovations to become real and integrated into the business. Innovation is not separate from your core business.

Every process, every business model is now in perpetual beta, and there need to be ways for new ideas to progress through stages of maturity.

Platforms for learning

Where do those new learnings live? Where do you gather new ideas so your employees can find out what is happening on the edge? Platforms for learning are not just a bunch of online classes your employees can take. They are hubs for innovation, for new ideas, so that others inside the organization can find out what your organization is already learning. “If we only knew what we know”, is an all too common complaint, we have heard from our clients, especially in larger organizations. Give employees a space to find out what everyone is investigating and learning about.

Planning in learning cycles

Instead of set strategies, plan for multiple scenarios and in horizons. Think of learning cycles in which you run experiments to get more insights on which of your scenarios is unfolding. Instead of having one clear strategy, build decision trees that allow you to continue to navigate into the future.

Having retrospectives is one easy way to foster a learning culture. Take the time each week, or at least each month to review with your team what you did. What can you celebrate that worked well? What were new insights or learnings you had on the team? And also, and especially, what didn’t work so well and what could you do differently next time?

Propagate learning throughout the organization

Share your learnings. Tell the stories not just of success, but also of failure. We can learn most from things that don’t go well. Wrecks are where the treasures are. As Nelson Mandela said “I never lose. I either win or learn.

Be bold enough to share your learning with your employees. It will not just allow them to understand the direction you are headed in, but will also create an atmosphere of authenticity and foster a growth mindset.

How to get started

Of course, all this is easier said than done. Learning is not always easy, and learning what doesn’t work isn’t fun sometimes.

It takes vulnerability and courage to embark on a path of learning. But it’s also not about some random experiments, rather it is about adopting a scientific attitude. We are taught that we only get rewarded when we know, but now we need to reward learning as such. Only then will we continue to move into the future and be able to have the resilience required to deal with all the coming challenges.

It starts with individual employees.

Case Study Siemens

At Siemens we helped create the Intrapreneurs Bootcamp. In this program we guide self-selected participants through the process from developing an idea by talking to customers to ultimately pitching it to management. They have to apply to the program ensuring we have individuals who are motivated to learn in the first place.

Using the vehicle of business model building we train them in intrapreneurial skills. While many ideas don’t make it past the pitch, the learning the employees walk away with will stay with them forever. On not just them. A internal study showed that one participant in average affects about ten other employees in how they work. This is why Siemens considers the bootcamp a “zero regret” initiative.

Instead of simply horizontal development and training them in skills, they realized the need for vertical development and ultimately creating serial intrapreneurs.

Over the last 8 years we have trained hundreds in this program, impacting thousands in the company in their growth mindset and how they approach their work — shifting their culture into the future.

It starts with individuals

When we work with our clients we focus on individual learning first. Systemic transformation is always also personal transformation.

Learner safety is a key aspect for Psychological Safety. When leaders learn that it is okay to learn and not know, they can also create an atmosphere of learning for their employees.

After all: Organizations are made up of people.

If you want a learning organization that can handle continuous transformation, start with learning employees who embrace transformation, and who are willing to give up what was for what could become. Starting with themselves.

That will get you out of the rut.

If you are looking for support in how to unleash the Learning Potential in your organization, or want to talk about transformation and how to make it work, please don’t hesitate to reach out. You can reach me via my website at https://philiphorvath.com or our company site at https://luman.io



philip horváth

culture catalyst ★ planetary strategist — creating cultural operating systems at planetary scale — tweeting on #future, #culture, #leadership @philiphorvath