In the latest issue of Deloitte Review, authors John Hagel, Jeff Schwartz, and Josh Bersin describe the forces, based on research and their own experience, that are shaping the future of work and the workforce. 2000 mind workers The forces they identify are technology (e.g., robotics, artificial intelligence, and sensors), demographic diversity, and customer empowerment. They believe that these forces will change every job and transform the workforce and that success in this new environment will depend on lifelong learning.

They write:

In the new landscape of work, personal success will largely depend on accelerating learning throughout one’s lifetime. As a lifelong learning imperative takes hold, we see individuals increasingly focusing on participation in small but diverse workgroups that can amplify learning. Workers will need to take action on their own to enhance their potential for success, but the impact of their efforts will be significantly influenced by the willingness and ability of the other two constituencies—businesses and public institutions— to evolve in ways aligned with the shifting nature of work.

David Grebow and I couldn’t agree more. Our book, Minds at Work: Managing for Success in the Knowledge Economy, due out later this year, describes what companies are doing to support lifelong and self-directed learning in the workplace. We believe that the key to success is involvement of leaders and managers in facilitating continuous learning by everyone. As the Deloitte Review authors suggest:

Organizations will need to cultivate new leadership and management approaches that can help build powerful learning cultures and motivate workers to go beyond their comfort zone. Indeed, leadership styles must shift from more authoritarian—appropriate for stable work environments shaped by routine, well-defined tasks and goals—to collaborative. In the future of work, we expect that the strongest leaders will be those who can frame the most inspiring and high-impact questions and motivate and manage teams.

Easier said than done. Organizations need to learn how to build a learning culture and individuals and teams need to learn how to learn continuously.

Our definition of a “learning culture” is a work environment that supports and encourages the continuous and collective discovery, sharing, and application of knowledge and skills at the individual, team, and whole organization levels in order to achieve the goals of the organization.  A learning culture is a culture of inquiry; an environment in which employees feel safe challenging the status quo and taking risks to enhance the quality of what they do for customers, themselves, shareholders and other stakeholders. A learning culture is an environment in which learning how to learn is valued and accepted. In a learning culture, the pursuit of learning is woven into the fabric of organizational life.

If this is the kind of culture necessary in “the new landscape of work” that Hagel, Schwartz, and Bersin argue for, then a huge gap exists between where companies are today and where they need to be in the future. Command-and-control leaders need to accept that they must change and then they need to commit to learning how to lead in a collaborative work environment. And managers need to learn how to help workers acquire new knowledge and apply new skills in this collaborative work environment. This transition will take time, patience and perseverance. We should not assume that people already have the understanding and abilities to make this change.

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