Are you ready for metamorphosis in the workplace?

Written by
Andy Lancaster

23 Sep 2015

23 Sep 2015 • by Andy Lancaster

Its a VUCA world

Imagine you woke up one morning and you had completely changed.

Not changed in an intellectual sense where you have a differing opinion or in an emotional sense where you feel better about an issue, but a complete physical conversion. To look down and find your very appearance and mode of movement had transformed.

That process of metamorphosis is quietly going on around us all the time in nature. Creatures are constantly transforming from one form to a completely different state and without the need for change consultants!

As children we marvelled when we learned that a butterfly morphs from an egg to a caterpillar to a lifeless chrysalis to a splendid flying adult. And, as youngsters, we may have witnessed first-hand the transformation of an egg to a tadpole to a fully-grown, leaping frog.

From a scientific perspective, metamorphosis provides some fascinating insights.

All the raw materials for transformation lie within the creature. The genetic code doesn’t change but the shape does. The process is often triggered from the need to move from an unsustainable environment to one with richer opportunities. Creatures in similar settings morph at different rates depending on their perception of how favourable the environment is.

These facts alone should get our ‘change cogs’ whirring.

That’s because we are now operating in a VUCA environment, one that’s volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous; factors that now influence how we plan, make decisions, manage risks, foster change and solve problems. In this VUCA world the pace of change is disturbingly fast and the need for metamorphosis is pressing.

Organisations need to embrace metamorphosis

Companies are operating in transforming and sometimes diminishing business environments. Just as the caterpillar must morph from a leaf-bound platform that’s being rapidly consumed, businesses must equally depend on radical change if they want to survive and fly.

The need for speedy metamorphosis is particularly evident in the realm of workplace learning.

At the CIPD, the professional body of HR and people development, we have recently published a research report L&D: Evolving roles, enhancing skills, which reveals the extent to which the world of learning and development is changing.

Drawing on benchmarking data from strategic partner Towards Maturity, and case study research with leading learning organisations including McDonald’s UK, Barnardo’s, Mattel, PwC, MOD and University Hospital Southampton NHS Foundation Trust, the report reveals a transformation in workplace learning that’s leading to significant business benefits.

It found that metamorphosis in learning approaches is needed in a number of key areas.

Learning and development must become more closely aligned to business and learner needs. There is also a shift from learning design and delivery to performance consultancy. New technologies present novel methods for development and there is less demand to create learning from scratch with the opportunity to curate existing content which is available “just in time”. The increased availability of data allows for truly informed learning decisions and the digital-online world makes developmental global communities of practice a reality.

Is this the key for future learning?

One of the main  findings of the research was that L&D roles are evolving but often not at the pace required. It showed a mismatch between areas that L&D professionals consider a priority and the necessary in-house skills needed to exploit those opportunities.

The survey of L&D professionals found that:

  • 96% noted the importance of online or blended delivery but only 47% had skills to address the need
  • 96% highlighted the need to support learners online but only 36% felt equipped to do so
  • 93% recognised the need to use social media in learning but only 15% felt capable to engage
  • 87% emphasised the need for business planning but only 47% considered themselves competent to do so
  • 86% are using new technologies such as webinars but only 34% had the skills to deliver them

Mind the gap

The phrase “mind the gap” has some clear resonance. So how can we do more to close the gap?

In reflecting on metamorphosis in nature, the essential driver is recognition of the need to move from unsustainable surroundings to a new favourable environment. It’s a pull not a push scenario.

As with any change process, engagement rates follow Everett Rogers’ “diffusion of innovation” curve, which considers the rate at which adopters, from lethargic laggards to early adopters, innovate. A key to driving change in workplace learning is to highlight the clear benefits of the new learning landscape to both L&D professionals and senior management teams.

And, there are some very compelling attractions. The CIPD report also notes that ‘Top Deck’ organisations – those who score in the top 10% of Towards Maturity’s benchmarking index - who have morphed their learning approaches, are seeing significant benefits. Productivity linked to learning increased by 44%, responding to business change is 38% faster and revenue increase rose from a 10% average improvement to 21%.

Another compelling pull-factor for learning metamorphosis is accessible, future-focused development for L&D professionals. Learning practitioners are often caught out for considering everyone else’s needs before their own and not focusing on developing their own capabilities; the cobbler’s shoes analogy comes to mind.

To that end, CIPD has launched a new set of qualifications and standards that support a transition to the brave new world of learning. These include both foundation and intermediate units on using metrics, designing digital and blended learning, developing and using consultancy skills and facilitating social learning.

In Lewis Carroll’s classic “Alice in Wonderland”, Alice comes face to face with a caterpillar.

"'Who are you?" said the caterpillar. Alice replied, rather shyly, “I - I hardly know, sir, just at present - at least I know who I was when I got up this morning, but I think I must have been changed several times since then.”

The pace of change in Alice’s life is indicative of the metamorphosis occurring in workplace learning and the new roles and competencies of L&D professionals. It may create some uncertainty, but the driver for metamorphosis is always the opportunity to embrace an exciting new future.

That’s just too compelling for the caterpillar and should be equally so for those involved in workplace learning.

Source: The CIPD’s research report – L&D: Evolving roles, enhancing skills – can be found at: