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Is Your Firm a Learning Organization?

Intentional learning isn’t some new touchy-feely leadership fad.

What impact will the fintech revolution have on your firm, and what are you doing about it right now? Are you surfing the wave of innovative new technologies or will you be buried under it?

Yeah, I know, you have a firm to run, so you don’t have much time for such weighty, ethereal questions, right? Well the research suggests otherwise: by choosing not to be thoughtful and proactive about this and other challenges that your organization will certainly face, you imperil its future. That’s not my opinion, it’s the conclusion of the World Economic Forum (WEF), which predicts (in the words of its partner organization, BCG) that:

"By 2030, the nature and quality of work will be irrevocably altered. How? That depends on the rate of technological change, the evolution of learning and the mobility of talent."

These secular trends advance powerfully and disruptively, so the choice is ours as to whether we want to be enabled by this progress or victimized by it.

No, you don’t need to drop everything, have a firmwide retreat and develop your strategic plan by month-end. But you do need to begin investing a modest amount of your time, individually and collectively, in developing yourselves to be able to engage in this work. In other words, today, you need to start by learning how to learn.

As a part of its consulting work, McKinsey has been studying this issue for years and recently published a report that identified “the most fundamental skill”: “Intentional learning.” Its authors noted:

Learning itself is a skill. Unlocking the mindsets and skills to develop it can boost personal and professional lives and deliver a competitive advantage.

Ultimately, the goal of this endeavor is to address the reality that “so few adults have been trained in the core skills and mindsets of effective learners” by helping organizations to lead their people to “master these mindsets and skills (of) what we call intentional learners.”

Framed in an organizational context, the goal is to ignite the fire of lifelong learning in each of your colleagues so that, collectively, your firm demonstrates two key mindsets: those of growth and curiosity. The former will help your organization “grow, expand, evolve, and change” proactively, while the latter, which McKinsey describes as “the engine of intentional learning,” will help you overcome your fears and seek out novel experiences ideas while enabling you to focus on what you love so that your full creativity can be brought to bear on behalf of your business.

Does this mean that you’re guaranteed to develop the ‘right’ answers? No. But it does mean that you’ll be better able to address whatever realities present themselves and, most importantly, to have the progressive habit of thought and behavior to engage with them proactively, which also means that you’ll differentiate your firm competitively because of its prescience and resilience.

In this spirit, then, let’s parse a couple of associated opportunities:

What are some developments on the fintech front that you expect to impact your firm and how you serve clients in the years ahead? Are there tasks and processes that you perform at present that’re likely to be automated … or could even be automated now? Perhaps you could brainstorm with your team to develop a short list of opportunities to embrace automation proactively, thereby freeing up time and energy for yourself and your colleagues to reinvest more productively in the service of your clients.

Addressing this potential leap forward could be as simple as offering the opportunity to participate in a small, ad hoc ‘skunkworks’ committee of colleagues who’ll invest an hour or two a week over the next month or two to research the possibilities. Not only will this give senior leaders of your organization the opportunity to interact meaningfully with typically younger, more tech savvy colleagues (which is, in effect, a reverse mentoring opportunity), but it’ll offer an important developmental challenge to those who choose to participate. In so doing, I suspect that not only will you develop a greater appreciation for the breadth and depth of talent in your organization, but also forge stronger collaborative bonds that will inure to your individual and collective benefit.

An associated opportunity is to identify the higher value-added activities into which you’d like to reinvest the time freed up by the proactive embrace of automation. If what the research says is true and it begins to affect your firm, what should you lead your colleagues to do differently to add greater value to and strengthen your client relationships?

Another way to think of this is as a “job crafting” opportunity: in what ways could you restructure your colleagues’ roles and responsibilities to enable and encourage them in “pursuing excellence in service to others” while helping them to “adapt their jobs to suit that purpose,” thereby “enhanc(ing) their assigned work to be more meaningful to themselves and to those they serve”? In this way, you could lead them to “[create] the work they wanted to do out of the work they’d been assigned – work they found meaningful and worthwhile.”

As author John Coleman points out in the title of a recent article, “To Find Meaning in Your Work, Change How You Think About It” by proactively creating occasions to catalyze your and your colleagues’ growth and creative mindsets. In so doing, you’ll innovate in ways that accrue to your firm’s and your clients’ benefit.

This ‘evolution revolution’ of your firm starts with a commitment to intentional learning. Cultivate this in yourself to lead by example while engaging your colleagues in doing so as well. Over time, not only will you create a better Client Experience that differentiates you ever more powerfully and positively in the marketplace, but you’ll also meaningfully enhance your people’s and firm’s productivity and profitability, all while securing your and their future and enjoying the journey immeasurably more.

Intentional learning isn’t some new touchy-feely leadership fad. It’s the secret to maximizing your firm’s and your people’s potential while reinforcing its sustainability for the long term. 

Walter K. Booker is the chief operating officer of MarketCounsel, a business and regulatory compliance consultancy for investment advisors.

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