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Embracing external insights to drive change – the key to building a responsive learning culture

London, UKLearning Ltd

Dr Nigel Paine continues his Organizational Learning Reimagined and Redefined webinar series. In this webinar, Paine is joined by Procter & Gamble 's Dr Ann Schulte to discuss the role of external insights in driving internal change.


How do organizations stay relevant and competitive in a world that is constantly changing? How do they learn and improve on what they already know and do? By continuously tuning in to what’s going on in the external landscape, making sense of what’s out there and embracing those external insights to drive change internally. It’s about bringing the outside in, something a lot of organizations fail to do or do too slowly. Most organizations try to shut the outside world out. They don’t want to let information seep in or out, which can make them inward-looking and resistant to change.

Embracing external insights to drive change is the title of the second webinar in Dr Nigel Paine’s series Organizational Learning Reimagined and Redefined. In this webinar and in his upcoming book, Paine talks about the importance of bringing the outside in and the importance of fostering connections between the external and the internal environment. In his Dimensions of Organizational Learning model, discussed during the webinar and in the book, there are three orange boxes. He says these three boxes – external environment, internal culture and connecting the inside to the outside - are vital to organizational learning and organizational health.

“The key to this is to make a wonderful organization that understands the outside world and understands the climate and changes in relation to the external environment and builds a strong internal culture that evolves with the organization and alongside an evolving external environment,” says Paine.

Dr Ann Schulte, senior vice president of global talent development and chief learning officer (CLO) at Procter & Gamble, was a guest speaker on the webinar, sharing her perspective on how organizations, individuals and learning teams can ensure they stay relevant and competitive. Like Paine, she very much believes in those three key ideas – understanding the external environment profoundly, building a responsive and learning organizational culture and focusing on building connections from the inside to the outside and vice versa. 

Early on in the webinar, Paine posted up a quote by Schulte, most of which is repeated here:

“We define strategy as an integrated set of choices which positions the firm in its industry to create sustainable competitive advantage. This requires exceptional intelligence from outside the organization – including evidence-based insights about consumers, competitors, emerging technologies and market forces. When leaders in P&G businesses use these insights to make hard choices about where to play and how to win, my role as CLO is to help identify and embed the skills and capabilities necessary to deliver on the selected strategies. We need to ensure sufficiency and availability of skills across the company to quickly assemble teams of both technical masters, and deep generalists, who have faced similar challenges in various market conditions. Critical to this end is creating a culture of continuous learning and shared understanding for individuals and the organization.”

‘Exceptional intelligence’ doesn’t just arrive in people’s inboxes. Schulte says people must consciously seek it out, listening to what’s happening internally and externally, forming connections and sharing insights with colleagues and peers. Paine asked Schulte if this is the task of all senior executives in the company, how does she build her connections and keeps her insights flowing? She listed several points:

  • Being naturally curious and keeping her antennae out
  • Being in the business, not locked away – knowing what’s going on in the business, as well as what’s going on outside the business
  • Reading, attending conferences and webinars – constantly working on educating herself
  • Networking and seeing what people are doing in different industries, looking for cross-pollination of ideas and practices 
  • Creating collaborative environments, constantly engaging with learning circles and peer coaches

Schulte thinks it’s essential that people learn from and with each other openly and freely. That way, knowledge, ideas and insights are shared and acted on, not hoarded and hidden. That way, organizations create high-performing teams rather than teams with high performers in them. “Then we’re all working towards the same thing, looking to grow the business together and grow ourselves in the process,” says Schulte. This approach resonates with numbers 4 and 5 of Paine’s 7 Principles of Organizational Learning:

4. When you focus on individuals, you boost individuals. That encourages people to compete with their colleagues. Rather, you should help them to share what they know and share their learning.

5. When people learn together, can ask for help and are not penalised for offering help, the practice and process of work is better. We learn better as communities but so often organizations implement systems and processes that force us apart, punish us for admitting weakness and encourage us to hold onto insights rather than share them.

Something else that Paine and Schulte agree on is the importance of fieldwork. Schulte follows her principle of Know, Do Be, when conducting fieldwork. What is it that someone needs from learning? What are they trying to achieve? What is the business need and what are the gaps and how can she be assured that someone has changed their behaviour permanently? She sees role as more akin to performance consulting than a traditional L&D role. 

As the webinar drew to a close, Paine talked about footballer Lionel Messi as a master of fieldwork, quite literally on the field!  It helps him become a master of football. “What is fascinating about him is that the first five minutes of every game, he doesn’t try and play football. He just observes. He looks, he spots the weaker players and the gaps. At this point he is more of an observer than an active player.  Just like Procter & Gamble, he carefully works out where he can play to win. He chooses where he can make the most impact.”

Watch the webinar recording here.

The next and final webinar in this series is called Adopting healthy habits: how to fail in order to learn and how to ask for help, and will take place on 23 April 2024. Sign up here.