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Transform Your Mindset: Unleashing Learning Potential Through Compliance

Updated: Dec 5, 2023

Learning is not merely a matter of compliance, but it helps!

Making a business case for learning at work brings us up against some fundamental questions:  Why learn?  Is it merely to satisfy a regulatory requirement?  Is learning solely to support expertise or is it for something else?  Where should we focus attention and resources when it comes to learning?

If we look to professional regulatory regimes for guidance we find they tend to use an outcomes-based approach. The Solicitors Regulatory Authority states that in order to be granted a practising certificate the individual and their employer has to sign off to say they are “competent”. In broad terms, this means they have reflected on their practice, identified learning needs and acted on them in order to be able to demonstrate some key competencies.

I am not a big fan of compliance for its own sake. Sometimes, being overly focused on being complaint can distract from focusing on what actually happens in the workplace; that’s often called a “tick box” approach. However, it can help business get to “first base” on the journey to best practice, and that’s definitely the case for learning.

Establishing Purpose

The answer to the question, “why learn” will always lead back to one thing; business purpose.  Being clear about what the business is trying to achieve is a pre-requisite to developing strategic plans of any kind, including learning strategy.  Once you have clarity about purpose then it is possible to make an assessment of the knowledge & skills people will demonstrate when that purpose is realised.  Are they the same as the ones they have now?   It is unlikely that they will be purely based on technical expertise; expertise is “a given”.

This is where the business has to be really honest with itself, because shifting people away from the comfort of their expertise is not easy. If it is what the business needs, then it will need to show real commitment to making it happen.

Muddling Through

In professional service firms it can be fairly easy to establish wide-ranging learning needs, because historically there has been a tendency to promote people to managerial and leadership roles on the basis of technical expertise or even time-served.  Often those promotions have been made without preparation or development support.  And that approach has, broadly speaking, been adequate to-date, but the gaps and tensions it creates are becoming increasingly obvious.

Expecting people to muddle through their responsibilities as leaders and managers in a business is possible when there is plenty of work about and plenty of people to do the work.  However, we are in a period of transition in which process automation will not only support the efficiency of teams; it will start to replace job roles.

Change & Pressure of Work

Current leaders are under increasing pressure to develop and execute strategies to navigate the impact of process automation and other technologies, and to focus on the changing dynamics of client need. New ways of working are anticipated or have emerged. Simultaneously, these same people are responsible for delivery of profitable work now. Overwork and overwhelm are often close at hand.

Unsurprisingly, the system and the people within it, can become strained.  Add to that dynamic a demand to deliver intangibles such as “client-focused service”, issues of “retention” or “succession planning” and a complex picture emerges. The need for people to learn to adapt, demonstrate leadership and inspire others has become an imperative.

Beware: Paradox at Play

As is so often the case with human beings, in addition to the complexities of our times, there are other paradox at play. At a personal level, people value learning, but in practice individuals may not be motivated to learn if they see as peripheral to their main purpose.

At an organisational level, a lot of businesses like the idea of supporting people to become adaptable and acquire and skills - they might even see the value of delivering things like client service standards, efficiency and staff retention - but when push comes to shove, the only thing the organisation really makes time for and recognises is fee-earning or income-generating work. 

Using compliance to get “buy-in”

With all these complexities and paradox at play using regulatory compliance to make a business case for investment in learning starts to look attractive. It a non-negotiable that gives the argument leverage.  Compliance can provide a regulatory rationale for a change in approach. 

More than that, it can help to broaden out the discussion about what skills and attitudes are really going to help the business create a positive future. Safe to say, technical skills will play a huge role, but there is a growing imperative to walk with clients and customers on their journey as service users. That will require human skills which complement and point-up the value of technical expertise.

There is a real opportunity here for compliance to be the foundation for effective learning strategy and business transformation.

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