Agile learning is a mindset towards life and employability

Patrick Veenhoff, Head of ENT Academy, Swisscom AG

in a conversation with

Dr Daniel Stoller-Schai, Management Advisory Board LEARNING INNOVATION Conference

Dr Daniel Stoller-Schai: Mr Veenhoff, what do you mean by “Agile Learning”? What is your understanding?

Patrick Veenhoff: Agile learning to me is a mindset. Not towards learning, but towards life and employability. It requires a clear understanding of what I as a person want from life (short- and long-term), what my innate strengths & weaknesses are and how these translate into employability. Only then can (and must) I pro-actively shape and secure my future employability. In that process, I will learn in the way I always did, what I need to learn to achieve the goals I set for the next 1 or 2 years. A regular reflection on my life’s goals is required to make sure that this shorter-term approach is supporting my longer-term goals in life.

Dr Daniel Stoller-Schai: What is your best example of an agile learning project?

Patrick Veenhoff: At Swisscom Enterprise Customers, we implemented a social learning marketplace last year. My L&D department enables 5’000 employees to learn from each other and teach others. This way, we ensure that all trainings that are created by subject matter experts or external partners and are delivered just-in-time. A more practical example: the business and HR have a significant need for a formalized onboarding program. Rather than reinventing the wheel, they took an onboarding program that was made two years ago for employees whose company we had bought. A quick review of what was missing and what could be removed was done. Within two months, the first release of a general Onboarding Program could be released. The business and HR will now further develop this program and add/ remove the content as they see fit based on user feedback.

“A culture in which failing fast is seen as THE way to increase efficiency, effectiveness and innovation is needed” – Patrick Veenhoff

 Dr Daniel Stoller-Schai: What is needed to enable companies and organizations to implement agile forms of learning?

Patrick Veenhoff: A culture where professionalism is not determined by how much things we do right in the first time. Instead, a culture in which failing fast is seen as the way to increase efficiency, effectiveness and innovation. For that culture to be able to flourish, it needs leaders who are willing to show their weaknesses and jointly reflecting with their teams on how they can improve themselves. This builds a culture of trust and tolerance, which, to me, are the foundation of any successful organization. It then requires empowerment of individuals to let them experiment in controlled conditions, but always with the clear focus on driving measurable business impact. If these conditions are met, agile forms of learning will be a natural consequence.

Dr Daniel Stoller-Schai: Why would agile forms of learning fail inside a company?

Patrick Veenhoff: In my perception, firstly our school system has trained our brains to think in silo-based, linear and performance/ reward-based structures. Secondly, over at least the past 50 years, we have gotten comfortable in our lives and in how we could secure our future employability. And thirdly, the (Swiss) government has done exceptionally much to protect the individual in securing his existence. The VUCA world of today requires fundamentally different attitudes from the individual to ensure his future life. That change process is complex on an individual level and gets even more complex on team and company levels. Setting the rights priorities between business success and guiding this fundamental change to achieve long-term sustainable business success is a challenge that will be new to many business leaders. Because this paradigm shift is profound and far-reaching, many business leaders need to learn themselves (in agile ways) how to best steward these new challenges in ever-faster changing environments. The majority of today’s business leaders will not yet have significant experience in addressing this challenge. It is a learning process for all involved and mistakes will be made. The question to me is: is there a culture of trust and tolerance in the organization on basic levels that can absorb leadership mistakes? That, to me, will be the reason if agile forms of learning in companies will fail or not.