Success in digital learning: calls to action

Senior leadership teams have the opportunity to develop a sustainable competitive advantage through the speed of learning as they have never had before.
By: | January 22, 2019


About the Author
George Aveling is
Chief Reimagineer at Elementrix, a digital learning consultancy.

Peter Senge, internationally renowned organisational strategist and author, said way back in the 1990s that the only sustainable competitive advantage is an organisation’s ability to learn faster than the competition.

This statement is truer than ever in the fast-moving world that we live in today. And digital technology has the potential to significantly speed up the diffusion of learning in organisations.


Why the C-Suite is a barrier, instead of an enabler

But, it is not uncommon for C-Suites to not appreciate this.

Senior leadership teams, starting with the CEO, have a major impact on the speed of digital learning adoption throughout the organisation. It is this group, rather than HR or L&D, which is the key strategic driver in shaping strategy and enabling resources to move forward in the digital world.

However, my wanderings in the corporate world have led me to conclude that senior leadership teams have not universally taken Peter Senge’s message to heart.

I was talking to the L&D team of a major organisation in Malaysia. I mentioned to them a finding in the Elementrix Digital Learning in Asia 2018 report that the lack of senior leadership buy-in can be a major barrier to the implementation of digital learning.

Senior leadership teams, starting with the CEO, have a major impact on the speed of digital learning adoption throughout the organisation.

They immediately agreed that they have been frustrated and have held back because their senior leadership team needed business cases for investments in digital learning based on ROI – and they could not provide them.

It wasn’t the first time I had heard this type of comment from different companies.

A key barrier to engaging senior leadership teams on the topic of digital learning is that the business cases put forward by L&D to transform their departments are most likely to be weak, as they do not collect the required hard data.

In the Elementrix Digital Learning in Asia 2018 report, we put forward two calls to action to senior leadership teams.


Call to action #1: Adopt a new decision-making paradigm

The first call to action is to lead with vision, or fall behind

In traditional, stable environments, resource allocation decisions are based on conventional evidence-based ROI business cases.

However, in an uncertain and fast-moving environment, a different paradigm of decision-making is required. This paradigm will have to be based on a vision for the future, rather than on conventional evidence-based ROI justifications which cannot be provided. Businesses that adopt this paradigm will be innovative about what evidence is used to measure success.

Organisations with CEOs and senior leadership teams, who will take that risk and have a vision for a digitally enabled learning organisation, will develop the competitive advantage through speed of learning and innovation.

A bank in Singapore provides a world-class example of visionary leadership in action.

In 2013, at a senior staff offsite in Seoul, DBS Bank CEO Piyush Gupta told his lieutenants it was time to stop comparing the bank with other banks and instead to pit itself against big tech giants like Amazon.

Since then, DBS has embarked on a digital transformation and approached everything through the filter of disruption and technology.

This clear messaging from the top flowed through to the L&D function. The commercial results have followed. In 2018, DBS was named the World’s Best Bank (by Global Finance) as well as the World’s Best Digital Bank (for the second time), the World’s Best Bank for SMEs and Asia’s Best Bank for Transaction Services (by Euromoney).

“Companies with senior leadership teams that insist on evidence-based business cases will fall behind in the digital learning race – and this will flow through to their financial results.

I met with a major organisation that is seeking commence its journey in digital learning. The chance of success in this organisation are high because the organisation’s C Suite has said that it will become a digital organisation.
If you are standing still in a fast-moving crowd, there is a good chance that you will get trampled on.

While this sounds brutal, this is how competitive markets operate.

Companies with senior leadership teams that insist on evidence-based business cases will fall behind in the digital learning race – and this will flow through to their financial results.

The simple message for senior leadership teams is to build your sustainable advantage by accelerating into the world of digital learning. Lead forward with vision, rather than looking backward for evidence of ROI that you will not be able to find.

It is a paradigm shift that requires courage and conviction. But one that is necessary for survival in this new digital world.


Call to action #2: Upskill in the digital world

Our experience is that many senior leadership teams are:

  • Hungry to know more about digital
  • Confused or perplexed, at times intimidated, by the language, ways of thinking and possibilities that the digital world creates
  • Uncertain of where to start and how to lead in a digital world

The knowledge gap needs to be closed so that leadership teams can lead their organisations confidently in the digital world. This will flow through to the creation of competitive advantage through learning.

This will require a willingness and openness of senior leaders to learn about and become comfortable with digital technology. Learning technology is a field of its own.

From personal experience, it can be confusing, even intimidating at first. However, it’s critical that senior leadership teams be sufficiently confident to digital to lead by example, lead with questions and lead with enthusiasm that spurs their organisations to move forward.

The world is now moving faster than ever before. Knowledge is a critical driver of success in everything that we do.

The benefits of taking the opportunity are enormous. And the dangers of moving too slowly are enormous as well.

For more information on barriers to the implementation of digital learning – and how to address them – you can download both the Elementrix Digital Learning in Asia 2018 Full Report and the Executive Summary by going to