The change and growth often necessary for business success means an ongoing commitment to learning, according to Melissa Daimler, chief learning officer at Udemy.
In fact, learning “is an ongoing practice of building skills, experiences, and knowledge through our work, not around or on top of it,” Daimler wrote in her book “ReCulturing: Design Your Company Culture to Connect with Strategy and Purpose for Lasting Success,” released May 10.
Pandemic, a forcing function for learning
At Udemy, an online learning and teaching marketplace, the last few years have brought an increased demand for online learning.
Daimler told HR Dive the pandemic is a “forcing function,” amplifying the importance of workplace culture, learning and development, which “we have to always be reviewing.” Now, with 1,400 employees, and 185,000 courses led by 65,000 instructors for millions of learners, Udemy “is really at a nice inflection point,” she said, and in the process of further codifying its values.
Managing learning at a learning company
Daimler’s charge at the company is to scale its cultural foundation of “always learning.” She said learning is delivered through different forms and settings, and is captured and modeled through different skill sets.
“A company is not automatically a learning organization when it offers training programs,” Daimler wrote in her book. “It may even be the opposite.” So, how does a learning company manage learning? First, by experimentation, then by iteration, she said — by looking at the bigger system and how it fits together. With deep experience at the intersections of culture and learning, and organizational and talent development, Daimler said this has been the theme of her career. “And I think that any good leader, a learning leader, is a systems thinker [who looks] at how strategy connects with purpose and culture.” But knowing where the company is internally equipped for skills development, and where “to acquire skills from the outside,” she said, is her work, too.
As a CLO at a learning company, Daimler said she has influence in the company’s products and solutions. “I work directly with our customers, and our customer service team to make sure we are listening to our customers about what's working.” She said anything Udemy shares with its customers, the company is doing as well, and sometimes “[w]e get ideas from customers, and implement them internally.”
At Udemy, she said, “[w]e dig into it — evolving leadership skills to keep pace with what's expected of a public company.” Udemy, headquartered in San Francisco, went public in October. Daimler joined the company in September after almost 11 years at Adobe, where she said she cut her teeth on all things HR.
“And then Twitter came knocking, and that was just an opportunity to not turn down.” During her four years there, she explained, she was able to conceptualize and build leadership, management and talent development, and engagement functions from scratch, for the company’s then-800 employees.
New means and models for learning
Learning was never about training for Daimler, who's done this work for 20 years. She said training amounted to "a closed event," but learning or organizational development she'd perceived in a much broader way.
More effective problem-solving, she said, takes place at a systemic level; and because an organization is a system, and workplace learning is tied to organizational development, she encourages viewing work — whether projects, strategies, acquisitions or initiatives — as an opportunity to be leveraged for both individual learning and organizational development.
But how does an employer know that someone has developed a skill set? How does it measure learning? Compared to traditional workplace training models often based on “consumption of content,” Daimler said companies could see better success when the learning environment is a mix of generations, functions and modern experimentation relevant on a systemic level. She said she believes there’s an opportunity, especially in the context of a workplace cohort, to learn from each other, and suggested this could actually be more fertile ground for learning, and a better way to measure.
Often, organizations aren’t clear about what they’re expecting, she said. But companies can take that extra step to present clearer pictures: "If ‘Take creative risks’ is a desired behavior, then the organization needs to define what a ‘creative risk’ is and then help employees identify ways to learn and practice skills to take creative risks so that they can be recognized, give feedback around that behavior and even promoted,” she wrote in her book. Supportive learning experiences, Daimler expressed, are what bind workplace culture.