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By Jenny Downing

The flywheel effect is a concept created by Jim Collins in his book ‘Good to Great’. He carried out years of research on multiple organisations looking into how and why they were successful. He identified that those businesses who succeeded in going from good to great couldn’t ever pinpoint that one miracle moment whereby they transformed. Rather it was small, continuous and consistent steps resembling the pushing of a giant, heavy flywheel, turn upon turn, building momentum until a point of breakthrough. The business would not necessarily recognise that breakthrough moment, so they would continue to keep the wheel turning, push by push.

Now bear with me on this one as I’m sure you are asking how this relates to learning and development within a company culture? The reality is that often when you tell employees you are holding a training session it is often met with a groan. So how do we create a learning environment where individuals don’t feel it’s a burden on their time, where they know it is enabling them to push that wheel forward and where it remains varied, interesting and relevant?

The reality is that the success of an organisation, taking it from “good to great”, is absolutely linked to a successful and positive learning and development culture within a business and if you have the right people on the bus (have a look at the concept around “first who, then what”)  then they will be engaged in moving forward both individually and as part of the business.


The characteristics of a successful organisation – How can we apply this to learning?

Learning and development exists within an organisation to ensure that its employees carry out their current role, improve productivity, efficiency and profitability (Prof Mavin, S. May 2010).

In 2017, Towards Maturity (a learning health check company) and the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) collaborated to create a report titled ‘The New Learning Organisation’. It is a succinct summary of six characteristics an organisation will need to demonstrate in order to be successful. This can then translate into how L&D assists an organisation with their core objectives:


Clarity of Purpose

A shared vision is critical in creating a learning culture. It is the central pillar to everything being bound together on an individual, divisional and organisational level.


  • L&D team activity fully aligned with strategic goals
  • Engagement of key stakeholders ensuring any L&D strategy has their support and buy in


Holistic People Experience

Build trust and loyalty through a positive learning experience.


  • Provide a supportive and agile learning environment
  • Be the curator, whilst a huge proportion of employees want to learn, 40% can’t find what they need in order to do so


Thriving Ecosystem

Creation of a people led system, linking people, teams and the wider organisation to thrive and learn from one another.


  • Create a coaching and mentoring program
  • Facilitate communication from subject matter experts in house


Agile, Digital Infrastructure

Creating a virtual, agile learning environment.


  • Learning and development must gain support from business leaders in developing their own technological knowledge and skills in order to implement technology learning intervention


Continual Engagement

Creation of an energetic, resilient, and growing learning culture.


  • Understand the individual, their aspirations and what they need in order to do their job
  • Encourage and engage top managers to promote learning
  • Identify “champions” at a local level to become a trainer and coach within their area of expertise


Intelligent Decision Making

Using business insights and data to drive future performance and learning initiatives.


  • Utilise data and analytics to demonstrate how a learning initiative has been successful or to gain buy in around a new intervention
  • Show how your objectives align to a business objective with real time data


The trends:

With all the above characteristics, what are the trends we are seeing in terms of delivering the learning? By what means are people responding most positively?

The CIPD created a research report ‘L&D: New Challenges, New Approaches’. In it, Dr Loon explains that the only constant within our external environment is the continuous change.

Below are three current trends which look to continue as current practices within learning and development:

In-house led activities have continued to be the top-rated methods of learning and the most likely to continue to grow in the coming years (Stuart, 2015). This is largely down to organisations looking to control how, where and when training occurs, the obvious benefit of keeping costs to a minimum, as well as utilising in-house talent and knowledge sources (Martindale, 2014).

A report which supports this view is the CIPD’s annual survey which looks into the trends of L&D; in 2015 it reported the three most commonly used learning practices were:

  • On the job training
  • In-house development programmes
  • Coaching by line managers or peers

(Stuart, 2015, figure 3)

The emerging use of technology is aiding the learner to take a more on demand approach. Mobile devices allow learners to have choice and flexibility about when they learn. Organisations utilising mobile learning have seen the ability to increase their global reach and engage their learners. (Wentworth 2014)

In 2015-2016, Towards Maturity created a benchmark report titled ‘Embracing Change’ which showed that those organisations that appear to be leading within L&D are those who have incorporated new technology as a standard method of learning (Open University, 2016).

A further trend which is very much linked with the above is self-directed learning. With both the emergence of technology and organisations embracing in-house programs, staff are being encouraged to actively direct their own learning. However, L&D departments and individuals still need to understand how they go about facilitating this, as “83% of L&D leaders want to increase self-directed learning but only 22% are achieving it” (Towards Maturity report, 2015 p14).

To conclude, whilst learning may be seen as a burden by some it is absolutely necessary for an organisation to continuously assess how they go about it and evolve their methods to fit with the modern world in order to move their business from “good to great”. Individuals involved with learning, whether as a functional manager or learning professionals, must persuade, negotiate and sell their ideas through appropriate use of commercial language. The individual must be able to align the learning function with the business objectives, so understanding where the leaders want to see the business go is crucial.

Lastly, in order to meet the needs of the self-directed learner and the use of technology, we must become curators of information. Make content easy to locate, access and trackable. But most importantly employees must recognise that when the individual learns, this content must be bitesize and fit in with modern lifestyles.



Prof Mavin, S, Lee. L, Dr Robson, F. The Evaluation of learning and development in the workplace: A review of the literature, 2010

Loon, M ( 2014 ) L&D: NEW Challenges, new approaches. Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development [online]. Available from: (Accessed 19.06.2017) p3

Martindale, N (2014) In House or Outsource? The new learning conundrum. Personnel Today [online]. Available from: (Accessed 13.07.2017)

Stuart, R (2015) ANNUAL SURVEY REPORT Learning and Development 2015. Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development [online]. Available from: ( Accessed 19.06.2017 )   pp.9-10, p.24

Lombardi, M. and Wentworth, D ( 2014 ) 5 Trends For The Future Of Learning and Development. Training Magazine [online]. Available from: (Accessed 13.07.2017)

Open University (2016 ) The Changing Landscape of Learning and Development Will 2016 be the breakthrough year. Open University [online]. Available from  (Accessed 26.06.2017 )   p.4 & p.8

Dixon, G. and Overton, L ( 2015 ) Embracing Change Improving Performance of Business, Individuals and the L&D Team. Towards Maturity [online]. Available from: (Accessed 17.06.2017) p20, pp50 – 60

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