High Impact Learning Organization (HILO)

High Impact Learning Organization (Bersin) - Toolshero

High Impact Learning Organization: this article explains the High-Impact Learning Organization described by Josh Bersin in a practical way. After reading it, you will understand the basics of this powerful change management tool.

What is the High Impact Learning Organization?

The High-Impact Learning Organization (HILO), or High-Impact Learning Culture is a concept about the attitude of organizations towards learning. It is the product of years of research, led by Josh Bersin, and comes with 2 different practical learning frameworks for organizations. One of these frameworks, the Maturity Framework, will be elaborated on in this article.

The research focused on 18 different elements of Learning & Development (leadership, organizational structure, roles, technology, measurement techniques) and their impact on business results. The applied method takes into account efficiency, effectiveness and coordination.

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High Impact Learning Organizations were found to have achieved earnings growth three times higher than their competitors. It can be concluded from this that organizations that keep their employees up-to-date and trained also reap the benefits and perform better than their competitors.

The study also showed a shift in focus from a training program to a focus on pure organizational capability development.

What exactly is a culture?

Corporate culture is a topic that has been extensively researched, including by Edgar Schein in his book The Corporate Culture Survival Guide, Peter Schenge, Chris Argyris, and others. These experts have all pointed out that corporate culture is a real and changeable element of any organization. Corporate culture is something that changes, but does need to be monitored, measured and adapted. So in fact, the corporate culture is also managed. First, what is culture?

Culture is all around us, but hard to see for those who don’t know what culture is exactly. Yet culture is reflected in almost every process, every decision and every interaction.

Culture is an important set of processes and behaviors that influence the way people work. It also affects the success of an organization. What do leaders do when things don’t go as expected? How are bad news conversations handled? How are decisions and tasks delegated? What is the power distance between employees and management? These critical questions have a direct link with the corporate culture.

A (corporate) culture is often strengthened or destroyed by leaders. Josh Bersin’s research into high-impact practices found that 8 of the 40 belonged to top leaders. 25 of these practices were owned by line management and 7 were owned by HR or L&D. L&D is explained in more detail later in this article.

Why is a High Impact Learning Organization important?

A learning culture is very relevant for business and is above all not academic, but practical. Learning cultures such as the corporate culture of Toyota, BP, Microsoft and IBM enable those respective companies to quickly identify and solve problems in their business processes. When asked how important a learning culture is, the short answer is: it means life or death for many organizations.

Josh Bersin summarizes the High Impact Learning Organization in 6 elements:

  1. Building trust
  2. Encouraging reflection
  3. Presenting the value of learning
  4. Facilitating knowledge sharing
  5. Employee Empowerment
  6. Learning to formalize

One element is the most important: empowerment of employees. Without letting employees speak the truth, organizations cannot learn. Employees must actively control their environment and make their own decisions.

Developing a learning culture is important for the following reasons

  • Employees are happier when they can learn
  • Learning is a key ingredient for great leadership
  • Failure = learning
  • A learning culture can provide a significant competitive advantage
  • Employees who want to learn consistently have a growth mindset
  • A focus on learning helps create an engaged workplace

The New Bersin & Associates HILO Maturity Model of a High Impact Learning Organization

Bersin and team developed the HILO Maturity Model based on the results they obtained during their initial research. Through data collection and interviews, they identified four levels of maturity for a company’s L&D function. In companies, this type of evolution takes place in customer service training, leadership development, sales training, etc.

The model consists of four levels, as shown below. The different levels are explained below the image.

Level 1: incidental training and education

Every new employee entering an organization starts at level 1: incidental training and education. A new employee comes in and someone within the organization trains him or her. This type of training takes place almost every day within large organizations and is also one of the most valuable and important training courses an employee receives.

Occasional training and education is often informal, unstructured and developed by teams and work groups themselves. Not by L&D. Sales and customer service teams are more likely to receive occasional training. Motivating and training these types of teams is seen as an essential part of what a sales manager or customer service manager does.

Over time, this kind of occasional training becomes inconsistent. It is also expensive and unproductive. As companies grow, the study shows, they realize they need professional help developing a scalable solution.

Level 2: Excellence in Training and Development

A High Impact Learning Organization try to reach level 2 when it comes to training and development. At this level, a certain vocational training function is being developed. This is a team of L&D professionals who develop programs and infrastructures to provide formal training. Within this level, organizations go through different phases of training, such as:

  1. Formal training (instructor-led e-learning)
  2. Learning On Demand
  3. Coaching
  4. Performance Support

The L&D teams standardize training design and implement standard technologies, standard graphics, tools, simulations and assessments.

Most companies take many years to reach level 2. The result is a business university that is highly effective in both attracting and training new human resources.

Level 3: Talent and Performance Improvement

The focus of companies changes significantly at level 3. At this point, the leadership of organizations realizes that learning activities must be tailored to needs and that these must be defined per role or function. In this phase the complete career development plan is elaborated.

For example, many sales companies have implemented a sophisticated career model. From the moment they start, salespeople are trained to become a product leader, account manager or team leader. While not necessarily a talent management program, it is a talent learning strategy.

Talent management is of great value, even for large operational environments such as call centers. Here too, employees want to know how they can grow into new roles and what resources are available for this. It is important that they are supported in their technical, personal, professional or managerial development.

Level 4: Developing Organizational Capability

At level 4, L&D teams look at organizational capabilities as a whole. This is not just a new activity, but requires a new focus. Most of the time at this level is spent studying the detailed lives of employees in both professional and personal fields. The different needs of employees are mapped out and employees are matched with performance advisors to help them improve performance through learning in different ways.

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Now it’s your turn

What do you think? Do you understand the explanation about the High Impact Learning Organization? What do you think are other reasons to facilitate a learning culture for employees? What techniques and methods are used in your work environment for training and developing people? Do you have any tips or comments?

Share your experience and knowledge in the comments box below.

More information

  1. Bersin, J. (2004). The blended learning book: Best practices, proven methodologies, and lessons learned. John Wiley & Sons.
  2. Bersin, J. (2008). The training measurement book: Best practices, proven methodologies, and practical approaches. John Wiley & Sons.
  3. Bersin, J. (2015). Becoming irresistible. Deloitte Review, 16, 146-163.
  4. Hagel, J., Schwartz, J., & Bersin, J. (2017). Navigating the future of work. Deloitte Rev, 21, 27-45.

How to cite this article:
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Published on: 19/10/2021 | Last update: 18/02/2022

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Ben Janse
Article by:

Ben Janse

Ben Janse is a young professional working at ToolsHero as Content Manager. He is also an International Business student at Rotterdam Business School where he focusses on analyzing and developing management models. Thanks to his theoretical and practical knowledge, he knows how to distinguish main- and side issues and to make the essence of each article clearly visible.


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