The Learning Imperative

Raising performance in organisations by improving learning

By: Mark Burns , Andy Griffith


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Attribute name Attribute value
Size: 222 x 182mm
Pages : 240
ISBN : 9781785832697
Format: Paperback
Published: October 2018

In The Learning Imperative Mark Burns and Andy Griffith examine the key ingredients that ensure effective learning, and offer leaders step-by-step guidance on how they can achieve it in their own teams and organisations.

Learning is central to the long-term success of any team – and is far too important to dismiss or to relegate to a ‘nice to do’ list. In The Learning Imperative, bestselling authors Burns and Griffith explore the common barriers to effective learning and present a range of practical tools and strategies to help teams bring about – and reap the benefits of – a more positive culture around training and development.

Together they map out the key stages of the learning journey and provide a comprehensive guide for team leaders and managers who want to improve learning in their teams. They also share essential advice on the design and delivery of effective training programmes, and punctuate their instruction with a range of illuminating case studies drawn from real-life contexts across the public, private and third sectors.

The book has been split into three sections. Part I sets out why creating and maintaining a learning team needs to be a high priority, and provides an easy-to-use framework to help leaders establish their team’s starting points. Part II is designed to assist leaders in fostering an open-to-learning mindset in their teams – offering tools to diagnose any closed-to-learning mindsets and supplying straightforward strategies to facilitate team members’ development in becoming habitually reflective, curious and responsive to feedback. The final part of the book concerns the designing and leading of effective learning, whether it is packaged within a one-off session or a multi-session programme, and will help leaders ensure that the learning their team participates in is engaging, appropriately challenging and, most importantly, will develop their performance.

Whether you are an experienced leader or just starting out in the role, this user-friendly manual will empower you to boost your team’s performance and to make a powerful impact on their learning.

The book comprises:

Part I: Learning and your team

1. The importance of learning

2. The learning–performance matrix

Part II: Overcoming barriers to learning

3. Processing overload

4. Low relational trust

5. Perception gaps

Part III: Designing effective learning

6. Planning backwards

7. Developing shared clarity

8. The you stage

“Two Books that I Would Recommend” by Thomas Stansfield.

Click here to view the feature on The World of Learning’s blog.

Click here to read the review of ‘The Learning Imperative’ on ‘Thought Space’ blog.

Radio Edutalk 18-12-2018: Mark Burns on his new book, ‘The Learning Imperative’.

The Learning Imperative has been named the winner of the HR and Management category of The Business Book Awards 2019 .

The Learning Imperative has been named a finalist in the 2018 INDIES Book of the Year Awards in the business and economics category.

The Business Desk - Authors celebrate success after business book accolade.

Click here to watch Mark Burns’ videos in relation to The Learning Imperative.

The Extraordinary Business Book Club - Episode 167 – The Learning Imperative with Mark Burns

Audio Samples

Learning Imperative audio sample


Picture for author Mark Burns

Mark Burns

For over ten years, Mark Burns has developed a proven track record in developing teaching and leadership in education. He has co-authored two bestselling books in this field – Engaging Learners and Teaching Backwards – and, more recently, has worked with FTSE 100 retailers and third sector organisations too.

Through his work, Mark has developed a deep understanding of learning design and how to overcome the barriers to learning in organisations – which is the focus of his award-winning co-authored book The Learning Imperative. He is passionate about supporting the development of performance through effective learning, hence his company’s name: Plus One Learning.

Mark’s work has been recognised with a Gold award in the People Development Programme of the Year – Public Sector category at the prestigious Learning Performance Institute Learning Awards 2021. He also won the CPD category in the Teach Secondary Awards 2020.

Click here to read Mark Burns' blog.

Picture for author Andy Griffith

Andy Griffith

Andy Griffith has a proven track record for creating high impact training courses and interventions with students, teachers and leaders. His major career motivation is for education to be an engine for social justice. In the past seven years, alongside his school development work, Andy has developed programmes for students that have had a positive impact on their academic results as well as building their cultural capital.

Andy's work has been shortlisted in the Best Learning & Development Initiative - Public/Third Sector category of the 2018 CIPD People Management Awards.


  1. The Learning Imperative was not only an enjoyable read, which is quite an accolade for a performance management book, it was also like leafing through an instructional manual. The authors recognise that raising performance is a long game, which requires regular, supported and sustained effort or habits to make improvements in a multitude of areas. They identify techniques for opening up closed mindsets and building relational trust. They also highlight routes to closing perception gaps. Their reference to organisational research and case studies illustrates what can be achieved against a backdrop of market volatility, uncertain budgets and complex ways of measuring performance. Each chapter contains real takeaway activities that can be put into practice immediately, with proven positive outcomes.
  2. This is a real workhorse of a book: so much excellent information, intelligently structured and supported with - as you'd expect from a book on learning and development - a strong pedagogical framework.

    A book on learning really does have to walk the talk to be credible, and this book delivers. There's a good balance of theory and practice with just enough stories in just enough detail to be helpful without becoming distracting. None of it feels ground-breaking, but some elements - like the impact of relational trust on learning (the 'glue' of the team) and the need for managers to put in place protocols that create 'unconditional positive regard' in the workplace to facilitate that - hit me with the force of unrecognised truth.

    Burns and Griffith's REFRESH model (Resilience, Enquiring, Feedback, Revising, Effortful, Sharing, Habitual), despite its irritating mix of nouns and adjectives, is a useful model for checking the impact of the various issues and interventions they raise, and the REFRESH reading lists at the end of each chapter are superb - the best books are not only worth reading themselves, but point the reader on to other great resources, and this book does that brilliantly.

    The Learning Imperative was the winner of the HR & Management category of the Business Book Awards in 2019 and it's easy to see why: the judges described it as 'a refreshingly simple text explaining a complex topic perfectly for its intended target audience', and I couldn't agree more.

    Click here to read the review on Good Reads website.

  3. The book I am sharing is one that's very relevant for school leadership teams, governors, those like me with an overall interest in education and those involved with organisational learning and development. 

    I find the busyness of life can make professional reading a chore but The Learning Imperative is the kind of book that quickly had me developing an internal monologue in conversation with it, with the authors, and with the fabric that makes up 'my day'. It looks at cultivating a positive learning culture holistically in an organisation rather than through the perspective of individual roles or at targeting individual aspects. Is your organisation a good one if only certain people or groups are considered learners? How does a culture of learning support organisational outcomes and performance? And, more importantly, how can understanding this help you in your context?

    It has 217 pages that are split into three main sections: Learning and your team, Overcoming barriers and Designing effective learning. At first, I was curious about the book but not enamoured; I was approaching it as an 'ought to read' rather than a 'can't wait to read'. However, after nibbling section 1, I couldn't stop and ended up going through significantly more pages than I'd intended to!

    Laid out for easy-reading, it succeeds in not overloading the reader. The text is dusted with case studies and reflective questions which subtly buffer to ensure the focus when reading is your setting and the dynamics within it. I felt the book ignited a dialogue about learning with the reader and maintained its energetic momentum throughout, which echoes what most readers will want to develop within their organisation - it would be a challenge to read this book and not develop your thinking.

    In my opinion, the authors writing balances objective expertise and empathy; I consider my standards quite high but as I read, I did feel I was 'in the hands' of experts. Mark and Andy have substance. There's something about them that reminds me of the "coach what you see" mantra drilled into me as a football coach - I get the impression they could enter any organisation, quickly have a mental measure of it, offer succinct feedback and select sensible suggestions for improvement from an arsenal of knowledge.

    The authors aren't (currently...) in my network and the book is written from a position of improving learning within organisations, which is a stance I've not really come across on the edu-circuit before; we have many publications about leadership, the science of learning and practical strategies for the classroom but with the Ed sector wincing over retention and recruitment, and with ongoing debates about professional autonomy, I see very little material about schools as both individual systems and as systems within a larger body, or acknowledgement of this interrelationship. 

    All in all, The Learning Imperative was a very pleasant surprise and challenged what I thought I would learn from reading the book as well as pushing me to really interrogate the things I'm working on in my role. It was pleasurable to read but also doesn't allow the reader to sit comfily or passively - the authors want you to take something tangible away rather than simply enjoy reading their hard work; the vibe of the book is that you, the reader, are developing something whether that be yourself or your organisation. Due to this, it now features in my book 'circle of trust' (the handful of go-to's that can be delved into time and time again) and I will be keeping an eye out on other activities from the authors. 

  4. "As a self-confessed educational-leadership-book junkie, I was interested to see how effectively The Learning Imperative, which focuses on a range of workplaces rather than schools

    per se, would get to the nub of professional development: learning.

    I encourage readers who, like me, might be initially put off by the endorsement of "progressive management", the lack of capital letters in the cover title, the proliferation of the adjective "outstanding" in relation to the authors' previous publications, the bite-size structure and the plethora of grids and acronyms within the book to reserve judgment.

    It achieves exactly what it promises on the cover; this is a 'practical, well-constructed reference book for leaders". I am confident that both experienced and novice leaders will take some theoretical gems and practical activities from it. It provides useful affirmation of tacit knowledge, helpful summaries of theoretical concepts and a range of strategies for reviewing adults' learning and performance.

    The Learning Imperative delivers substance as well as style. The authors, Mark Burns and Andy Griffith, successfully weave in a digest of relevant research. The book touches upon a significant number of influential thinkers and concepts, including: Kirschner's theory of instruction; Maslow's hierarchy of needs; Csikszentmihalyi's "flow"; Sweller's cognitive load theory; Covey's effective habits; Rogers' unconditional positive regard; Goleman's emotional intelligence; Hattie's visible learning; Berger's ethic of excellence; Syed's "bounce" and Pink's theory of motivation, among others (is there a lack of female writers in this field?). It also offers suggested further reading.

    Its digestible chunks of contextualised knowledge achieve its ambition to "deliver a highly practical guide to develop performance through effective learning". It is an easy read, but encourages its readers to engage in consideration and action throughout with its regular reflection questions and case studies.

    A strength of the book is its focus on psychological characteristics that underpin professional learning.

    I particularly enjoyed the sections on relational trust, processing overload and perception gaps. They helped me to consider my own professional learning limitations and provide a vehicle to examine team dynamics and individual behaviours.

    It includes models that are introduced and revisited throughout the chapters to identify, analyse and address potential barriers to professional learning and performance; the learning-performance matrix and Kaplan workload management method are useful. The techniques serve to examine the root causes of negative and resistant responses to professional learning such as complacency, defensiveness, delusion and helplessness.

    Sharing scenarios taken from lots of different industry examples, including retail and manufacturing, as well as education, enables the reader to make connections with their own experiences. These useful vignettes help us consider individuals' responses and potential approaches to untap professional potential, address underperformance and recognise behaviours symptomatic of imposter syndrome or its opposite (the Dunning-Kruger effect) within ourselves and our colleagues.

    The Learning Imperative is the equivalent of training delivered by wise, respected and experienced leadership role-models through the medium of skilful coaching and mentoring. The book walks the reader through logical steps to consider, diagnose, plan, deliver and reflect on professional learning. Its rich professional advice, helpful stories, metaphors, images and tools make it memorable; the book exemplifies the very essence of its own subject matter.

    It is a leadership manual that I wish I had possessed when I started out as a head of department many years ago. Alongside plentiful nuggets of wisdom, there are takeaway materials that can be used in team meetings. I found myself folding down pages and adding Post-it notes to share sections with colleagues, and I have already made use of several of the models in senior team and staff meetings to prompt discussion.

    I recommend this book to anyone responsible for, or aspiring to, lead a team; it is essential reading for those responsible for organising and delivering professional learning."

    Click here to read the review on Schools Week's website.

  5. Filled with great advice and not-so-common sense, The Learning Imperative provides leaders with practical tools to help them improve the skills and therefore the performance of their teams.
  6. Mark did some consultancy work with our organisation a couple of years ago; the theories and concepts that he discussed were inspirational and changed my approach to learning design forever. Everything he shared then, and more, is included in The Learning Imperative.

    Containing practical guidance on how to develop performance through effective learning, this book brings the subject to life through case study examples, reflection questions and supporting resources. Furthermore, the strategies shared are straightforward, uncomplicated and easy to implement. You'll wonder how you ever got by without them.

    Whether you're a manager, leader, trainer or teacher, The Learning Imperative provides plenty of opportunity for self-reflection and growth - see where the journey takes you.

  7. The Learning Imperative is a compelling argument for the importance of learning in the workplace and offers a sophisticated yet practical guide to implementing a positive learning culture.

    The book has two vital ingredients: plenty of academic substance that is easy to digest, and a writing style that is straightforward and enjoyable to engage with. The real-life examples and case studies are informative and insightful, and promote reflection and understanding. The format of each chapter is excellent too, starting with an outline of the subject under discussion before succinctly delivering the message and wrapping up with action points. The message sticks.

    If you are serious about improving performance through learning in the workplace, The Learning Imperative delivers key strategies for achieving this in spades.
  8. As a manager, one is always meant to be looking at new ways to inspire, motivate and lead. What The Learning Imperative does in a concise and well-considered way is to make leaders look at their attitude to learning and development and reflect on how they can deliver more effective leadership.

    The book clearly describes why learning and development is necessary and sets out how to support the development of future leaders, while also providing very useful step-by-step guidance to assist with implementation. I particularly enjoyed the clear structure of each chapter, with entertaining, relevant anecdotes complemented by illuminating case studies that draw out the key lessons. Each section is followed by prompts for reflection, which serve to question the reader's position on a particular area and to reinforce the points made.

    As part of the senior management team of a rapidly growing organisation, I recognise many of the examples given as to how and why learning and development can fail. On this subject Mark and Andy capture, in an entertaining manner, the pitfalls surrounding poorly conceived training - and how learning and development, when properly researched and planned, can be delivered in an effective way. In writing The Learning Imperative they have compiled a very informative and practical guide which shows how to implement a successful learning programme that will help to deliver marginal gains.

  9. I am usually put off business books as they tend to be too academic for my liking; however, I was pleasantly surprised by how enjoyable The Learning Imperative is to read and follow. Set out in a logical format, the book is well structured and includes further sources of information at the end of each chapter - thus signposting the reader to delve deeper into the subject if interested. 

    I recognise many of the identified challenges and barriers that prevent teams and organisations from learning and developing, and these issues are brought to life by the inclusion of relevant examples and case studies from real-life contexts. The case studies are particularly useful as they prompt reflection on how things can be seen and done differently, and they also make the tools and techniques suggested by the authors easier to understand, remember and hence apply.

    Practical, well-constructed and full of insightful tips, The Learning Imperative is a book that I will continue to refer back to.

  10. The Learning Imperative provides a fascinating and wide-ranging summary of both theory and practice in the field of learning and development, offering a compelling narrative on how to improve corporate performance through learning. I've picked up a number of key ideas which I'll take back to the office.
  11. The Learning Imperative is practical, easy to read, thought provoking and full of useful anecdotes and examples; it shows that the authors clearly have vast experience in the fields of learning and personal development.

    It will help all leaders to get the most out of their teams and, at the same time, make the learning enjoyable and interesting.
  12. The Learning Imperative is for anyone who wants to motivate their team to grow and perform well. The authors set out very clearly that learning is at the heart of this process - and that if you get the learning right, the rest will follow. But they acknowledge that this is not necessarily an easy (or straightforward) process. Haven't we all asked at one time or another - when things feel tough - whether anyone else is in the same boat as us, or, if we are alone in our struggle, whether everyone else is finding it easy? The Learning Imperative helps you tackle such questions head-on. It starts from the premise that members of effective teams must have an 'open-to-learning mindset', and makes you think about how to cultivate and maintain this mindset.

    The book will work best if you're willing to reflect and be honest with yourself. Where are you now? What are you trying to achieve? How will you get to where you want to go? Reflection isn't necessarily an easy process, and it sometimes feels a little close to the bone! But the authors guide you through the process via a set of real-life examples, which help you to understand and apply what you learn, and prompt you to think about why and how you do what you do, how you can implement change successfully, and how you can help others learn.

    The Learning Imperative is also a caring book. The authors acknowledge that there is life beyond work, and that all leaders, teams and contexts are different. It invites you to think about what you're doing, but doesn't demand that you dedicate every spare moment to it!

    It's a practical resource that you can come back to again and again, and use in a range of contexts and in a variety of different ways - I'll be returning to it for a while yet.

  13. Clear and easy to follow, The Learning Imperative is a one-stop shop on how to develop leadership: offering many useful tools and techniques to assist in core areas such as planning, meetings, managing upwards, dealing with conflict and handling difficult conversations.

    I would fully recommend this book to anyone in a leadership role who wants to effect positive change in others.
  14. An informative and entertaining read, The Learning Imperative is a timeless classic that should be on the bookshelf of anyone interested in progressive management. Mark and Andy display a subtleness in their writing with their thoughtful, realistic approach - reminding us all of the importance of learning in any organisation.

  15. Developing learning organisations is not easy. For this reason, The Learning Imperative is an essential read for any leader. The authors' unpacking of how to improve learning and bring about a shared clarity in a team is delivered through insightful and practical strategies, and is complemented by thought-provoking questions to reflect on from beginning to end.

    The book also recognises there are many challenges ahead, and that raising performance in any organisation will not happen overnight. But it categorically will not happen if you don't start! Start now, using The Learning Imperative as your indispensable guide.

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