Sunday, October 19, 2014

Social Learning is Voluntary; Collaboration Platforms are Enablers

I love this description from Jane Harts post: 
FAUXIAL LEARNING is about forcing people to use social media in courses – or even in the workplace –  and then confusing compliance with engagement (and even worse) learning.

This totally hits the nail on the head. As an Instructional Designer and L&D Consultant, I am often asked questions like:

1.What social collaboration platform should we use? 
2.How do we get people to collaborate
3.Oh, but they don't want to share. How do we make them share their learning?

My  first reaction is to say: "You can't make people share or get anyone to collaborate." Then, I take a deep breath and start a dialogue.

And in the course of my many conversations with different organizations and their L&D departments, I see an emerging pattern of thoughts and behavior.

Most organizations (there are exceptions like Buffer, Etsy, and Community Sourced Capital) see themselves as isolated players in competition with others in the same field. There are very few generative businesses like the ones mentioned above who see themselves as part of an ecosystem where cooperation and collaboration enables growth for all. This feeling of being in competition leads to an internal organizational culture of knowledge hoarding as a source of power and growth. This is futile of course. 

What this eventually leads to is a culture where sharing and collaboration is internally stifled. Someone up there is constantly monitoring what is being shared and who is it being shared with. Some organizations go to the extent of monitoring and reviewing posts that will be put up on their collaboration platform! Employees at all levels are not entrusted with key organizational information that will empower them to take the right decision at the right time. And the spirit of learning, cooperation and collaboration is in effect killed.

Then comes the dichotomy of having an enterprise collaboration platform where no one is sharing, where there are no conversations happening, no debates and questions. It's a ghost town. At the end of the day, the platform doesn't matter. The culture of the organization does. An organization with an essentially command and control approach, an overly competitive outlook, and a repressive environment is not yet ready for social learning.

Does this mean the employees are not engaging in "social learning"? Not at all. Learning has been social ever since human life was born on this planet and will continue to be so, with or without technology. Individuals will get their work done by talking to peers, reaching out to their network, and bringing their #pln and #pkm to work. What will be missing are: 
  • a thriving internal ESN (enterprise social network) where the organization could have benefited from having their experts share their tacit knowledge; 
  • an ecosystem where peers mentor and guide each other on an open platform; 
  • a culture of working out loud (#wol) such that mistakes made along the learning journey are fearlessly shared;
  • an environment of continuous learning 
As we move into (have moved into) the 21st Century, organizations need to take a hard look at themselves and see if their operating style still harks back to the 1970s. Here's an illuminating post on employee disengagement that ties in neatly with why many organizations just don't get social learning. No amount of fancy technology platforms and ubiquitous mobile devices can turn an organization into a truly social and learning one if the org culture is not ready for it. Employees will continue to operate in a shadow organization, do what is required to get the work done and move on to more open organizations when the opportunities present themselves. 

It's time to recognize and accept that the business landscape is rapidly changing. Organizations can no longer exist in silos -- either internally or in relation to the external ecosystem. Cooperation and collaboration will yield greater benefits than competitiveness. Employees will no longer tolerate being treated like replaceable cogs. This HBR article talks about three key features of generative businesses that should be the mantra for all forward looking, truly social orgs, and I have quoted them here:  

  1. They design their work processes to power their own growth while sharing what they know, creating opportunities for other businesses to learn, experiment, or challenge themselves.
  2. They build an ecosystem of mutually supportive relationships with and between their stakeholders, so the group as a whole can benefit from interactions across the network.
  3. They create financial value as well as social value, which includes non-financial positive outcomes such as purpose, meaning, community, expression, and learning.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Week's Learning #2

I am continuing with the summary of what I have learned from Twitter the last. I realize it also helps me to curate and aggregate with greater focus.

@networkingCEO: "Happiness is not an accident. Nor is it something you wish for. Happiness is something you design." …

What Great Companies Know About Culture - @HarvardBiz … #culture
Although this post is more than 3 years old and #culture has been discussed ad infinitum, it’s still one of those elusive organizational aspects that everyone talks about in vague terms. The article is a short one and a good read but the most telling section for me was this:
They’re upgrading. Old-fashioned benefits like health insurance, family leave, and flex time ranked only 15 percent when considering most valued HR offerings. Traditional onsite benefits, such as cafeterias, childcare, massages, and volunteer opportunities ranked a mere 5 percent when determining what benefits provide stability during economic uncertainty. Instead programs that offer the most stability, as reported by 75 percent of respondents, are those that communicate brand mission and provide career development opportunities.
Six Components of a Great Corporate #Culture - Vision. Values. Practices.  People. Narratives. Places. @HarvardBiz …
Growth Mindset: A Driving Philosophy, Not Just a Tool | Edutopia 
I believe in the value of strong outcomes that represent high expectations, but I know that if we aren't applauding the processes along the way, we're setting ourselves up to fail -- some people's efforts will be devalued because they aren't achieving the defined goals in the given time.
Talk about open. @davegray has all 60 or so interviews for his new book, "Principles of Agility," up on @YouTube. #Delight2014

"I want you to think about storyLISTENING. It's way more important than storyTELLING. Empty your mind and listen." @davegray #delight2014

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Week's Learning #1

Following Harold Jarche's example of Friday's Finds, I thought where better to collate and synthesize my week’s learning from Twitter than on my blog. Here’s the first of the series...

@jhagel: The paradox of organization - @davegray: paradox fuels power to rethink, reframe, and see more than one side of things
“For example, an organization must have a way to attract and retain members, or it will cease to exist. At the same time it must constrain people’s behavior, or it won’t be able to get anything done. This means any organization has the oxymoronic goal of being an attractive prison.”

@charlesjennings: The role and value of learning content is changing. (article in TIQuarterly) @TrainingIndustr #learning #training
“The role and relative value of learning content is changing fast… A second driver for a new use of content is the jettisoning of the idea that training is primarily about knowledge transfer. It is not. Training is primarily about “enabling to do.”
@Forbes: What it takes to create a strong corporate culture:

@edutopia: Growth Mindset, Jedi edition: . #Pinterest #YodaWisdom

@socialmediaweek: "@iZoliswa: #QuoteOfTheDay 'Technology is the campfire around which we tell our stories. #SMWJHB #SMW14"

@kaushikcbasu: When at last you meet a man with solutions to all your problems, the chances are you've met a man who doesn't know the meaning of solution.

@kaushikcbasu: "Same law for all" is no guarantee of fairness. A law that prohibits all from sleeping on park benches is clearly not targeted at the rich.

@kaushikcbasu: Those who say that a more equal world would be boring don't realize that the bottom 90% of the world would give anything for that boredom.

@AbhijitBhaduri: When CEOs tells HR to learn the "language of the business" why does it includes everything except people issues. #SHRMI14

@Josh_Bersin: How Diversity Makes Us Smarter. Very important read. … #diversity #HR @sciam
“Members of a homogeneous group rest somewhat assured that they will agree with one another; that they will understand one another's perspectives and beliefs; that they will be able to easily come to a consensus. But when members of a group notice that they are socially different from one another, they change their expectations. They anticipate differences of opinion and perspective. They assume they will need to work harder to come to a consensus. This logic helps to explain both the upside and the downside of social diversity: people work harder in diverse environments both cognitively and socially. They might not like it, but the hard work can lead to better outcomes.”
@Forbes: When you're really learning, you're going to be a novice:
“And becoming comfortable in that situation – staying curious and open and continuing to explore and improve – that’s the essence of real learning.” 

Sunday, September 28, 2014

#SHRMI14 - Post 1: Ashok Alexander – Leadership Lessons from the Field

SHRMI14 was all that I thought it would be. The two-day conference had well-chosen and thoughtfully sequenced sessions. I am planning to capture my learning and the insights in a series of posts. 

I will begin with the session that resonated with me and touched me the most. It was Ashok Alexander's session on Leadership from the Field. Former Director of McKenzie, Ashok narrated his life changing decision when he chose to work with Gates Foundation on the Avahan project, a public health initiative to prevent HIV/AIDS from gaining epidemic stature in India. After heading he operation for 10 years, he stepped down in 2013 and currently engaged with CARE India

At the SHRMI14 session, he narrated his foray into the community of sex-workers and the third India this showed him—an India where stark and despairing poverty drove women to sell their bodies not once but multiple times each day, where young boys suffering from AIDS knew and accepted imminent death, where violence was the norm. This world shattered all his known frames of reference and his prior assumptions. Thus began his transformation. Here is a version of the talk on You Tube. He captures one such story in the blog post Leadership Secrets of the Commercial Sex Worker

In the course of the talk, I asked him what had been his most profound moment of truth. And he said that it happened when one of the women asked him to free them from violence. It was a defining moment of truth for him. And, he was encountering challenges way beyond his known world. A project that had been started with the aim to empower public health and tackle the imminent threat of AIDS became a much larger movement. In an engaging but self-effacing style, Ashok narrated his humbling experience where he learnt that he didn't have all the answers, and didn't necessarily know what to do. And this profound insight taught him some of the fundamentals of leadership. To the question, “What is leadership?” he writes: 
“I have learnt that leaders are not born –they emerge from discontinuous circumstances. A leader is someone driven by a sense of noble purpose. A leader serves. She has courage. And she always has hope.”
Ashok's humble narration style further underscored the enormity of the impact. He highlights the folly of presumption and pride of knowledge. He speaks eloquently and evocatively about the plight of a third India that lies conveniently beyond the comfort zone of our daily sanitized life, ignored and hurriedly bypassed if accidentally encountered.  This India taught him and through him us, lessons in life and leadership that we don’t acquire in the most elite of B-Schools. 

He crystallized the leadership lessons in a few key phrases: 
“Take a leap of faith. Have audacious dreams. Have courage. Face problems with all the humility we can summon.” 
Perhaps the most profound learning for me was his reference to the Theory of Discontinuity. In the context of choices, these are opportunities that life offers us to make lateral shifts, the moments when we must choose opportunities which we know will shift our paradigms and destroy our comfort zones forever. It is in these opportunities that lie the possibilities for personal growth.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

MOOCs: Forging Diversity and Innovation

The world of education, workplace learning, talent development – in short anyone and everyone connected with learning in some way – are talking, debating, evaluating, exploring, and generally trying to wrap their brains around this phenomenon called MOOCs. It’s now a given that MOOCs are here to stay. It’s becoming evident that despite the high dropout rates, critiques of being elitist and accessible to only a handful, and other similar drawbacks, MOOCs have becoming firmly entrenched in the collective psyche of the academia as well as workplace learning.

IMHO, MOOCs, apart from opening up a much-needed debate around the current structure of education and giving the academic world a good shake, has untapped and unexplored potentials. MOOCs by virtue of being open and online bring together a diverse set of people around a common topic. And as we have been seeing time and again, diversity is the cornerstone of innovation. If society and educators can get the model right, MOOCs have a very high potential to forge connects and facilitate collaboration among widely diverse sets of individuals at a global level.

Here’s an illuminating article by Scott Page called Diversity Powers Innovation. There’s a paragraph that talks about diversity, not of color and language, but of thought: “Diversity usually calls to mind differences in race, gender, ethnicity, physical capabilities, and sexual orientation—social or political differences that at first glance have little to do with innovation. Yet the key to innovation, in economic terms, resides inside the heads of people, the more diverse the better.”

MOOCs with their core course supported by a discussion forum offer a unique opportunity for diverse minds to come together around a common theme. While the current focus is on how many individuals are completing the MOOCs they enroll in, how many are being certified and if organizations are willing to recognize and reward a MOOC certification, what if the focus was to shift. How would a discussion forum in a MOOC evolve if participants were asked to share their individual perspectives on the topic, to think as widely as possible? I agree that for discussions to have both width and depth in any meaningful manner, the facilitators would need to be skilled at conducting debates and discussions online, encourage participation and cull out hidden voices; but that lies in the realm of implementation.

Right now, I am thinking “what if”...

Given that MOOCs have the ability to bring together global participants, can they move to the next level to induce and inspire innovative thoughts and discussions? MOOCs break down – at least to some extent – the economic and regional barriers. Unlike universities where strict entrance criteria filter out aspiring students, MOOCs do not have such filtering mechanism. Moreover, because the filtering mechanism in most universities operate at a cognitive level, they automatically filter out learners with different abilities thus moving a step closer to removing diversity – maybe not of color, race or religion – but of thought. Unless we consider the access to technology or lack thereof as a filter, which it of course is. Would it be too much of a stretch to say that many universities, unless consciously aware, can become an echo chamber and foster homophily instead of diversity?

Devoid of specific filtering out mechanisms, MOOCs have the advantage of being more democratic than most universities. And as such, welcoming to a wider variety of individuals. Can MOOCs then lay the ground for innovation? If the fear is that online communities can’t innovate, and individuals must be in the same space to have truly meaningful discussions and work together, the creation of Linux by denies that claim. It showed how passionate people can come together online and make innovative breakthroughs. In this context, The Art of Community by Jono Bacon is a must read.

I believe MOOCs have the latent possibility to create strong communities, not only individual learners. Rather than only exploring how MOOCs can benefit individuals, if the focus were to shift to how MOOCs can cultivate communities across various disciplines, get people to create together, and bring to bear the power of diversity, we would perhaps see a dramatic shift. MOOCs are an outcome of the post-industrial era and are a representation of a profound shift in outlook. MOOCs, empowered by the principles of Connectivism, came into being to leverage the power of ubiquitous connectivity, the collaborative capacity, and to offer individuals a way to customize their own learning experience through participation, sharing and peer-to-peer learning. All of these laid the foundation for a democratized, pull-based learning model with the learner at the center. 

These same qualities can be used to enable communities to flourish. Such communities will be based on cognitive diversity and passion for learning. Scott Page distinguished between cognitive and identity diversity in his book, The Difference: How the Power of Diversity Creates Better Groups, Firms, Schools, and Societies. Cognitive diversity is a necessity when dealing with complex problems. And in a world beset with complex challenges and a need for innovative and creative output, fostering and enabling cognitive diversity to flourish is critical.

MOOCs offer a great platform for fostering, engendering and enabling cognitive diversity

Friday, September 12, 2014

Revisiting My Learning Journey on Social Media

On my way to office today, I was pondering about my evolving use of social media. Six years have passed since I joined Twitter in 2008, when twitter was in its infancy, and I was clueless about its use. In hindsight I realize how immensely lucky I was to have stumbled onto the learning network I did. I got to learn from the experts – individuals who were charting the path and devising ways to use the tool as an avenue for learning, sharing and innovating – building a strong global community of learning professionals. Here’s my heartfelt thanks to people like @janebozarth, @janehart, @hjarche, @jaycross, @charlesjennings, @jeanmarrapodi, and many more for generously sharing their learning and experience and for changing the face of learning – for individuals and organizations. As I see colleagues and friends and peers still struggling to comprehend how to use social media for “learning” and often expressing skepticism, I thought I’d share my journey in brief. This is also a journey back in time for me to trace my own learning pathway through the maze called social media. I hope my journey will encourage others like me to embark on this path. 

I stumbled across twitter quite by accident or should I say serendipity. It was perhaps a case of opportunity meeting the prepared mind. Just prior to that, I had finished reading Jay Cross’ Informal Learning: Rediscovering the Natural Pathways That Inspire Innovation and Performance and was primed to explore new ways of learning. Needless to say when I found the same person on Twitter, I was part excited and part overawed. I lurked and waited. I observed the interactions. I followed the links being shared. I read avidly hoping to reach a level where I would be able to contribute or at least understand part of what was going on. Driven by curiosity and a deep desire to learn, I entered a wondrous world. It was equivalent to an online library being personally curated for me by some of the best learning curators and designers. I found out who followed whom and started following some of the people. I didn’t know then that I was building my Personal Learning Network (PLN) and that it would change how I learned and thought forever. It’s no exaggeration to say that Twitter and my growing PLN contributed to what became transformative learning for me. And I guess this was the Seeking time for me (if I were to map my journey onto Harold Jarche’s Seek-Sense-Share Framework).

I discovered the blogs of several of the people mentioned above and was amazed by the power of the platform – a free tool to share thoughts, ideas and get feedback and inputs. I started blogging—albeit very tentatively. It took me a while to realize that blogging is not about other people – unless you are blogging to market something. Blogging is one of the most critical and powerful personal learning and reflection tool. Just like I am blogging now to delve into how I’ve learned from social media and my PLN. Here’s a link to my first ever blog post called Games in Corporate Training written at a time when most organizations thought that gamification in corporate training was a sacrilege. While the post leaves much to be desired from the point of view of analysis, knowledge and maturity, it’s still a critical part of my learning journey. No one tweeted it. And I didn’t have a Share option on my blog then. It looked very different then from what it does now. It was the March of 2009, and I have completed 5 years of blogging this year. Blogging took me to the next stage of the framework – Sensing. I started to analyze, assimilate and connect the disparate dots – things were beginning to make sense.  

Sometime later, I stumbled on to my first ever online learning community, #lrnchat. Little did I know then the influence that it’d have over me. I think it was one of those days when I was just lurking on twitter (as had become my habit), and I saw a series of tweets with the hashtag #lrnchat stream past. I didn’t know what was happening but found that clicking the hashtag showed me all the tweets related to it. I sat through the entire one hour and found out that this “phenomenon” took place at a fixed time and day every week. Intrigued, I was back the next week and the week after and the following week... Again unknown to me, I was following the classic behavior of a community member going from lurking to participating to contributing to lurking again. All that l learned here, I took back to my work. I started to view elearning and instructional design through different lenses. I felt empowered. Such is the power of a learning network and community. Here’s an old post from one of my early #lrnchat days: An Impromptu #lrnchat. It was an exciting time. I saw everyone contributing in the community, and understood the importance of Sharing.

When I trace the path back, I can very clearly plot my Personal Knowledge Management (PKM) approach. But that’s only in retrospection. Here’s an old post on the various learning tools I used way back in 2010. Some of the tools are no longer in existence. But they facilitated my learning journey when they did exist.

Since then, I have learned to curate, filter, aggregate, save and share. I consciously follow people who I trust and who become my curators. I use different curating and aggregation tools like to share content. Today, my list of social media tools—apart from Twitter and my blog—includes Pinterest, LinkedIn, Facebook, and occasionally, Tumblr. I'm still trying to streamline my sources. I want to avoid the trap of homophily, and try to keep my sources as diverse as possible. However, that seems to be becoming increasingly difficult as we keep receiving “more of the same” kind of content with the web acting as a giant curator. I am not sure if I want everything “irrelevant” filtered out automatically…but that is a topic for another post. 

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Micro-Learning: Its Role in Formal, Informal and Incidental Learning

What is micro-learning? When and where does it work well? What characteristics define micro-learning?

In this post, I have looked at micro-learning from the point of view of efficacy as well as applicability. 

Microlearning deals with relatively small learning units and short-term learning activities. Generally, the term 'microlearning' refers to micro-perspectives in the context of learning, education and training. More frequently, the term is used in the domain of elearning and related fields in the sense of a new paradigmatic perspective on learning processes in mediated environments on micro levels.” ~Wikipedia

With the rise of social and informal learning, and ubiquitous mobile devices (tablets, phablets, smartphones and everything in between), micro-learning as a concept and practice has taken off. Clients who earlier asked for elearning are now further specifying the type of elearning. A typical requirement statement could sound like this: “We want short capsules of learning or learning nuggets that will run on all devices.  Our employees are busy and want to learn on the go.” In short, micro-learning is the need. And this is just one of the needs that short capsules of learning can fulfil.

Typically, micro-learning or learning bytes or learning capsules work well as a component of informal learning where the learner pulls what they need to solve an immediate problem. Recently, I have downloaded a couple of apps from the Amazon Appstore – one of these being on the British Museum. Whenever I want to know about a specific section or artifact or era, I can go to the app and to that precise section and read up. It’s quite well designed with the sections appropriately segmented and can be a good companion during a walk around the museum. These bytes could be classified as micro-learning satisfying the criteria of short, accessible nuggets available at the point-of-need.

Micro-learning is effective when the nature of the learning required has some or all of the characteristics: 
  1. When the learning required are bytes of facts, episodes, etc., as illustrated in the museum app example above 
  2. When it covers parts of a process or steps to be followed 
  3. When the learning required is simple or complicated but not too complex (complex learning is interconnected, and often, experience-based and non-transferable) 
  4. When the learning happens in a collaborative environment like an enterprise discussion forum or a social media platform 
  5. Where there is scope for anytime, anywhere access facilitated by technology

Micro-learning makes up an important component of one’s PLE (Personal Learning Environment). Whether it’s tweets from the Twitter feed, blog posts and articles, or the latest You Tube video and TED Talk, these essentially comprise nuggets and bytes of content in various forms that we pull from the environment and then string together to make sense and build a cohesive picture. Learning bytes can be created by literally anyone today. Learning designers, SMEs, laypeople – in short, anyone who wishes to share their knowledge and skills. Anyone with a smartphone today can capture, create and share a capsule of their knowledge, skill or experience. 

WhatsApp, usually seen as a social app used by groups of friends, can be a powerful micro-learning platform where members of a group can and already do share interesting links, photos, write-ups, posts and so on. The approach currently may not have taken learning into consideration but incidental learning is happening anyways though perhaps going unrecognized. You Tube abounds with short videos on everything from how to use an iPhone app to how to tie your shoelace. Sites like Common Craft specialize in short “how-to” learning videos using a very unique design style of cutout figures in conjunction with hand gestures. Facebook groups on Wildlife or Travel or Art (choose any topic) are replete with short capsules of knowledge – anything and everything from the features and habitat of a bird to sites to see when traveling to a specific place. Pinterest with its rich repository of images and infographic is another example of how micro-learning exists in various forms without being recognized as such.

This same web phenomenon translated to the corporate environment can be an immensely powerful mode of capturing the organizational hive mind – the explicit and the tacit knowledge residing within an organization. Thus, micro-learning can play a crucial role in both formally designed performance support as well as in informal learning, with the latter focusing on user-generated content. The creation of instructionally designed learning bytes, checklists and job aids, infographics, process diagrams, and even email and short messages represent different kinds of micro-learning. Add to these the informal forms of micro-learning – short bursts of content created or curated by users like, podcasts, videos, blog posts, tweets, etc. and one can appreciate the varied usage of the form.

Does micro-learning have to exist in a tangible form like a module, document or video?
I don’t think so. One of the most powerful forms of micro-learning could be feedback on the job. We often forget the power of a quick 5 minute input as a form of learning. Or a 10 minute conversation at the water-cooler.

The other way to look at such micro-learning artifacts could be to see them as social objects (a concept popularized by Hugh Macleod) that give people a reason to create, converse and collaborate. If I know that someone will benefit from my 2 minute video on how I restarted my Note 3 after it crashed, I am more likely to create it. Human beings are intrinsically helpful when given the autonomy and respect.

There is more to micro-learning than meets the eye so to speak. And we’ll be restricting ourselves if we define micro-learning as bytes of learning created only for the online world. Human beings have always engaged in bursts of learning to acquire skills, solve challenges and lead life on a day-to-day basis. Technology is an enabler that enhances this form of learning by amplifying what we share, facilitating connection and allowing access to experts who may be in another time zone altogether. Micro-learning enabled by technology can be a powerful workplace learning strategy.

Micro-learning thus lends itself to formal, informal and incidental learning. We are learning something new every moment and most are some form of micro-learning right down to the list of ingredients on a bottle of ketchup. Some of the information and knowledge bytes we encounter are designed for us with specific objectives in mind – formal learning; some of it we pull based on our need at the moment – informal learning; and some of the learning occurs as a by-product of some other activity – incidental learning. And micro-learning prominently features in all these areas.

Thus, different forms of micro-learning can be used to create a ubiquitous learning environment characterized by the following:
  • Permanency: Learners never lose their work unless it is purposefully deleted. In addition, all the learning processes are recorded continuously everyday.
  • Accessibility: Learners have access to their documents, data, or videos from anywhere. That information is provided based on their requests. Therefore, the learning involved is self-directed.
  • Immediacy: Wherever learners are, they can get any information immediately. Thus, learners can solve problems quickly. Otherwise, the learner can record the questions and look for the answer later.
  • Interactivity: Learners can interact with experts, teachers, or peers in the form of synchronies or asynchronous communication. Hence, the experts are more reachable and the knowledge becomes more available.
  • Situating of instructional activities: The learning could be embedded in our daily life. The problems encountered as well as the knowledge required are all presented in their natural and authentic forms. This helps learners notice the features of problem situations that make particular actions relevant.
  • Adaptability: Learners can get the right information at the right place with the right way. ~Wikipedia

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Re-thinking Workplace Learning and Performance

Yesterday, I wrote a post on Learning vs. Performance – the Dichotomy. It was more of a theoretical exposition on why learning doesn’t necessarily translate into performance, and delved into some of the psychological and behavioral aspects of the same. A friend rightly pointed out that while theories and hypothesis are all good, how does one actually deal with the challenge in practice? Why is it that learning and training don’t translate into performance? Where are all the training rupees, euros, dinars and dollars going? Why are employees still not performing as expected? Why are businesses failing? What should L&D do about it?

In today’s post, I have tried to analyze the learning – performance dichotomy from a more practical standpoint. For a business leader / CEO or anyone else responsible for the bottom line and for sanctioning the training money, learning doesn’t really matter. It’s the business continuity and profit that are the yardsticks of successful performance. Yet L&D squirms at the question of ROI. ROI remains as elusive and mysterious as ever, a veritable unicorn of the L&D world. I won’t say I have debunked the myth of the ROI here. I have just tried to explore various reasons as to why even well-designed programs fail to achieve the desired business results.

We tend to forget that training is just one of the means to achieve business outcome (at least that is the hidden hope in the hearts of a business person). HR might take the “number of hours of training provided to employees” attitude in the interest of employee engagement and Gallup polls. These number of hours typically show up as statistics in the annual HR report and is of very little interest to either the CXOs or the employees. If anything, ironically these statistics further confirm the inefficacy of training. What does matter – critically – is performance and the impact on business. The outcome of the training programs. Today’s employees cringe at the thought of having to attend training programs when they know that they can figure out how to get the work done more quickly and effectively – either by asking their network or by going to Google.

From this standpoint, there are multiple reasons why learning and training – no matter how well designed – don’t necessarily lead to performance. The premise of training is very different from that of performance. Training looks at the knowledge and skill gaps that exist in the employees. Performance looks for the gaps in business. The approach to both are dramatically different.

It’s common knowledge that L&D typically begins by taking a TNA a.k.a. Training Needs Analysis approach; the assumption that training is required having already been made. Instead, imagine a situation where one begins by analyzing gaps in business goals and objectives, i.e., which goals and objectives have not been met and why. A thorough Root-Cause Analysis may reveal various reasons behind the failures to achieve business goals. Some of these could be: 
  1. A lack of skilled individuals or wrong people in the wrong role 
  2. Ineffective recruitment process leading to gaps in core skills (I have often encountered this situation
  3. A churn in teams such that employees don’t get the time to acquire the skills required 
  4. Lack of experienced individuals to lead effectively 
  5. Past experiences holding people back with the “this is how we've always done it” attitude 
  6. A fear of failure leading to lack of experimentation and innovative thinking 
  7. Inability to keep up with the rapid churn in technology and use it optimally 
  8. Hierarchical organizational structure causing silos in orgs blocking knowledge sharing 
  9. Managers or supervisors are unable to coach and mentor their team 
  10. Organizational culture causing dissatisfaction or loss of motivation

Now, no amount of training will lead to improved performance except in the case of point #1 because none of the other problems are related to training or skills gaps. Hence, treating training as a panacea for all ills is highly unlikely to work. And business is left asking the question, “What happened to the money we spent on that training program?”
Training only works where there is a skill gap to fill. And that too, only when the gap is well-defined and known. Even then, to see a behavioral change large enough to have an impact on business goals, it is essential to provide other means of support through coaching, mentoring, on-the-job feedback, opportunity to observe and shadow experienced peers, providing stretch assignments, access to performance support tools, and so on. I wrote about this in my post here. Ensuring performance and business focused outcome calls for a different approach.

An understanding of the crucial business goals and vision become the first step in a performance-focused approach. L&D – as a partner to business – not only has to understand the challenges of business but also needs to be able to analyze and define the root cause of the gaps. While some of the solutions may be beyond the purview of traditional L&D role, it is important to don the mantle of OD (organizational development) specialists also with businesses and the environment becoming increasingly complex and interconnected. 

This approach should help both L&D and business recognize where training can play an important role and show visible business benefits, and where other interventions (beyond training) are required. Most often, the perfect solution lies in a combination of interventions. Organizational challenges today are multi-pronged and taking a single approach doesn’t work. It is entirely possible that while training may be a requirement, other concerns also need to be simultaneously addressed, like the removing of organizational silos, enabling managers to become coaches, ensuring that the right person is in the right role, and so on. 

L&D cringes at the mention of ROI because we know that training is not the only solution and employed in isolation is not likely to show visible benefits. However, most L&D folks are not confident enough to venture into realms beyond that of training and learning design, and thus don’t bring up other organizational factors. But the pitfall of not doing so are many. L&D gets a bad name and business doesn’t really consider us as partners. OD, HR and L&D must come together to enable organizations to realize their potential. 

In summary, not all problems can be solved with training. There are challenges beyond skill gaps. Putting the onus of professional development in the hands of employees by providing them with the appropriate infrastructure in the form of enterprise collaboration platform might work to some extent but not always. Challenges mentioned above require different interventions and approaches. Only through a holistic mingling of methods and by taking a systems thinking approach is it possible to see a visible impact on performance and business outcomes.   

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Learning Vs. Performance -- The Dichotomy

The shift has happened. The focus has moved from “learning” to “performance”. “Training” as a panacea for all ills – from lack of productivity to lack of motivation, attrition, and lost profits – is losing its power. Our education system had inculcated the belief that “learning” is all about gaining information and knowledge and being able to remember that long enough to answer exam questions. The standardized tests verified everyone’s capabilities against the same parameters. The lucky few whose capabilities matched the parameters came out with flying colors. The rest of us went on to believe we were stupid or incapable. The report card with the grades in bold attested the belief. Today, Google and the Internet has eliminated the need to remember information. The basic premise of standardized schooling is (hopefully) vanishing.
This mode of rote learning carried over into the workplace along with the prerequisite for conformity. The industrial era required the completion of standardized work and obedient workers who would follow pre-defined processes. So, a loop of training followed by application of the knowledge and processes learnt became the norm. It was “learn, then work.” Through repeated application, employees gained expertise and efficiency was a direct outcome. Supervision and appraisals were centered on safeguarding conformance. Those deviating from set processes wasted valuable time – their own and others – and were speedily brought to book. Managers devised process improvement; the workers were re-trained on the new and improved processes, where applicable. There was no need for a holistic understanding since everyone had to focus on their part of the process. Everything worked beautifully like the veritable machine it was.

With the passing of the industrial era, the ground began shifting under everyone’s feet. One world was dead and the other still powerless to be born…Process optimization and re-optimization, process engineering and re-engineering – nothing seemed to be working. The premise that one could be trained first and then put on-the-job was based on the ability to transfer explicit knowledge and tried and tested processes. Training looked backward on what had worked in the past. Training didn’t teach the meta-skills of learning nor did it foster the abilities for creative thinking, innovation and pattern sensing – all necessary 21C skills. Most importantly, training couldn’t capture tacit knowledge and nor could it prepare the employees for a rapidly changing landscape. Training wasn’t necessarily leading to the desired performance outcome anymore. It’s rapidly becoming evident that training will increasingly have a tiny role to play in workplace learning and performance. Frameworks like the 70:20:10 has espoused this for many years now. So I won’t repeat any of those points. I will instead focus on few other aspects that we (L&D) miss out or don’t focus on enough when thinking of workplace performance in the Knowledge Era.

In this context, a discussion with a friend led me to the video on Knowing-Doing Gap by Bob Proctor. He brings up some interesting aspects of the conscious and the unconscious mind. What I found particularly interesting as a learning designer is his description of the conscious mind as an information gathering tool. I urge you to see the video. While he brings a coaching angle to it, the mention of paradigm shifts and the need to tap into the unconscious mind is important – more so in today’s context – where information gathering no longer yields the results it earlier did. To be successful at acquiring new skills at the speed of need, we need to be able to tap into our unconscious mind which is the seat of our paradigms. The question is, “How does this information impact us, the L&D folks”. I think this could have a huge impact. Some further research into the Knowing-Doing Gap led me to his website: This summarizes the various reasons behind the existence of such gaps, including explicit and tacit knowledge, subconscious paradigms, limiting beliefs, fixed vs. growth mindset, fear of failure, and so on.
We know that effective learning leads to visible behavior change. That is, it has a direct impact on performance. People should start to do things differently. However, we also know that a training program – even a well-designed one – doesn’t guarantee any behavior change. Training is an event. The effect of the Forgetting Curve sets in soon after the event is over. For visible performance outcome, we need to enable paradigm shifts. This goes beyond the realm of training or even informal and social learning. IMHO, individuals participate in social learning only when they believe that this will lead to performance improvement and professional growth. This in turn requires the fostering of a growth mindset and a letting go of limiting beliefs – both critical paradigm shifts. One of the reasons why enterprise collaboration platforms aren’t always used effectively could be that employees don’t believe it will help them. Add to this a fear of failure and unwillingness to expose one’s ignorance, and sharing and collaboration – the pillars of social learning – fall apart. Without a shift in these important paradigms, it could be difficult to see a change in performance in spite of putting in place every possible support.

A quick summary of each of the paradigms mentioned above shows how these could probably have an impact on the overall performance of each individual, and on the organization as a whole:

  • Growth mindset - Carol Dweck, in her research, differentiated between Fixed Mindset and Growth Mindset. For someone harboring a fixed mindset, it could be difficult to see how engaging in social learning and collaborating could make them perform better. Since they believe that intelligence is static, this can become an obstacle to change in behavior. On the other hand, people with growth mindset are likely to take every opportunity to pull the resources they need to perform better. They are usually the ones to volunteer information, ask questions and try out new ways of doing things. Recognizing those with a fixed mindset and providing them with the necessary support and coaching could lead to better performance.
  • Limiting beliefs – Related to fixed mindset, limiting beliefs constrain us in many ways. While as learning designers we may well think that someone’s personal limiting beliefs are not within our purview of work, it’s a reality that limiting beliefs can often adversely impact the outcome we expect. Hence, as L&D, we need to dig deeper and check for this, and if necessary, enable employees to overcome these through coaching, mentoring, job rotation, and so on. Even a well-designed programs will fail to achieve the desired performance outcome if not supported through other means. An interesting post on limiting beliefs here. People with growth mindset typically have enabling beliefs that take them forward. Thus, the same program and similar support can elicit different performance outcomes depending on whether the employee has a fixed mindset and limiting beliefs or the other binary – growth mindset with enabling beliefs.
  • Fear of failures – This could directly stem from the organizational culture and environment. An organisation that’s intolerant of mistakes, reprimands failures and discourages risk-taking isn’t likely to see a whole lot of change. Employees will find it safer to stick to the old ways than experiment with new ones. An enterprise collaboration platform might lie unused because employees don’t wish to display their ignorance.
It is important for L&D to recognize and take into consideration some of these so that when facilitating the learning-performance loop in organizations, they can focus on enabling the required changes. By facilitating an ecosystem that goes beyond training, L&D can enable performance change. The training represents one component – the formal one – of such an ecosystem. The knowledge and skills acquired via training could be supported through other means – informal and social – which is illustrated below:

These are just some of the associated factors that can have an impact on the overall performance of an organization. While orgs strive to design effective programs, create performance support tools, facilitate enterprise-wide collaboration by putting in place social platforms, and encourage transparency and sharing, they may still encounter less-than optimal performance and resistance. Probing may reveal some of the causes to be related to what is discussed here.        

Thursday, July 17, 2014

High-Impact L&D

On my way to work today, I was scrolling through my blog roll and LinkedIn posts and came across this (as always) thoughtfully written post on It's Time to Redesign HR by Josh Bersin. He emphasizes the importance of re-thinking the role of HR and defines some of the aspects that make for a high-impact HR team. And one of the important points he raises is the need to consider HR as a talent function, moving beyond some of the typical administrative tasks that are typically seen as defining parameters of HR roles. To quote him here: “Our research found that only 7% of HR's real value comes from its role as an internal people operations team: more than 5 times its value comes from its role in supporting, developing, and identifying leaders.”

For a detailed understanding, do read the post.

I am not an HR specialist, but as an L&D person (and I am going to switch to calling ourselves P&D – performance and development – as described by Clark Quinn in his Revolutionizing Learning and Development, another must read for L&D/P&D folks), I can see the utmost need to work closely with HR to not only draw up training calendars but also to move an organization towards becoming a high-impact learning and performing org.

Josh Bersin has defined a few characteristics and adaptations that would make for a High-Impact HR team. Drawing inspiration from him, I have tried to capture a few aspects of a High-Impact P&D team. I am also stimulated and inspired by Clark Quinn’s book mentioned above. For those following my blog regularly, some of the points may seem a repetition of earlier posts since I have been writing about L&D on and off for the past few months. This post is a synthesis of my learning, observation and analysis so far. To be fair, none of the ideas are highly original and I stand on the shoulders of giants who are leading the way through innovative thinking, bold vision and an incisive understanding of the current and future state of work.

Here are some of my thoughts…

High-Impact P&D teams must have deep specialists – while it is important to have generalists with an understanding of the various forces at play today, it is vital to have specialists with focus. Like HR, P&D team’s scope of work and influence have multiplied manifold. It is essential that they understand the different nuances and the impact of the forces affecting the workplace today and the future skills required to remain relevant (and survive). It is not possible for everyone to be an expert in all aspects. And with the landscape of work and economy shifting faster than we can comprehend or adapt to, it becomes critical to have each individual in a P&D team focus on certain aspects of their passion. By working together, a team of deep specialists can enable an organization to continually evolve and be on top of the changes and churns.

High-Impact P&D teams are diverse and Interdisciplinary – I strongly advocate Scott E. Page’s book The Difference: How the Power of Diversity Creates Better Groups, Firms, Schools, and Societies. It’s a complex book but one that provides plenty of insights. One of the key points he makes is the importance of having diverse thinkers and experts. The point I am trying to make is the importance of staffing a P&D team with people of varied skill-sets, passions and experiences. We often fall prey to a standard JD which reflects levels of seniority and formal degrees but not a diversity of skills and experiences. In today’s world of increasing complexity and interconnectedness, it is important to have a team of people (especially a team responsible for the performance and learning of an org) who understand and can take advantage of the varying forces at play – social, mobile, analytics and cloud to name a few. Add to these the drivers that Ross Dawson mentions in his Future of Work infographic given below, and it is evident that it requires a highly poly-skilled, diverse and interdisciplinary team of people to make sense of all that is happening around us, and craft performance development and capability building strategies.

High-Impact P&D team must engage in systems thinking Peter Senge’s seminal work The Fifth Discipline is based on systems thinking and its role in the building of a learning organization. It is becoming increasingly important – almost imperative – to take a systems thinking approach to developing P&D strategy today. Senge’s work makes a very critical point that all P&D professionals need to keep in mind today: “Survival learning” or what is more often termed “adaptive learning” is important – indeed it is necessary. But for a learning organization, “adaptive learning” must be joined by “generative learning”, learning that enhances our capacity to create’ (Senge 1990:14).” -

Today’s orgs can only “survive” and “thrive” if they take generative learning into account. The ability to handle and respond to complexity, learn rapidly and on the go through handling exceptions, share that learning to generate new and innovative ways of working are all going to be the hallmarks of learning organizations today. And only such orgs will survive. P&D has an important role to play in bringing about this transformation. John Hagel has written at length about scalable learning (similar to generative learning described by Senge) over scalable efficiency – the former will drive the orgs of 21C. Read John Hagel’s post here for a better understanding of scalable learning and the importance of systems thinking.
High-Impact P&D teams must act local, think global – I think this has become a meme today that everyone uses. I have tried to define what it means in the context of P&D. With most organizations – at least most of the employees – being dispersed, it is a challenge for both HR and P&D.  Add to this the myriad kinds of employees – on the rolls, contractual, project-based, telecommuters, consultants, etc., and the challenges multiply by orders of magnitude. How does one ensure skills and capability building in such situations? P&D thus needs to understand not only the immediate needs of the organization and the existing skills of employees but also foresee future needs and be prepared for the same. This is no mean task given that each employee is likely to have unique needs. With the workplace becoming more and more focused on performance and productivity, P&D has to be cognizant of the various drivers and align their performance development solutions and support to meet the needs of a varied user base.

High-Impact P&D teams must be connectors and collaborators – they have to act as “organizational glue” by connecting people and enabling collaboration. For generative learning to take place, it is important that people converse, exchange ideas and hold discourses. The era of becoming an expert in isolation is gone. Today, in an era of ubiquitous connectivity, expertise comes from one’s networks. The richer and diverse the network, the faster one learns. And it is the role of P&D to enable the creation of such networks within the org. John Hagel describes this beautifully when writing about collaboration curves in the context of the hugely popular online game, the World of Warcraft: “the more participants–and interactions between those participants–you add to a carefully designed and nurtured environment, the more the rate of performance improvement goes up. … Collaboration curves hold the potential to mobilize larger and more diverse groups of participants to innovate and create new value. In so doing they may also reverse the diminishing returns dynamics of the experience curve and deliver increasing returns to performance instead.” (Introducing the Collaboration Curve)



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