Friday, November 21, 2014

Working out Loud and Serendipity


I started my day reading a post by Rawn Shah called Work Out Loud because Everyone is Figuring Out Their Job. The post of course struck a chord and reminded me that this is #wol week. It is serendipity that I also happen to be reading Austin Kleon's Show Your Work! at this time. All of this made me think I should write a post on working out loud and its place in workplace learning.

As is my wont, I tend to look at everything mostly through my L&D lens, especially when it comes to learning and sharing at the workplace. I have been thinking for a long time about what we, as L&D, need to and can do to foster a culture of sharing and collaborative learning to meet the challenges of a distributed workplace with dispersed expertise and complex work situations. In my mind, working out loud can be one of the means to strengthen organizational learning. 

Working out loud not only helps people to share their "work-in-progress" but also enables sense-making by building a keen awareness of the processes being followed, decisions taken, mistakes made, and learnings thus gleaned. When we choose to "work out loud" as a sharing mechanism, we tend to do some of the following:
  1. Analyse our own work more critically
  2. Evaluate what we are doing and why we are doing it 
  3. Break down the constituent parts so that we can share meaningfully
  4. Make our work "narratable" so that it becomes a living document of our competencies and capabilities
  5. Begin to take greater pride in our work -- not only in the finished product but also in the ongoing process, the struggles and the wins
As John Stepper has aptly described:
"Working out loud is working in an open, generous, connected way so you can build a purposeful network, become more effective, and access more opportunities."
His post on the 5 elements of working out loud has good practical suggestions on getting started. The key word is "purposeful". Here, sharing takes on a different flavour from beating one's own trumpet. Sharing purposefully implies making my work visible as not only an end outcome but also the messy processes and thinking that goes behind it. Thus, working out loud is intrinsically linked to two critical aspects of becoming a good learner -- Personal knowledge Management (PKM) and building one's Personal Learning Network (PLN). Austin Kleon points out in his deceptively simply written book mentioned above, "Share something small everyday." He goes on to explain this: 
"Once a day, after you've done your day's work, go back to your documentation and find one little piece of your process that you can share."
I find this simple advice very powerful. As an L&D person, if we can inspire and motivate everyone to share one little piece everyday--be it a method for project execution or an insight gathered from the day, over a period of time this can build up to be an immensely rich repository of knowledge and tacit experiences. More than that, the individuals thus sharing acquire the skills of sense-making through narration of their work. 

Sharing invites sharing. When we create a space and expose our vulnerabilities and challenges, we invite others to do the same. Such sharing can trigger serendipity and meaningful conversation -- two of the critical factors that can shape organizational learning. Sharing brings each one's unique strengths and perspectives to the surface. It is a great way to encourage the coming together of diverse minds thereby creating a space and opportunity for innovation. Only when perspectives and processes are out in the open can the combinatorial aspect of innovation and creative thinking come into play. Organizations that invest time in coaching people how to work out loud and do it consistently can reap huge benefits. 

Serendipity is another by-product of working out loud. We serendipitously encounter others who are similarly passionate, have overcome similar failures and taken similar learning journeys. Working out loud shapes serendipity. Finally, as Austin Kleon says in his book, sharing can "take people behind the scenes." 
"A lot of people are so used to just seeing the outcome of work. They never see the side of the work you go through to produce the outcome." ~ Michael Jackson.
Coming back to the role of L&D, and the need for collaboration and continuous learning, and engaging workers on the ESN--working out loud could be a good beginning. It takes practice and initial support. But I believe this could be achieved through modelling the desired behaviour. If senior leaders, members of the L&D team and other influencers (experts, senior and respected workers) engage in sharing their work by practising #wol, it would foster similar behaviour in the org. By inculcating and encouraging a culture of working out loud, organizations can gradually begin to see greater engagement on their enterprise social networks as well. Meaningful engagement! 

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Changing Face of ID: An Experiment

I am trying to experiment with different ways of putting out bits and snippets of my work, thoughts and ideas. I thought I would try to put out my modern workplace learning presentation as a Pinterest board. I am not sure how good or bad the idea is but thought it would be interesting to have each slide as an individual image and see how much sense they make as a single, standalone image. The rationale being: Should anyone find any of the images useful, they can--in the spirit of share and share alike and combinatorial nature of creative work--freely use the images. 

Here is the result of my experiment...

Follow Sahana's board Changing Face of ID on Pinterest.

You can see the entire presentation on SlideShare:


All inputs and feedback are welcome!

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

L&D's Role in the VUCA World: Part 1


Josh Bersin's presentation on 21st Century Talent Management: Imperatives for 2014 and 2015 highlights some of the following as the key areas where the biggest capability gaps exist: Leadership, Re-skilling HR, Talent Acquisition and Access, Talent and HR Analytics, Reinventing L&D, and so on. Each area is critical today in building an organization and an organizational culture that will not only attract the best employees but will also provide them with the necessary platform to give their best. An organization may attract the best and then lose them due to an overly repressive culture, a hierarchical structure or a closed environment. Today's employees are more focused on the three qualities of work defined by Daniel Pink in Drive: Autonomy, Mastery and Purpose.   

In this post, I am going to discuss the point on Reinventing L&D, one of the key capability requirements mentioned in the presentation. I have written about this here and here. And another related post on the Evolution of L&D... Here, I will explore the role of L&D in the VUCA (volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity) world. 


While we (L&D) keep talking about complexity and ambiguity and enabling learners to acquire the skills of "learning how to learn", we know that we need to transform and redefine ourselves and our role in the organization to add value to business. 

I am going to probe each of the aspects of VUCA and share my thoughts on what L&D needs to do. This is more of a #wol and thinking-aloud post. My thinking around this is not yet concretized. And I know it can't be. It's thinking in beta and only time and repeated experiments will tell what works in the VUCA world. However, one thing I am sure of is that we have to experiment, fail fast and learn from failures. The external conditions and environment are not going to stabilize enough for us to take a step back and come up with a solid plan and blue print of organizational learning. We'll have to become deft at designing as we go while keeping an eye on the big picture. This is where an understanding of what we need to bring to the table from on organizational and individual perspective keeping VUCA in mind may be useful.

Volatility: Lack of stability is a given. Things will suddenly change. As L&D, we need to build in capabilities like agility, resilience and creativity. Not only in ourselves, but also in the organization. While some aspect of L&D will still be focused on skills training, we have to realize that skills training is the bare minimum required to get someone started or move to the next level. Knowledge and skills today have a diminishing shelf life and require constant rebuilding. Training is essentially past focused. People are trained to do certain tasks in ways that worked in the past; but there is no guarantee that it will continue to work in the future. Training is thus giving diminishing returns as days go by. 

One of the ways out of this is to focus on re-generating skills like learning agility, resilience, and creativity. Can these be taught? I think yes. L&D can enable organizations to have conversations around these areas. Sessions on learning agility can be built into "training plans" to initiate such conversations. "Learning how to learn" is a skill not everyone has. And it can be fostered. Coursera is coming up with a MOOC on Learning How to Learn starting January 2015. L&D can help foster learning agility mindset. The diagram below highlights some of the characteristics of a learning agile person:
These are mindsets, skills and attitudes that can be inculcated. I won't delve into the organizational culture required for these qualities to take root. That is a topic for another pots. However, by bringing awareness to the forefront, L&D can enable people to make wise choices.

Uncertainty: We live amidst uncertainty on all fronts. And there is precious little we can do about it. As I mulled over what L&D can do to enable an organization in an uncertain world of business and economy, I could think of a few things. An uncertain world requires some of the following skills:

L&D can help build the skills at an organizational and an individual level. We can use an enterprise collaboration platform to facilitate working out loud, foster conversations, and encourage user-generated content. Working out loud facilitate sharing and making sense of the emerging patterns thus helping orgs and individuals to solve problems faster and more creatively. Working out loud is also a great sense-making mechanism--one of the key skills required today. The activities of sharing and connecting in turn help individuals learn from each other and move toward a self-driven, continuous learning mode. Of course, all of these not only take time but also commitment. Commitment from the organization, the necessary skill-sets within L&D and a culture based on transparency and trust. But the reality is that unless organizations move towards this kind of culture, there is little chance of survival. 

Complexity: I have written about complexity here (Adaptive Thinking, Deliberate Practice, and Complexity) and here (Wicked Problems, Complexity and Learning) and here. Ever since I stumbled across the Cynefin framework, complexity and emergence have fascinated me. But coming back to the point, what does L&D need to do in a complex world? Dealing with complexity requires Adaptive Thinking. 
In military parlance, the term Adaptive Thinking has been used to describe the cognitive behaviour of an officer who is confronted by unanticipated circumstances during the execution of a planned military operation. It refers to the thinking a leader must do to adapt operations to the requirements of unfolding events and is thus a key component of competency in battle command. Adaptive Thinking is a behaviour. ~ (Source: Think Like a Commander.PDF 
The military have an Adaptive Thinking Training Methodology (ATTM). It has the following characteristics: 

  • Adaptive Thinking focuses on training how to think rather than what to think. 
  • Adaptive Thinking is different from lateral, creative or out-of-the box thinking. It is defined by the conditions under which it occurs. The conditions or constraints need to be taken into account and a solution sought within that. This is also the hallmark of a creative problem-solver, one who is unfazed by constraints but adapts herself/himself to get the maximum benefit out of the situation. 
  • Adaptive Thinking, as the term implies, indicates thinking while performing. This is different from thinking in an environment of calm reflection. This is why it becomes important to develop Adaptive Thinking skills through deliberation. Under conditions of stress, it is human nature to react automatically, using approaches that come most naturally and effortlessly.

L&D and orgs might do well to take a leaf out of this and implement a few things...

Ambiguity: Ambiguity can be scary and exhilarating depending on how we look at it. This quote sums it up beautifully! 
Life is about not knowing, having to change, taking the moment and making the best of it, without knowing what's going to happen next. Delicious ambiguity! ~ Gilda Radner

Ambiguity is important because: 
  • It gives rise to questions
  • It makes you probe deeper
  • It makes you suspecting of surface reality 
  • It makes you uncomfortable and forces you to find a way out

All of these can be great learning triggers if the skills of learning how to learn and self-driven learning have been fostered. Dealing with ambiguity also requires a natural curiosity and a questing attitude. In ambiguous situations, one is faced with "unknown unknowns" and has to be able come up with a solution. Here is a simple but quite effective matrix I found when researching ambiguity (http://instituteofdesign.typepad.com/d_log/2007/02/dealing_with_am.html).

L&D has quite a few tasks to do and hats to don as we go about making sense of the VUCA world. 

I would love to know what you think. 

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Myth of the "Relevant Experience"


During my daily twitter stream reading, I came across this snippet from Stowe Boyd:

"A formal hierarchy overweights experience and underweights new thinking, and in doing so perpetuates the past. It misallocates power, since promotions often go to the most politically astute rather than to the most prescient or productive."~ By Gary Hamel, Bureaucracy Must Die (The bold highlights are mine.)

The snippet succinctly puts forth the challenges of being a hierarchical organization set to operate in a stable world but hurled into the new world of complexity, change and disruptive tech. The impact of formal hierarchy on organizational culture can be far-reaching. From over-weighing of experience to "this-is-the-way-things-are-done-here" syndrome, it has an effect on all areas of organizational function. As long as experience makes one resilient, quick to adapt and learn, a good leader and empathetic manager, and increases one's ability to connect the dots and see the pattern, the experience is relevant. When experience makes one rigid, unable to accept change, arrogant about the efficacy of what worked in the past and hence concluding that the same will continue to work today, and deafens one to new thinking, that experience lacks relevance and becomes a hindrance to the growth of the organization. 

The unfortunate truth is that most organizations cling to past experience and glory almost as an armor against new thinking. The unwillingness to meet change, accept the new world of work, and be adaptive can actually tip an organization into a downward spiral. Kodak and Borders are glaring examples. Organizational agility is also reflective of the mindset of the organization’s leadership. Whether they pay homage to experience and “relevant experience” or embrace new thinking and keep adapting and growing shape the culture and impacts how things get done.

This is not to imply that experience doesn’t have value. It does. However, what matters is how organizations view experience. When “relevant experience” implying the number of years an individual has worked in the same field and the knowledge thus accumulated comes to be viewed as sacrosanct, this is a danger signal. This kind of thinking is the enemy of innovation and creativity. In today's rapidly changing context, the value of "relevant experience" has a very short shelf-life. Often, with roles that have evolved/emerged in the last 5 years, like those of Enterprise Community Manager, Social Media Marketing, Digital Officer, etc., asking for relevant experience makes no sense. And with roles that we know nothing about except that these will emerge over the next few years, the criteria needs to be very different. Standardized JDs with well-defined roles pose a hindrance to an organization’s ability to adapt and thrive.

IMHO, everything that I have done so far is relevant. Hence, I find it very difficult to answer this question. The question demands that we fragment our experiences into buckets and silos when the reality is that each experience ties together to form a story. In an era where we are moving out of "jobs for life" into a "life of different and varied jobs", every bit of experience gathered along the way counts--nothing is irrelevant. Thus, the myth of relevant experience needs to be closely scrutinized. It is often a roadblock to organizational and individual growth--all the more so if tied to a fixed mindset.  

As Harold Jarche points out in his post on An Update on Jobs, "We need to skill-up jobs for emergent and novel practices which requires a completely different mindset about work." In an earlier post, Harold had written: "I think that the construct of the job, with its defined skills, effort, responsibilities and working conditions, is a key limiting organizational factor for the creative economy..." I completely agree! Once jobs were slotted and packaged to enable the Industrial Era to function smoothly. The JDs defined the role, training provided the required skill sets, and then one was put to work. Over the years, experience added efficiency and the ability to deal with emergencies. Experienced, dependable, obedient workers got promoted. Dissenters were usually perceived as nuisance and sacked. 

Today, obedience and dependability don't go far. As Gary Hamel pointed out in 2009, the Knowledge Economy requires Creativity, Initiative and Passion. It also requires learning agility, a willingness to try and fail, and a growth mindset. Every walk of life--from healthcare to education, from the print media to learning design--is facing technological disruption. Well established organizations like Kodak and Borders went out of business in spite of their years of experience. The disruptive power of technology will have far-reaching effects that we have not even started to conceive. And this will only multiply exponentially. Organizations will have to transform the way they operate -- in all aspects. This includes recruitment, talent management, workplace design, employee policies, articulation of values, and much more. 

Going back to the snippet I started the post with, formal hierarchy doesn’t only impede free flow of knowledge and sharing but it also makes an organization rigid, unable to adapt and siloed. Well-crafted job descriptions belonged to an era of stable, predictable work with exact and known outcomes, and a belief in skill accumulation. There is no relevant experience any more. Only experience. And the more diverse and varied they are, the better!


The post Ten Skills for the Future Workforce is a good summary of some of the core skills organizations should look out for in their prospective employees and seek to grow in the existing workforce—at all levels. 

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Week's Learning #3: Hyperlinks, Serendipity, Learning

I have been collating interesting tweets and bits of learning from my Twitter feed. I aim to be more regular but somehow the postings have been erratic thus far. Here are some snippets I found especially interesting this week. 

From Hopscotch by Richard Martin:

The hyperlink. It is the bridge that builds connections. The symbol of choice and decision making. The glue that binds networks of information. The hyperlink represents a path that connects a breadcrumb trail of clues. It invites investigation and detection. As with Dr Who or Bill and Ted, the hyperlink enables us to travel through space and time. Or, like Sherlock Holmes, to skip and jump through the mind palace of accumulated memories and knowledge.
He goes on to write about the subversive and fluid nature of hyperlinks comparing it to a metaphoric game of hopscotch. This aptly describes the disruptive and non-linear nature of hyperlinks. And this is how the web works. 

From Knowledge, Trust, Credibility and a Focus on Results by @jonhusband

Basically, in an interconnected and hyperlinked world (henceforth the new conditions in which we live in much, but not all, of the world) the incessant flows of information increasingly define key aspects of what we do and how we live.  These flows of information are occurring in a public space, and are beginning to be a key ingredient of communal, societal (and perhaps global) opinion and cultures.  
From  Serendipity, discretionary energy, and the Harlem Renaissance
These days, we’re bombarded with stories about purpose, intent, planning, and goal-setting. The economy is or isn’t going according to plan, the military is developing a new strategy, the new CEO will head in a different direction to revive a struggling company. And yet, no matter how much plans and strategies accomplish—and it’s a ton—they cannot command individuals to commit their discretionary energy to a project, and they can’t produce serendipity at a moment’s notice.
Most organizations fail to tap into the discretionary energy of their employees. "The discretionary energy and enthusiasms of your workforce can lead to serendipitous breakthroughs, thus producing the resilience and adaptability that organizations most need today."

From @gapingvoid 

The problem is purely philosophical. Social is part technology but it is what social unlocks and also empowers that is truly transformative. It’s a great equalizer. Social flattens markets and connects people to other people. As we become more connected we become more informed. With information comes power and empowerment. And with empowerment, consumers become more demanding.

Serendipity and Learning are two of my favourite words. I am a firm believer in serendipity. 

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Why Organizations Must Encourage Collaboration: Building a Case


Organizations, i.e., the business leaders and executives are not interested in learning. Nor do they care much about collaboration. Business cares only about the outcome. It is up to us--L&D professionals--to connect learning and collaboration to business goals like customer satisfaction, efficient troubleshooting, innovative design ideas, reduced production time, and such.

This brings us to the questions that are floating around in most organizations today:
  1. Why should employees collaborate? 
  2. How can facilitating collaboration help the organization? 
  3. What is in it for the employees?
Until and unless L&D can clearly and unambiguously articulate the responses to these questions, business will continue to view ESNs and collaborative learning/collaboration with scepticism. Even when businesses invest in an ESN platform, most become ghost towns after the initial 2-month hype. 

I have attempted to share some of my thoughts and responses to the questions mentioned above. 

Why should employees collaborate?
Readers of my blog know that I have written about this before since it's one of my pet topics. I will briefly summarize my key reasons here. 

Organizations today deal with a multitude of tasks and challenges that are complex, and more of exceptions than norms. Rapid technological advancement, a global workforce, and constantly changing and unique requirements make it impossible to train people for all eventualities before putting them to work. Shorter and shorter production cycles, demanding and informed customers, and increasingly interconnected and complex work require workers who are agile and adept at picking up new skills, are willing to experiment, and can learn quickly from failures. And these cannot happen when employees work in silos or as individuals. 

Complex work requires multi-disciplinary skill sets and diverse perspectives. The Industrial Era thrived by making each employee perfect a skill through repeated application. This led to improved productivity. However, anything that can be perfected through repetition has been automated. As Ben Hammersly had said: "Anything that can be reduced to a flowchart, will be automated." And it has.

The Knowledge Era requires workers to be innovative and creative, to come up with simple and elegant solutions to complex business challenges, and each solution will require cross-disciplinary teams. Thus, collaboration across teams and projects, across business functions and disciplines, both within and without the organization can no longer be viewed as something "employees should do if they can find the time". It is something that "employees and business leaders must become adept at if they wish to survive and thrive in today's work environment". 

Collaboration implies "working together toward a common goal" (from +Harold Jarche). As more and more people--across countries and cultures, across disciplines, across projects--are required to work together to design a solution, collaboration is the only way. What does this mean in terms of concrete action from the employees? It means some of the following:
  1. Sharing a common understanding of the goal the group is striving toward
  2. Narrating one's work so that others can learn from the successes and failures
  3. Sharing resources, expertise and knowledge openly and generously 
  4. Openly respecting everyone's inputs, and building on each other's ideas 
  5. Fostering trust so that sharing of tacit knowledge becomes easier
  6. Always keeping the end goal in mind 
  7. Seeking and providing continuous feedback 
  8. Believing in the prime directive of the Agile Retrospective: "Regardless of what we discover, we understand and truly believe that everyone did the best job they could, given what they knew at the time, their skills and abilities, the resources available, and the situation at hand."
How can facilitating collaboration help the organization? 
When employees work towards a common goal, it benefits the organization. Collaboration and trust elicits the sharing of tacit knowledge that is an accumulation of years of experience and expertise. This is critical for the growth of an organization. By empowering, enabling and trusting employees to keep the larger organizational vision in mind, orgs take employees into partnership thus building engagement and commitment. 

However, to arrive at this stage requires concrete actions steps from leaders and executives. We have heard often enough that culture can kill all good intentions; culture literally can eat strategy for lunch, dinner and breakfast. Leaders need to walk the talk. Most ESNs become ghost towns because driving engagement become the responsibility of L&D/HR. L&D/HR can and should be facilitators. However, true engagement must come from the leaders. Only when leadership shows they are willing to be harbingers of change, can any change take root and flourish. Collaboration and sharing need to be built into and accounted for in the organizational learning and growth strategy. It cannot be a add on. It must be an integral part of the strategic vision of the 21C organization. Moreover, by delegating collaboration to L&D, leaders send out the message that it is not really important. By not engaging on the organization's ESN, they implicitly communicate their lack of faith and commitment. In such cases, true collaboration and engagement is bound to fail. Some things start at the top...even in an ever flattening, networked world. 

What is in it for the employees?
When asked to share or contribute on the organization's ESN, the most frequently heard responses/questions are:
  1. We don't have the time.
  2. What do we share?
  3. I posted something last week but no one responded.
  4. I have to send everything I want to post for review; it's too tedious.
  5. How is collaborating here related to my work? 
Obviously, there is a problem. The most glaring one is that there is no synch between one's workflow and the ESN. Sharing and collaborating on the platform feel like an additional piece of work. This is a challenge for L&D and leadership to resolve. 

To come back to the WIIFM for employees, we need to highlight these. The first and very obvious one is the professional development for the employees. Whenever someone shares their expertise, they gain credibility over a period of time. They are recognized and sought after. The second critical advantage, IMHO, is the opportunity to develop skills of narrating one's work, online collaboration, curation and writing. These are critical 21C skills that will stand all who have them in good stead. The third one is the ability an organization-wide ESN platform provides to connect and share learnings with colleagues from across the globe. It is no longer restricted to who is next to you or in the next cubicle. This can be highly impactful for both the employees and the organization. Different perspectives and diverse opinions/ideas lead to creative solutions. If actively used and facilitated, employees can begin building their personal learning networks (PLN) and carry the skills with them wherever they go.

All of these not only make an employee more immediately efficient but it also make ongoing learning a part of their workflow. This in turn has a positive impact on productivity. Just like the Industrial Era couldn't do without training, the Knowledge Era workers and organizations will flounder without the skills of collaboration, building of personal learning network and the ability to manage their own professional development. 

    Monday, November 3, 2014

    L&D needs New Skills

    While we would love to think that employees will--seeing the looming complexities and unpredictability of work today--become self-driven, autonomous learners keen to acquire all the skills and knowledge required, this is not what usually happens. 

    In typical organizations with a hierarchical structure, employees are still expected to do as told. In most cases. It is hardly surprising that employees who have worked for years under such a structure become more of order takers than proactive doers. This impacts the way they take responsibility for their personal learning as well. The approach taken is still that of “the organization will provide the training I need”. While this seems like a sweeping indictment, it is not meant to be one. There are organizations that encourage and facilitate self-driven learning. There are workers who take charge of their own personal and professional developments. These individuals are most often attracted to organizations where they are given the autonomy to do their work the way they feel best. And the work is usually imbued with a purpose. They feel a sense of progress and are eager to achieve mastery. Yes, I am falling back on what Dan Pink says in Drive. These three are fundamental to intrinsic motivation, which is a critical factor in self-driven, autonomous learning.

    There are workers in the other kind of organization—the hierarchical, command and control ones—who flounder when expected to take charge of their own professional development. And this is for multiple reasons—the most important being fear of failure and making mistakes closely followed by that dreaded encounter with their managers. Add to that a bit of a cultural sauce, and we have employees waiting to be told what to do, how to do it, and relinquishing control over their professional development. 

    A study by Geert Hofstede on Cultural Dimensions helps us to view this through a different set of lenses. According to this study, India is one of those countries where the Power Distance is high. Power Distance is defined as:
    "...the extent to which the less powerful members of institutions and organisations within a country expect and accept that power is distributed unequally."
    Given below is a comparison between India and the USA across the six cultural dimensions as defined by Hofstede. 
    This is an insightful tool to understand why hierarchy and authority have a greater impact in some countries, in addition to the already prevailing organizational culture. This could help L&D teams (especially those working across countries and cultures) be more aware of the nuances of cultural differences. While the organizational culture plays a huge role, the embedded collective social psyche/unconscious is also responsible to some extent for employee behaviour. Given the high power distance in a country like India, it is little wonder that most people accept authority and hierarchy more easily than perhaps in the West. This in turn impedes their ability to take focused decisions with regard to something as critical as personal learning. 

    In such context, it becomes even more imperative to create an organizational culture that is safe, open, and supportive of its employees. Fearless employees are more likely to take ownership of their own learning and give their best to the organization.

    That was a bit of a detour. The main point of the post is how can L&D facilitate autonomous learning, and help an organization integrate learning into its workflow. 

    L&D, IMHO, has to don the hat of change agents to bring about this transformation. This implies taking on quite a few challenges and tasks that may not be within the current purview of one's L&D roles/tasks. More importantly, it requires the L&D team to have a set of skills that are typically not considered when building the team. These include:


    Be able to hold difficult conversations: Kerry Patterson's book, Crucial Conversations: Tools for Talking When Stakes Are High is a good one to start with. While a book is not going to give us the skills we need in totality, it's a good starting point. The next step is to practice holding such conversations beginning with people we feel relatively safe with. If possible, asking someone to provide feedback and coaching would be helpful. I consider this a critical skill because very often L&D teams are equipped with the requisite knowledge but flounder when the time comes for those executive level, decision-making meetings and presentations. To persuade and influence business leaders, it is often necessary to be conversant in the art of conversation. Some amount of influencing and negotiating skills will be useful as well. 

    Know how to build one's PLN (online and offline): The L&D team must "walk the talk". And to do so, we need to practice and be proficient in the behaviours we want to instil. As agents and drivers of change, we have to begin by embracing the change ourselves. Since not all L&D members possibly use social media to drive their own professional development, acquiring the skills of building a personal learning network (PLN) and practising personal knowledge management (PKM) will require some time and effort. While most people today use multiple social tools, using them to enhance and support learning and professional development may not come naturally. 
    Here are some starting points that can help L&D gain the skills they need:
    1. PKM in 40 days by Harold Jarche 
    2. Guided Social Learning Experience Design by Jane Hart 

    These are workshops targeted at L&D and Training folks to help them face the challenges posed by today's workplace and redesign workplace learning experience. Here's an interesting experience sharing post by Jane Hart on how she helped a group of trainers to use social media tools for learning: A Special Social Learning Experience in India. Two related posts filled with practical insights are Responding to the Mobile 1st Ecosystem and Driving Engagement with Social Learning Communities by @sundertg

    Be well-versed in today's technological landscape: I won't harp on the dispersed and diverse nature of today's workforce. It's well known. Today's L&D is faced with the challenge and the opportunity to enable and empower a workforce spanning five generations, all the continents, and working in a ubiquitously connected environment. It's the best of times and the worst of times to be in L&D. Either ways, it's the most exciting of times. And L&D cannot afford to ignore the big four, a.k.a SMAC that is at the root of most of the changes. 

    Most often, we fail to analyse our own knowledge and skills gap we are so busy analysing it for the rest of the organization. It is critical for L&D today to understand how Social, Mobile, Analytics and Cloud impact not only how we work but also how we learn and connect. Without an understanding of this, it will not be possible to comprehend the breadth and depth of change impacting business. There is no dearth of literature on any of these topics, and we don't need to become experts in all of them. What is critical for us to know is how can analytic impact learning or what are the affordance of mobile that should be kept in mind when designing a program? 

    There is a course on Data, Analytics and Learning in edX that is worth dipping into. The Shift Index reports published by Deloitte are another great source of staying on top of technological trends and their impact. 

    This doesn't cover all the skills we need to develop. However, if we can begin by shifting how we think and see our role against the broader business canvas, it's a good start. And we can't forget that we are operating in the VUCA world. Being learning agile is the only way to move forward. 

    Sunday, November 2, 2014

    The Changing Nature of Workplace Learning


    Recently, I read two posts that to me reflected the changing nature of work -- from divergently different perspectives. One was from the field of architecture and the other was by Harold Jarche on workplace and learning. Given below are excerpts from both. 

    Wilkinson proposed building out the entire GLG office to accommodate "activity-based working"--the theory that employees no longer need personal workstations so much as they need many different settings in which to meet, collaborate, or focus, depending on which tasks they're working on. His concept split the office footprint into a handful of smaller "neighborhoods."
    The other piece is from The Post-Hierarchical Organization by +Harold Jarche 
    Complex problems cannot be solved alone. They require the sharing of tacit knowledge, which cannot easily be put into a manual. In addition, tacit knowledge flows best in trusted networks. This trust also promotes individual autonomy and can become a foundation for organizational  learning, as knowledge is freely shared. Without trust, few people are willing to share their knowledge.
    Read in conjunction, the two pieces shed a lot of light not only on how today's workplace is changing but also on its impact on how we learn. While the former reflects the redesigning of workplace as a physical manifestation of this change with its focus on enabling communities and collaboration, the second one squarely focuses on empowering autonomous learning and facilitating the building of trusted networks. Both articles--in their different ways--are talking about creating and facilitating communities at the workplace. Communities which in turn will facilitate the creation of new knowledge, sharing of tacit knowledge and empower workers to move toward autonomous learning.

    This is a shift from the way L&D/HR have been working thus far. 
    So far, the role of L&D has been to identity existing skill gaps, design training programs to bridge the gaps, and get supervisors or the individuals concerned to nominate themselves for the training, attend the "requisite" training and get back to work and be efficient. The training hours per individual seemed like a good enough matrix. We know how obsolete and redundant that matrix is in today's context. 

    In the face of sweeping change encompassing complex and interdependent workflows, globally dispersed teams, cross-cultural work environment, different kinds of employees (contractors, consultants, full-time, part-time, project based, working in offices, working from home and anywhere else including moving vehicles, and any other combination), HR and L&D are faced with multiple challenges, even if we were to consider for a moment that the prior model of skills-gap analysis followed by training still works. Unfortunately, the traditional training model that organizations boasted of and even espoused as one of the employee benefits is broken, and we are faced with complexities at multiple levels.  

    What does this imply for L&D/HR? 

    IMHO, L&D and HR have to work together--very very closely. They have to forego the linear model of analysis --> training --> work with models that enable and empower them to foster communities, facilitate conversations and collaboration, and most importantly, breakdown organizational silos. In theory, we know this is what will work in the long run. This is the model to follow, iterate and perfect. Many organizations are also beginning to believe this and are investing in Enterprise Social Network (ESN) platforms. Only to be disillusioned by the lack of engagement on these platforms, empty discussion forums and zero conversations. What is beginning with a bang is fizzling out with barely a whimper!

    As an L&D professional who is passionate about self-driven learning, #pkm and #pln, and believe in and evangelize social and informal learning, I realize it's time to take a step back and do a reality check. Whenever I talk to clients and colleagues about the power of networks and social learning--and I do so given a sliver of opportunity--I realize that everyone is struggling with the choice between what is known, has worked so far (formal, push training) and has been established in the collective organizational psyche vs. what is new and unfathomable--social, collaborative learning, open sharing, transparency and working out loud. It's not the social media tools that are held under scrutiny and doubtfully examined. It's the principles behind these tools. Principles like openness, sharing, transparency, dialogue and collaboration make organizations uncomfortable. Organizations are more comfortable with ideas like market share, sales strategy, training, competitive advantage, and such. The apparent vulnerability and the threat of exposure that social media and social networks (even within the organization) pose are counter intuitive to all good organizational strategies learned thus far.

    The most common questions I encounter when speaking about social tools, sharing and collaborative learning are:
    • How will we measure the ROI?
    • How do we know everyone has learned? (Read: how do we know everyone has clicked through everything shared?)
    • How do we know employees will not be indiscreet or give away organizational secrets?
    • Who will review what employees post on these network?
    And other similar questions...

    We might roll our eyes and slap our foreheads, but the reality is that organizations still think like this. To make the change stick, to foster engagement on the ESNs and to create communities in the workplaces, it is essential to dig deeper into the organizational culture. Gautam Ghosh's post on How Organizational Culture is the Key to Social Business Success is a succinct summary of the key points. 

    None of the systems set up in typical organizations reward collaboration or sharing. There is no apparent link between one's KRAs and performance appraisal and responding to questions on the discussion forum. If anything, those sharing or frequent postings--albeit on internal social networks--to actively work out loud or narrate one's work are likely to be viewed by peers as not having enough to do, time wasters or show offs. Given these various cultural conflicts and tensions, it is little wonder that ESNs become ghost towns, and the status quo continues to the organization's loss. 

    What can L&D do to foster the necessary change?

    Here are some of the steps I can think of:

    Understand the industry the organization is in: It is important for L&D / HR to be thoroughly aware of the organization's business goals, where it stands in the current context, how is it faring in relation to its past, and what critical changes have affected the industry the organization belongs to in the past decade. For example, as someone who belongs to the elearning and organizational learning industry, I need to be on top of the critical impact of technology like Social, Mobile, Analytics and Cloud on workplace learning. The impact is far-reaching, complex and irrefutable. Without an understanding of this, any solution I recommend would only be a short-term band-aid.

    Dialogue with the leadership/C-suite: We hear often enough the L&D doesn't have a seat at the table. I don't believe that. I firmly feel that not only does L&D have a seat, but in this time of change and complexity, it has one of the most critical seats. However, this requires an organizational attitudinal change. As long as organizations view employee learning as a good-to-have benefit to be knocked off at the slightest sign of bottom line drop, it will continue to take a lopsided view of learning. Continuous learning and autonomous learners are two goals organizations must strive toward to make an impact today. To achieve this, they require L&D teams who will facilitate this change in collaboration with the leaders of the organization.

    Share well-known success stories: There are many success stories out there of organizations embracing internal collaboration and thriving. Collating these stories and sharing add persuasive power to one's conversation. L&D needs to direct the decision makers to these. Often times, a strong case study communicates more than hours of meeting. 

    Showcase benefits of personal learning networks: This, I believe is one of the most critical steps. We cannot espouse with any confidence what we don't follow ourselves. So, an L&D personnel advocating informal learning is not likely to carry weight if s/he doesn't engage on a social media platform or has a personal learning network to speak of. This often becomes the Catch 22 situation. And many L&D teams back down or fail to make forceful cases because of our collective lack of exposure and experience in using collaborative networks to drive our own learning. 

    Highlight the power of autonomous learners: Organizations would love to think that employees are so motivated and engaged that they do everything in their power to learn new skills to apply to their work. However, this won't happen unless employees feel empowered, rewarded and fearless about making mistakes, sharing and collaborating. All point to a need for cultural change. L&D has to be able to articulate the value of autonomous learning and drive the same. This may often mean taking on the status quo at multiple levels--C-suite, employees who will resist change, and systems and processes aligned with the old world. 

    It's still easy for L&D to conduct X hours of training per year and tick it off as a task accomplished. The matrices and parameters used to measure the efficacy of L&D is obsolete. As long as L&D continues to be measured on the number of hours of training delivered and the number of people covered, organizations will continue to get exactly that. 

    A systemic as well as a cultural shift is required to move to the new ways of learning and workplace. 

    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.

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