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. 

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