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'sTime 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)

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

21C Workplace Skills and L&D

Back from Ladakh and settling into my “normal” routine. Needless to say, it’s not at all easy after visiting a place like Ladakh. I will put up a post on the trip over the coming weekend.

For now, I am focusing back on my other passion outside of traveling—workplace learning, enabling performance and social learning.

Going through my blog-roll, I read two related posts – Four Basic Skills for 2020 by Harold Jarche and Technology Changes Everything by Jane Hart.  Harold’s post also pointed to a report called Future Work Skills 2020 published by the Institute for the Future for the University of Phoenix Research Institute. While published almost 3 years back, it is as—if not more—relevant today. And is a #mustread for all L&D and workplace learning designers.
The report talks about the key drivers of change as well as the skills needed to ride the wave of these disruptive shifts.

The future work skills required and defined (as per the report) are: 
  1. Sense Making - ability to determine the deeper meaning  or significance of what is being expressed 
  2. Novel and Adaptive Thinking - proficiency at thinking and coming up with solutions and responses beyond that which is rote or rule-based 
  3. Social Intelligence - ability to connect to others in a deep and direct way, to sense and stimulate reactions and desired interactions 
  4. Design Mindset - ability to represent and develop tasks and work processes for desired outcomes 
  5. New Media Literacy - ability to critically assess and develop content that uses new media forms, and to leverage these media for persuasive communication 
  6. Computational Thinking - ability to translate vast amounts of data into abstract concepts and to understand data-based reasoning 
  7. Transdisciplinarity - literacy in and ability to understand concepts across multiple disciplines 
  8. Cognitive Load Management - ability to discriminate and filter information for importance, and to understand how to maximize cognitive functioning using a variety of tools and techniques 
  9. Cross-Cultural Competency - ability to operate in different cultural settings 
  10. Virtual Collaboration - ability to work productively, drive engagement, and demonstrate presence as a member of a virtual team

As I read this, I was also reminded of a post by Jonathan Anthony (@thismuchweknow) where he highlights some of the new/evolving trends and behaviours, which I have copied from his post for quick ref:
I will come back to why I mentioned @thismuchweknow ‘s post. Going back to the future work skills mentioned above, there are two aspects to this: 
  • Do organizations realize that these are the skills they have to help their employees to acquire? 
  • Do individuals realize that these skills are going to ensure their continuing relevance in the workplace?

And the most critical question for us to ask is: 
  • How will L&D enable individuals and organizations acquire and hone these skills?

I have written/pondered on the role of L&D in the 21c workplace in my last two posts here and here. As I revisited my posts in the light of the article mentioned above, I realized I had neglected to mention quite a few significant aspects of L&D’s role in the 21C workplace.

And these involve enabling employees to become better learners, i.e., foster the skills of meta-learning. 

We are so used to thinking of courses and training, skills gaps and learning objectives, sessions and modules…that it is going to take a conscious and collective effort to step back and move up a few thousand feet in the learning and performance sphere. We have to trust that once individuals are equipped with the skills and tools available today, the learning will take care of itself. It is more critical for us – the L&D / Performance Support folks – to come up with ways and means of supporting the meta-skills mentioned above. The challenge lies in the HOW.

While courses around specific topics and skill areas are easier to pin down, design and disseminate (and these will still be needed), it is much more difficult to design a course on “Design Mindset” or “Sense Making”. These lie in the nebulous zone of meta-learning and require the following to get started: 
  1. A growth mindset as opposed to a fixed mindset 
  2. A willingness to view technology as an ally (be neither overwhelmed by it nor see it as an enemy) 
  3. An ability to gauge the culture of the organization and make small changes to accommodate some of the new skills 
  4. An experimental disposition and readiness to work on the edges (bring in the change from the edge to the core) 
  5. A serious and wholehearted attempt to move from scalable efficiency to scalable learning

On one hand, L&D will have to be the one practicing and displaying the skills, and on the other, they will also need to provide the infrastructure and organizational culture needed for individuals to acquire the skills. Since these are not skills that one can acquire by taking a course, the challenge multiplies. And here I believe, that some of the memes/behaviours that @thismuchweknow defines could help L&D.

While each organization will have its own requirement, L&D can do some of the following to foster the skills: 
  1. Ensure there is a robust enterprise collaboration platform in place (if not, make a strong case for one to stakeholders) 
  2. Facilitate a culture/practice of working aloud (micro-blogs, blogs, podcasts, videos, etc.) as a method for sharing, peer-to-peer learning, and sense-making 
  3. Instead of responding to each request for training with a course, connect employees to experts in that area or to resources on the open web 
  4. Enable and promote “pull” learning by moving from courses to shorter bytes of performance support content 
  5. Provide simple FAQs and guidelines around virtual collaboration for distributed teams; encourage team members to contribute to the creation of the guidelines (UGC will have greater buy in) 
  6. In consultation with management, encourage job rotation (Josh Bersin writes about it here
  7. Socialize short Common Craft like videos on different aspects of new media literacy; these can be augmented with specific organizational context 
  8. Move from helping HR with planning replacements to integrated talent management (refer to Bersin diagram below) 
  9. Encourage/enable visitors from other global offices to hold short sessions on their culture, ways of working and so on as a means of building cultural sensitivity and appreciation for diversity 
  10. Move from reactive course creation mindset to proactive skills and capability development in keeping with the needs of the workplace of the future 

Friday, July 4, 2014

Off to Ladakh

This is a short post to let my readers and friends know that I am traveling to Ladakh today. It has been one of my dream destinations. We will be traveling from Shrinagar to Leh and then go up to Nubra Valley via the highest motorable road in the world... We will also get an opportunity to see the Hemis Festival.

I won't be blogging for a week. Once I am back on the 14th, along with posts on learning and ID, I will share my experience of Ladakh. Hoping to get plenty of memorable photographs!

Till then, wish you all a happy time. :) 

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Evolution of L&D - Some more thoughts

I love the serendipity of the web. And as John Hagel said, we shape serendipity.  To quote Yossi Vardi, “Serendipity doesn’t just happen in a serendipitous way. You have to work for it.” I have seen this happen again and again when interacting on the web—learning, lurking, contributing and participating. And it happened again over the last two days.

I recently wrote a post on the Role of L&D in the 21C Workplace which made me a part of a discussion happening half-way around the world and of which I had been so far unaware. When Don Taylor responded with a comment to my post on LinkedIn and called attention to a post around similar discussion via Twitter, I was led to this thoughtfully written post by Kandy Woodfield (@jess1ecat), The Future of Learning: Are we equipped for it?  
I loved this line in her blog: “I want learning in our organisation to be personally owned but organizationally supported.” This is what we need to strive for – the future of L&D lies in providing each individual with the personalized support they need to develop professionally and personally. We need to become – what Jane Hart had said a long time back – Learning Concierges. Suddenly, I was part of a larger discussion and debate with people of similar passion and interest. All of these made me think some more. I love my PLN!

Now to get back to the topic of L&D today, which is what this post is about…
Today’s L&D is faced with myriad challenges as highlighted in the posts linked above. And we have to accept that: 
  1. These challenges are not going to go away – if anything, they will multiply. 
  2. Technology will continue to evolve faster than we can cope leaving us all feeling like the Red Queen. 
  3. Workplace composition will get even more complex – it will no longer be only five generations working together but each one working very differently indeed – permanent, temporary, project-based, across time zones, from different cultures and countries. 
  4. Everyone (almost) will have their own devices and maybe, even wearable. 
  5. They will expect to learn using multiple devices – and L&D will have to consider this. 
  6. And of course, the nature of work itself will undergo multiple paradigm shifts in the next 10 years or less.

How can L&D remain relevant? Or should we ask, will L&D the way we know it remain? Do we see L&D undergoing a name change, identity shift or morphing into a different entity altogether. Charles Jennings makes very insightful suggestions here: The Best of Times, the Worst of Times: Opportunities and Challenges for the L&D Profession

Here are some of my conjectures to add to the ongoing discussion. IMHO, L&D will need to do some of the following: 
  1. Work together across organizations, countries, verticals and sectors to form L&D CoPs 
  2. Share learnings and new ways of doing things with greater focus on building the CoP – domain, community and practice 
  3. Use technology as an enabler and not the main aspect of learning 
  4. Become a part of the “learner” community as facilitators and enablers, providing support where needed 
  5. Be aware of the various drivers impacting the economy and the world of work today. (Refer to this excellent infographic by Ross Dawson.)

It’s time to bring learning out of the classroom. And if we miss the bus at this point, we stand to lose the collective trust of business that L&D can make a difference and is the much needed partner to business. Now, the question is not “What to do?” We are more or less in agreement on that. The devil is in the details, so to speak. In this case, “How do we go about bringing the change and making an impact?”

I have mulled over this question, and it has often kept me up at night. I imagine myself as head of L&D charged with the responsibility of making a difference to the bottom line, looking at short term requirements while keeping an eye on the long term strategic changes needed, and often break out in a sweat. 
And I ask myself, “What would I do?”

Here are some things I could think of and looking to the L&D CoP to learn more… : 

Connect with business: Keep an ongoing and open conversation with business using the language of business. 
Here are some possible conversation starters. 
  1. What are the key business measures / success factors? 
  2. What are the impediments to success at the moment? (Probe deeply in this area
  3. Who are the customers? What do they want? 
  4. What is the future vision? 
  5. What are the key skills required according to business to make things work?

Probe to find out if it’s a training (skill-gap related) need: Very often, training gets treated like a panacea for all ills to show the “authorities” that something has been done to revive the business. L&D unfortunately becomes an accomplice to this. The need to appear useful and show some results drive L&D to tackle all problems with a course/program or training session. L&D needs to step into the domain of OD (Organizational Development) and do a Root Cause Analysis. We need to stop feeling irrelevant and insecure and ask some tough questions.
Here are some possible conversation starters: 
  1. What challenges are the team/business unit/project facing? 
  2. What processes are being followed? 
  3. Since when has this problem/challenge existed? 
  4. Has there been any change in processes, workflow, or even in leadership? 
  5. What makes business think it’s a skill-gap issue? (Probe deeply in this area
  6. Has any key member(s) left the team, i.e., are less experienced folks doing the work of more experienced people or vice versa? 
  7. How aligned is the unit/team with the overarching organizational vision/objectives? 
  8. Is the team a new one – think of the stages of team formation (Forming, Norming…) and not yet used to working together? 
  9. Could there be a motivation issue? Are employees happy with the overall org culture? Do they feel valued? 
  10. Is the team co-located or distributed? If the latter, what is the communication process? How frequent is it?

Some of these questions may seem irrelevant, but from my experience, they matter. These often un-uttered questions lead L&D down the rabbit hole of courses and training programs. In the process of digging deeper, it is entirely possible to uncover information that the organization was unaware of and which could be a major cause of the issue being faced today. In short, let’s not jump in to design training but let’s take a step back and see what is needed.

Be a curator: Make courses (where needed) more dynamic – put together a course outline
that includes custom content (only if absolutely needed) and direct the learners to related 
content on the web – blog posts, You Tube videos, SlideShare presentations, podcasts,
white papers and articles, and even links to Twitter handles of experts in the said area.

Be a facilitator/enabler: Help employees find what/who they need to solve their 
immediate problem. Become a Help Line that anyone can reach out to for guidance. This 
means being comfortable with the various tools and devices the employees will use at 
work; being willing to research and be a connector; and have an online presence to 
facilitate conversations. Moreover, enable workers to use social tools to develop their 
own PLNs – within and outside of the organization.

Partner with HR: While L&D is a part of HR, we often tend to forget that.
L&D’s role should ideally start at recruitment itself: 
  1. To understand the kinds of individuals the organization is hiring and the reasons behind that 
  2. To prepare for onboarding that makes it meaningful for new hires 
  3. To connect new hires to relevant communities within the organization that will facilitate quicker learning and shorter time to productivity besides building a connect 
  4. Work in partnership with HR to think through the entire capability development framework in an organization.

Refrain from making skills/capability related training mandatory (if there has to be a 
training at all): Adults want to do well in their work and they are the best judge of how 
they want to learn. Provide different ways to acquire the skills – short courses, job aids, 
reference resources, links to external content, connect with experts, and so on. The 
employee will choose what suits him/her best at that point. When designing compliance 
courses that have to be mandatory for the sake of the org, make them crisp and succinct. 
Adding unnecessary games, locking progress and loading with irrelevant, good-to-know 
content is best avoided. 
These are just some of the things we can do. There are many more requiring a much more incisive approach and mindset.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

MOOCs in Performance Support

I have been writing about MOOCs and the characteristics of MOOCs in my last few posts. One of my recent posts talks about the differences (some of them) between an online course and a MOOC. The more I mull over some of the core characteristics of a MOOC ecosystem, I feel it lends itself very well to providing performance support (PS) within the workflow. Conrad Gottfredson and Bob Mosher defined the Five Moments of Learning Needs and captures the requirements for a PS infrastructure beautifully in the diagram below:

As I was contemplating the relatedness of a MOOC to PS, it occurred to me that a MOOC has the possibilities of offering the kind of transfer and sustained learning required for innovation and continuous improvement by any organization, especially in today’s world of complex and interconnected learning and the need to do more with less. A MOOC transforms an event (a course) to a continuous and just-in-time learning experience that is accessible anywhere, anytime and, ideally, from any device.

IMHO, here are some of the characteristics of a MOOC that offer the possibilities of PS: 
  1. MOOCs go beyond fixed courses to dynamic context sharing – The “Discussion Forum” that surrounds a MOOC lend itself to dynamic knowledge sharing thus keeping the course content “alive”. In any rapidly evolving field, incorporating every piece of knowledge in a time-bound courseware is not possible. A MOOC ecosystem takes care of this challenge by providing learners with the ability to create, co-create, and share content. This ensures that the course is constantly being updated with new knowledge from the field, and that user-generated content is encouraged.A holistic MOOC ecosystem enables learners to access the core knowledge required via the formal course components while facilitating access to emerging knowledge, enabling discussions around complex and ambiguous situations and helping learners see the emerging patterns from various disciplines. 
  2. MOOCs work very well for a distributed set of learners/workers - A MOOC could be an ideal way to bring a set of workers or learners together virtually, and enabling them to form a community of professionals embarking on the same learning journey. Not only does this eliminate the risk of isolation, it also inculcates the habit of collaboration, knowledge sharing and problem solving. Apart from enabling the formation of cohorts, this aspect ensures that a MOOC offers PS by allowing learners to reach out to their communities at the point-of-need, learn from others’ experiences and share their own unique experiences. A well-designed and well-facilitated MOOC encourages learners to share their learning thus abiding by one of the fundamental principles of Andragogy – all adult learners come with a reservoir of experience and know-how, and it benefits everyone concerned when they can contribute and help each other. 
  3. MOOCs facilitate problem-based learning – Peer-to-peer learning is especially pertinent when engaging in problem-based learning. And today’s organizations need workers to be focused on problem-solving, analytical thinking & pattern sensing, and be adept at exception handling. None of these skills can be truly acquired in isolation or through one-time event-like interventions – courses or programs. Given a MOOC’s requirement for active participation rather than passive content consumption, it fosters the skills of self-directed learning along with those mentioned above, an ability to articulate challenges, share thoughts and ideas, and draw on the network to enhance one’s learning. Problem-solving skills work best when one is able to share thoughts and ideas and get feedback from peers and experts. All of these again tie back to providing a sustained learning environment that is so critical in fostering on going innovation. Most organizations today are looking to nurture skills like adaptability, ability to generate new knowledge and critically reflect on improving existing processes and practice. In this context, the collaborative environment fostered by a MOOC-way of disseminating a course could be an ideal introduction. 
  4. MOOCs tap in-house expertise and make tacit knowledge explicit – “Discussion Forums” and “Ask an Expert” tap into the expertise existing in an organization, often in siloes. Very often, access to expertise gets limited to being co-located. However, a MOOC ecosystem eliminates this challenge by bringing learners in touch with experts on the same platform – a critical condition for a successful PS and capability building strategy. This benefits both the learners and the experts, and above all the organization. The evolving knowledge base of the organization becomes explicit enabling faster learning, reducing loss of critical information and fostering an environment of continuous learning. 
  5. MOOCs bring synchronous and asynchronous, online and offline together – The MOOC can have both synchronous and asynchronous learning modalities built in. Instant chats and webinars (hangouts) can be effective ways to share knowledge or pose a question. A short webinar to discuss a case study or any other learning resource will not only lead to deeper learning but also foster the skills of critical thinking. A recorded webinar can be provided to those unable to participate in real time. The learning from the MOOC need not stay within the MOOC and can be taken outside. “Lunch and Learns” to share knowledge and talk about recent experiences, or to discuss a case-study or a course module can farther enhance the learning experience. 
  6. MOOCs work well when practices are evolving – Courses are typically designed around existing, codified knowledge and are built to share best and good practices, established processes and other critical knowledge required to get started in a field of work. And courses will still continue to be needed. However, MOOCs extend the learning spectrum by adding context to core content. The ability to add and enrich a course with ongoing context facilitates articulation of evolving practices, new knowledge in a specific field, and unique and exceptional situations. If I were to map this to the Cynefin framework (I am partial to the framework and bring it up at every opportunity I get), I would say that a MOOC-like dissemination model takes over where an event-like courses ends. They extend the learning spectrum and facilitate continuous learning.      

Organizations as Communities — Part 2

Yesterday, in a Twitter conversation with Rachel Happe regarding the need for organizations to function as communities, I wrote the follow...