Posted tagged ‘development’

The leader’s new clothes

15 July 2020

From $7 billion to nearly $14 billion.

That’s how much the spend on leadership training by American corporations grew over the preceding 15 years, according to Kaiser and Curphy in their 2013 paper Leadership development: The failure of an industry and the opportunity for consulting psychologists.

Over that same period we witnessed the bursting of the dot-com bubble, the implosion of Enron, and of course the Global Financial Crisis. While the causes of these unfortunate events are complicated, our leaders were evidently ill-equipped to prevent them.

Despite the billions of dollars’ worth of training invested in them.

Undressed mannequins in a shop window

For a long time I felt like the child who could see the emperor wasn’t wearing any clothes. Then Jeffrey Pfeffer visited Sydney.

Pfeffer is the Professor of Organizational Behavior at Stanford University’s Graduate School of Business. He was promoting a book he had published, Leadership BS: Fixing Workplaces and Careers One Truth at a Time, in which he states what I (and no doubt many others) had been thinking: leadership training is largely ineffective.

At a breakfast seminar I attended, the professor demonstrated how decades of development had no positive impact on metrics such as employee engagement, job satisfaction, leader tenure, or leader performance. He posited numerous reasons for this, all of them compelling.

Today I’d humbly like to add one more to the mix: I believe managers get “leadership” training when what they really need is “management” training.

They’re entreated to be best practice before they even know what to do. It’s the classic putting of the cart before the horse.

For example, the managers in an organisation might attend a workshop on providing effective feedback, leveraging myriad models and partaking in roleplays; when what they really need to know is they should be having an hour-long 1:1 conversation with each of their team members every fortnight.

Other examples include training in unconscious bias, emotional intelligence and strategic thinking; yet they don’t know how to hire new staff, process parental leave, or write a quarterly business plan. Worse still, many won’t realise they’re expected to do any of that until the horse has bolted.

I’m not suggesting leadership training is unimportant. On the contrary it’s critical. What I am saying is that it’s illogical to buy our managers diamond cufflinks when they don’t yet own a shirt.

At this juncture I think semantics are important. I propose the following:

  • Management training is what to do and how to do it.
  • Leadership training is how to do it better.

In other words, management training is the nuts & bolts. The foundation. It’s what our expectations are of you in this role, and how to execute those expectations – timelines, processes, systems, etc. It focuses on minimum performance to ensure it gets done.

In contrast, leadership training drives high performance. Now you’ve got the fundamentals under your belt, here’s how to broaden diversity when hiring new staff. Here’s how to motivate and engage your team. Here’s how to identify opportunities for innovation and growth.

$14 billion is a lot of money. Let’s invest it in a new wardrobe, starting with the underwear.

The next normal

4 May 2020

The COVID-19 pandemic ushered in a new normal for L&D professionals as millions of people were sent home to work remotely.

While many of us had been offering online courses and other alternatives to in-person training for years, suddenly nothing could be run in a traditional classroom setting; and so as a collective we’ve been forced to shift learning and development online.

Tweet by ryantracey: Suddenly management is interested in digital self-directed learning

Despite my tongue-in-cheek tweet however, digital self-directed learning hasn’t become the norm. On the contrary, the conventional response to the changing circumstances appears to have been to convert classroom sessions into webinars. I’m not anti-webinar per se, but I must admit to being a tad disappointed by our propensity to blindly perpetuate old approaches on another medium.

Just like in-person training, webinars have their place, but I dared to dream that our mass isolation might stoke more creative solutions beyond the same man in a different hat.

Or maybe I’m being too quick to judge. It’s only been a few months since lockdown, and everyone’s been scrambling to keep business continuity ticking over. Maybe the “new normal” is merely short term; perhaps over time our solutions will diversify.

Looking further ahead, I’m wondering what will happen as governments ease restrictions and we return to the office. Will we revert to our previous ways, or is the genie out of the bottle?

Of course no one can know for sure, so I did the next best thing: inspired by the jelly-beans-in-the-jar experiment, I decided to defer to the wisdom of the crowd. Specifically, I invited a shortlist of L&D practitioners around the world to answer the following question:

How will the COVID-19 pandemic impact learning and development in the long term?

Here are their responses…

A hand on a computer mouse, with a face mask in the background.

Taruna Goel (Canada)

“The one thing I am curious about is the impact of quarantine, social distancing and remote work on memory, cognition, learning and behaviour. As much as technology is helping us in the short-term, we are already seeing the impact of too many synchronous video calls in the form of ‘Zoom fatigue’.

L&D will need to critically explore the challenges of remote working and remote learning. Workplace learning and development will need to be guided by evidence-based research practices that consider factors including online distraction, laptop fatigue, work productivity along with employee mental health, emotional well-being and stress levels in a post-pandemic, technology-driven world.

If working collaboratively, from a distance, is the new normal in the long term, it will need the acquisition of new skills, attitudes and mindsets for optimum work performance. L&D will need to take the lead and enable the development of these skills, attitudes and mindsets. L&D will need to create the channels of learning, growth, communication and sharing and help employees learn new ways of working efficiently and effectively.

This does not mean more elearning, virtual webinars and online video meetings. Instead, I hope to see L&D step in as the curator of learning and connector of shared experiences, enabling employees to be more autonomous and self-directed in their continuous learning journeys.”

Mike Taylor (United States)

“After going through the experience of this pandemic, I think one of the silver linings for L&D will be that we will have tried a lot of new ways of thinking. We haven’t really had a choice have we?

One of the biggest changes should be a shift from the traditional focus on static stocks of knowledge (a course mindset) to consideration for information flows. Courses are time-consuming, expensive and most of them start to become out-dated as soon as they are created.

With the speed of today’s world and the shrinking shelf life of knowledge, we should be enabling our organizations to continually refresh their knowledge by participating in relevant flows of new knowledge. To quote Mark Britz, ‘The expectation has to change to where many people create and consume, learning together continuously.’

That means doing more curating from experts. It means helping the experts learn efficient ways to work out loud and share what they know. It means helping everyone ‘learn how to learn’ and take ownership of their own personal knowledge management process.

Think of knowledge like a virus. Unlike Corona, we actually want that to spread quickly. We should be scaling up channels to help people have conversations about what they’re learning. How can we use technology to put people into the same digital spaces to help learning ‘go viral’?

Instead of simply replicating classroom experiences in an online environment, this is an opportunity shift our thinking to consider a broad spectrum of alternatives. There will never be a better opportunity for tapping social tools like Microsoft Teams, Yammer, Jive, etc to unlock the knowledge trapped in the LMS and other stores of information all through your organization. That is just one of many possibilities. Look outside your organization to see what others are doing. The important thing is to try new things… experiment with new, better ideas. Call it a ‘pilot’ – isn’t everything right now a pilot anyway? Ask for forgiveness instead of permission. Just do it.

In our new world the skill of learning is becoming more important than ever before. As Jack Welch once said, ‘An organization’s ability to learn, and translate that learning into action rapidly, is the ultimate competitive advantage.'”

Mayra Aixa Villar (Argentina)

“I’m a very optimistic and positive person but I am afraid that COVID-19 will stay with us for a long time, unfortunately. And this will greatly affect in-person education and training.

The challenge for L&D professionals is to start thinking about more creative ways of helping organizations and institutions make digital learning not only more engaging but also more accessible to all as we adjust to this new normal.

I know that we always talk about creating more engaging online experience, but this time it will be more than a wish. Think about all the classes that used to be face to face and were designed that way for a specific reason. Classes where students need hands-on practice or classes where close interaction with a mentor or a tutor was absolutely necessary for the learners to successfully complete a task. Organizations and institutions now need quick and creative solutions to be able to deliver online education and effectively compensate for the lack of interactions between instructors and students.

Also, we need to start thinking beyond traditional learning environments and start considering the conditions and characteristics of learners in different countries. Uploading a document to a platform or delivering a webinar is not a solution. L&D professionals need to consider – more than ever before – the restrictions some learners may face. There are people who don’t have access to the Internet, who don’t own a computer, who don’t feel comfortable using technology. Still, we need to be able to offer educational resources to these children, teenagers, and adults who won’t be able to attend in-person classes.

I think that L&D professionals will have to lead the way in terms of reshaping delivery methods to make education more effective, engaging, and accessible to all.”

Ger Driesen (The Netherlands)

“I think in the long run, not so much. The COVID-19 crisis will be ‘just a spike’ in history. It will have a big impact as a ‘generation marker’ in the minds of those who do have the ‘heavy’ experience now. It will be a big ‘do you remember 2020’ event that we will talk about for many years to come. But on a real practical side it will have minor impact on L&D.

First, there will be a ‘push’ to everything ‘online learning’ like we see now. During this stage of panic we will accept online solutions that are good enough for now but not for the longer run. Those L&D professionals (including providers) who were ‘prepared’ (already did their thinking and experimenting with all things online) will benefit from the current situation.

Partly L&D stuff that moved online, for topics and situations that make sense, will stay online. Companies and learners who were hesitant will now have the experience that it can work ‘just fine’, sometimes even better, and realise it’s more practical and efficient to do some learning online and want to keep doing it that way.

But there will also be a ‘bounce back’. People were, are and will be ‘social animals’ and will always appreciate and value real-life face-to-face events related to other topics of learning. My prediction (which I’ve shared for about 2 years) that ‘vintage classroom training’ will be ‘hot’ in the near future might get an impulse soon.

To recap: it will help us for a more clear distinction and deliberate choice on what kind of L&D stuff we need/want to do online and which part face-to-face, and find better, well considered ‘blends’ over time.

There is one more thing and in fact hope I’d like to add. For many people, life slowed down during the crisis. Slowing down is great for learning. I hope that slowing down once in a while will become more appreciated and also will become a regular building block of L&D solutions. Stay healthy, stay safe, keep learning!”

Belen Casado (Spain)

“That’s a tricky question, as we can never tell how the future will be. But I think that professionals will try to stick to working from home and attending courses through tools such as Zoom.

What I’ve seen during the COVID-19 pandemic is that people value being able to interact with others. So students value interacting both with their teachers and their peers. This does NOT happen in the usual click-and-read course – that’s why it always had a high rate of abandonment.

Students also value – a lot – seeing their teachers alive, even if the quality of the image is not so good or the background is their own house. We’ve spent a lot of money in the past creating professional videos that weren’t that appealing as they were made by actors who just read the content.

It’s not only that click-and-read courses are boring – or frustrating if they’re locked – it’s that students need to see ‘people’ who are ‘alive’ and feel human, who motivate them to attend the course. In a way, seeing their teachers makes them feel ‘seen’.

So if we want to succeed in the new e-learning world, I think we need to add more live interaction, especially with students being in the centre of such communication, i.e. delivering assignments in video or in the form of webinars. That way, they’ll be really seen.”

Gautam Ghosh (India)

“There are two aspects: in the larger business context, as most companies struggle for survival, many of the traditional long-term learning interventions will be put on hold – especially those that are in-person and cost a lot of money. These would move to more online delivery of content, however in the short term that might lead to a bad learner experience – especially if the facilitator is new to online facilitation, and trying to replicate the offline model online.

Secondly, in the long term I am hopeful that the L&D function would morph into a much more integrated part of an employee’s and the business’ growth journey. Many employees are upskilling and crafting their career journeys with their own hands and L&D needs to have a deeper conversation on how to build this community of learners within and without the organizational boundaries.”

Ryan Tracey (Australia)

And so back to me.

I agree with my learned colleagues that the short-term response to the COVID-19 pandemic has been a knee-jerk reaction. But that’s understandable. Done is better than perfect, so it’s perfectly logical for us to use the tools at our disposal (such as a webinar platform) to meet our urgent training needs.

I also agree with my colleagues’ consensus that the sophistication of our service offering will evolve. To remain effective, our solutions need to become more accessible, blended, curated, social, interactive, reflective and self navigated.

And I feel it’s important to recognise that the challenges of remote learning won’t dissipate when we return to the office. Having caught the working-from-home bug myself, I’m keen to split my week going forward – and I’m sure I won’t be the only one. That means while we’ll rightly put in-person classes back on the agenda, we’ll still need to serve our target audiences from afar.

Thus, among the human tragedy a glimmer of goodness may result from this crisis: a provocation to change learning and development for the better.

The next normal.

5 podcasts every e-learning professional should listen to

3 July 2019

…or should that be “to which every e-learning professional should listen”? Never mind, I can end a sentence with a preposition if I want to.

Arcane grammar jokes aside, I’m a late bloomer to podcasts. While everyone else was apparently obsessed with them, they never really appealed to me until I starting taking long trips on the bus. Now I’m hooked.

As many of my peers will attest, there’s no shortage of podcasts directed to the L&D practitioner. In fact, the sheer volume of options can be overwhelming.

If like me you’re just getting started with podcasts, or perhaps you’re looking for another one to add to your subscription, I hereby offer you 5 of my favourites.

A mobile phone with earphones

1. Learning Uncut

Produced by three of the best in the business – namely, Michelle Ockers, Karen Maloney and Amanda Ashby – Learning Uncut recently celebrated its first birthday.

Over the course of the past year, Michelle and Karen have interviewed an impressive cross-section of experts in my corner of the globe. The episode featuring Nic Barry is a standout.

2. The Learning & Development Podcast

A new comer to the podcasting scene, The Learning & Development Podcast is hosted by David James.

David’s view of our profession largely mirrors my own (hence he is a genius) and I consider his interview with Simon Gibson a must-hear.

3. Learning is the New Working

Given his experience as Microsoft’s Chief Learning Officer, Chris Pirie’s Learning is the New Working is well worth a listen.

Chris reaches out to people around the world whom I haven’t heard of before (to be perfectly honest) which is welcome because they diversify my feed.

4. The eLearning Coach Podcast

No self-respecting e-learning professional would fail to devour Connie Malamed’s The eLearning Coach blog, which she complements admirably with The eLearning Coach Podcast.

What I love about Connie’s expertise is her focus on practicality. Thought leadership is great and all, but how do we apply it to our work?

5. Hardcore History

While educational, Hardcore History isn’t about education. I include it in my list of faves however because it flies in the face of contemporary notions of instructional design.

Each episode spans several hours and frankly I could listen to Dan Carlin talk all day. Despite the hoopla over micro-learning (which, for the record, I advocate) clearly one size does not fit all.

My point is it’s healthy for we professionals to continually re-assess our own philosophies by appreciating contrarian approaches – especially those that are raging success stories!

Light bulb

If you’d like more ideas for what an e-learning professional should do, check out the following blog posts by yours truly:

And these by my friend Matt Guyan:

The L&D maturity curve

4 March 2019

Over the course of my career, I’ve witnessed a slow but steady shift away from formal learning to informal learning.

Of course, remnants of the “formal first” philosophy still exist, whereby every conceivable problem is attempted to be fixed by a training solution, typically in the form of a course. Over time, the traditional classroom-based delivery of such courses has increasingly given way to online modules, but that’s merely a change in format – not strategy.

While courses certainly have their place in the L&D portfolio, the forgetting curve places a question mark over their longterm effectiveness on their own.

The informal first philosophy balances the pendulum by empowering the employee to self-direct their learning in accordance with their personal needs.

While in some cases informal learning obviates the need for training, in other cases it will complement it. For example, I see the informalisation of learning as an opportunity to deliver the content (for example, via a wiki) which can be consumed at the discretion of the employee. The focus of the course then pivots to the application of the content, which is the point of learning it in the first place. Similarly, the assessment evaluates the learning in the context of real-world scenarios, which is what the learner will encounter post-course.

And since the content remains accessible, it can be used for ongoing reference long after the course has been completed.

A hand holding a pen pointing to a chart.

While I consider the informal first philosophy a giant leap in L&D maturity, it essentially pertains to instructional design. For a more holistic view of L&D, I propose an “assessment first” philosophy by which the capability of the target audience is analysed prior to any design work being undertaken.

The rationale for this philosophy is best appreciated in the context of an existing employee base (rather than greenhorn new starters). Such a group comprises adults who have a wide range of knowledge, skills and experiences. Not to mention they’ve probably been doing the job for a number of years.

Sheep dipping everyone in this group with the same training doesn’t make much sense. For a minority it might be a worthwhile learning experience, but for the majority it is likely to be redundant. This renders the training an ineffective waste of time, and an unnecessary burden on the L&D team.

By firstly assessing the target audience’s proficiency in the competencies that matter, a knowledge gap analysis can identify those in which the population is weak, and targeted training can be delivered in response. Individuals who are “not yet competent” in particular areas can be assigned personalised interventions.

This approach avoids the solution first trap. By focusing the L&D team’s attention on the real needs of the business, not only does the volume of demand reduce, but the work becomes more relevant.

The assessment first philosophy may appear incongruent where new starters are concerned, who by definition are assumed to be weak in all competencies – after all, they’ve only just walked through the door! – but I counter that assumption on two fronts.

Firstly, not all new starters are doe-eyed college grads. Many have had previous jobs in the industry or in other industries, and so they arrive armed with transferable knowledge, skills and experiences.

And regardless, the informal first philosophy holds true. That is to say, the new starter can consume the content (or not) as they see fit, demonstrate their understanding in the scenario-oriented “course”, and formalise it via the assessment.

The results of the assessment dictate any further intervention that is necessary.

Of course, some topics such as the company’s own products or processes will necessitate significant front-end loading via content development and maybe even curricula, but these may be considered the exception rather than the rule. By looking through the lens of assessment first, the L&D team works backwards to focus that kind of energy on where it is warranted.

It is also worth noting the assessment first philosophy renders the traditional “pass mark” obsolete, but such a radical idea is a story for another day!

Laptop showing business metrics.

While the assessment first philosophy represents an exponential leap in the maturity of L&D, there is yet another leap to make: “performance first”.

The raison d’être of the L&D team is to improve performance, so it’s always been a mystery to me as to why our work is so often disconnected to the business results. I do appreciate the barriers that are in our way – such as the inexplicable difficulty of obtaining the stats – but still, we can and should be doing more.

Under the performance first paradigm, it is not knowledge gaps that are analysed, but rather performance gaps. A root cause analysis identifies whether the cause is a capability deficiency or not – in the case of the former, a capability analysis feeds into the assessment first approach; in the case of the latter, a solution other than training is pursued instead.

As with assessment first, performance first may appear incongruent where new starters are concerned. After all, their stats thus far are zero, and waiting to recognise poor performance may have unacceptable consequences.

So again we have another exception to the rule whereby some folks may be scaffolded through L&D intervention prior to their performance being analysed. However the point is, we needn’t force everyone down that road. It depends on the circumstances.

And again, by looking through the lens of performance first, the L&D team works backwards to focus its energy on where it is needed. But this time with results at the forefront of the team’s purpose, its relevance to the business goes through the roof.

The L&D Maturity Curve, featuring Formal First rising to Informal First rising to Assessment First rising to Performance First. The x-axis represents maturity of the L&D function and the y-axis represents its relevance to the business.

I realise my take on L&D maturity might freak some of my peers out. Concurrently, others will argue that we should leapfrog to performance first now and get on with it.

Personally I consider the maturity curve a journey. Yes, it is theoretically possible to skip stages, but I feel that would be a shock to the system. From a change management perspective, I believe an organisation at one stage of the curve would achieve more success by growing into the next stage of the curve, while ironing out the bugs and creating the new normal along the way.

Besides, it isn’t a race. Important journeys take time. What matters is the direction in which that journey is heading.

The foundations of innovation in L&D

14 May 2018

There are two sides of the innovation coin in corporate learning & development: technology and pedagogy.

The former is rather obvious and is often conflated with the term innovation. Futuristic hardware and magical software that educates everyone at the press of a button are tempting “solutions”. Some folks call this mindset Shiny New Toy Syndrome, and by golly, it’s a pandemic.

The latter is less obvious because it involves thinking, and I’m not being facetious when I say that thinking is hard. Traditional ways of learning in the workplace are, by definition, ingrained in the psyche of the vast majority of the workforce. Changing the concept of how we learn and redefining how we can help people do it better involve shifting the organisation’s culture, and that is a challenge greater than any IT implementation.

I see technology as an enabler of the pedagogical outcome, rather than it being the outcome per se. And just as we must learn to walk before we can run, so too must an organisation lay the foundations of innovation before it can reach for the stars. Though not as sexy as their more tweeted-about alternatives, these foundations are the building blocks of long-term efficiency, flexibility and creativity.

So what are the foundations of innovation in L&D?

I will hereby attempt to answer this question by looking through the lens of the 70:20:10 model. Whereas previously I have advocated this approach when designing a solution for a specific learning objective, this time I’m elevating the approach to the strategic level, with a view to designing a future-proofed solution for all the organisation’s learning objectives.

The Foundations of Innovation in L&D: content library, knowledge base, enterprise social network, and performance-oriented training

The 70

From the get-go, a false idol that must fall is the belief that the role of the L&D department is to create all the training to meet the organisation’s learning needs. These needs are so diverse within and across all the different job roles that the task is an almost comical impossibility.

Moreover, a large proportion of these needs is generic; despite what many organisations think, they’re not that special. Analytics is analytics. Decision making is decision making. Difficult conversations are difficult conversations. The nature of such content is universal.

So my first building block is a third-party content library. There are many players in this space, and sure it makes sense to pick one that matches your organisation’s profile, but their pedagogical purpose is the same: to provide your people with immediate access to an extensive suite of learning assets, covering a broad range of topics, on demand. Such a resource empowers self-directed learning which, in the language of 70:20:10, can be done on the job, just in time.

Another false idol to fall is the myth that all the information we need is at our fingertips. Clearly, not all our needs are generic. The organisation is special in the sense that has its own products, processes, systems, policies, etc, which a third party will never cover.

So my second building block is an in-house knowledge base. Whether the underlying technology is an intranet, CMS or wiki, again the pedagogical purpose is the same: to provide your people with on-demand access to bespoke content that improves performance.

The 20

Despite the best intentions of a content library and a knowledge base, they will never meet every conceivable learning need. An enterprise social network covers the “in-betweens”, principally by empowering everyone to ask their own questions to the crowd, and to keep abreast of emergent knowledge in the moment.

The 10

The building blocks in the 70 and the 20 spearhead an informal first approach to learning and development which lifts a mountain of weight off the shoulders of the L&D team. Freed from the burden of training everything, we can now focus our attention on what should be trained.

Furthermore, these building blocks enable change in the nature of the training. With the bulk of the content hosted elsewhere, it doesn’t need to be shovelled into the course. The class can be flipped, the narrative pared back to its key messages, and a scenario-based design adopted to train not the content, but its application.

In this way, the training becomes performance oriented.

A man working on a house frame

By no means do these building blocks exhaust the 70:20:10 model, nor do they represent the extent of innovation in L&D. Rather, they form the bedrock of further innovation.

For example:

  • User-generated content has a home, not only where it can be housed, but also where it can be governed.

  • Blended learning goes beyond pre-work online modules by integrating social activity and ongoing performance support.

  • Corporate MOOCs have a delivery vehicle.

  • Micro-learning and micro-assessments have a rich source of reference content to which remedial feedback can link.

  • If the content library, knowledge base and ESN are mobile accessible, they support mobile learning.

  • Any reduction in training volume creates more space to explore emerging technologies such as AI, VR and AR.

  • An orderly, structured L&D service offering provides the basis for a proper consideration of the value that a next-generation learning management system may add (or not).

So while I remain an advocate of ad hoc innovation, I see it as a necessity in the absence of a plan. My preference is a much more strategic approach, bedding down what matters most to meet the immediate needs of the business, prior to building additional innovative initiatives that stand firmly on that foundation.

In this way, not only do we innovate now, but we have a platform for innovating into the future.