Rahaf Haroush opened the second day of the 2017 ATD TechKnowledge conference. She made clear some important points about the potential for technology. For instance she made the case for context-sensitive performance support, social network analysis, and a learning culture. An interesting point was that existing business practices were developed in times of data scarcity. She closed by advocating experimentation, evolution, and alignment with values. A very nice support for the revolution ;).
12 January 2017
11 January 2017
Mick Ebeling, of Not Impossible Labs, opened the TechKnowledge conference with an inspiring keynote. He told engaging stories about achieving the impossible because it just took commitment. He evangelized contributing, and getting contributions by emphasizing the brand benefits of doing good.
In the recent Chief Learning Officer magazine, I wrote an article on the basics of the cognitive science of learning. Given the evidence that “L&D isn’t doing near what it could and should, and what it is doing it is doing badly, other than that it’s fine” (as I say), at least one of the potential barriers is that L&D isn’t truly aware of what science says about their profession.
And I truly believe that if you’re a professional, you should be aware of the fundamental scientific basis of your profession. Pilots need to know aeronautics, physicians need to know physiology, etc. And therefore, I reckon L&D needs to know the cognitive background. But there’s more.
Knowing a suitable level of cognitive science is one thing, using that to assess your practices is another. Too often, we have what we call ‘inert knowledge’: we know it, but we don’t apply it. That’s not helpful. What has to happen is that processes need to be evaluated, improvements identified, interventions prioritized, enablement enacted, and progress reviewed. It’s just part of being a professional!
There are other sorts of audits possible (I know folks who do performance audits, and knowledge audits, etc), but I’m increasingly thinking that the one that matters is the one that aligns with how our brains work. Not at the neural level (there’s little of impact there), but at the cognitive level. Note that cognitive science includes social, conative and affective components (e.g. the culture and motivation), and neural, for that matter ;).
This isn’t an academic exercise. The increasing competition enabled by technology already suggests that optimal execution is only the cost of entry, and continual innovation will be the only sustainable differentiator. Both are cognitive functions, and the best outcomes will only be achieved when organizations are acting in accordance with how we think, work, and learn. This is about equipping your organization to kick some proverbial tail.
I’m drafting an initial such instrument, with associated recommendations. I welcome your thoughts, and any interest in engaging around this.
3 January 2017
Let’s not start off the new year being trepidatious, shall we? Ok, social engineering and cultural engineering have bad connotations in a number of ways. Yet, if I can talk about learning engineering, the desirable properties of cultures for learning, and moves in that direction, aren’t we really talking about socio-cultural engineering? Can sense be made?
To start with, let me posit that there’s fairly good convergence on the elements that contribute to an effective ‘learning culture’: there needs to be purpose, explicit description and development of skills, tapping into diversity, making it safe to share, responsibility, and more. The point is that we know what makes environments where the best ideas are generated, developed, and put into practice.
The second thing we know, with less certainty but growing awareness, is how to get there. It’s a ground game: being clear, working hard, walking the walk. It’s not easy, as the stories of when the committed leaders moves (or is moved) on and subsequent regression bear out. Yet it can be, and has been, done.
So, if we’re choosing cultural values, and working towards them, both in ways that reflect what science tells us about doing our best, aren’t we really doing such engineering? Yes, social engineering also refers to another means for breaking security systems. And cultural engineering has various legacy implications including ‘culture’ (read: theatre, music, etc) and even misguided political movements in the past. Maybe we need a better term, but I think the concept of moving in a positive environmental direction is something to be considered systematically.
The open question is, does this make sense at a societal level as well? Ok, not going there. But regardless, I reckon that there’s a strong link between learning and the organizational culture. Organizational Development, I guess, is the field that does this, though they seem to not focus on actual skills as much as facilitation. That’s not a bad start, but perhaps there’s an opportunity to break down silos here. Getting these elements aligned. Which, of course, is an organizational change. Pondering, and I welcome your thoughts.
21 December 2016
One of the recent trends has been about ‘customer experience’, focusing the organization on a consistent and coherent customer experience from first exposure through to ongoing product or service use. And this is a ‘good thing’! I’ve participated in the efforts of an organization to achieve it, and can see the real benefits. However, I want to suggest that just as important is the employee experience. This is the goal of a true performance ecosystem and an aligned culture.
Richard Branson, the successful entrepreneur behind the Virgin brand, argues that the only real way to deliver great customer service is to have really happy employees. And I think that his argument is plausible. We know that when people are engaged, there are good outcomes like greater retention. Happy employees is a necessary step to happy customers.
We also know that when we’re creating a learning culture, we get both more engaged employees, and better business outcomes. That is, when employees have purpose, are given autonomy to pursue their goals, and are supported towards success, they’re happier and more productive. Also when an organization works well together – sharing because it’s safe, tapping into diversity, being open to new ideas, and supporting reflection – innovation can flourish.
And, I’ll argue, that when the tools are ‘to hand’, employees are happier and more productive. When you can:
- find necessary tools and resources
- reach out with questions
- provide answers
- represent your thinking
- share your work so others can align and contribute
- experiment and analyze
all with ease, working is optimal. That is, employees can achieve their goals effectively and efficiently.
Spending cycles to optimize this, to develop the infrastructure and the culture, is an investment in a long term benefit to organizational success. I believe the two components of the organizational culture and the technology infrastructure are the critical components to employee experience. And optimizing those has benefits that cross the organization. That strikes me as an important strategic focus; what’s your take?
20 December 2016
OK, so I made up the term silage (and then found it was a real word with a different meaning), but here I don’t mean siloed fodder (except perhaps metaphorically). What I’m talking about is the damage that can come from silos. And I heard a tale yesterday in the course of an investigation into corporate innovation that illuminated what I’m talking about.
In this case a particular business unit, with a strong bias to rigor in execution, is also working on innovation. And it’s going pretty well, it appears. They’re working on opening up communication, supporting it through programmatic actions, and sharing success stories. These are powerful tools to change a culture. But there’s a barrier.
Part of the challenge is in management. This layer, between executive desire and tactical actions, is being encouraged to support this move, but is still largely measured on outcomes. And, the group that owns management development isn’t connected to the group supporting the programs. Guess what? It’s a turf war. One silo doesn’t want any incursion into it’s area of activity. And this is a problem.
To succeed, you really need to work systemically. It’s hard enough to make change happen without having to deal with areas that aren’t on board. There’s going to be be a far higher likelihood of success if all the elements are aligned (and a large number of other elements conducive to successful change). If the mentoring and coaching isn’t there to go along with programmatic impetus (see 70:20:10), you’re dropping the ball. You’re going to see a drop off, instead a continual upward learning curve.
As things move faster, to adapt you need to tap into the power of people. That means developing a culture that learns, and that requires both crossing silos in implementation and in then leveraging the collective thinking. Can we avoid collateral silage?
8 November 2016
Demoing is a form of working out loud, right? So I recently was involved in a project with Learnnovators where we designed some demo elearning (on the workplace of the future), and documented the thinking behind it. (The posts, published by Learning Solutions, are aggregated here.) And now there’s be a chance to see it! So, a couple of things to note.
First, this is Work Out Loud Week, and you should be seeing considerable attention to working out loud (aka Show Your Work). On principle, this is a good practice (and part of the Workplace of the Future, to be recursive). I strongly recommend you have an eye out for events and posts that emerge. There’s an official site for Work Out Loud week: Wolweek.com, and a twitter account: @Wolweek, and the hashtag #wolweek, so lots of ways to see what’s up. There are many benefits that accrue, not least because you need to create a culture where this practice can live long and prosper. Once it does, you see more awareness of activity, improved outcomes, and more.
Second, if you’ll be at DevLearn next week, I’ll be demoing the resulting course at the DemoFest (table 84). Come by and share your thoughts and/or find out what the goal was, the tradeoffs faced, and the resulting decisions made. Of course, I encourage you to attend my workshop on elearning strategy and mythbusting session as well. I’ll also be haunting the xAPI camp on the Tuesday. Hope to see you there!
1 November 2016
Someone recently asked how you would go about measuring culture change, and I thought it’s an interesting question. I’ll think ‘out loud’ about what might be the possibilities. A learning culture is optimal for organizational innovation and agility, and it’s likely that not all elements are already in place. So it’s plausible that you’d want to change, and if you do, you’d like to know how it’s going.
I think there are two major categories of measures: direct and indirect. Direct measures are ones that are impacting the outcomes you’re looking for, and indirect ones are steps along the way. Say, for instance, one desirable outcome of a learning culture would be, well, learning! In this case, I mean the broad sense of learning: problems solved, new designs generated, research answering questions. And indirect would be activity likely to yield that outcome. It could be engagement, or social interaction, or… If we think of it in a Kirkpatrickian sense, we want to generate the indirect activity, and then measure the actual business impact.
What direct measures might there be? I can see time to solve customer problems or problems solved per time. And/or I might look at the rate of research questions answered. Or the rate of new product generation. Of course, if you were expecting other outcomes from your culture initiative, you’d naturally want aligned methods. You could just be concerned with employee engagement, but I’m somewhat inclined (and willing to be wrong) to think about what the outcome of increased engagement would be. It could also be retention or recruitment, if those are your goals.
These latter – engagement, recruitment, retention – are also possible indirect measures. They indicate that things are better. Another indirect but more targeted measure might be the amount of collaboration happening (e.g. the use of collaboration tools) or even activity in social networks. Those have been touted as the benefits of building community in social media, and those are worthwhile as well.
As a process, I think about what I might do before, during, and after any culture change initiative. I’d probably want a baseline to begin with, and then regular (if not continual) assessments as we go. I’d take small steps, perhaps in one unit to begin, and monitor the impact, tuning as I go along. Culture change is a journey, not an event, after all ;).
So ok, that’s off the top of my head, what say you?
18 October 2016
The time has come to ask: what should be my next book? I’ve written four so far:
Engaging Learning was something I felt was needed because people had written about the importance of games but no one was writing about how to design them, and I could.
Then, while I wanted to write about elearning strategy, my publisher wanted a book on mobile and I realized one was needed and the other likely candidates deferred. Hence, Designing mLearning.
After that, my publisher’s sister company wanted a book on mlearning for higher education, and I ended up writing The Mobile Academy.
And then I finally convinced my publisher to let me write the elearning strategy book, and Revolutionize L&D was the result.
Let me be clear: I’m proud of each and every one of them. I think each does the job it was designed to do, well. However, each was written because either I or the publisher felt there was a need. Which isn’t a bad thing, but it’s not the only approach. While I have some ideas, and of course it’s up to my publisher (unless I self-publish), it occurs to me to ask you what book I should write next.
So what is the next book you would like to see from me? What book do you want or need that isn’t out there yet, and that is one that I am the person to write? Here’s your chance; I’d greatly appreciate it if you took just a minute or two to give it some thought and write out your ideas. What do you think?
28 September 2016
Someone opined on yesterday’s post that it’s hard to find time for reflection, and I agree it’s hard. You need to find ways to make it systematic, as it’s hard to make persistent change. So I responded with three personal suggestions, and thought I’d share them here, and also think about what the organizational response could be.
So my first suggestion was to find times when the mind is free to roam. For example, I have used taking a shower, exercising, or driving. My approach has been to put a question in my mind before I start, and then ponder it. I typically end up with at least one idea how to proceed. Find a time that you are awake and doing something (relatively) mindless. It could be in the garden, or on a walk, or…
Another idea I suggested was to bake it into your schedule. Make it a habit. Put half an hour on your calendar (e.g. end of the day) that’s reflection time. Or at lunch, or morning break, or… A recurring reminder works well. The point is to set aside a time and stick to it.
Along the same lines, you could make a personal promise to publicly reflect (e.g. blog or podcast or…). Set a goal for some amount per week (e.g. my goal is 2 blog posts per week). If you commit to it (particularly publicly), you’ve a better chance. You could also ask someone to hold you accountable, have them expecting your output. The pressure to meet the output goal means you’ll be searching for things to think about, and that’s not a bad thing.
Of course, organizations should be making this easier. They can do things like have you set aside a day a week for your own projects, or an hour of your day. Little firms like Google have instituted this. Of course, it helps if they require output so that you have to get concrete and there’s something to track isn’t a bad idea either.
Firms could also put in place tools and practices around Working out Loud (aka Show Your Work). Having your work be out there, particularly if you’re asked to ‘narrate’ it (e.g. annotate with the thinking behind it), causes you to do the thinking, and then you have the benefits of feedback.
And instituting systemic mentoring, where you regularly meet with someone who’s job it is to help you develop, and that would include asking questions that help you reflect. Thus, someone’s essentially scaffolding your reflection (and, ideally, helping you internalize it and become self-reflecting).
Reflection is valuable, and yet it can be hard to figure out when and how. Getting conscious about reflection and about instituting it are both valuable components of a practice. So, are you practicing?