Surviving and Thriving in the 21st Century


Surviving and Thriving in the 21st Century

Following is a series of posts by Jesse Bernstein that started appearing on his Website on March 3, 2017. Jesse is a member of Learning to be Great™.

Surviving and Thriving in the 21st Century

On February 22, 2017, Thomas Friedman wrote in the New York Times,

 “…we’re living in a world being shaped by vast accelerations in technology, globalization, climate change and population growth… In this age, leaders have to challenge citizens to understand that more is required of them if they want to remain in the middle class — that they have to be lifelong learners.”

I read this as I was writing about lifelong learning and realized that lifelong learning is one of the keys to deal with rapidly changing trends in our world. As I work with people and organizations to identify these trends and the impact they are having on them, their families, social interactions, and public policy; the conversation often begins with the painful statement, “I don’t understand…”

This phrase manifests the frustration we feel when our realities are so different from our expectations. Our lives are impacted by changes that are difficult to conceptualize, in part because of the speed in which these changes occur.   As I help my clients begin to look at these trends and get a conceptual understanding of what is going on, we develop action plans to make appropriate changes that will ease the frustration.

Friedman see the world from 100,000 feet.  From ground level, I see several trends that can block or limit people and organizations from surviving and thriving. These trends interact with and also support each other as they impact our daily lives. 

The next four posts will look at each of these interrelated trends in more depth, but for now, let’s end the suspense and present the trends.


We can access information, entertainment, financial transactions, and the people we know, worldwide, 24/7, 365 days a year.

We live longer because we have earlier diagnostic techniques and better treatment options.

Career Evolution

Industries and careers disappear and new ones are invented.

Technology changes basic interactions between people and organizations.


More work is being performed on a contract basis with the decline of the social contract between employer and employee for good and bad reasons

Being your own boss is a double-edged sword

Lifelong Learning

            New tasks/jobs and tools are constantly invented

            Whole new bodies of knowledge seem to be created every day

 The scripts we expected our lives to follow may no longer be valid. The first step to getting help with the life we didn’t expect is to understand the social and economic realities that now exist.  The next post, Part 2, will be look at the impact of technology on our lives.


Surviving and Thriving in the 21st Century: Technology

Here are a few examples of how technology has changed our lives.  I’m sure you can think of many more.

Technology has freed us from the requirement to be at a certain place at a certain time.

I don’t have to go to the bank when it is open to deposit a check (smartphone); ATM’s let me withdraw cash anywhere in the world, 24/7; loan application forms are available on-line and can be filled out and submitted without my going to a branch.

TV shows, movies, concerts, and more are available on-demand to watch on computers, TVs, tablets, and smartphones.

Jobs that are information-based can be performed from anywhere.  Filing cabinets are now digital and in the cloud.  Years were removed from the process of engineering a new car model when technology allowed engineers to pass their work on to colleagues in the next time zone.  By the time an engineer got back to work, colleagues added two days worth of progress on the car.

Technology safely does tasks that can be harmful to people, does them more consistently, and, in the long run, does them cheaper.

In auto assembly plants, the number one spot for injuries covered by worker’s compensation insurance was where the spare tire goes into the trunk.  A robot that did the job paid for itself in 16 months, with no injury insurance claims and continues to work.

In 1985, at the newly built Ford-Mazda plant in Flat Rock, Michigan, a machine the size of a house produced its own stampings, just-in-time. This computerized, robotic machine did the work of thousands of people.

Technology has improved our health.

We can swallow a camera that sends images of our entire digestive system as it travels from mouth to evacuation.

Robotic tools allow for surgeries that are less invasive, reducing risk of infections and shortening recovery time.

Technology lets us communicate with more people and interact with more information.

We download books, magazines, and all kinds of media without going to a library or book store.

Search engines drive information to us based on information we previously accessed.

We can talk and see people anywhere, anytime, on our smartphones.

It is overwhelming to consider the technology available to us in our personal lives, in business, and in organization management.  Deciding which technology to adopt is daunting.  Here are some steps that apply to personal and organizational decision-making that will help with the adaptation process.

Define the need.  In today’s world, there are solutions to problems we did not know we had (see the story of my granddaughter and Alexa in my Five Generations post).  We hear about apps, tools, gadgets, etc. from others and wonder if we should acquire them.  First, decide the need. I make sure to ask myself, “What do I need?” “What will help make my life easier or save money or provide entertainment?”  In businesses and non-profits the questions might be: will this increase productivity, reduce costs, reduce employee turnover, etc...

Research Options.  Technology can actually help us with this joy.  I haven’t purchased an item or downloaded an app recently without checking with others either in person or online, or both.  Helpful Hint - There is no reason to use technology just because it is available.  Do I need an electric broom or can my old-fashioned bristle broom with the long handle and a dust pan do the job?  It’s OK to get books from the library and not buy a Kindle (although my library lets me borrow e-books from them). 

Acquire.  Technology has changed the process of purchasing, to include downloading, trading, whatever comes next.

Learn how to use it.  This is often the most challenging step.  More on this in the last post on Lifelong Learning.

Surviving and Thriving in the 21st Century: Career Evolution

In 1900, factories and farms employed 60 percent of the work force. By 1950, a half-century later, those two sectors employed 36 percent. In 2014, they employed less than 10 percent.

"Hidden Figures" is a movie about a group of African-American women who worked at the fledgling National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) in the 1960’s.  This was the time of the space race with Russia, to see which country could get a man into space quicker.  These women were called “computers” because that is what they did, they checked the mathematic computations of the engineers.  They were mathematical geniuses, but their race and sex held them from the status they deserved.  Dorothy Vaughan supervised the segregated unit of African-American women, but did not receive the commensurate pay or title.

One day, IBM showed up with a mechanical computer.  The installation was a disaster.  The machine did not fit in the room and the installers could not get the programming to work.  Instead of trying to sabotage or undermine the innovation that would end her job and those of her colleagues, Ms. Vaughan went to the segregated town library and “borrowed” a book from the “Whites Only” section to learn computer programming.  Within days, she was helping the installers get the machine up and running.  Within weeks, she was assigned to supervise an integrated team of women to program the computer going forward.

This is a beautifully presented example of how careers evolve, often disappear, and how to survive this reality.   Dorothy demonstrated two important coping mechanisms of the 21st Century:  life-long learning (which we will discuss at length in its own post) and intrapreneurship.  She decided to collect data on the needs of her workplace and figure out how she can solve the problems that existed.  This helped NASA and herself as she evolved her career.

There are many examples of careers and skilled trades that have evolved.  As the automobile replaced horses, many saddle and bridle makers went to work making car interiors, but there were not enough jobs for all of them.  This scenario occurred with linotype operators in the newspaper business and tellers in the banking industry.  I’m sure you can think of many more examples.

Through the 1960s, we got our Bachelor degree, maybe a Masters, and had a life-long profession.  Maybe we went to a conference or continuing education class once a year.  But more and more of us are changing careers and learning new, unrelated bodies of knowledge.  For example, a friend of mine has a degree in mental health treatment, is a Certified Gemologist, and is now a Pharmacist. 

Another friend went from prosecuting attorney for eight years, to owning an ad agency for twenty years, to organizational development consultant and trainer for about the same length of time.  Years ago, this friend shared a question he asks himself everyday.  This question still resonates and has deep meaning today: “Do I want to get out of bed and do what I have to do today?”  If he answered “no” for too many days, he then asked: “What can I do that will motivate me to get out of bed every day?”  He then engaged in a process to determine what he really wants to do.

Surviving and Thriving in the 21st Century: The Gigification of Work  

Musicians introduced us to the term “gig.”  A gig is a contract to perform.  It could be for one night, a weekend, or an extended engagement.  They had no job security, so gigs were vital to their financial well-being.  Think about it – many industries are like this.  Certainly the entertainment industry.  Watch the credits after a movie – hundreds of people worked on it for a limited time.  How many of them have full-time salaried jobs with a studio or production company?

Food growers in Michigan are deeply concerned that there will be no migrant workers to harvest crops this summer due to the political climate in Washington.

Since I entered the workforce full-time in 1970, I watched a major deterioration in what was referred to as: “the social contract between the employer and employee.”  There was a sense of connection in the booming economy of post-World War II between the employer and employee.  This is not to say there weren’t issues and many industries had unions to protect workers, but I watched as the 1970s brought us “at will” employment.  These laws gave the employer the power to terminate an employee for no reason.  Either you had an employment agreement that defined the relationship or you agreed to be “at will.”

There were always contractors who were available to do jobs cheaper than hired employee, but this option increased dramatically in the last 50 years.  Cleaning and maintenance functions, Information Technology (IT) departments, even managing workers became targets for contracting.  Companies would go back and forth between contracting and hiring.  I’m on the Board of a non-profit that is going back to hiring it’s cleaning and maintenance staff, another non-profit I know has a mixed model – a hired manager who contracts for workers.

The decision to hire or contract is a complex one, based on multiple factors.  One approach is not better or worse than the other, but the options are a reality in today’s environment.  And the difference is not clearly defined.  Consider a law or accounting firm or the mental health center I founded and ran.  These companies might hire full-time employees, but the income is based on attracting clients often for short-term engagements.  Lawyers and accountants love retainers, a guaranteed amount paid to the firm to reserve time in case of need, but these firms need “rainmakers,” those staff members who bring in the contracts.  Even the mental health clinic I founded and ran in the 1970’s required a great deal of relationship selling to keep the flow of clients coming in.

The upside of gigification is the ability to be your own boss.  But that is a double-edged sword.  Marketing, selling, financial management (billing, benefits, purchasing, etc.) and more all require the time of the owner.  Many people have adjusted and appreciate this life style.  Others, like myself have moved back and forth between employment and contracting.  There is another option, entrepreneurship, a topic for future posts.

Whether you are an employee or contractor, I suggest you see yourself as the CEO of the company of YOU.  Start by defining the kind of life you want to live in this stage of your life and then look at how you can generate the income and benefits to successfully achieve that life style.

Surviving and Thriving in the 21st Century: Lifelong Learning

Lifelong learning has always been with us.  Through high school, we learn the basics. We get career training which could be experiential, trade school, community college, and on up.  Some professions require continuing education, often tied to meetings or trips to resort location.  People spend recreational time learning about hobbies; hunting, fishing, quilting, and knitting to name a few.  Many of us study spirituality, philosophy, and history for our own edification.  Current events or (dare I say) “news” is a form of learning, especially now.

The difference today is that we must commit time to learn new bodies of knowledge in three areas:  technology, our current careers, and potential new careers.  This recent article in the New York Times does a great job of listing the policy implications and changes required by technology improvements and career evolution:

All of these changes were evident thirty year ago and more, yet few if any of the changes suggested in the article occurred.  As the impact of technology and career evolution increasingly change our reality, there are three areas of learning that require a planned commitment: Technology, Career Enhancement, and Career Change.

Technology.  The technology seems to change daily as our cars parallel park themselves, refrigerators can send you pictures of their insides so you know what to buy when you go to the store, and we can ask almost any question and get an answer, seemingly from out of nowhere (Alexa….play Uptown Funk).

In a previous post, adopting technology was compared to the shopping process: define the need; research the options; acquire, adapt, install; then comes learning how to use it.  I am certain I do not use 90% of the features available on my smartphone.  It would make sense for me to spend a few minutes each day learning what the phone can do and decide if it could use it.  It’s kind of embarrassing to admit, but I used the alarm clock function for the first time, just a few days ago.  It was incredibly easy to use.

Career Enhancement.   Some professions require continuing education to maintain status.  In today’s world, this is like updates to your software.  In the movie Hidden Figures, Dorothy Vaughan spent untold hours learning a whole new language, Fortran, so she could keep her job that now morphed to programming computers from doing the computations “by hand.”  Think about the auto mechanic who now has a computerized engine and drive train to deal with, no more just changing oil and spark plugs; or a lawyer who decides to offer mediation services in addition to litigation; or the surgeon who now has the technology to repair the heart of a fetus still in the womb.  More and more, professions require learning whole new bodies of knowledge in order to stay in the profession.

Career Change.  Saddle makers, linotypists, bank tellers, auto workers and many more have seen their jobs disappear.  Others have decided they want a change for a variety of reasons.  Reading the writing on the wall about a job or career is difficult these days, but I find my friend’s daily question really helpful – “do I want to get out of bed to do what I have to do today?”  If not, it’s time to make time to learn a new body of knowledge.  This learning might require an extended time commitment to get a new degree or a certificate from a trade school or program.

So, what does this all mean?  Here are some suggestions to consider as you plan your lifelong learning program.

Set aside time to understand and be able to use the technology you already have.  You might find you already own helpful items.

Think about the activities you do not like to do and see if there is an app or machine that can make it easier or better.  If you hate shopping or going to the supermarket, shop for staples on line and have them delivered or use the pick-up service many supermarkets are now offering.  Do the same at work.

Once a month, walk around an electronics or office supply store and see what’s new.  If you go when it’s not too busy, the sales people might enjoy explaining the latest innovations to you.  I still can’t get over the $300 3-D printer.  With the appropriate scanner, it can turn drawings into 3-D objects.

Check out the offerings at community colleges.  One friend took photography classes for recreation and decided to make it his business.  You might find a skill that is more interesting than what you are doing now and can test out your interest before making the big leap.

Read the latest news from professions and industries other than yours.  See what’s going on in the broader economy.  There may be a tool, app, or process that you can use to make your life better.

Let me know what additional ideas you have to support your commitment to lifelong learning and let me know if you would like my help developing your plan.


Don't Be Fooled


Don't Be Fooled

I recently learned an important lesson about generalizing from one set of skills or competencies and assuming that these are indicative of competencies in other areas. I volunteer with a local community  organization where we help those people reading below an 8th grade level to improve their literacy skills. Recently, while helping one of my learners prepare for the GED (a high school equivalency test), he shared a story with me about his GED math instructor. He told me that she was very enthusiastic about his ability to complete the GED in English (he is a 34 year old Mexican). She told him, “You will have no problem completing the English version of the GED exam, your English is so good that I am sure you will do just fine. In fact, the word problems should pose no challenge to you.”

While I have no doubt that her encouragement was sincere and that she honestly believed he would be successful. And based on her experience with this young man, her assessment was her best judgment of how he would perform on the test. However, she had fallen victim to something that many of us do – generalize from one set of skills and competencies to others. I had a similar experience with him when we first began our work together and, absent data to the contrary, also made assumptions about his overall literacy competency.

Jorge (not his real name) had immigrated to America 14 years ago from Mexico and during that time has become quite a proficient and fluent English speaker and listener. He is quite engaging in conversations as well as personally. He has a quick wit and has a broad range of interests that suggest that he is quite learned. While all of these things are true and are the skills that have enabled him to successfully navigate his way in America, it is not the whole story.

Despite his excellent conversational skills, he is very challenged by all the competencies needed to be an effective reader. (comprehension, fluency, vocabulary, phonemic awareness and phonics). In my recent assessments, he tested at a 3rd grade level in most if not all of these competencies. Needless to say, this reading level is far below what is required to successfully complete the GED.    

Being aware of his baseline reading competency has enabled me to design a development process that includes content that is relevant to his personal life needs but is at an appropriate grade level. This scaffolding approach will enable him to build the foundational skills needed to eventually reach a reading level essential for successfully completing the GED.  

The important lesson learned from this experience is to not assume that a person who demonstrates competency in one area will be equally as competent in others areas. This led me to think about the number of times I have observed similar errors in judgement in organizations. Perhaps one of the most common errors is the frequently made decision to promote excellent hourly workers in manufacturing facilities to the role of supervisor. This decision is often predicated upon the fact that the employee has demonstrated a positive work ethic and has the technical proficiency to do the job. While admirable, these do not equip a person to be an effective supervisor. Without proper coaching and management skill-building, these individuals frequently fail. Being an effective supervisor requires a very different set of skills, the majority of which deal with organization and managing people.

I think there are a few key takeaways from my experience with Jorge:

  • Even if your intentions are good, be careful with how much you encourage others to take on tasks or responsibilities for which they may not be prepared.
  • Do not generalize from one set of skills or competencies and assume that these correlate to abilities in other areas. For example, verbal proficiency does not directly correlate to reading competency.
  • Capacity for learning one set of skills or competency does not necessarily mean capacity for learning other skills.
  • Ensure you are clear about the competencies required to excel in a role or area and then design learning to match these as well as the learners preferences.
  • Guard against cognitive bias, that if we believe something is true, even if we have only a sample of information, we will act as if it is fact. Encouraging others to take risks based on a small sample of data can be very dangerous.
  • Empowering others before they are ready can have exactly the opposite effect; it can make them feel powerless.

What do you think, we would love to hear from you?   


The Future of Learning is Not Training

The Future of Learning is Not Training

(This post was co-authored with David Grebow.)

Instead of jumping off the January 1st starting line, we decided to wait and see what other people are predicting for corporate training and learning in 2017.  Here’s a partial list from our 2017 Crystal Ball Scorecard:

  • The New Year will bring a wider adoption of mLearning
  • All companies will be dong more microlearning
  • There will be much wider use of xAPI and Learning Records Stores (LRS)
  • Learning apps will become ubiquitous
  • Gamification will be for everything and everywhere!
  • Video learning will be on a smart device near you
  • Social learning is an idea whose time has come
  • Things are looking up for cloud-based delivery
  • Responsive Web Design (RWD) will be the buzzword for 2017
  • 2017 is the year of adaptive more personalized learning
  • Content curation for learning will lead to better learning
  • Look out Virtual Reality (VR) and Augmented Reality (AR) coming up fast 
  • Finally, training will focus on performance and not on smiles

Any of these predictions about technology and trends may come true. We won’t know until we reach the end of 2017. We just believe the prognosticators are doing what they always do -- looking at the future through the wrong end of the telescope.

Before we tried to see into the future, we studied the past. For over 100 years, during the first Industrial Economy, work meant using your hands to produce things. Training and learning were predicated on the need to manage all those hands. Business schools focused their management practices and principles on managing hands. Today, despite the desire some of us have to pile into The Wayback Time Machine, most of us produce work with our minds. We have been transported into the Knowledge Economy so rapidly that many of us are still not sure what happened. Even in the workplaces where hands are still making things, minds are hard at work using the digital technologies to work faster, better, and smarter.   

All this means we need to make an abrupt turn and change our whole approach to the way we manage people, training, and learning. We know from experience that change is hard. We tend to grab onto the past and use it to design the future. It’s is a profound failure of imagination. That’s why so many predictions on this year’s list feel so disappointingly similar to last year’s. They are based on a managing hands model that is well beyond its shelf life. It’s just pouring "new wine into an old wine skin".

The future is no longer about looking for continuity with the past and choosing shinier versions of existing technologies and trends. Sometimes there needs to be a disruptive idea that lights up the crystal ball and makes us look at the future in a new way. We believe that future starts with a simple prediction: We will transition training and learning from a managing hands world to one in which we are managing minds. And managers will be at the center.

Managers will think very differently. Training and learning are no longer the primary responsibility of someone else like the L&D Department. The primary role managers will have will be helping people continuously learn, equipping them with the tools and technology they need, empowering them to work together, constantly collaborating, openly communicating and figuring out what they need to know, and know how to do so quickly and effectively. Managing minds is now their responsibility and they will need to rethink and relearn what to do. Managers will need to look for people whose EQ is as high as their IQ. They will need to post on their walls and carry in their wallets what Arie de Geus said when he headed the Royal Dutch Shell’s Strategic Planning Group. “The ability to learn faster than your competitors may be the only sustainable competitive advantage.”[1]

Employees have their own work cut out in this new economy. They will need to learn to “pull” the information they need from a variety of resources rather than wait around for the information to be “pushed” to them. The artificial and archaic way we separated learning from work will be replaced by the idea that work is learning. If employees are not continuously learning, finding what they need when and where it’s needed, they aren’t improving, creating, innovating, competing, or keeping up with change. In this new managing minds world, they need to be able to rapidly curate the information coming at them from all sides, take risks applying that information to their work, and quickly deciding what is useful. They will need to be able to communicate in every way, reflect on actions and decisions, and learn from everyone’s experience.

The only certainty about the future from here on out is that it won’t resemble the past. We no longer have the luxury of time to define, design, develop, deliver, manage, and measure formal courses. Survival will require people who can navigate a rapidly-changing maze of policies and procedures, products and services at high speed. They need to find their own curriculum and courses, figure out an appropriate way to learn, and get on with it. It’s cliché to say it but employees will have to learn how to learn in this new environment. And management will need to support self-learning, not direct it.[2] We discovered it is already happening in companies around the world, an unknown yet powerful trend.

So our prediction for 2017: The future of learning is managing minds.

For a more in-depth look at what this all means to managers and employees look for our forthcoming book from ATD titled “Managing Minds, Winning Hearts”.



Year in Review at

Year in Review at

2016 was a busy year in the growth of Learning to be Great. We achieved some major milestones in our ongoing effort to serve you better and help all of our users create and sustain a learning culture in their organizations. Highlights of the year were:

Built new Web site - Responsive Web design was applied to allow easy viewing of on mobile devices.

Developed tool to assess an organization's learning culture - Users can fill out survey on homepage and then receive feedback that compares their responses to others. 

Added new members - David Grebow and Marisa Smith joined us in 2016. 

Posted new products - To our current library of downloadable products we added The Five Elements of Building an Organizational Culture and Getting Business Results From Employee Learning

Provided consulting, workshop presentations, and produced podcast about creating and sustaining a learning culture in organizations.

Opened YouTube channel with TorranceLearning video - The Learning to be Great Founding Partners interviewed Megan Torrance, founder of Torrance Learning, to find out how she helps her clients create a learning culture and how she creates a learning culture in TorranceLearning.


21rst Century Organizations Need a Learning Culture

21rst Century Organizations Need a Learning Culture

Most companies today have a “training culture”. ATD’s 2016 State of the Industry report concludes:

…the traditional, instructor-led, face-to-face classroom continues to play a crucial role, and it was still the delivery mechanism for 51 percent of learning hours used in 2015.

This percentage would be considerably higher if the ATD study had included all push training, such as elearning programs and attendance at conferences. Which is to say that most learning in organizations is still delivered using formal, structured, leader-centered training methods.

In a podcast produced for ATD, I explain why organizations need to change from this “training culture” to a “learning culture”. And in the online workshop that I facilitate for ATD titled, Essentials of Developing an Organizational Learning Culture, we talk about what you can do to develop a learning culture in your organization.

This change requires, in part, engaging managers in helping to facilitate the learning of their direct reports. Managers have a key role to play in employee learning, but it means that managers must shift from “managing hands”, a twentieth century way of being a manager, to “managing minds”, a twenty-first century way of being a manager.

For more about managing minds, look for David Grebow's and Steve Gill's forthcoming book to be published by ATD in the Spring of 2017, tentatively titled, Managing Minds, Winning Hearts.

The Learning Culture Assessment

The Learning Culture Assessment

Before you take your first step on your journey to creating a learning culture, you must know where you're starting. Look around and listen to your organization. What do you see? What do you hear? What do you feel? What is your current culture?

Do employees, their teams, and the organization as-a-whole know what they need to do to be successful? Do they know why these competencies are important and how they align with the organization’s vision, mission, goals, and strategies? Do they know how to develop these competencies? Do they know how to sustain this learning over time? Do they know how to ensure that learning is applied and makes a difference for the organization?

The answers to these questions will tell you to what extent you have a learning culture in your organization. A “learning culture” is a work environment that supports and encourages the continuous and collective discovery, sharing, and application of knowledge and skills at the individual, team, and whole organization levels in order to achieve the goals of the organization.  A learning culture is a culture of inquiry; an environment in which employees feel safe challenging the status quo and taking risks to enhance the quality of what they do for customers, themselves, shareholders and other stakeholders. A learning culture is an environment in which learning how to learn is valued and accepted. In a learning culture, the pursuit of learning is woven into the fabric of organizational life.

Learning to be Great™ has developed a learning-culture assessment tool. This tool is based on a framework that consists of five key elements of learning in organizations: 1) Alignment; 2) Anticipation; 3) Alliance; 4) Application; and 5) Accountability. These are the 5As of a learning culture. Each element is measured by four items in the survey. To fill out the survey and find out how your organization is doing in each category, scroll down our homepage to “TAKE THE ASSESSMENT.” Once you have completed the assessment, you will receive a free report with your data and a comparison to all other respondents to date.

The data from this survey is only meaningful if it generates a conversation in your organization that contributes to discovering where you are starting your journey. The survey’s  purpose is to learn from each other, to learn about your organization’s strengths and weaknesses, and to learn what will improve performance. Once you have established this baseline, you can envision where you want to get to as a learning culture.

Organizational assessment is the GPS of your journey towards a learning culture. It tells you where you are at a point in time. Then you’ll be able to select the best route to a work environment that is continuously learning and continuously improving.

Megan Torrance on Creating a Learning Culture in Organizations

Megan Torrance, CEO and founder of TorranceLearning, a company that designs and develops performance-based, custom learning experiences for clients, is interviewed by Learning to be Great™ co-founders, James Stilwell and Stephen Gill. Megan talks about how her company’s approach contributes to creating a learning culture in client organizations and how she strives to create a learning culture in TorranceLearning. 


The Medical Device Industry: Learning Plays an Important Role

The Medical Device Industry: Learning Plays an Important Role

I attended a Leaders Connect session last week to hear a panel of leaders and experts in the medical device industry. The experience in the medical device industry represented on this panel ranged from one year to over four decades. Almost all of those presenting have begun and successfully managed multiple companies with at least one member of the panel on his 4th venture. The contributions these individuals have made to the medical device industry have included the development of surgical tools as well as laboratory tools, cardio vascular rehabilitation equipment, cardio pulmonary devices, advances in neuro technology and a recumbent bike used in most hospitals, rehabilitation centers and more recently in homes. The passion and excitement each presenter displayed when talking about their careers, their companies and the medical device industry in Michigan was palpable. But as I listened to each of them on Friday morning, it struck me that these are the individuals who have built or are building successful companies, companies which have solved important problems and have positioned themselves as innovators in the industry. But what about the companies that were not represented in this morning’s session, the ones who failed to live up to their lofty vision and expectations? As I listened, I wondered what it was that separated those who were here and were being celebrated and excited about the future of Michigan’s Medical Device industry from those who were not. I surmised that one important variable that separated them was the capacity to learn from their experience. In our view at Learning to be Great™ , building and sustaining a learning culture is fundamental to both early and long term organizational success.

At this point, you may be asking yourself, “What is a learning culture?” Here is what we mean when we use that term:  A “learning culture” is a work environment that supports and encourages the continuous and collective discovery, sharing, and application of knowledge and skills at the individual, team, and whole organization levels in order to achieve the goals of the organization.  A learning culture is a culture of inquiry; an environment in which employees feel safe challenging the status quo and taking risks to enhance the quality of what they do for customers, themselves, shareholders and other stakeholders. A learning culture is an environment in which learning how to learn is valued and accepted. In a learning culture, the pursuit of learning is woven into the fabric of organizational life.

If you believe as we do that learning cultures are fundamental to organizational success and would like to assess whether a learning culture exists in your company, we encourage you to take our free on-line assessment, Assessing Your Learning Cutlure. Simply scroll down to the bottom of hour home page and click on “take the assessment.” When you have completed the survey, we will provide you with a feedback and report that will enable you to know at a glance the extent to which you have a learning culture in your organization.

In addition, if you are interested in viewing the Leaders Connect session:

The Power of Beliefs

Beliefs shape work behavior and influence the culture of an organization. If you want a culture in which employees are learning, developing, and contributing to the organization’s success, you need to address the beliefs that they carry in their heads, and whether, according to Chris Argyris, their espoused theory(what they say they believe) and their theory-in-use (beliefs that direct actual behavior) are congruent.  Underlying assumptions about oneself and others can have a profound impact on what and how people do things in the workplace.

Ari Weinzweig, co-founder of Zingerman’s Community of Businesses, in his new book The Power of Beliefs in Business, the fourth book in the series,Zingerman’s Guide to Good Leading, writes this about beliefs:

It works like this. When we have a belief, it’s very likely that that belief will lead us to take some sort of associated action. For instance, let’s say we believe that our ideas aren’t really worth much and no one really cares about what we think. The action that follows might likely be that we rarely voice our views at work. That behavior will likely feed the belief in others that we have little to oer, or perhaps aren’t very committed to the company’s success. Which will, in turn, lead those co-workers to take action accordingly—they might not ask us for our views on important issues or include us in discussions. Which will then reinforce our original belief that others don’t value our views.

The cycle will surely continue onwards from there. Imagine what it will feel like after twenty or thirty years. We start to believe that the reality we’re experiencing is “who we are” rather than a result of how our beliefs have been acting steadily, if surreptitiously, on our reality. We know from studies of brain change and development that when we think in a certain way fora long period of time, the “routes” in our brain grow ever more deeply embedded. The deeper they get, the more we follow along the same path onto which our beliefs long ago led us. And on and on the cycle goes, each element reinforcing the existing beliefs of others in the cycle. As author Barry Schwartz says, “These eects can arise because sometimes when people act on the basis of ideology, they inadvertently arrange the very conditions that bring reality into correspondence with the ideology.

We know from the research of Carol Dweck that what people believe about learning can have a profound effect on employee development. Employees whobelieve that they can learn and grow (“growth mind-set”) as contributors to the organization and managers who believe that their direct reports can learn and grow as contributors to the organization, create the possibility for performance improvement. If employees and their managers don’t believe that people can change (“fixed mind-set”), it is unlikely that learning will occur.

The belief system of an organization, whether “growth” or “fixed”, starts with the leader. In the case of Zingerman’s, Ari Weinzweig is a model of congruency between espoused theory and theory-in-use. He believes that everyone can learn and grow and find his or her role in contributing to the success of the organization. Read his stories about how his beliefs and those of his employees have helped him build a very successful, triple bottom-line (people, planet, profits) business.

Stop Training Leaders and Start Developing Strategic Leadership

Given the disruptive age in which we live, companies need “strategic leaders”. However, there is a shortage. A study by PwC found that only eight percent of senior executives can be considered strategic leaders, defined as “effective at leading transformations.” To attract, develop, and retain more strategic leaders, organizations need to find employees who already have that potential and help them develop the capability.

Jessica Leitch, David Lancefield, and Mark Dawson, all of PwC UK, have identified “10 Principles of Strategic Leadership” that, when implemented, create the conditions for the development of these leaders. Note that none of these principles is the delivery of formal training programs. Rather, the authors suggest that the development of strategic leaders is about creating the kind of culture in which strategic leaders thrive and grow.

According to the authors, to create this learning culture, share responsibility so that employees can experience risk-taking. Open the flow of information across the organization. Create a variety of channels in which employees can express and test their ideas. Accept failure, as long as it results in learning and performance improvement. Encourage strategic leaders to learn from each other. Design simulated or real strategic leadership experiences followed by feedback and reflection. Hire people who have demonstrated the potential to develop into strategic leaders. Give them permission to be open about their strengths and weaknesses, interests, experiences, and values, to reflect on the values and assumptions behind decisions, and to be open to continuous learning and self-development.

The 10 principles of strategic leadership convey the notion that employees can develop into strategic leaders, and that this happens by an organization creating the right conditions for learning and maintaining these conditions over time.

Assessing Your Organizational Learning Culture

To what extent does your organization have a learning culture? Before you take your first step on your journey, know where you are starting. Look around your organization. What do you see? What do you hear? What do you feel? What is your current culture?

Using Edgar Schein’s definition of organizational culture, you’ll want to know to what extent:

  • Underlying beliefs and assumptions support learning in your organization
  • Values and principles drive learning in your organization
  • Employees and other stakeholders (suppliers, Board of Directors, customers) see the symbols and artifacts of learning and performance improvement.

Do employees, their teams, and the organization as-a-whole know what they need to learn to be successful? Do they know how to develop these competencies? Do they know how to sustain this learning over time? Do they know how to ensure that learning is applied and makes a difference for the organization?

Tools currently exist that might be helpful in this analysis. Each of these tools is designed according to the Survey images (1)authors’ definition of a learning culture. For example, David Garvin and Amy Edmondson created an assessment tool to look for: a supportive learning environment, concrete learning processes and practices, and leadership behavior that provides reinforcement. I wrote this in a previous blog post about the tool:

As the authors say, the tool should be used for learning, not to judge the quality of an organization. The survey provides feedback for organizational reflection. By collecting the data and then discussing the findings, people must confront critical questions: Does our culture support learning? Do we have every day processes and procedures in place to ensure that learning and change are embedded in the way we work together? Do our top leaders make continuous learning a priority and communicate this throughout the organization? And then, hopefully, leaders will use the answers to these questions to motivate further learning and performance improvement and contribute to developing a learning culture in the process.

Another assessment tool is one created by Marcia Conner which she calls a“learning culture audit”. This tool is used to determine the extent to which an organization is oriented towards learning. She writes:

One way to begin the process of creating a learning culture and to enroll others in the effort is to conduct a learning culture audit. A simple diagnostic can help you assess your organization and your management team’s orientation to learning. An assessment describes the characteristics of cultures that encourage learning and those that block learning.

The dichotomous variables that Conner presents, comparing a “pro-learning culture” to an “anti-learning culture”, are certainly grist for discussion within your organization. For example, one set contrasts the item, “People at all levels ask questions and share stories about successes, failures, and what they have learned”, with the item, “Managers share information on a need-to-know basis…People keep secrets and don’t describe how events really happened.” Responses should stimulate a rich discussion about information sharing in an organization.

Learning to be Great™ has also created a learning-culture assessment tool. This tool is based on a framework that consists of five key elements of learning in organizations: 1) Alignment; 2) Anticipation; 3) Alliance; 4) Application; and 5) Accountability. These are the 5As of a learning culture. Each element is measured by four items in the survey. To fill out the survey and find out how your organization is doing on each “A”, go to the Learning to be Great website.

Whichever assessment tool you use, what’s important is to follow a stakeholder-focused process that results in organizational learning. Jim Stilwell outlines this process in his post titled, “How to Use Feedback from Employee Surveys to Change Organizations.” He writes that the organization survey process..

…works best if senior leadership communicates a compelling need for the survey in advance of sending questionnaires to all or a sample of employees.  As a part of this communication, leaders should clearly define the entire data gathering and feedback process emphasizing the role of employees.  Secondly, the findings from the survey would benefit from validation by key stakeholders – namely those who have provided the survey responses. The data from a survey can always be interpreted in many different ways given organizational circumstances, response rates, respondent demographics, the wording of questions and design of the survey. Thirdly, discussing the findings with groups throughout the organization and at all levels for their interpretation and recommendations leads to a deeper understanding, greater alignment, and vastly better solutions. A fourth important step in the process is for leaders to communicate back to the entire organization what it is that will be done as a result of the insights gained through the survey and all of the group discussions. This communication should clearly define what leaders know now that they didn't know before? What will be changed that will improve the work environment and increase organizational success? Who will be responsible and when will it happen? How will follow-up happen to ensure the success of the changes? 

The data from a survey is only meaningful if it generates a conversation in your organization that contributes to discovering of where you are starting your journey. Any survey of your organization should have as its purpose to learn from each other, to learn about your organization’s strengths and weaknesses, and to learn what will improve performance.

Organizational assessment is the GPS of your journey towards a learning culture. It tells you where you are at a point in time. Then you’ll be able to select the best route to your destination: a work environment that supports and encourages the continuous and collective discovery, sharing, and application of knowledge and skills at the individual, team, and whole organization levels in order to achieve the goals of the organization. 

[This post first appeared on The Performance Improvement Blog at]

How Managers Put Up Barriers to Employee Learning

How Managers Put Up Barriers to Employee Learning

Organizational barriers to learning are often not as obvious as being given no budget for training, or no training facilities, or no LMS. More often barriers are built in the subtle ways that managers talk about capability development with their direct reports. For example, below is a conversation between a manager and direct report that was recently overheard in a medical device company. Read the dialogue and then consider the questions at the end.


Direct Report:

Good morning, Steve.



Good morning, Jim. From your email it seems that you have something urgent you want to discuss with me.


Direct Report:

Yes. I would like to discuss an opportunity that has come up that I think will really help me here at the company. I have been talking with the team over in R&D and they are starting on new project and believe that my talents would be put to good use particularly in the early stages of the project development. I think I could learn a lot from being on that team. So, I am requesting a transfer onto their team for three to six months, just during the start-up phase and then I’ll return to my job here.



Well Jim, you know we are very busy here in product support right now so I don’t think I can afford to let you go, even for three to six months.


Direct Report:

Well, I have been looking at the company’s long and short -term goals and it seems that the R&D team could provide me with the experience I need to help you achieve those goals. Also, our company’s vision and statement of beliefs say that employee development and learning is our competitive advantage. It seems to me that this opportunity with the R&D team is aligned with those statements.



I get what you are saying Jim, but it is just that our work here supporting products that are already in the field is much more important and practical than R&D. We do real work here; theirs is just head-in-the-clouds stuff.


Direct Report:

I know R&D can be that way sometimes, but it just seems to me I would gain a great deal by working with them and, given my product support knowledge, I could influence the development of the new product. In the long run, it could make our work in product support easier.



Jim, are you saying that you are not learning enough here in Product Support. I mean, I did send you to that training program out of town last year. What the hell was the name of that again?


Direct Report:

It was called, “Project Management for Dummies.” I learned a lot and have been applying some of the things I learned in that program back here in my job and I think it’s made a difference.  I enjoy learning and want to get as much out of every opportunity that I can.



Oh yeah, now I remember that training program. Hey, we should have coffee sometime and talk about it. I will have my assistant send you a calendar invite.


Direct Report:

That would be good but I will have to dig out my notes.  It was 6 months ago. [pause] But what about my request to transfer to R&D?



Jim, it just seems like too much risk for this department to lose you at this time. And frankly, I don’t see how you would apply what they do in R&D to the work we do. It is like apples and oranges.  Besides, I would have to get the approval from HR and you know how tough they can be on anything that deviates from the norm. In addition, there just isn’t enough money in the budget to back-fill for the time you would be over there. Who in the heck would pick up the slack and do your job during that time?


Direct Report:

So I guess you are telling me the answer is, “no”.



I am afraid so Jim. I mean come on Jim, have you ever seen anyone recognized around here for taking that much risk? This could be a real career limiter for you as well as me, particularly if we are not able to keep up with the work while you are gone. In the meantime, maybe we can find another training thing you could go to – you would like that wouldn’t you? Now let’s stop all this foolish talk about transfer and learning and get back to doing some real work.


Now that you’ve “heard” the conversation between Boss and Direct Report, ask yourself these questions:


  • What did “Boss” say that put up barriers to “Direct Report’s” learning?

  • Why do you think Boss was not supporting the short-term transfer to R&D?

  • What’s the possible cost to the Boss and department of having Direct Report participate in the short-term transfer?

  • What do you think Direct Report was hearing and what is the likelihood he will pursue other learning opportunities?

  • What could be gained by supporting Direct Report in the short-term transfer opportunity with R&D?

  • What might Direct Report learn and how might Boss’ department benefit?

  • If you were Boss, how would you have handle this request in a way that would support learning?

50 Ways to Lever Learning (Apologies to Paul Simon)

In a learning culture, formal training is just one of many methods used to facilitate employee learning. In a learning culture, we start with a collaboratively defined performance goal and then select the mix of methods that will help employees acquire, apply and retain the knowledge, skills, attitudes, and beliefs they need in order to achieve that goal. This is a list of 50 of those methods. The first 25 are primarily instructor-directed (push learning); the second 25 are primarily learner-directed (pull learning).

Leader-Directed or Facilitated

1. Instructor-centered class (fact to face) – traditional classroom in which instructor controls the content and learning process

2. Instructor-centered class (virtual) – similar to classroom except instructor delivers instruction via the Web and class can be synchronous or asynchronous

3. Instructor-facilitated seminar – meeting convened by an instructor; learners discuss a topic relevant to their work and chosen by instructor

4. Instructor-facilitated workshop – meeting convened by an instructor; participants learn from experience of working together on solving a problem or creating something new

5. eLearning (computer-based instruction) – content delivered to learner via computer; usually desktop computer

6. Mobile learning – a form of elearning that is accessed by a mobile device such as smart phone or tablet; can be anywhere, anytime

7. Coaching – a relationship in which a trained coach helps an employee develop the knowledge and skills to be a more effective manager by addressing real situations that manager faces in workplace

8. Mentoring – a relationship in which senior leaders impart their knowledge and wisdom on employees who are learning to be leaders

9. Learning alliance – a relationship between managers and their direct reports that focuses on employee learning and how managers can support that learning

10. Game –engaging employees in learning by applying principles of gaming (scoring, competition, rules of play, etc.) to create an experience that is interactive and fun

11. Simulation – replicating real-life problem solving within a safe environment; for example, learning business acumen by working with a team to solve a typical business problem and receiving immediate feedback on their performance

12. On-campus college courses – attending for-credit courses or non-credit courses that are relevant to one’s job

13. External online courses (e.g., MOOCs) – taking relevant courses online from leading institutions and from renowned faculty

14. Webinars – participating in a Web-based program using video conferencing software; usually a one-session offering by an expert on a specific topic

15. Internship – working in a temporary position for the purpose of learning about a job, the work environment of that job, and the organizational culture

16. Apprenticeship – working under the guidance of experienced employees for the purpose of learning specific skills

17. Business case-study – drawing lessons from discussing the documented story of actual events in another organization

18. Performance measurement – learning from measures of performance such as sales figures, production numbers, and customer service feedback

19. Success Case Evaluation Method – a method of evaluating training (or any learning intervention) by identifying those participants who successfully applied learning in the organization and telling their stories; learning comes from analyzing those stories and drawing useful conclusions from successes and failures

20. Assessment center – a dedicated space where employees participate in exercises designed to simulate the conditions of their jobs; observers look for specific behaviors that indicate the employee’s suitability for the work; learning comes from receiving performance feedback and planning how to improve

21. Department meetings – often a lost opportunity for learning, these gatherings can be designed so that participants learn about processes such as planning, project management, innovation, and evaluation

22. Testing knowledge – using results of knowledge tests to facilitate more learning

23. Testing performance – using results of behavioral demonstrations of learning to facilitate more learning

24. Training evaluation – learning from evidence (quantitative and qualitative) collected to show the impact that particular training programs have on individuals, teams, and the organization as a whole

25. Learning Management System (LMS) – using the data from training program tracking software as a focus for discussing employee learning goals and progress toward those goals


26. Roleplay – people (usually two or three) acting out roles to learn about themselves and others by putting themselves in somebody else’s shoes

27. Reflection-in- action – learning from reflecting on an activity while doing it

28. Reflection-on- action – learning from reflecting on an activity by looking back on what happened

29. Reflection-for- action – learning by applying what was learned to a new situation

30. Daily log – individual employees writing or recording learning from each day of work, introspectively reflecting on meaning, and then discussing their observations with co-workers

31. Survey debrief – meeting with co-workers and other stakeholders to discuss what can be learned from the results of company surveys (such as pulse, employee satisfaction, and climate)

32. Experiments – gathering evidence in a controlled environment to support or refute a particular change that is being proposed (for example, testing an innovation in the product development

33. Prototyping – testing a new design of a product or process by constructing an example or model and then trying it out and learning from what happens

34. Content apps – using a software application on a mobile device to provide information and instruction on-the- job, just-in- time

35. Job share – splitting the hours required for a job with someone else and sharing experiences with each other for the purpose of learning

36. Job rotation – trying out different jobs in an organization for the purpose of discovering the best fit and, at the same time, learning about the organization and its culture

37. Community of practice – people who share the same interests or responsibilities in an organization come together to learn from each other

38. Social media – using computer-mediated platforms for sharing information, such as Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, and blogs

39. Benchmarking – learning by comparing the structure, policies, practices, products, and programs of one’s organization to the best in the industry

40. Structured observation – learning about some aspect of individual, team, or organizational behavior by observing what occurs according to a set of questions and criteria

41. Books and articles – reading books and articles that have information and expert advice about an area of needed performance improvement

42. Video – learning as-needed from high-quality, relevant videos on sites such as TED and YouTube

43. Recordings – learning as-needed from high-quality, relevant recordings of presentations by business and organizational experts

44. Team reflection – working with team members to find useful meaning in data about team performance

45. Enterprise-wide reflection – working with co-workers across the organization to find useful meaning in data about organization performance

46. Performance support tools - print or electronic tools, such as checklists, micro-lessons, and video demonstrations, used post-training to ensure on-going performance improvement

47. Interactive performance support system (IPSS) – performance support tools that allow the user to interact with Web-based materials for the purpose of shaping the support being provided so that it’s just-in- time and just-enough

48. Professional conferences – attending local, regional, national, and international meetings that have presentations of content relevant to one’s work; learning comes from reflecting on that content and discussing application with others

49. Book groups – groups of employees meeting during the workday to discuss a book they have all read; they learn from the discussion about how it applies to their work

50. Internal wiki – like Wikipedia, this is a company Web site where any employee can contribute content that might be helpful to every employee’s learning; this could include relevant books and videos, tools such as checklists, best practices, survey results, project results, etc.

You can think of more ways to lever learning. What would you add to this list?


Beyond Training: Three Models for Learning

Organizational learning is so much more than training. Three models of learning convey the breadth of options that, depending on what employees need to learn, are more effective, cheaper, and easier to implement than formal training programs.

One of these models I call “50 Ways to Lever Learning.” The "50 Ways" includes training but also suggests many other options. This list fits into the push vs. pull model of learning in organizations. Knowledge and skills that employees need to learn are decided on by SMEs and managers and then pushed at employees, or knowledge and skills are pulled from the organization by employees when and where they want this information. The first 25 Ways on the list are typically push learning and the second 25 are typically pull learning.

Another model is what Bersin by Deloitte calls the “Learning Technology Stack.” This model is made up of digital technologies that have been designed for or adapted for learning. The model makes it obvious that digital technology has become an important part of enhancing learning in organizations.

Jane Hart is the author of the third model, “L&D Roles to Support Learning at Work.” This model incorporates the ways employees learn in organizations, the activities that support these various ways of learning, and the roles that training and development professionals need to play in order to enable these ways of learning.

Of course, any model is only a representation of the real world. These three models oversimplify the true process of learning in organizations and do not show all of the ways and combination of ways that people learn, as well as all the aspects of culture that drive or block learning. The main point is that there are many ways employees can learn in organizations, beyond formal training programs, and integrated into the daily life of the organization. These models provide useful tools for starting the examination of options.

[This post first appeared on the blog]


Attention and Work/Life Productivity

(This post by L2BG member Geri Markel, first appeared on her blog:

On average, dealing with distractions and interruptions at work can consume more than two hours out of your whole workday. It’s no different at home.

The boundaries between work and life are blurred and technology and our fast-paced lives interfere with our productivity and sense of well being. Unfortunately, most people are unaware of the connection between lack of attention and their work/life productivity.

Although we seek cutting edge performance, short attention span, poor concentration and distraction are at epidemic proportions. Few of us are exempt from this debilitating problem. Even highly trained leaders and professionals, whose jobs require enormous amounts of attention and concentration, experience attention outages. These are the nanosecond breakdowns of attention during which you lose focus and short-term memory.

Here are some examples:

  • A busy VP of marketing rushes from her house to her car as she tries making a cell phone call, and then realizes she is speaking into the television remote control.
  • A professional speaker is careful to not leave his wallet on the ticket counter at the airport baggage window. But while talking to a colleague, he inadvertently stuffs it into a case that is being checked. Luckily, he has his ticket and license in hand so he can get on the plane. He has no money, but he does have a seat.
  • A consultant brushes his teeth with hemorrhoid cream

When episodes like these occur, people sometimes think they are losing their minds. But although these experiences are troubling, all it really means is that they have temporarily lost their focus, not their minds. They suffered a brief, attention outage, a disconnection from their attention power. Even though they are high achievers, they need to pay better attention to their attention habits.

Many of us are experiencing incidents such as these more than ever before. Every day, we deal with information and technology overload. In addition to the multiple and competing demands of work/life, we must use an increasingly vast array of technology innovations, integrate multiple sources of information, and maintain equipment (e.g., which cord goes to the scanner? Which cable is for the iPod?) and store supplies (e.g., Where’s the ink cartridge for the printer, the toner for the fax, or the charger for the cell phone?). Not surprisingly, we become distracted and inattentive. Like the professionals described above, we’re prone to attention outages.

The earlier examples of attention failure result from momentary distractions. They illustrate a common, surface type of inattention: the occasional “attention slippage” that is inconvenient, not too costly, and sometimes, humorous. Sometimes, however, the incidents are not humorous—they are costly and inconvenient. You may forget to pay your credit card on time, sign a will or follow up with an important customer or client.

Although you may be aware of a growing deterioration of your productivity due to inattention, without a systematic approach to remedy the situation, you may just increase your stress and worry. Therefore, to increase your awareness in a useful manner, begin to investigate the conditions surrounding the difficulty. Pose questions such as:

  1. How often am I distracted due to cell phone, email or other digital device?
  2. How often do I suffer gaps in my attention due to the interruption of others?
  3. What are the tasks during which I’m most apt, to drift off and lose my concentration?

If you find that your attention is spotty and your productivity less than you’d like, then, begin to take action. Here are a few tips:

  1. Organize your time to work on difficult tasks at times when you are most alert. For example, if you are a morning person, don’t plan on working tasks that require accuracy late at night.
  2. Organize your work space to screen out distracting sights and sounds. For example, face the wall, rather than a busy hallway.
  3. Take frequent, but brief breaks. For example, even a few minutes away from the computer screen allows your eyes (as well as your mind) to gain a needed rest.

These are simple solutions to the complex problems related to attention and productivity. However, the use of such tips starts the process of awareness and problem-solving. Remember, the greater your attention to the task at hand, the greater your ability to complete the task with speed and accuracy. Start today and enjoy greater work/life productivity.


Informal Learning and the Pivot Point

As David Grebow explained in his post about The Learning Curve and The Pivot Point, unless formal training (courses, workshops, seminars, webinars, etc.) is followed by informal learning interventions, at the Pivot Point in the learning curve the knowledge and skills acquired in those formal experiences will not be applied and will be forgotten. In a learning culture, continuous attention to learning reinforces, reinvigorates, and magnifies learning over time, prevents a falloff in competency, and builds on individual ability to contribute to the success of the organization . This process is represented by the chart below.


This chart identifies only some of the many ways in which learning can be supported over time. In an earlier post titled, 50 Ways to Lever Learning, I listed many, but not all, of the different ways in which people can learn in organizations.

As this chart suggests, if you fail to attend to the Pivot Point, your investment in training will be wasted. However, if you do attend to the Pivot Point, you can build on formal learning experiences to continue to increase competency of individuals, teams, and your whole organization.




Why You Need a Learning Culture

You need a learning culture in your organization if…

The amount and complexity of knowledge and skills that each employee needs to learn is increasing. Any job that is relatively simple and repetitive is being automated (e.g., taxi scheduler; bank teller; helpdesk rep) and even some higher skill jobs are being taken over by artificial intelligence (AI) (e.g., package mailing and delivery; automobile transportation; health assessment). To do the complex jobs that remain, people will have to be smarter, more creative, and more engaged than ever.

Employees need to quickly learn new information, new skills, and develop new abilities. The software and hardware that workers need to use changes constantly. Operating systems are updated, new apps make work easier and more efficient, and new ways of organizing work promise greater employee engagement and productivity. All of this constant change means that workers need to be learning anytime, anywhere, and on-demand. Learning has to be continuous and integrated into the worklife of the organization.

Current onboarding and training programs are not helping organizations achieve their business goals. Research puts the transfer of learning from formal training to the workplace at somewhere between 10% and 50% depending on the content and purpose of the training, and this low rate has little to do with the quality of instruction. We have no reason to believe that these statistics are any different in your organization. This means you are wasting time, money, and effort on a method of learning that has little payoff. It’s not about creating better training; it’s about creating a mindset and an environment that supports learning in all of the activities of your organization.

The pace of change is preventing your company from competing effectively in the marketplace. New products and services are coming on the market every day that challenge the sustainability of your business. You need employees who are creative, innovative, and willing to take risks and experiment. This means learning! Your employees need to be developing creativity and innovativeness and learning from their mistakes and their successes. And you need leaders who support this risk-taking and encourage people to learn from these experiences and apply that learning to creating new products and services.

A multi-generational and multi-cultural workforce is a challenge to maintaining employee engagement and productivity. You may have as many as four generations of employees working together. And you likely have many different ethnic backgrounds and nationalities. This means wide diversity in experience, thought, and ways in which they approach their work and solve problems. While this diversity is potentially good for your organization, the implications for learning are significant. Employees need to learn how to work together effectively, the organization needs to learn how to keep these different employees engaged in their work, and leaders need to learn how to get the best out of a range of workers with different needs and expectations. Being unresponsive to these differences will prevent you from retaining the best talent.

If any of this describes your organization, contact us at for the advice, assistance, and tools you need to create and sustain a learning culture.



Training Culture vs. Learning Culture

training culture vs. learning culture

What’s the difference between a “training culture” and a “learning culture”? The answer is, “A great deal.” As the chart shows, in a training culture, responsibility for employee learning resides with instructors and training managers. In that kind of culture the assumption is that trainers (under the direction of a CLO) drive learning. Whereas in a learning culture, responsibility for learning resides with each employee and each team. In that kind of culture, employees are expected to seek out the knowledge and skills they need, when and where that knowledge and those skills are needed.

In a training culture, the assumption is that the most important learning happens in events, such as workshops, courses, elearning programs, and conferences. In a learning culture, it’s assumed that learning happens all the time, at events but also on-the-job, through coaches and mentors, from action-learning, from smartphones and tablets, socially, and from experiments.

In a training culture, the training and development function is centralized. The CLO, or HR, or a training department controls the resources for learning. Employees and their managers assume that if new competencies are needed, they should rely on this centralized function. In a learning culture, everyone is responsible for learning.  The entire organization is engaged in facilitating and supporting learning, in the workplace and outside the workplace.

In a training culture, departmental units in the organization compete for information. Each unit wants to know more and control more than the other units. This competition can result in short-term gains for those units and even for the organization as a whole (e.g., drug development in pharmaceutical companies). In a learning culture, knowledge and skills are shared freely among units. Everyone is working to help everyone else learn from the successes and failures across the organization. This creates a more sustainable and adaptable organization.

In a training culture, the learning and development function is evaluated on the basis of delivery of programs and materials. Typically, what matters to management is the courses that were offered and how many people attended. In a learning culture, what matters is the knowledge and skills acquired and applied in the workplace and impact on achieving the organization’s strategic goals. It’s less about output and more about the difference that learning makes for individuals, teams, and the entire organization. 

This post was first published on