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Managing Hands or Managing Minds, It's Your Decision

The workplace is changing and the way organizations manage and develop people is changing in response. In the last century Industrial Economy, people were hired basically to work with their hands and do what they were told to do. In the new Knowledge Economy, enlightened companies hire people to work with their minds, to think for themselves, to be creative and collaborative, and to add to the collective wisdom of the organization.

We can no longer rely on formal training programs. People need to learn continuously and in the flow of their work which requires the support of the entire organization. The following infographic, designed by ATD, presents the essential elements of the managing-minds approach.

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Managing for Success in the Knowledge Economy - The Podcast

The workplace is changing dramatically and managers need to change the way they manage people in order to keep up. Listen in on my conversation with David Grebow and Andi Simon as we explore these changes in work, management, and learning. We have moved from building things with our hands to using our minds to do our work. Today's "knowledge worker" is very different from the industrial worker of the past. It's no longer about what you can do with your hands; it's about what you can do with your mind. Therefore, managers have to help people develop their minds.

In the podcast, David says:

“For the first time in history, in the last 50 years, most people have been using their minds to produce work. We no longer need to manage hands; we have no choice but to restructure our organizations and change our approach to management and learning to reflect this historic change. In this mind-intensive knowledge economy, we must learn to manage minds to get the smartest, most creative, and most innovative results.” 

Many companies have taken the lead in learning new ways organize their work and to manage people. They are discovering what it takes to enable people to grow and perform at their peak, professionally and personally. In this podcast, you will hear all about what you can do to build your organization around today's knowledge workers. 

Stephen_Gill_and_David_Grebow_-_Edited (1)

What are examples of this change in your organization and what are you doing in response?

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Closing the Job-Skills Gap

Governor Rick Snyder of Michigan, like all state governors, is grappling with closing the gap between thousands of high-paying job openings and a shortage of workers to fill those jobs. To solve this problem, the Welder
Michigan Governor has initiated what he calls the “Marshall Plan for Talent”, with a focus on education and employment (I assume the Governor is referring to the urgency for large scale change and not the U.S.’s conditional infusion of billions of dollars into post World War II economies.).

The Gov’s talent development plan has five key components:

  1. Emphasizing competencies over academic performance
  2. Creating interest in careers and recognizing that those careers will change over a lifetime
  3. Businesses offering and participating in learning opportunities for students
  4. Universities embracing alternatives to traditional higher education, such as certificates and two-year degrees
  5. Retaining employers and attracting new employers to the State

All five components of the Gov's plan are valid and should be in the mix to improve talent development in Michigan or any other state. But missing from the Governor’s plan are two key aspects of employer involvement. One is workplace culture. Companies need to create a workplace in which people can be successful. People want to work in an environment in which they feel respected, trusted, and are given the opportunity to contribute in a meaningful way. If the workplace culture is hostile and not conducive to people doing their best work, they will feel alienated and either stay and perform poorly or they will leave. Unfortunately, most companies today do not have a culture that fosters engagement and high performance. Their leaders have not made the shift from Industrial Economy “managing hands” to Knowledge Economy “managing minds”.

The other key aspect of employer involvement in talent development is workplace learning. Many companies do not offer the training and other kinds of learning experiences that help people develop into successful contributors to business results. In today’s economy of rapid technological change, globalization, workforce diversity, and hyper-competition, people need the opportunity to learn continuously and acquire new competencies in response to those pressures.

School learning and formal training programs are not sufficient. Learning is best in the flow of work and in rapid response to change. CEOs and managers must make learning a priority in the workplace. They must support all of the different ways that people learn throughout the day and when faced with new technology and new processes. Not only will this make Michigan companies competitive, workers will be attracted to these companies and want to stay and contribute for long-term success.

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You're Never Too Old to Keep Learning: Growth Mindset vs. Fixed Mindset

How would you characterize your approach to learning; a growth mindset or a fixed mindset? Carol Dweck  in her book, Mindset, The New Psychology of Success, defines the difference between a growth mindset and a fixed mindset. In the world of fixed mindsets, you believe that your traits are fixed, that you do not have control over or the ability to alter them. Once you have entered the world of a fixed mindset, success is about proving you are smart or talented. Validating your self becomes all important and all consuming.

On the other hand, if you enter the world of a growth mindset, you believe that many things are possible for you, that you are not slotted into a place from which you cannot escape. A growth mindset is about the world of changing qualities; it is about stretching yourself to learn something new. People with growth mindsets are risk takers; they do not fear putting themselves in the way of a learning opportunity.  

Please watch the following video, which we believe, captures the essence of the growth mindset. Evelyn is the epitome of a growth mindset. At 99 she still viewed her life as one of learning and growth and helping others learn and grow. After watching this video, ask yourself, do I operate with a growth mindset or a fixed mindset? 

 

It is our strongly held belief that learning, at the individual level, the group level and the organizational level, is the essential ingredient to organizational success. And learning is inextricably linked to having a growth mindset. Does your organization’s culture, at its most fundamental underlying assumptions, support a growth mindset and therefore real learning.

If you are wondering about how you might determine if your organization has a growth mindset and a learning culture, complete our free learning culture survey.  We are certain you will find it informative.

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Sexism and Harassment Are Rampant in the Workplace

BRUSSELS — For the first time, a Belgian criminal court has convicted a man of “sexism in the public space,” for verbally abusing a female police officer who tried to question him after he was seen jaywalking.

The New York Times article goes on to explain Belgium’s definition of “sexism” :

Sexism, according to the law, is defined as “every gesture or deed” that is “clearly meant to express contempt of a person based on sex,” or considers a person inferior based on sex, or reduces a person solely to a sexual dimension, and which “gravely affects the dignity of that person as a result.” Violation of the law can lead to a prison sentence of up to one year and a fine of up to €10,000.

Can you imagine if that law was applied to U.S. workplaces. I’m afraid our prisons would be filled to capacity with sexist male managers and our courts would be rolling in fines. It’s my experience that sexism, as defined by Belgian law, is rampant in companies across America.

But don’t take my word for it. The Kapor Center for Social Impact, with the help of Harris Poll, surveyed people who had left jobs in the tech industry. They found that a workplace that tolerated sexual harassment, Kapor-header-logo-1 bullying, stereotyping, microaggressions, and other types of discriminatory behavior, contributed significantly to people leaving these companies. This was particularly true for men and women of color. They found that:

78% of employees reported experiencing some form of unfair behavior or treatment; Women from all backgrounds experienced/observed significantly more unfairness than men and unfairness was more pronounced in tech companies than non-tech companies.

CareerBuilder and The Harris Poll conducted a survey in which 12 percent of all workers (not only tech) reported sexual harassment in the workplace. Given that the percentage of people who actually report these incidents is quite low (28% according to this survey) and that “sexual harassment” is only one form of inappropriate and intimidating behavior, we can assume that the actual number of incidents of these kinds of behaviors is much higher.

The Kapor Center makes the case that discriminatory behavior in the workplace is costly for companies. The Kapor Center estimates that a culture of unfairness and mistreatment costs the tech industry 16 billion dollars per year. That’s just employee turnover costs. They argue that reputational costs should be considered, also. Once the word spreads that a company has a hostile work environment, it is harder to recruit new employees and that reputation affects business partners and customers.No doubt! The Weinstein Company, once a leader in Hollywood movie production, is now apparently in financial free fall, all starting with the revelation of allegations that suggest a culture within the company that tolerated sexual harassment, bullying, and worse.

However, we should also keep in mind that even in workplaces of low turnover, a hostile environment is just plain wrong. Everybody deserves respect. Nobody should come to work fearful. As Rich Sheridan, author of Joy, Inc., says,

...if fear is systematically removed, then people start to feel safe around each other and their leaders. Trust begins to form, and collaboration emerges and finally teamwork. True teamwork, not just an org chart with tee shirts. People gain productivity and quality through collaboration. Then innovation, imagination, invention and creativity emerge. 

The incidents and high profile firings that make the news, are not one-offs. As we can see from the research, discrimination, especially towards women and people of color, can be found in most companies and in every industry. All companies need to take a look in the mirror and take stock of the policies, activities, and manager behavior that could be contributing to a hostile workplace.

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L&D Professionals: From Trainer to Learning Coach

The most important role of L&D professionals is to coach managers in facilitating learning in organizations. This is their future. The days of instructor-centered employee learning are over. The rapid pace of change, EmployeesShakingHands technology (automation, robots, AI, AR, etc.), globalization, workforce diversity, hyper-competition, and demands of a new generation of workers make continuous learning the core activity of organizations today. Companies can no longer depend on L&D departments (and serendipity) to meet the evolving learning needs of employees.

The common approach to involving managers in talent development has been to do one or more of the following: ask managers to identify the training needs of their employees; invite executives to welcome trainees at the start of a training program; send emails to managers that summarize the content of training events that their direct reports will be attending; offer short, condensed versions of training programs to managers so that they know what employees will be experiencing. Each of these actions can be helpful in engaging managers in training but they do little to ensure that learning is applied and that learning leads to results.

We argue in our new book, Minds at Work: Managing for Success in the Knowledge Economy, that the role of managers needs to change fundamentally. Managers need to change from managing hands (i.e., commanding people to produce products and deliver services in a specified way) to managing minds (i.e., supporting people in their development as effective members of teams and organizations). In the Knowledge Economy, people need to learn continuously and it is the manager’s job to help them learn in whatever way fits them best. We write:

As a manager in the knowledge economy, focused on managing minds, you are responsible for helping employees learn to continuously improve their performance, the performance of their teams, and the entire orga­nization. The ability to learn is a talent, and like any talent, practice leads to improvement. In a business environment where disruption and surprises are the rule, and innovation and rapid decision making the norm, learning becomes an essential competency.

This has been a rare role for managers and will require most to develop new competencies. First and foremost managers should have a “growth mindset”. Carol Dweck defines a growth mindset as a belief “…that talent can be developed…” Not every manager holds this belief but without it, looking smart and avoiding risks become more important than learning.

In addition to having this mindset, managers must be able to implement five key elements of learning. We call these elements the "5As Framework". All of these elements must be present to ensure that people learn and apply that learning to achieve positive results for the organization. The 5As are:

  1. Alignment. Employees can clearly see how their learning will result in achieving individual, team, and whole organization goals. They have a clear line of sight from the knowledge and skills they are learning to the intended results. For example, the link between the content of a leadership program and the strategic business goals of a company are understandable and appreciated by participants in that program.
  1. Anticipation. This is managers and their direct reports anticipating learning and success from participation in a particular learning solution. The expectations that managers (and senior leadership) have for an employee are made clear to that individual and progress is monitored over time for the purpose of successful development of that employee.
  1. Alliance. A learning alliance is formed between employee and manager. This relationship is dedicated to the employee developing his or her knowledge and skills. The relationship consists of frequent conversations about learning, giving the employee immediate and helpful feedback, deciding together the priorities for what is to be learned and how it will be learned.  
  1. Application. Managers need to ensure that employees have the opportunity to apply what they have learned in a timely manner. This will delay forgetting and reinforce the new competencies. Depending on the content, application might need to occur within 24 to 48 hours after a learning intervention.
  1. Accountability. Demonstrating or providing evidence that learning has taken place and the employee is able to apply new knowledge and skills to achieve business results. This is for the purpose of reinforcing learning and providing additional feedback for continuous improvement. Being accountable is not for the purpose of finding fault with an employee. The focus is always on maximizing learning and growth.

Many organizations have made this shift in management already. Anyone who manages people in these enlightened organizations (i.e., is responsible for the performance of others) is expected to help people learn and grow into successful contributors to the performance of the business. This is the managing-minds approach, essential to success in the Knowledge Economy.

We can’t expect managers, especially those that have been educated in traditional MBA programs, to have the commitment and ability to develop the people around them. These managers will need the on-going assistance of L&D professionals. The emerging role of L&D professionals will be to coach managers, be advocates for learning, and guide executives in creating and sustaining a learning culture in their organizations.

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Managing Minds in the Workplace While Big Brother is Watching

I’m afraid some companies are regressing to the workplace Taylorism of the early 1900s, a time when efficiency became more important than humanity.  In an attempt to increase productivity and lower costs, companies are installing technology that monitors and controls employee behavior. An article in The New York Times describes a patent Amazon has for a wristband that…

…would emit ultrasonic sound pulses and radio transmissions to track where an employee’s hands were in relation to inventory bins, and provide “haptic feedback” to steer the worker toward the correct Mitch-nielsen-69438 bin…The aim, Amazon says in the patent, is to streamline “time consuming” tasks, like responding to  orders and packaging them for speedy delivery. With guidance from a wristband, workers could fill orders faster.

As with other Amazon inventions, this technology may never be used. However, the wristband is symptomatic of an attempt by companies to control employees under the guise of efficiency and safety while ignoring the potentially negative consequences of an Industrial Economy, managing-hands approach to business.

Technologies today can monitor our homes, our cars, our fitness, and our workplace. The security and health assistance they provide is unprecedented. I can know who is burgling my house in real time. I can know if my car is dangerously close to another car as I’m driving. I can know my heart rate and number of steps taken as I exercise. All useful information that can make my life easier, safer, and healthier.

The problem occurs when these same technologies are used to monitor and control behavior in the workplace. Companies will say that they are using these devices to improve work. However, the tools could also be used to spy on employees and collect data about them that violates their privacy. Even if a company has the best of intentions, employees will feel used and abused.

Using technology in this way sends a message to employees that managers don’t trust workers and that failure and mistakes will not be tolerated. The follow-on message, therefore, is that your learning and development are not a priority for the company. This all contributes to a culture in which hands become more important than minds. Just because you can do it, doesn’t mean you should do it.

This big-brother culture, in addition to being degrading, is not sustainable in the 21rst Century. Employees will become more disengaged than they already are. They will be less likely to take responsibility for their own learning. They will be less likely to contribute significantly to the growth of the company. Instead, we need workers who are free of fear, who are willing to speak up, who are creative problem-solvers, who are committed to achieving the goals of the organization, and who are continuous learners.

In our new book, Minds at Work: Managing for Success in the Knowledge Economy, we make a distinction between the managing hands approach to work, typical of the Industrial Economy, and a managing minds approach to work that has taken root in today’s Knowledge Economy. New technology for monitoring and controlling worker behavior, such as the wristband patented by Amazon, are literally about managing hands when workplaces everywhere are desperately in need of managers who manage minds.

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How to Hire an Agile Learner

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How to Hire an Agile Learner

How do you find agile learners, people who can curate information for themselves, use a wide variety of learning methods, and quickly apply new learning to their work? In our new book, Minds at Work: Managing for Success in the Knowledge Economy, we explain the importance of having self-directed, agile learners in our modern organizations.

Look for people who have humility, are curious, are excited about collaboration with others, and who express appreciation for the effort and progress of others. Ask about specific examples of these behaviors in their previous work.

Recruit people with the ability to learn a job and adapt as the job changes, which it will. Tom Friedman in a column he wrote for the NYTimes titled How to Get a Job at Google, quoted Laszlo Bock, Google’s senior vice president of people operations, as saying,

For every job, though, the No. 1 thing we look for is general cognitive ability, and it’s not I.Q. It’s learning ability. It’s the ability to process on the fly. It’s the ability to pull together disparate bits of information. We assess that using structured behavioral interviews that we validate to make sure they’re predictive.

Bock is not looking primarily for programmers and search engine experts. He is looking for people who can apply both analysis and synthesis to solving problems and who can do this quickly in the course of their work. He is looking for creativity and ingenuity.

Liz Wiseman, author of Rookie Smarts: Why Learning Beats Knowing in the New Game of Work, says, “The speed with which we learn will be more critical than the extent of what we know.” She recommends hiring people who are intellectually curious, teachable, playful, and deliberate.

Fundamental to learning is having a growth mindset. According to Carol Dweck, some people believe that new competencies can be learned while others believe that talent is fixed and people can’t develop much beyond their current capabilities. This is the difference between a Growth Mindset and a Fixed Mindset. Dweck writes:

People who believe in the power of talent tend not to fulfill their potential because they’re too concerned with looking smart and not making mistakes. But people who believe that talent can be developed are the ones who really push, stretch, confront their own mistakes and learn from them.

Hire people who have a growth mindset. Otherwise they will have a psychological barrier to learning and to helping others learn.

Also, hire people who are not afraid to fail and to learn from failure. Taking risks, failing, and learning from that failure is an essential process of development in an organization. Kyle Zimmer, head of First Book, talks about looking for the experience of failure in the people she hires. She says:

We want people who have tried things, and have failed, and have risen above it. Those indicators that you’re a builder are profoundly important. Because if you’re bright, and you’re a builder, and you’ve overcome the winds that blow against anybody trying to build anything, a lot of other things fall away, like defensiveness

And better yet, observe how employees learn and help others learn during a trial period in your company. How do they acquire the knowledge and skills to do their work? Do they seek out information and help from others or do they rely on themselves, only? Are they willing to admit that they don’t know something? Are they willing to admit that something didn’t go well and that they need help to fix the problem? Can they adapt to a culture in which collaborative learning is the norm. Menlo Innovations, a software development firm, has prospective employees do real work for several months before making a decisions as to whether they are a good fit or not.

Here are some questions to get you started in conducting a job interview to identify agile learners. Ask them:

  • What do you know about this company? How did you find out this information?
  • What do you believe about the ability of people to learn?  Which kinds of employees do you think can continue to learn and develop competencies in an organization like this?
  • How do you learn something new? Take me through your steps.
  • What if you were asked to become knowledgeable in an area of our business for which you are not familiar? How would you do that?
  • Tell me about a time when you failed at something. What did you do to contribute to that failure? What did you do after to recover from the experience? What did you learn from that failure
  • In what areas do you need to improve? What goals do you have for your own growth?

New knowledge, new skills, new technologies, new customers, new business partners, new competitors, and new ways of working are coming at us so fast that we need to be continually learning and learning fast. This takes agility. It will be the agile learner that will be successful in our modern companies. We need those learners and we need work environments that support individuals taking responsibility for their own learning.

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How to Hire an Agile Learner

How do you find agile learners, people who can curate information for themselves, use a wide variety of learning methods, and quickly apply new learning to their work? In our new book, Minds at Work: Managing for Success in the Knowledge Economy, we explain the importance of having self-directed, agile learners in our modern organizations.

Look for people who have humility, are curious, are excited about collaboration with others, and who 3D Carexpress appreciation for the effort and progress of others. Ask about specific examples of these behaviors in their previous work.

Recruit people with the ability to learn a job and adapt as the job changes, which it will. Tom Friedman in a column he wrote for the NYTimes titled How to Get a Job at Google, quoted Laszlo Bock, Google’s senior vice president of people operations, as saying,

For every job, though, the No. 1 thing we look for is general cognitive ability, and it’s not I.Q. It’s learning ability. It’s the ability to process on the fly. It’s the ability to pull together disparate bits of information. We assess that using structured behavioral interviews that we validate to make sure they’re predictive.

Bock is not looking primarily for programmers and search engine experts. He is looking for people who can apply both analysis and synthesis to solving problems and who can do this quickly in the course of their work. He is looking for creativity and ingenuity.

Liz Wiseman, author of Rookie Smarts: Why Learning Beats Knowing in the New Game of Work, says, “The speed with which we learn will be more critical than the extent of what we know.” She recommends hiring people who are intellectually curious, teachable, playful, and deliberate.

Fundamental to learning is having a growth mindset. According to Carol Dweck, some people believe that new competencies can be learned while others believe that talent is fixed and people can’t develop much beyond their current capabilities. This is the difference between a Growth Mindset and a Fixed Mindset. Dweck writes:

People who believe in the power of talent tend not to fulfill their potential because they’re too concerned with looking smart and not making mistakes. But people who believe that talent can be developed are the ones who really push, stretch, confront their own mistakes and learn from them.

Hire people who have a growth mindset. Otherwise they will have a psychological barrier to learning and to helping others learn.

Also, hire people who are not afraid to fail and to learn from failure. Taking risks, failing, and learning from that failure is an essential process of development in an organization. Kyle Zimmer, head of First Book, talks about looking for the experience of failure in the people she hires. She says:

We want people who have tried things, and have failed, and have risen above it. Those indicators that you’re a builder are profoundly important. Because if you’re bright, and you’re a builder, and you’ve overcome the winds that blow against anybody trying to build anything, a lot of other things fall away, like defensiveness

And better yet, observe how employees learn and help others learn during a trial period in your company. How do they acquire the knowledge and skills to do their work? Do they seek out information and help from others or do they rely on themselves, only? Are they willing to admit that they don’t know something? Are they willing to admit that something didn’t go well and that they need help to fix the problem? Can they adapt to a culture in which collaborative learning is the norm. Menlo Innovations, a software development firm, has prospective employees do real work for several months before making a decisions as to whether they are a good fit or not.

Here are some questions to get you started in conducting a job interview to identify agile learners. Ask them:

  • What do you know about this company? How did you find out this information?
  • What do you believe about the ability of people to learn?  Which kinds of employees do you think can continue to learn and develop competencies in an organization like this?
  • How do you learn something new? Take me through your steps.
  • What if you were asked to become knowledgeable in an area of our business for which you are not familiar? How would you do that?
  • Tell me about a time when you failed at something. What did you do to contribute to that failure? What did you do after to recover from the experience? What did you learn from that failure
  • In what areas do you need to improve? What goals do you have for your own growth?

New knowledge, new skills, new technologies, new customers, new business partners, new competitors, and new ways of working are coming at us so fast that we need to be continually learning and learning fast. This takes agility. It will be the agile learner that will be successful in our modern companies. We need those learners and we need work environments that support individuals taking responsibility for their own learning.

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Search for the Agile Learner

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Search for the Agile Learner

Modern organizations need agile learners. Given the pace of change due to technology, globalization, workforce diversity, and hyper-competition, people need to continually acquire and apply new knowledge, skills, and values at a rate unheard of in previous eras. As we explain in our new book, Minds at Work: Managing for Success in the Knowledge Economy, simple and routine jobs are being replaced by automation and robots. Even more complex tasks are beginning to be done my artificial intelligence (AI). Soon all workers will need to be smarter and more adaptable than ever. The most successful employees will be those who embrace the change and seek out learning when, where, and how they learn best. In other words, they must be agile learners.

As I wrote in a previous blog post, at least three definitions of learning agility are being used in the field. Each is worth considering. One has to do with openness to experience, another has to do with adaptability to change, and a third has to do with the range of methods one uses to acquire new information and abilities.

In Learning About Learning Agility, a white paper from researchers at Teachers College, Columbia University and the Center for Creative Leadership, the authors argue that agile learners are life-long learners. They write that agile learners…

…show the willingness and ability to learn throughout their careers, if not their entire lives…Learning-agile individuals seek opportunities for growth and are able to process these opportunities in order to learn. They are open to new experiences, seek challenges, and are willing to introduce new ideas and question “norms”. Moreover, they are able to remain present in challenging situations, performing and adapting “on the fly”. Finally, learning-agile individuals understand that experience alone does not guarantee learning; they take time to reflect, seeking to understand why things happen, in addition to what happened.

The authors make the point that we usually judge people based on what they have done and what they already know when another, maybe better indicator of success is how well they learn. This is a profound observation because it flies in the face of standard recruiting and selection practices. Do we throw out the resume and observe how people behave in novel situations instead?

Vicki Swisher, with Korn Ferry International, in a webcast says that organizations with learning-agile leaders succeed more than other organizations. These leaders adapt their leadership style and actions to the changing internal and external environments of their organizations. Agility, according to Swisher is about having the flexibility to change given the circumstances.

This kind of learning agility is most needed when leaders are under pressure to respond quickly and decisively. We know that when people are under stress they become less mindful, their perception of options becomes restricted, and they often make the most expedient and safest, rather than best, choice. Agile leaders are able to step back from these pressure situations, engage with others in a way that helps them see the range of possibilities, and make choices that are best for the organization.

Elliott Masie suggests a third definition of learning agility. This is the ability of people to find the information they need when they need it, to use a wide range of methods of learning (technology, social, practice, etc.), and turn that information into the knowledge and skills they need to be effective in the situation. Being an agile learner by this definition means being able to sift through all of the sources of information that we have at our fingertips (literally), evaluate what is useful and what is not, and apply that information to solving problems and improving performance of self, teams, and our organizations.

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Search for the Agile Learner

Modern organizations need agile learners. Given the pace of change due to technology, globalization, workforce diversity, and hyper-competition, people need to continually acquire and apply new knowledge, skills, and values at a rate unheard of in previous eras. As we explain in our new book, Minds at Work: Managing for Success in the Knowledge Economy, simple and routine jobs are being replaced by automation Agility leio mclarenand robots. Even more complex tasks are beginning to be done my artificial intelligence (AI). Soon all workers will need to be smarter and more adaptable than ever. The most successful employees will be those who embrace the change and seek out learning when, where, and how they learn best. In other words, they must be agile learners.

As I wrote in a previous blog post, at least three definitions of learning agility are being used in the field. Each is worth considering. One has to do with openness to experience, another has to do with adaptability to change, and a third has to do with the range of methods one uses to acquire new information and abilities.

In Learning About Learning Agility, a white paper from researchers at Teachers College, Columbia University and the Center for Creative Leadership, the authors argue that agile learners are life-long learners. They write that agile learners…

…show the willingness and ability to learn throughout their careers, if not their entire lives…Learning-agile individuals seek opportunities for growth and are able to process these opportunities in order to learn. They are open to new experiences, seek challenges, and are willing to introduce new ideas and question “norms”. Moreover, they are able to remain present in challenging situations, performing and adapting “on the fly”. Finally, learning-agile individuals understand that experience alone does not guarantee learning; they take time to reflect, seeking to understand why things happen, in addition to what happened.

The authors make the point that we usually judge people based on what they have done and what they already know when another, maybe better indicator of success is how well they learn. This is a profound observation because it flies in the face of standard recruiting and selection practices. Do we throw out the resume and observe how people behave in novel situations instead?

Vicki Swisher, with Korn Ferry International, in a webcast says that organizations with learning-agile leaders succeed more than other organizations. These leaders adapt their leadership style and actions to the changing internal and external environments of their organizations. Agility, according to Swisher is about having the flexibility to change given the circumstances.

This kind of learning agility is most needed when leaders are under pressure to respond quickly and decisively. We know that when people are under stress they become less mindful, their perception of options becomes restricted, and they often make the most expedient and safest, rather than best, choice. Agile leaders are able to step back from these pressure situations, engage with others in a way that helps them see the range of possibilities, and make choices that are best for the organization.

Elliott Masie suggests a third definition of learning agility. This is the ability of people to find the information they need when they need it, to use a wide range of methods of learning (technology, social, practice, etc.), and turn that information into the knowledge and skills they need to be effective in the situation. Being an agile learner by this definition means being able to sift through all of the sources of information that we have at our fingertips (literally), evaluate what is useful and what is not, and apply that information to solving problems and improving performance of self, teams, and our organizations.

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Short Course on Evaluation of Training and Learning in Knowledge Economy

LAD Global, in partnership with the Singapore Training and Development Association, has made my short course on evaluation of training and learning available for free online. I hope people involved in talent LAD course on evaluation development will find this course to be a helpful introduction to measuring the impact of all types of learning interventions, not only formal training.  

My emphasis in this course is on using measurement and evaluation for learning. Much of evaluation in organizations today is still focused on formal training programs and limited to Kirkpatrick’s “level one”. In other words, L&D professionals are using “smile sheets” that measure immediate reaction to classroom instruction, collected at the end of training. Of course, we all are curious about what participants think of our programs and us as trainers. Great to know for marketing purposes.

But this information is not particularly helpful to the organization. It doesn’t tell us why the program was the right solution in the first place, what was learned, why that learning is helpful or not helpful to participants and other stakeholders, what happens when participants apply the content in their organizations, what are the intended and unintended consequences, what can be done to ensure that the content is applied in a positive way in the future, what organizational factors beyond the training are affecting impact, and what difference, positive and negative, the training has contributed to achieving organizational goals. This is the kind of information we need if we want to increase the impact of our learning interventions.

Given this purpose, the course covers methods that can be used to measure and evaluate the process of learning in organizations. I summarize three major approaches to evaluation: Kirkpatrick’s four levels; Phillips’ ROI; and Brinkerhoff’s Success Case Method. And then I explain how to select the best method for the situation and how data (quantitative and qualitative) from any of these methods can be used to improve learning across an organization. If you take a look at the course, I welcome your feedback.

For more on this topic, see our new book, Minds at Work: Managing for Success in the Knowledge Economy, published by ATD Press, available now on Amazon.

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Year In Review - 2017

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Year In Review - 2017

As I usually do at this time of year, I’ve selected five blog posts from the past year that seem to have had the most interest from readers. With the publication of my new book, Minds at Work: Managing for Success in the Knowledge Economy, I have continued to focus my blog posts on a manager’s role in supporting continuous learning for all employees in the workplace. And I have examined an employee’s responsibility for continuous learning in the Knowledge Economy. But I have also been influenced by current events and what a hostile work environment does to individuals, teams, and organizations. Here are the five blog posts I've selected with a short piece from each:

The Future of Learning is Not Training – January 25, 2017

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.

Becoming a Learning Culture: Competing in an Age of Disruption – February 17, 2017

The only thing holding companies back from learning at the speed of change is their organizational culture which, for many, is a barrier to learning. Most companies have a training culture, not a learning culture. This emphasis on formal training is a barrier to learning and change. In a training culture, responsibility for employee learning resides with instructors and training managers. In that kind of culture, trainers (under the direction of a CLO) drive learning…Whereas in a learning culture, responsibility for learning resides with each employee, each team, and each manager. In that kind of culture, employees, with the help of their managers, seek out the knowledge and skills they need, when and where that knowledge and those skills are needed.

Hire Learners for the Knowledge Economy – July 6, 2017

Companies today need learners. In the Agricultural Economy, a strong back was enough. In the Industrial Economy, a set of good hands was enough. But in the Knowledge Economy, companies need people who can develop their minds…The Knowledge Economy needs people who are self-directed learners, who know how to get the information and skills they need when and where they need them, who can think critically in terms of evaluating the accuracy and usefulness of this information, and who can learn from both successes and failures.

Closing the Skills Gap by Improving Corporate Culture – July 20, 2017

Why would people want to work in an organization and do their best in an organization where they are not respected, where they are not trusted, where they do not have an opportunity to apply the knowledge and skills for which they thought they were hired, where there is little opportunity to learn and grow, where the performance goals are not clear, where they are chastised for trying something new when it doesn’t work out, where they are discouraged from collaborating with people in other units of the company, where they receive feedback only once a year at a perfunctory performance review meeting, and where pay and benefits are awarded unfairly?

R-E-S-P-E-C-T: Sexual Harassment Has No Place in the Knowledge Economy – October 27, 2017

Creating and maintaining a harassment-free work culture is not easy given that the default behavior in most organizations is to marginalize and exclude women from power and from the central decision-making processes of the business. Requiring employees to complete a course in diversity does little to change that culture. Leaders (men and women) must model respectful behavior throughout each day, coach people in this behavior on a continuous basis, and discipline people who choose to be disrespectful. Managing for success in the modern workplace means creating and maintaining an environment of inclusion, collaboration, cooperation, and, most of all, mutual respect.

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Year In Review - 2017

As I usually do at this time of year, I’ve selected five blog posts from the past year that seem to have had the most interest from readers. With the publication of my new book, Minds at Work: Managing for Success in the Knowledge Economy, I have continued to focus my blog posts on a manager’s role in supporting continuous Newyearfireworks learning for all employees in the workplace. And I have examined an employee’s responsibility for continuous learning in the Knowledge Economy. But I have also been influenced by current events and what a hostile work environment does to individuals, teams, and organizations. Here are the five blog posts I've selected with a short piece from each:

The Future of Learning is Not Training – January 25, 2017

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.

Becoming a Learning Culture: Competing in an Age of Disruption – February 17, 2017

The only thing holding companies back from learning at the speed of change is their organizational culture which, for many, is a barrier to learning. Most companies have a training culture, not a learning culture. This emphasis on formal training is a barrier to learning and change. In a training culture, responsibility for employee learning resides with instructors and training managers. In that kind of culture, trainers (under the direction of a CLO) drive learning…Whereas in a learning culture, responsibility for learning resides with each employee, each team, and each manager. In that kind of culture, employees, with the help of their managers, seek out the knowledge and skills they need, when and where that knowledge and those skills are needed.

Hire Learners for the Knowledge Economy – July 6, 2017

Companies today need learners. In the Agricultural Economy, a strong back was enough. In the Industrial Economy, a set of good hands was enough. But in the Knowledge Economy, companies need people who can develop their minds…The Knowledge Economy needs people who are self-directed learners, who know how to get the information and skills they need when and where they need them, who can think critically in terms of evaluating the accuracy and usefulness of this information, and who can learn from both successes and failures.

Closing the Skills Gap by Improving Corporate Culture – July 20, 2017

Why would people want to work in an organization and do their best in an organization where they are not respected, where they are not trusted, where they do not have an opportunity to apply the knowledge and skills for which they thought they were hired, where there is little opportunity to learn and grow, where the performance goals are not clear, where they are chastised for trying something new when it doesn’t work out, where they are discouraged from collaborating with people in other units of the company, where they receive feedback only once a year at a perfunctory performance review meeting, and where pay and benefits are awarded unfairly?

R-E-S-P-E-C-T: Sexual Harassment Has No Place in the Knowledge Economy – October 27, 2017

Creating and maintaining a harassment-free work culture is not easy given that the default behavior in most organizations is to marginalize and exclude women from power and from the central decision-making processes of the business. Requiring employees to complete a course in diversity does little to change that culture. Leaders (men and women) must model respectful behavior throughout each day, coach people in this behavior on a continuous basis, and discipline people who choose to be disrespectful. Managing for success in the modern workplace means creating and maintaining an environment of inclusion, collaboration, cooperation, and, most of all, mutual respect.

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Training Isn't the Answer

Every day, it seems, another high profile case of sexual harassment comes to light. And then there are the many workplace complaints of sexual harassment that are no less harmful to women but, perpetrated by RosietheRivetermid-level managers, don’t get the same attention as the one’s involving celebrities and CEOs. The experience of women working in Ford Motor factories, as reported by Susan Chira and Catrin Einhorn in The New York Times, makes us aware that a hostile workplace is not unusual and can be created by managers at all levels of an organization. Clearly, sexual harassment and a hostile work environment are a pervasive problem.

However, the answer to eliminating sexual harassment in the workplace and creating a climate supportive of all employees regardless of gender, race, age, background, etc. is not more training. Most companies have been offering training since the 1990s, primarily in order to manage their risk of liability. A ruling by the Supreme Court in 1998 lent support to the widely held belief that offering training to educate employees about sexual harassment and providing a grievance procedure would shield companies from liability.

Training alone will not and cannot create a fearless work environment nor can training prevent sexual harassment. First of all, formal training programs have never had much impact on behavior in the workplace. On average, less than 20% of participants in training programs apply learning back on the job. There are many reasons for this, such as: poor training; lack of preparation for training; unreasonable expectations; forgetting content; lack of support from managers; lack of opportunity to apply new knowledge and skills in the short term; and little or no support from the CEO.

Secondly, even if the individual learner has changed in some significant way during training, the workplace culture is still the same. A hostile work environment with a long history of demeaning talk, threatening actions, and violence toward women will undermine learning from even the most outstanding training program. If people attend the training without a clear understanding of how the information relates to their jobs and they have low expectations, a manager that doesn’t care, no opportunity to apply what they know, and no accountability for their behavior and improving the work environment, then we can’t expect them to change.

Without getting into all of the psychological and social reasons why men behave badly, let’s just say that companies need to create a culture of respect and dignity for every single human being in the workplace. This is not only the right thing to do (that should be enough reason) but it’s also essential for business success.

Employees in the past, industrial economy only knew command-and-control leadership. They were expected to do what they were told and discouraged from thinking. These organizations were all about control and power and loyalty. Those values at the top of the hierarchy get translated into managers and co-workers exerting power over the most vulnerable employees throughout the pyramid.

In the current, knowledge economy, this kind of management no longer works. Given the rapid change due to technology, globalization, diversity in the workforce, and hyper-competition, people have to be continually learning, collaborating with others, working in teams, and being creative and innovative. Nobody can do this in a hostile work environment. If you come to work every day fearful of how you will be treated and simply trying to endure, you will not be able to contribute to creating the kind of company that will survive and thrive in the 21rst Century. Employees deserve better!

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Independent Learner in the Knowledge Economy

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Independent Learner in the Knowledge Economy

In the Knowledge Economy, people must take responsibility for their own learning. They need to learn how to learn independently and how to learn what they need to know when they need to know it. The world of work is changing too fast for any worker to remain a passive learner. John Hagel III and John Seely Brown, leading thinkers in technology and learning, write in an article for HBR titled Help Employees Create Knowledge – Not Just Share It:

…when we recognize that the environment around us is rapidly changing, skills have a shorter and shorter half-life. While skills are still necessary for success, the focus should shift to cultivating the underlying capabilities that can accelerate learning so that new skills can be more rapidly acquired. These capabilities include curiosity, critical thinking, willingness to take risk, imagination, creativity, and social and emotional intelligence. If we can develop those learning capabilities, we should be able to rapidly evolve our skill sets in ways that keep us ahead of the game.

A good example of what they are saying is R&D. Not long ago, product prototypes took months to produce, often by an outside fabricator. Now, a skilled worker using a 3D printer can make that prototype in hours. The implications for a company’s innovation and competitiveness are profound. And 3D printers are only going to get better and better. Operators of these advanced 3D printers need to be curious, think critically, be willing to take risks, be creative, and work well with others.

Jane Hart calls this person the “Modern Professional Learner”. She writes:

For Modern Professional Learners, learning is not something that happens just in education or training, but happens in many different ways every day both at work and on the Web. Hence modern learning skills are not just about how to study or take a course online, but how to make the most of all the different experiences and opportunities they seek out and encounter.

However, employees can’t become “modern professional learners” unless their organizations are supportive of independent learning. Support from training and HR departments is necessary but insufficient. L&D professionals can’t keep up with the pace of learning that has to occur on-the-job and in the flow of work. And they can’t continue to support and reinforce that learning over time. The organization as a whole must have an environment that is conducive to independent learning. The major characteristics of that environment include:

  • Leaders and managers who communicate the value that they place on learning
  • Managers who prioritize employee development, i.e., they see this as an important part of their role (we call this "managing minds")
  • An accepted belief that it is okay to take risks and that failure is an opportunity to learn, that people aren’t criticized or punished for trying something that might not have a positive outcome
  • Open, honest, transparent communication throughout the organization
  • Knowledge isn’t hoarded by individuals and departments; knowledge is shared so that everyone is learning
  • All stakeholders are involved in identifying performance goals for individuals, teams, and the organization as a whole
  • Learning and performance feedback and reflection are part of the normal course of work so that everyone is continuously learning from what they do
  • Opportunities for social learning in-person and via social media are embedded in the workday; the physical environment facilitates co-workers connecting and sharing their knowledge and skills
  • Learning is considered work and work is considered learning; work and learning are not separated in the minds of employees and their managers.

Yes, workers today need to learn independently and continuously. However, even with individual ability, this won’t happen unless the culture of the organization removes barriers to learning and supports learning in every aspect of how the organization does its work.

For more on this topic, see our new book Minds at Work: Managing for Success in the Knowledge Economy published by ATD Press, available now on Amazon.

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Independent Learner in the Knowledge Economy

In the Knowledge Economy, people must take responsibility for their own learning. They need to learn how to learn independently and how to learn what they need to know when they need to know it. The world of IMG_2101 work is changing too fast for any worker to remain a passive learner. John Hagel III and John Seely Brown, leading thinkers in technology and learning, write in an article for HBR titled Help Employees Create Knowledge – Not Just Share It:

…when we recognize that the environment around us is rapidly changing, skills have a shorter and shorter half-life. While skills are still necessary for success, the focus should shift to cultivating the underlying capabilities that can accelerate learning so that new skills can be more rapidly acquired. These capabilities include curiosity, critical thinking, willingness to take risk, imagination, creativity, and social and emotional intelligence. If we can develop those learning capabilities, we should be able to rapidly evolve our skill sets in ways that keep us ahead of the game.

A good example of what they are saying is R&D. Not long ago, product prototypes took months to produce, often by an outside fabricator. Now, a skilled worker using a 3D printer can make that prototype in hours. The implications for a company’s innovation and competitiveness are profound. And 3D printers are only going to get better and better. Operators of these advanced 3D printers need to be curious, think critically, be willing to take risks, be creative, and work well with others.

Jane Hart calls this person the “Modern Professional Learner”. She writes:

For Modern Professional Learners, learning is not something that happens just in education or training, but happens in many different ways every day both at work and on the Web. Hence modern learning skills are not just about how to study or take a course online, but how to make the most of all the different experiences and opportunities they seek out and encounter.

However, employees can’t become “modern professional learners” unless their organizations are supportive of independent learning. Support from training and HR departments is necessary but insufficient. L&D professionals can’t keep up with the pace of learning that has to occur on-the-job and in the flow of work. And they can’t continue to support and reinforce that learning over time. The organization as a whole must have an environment that is conducive to independent learning. The major characteristics of that environment include:

  • Leaders and managers who communicate the value that they place on learning
  • Managers who prioritize employee development, i.e., they see this as an important part of their role (we call this "managing minds")
  • An accepted belief that it is okay to take risks and that failure is an opportunity to learn, that people aren’t criticized or punished for trying something that might not have a positive outcome
  • Open, honest, transparent communication throughout the organization
  • Knowledge isn’t hoarded by individuals and departments; knowledge is shared so that everyone is learning
  • All stakeholders are involved in identifying performance goals for individuals, teams, and the organization as a whole
  • Learning and performance feedback and reflection are part of the normal course of work so that everyone is continuously learning from what they do
  • Opportunities for social learning in-person and via social media are embedded in the workday; the physical environment facilitates co-workers connecting and sharing their knowledge and skills
  • Learning is considered work and work is considered learning; work and learning are not separated in the minds of employees and their managers.

Yes, workers today need to learn independently and continuously. However, even with individual ability, this won’t happen unless the culture of the organization removes barriers to learning and supports learning in every aspect of how the organization does its work.

For more on this topic, see our new book Minds at Work: Managing for Success in the Knowledge Economy published by ATD Press, available now on Amazon.

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Managing to Learn, Learning to Manage in the Knowledge Economy

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Managing to Learn, Learning to Manage in the Knowledge Economy

Harness the power of employees’ minds! Although many companies pay lip service to the idea that employees are their most valuable asset, they remain stuck in a 20th century mindset in which employees are a liability. In our new book, MINDS AT WORK: Managing for Success in The Knowledge Economy, David Grebow and I lay the foundation for companies to compete in the 21st century knowledge economy by focusing on the incredible potential of empowering and enabling people’s minds.

Companies whose roots lay in the industrial economy in which we used our hands to make things learned to “manage hands,” where success was often measured by the number of widgets that can be cranked out in a set amount of time. Most current management practices, principles and methods for learning were developed in response to the needs of that previous economy. In the knowledge economy, we are working with our mind to produce work, to transform data into information and then into useful knowledge. Change happens more rapidly than ever before, and companies need to be agile and responsive to be successful. They need to learn to “manage minds,” where success is measured by employees’ ability to continuously learn, collaborate, communicate and innovate. “There is no way to become the smartest company on the block if you continue managing hands in a world that demands managing minds,” we write. “You can’t solve 21st-century problems using 20th-century solutions.” Grebow adds, “The knowledge economy that caused these problems also contains the solution if you know where to look.”

Continuous learning, and enabling learning anytime and anywhere, is one of the most important attributes of a knowledge economy company. These are the three competencies that are necessary to move forward and successfully compete:

  • Learning independently - In a company that manages minds, managers need to enable people to quickly and easily find the information they need to grow professionally and personally, and people need to take responsibility for learning what they need to know, when and where it is needed. 
  • Learning interactively - Technology is an integral part of managing minds; people need to use the tools available today to learn, communicate and collaborate, and look for and be willing to adopt any new tools developed in the future.
  • Learning socially - Almost all learning in the most successful organizations is social; that is especially true in a company managing minds.  It makes sense for management to be intentional about creating opportunities for people to connect, to enable, and not disable sharing and collaborating.

MINDS AT WORK illustrates these concepts through real-world examples of companies that have made the transition from managing hands to managing minds. It’s not only about small companies and startups, but also large, multi-national conglomerates. AT&T for example is a large company trying to go through the transition. With the first transcontinental line, rotary phone, transatlantic phone service, mobile phone, automated switchboard, and transatlantic phone cable, AT&T was an icon of a company that managed hands. Those hands literally built a telecommunications industry. 

Today, AT&T’s competitors include not only Verizon and Sprint, but Amazon, Netflix, and Google. These new competitors are all about the new digital and cellular technology, and are hard at work employing the minds of the best and brightest in these new fields. The change for AT&T is profound. Copper wires, phone lines, and switching equipment are becoming obsolete, along with the related work skills.

Randall Stephenson, AT&T's chairman and chief executive, knew he had to reinvent the company to compete, to move rapidly from the earlier management model of managing hands to the new approach of managing minds. In 2014, he asked 280,000 employees worldwide to start a retraining program. He had no choice. According to Stephenson, “If we can’t do it, mark my words, [by 2020] we’ll be managing decline.”

Oberg Industries is another example of a large company that is making the transition. Oberg manufactures precision components and tooling from a variety of materials used by Fortune 500 companies and other manufacturers. As the company began to automate and sell into a global market. Donald E. Oberg, the company’s founder, realized that simply managing hands would no longer be effective as the company evolved. He began an apprenticeship program that has become a model for other manufacturing companies worldwide. The values of the program, which has trained more than 1,000 employees, are straightforward and simple: establish a culture of continuous learning for employees, and introduce new employees to the learning culture. Oberg’s story illustrates the key to this or any major organizational change: it starts at the top. As we say, “The key to success for all knowledge economy companies is whether the company’s leaders, managers and employees can successfully make the shift from managing hands to managing minds.”

MINDS AT WORK provides valuable insights, case studies, practical tools and techniques for transforming from a managing hands to a managing minds organization. The book explains the key ideas that separate the two types of organizations, and provides a clear understanding of why and how companies must change including:

  • The Reasons Why Management Must Change
  • Ideas for Making the Transition
  • Workplaces and Learnscapes of Tomorrow
  • The Managing Minds DNA Assessment
  • The Organization Learning Maturity Scale
  • Keys to Developing a Company Managing Minds

For C-level executives, line managers, economists, and anyone interested in the future of work and organizations, MINDS AT WORK shines light on the knowledge-based world, providing a path to a new way of managing that is helping create some of the world’s most successful companies.

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Managing to Learn, Learning to Manage in the Knowledge Economy

BrainHarness the power of employees’ minds! Although many companies pay lip service to the idea that employees are their most valuable asset, they remain stuck in a 20th century mindset in which employees are a liability. In our new book, MINDS AT WORK: Managing for Success in The Knowledge Economy, David Grebow and I lay the foundation for companies to compete in the 21st century knowledge economy by focusing on the incredible potential of empowering and enabling people’s minds.

Companies whose roots lay in the industrial economy in which we used our hands to make things learned to “manage hands,” where success was often measured by the number of widgets that can be cranked out in a set amount of time. Most current management practices, principles and methods for learning were developed in response to the needs of that previous economy. In the knowledge economy, we are working with our mind to produce work, to transform data into information and then into useful knowledge. 

Change happens more rapidly than ever before, and companies need to be agile and responsive to be successful. They need to learn to “manage minds,” where success is measured by employees’ ability to continuously learn, collaborate, communicate and innovate. “There is no way to become the smartest company on the block if you continue managing hands in a world that demands managing minds,” we write. “You can’t solve 21st-century problems using 20th-century solutions.” Grebow adds, “The knowledge economy that caused these problems also contains the solution if you know where to look.”

Continuous learning, and enabling learning anytime and anywhere, is one of the most important attributes of a knowledge economy company. These are the three competencies that are necessary to move forward and successfully compete:

  • Learning independently - In a company that manages minds, managers need to enable people to quickly and easily find the information they need to grow professionally and personally, and people need to take responsibility for learning what they need to know, when and where it is needed. 
  • Learning interactively - Technology is an integral part of managing minds; people need to use the tools available today to learn, communicate and collaborate, and look for and be willing to adopt any new tools developed in the future.
  • Learning socially - Almost all learning in the most successful organizations is social; that is especially true in a company managing minds.  It makes sense for management to be intentional about creating opportunities for people to connect, to enable, and not disable sharing and collaborating.

MINDS AT WORK illustrates these concepts through real-world examples of companies that have made the transition from managing hands to managing minds. It’s not only about small companies and startups, but also large, multi-national conglomerates. AT&T for example is a large company trying to go through the transition. With the first transcontinental line, rotary phone, transatlantic phone service, mobile phone, automated switchboard, and transatlantic phone cable, AT&T was an icon of a company that managed hands. Those hands literally built a telecommunications industry. 

Today, AT&T’s competitors include not only Verizon and Sprint, but Amazon, Netflix, and Google. These new competitors are all about the new digital and cellular technology, and are hard at work employing the minds of the best and brightest in these new fields. The change for AT&T is profound. Copper wires, phone lines, and switching equipment are becoming obsolete, along with the related work skills.

Randall Stephenson, AT&T's chairman and chief executive, knew he had to reinvent the company to compete, to move rapidly from the earlier management model of managing hands to the new approach of managing minds. In 2014, he asked 280,000 employees worldwide to start a retraining program. He had no choice. According to Stephenson, “If we can’t do it, mark my words, [by 2020] we’ll be managing decline.”

Oberg Industries is another example of a large company that is making the transition. Oberg manufactures precision components and tooling from a variety of materials used by Fortune 500 companies and other manufacturers. As the company began to automate and sell into a global market. Donald E. Oberg, the company’s founder, realized that simply managing hands would no longer be effective as the company evolved. He began an apprenticeship program that has become a model for other manufacturing companies worldwide. The values of the program, which has trained more than 1,000 employees, are straightforward and simple: establish a culture of continuous learning for employees, and introduce new employees to the learning culture.

Oberg’s story illustrates the key to this or any major organizational change: it starts at the top. As we say, “The key to success for all knowledge economy companies is whether the company’s leaders, managers and employees can successfully make the shift from managing hands to managing minds.”

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Learning Culture & Human Capital: The Reality, the Myth and the Vision

[This post is by Sally Ann Moore, the Director General iLearning Forum at Closer Still Media. iLearning Forum is the most important learning meeting in Europe. Sally Ann wrote this as part of her preparation for the conference.] 

While preparing the Learning technologies France 2018 conference programme, I have been doing research and reading, and in particular looking at L&D trends, Talent Management and Human capital management. I unearthed a real shock and a paradox about the value of people to organizations.

Business Leaders don’t really Value People

In November 2016 The Korn Ferry Institute published their grim findings of a global study:  In August and Paradigm September, 2016, Korn Ferry interviewed 800 business leaders in multimillion-dollar global organizations on their views on the value of people in the future of work. These leaders were in the United Kingdom, China, the United States, Brazil, France, Australia, India, and South Africa.

  • 63% of the CEOs said that in 5 years, technology will be the firm’s greatest source of competitive advantage.
  • 67% said that technology will create greater value in the future than people will. (and 64% believed people are a cost, not a driver of value)
  • 44% said the prevalence of robotics, automation and artificial intelligence (AI) will make people “largely irrelevant” in the future of work.

Worse still, the study found that when asked to rank what their organization’s top five assets will be 5 years from now, the company’s human resources  did not make the list. The top five assets were:

  1. Technology (product, customer channels);
  2. R&D / Innovation;
  3. Product / Service;
  4. Brand; and
  5. Real Estate (offices, factories, land).

So much for Human Capital Management and Learning Culture! I can even affirm that some of the companies in the survey also like to say people are their greatest asset. Ha! (They just don’t tell shareholders that – 40% of respondents in the Korn Ferry survey said they have experienced shareholder pressure to direct investment toward tangible assets like technology). This is known as a “tangibility bias”.

As someone deeply involved in learning and people development, I had to follow my strong belief that it is people that make THE difference, its people that add value and people are the best investment we can make. So I dug deeper. Eureka!

But the Tangibility biased are wrong!

In December 2016, in an economic analysis also commissioned by Korn Ferry, they report that human capital represents to the global economy a potential value of $1,215 trillion – more than DOUBLE the value of tangible assets such as technology and real estate (valued at $521 trillion today).

So, while large organizations put technology in the spotlight in the future of work, it is, in fact, human capital that holds the greatest value for organizations now and in the future.

Human capital is also the greatest value creator available to organizations: For every $1 invested in human capital, $11.39 is added to GDP, (the Korn Ferry economic analysis finds). The CEO’s should note that the return on human capital—value versus cost—is by far the best investment over time.

The problem is “Leaders may be facing what experts call a tangibility bias,” said Jean-Marc Laouchez, at Korn Ferry. “Facing uncertainty, they are putting priority in their thinking, planning and execution on the tangible – what they can see, touch and measure, such as technology investments. Putting an exact value on people is much more difficult, even though people directly influence the value of technology, innovation and products.”

How can we, the L&D specialists address this issue?

We are faced with a constant threat of budget cuts and lukewarm commitment from the executive.  I have always said that if you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it. Also what you measure is what you get…..

What are you measuring? My casual research suggests that most training managers measure learner satisfaction with their training, and there are plenty of tools for measuring knowledge and skills attainment. Sadly this doesn’t lead us to a tangible ROI. We can only measure that if we measure outcomes of the L&D investment. That is to say the change in work performed and the increased value of that work.  In this respect, I am glad to say that we are now making big strides implementing the Kirkpatrick model over here and addressing the 70:20:10 rule in our L&D projects. (More on this in my next article)

Managing Minds, not Hands

Additionally I came across some new thinking published this year by David Grebow and Stephen J. Gill in the USA. They have been researching for a book to be published in early 2018 by the ATD press, entitled:  “Minds at Work: Managing for Success in the Knowledge Economy”

They began the research by looking for examples of companies that said they were learning cultures, where learning was continuous and supported in every aspect of organizational life. They never found one. They found some examples of learning cultures within companies, in various departments and units, but never consistently across the whole enterprise. They eventually realized why:  A company can tell the world it has a learning culture, provide lots of learning opportunities, and supply eLearning for everyone. But if management support for learning is not apparent and not constantly on display by managers every day, the original culture that supported and rewarded “not learning” will dominate over any attempt to be a learning culture.

They realized that a culture focused on learning needs leaders and managers focused on learning. So they looked at the critical relationship between managers and learning. Managers are expected to direct people’s daily work and performance. They are not usually expected to develop employees. In the research the authors (Grebow and Gill) identify two basic categories of business organization:

  • 19th style Century “managing hands” older companies, an endangered species
  • 21st century knowledge economy, new companies “managing minds”

The business results of the latter group are far more spectacular than the former. The authors go on to look at several case studies, in order to identify best practice of managing minds. David Grebow will present their results (and the book) at Learning Technologies France, international conference stream,  on 22nd & 23rd January 2018.

Minds at Work will be published this December 2017 by ATD Press and is available now for preorder on Amazon.

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