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Learning in a Managing Minds Company

Following is an excerpt from our new book, Minds at Work: Managing for Success in the Knowledge Economy (Chapter Two). Minds-at-work-150

The future of how we learn in our organizations is a popular topic. But unless you are responsible for developing, delivering, managing, and measuring training and learning, keeping up with the latest learning technologies can be overwhelming. It’s also irrelevant to the discussion of managing minds.

The training and learning technology discussions miss the point. Unless a company is making a basic change in the way it manages people, the tools will never have an impact on the way people think, act, and grow every day, and they won’t boost performance or drive business results. A company managing hands can buy and use every tool in the training and learning toolbox, but if the use is not mandated or pushed by the organization, if sharing knowledge is not a basic tenet for working, if the knowledge isn’t available anytime and anywhere, if collaboration and communication are absent, if there is no feedback, then the new tools and technologies will not make the company any smarter.

Our approach is to suggest new ways of facilitating learning that fit into managing minds. All L&D tools and technology can be utilized in this context. The three keys to successfully managing minds are essentially the competencies needed to move forward and succeed in the knowledge economy.

  1. Learning independently. In a company that manages minds, people need to take responsibility for learning what they need to know and do. This means that they need to be aware of what they’re doing now and what they may be called upon to do in the future. They need to know what is relevant for them to learn and be empowered to learn what is necessary today and in preparation for tomorrow. They need to understand that what they learn will help the company meet its business goals. They must be able to develop and maintain their own learning plans and portfolios, and be prepared to act as teachers and mentors for other people in the company. Independent learners are capable of successfully meeting the requirements of learning projects they choose, whether it’s completion and a passing grade, measures of competency, or an actual project deliverable.
  2. Learning interactively. Technology is and will continue to be an integral part of managing; people need to use the tools available today, and look for and be willing to adopt any tools developed in the future. This includes knowing the most efficient and effective way to use the technology to communicate and collaborate, as well as being confident enough to interact with the technology in ways that actively provide input to help others learn. For example, smartphones can provide workers with just-in-time information to solve a problem, operate a machine, or collaborate more effectively with an employee.
  3. Learning socially. Being part of the collective group, acting as a dynamic node in an interconnected web of people learning continuously, is also important. To be a successful social learner means being able to empathize and relate to others, communicate effectively, collaborate cooperatively, resolve conflicts, and balance different perspectives and opinions. Much of learning in organizations is social; therefore, it makes sense to be intentional about creating opportunities for people to connect.

These three competencies are how people learn in a company that is successfully managing minds. They differ dramatically from the ways people learned when they were in organizations that managed hands.

Differences Between Managing Hands and Minds:

Managing Hands

Managing Minds











Rigid Roles

Fluid Roles



Not Curious










This last distinction is not unsupported. André Spicer, professor of organizational behavior at the Cass Business School at City, University of London, has spent years talking with hundreds of the best and brightest minds to graduate from some of the most prestigious universities. The eye-opening discovery in his 2017 book, The Stupidity Paradox: The Power and Pitfalls of Functional Stupidity, co-authored with Mats Alvesson, was that when people with impressive educational credentials go to work for the most well-known companies in the world, they are asked to turn off their brains. Many of the companies surveyed in the book should be managing minds.

Yet the predominant environment supports—promotes, even—the traits listed on the left side of the list. This is perhaps a result of short-term thinking, in which following the rules, adding regulations without reason, not asking for justification for decisions (especially from self-appointed leaders), not asking questions, and essentially, not thinking for yourself. These managing hands traits can be found in an organization that is obedient, nice, agreeable, harmonious, and seemingly successful in the short term. The problem is the long term. Asking people not to use their minds is simply asking them to ignore personal growth and satisfaction; not pay attention to long-term organizational competitiveness, innovation, and success; and not participate in the improvement and development of society.



Why Management Needs to Change

Following is an excerpt from our new book, Minds at Work: Managing for Success in the Knowledge Economy (Chapter One).  Minds-at-work-150

As the economic paradigms change, a corporate Darwinism takes over and the companies that fail to change and evolve disappear.

In 2012, Richard Foster’s research at Yale University indicated that the average life span of a company listed in the S&P 500 index of leading U.S. companies fell by more than 50 years in the last century, from 67 years in the 1920s to just 15 years. He estimated that by 2020, more than three-quarters of the S&P 500 will be companies that we have not heard of yet. More recently, in 2016, Innosight, a growth strategy consulting firm, forecasted that half of S&P 500 companies will be replaced over the next 10 years. The new environment is increasingly aggressive, incessantly competitive, and constantly driven by surprise innovation and technological changes, all happening at an unprecedented pace. Yet we are still trying to use 20th-century management practices and principles to coordinate and manage people in the 21st century. We need to change the basic way we manage people so that managers can create the best environment for everyone to develop the competencies necessary to be successful in this new environment.

We have no choice. We need to stop managing hands.

None of this, we suspect, is news. What may be new is that you are, as a manager, in charge of this change. Your primary responsibility is to lead people into a 21st-century knowledge economy that supports and sustains learning over everything else. Learning is the critical differentiator in the knowledge economy. How you manage that learning is the new competitive advantage.

We describe the 21st-century corporation as an organization that is global and virtual. People all over the world will form the intersecting nodes for a constantly humming web of communication. They will be able to continuously and seamlessly communicate and collaborate. From the individual to the group, their actions will be quick, decisive, and informed, and the results relevant, smart, and proactive.

To create this corporation, how we share information must change. As Ray Gilmartin, CEO of Merck, states, the 21st-century corporation is one in which “a hierarchy of ideas replaces the hierarchy of position.” The previous command-and-control structure—where knowledge was power, but only a few could access it and make decisions—will be replaced with the new structure, where sharing knowledge is the real power and decisions are made by everyone focused on the job. There is no alternative future.

Examples abound of companies that were once household names that became extinct because they did not successfully shift from a static managing hands model to a more agile and dynamic managing minds approach: Compaq, E.F. Hutton, PaineWebber, Merry-Go-Round, MCI WorldCom, Eastern Air Lines, Enron, Woolworth, Pan Am, Kodak, Standard Oil, The Pullman Company, Arthur Andersen, General Foods, TWA. Of the many factors that contributed to their demise, their slowness or inability to change the way they managed people played a major role.

If you have your doubts, look at the companies that are managing minds who filled the empty spot in the marketplace. Investment firm E.F. Hutton—whose commercial catchprase was, “When E.F. Hutton talks, people listen”—was replaced by several technology-based brokerage houses that understood that investors wanted to disintermediate from brokers and manage their own stock portfolios. The older companies were so invested in a hands-on approach to buying and selling stocks that they missed the big new idea. Individuals no longer wanted to listen. Instead, they wanted to use a faster, cheaper, and more do-it-yourself technology that provided information to help them purchase and sell stocks without brokers.

Kodak’s moment happened when senior management refused to look at digital photography as a disruptive technology. They failed to heed their own engineers, who told them that instant film was an idea whose time had come and gone. Decisions in this managing hands company were top-down and final. Kodak was so invested in manufacturing film that they ignored customers who were rapidly switching to filmless cameras. The lesson is clear: Corporations must learn to listen to their customers and employees or face the consequences.

“Change or die” is not just a compelling hook to capture the imagination. It is the reality that corporations face whether they want to admit it or not. Fortunately, examples of success are everywhere. The new style of managing minds is the antidote to the problems created by trying to force-fit the 20th-century analog model into the 21st-century digital reality.

Hands are replaceable, literally: Human hands are being replaced by robotic hands every day. And managing robots is no longer a job that requires hands-on managers. This trend toward automation will not stop while technology keeps getting better and more sophisticated. One study from Oxford University found that “advanced robots are gaining enhanced senses and dexterity, allowing them to perform a broader scope of manual tasks. This is likely to change the nature of work across industries and occupations.”4 Astonishingly, robot hands can now thread a needle.

If you think threading a needle is not that big a deal, here is another example. In a kitchen in Silicon Valley, the team at Zume Pizza is hard at work. Pepe and Giorgio squirt on the sauce, and Marta spreads it in concentric circles, just like they do in Italy. Then Bruno puts the pizza in the oven to bake to perfection. And they do not even stop for a moment to catch their breaths. That’s because Pepe, Giorgio, Marta, and Bruno are robots. And while human employees still apply the toppings according to the customer’s wishes, it’s only a matter of time before they cede that role, too. Made-to-order, ready-to-go, fully automated pizza in as little as seven minutes: As the owners are proud of saying, it’s “artisanal robotic pizza.”

You need only to read any recent news report to see this story repeated hundreds of times:

  • Foxconn has replaced 60,000 factory workers with robots.
  • Wendy’s is replacing its lowest-paid workers with robots.
  • Tesla Gigafactory is using robots to build machines at its battery factory.

We once used machines to build things, and we managed hands. Now we build machines to build machines. When there are no hands left, what still needs to be managed?

Minds. It’s time we begin to consciously manage minds—the minds of the people who design, program, install, service, and upgrade those robotic hands, for example. Their work is the product of their thinking, creativity, and problem solving.

For more about "managing minds" and the implications for learning professionals and managers, see us at ATD 2018 International Conference & Exposition, in San Diego Convention Center, Learning to Manage and Managing to Learn in the Knowledge Economy, Wed, May 09 | 8:15 AM - 9:30 AM | Room: 15 



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. 

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



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.



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.



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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New Learning Professionals for a New Economy

Given the current economy, the role of L&D departments and learning professionals must change dramatically.  Elliott Masie, one of the great thinkers about learning and workplace productivity, writes in a recent issue of Chief Learning Officer:

It is time for the learning field to have a deep and open conversation about how we re-engineer our craft, our skills and our careers. The workforce and our world need agile, innovative and business-aligned learning colleagues to face the changing workplace of the future. Let’s step up to the challenge.

This is the same challenge that David Grebow and I address in our new book, Minds at Work: Managing for Success in the Knowledge Economy. We lay out the case for managers taking on responsibility for employee learning and learning professionals helping managers learn to be effective in facilitating learning at the individual, team, and whole organization levels.

In an article we wrote for TD Magazine titled, Engaging Managers to Support Continual Learning, we write:

The learning practices and principles most of us use today are no longer effective. They were developed for the 19th- and 20th-century industrial economy in response to the need to teach many Cover 3D people how to produce many things. People worked with their hands. They built railroads, strung telephone lines, shoveled coal, and made washing machines. The work that was done during that era was relatively simple and slow to change. We had time. Time to learn, to practice on the job, to become the subject matter expert. Whatever we knew when we landed a job was enough. We could learn the rest as we worked.

That way of working has all changed. In today's knowledge economy, most of us no longer work with our hands; we produce work with our minds, using the latest technology. We need to radically change the way people learn and are managed, and take a new approach that has already proved successful in companies around the world.

Learning professionals must change because the world of work has changed. Designing and delivering training programs was okay for the Industrial Economy but inadequate for the world in which we live today. Patricia McLagan, author of a number of books about the workplace and learning, in an article titled, Changing World of Work Requires New Learning Mindset, writes about this new world:

We are moving into an era where technology will make almost anything possible, and where very powerful tools and knowledge will be available to everybody. It’s an era of self-service that will continue to expand and where the most empowered, industrious, and—we hope—ethical and moral will thrive.

Today we are hand typing email and text messages; tomorrow we will be doing this with our minds. It’s a fast paced, on-demand, hyper-competitive world in which we live and there are no signs that things are slowing down. What people know today is not sufficient for tomorrow. The way we learn in organizations has to keep up with this change which means that learning professionals and their departments must transform themselves into a function that is more relevant, more responsive, and more effective.

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Learning for a Rapidly Changing World

The safest prediction is that reality will outstrip our imaginations. So let us craft our policies not just for what we expect but for what will surely surprise us.Sendhil Mullainathan, professor of economics, Harvard University

Professor Mullainathan argues that, in this age of disruption when constant innovation results in creative Economist-lifelong-learningdestruction of businesses, we need to think differently about the education of people throughout their careers. He writes:

… in a rapidly changing world, the fundamentals that were useful decades ago may be obsolete now; more important, new essential skills may have arisen. Anyone helping a grandparent navigate a computer has experienced this problem.

Once we recognize that human capital, like technology, needs refreshing, we have to restructure our institutions so people acquire education later in life. We don’t merely need training programs for niche populations or circumstances, expensive and short executive-education programs or brief excursions like TED talks. Instead we need the kind of in-depth education and training people receive routinely at age 13.

I don’t think we want to subject adults to the kind of learning experiences typical of a 13-year-old’s classroom. But I do agree that all workers today need to be continually learning and our institutions need to recognize and support this learning.

In the Knowledge Economy, learning cannot end with school. Learning at the individual, team, and whole organization levels must be continuous. Training programs are not sufficient. E-learning programs are not sufficient. On-the-job coaching and mentoring are not sufficient. Workplace learning must be all of these and more.

Former mine workers are learning coding. Car prototype builders who used to build clay models are learning how to use a 3D printer. Teams that previously took years to develop a new product are learning to be agile and develop new products within weeks or months. Organizations are learning to experiment with new structures, without the controls that bureaucracy and hierarchy have provided.

The economy depends on people learning throughout their careers. A special report in The Economist titled, Lifelong learning is becoming an economic imperative, concludes:

To remain competitive, and to give low- and high-skilled workers alike the best chance of success, economies need to offer training and career-focused education throughout people’s working lives.

We need to prepare people for jobs that don’t currently exist. Tom Friedman, in an interview for Deloitte Review, said:

If work is being extracted from jobs, and if jobs and work are being extracted from companies...then learning has to become lifelong. We have to provide both the learning tools and the learning resources for lifelong learning when your job becomes work and your company becomes a platform. So I'm not sure what the work of the future is, but I know that the future of companies is to be hiring people and constantly training people to be prepared for a job that has not been invented yet. If you, as a company, are not providing both the resources and the opportunity for lifelong learning, [you're sunk], because you simply cannot be a lifelong employee anymore unless you are a lifelong learner.

Companies have a responsibility to provide resources and opportunities for learning but people have a responsibility to learn how to learn lifelong. The mindset and skills that K-12 students need to learn in school and then in college are not the same as the mindset and skills needed to learn in the workplace, and these are not the mindset and skills needed post-employment. Lifelong learners move from teacher-centered learning to learner-centered learning over the course of a career. In the workplace and beyond, learning in the Knowledge Economy has to be self-directed. People must pull the learning they need, when and where they need it and faster than they ever have before. In this age, ability of individuals to learn fast and learn well is critical to organizational survival.



Reprise: Managing Minds, Winning Hearts

We are now in the "Knowledge Economy" which means that we must learn differently than we have in the past. As I wrote in a previous blog post titled, The Manager's Abridged History of Work and Learning

Today, work is more about having a keen mind than it is about having a strong back or skilled hands. This has profound implications for how we manage workers and how we facilitate learning in the workplace.

It no longer makes sense to use formal training as a solution to every performance problem nor to assume that workers will learn everything else they need to know on-the-job from the people around them. Brain-image-picture-clipart-4 Rather, employees need to know how to learn, how to get the knowledge they need when and where they need it, and be accountable for results, not for attending a training program. In a blog post that David Grebow and I wrote for ATD titled, Changing the Way We Manage Learning in the Knowledge Economy, we said:

In the 1920s, the average lifespan of leading U.S. companies was 67 years. By 2013, the average lifespan had dropped to 15 years. The new environment is increasingly aggressive, hypercompetitive, and constantly driven by surprises, innovation and technological changes. And it’s all happening at an unprecedented, increasingly faster pace. We have no choice. We need to stop managing hands and focus on managing minds. 

Human hands are being replaced by robotic hands. And managing robots is not a job that requires hands-on managers. This trend towards automation is not stopping. The book, Impact of Emerging Digital Technologies on Leadership in Global Business, reports that 47 percent of U.S. jobs are likely to be automated. This is will change the nature of work in all industries. Robot hands can now thread a needle. As the steel fingers of automation reach even further and grab more of the work once done by human hands, an almost unimaginable future begins to appear. 

This future is one in which humans no longer need to make things or fix things or sell things or provide basic services. It is a future in which workers will have to be smarter, more agile, and more innovative than ever. As automation and robotics improve, the demand for globalization increases, and communities become more diverse, any organization's competitive advantage will be in its collective knowledge and expertise. This means managing minds. The primary role of managers will be helping the people they supervise to become more competent, capable, and engaged in contributing to the success of the organization.


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Closing the Skills Gap by Improving Corporate Culture

Missing from the conversation about gaps in the labor market is an analysis of how supply, retention, and IMAG0188productivity of workers is affected by their workplace experience.

U.S. Politicians and economists talk about jobs, jobs, and jobs. They say they want to close the skills gap, better prepare young people for employment, and retrain workers for new, high tech careers. They claim that if only people were better educated and trained (especially in STEM fields) and we did a better job of matching people with jobs, we would grow the U.S. economy at a faster rate and expand the middle class as a result.

For example, Michigan’s Governor Rick Snyder has made jobs a high priority of his administration. Although unemployment in Michigan is at a 17-year low, estimates of the number of unfilled jobs in the State go as high as 100,000. The Governor is encouraging private-public partnerships to train people in the skills they need to fill that gap.

What these politicians and economists don’t seem to realize is organizational culture is a major barrier to attracting, developing, and retaining the people that companies need to be successful. Nobody wants to work in a poorly managed organization, yet policy makers don't factor this into the equation. They don’t ask companies to make their workplaces more attractive to workers.

That is a black-box theory of work, with company culture being the black box. It’s an analysis of inputs and outputs without examining the thru-put. They count the number of degrees among new hires and the GDP of the economy but they don’t look at indicators of the quality of the workplace experience.

Most workplaces are unpleasant places to work and most managers are not very good at managing people. Employee disengagement is consistently measured at around 70% and managers are the primary reason why employees leave their jobs. Research by the Learning and Development Roundtable of the Corporate Executive Board (Gartner) found that “nearly 60 percent of frontline managers underperform during their first two years.”

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?

Of course, increasing employment in good paying jobs, especially for women and minorities, is a worthy goal. But without a workplace conducive to learning and growth, people will be discouraged from seeking work and doing their best after they’ve been hired. And when sexual harassment and racial discrimination are allowed to continue in some workplaces, people will not want to work in those organizations. Many who experience these indignities prefer to either work for themselves or stop seeking work altogether.

It isn’t enough to get people into jobs; we should also be helping them stay in their jobs, be successful, and develop career competencies. Having the knowledge and skills needed by companies is part of it but we also need to make sure that people have a positive workplace experience if we want the economy to grow faster and have more people enter the middle class.

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New Corporate Structure for New Economy

Companies are creating new structures that fit their needs and goals rather than falling back on traditional, hierarchical, bureaucratic, and command-and-control configurations. Like families, once dominated by a traditional, husband and wife and children structure and now outnumbered by non-traditional (one parent, extended, same sex parents, etc.) structures, companies are re-thinking how they do their work. Globalization, technology, competition, and a multi-generational and diverse workforce are causing companies to either build a different structure from the start (e.g., WordPress) or transform themselves (e.g., Zappos) from a traditional structure to something more effective for the new economy.

This trend away from a traditional corporate structure has been happening for some time. In his 2016 book, The Vanishing American Corporation, Gerald Davis says “…the number of publicly traded companies in the United States declined by half between 1997 and 2012.” He makes the case that the public corporation has become obsolete. Much of the work that these companies used to do by being vertically integrated can now be done by outsourcing and using contingent workers. And the advantages of staying privately held are now viewed as being greater than the advantages of going public.

Part of this trend is due to the internet and automation. The number of people needed to do the work of corporations has declined dramatically. WordPress, a billion dollar company, needs only 256 people to run the organization. Other internet companies that are more traditional in structure employ many more people. See the following table from a WordPress marketing document.


Companies are beginning to realize that being agile and innovative is more important than being hierarchical and bureaucratic. They are asking themselves, “Given the dynamic, diverse, and competitive environment, how can we structure ourselves to achieve our goals and be prepared for anything that might come at us?” Leaders are realizing that command-and-control, while easy and comforting and familiar, is not the way to develop an agile and innovative workforce.

So, the question becomes, “How can companies prepare people to work in this new environment?” First, they must change their mindset from “managing hands” to “managing minds.” David Grebow and I have written about this in our new book soon to be published by ATD Press titled, Minds at Work: Managing for Success in the Knowledge Economy. We argue that, fundamentally, companies must shift from a pyramid to a circle in their structure.

The pyramid represents Industrial Economy thinking that dates back at least 150 years, when managing hands was the purpose of companies. Today, in this Knowledge Economy, we must be about developing smart people who can learn continuously and are ready for rapid change. So rather than create an organization that puts the CEO at the top, executives in the next layer, and people with less and less influence in layers beneath, we need to create organizations that facilitate communication, collaboration, and cooperation among everyone. This would be an organization that allows everyone to learn continuously and contribute, to the best of their ability, to the quality of the work environment and the success of the business.



Culture Eats Strategy

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

Gearing Up for the Cloud, AT&T Tells Its Workers: Adapt, or Else (New York Times)

To cut costs and boost collaboration, IBM forces some remote workers back into the office (TechRepublic)

Ford signals willingness to change to boost stock price (USA Today)

According to these news stories, three venerable companies are making major changes that they believe will help them move into the future and implement a winning business strategy. This reminds us of the At&twarning attributed to Peter Drucker: “Culture eats strategy for breakfast.” If these companies are making these changes to compete in today’s market, or cut costs now, or boost their stock price tomorrow, they are likely to be sadly disappointed in long-term results. Strategy is important, but given the kind of transformation that must happen in preparation for the future, creating an organization that fundamentally changes the way people are managed and learn must be the focus. It’s more about developing the right culture than implementing the right strategy.

One of the questions Corporate Rebels heard frequently from the many business leaders they interviewed is, How do we structure our organization in such a way that it is future proof? How do we create a culture that will be sustainable and successful?  This is the same question that AT&T, IBM, and Ford Motor must be asking themselves.

The answer is to create an organizational culture in which learning is the primary job. This means not only Ibm encouraging people to learn but rewarding them for learning. And rewarding them for working collaboratively, communicating openly, and cooperating with a high degree of trust. People must have access to the knowledge and skills needed when and where they are needed. People must be able to fearlessly practice and apply new knowledge and skills without being punished for failing.

Creating a culture that supports learning also means that management must remove barriers in order to enable and not disable learning. Command-and-control leadership, hierarchies, bureaucracies, secrecy and compartmentalization of information all stop the free flow of information and inhibit learning. There are managers and companies around the workd that are profitably and successfully moving in the direction of eliminating these barriers.

It’s the difference between a culture characterized by “managing hands”, an Industrial Economy mindset developed when we made things and managed hands, and a “managing minds” culture, developed in the Ford_Motor_Company_Logo.svgnew Knowledge Economy, in which we - especially those of you reading this - produce work using our minds. Most companies, like the three giants mentioned in the headlines, are still managing hands. Not surprising since they achieved greatness by making things – telephones, cars, computers - during the Industrial Economy. Their thinking and resources go toward control and efficiency that maximizes production and profits. Much like the automotive assembly line of 100 years ago, people are treated like cogs in a wheel, not respected or promoted for their ability to use their minds to successfully communicate, collaborate, innovate or create.

To compete and survive in today’s global, technological, multi-generational, and diverse marketplace, companies need to focus on helping people develop their minds, and find ways for people to continuously increase their knowledge and skills. Managers must take the lead to make sure that people can get the knowledge and know-how they need as products, services, regulations and business situations rapidly change. And people must learn how to learn in this new environment, and take responsibility for their own learning.

People who work in companies like AT&T, IBM, and Ford, as well as most other companies large and small, are not creating the kind of culture that will prepare them for a fast evolving future. They cannot solve the problems of the 21st century using 20th century solutions. They need to stop managing hands and start managing minds.

 [Look for our forthcoming book from ATD titled, Minds at Work: Managing for Success in the Knowledge Economy.]




The Manager’s Abridged History of Work and Learning

In a post that David Grebow and I wrote for the Association for Talent Development Management Blog, we present an abridged history of work and learning and how work and learning are, necessarily, much different in the 21rst century than they were in the past two centuries. Today, work is more about having a keen mind than it is about having a strong back or skilled hands. This has profound implications for how we manage workers and how we facilitate learning in the workplace.

We write:

We believe we are at an inflection point in the history of managing people, and managers sit at the center of the curve. To know where we’re going with managing people, we need to know where we’ve been. The global economy has undergone three major and notable economic paradigm shifts in the past 200 years, each with an attendant educational system that helped people learn how to do their jobs. 

In the 19th Century Agricultural EconomyWe Managed Backs.  1800 farming

In the 20th Century Industrial EconomyWe Managed Hands1900s factory workers

In the 21st Century Knowledge EconomyWe Need to Manage Minds2000 mind workers

The workplace doesn’t need backs or hands anymore. Automation, robots, and more efficient processes have seen to that. The 21rst century workplace needs minds that are smart, social, agile, and innovative. And, therefore, the workplace needs managers who can create the conditions in which people can learn continuously on their own and from each other and can apply this learning to helping their Knowledge Economy organizations be successful.



Pull, Don’t Push, Employee Learning

*This post first appeared in The Business Thinker and The Knowledge Star Blog and is co-authored by David Grebow.

"The major change in business today is the rate of change. For example, it used to be that the time between conception of an idea and market acceptance was five to seven years. Now a new car model goes from idea to market in 24 months. “Internet time” is just a few months for most things. My public offerings of JP Industries used to take months or years. Now, crowdfunding can raise millions of dollars for a new business in a few weeks."  – John Psarouthakis

As the digital revolution continues to fuel the faster rate of change, transforming all aspects of business, from supply chain management to communication, the highest-performing corporations are abandoning traditional “push” training for the “pull” learning model.

Push training is a centralized, top-down model that occurs when management determines what it is people need to know or do and ‘pushes’ educational programs out from a central training group. It’s going to a class or taking an assigned online program.


“In a push training model, learning is test-based.

 It is all about what you know."


The push training culture was developed to serve the old Industrial Economy that no longer exists. Long before “Internet time”, producing products and delivering services changed slowly. The shelf life of both, compared to today, was almost glacial, and most workers did not need to learn volumes of information to perform their jobs.  Despite the change from the Industrial to the Knowledge Economy over 100 years ago, the vast majority of organizations are still pushing out training to employees the same way now as they did then.

We are hard-pressed to think of any other business function still managed as it was a century ago. Especially when the research clearly shows that push training is an inefficient way of developing skills, abilities and attitudes. Estimates of the learning transfer rates from push training programs to the workplace range between a miserly 10 to 20 percent. This is a huge waste of 80 to 90 percent of the investment in those programs.

Pull learning is the model for the new Knowledge Economy. It is a decentralized, bottoms-up approach in which employees access the information they need when it is needed. Employees are connected and collaborative and make the best use of the supporting technology which connects them to one another and to the sources of information.  Imagine employees facing a new situation in which they require more instruction. The employees can find the relevant information in a variety of ways because it is there just in case they need it, when and where they need it.


“In a pull model learning is performance-based.

The focus is on what you can do when you need to get it done.”


Figure 1: Push vs. Pull



Replacing Push with Pull: The Learning Culture

Replacing push training with pull learning transforms an organization into a learning culture. A learning culture is an organization that can provide relevant, useable and on-demand access to the knowledge and skills employees need to perform their jobs. This includes technical, operational, and managerial skills. Our research over the past two years shows that corporations that have made this commitment to become a learning culture experience measurable, significant and sustainable increases in on-the-job performance, talent-retention, sales revenue, and innovation. 

Our research and consulting with leading corporations has convinced us that the smartest, highest performing, most successful organization in the current global idea-based economy are learning cultures. They can respond instantly to the ever-changing requirements and demands of a fast-paced, hyper-competitive marketplace. Their employees can quickly access the technology and support to find what they need to know, when and where it is needed. Shifting from training and knowing to learning and doing improves the thousands of job-related actions and decisions performed each day, and makes mission-critical corporate-level decisions more immediate and effective. 

Yet surprisingly few organizations and their leaders have fully grasped the enormous benefits to be realized by becoming a learning culture. It has become obvious to us that a fundamental shift needs to occur in the way senior managers think about how they provide knowledge and know-how to their workforce. It is time to stop seeing the workplace as a relatively static 9-5 schoolplace where employees receive an occasional invitation to a training event. Leaders need to reimagine the workplace as a constantly moving beehive in which employees continuously learn whatever knowledge and skills they need to do their jobs more effectively.



If you would like more information about what it takes to transform your company into a high-performing learning culture, contact Stephen at  or David at



How to Manage Temporary Employees

Temps, independent contractors, contingent workers, andfree-lancers have become the norm, not the exception. As I wrote in a post in March 2010:

Unlike previous recession recoveries, this one will not re-employ large numbers of laid off workers. Because of technology, operational efficiencies, a project focus, and out-sourcing, many companies are finding that they can be more productive with fewer employees. And because of uncertainty about the post-recession economy, they are reluctant to make new hires permanent. Employers have found that they can get the job done by supplementing their regular employees with temps. This gives companies the freedom to increase and decrease their workforce depending on what is needed at the time.

The May 10 issue of Crain’s Detroit Business confirms this prediction. The author writes:

Increased consumer demand, a greater need for flexibility and new health-care requirements are prompting businesses from Dearborn-based Ford Motor Co. to the PeaceHealth health-care system in Washington state to turn to staffing firms…The U.S. has added 913,200 temporary workers since the end of the recession in June 2009 – about 19 percent of all new jobs. Their number rose to 2.66 million in April, about 11,300 shy of the April 2000 record, according to U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics figures released May 3.

Labor economists are predicting that the number of temporary workers will set a new record in the very near future. And this is without including all of the contracted services such as legal, PR, accounting, Web support, employee training, and management consulting.

Are business leaders prepared for this change in the workforce? How will managers help temporary workers maximize their contribution to the organization?  

BusinessWeek labeled them the “disposable worker”, a pejorative term but symptomatic of the way many managers view this segment of employees. This view is based on at least three misconceptions: 1) temporary workers are not committed to the work, they just want a paycheck; 2) temporary workers are not critical to the success of the organization; and 3) it’s not worth investing time, energy, and money in the development of temporary workers.

The truth is that most temporary workers want to do a good job and care deeply about the quality of MP900401001 their work. The work they do is often critical to the success of the organization. And if they are customer-facing, then they are shaping customer attitudes toward the company.

As far as investing in temporary workers, that time, energy, and money will have immediate payoff and, because you never know how long that person will work for the organization or how many times they will come back to the company in the future, it is worth the risk to train and develop that person. When they go elsewhere, they take the goodwill and learning with them which is good for the community and good for the reputation of the organization.

Regardless of how long temporary workers have been with your organization, they should be treated as important contributors to your success. Applying the 5As Framework, here are five things you should keep in mind when supervising these employees:

1)      Make sure that they understand how their jobs are aligned with the success of the organization. They should know how what they are being asked to do contributes to achieving business goals.

2)      Let them know that you anticipate that they will have a positive experience and that their work is significant. Communicate high expectations for their performance.

3)      Form an alliance with them for the purpose of their learning and success. Give them informal and formal feedback on how they are doing and how they can improve.

4)      Create opportunities and give encouragement to apply what they know and what they are learning to their jobs. Being temporary means that it is all that much more urgent to provide these opportunities.

5)      Measure their success and hold them accountable for doing a good job. This means being clear with them about the indicators of success and how you will help them achieve those outcomes.

It is easy to make the mistake of assuming that temporary workers are not the real workforce and do not deserve our full attention. That is, in effect, discarding a large and growing portion of the workers who can make our organizations successful. We need to embrace this segment and apply the same good practices to them that we use to develop any high performing and engaged workforce. 


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Investing in Training in Downturns and Upturns

The U.S. is emerging from a training drought that occurred during the worst economic period since the Great Depression. At least, that’s what’s indicated by organizations that do this kind of Rise in profits
research. ASTD reports an increase in spending on L&D in 2010 (latest year for which data is available); they estimate companies spent about $171.5 billion. Bersin & Associates reports that corporate spending on training increased 9.5% in 2011 – the largest gain in three years.  And Training magazine’s research found a 13% increase in spending on L&D in 2011. Each of these studies uses a different method for calculating spending. However, the trend is undeniable: spending on employee training is increasing.  

With this increase in spending comes a great opportunity to do things right. In our book, The 5As Framework, Sean Murray and I wrote that most training programs significantly impact only 10% to 20% of their participants. This represents a huge waste that no organization can afford any longer. As the worldwide recession comes to an end, organizations must use every dollar very wisely. Garry Marsh, director of the U.K. company THM Business Simulations, gives us some thoughts about best ways to use those dollars. Here are those seven ideas with my spin on each one:

  • Get it right first time – Think in terms of what learners need, not the latest training fad (content or delivery). Only provide experiences that will help learners improve performance and contribute to achieving the strategic goals of the organization – no more and no less. Pay attention to the quality of content and quality of the learning intervention.
  • Keep employee satisfaction high – Involving employees in opportunities to learn is an effective way to increase engagement. Many employees value learning more than a pay increase. To keep engagement high, make continuous learning part of the culture of the organization.
  • Train your managers – Many managers did not reach that position because they were great managers of people. This is something that all managers need to keep learning. And if organizations want to prevent their top talent from leaving as the economy improves, they must give managers the opportunity to learn and grow.
  • Focus on customer experience – All organizations should have the improvement of customer experience as one of their top strategic goals. To achieve this goal, they will have to train employees in how to create a better experience. Learning about the customer experience should be on every manager’s agenda.
  • Spend less, get more – Organizations should not rely on the usual suspects and usual methods for delivery of training. It’s about learning; it’s not about glitzy programs. It doesn’t have to cost much to develop talent. Maybe a manager will become a more effective team leader with the help of a mentor. Maybe a manager will become more effective at giving performance feedback with the help of a coach. Maybe a manager will become better at financial management by attending the CEO’s “open-book” meetings.
  • Be ready for the upturn – As the economy improves and companies start hiring again, the best talent will look elsewhere. They have stayed only because nobody else was growing and hiring. Unless managers continue to see opportunities in their current organizations and they feel respect from their leadership, they will be gone. Organizations should do something about these conditions now.
  • Look after yourself – Many resources are available to help any organization be successful while keeping costs low. Look for help internally and externally. Use what the organization already owns when that makes sense and then go outside to peers, consultants, and training organizations when they can help you improve performance and achieve your business goals.


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Alan Beaulieu on the Economy and Training as a Competitive Advantage

The economy is on the rebound and companies need to make hiring and training a priority. This was Alan Abeaulieu Beaulieu’s message at a meeting of the Washtenaw Economic Club in Ann Arbor, Michigan that I attended on September 16th. With all the negativity about the economy, especially in Michigan, it was refreshing and comforting to hear these words from a highly respected economist. Beaulieu is President of the Institute for Trend Research (ITR), a 60 year old firm with an unusually high level of prediction accuracy, including warning his clients about the start of the Great Recession in 2008. He is co-author of the recently published business strategy book, “Make Your Move.” He not only makes predictions; he presents the economic evidence for those predictions.

According to Beaulieu, the economy will grow slowly and steadily over the next two years. He said that this is the perfect time for companies to bring in the people they’ve been reluctant to hire and prepare those people to help their companies achieve a competitive advantage. He said:

This is the time when we want to make sure that all of our employees are as trained as they possibly can be. We want to make sure we are driving all of the efficiency we can. Cross train. Super train. Reduce work hazards. Make sure the product knowledge is where it should be. Because we can’t waste time losing a single sale because we have somebody who is rude to a customer, doesn’t know the product, or doesn’t know our competitive advantage.

If companies are going to emerge from the Great Recession in a better place than where they started, they must invest in people. It will be their competitive advantage.