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Creating a Culture for Learning

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

The culture that underpins a managing minds approach must support and encourage an ongoing and collective discovery, sharing, and appli­cation of knowledge and skills at the individual, team, and Minds-at-work-150organization levels. A culture that supports managing minds is a culture of inquiry; an environment in which people feel safe challenging the status quo, taking risks, and enhancing the quality of what they do for customers, themselves, shareholders, and other stakeholders. A company managing minds maintains a culture in which learning how to learn is valued and accepted, and the pursuit of learning is woven into the fabric of organi­zational life.

So how do you really know if you have a company that is manag­ing minds? What are the visible signs? What are the metrics? How do you know if your organization has the DNA that predisposes it to learning? Gary Neilson and Jaime Estupiñán have been studying and writing about organizational DNA for the past 10 years. They explain it this way: “We use the term organizational DNA as a metaphor for the underlying organizational and cultural design factors that define an organization’s personality and determine whether it is strong or weak in executing strategy.”

Using this DNA metaphor, here are 10 principles that determine whether a company is doing what needs to be done to promote and support managing minds. When people behave according to these prin­ciples, the enterprise is predisposed to learning at all levels. The condi­tions exist to be able to manage minds, not just hands. As you review the items, ask yourself if you are enabling or disabling these principles:

  1. Leaders support learning. The message from the CEO, senior executives, and other key thought leaders in the organization is that continuous learning by individuals, teams, and the organization is not only valued but expected. Leaders communicate that learning can happen in many different ways: face-to-face and online instruction, push training and pull learning, on-the-job activities, and social interaction. Leaders say and do things that are visibly aligned with this value.
  2. Managers take responsibility for managing minds. Managers encourage their direct reports to acquire new knowledge and skills and develop competencies that make them more valuable to the organization. They provide opportunities to learn, adopt, adapt, practice, and apply what their employees learned on the job. Managers hold people accountable for learning, and take responsibility for ensuring the growth and development of the people they manage.
  3. The organization hires and promotes learners. Recruiters, other HR staff, and hiring managers ask questions about what applicants have recently learned and look for people who are self-motivated learners. These individuals are always seeking opportunities to acquire new knowledge and skills, learn from their successes and failures, take risks for the purpose of learning, and continue to develop themselves. The organization selects new hires and promotes current employees who demonstrate initiative in learning and growing.
  4. Learning is aligned with results. Managers can clearly explain how acquiring specific knowledge and skills will contribute to the success of the organization. It’s not learning for learning’s sake, or learning because “we’ve always done it that way,” but learning because that’s what will help the company achieve its strategic goals.
  5. People have a growth mindset. Executives, managers, and employees believe that they and others can learn and grow within the organization. They believe that this potential is in everyone and can be unleashed by actively giving people the opportunity to acquire new knowledge and skills. They believe that nobody is fixed in their abilities, that it is human nature to want to enhance competencies and improve performance.
  6. Organizational structure facilitates learning. Information flows freely throughout the organization. Leaders of work units don’t hesitate to communicate with one another, and they provide assistance and peer coaching as needed. People are connected across departments and geography and actively share successes, failures, and lessons learned. Other key stakeholders are brought into important decision-making situations and are respected for their input. Change can be a result of a top-down or bottom-up initiative.
  7. Knowledge management contributes to learning. Information is stored in an easily accessible place (hardcopy or in an LMS database) that can be accessed and used by people to acquire the knowledge they need to be successful in their work. Successes and failures are equally and openly described so people can learn from them. People are constantly creating, identifying, collecting, organizing, sharing, adopting, adapting, and using information to help the company become smarter.
  8. People take risks and experiment. Managers foster this behavior by recognizing the effort and new insights even if the results are unsatisfactory. People are not punished for trying something new. On the contrary, risk taking in the name of doing a better job is encouraged. Failures, as well as successes, are treated as opportunities for learning. People are fearless.
  9. Learning is rewarded. Individuals are recognized and applauded for acquiring new knowledge and skills. When new learning is applied and contributes to improving the performance of the organization, people are rewarded. This reward is not necessarily monetary. What’s important is that the reward is appreciated and reinforces this kind of behavior.
  10. Everyone is reflective. Everyone takes every opportunity to learn. Projects end with an after-action review. Client contacts are immediately examined with the intention of learning and improving those contacts in the future. Tasks, events, processes, and committees are all viewed as opportunities for learning from the past. Everyone actively participates in communities of learning and graduates to be involved in communities of practice. People are continually reflecting on what they can learn from what they are doing, what they did well, what could be done better, what was accomplished, and how it made the company a smarter organization. There are no giant egos that need to be the final arbiter for all important decisions and, regardless of outcomes or reality, must always be right, blaming everyone else for any failures. In a reflective environment, no one is ever thrown under the bus.

In a managing minds culture, these 10 principles are apparent in the stated values of the organization, and those stated values are aligned with the values in use. In other words, these values are not only written and spoken, but also evident in employees’ day-to-day behavior.



Managing the Self-Directed Learner

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

There is a moment in the movie The Matrix when Trinity says, “I need to know how to fly a helicopter!” She plugs a jack directly into her brain and downloads the skills. Plugging in to what she needed to learn was as direct and fast as the screenwriters could imagine…

In a managing minds company, it is critical that employees take responsibility for their own learning, Minds-at-work-150 pulling the information they need when and where they need it. Malcolm Knowles, a leader in the field of adult learning, defined this as self-directed learning:

In its broadest meaning, self-directed learning describes a process in which individuals take the initiative, with or without the help of others, in diagnosing their learning needs, formulating learning goals, identifying human and material resources for learning, choosing and implementing appropriate learning strategies, and evaluating learning outcomes.

Self-directed learners are people who get intrinsic rewards from their ability to locate, curate, share, and communicate what they have learned independently. Extrinsic rewards—more money, awards and plaques, additional perks and power—might have worked in the indus­trial economy, but in a knowledge economy, intrinsic rewards work best. Creating an environment in which people who are self-directed learners can achieve those intrinsic rewards is essential.

According to Daniel Pink, there are three key elements necessary to create this environment. The first is the ability to work when and where an employee wants; no micromanaging allowed! Minds can work in an office space or a virtual space. A level of autonomy is necessary for people to do their best work. Being left alone with the problem or chal­lenge and having the freedom to work it out is the best way to kick-start the self-directed learner’s process.

Second, self-directed learners must believe that it is a stretch to get from the problem to the solution. They live for the challenge that makes them draw upon as many parts of their brain as they can to pull the rabbit out of the hat. Straining their resources as they reach for the solution to a problem is energizing, and provides a sense of mastery over the subject.

The third element is finding a sense of purpose in what they are doing. Working in the service of a larger mission or goal completes the trifecta for a self-directed learner. Pink uses the example of programmers providing open source code for no pay because they were motivated by the idea of providing free software for the world. Autonomy, mastery, and purpose enable and empower the self-directed learner.

While we believe that people should take full responsibility for their own learning, we also recognize that many people do not have this abil­ity. They need to move from a fixed mindset to a growth mindset. They need to learn how to learn independently and get over years of learning in an educational system that spoon-fed them what they were supposed to learn. They will need help identifying their learning needs, finding and using resources (including computer technology), practicing and reinforcing learning, and evaluating results.

What if the people working for you are not yet self-directed? In this case, your responsibility is to help them learn how to learn. People need guidance and support from their managers to become self-di­rected. Every manager has a key role to play in making it possible for their direct reports to develop the knowledge and skills they need to be successful in their work. Managers need to set the expectation for self-directed learning and then create the conditions for people to learn independently. The complementary roles of managers and employees [are contrasted in the following table:]

Manager Role

Learner Role

Have a growth mindset

Develop a growth mindset

Hire for ability and motivation to learn

Be actively learning how to learn

Help learners identify strengths and weaknesses

Identify personal strengths and weaknesses

Encourage employee learning

Learn continuously

Make it safe to learn

Take risks and learn from successes and failures

Create opportunities for people to learn individually and in groups

Take advantage of opportunities to learn as individuals, and with and from others

Make technology available to learners

Learn how to use technology to learn

Give feedback effectively

Receive feedback effectively

Co-create and co-curate information with learners

Co-create and co-curate information with their managers

Convey high expectations for learning

Strive to do their best and exceed expectations of managers

Recognize and reward learning

Use recognition and rewards to further learning

The relationship between managers and their employees needs to start with a growth mindset. This belief needs to be shared by managers and employees. You want people who make learning part of the way they work, who are constantly assessing their strengths and weaknesses and seeking out the knowledge and skills that will position them to be more successful. Managers should encourage this and create a safe environment where people can be open about their strengths and weak­nesses without being criticized or judged.

You want opportunities for people to learn, and apply newly acquired knowledge and skills to important work on the job. People can arrange some opportunities for themselves, but this requires managers to give permission, make time, and provide the resources to apply what they learn.

According to a 2014 Gallup poll, managers who cannot or will not provide feedback “fail to engage 98 percent of employees.” That’s not a typo—98 percent. You need to give performance feedback in a help­ful and productive way. You want people to hear and understand that feedback and make use of it to learn and improve their performance. This must be more than an annual performance review. Performance feedback, positive and negative, should be given at every opportunity throughout the year.

Managers should have high but realistic expectations for the people with whom they work. People should be clear about these expectations and how they are linked to performance. This gives them a clear direc­tion and path to performance improvement, which motivates learning and the application of that learning.

Managers should recognize and reward the impact of what people learn on achieving the goals of the organization. This could include public statements about the learner’s success, a promotion, new respon­sibilities, or special compensation. Whatever it is, learners need to see clearly how what they learned resulted in this expression of apprecia­tion. The key is to publicly acknowledge the way learners (individuals and teams) have adopted and adapted knowledge to make the company smarter.



Reprise: Training Will Not Eliminate Racist Behavior in Starbucks

In a letter that Howard Schultz, Executive Chairman of Starbucks, published in today's New York Times, he describes what his stores and offices will be doing this afternoon to address the problem of racial bias in the company:  

More than 175,000 Starbucks partners (that's what we call our employees) will be sharing life experiences, hearing from others, listening to experts, reflecting on the realities of bias in our society and talking about how all of us create public spaces where everyone feels like they belong - because they do. This conversation will continue at our company and become part of how we train all of our partners.

Again, I commend Starbucks for attacking the problem but I continue to have my doubts about the long term effects of their approach. On April 19, 2018, I wrote about these concerns. That blog post is repeated here:


In response to a racially charged incident at a Starbucks in Philadelphia that resulted in the unnecessary Clem-onojeghuo-228522-unsplash arrests of two black males waiting for a friend, the company has announced that it will “…close more than 8,000 of its stores on May 29 to conduct anti-racial bias training for nearly 175,000 employees.”

While this response is commendable, if that’s all Starbucks does to eliminate racism among its staff, it will be a significant waste of time, money, and effort. I understand, putting all of their employees through training is good optics for the company and might provide some protection from lawsuits. But change in the culture requires so much more.

In the wake of the Starbucks incident, The New York Times asks the question, “Can Training Eliminate Biases?” The answer is “no”. Diversity and inclusion in companies is not achieved through a workshop. That’s not how people change behavior. Only culture change can eliminate biases. Training might be a good first step in raising awareness for some, but attitudes and actions must be supported consistently by the entire organization over time. Diversity and inclusion must be rooted in the processes and life of the organization.

As I wrote in a blog post on May 31, 2008 titled, From Diversity to Inclusion and Engagement:

Third Sector New England has, from its nearly five decades of experience, identified the following as key drivers of successful diversity initiatives:

  • A diversity committee/task force, representing all levels of the organization, that regularly communicates with the entire organization
  • Unflinching commitment by the CEO to convey the benefits of organizational diversity to the organization’s mission, vision and values
  • An organization-wide assessment or cultural audit to determine major challenges and barriers
  • Prioritizing those challenges
  • A clear designation of key participants, action steps and timelines to address challenges
  • Skill-building for moving beyond differences to develop an organizational language and culture of inclusiveness
  • Alignment of diversity planning with the organization’s strategic plan, so the former includes an assessment of funding and other resources needed to support the effort
  • A consultant to facilitate developing and implementing a diversity plan
  • Evaluation of progress at regular intervals
  • Reassessment of priorities as needed

In addition to these elements of comprehensive planning, an organizataion has to make some fundamental changes in how it works. Employees need to hear their senior managers talking frequently about diversity and inclusion. It’s not enough that the value of diversity and inclusion is listed on a laminated poster in the employee lounge. This value must be visible in the day-to-day actions of the company. Employees must see diversity in hiring and promotions, as well as among Board members and executives. The ability to accept differences must be in the criteria for hiring. Employees must see evidence that their company partners only with other companies that make a sincere effort at improving diversity and inclusion and eliminating racism. Managers need to step up and take responsibility for creating a welcoming and supportive culture in every part of the organization.  

Managers must recognize that not everyone has the same receptivity to change and act accordingly. Amber Madison has identified four archetypes of diversity and inclusion: the champion; the newbie; the bigot; and the bystander. She suggests that managers address each type differently. I recommend hiring "champions" and "newbies" and avoiding hiring "bigots" and "bystanders" as much as possible.

As we argue in our new book, Minds at Work: Managing for Success in the Knowledge Economy, managers must help to develop the people around them. And this means eliminating the discrimination that contributes to a hostile work environment. Racism is bad enough, but if there is racism, then there is sexism and antisemitism and antimuslimism and every other kind of discrimination. In addition to the immorality of that kind of workplace, that environment is not conducive to learning and people doing their best work, whether you’re a barista in a store or CEO of the company.

In fairness to Starbucks, a company that I admire, let me say that they are facing the same kind of racism that all companies face and is ingrained in our society. With over 27,000 locations worldwide, it's surprising more incidences of racial bias haven't been reported. But that's not an excuse and the company must do more to ensure that diversity and inclusion permeate its culture. However, training is not the answer.

Photo by Clem Onojeghuo on Unsplash



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.


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Command-And-Control Leadership is Stifling Your Company


Most companies (and governments) today are managed in a command-and-control style of leadership that prevents them from becoming high performing, sustainable organizations. Although command-and-control IMAG0188 is our natural tendency as leaders, we must resist this temptation for the sake of our companies and their employees.  

The command-and-control style of leadership is defined as:

…a style of leadership that uses standards, procedures, and output statistics to regulate the organization. A command and control approach to leadership is authoritative in nature and uses a top-down approach, which fits well in bureaucratic organizations in which privilege and power are vested in senior management. It is founded on, and emphasizes a distinction between, executives on the one hand and workers on the other. It stems from the principles of Frederick Winslow Taylor, and the applications of Henry Ford and Alfred P. Sloan, Jr. As more empowered, flat organizations have come to the fore, command and control leaders have been increasingly criticized for stifling creativity and limiting flexibility.

Managers default to a command-and-control style of leadership because it gives them a sense of power and predictability in their organizations. It’s based on a fear that employees, if left unchecked, will make bad decisions and do something that will reflect badly on the company and management (e.g., customer complaints, safety violations, lawsuits) and block the company from being successful (e.g., not achieve sales goals, poor product/service quality, fail to reach revenue targets). Fearful managers believe that they have to tell employees both what to do and how to do their jobs. And they believe that if they create and codify policies and rules for every conceivable situation, they will prevent problems. This is all an illusion.

As we write in our new book, Minds at Work: Managing for Success in the Knowledge Economy:

Command and control starts with the decision-making process. When work and workers were still connected to an actual space, lead­ers felt a need to control distributed decision making. When there are many decisions to be made and many hands to manage, command and control gives leaders a sense that they are in charge of decisions, which will not be made without their input and final say. This approach allows them to justify their importance and remind others of their value to the corporation. But the truth is that the people at the top cannot control everything that goes on in a complex organization.

Bosses who promote fear, who are cruel and mistreat employees, who micromanage and don’t allow employees to control their own work, who don’t support the team, who put up roadblocks that make work more difficult for everyone, who fail to recognize the value of the work that people are doing, who act impulsively and make changes without warning, who criticize and ridicule people who fail, who discourage transparency and information sharing across the organization, who give orders without explaining the reason…and, worst of all, don’t develop the people who report to them, will end up with fearful employees who are more worried about survival than doing what they need to do in order to contribute to the success of the company.

Even though much evidence points to the need for a different kind of leadership, managers are reluctant to change. As Ranjay Gulati puts it in an HBR article:

The freedom of the outside world is banging at the corporate door, demanding to come inside. Yet most leaders are still afraid to open it, because they continue to view freedom and frameworks as antagonists in an intense tug-of-war. And since a tug-of-war can have only one winner, they pour their resources into regulating employee behavior. 

Companies need a different kind of leadership. The Corporate Rebels, in a blog post titled “Why the Command-and-Control Mindset is Killing Your Company,” describe the kind of leadership that is needed:

In today’s world, the most engaging organizations are able to thrive because their engaged, empowered and happy employees make the real difference. People desire an inspiring workplace that brings them fulfillment beyond just a monthly salary. And in return they will reward organizations for it. When work is exciting and motivational, people will thrive and organizations will flourish. This is not just our belief, this is the new reality.

Francesca Pick describes the qualities of a leader who can create a work culture in which people thrive:

Stewarding and coordinating rather than commanding,
Holding space and supporting rather than controlling,
Empowering team members to do their best work,
and be their best selves. 

It’s risky to give up control and empower others, especially when we think we know the best way to do things. But the truth is, we don’t have the amount of control that we think we have and it’s not in the best interests of employees and the organization to try to control people’s work. Leaders need to learn how to give employees freedom to do their jobs while, as Gulati writes, “…trusting employees to think and act independently in behalf of the organization.”

Instead of directives, leaders should provide a framework that gives employees a structure that guides them without directives. According to Gulati, this is a framework consisting of purpose, priorities, and principles. As long as everyone in the organization shares the same purpose, priorities, and principles, there is no need for command-and-control leadership.

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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.



R-E-S-P-E-C-T: Sexual Harassment Has No Place In the Knowledge Economy

The explosion in sexual harassment charges against company executives is a symptom of the dramatic change that is going on in the workplace. This is about much more than a few courageous women standing up to a few misogynist men. We are witnessing a sea change in the way employees relate to their leaders and to each other. The command-and-control, hierarchical, do-as-I-say work environment of the 20th Century industrial economy is giving way to the communication and collaboration workplace of the 21rst Century knowledge economy. Companies will never be the same.

Rapid change due to technology, globalization, competition, and diversity is bringing to light the many failings of traditional workplaces. Disrespecting women—or anyone--has never been right, but the demands of the modern organization are now making this behavior intolerable. 

In our forthcoming book, Minds at Work: Managing for Success in the Knowledge Economy, David Grebow and Cover 3D I contrast organizations stuck in the “managing hands” environment of the industrial economy with organizations that have a 21rst century, “managing minds” environment. We write:

Companies that are learning to manage minds are focused on being open, transparent organizations in which collaboration and communica­tion are basic operating principles. They believe that sharing knowledge is power, and continuous learning is the key to successfully meeting the challenges of the knowledge economy. Failures are to be learned from and not hidden. Opposing viewpoints and ideas are valued and listened to by everyone in the company. Conversations are open and honest. The hierarchy of roles, and the secrecy and compartmentalization that go with it, has been replaced by the hierarchy of ideas, in which openness is a prerequisite.

In the managing minds workplace, there is no place for harassment or discrimination of any kind — whether it’s based on gender, sexual orientation, disability, race, religion, or age.  You must insist that your employees live these values not only because it is the right thing to do, but also because it creates a workplace that is happier, more collaborative, and more productive.

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.

David Grebow and I have written Minds at Work to explain why organizations cannot succeed unless they commit to giving up behaviors that date back a hundred years with ones that are better suited to today’s business realities.

To succeed in the knowledge economy you need the intelligence, commitment, skills, and talents of every one of your employees. You cannot attain that goal if you have female employees working in an environment where they may be intimidated, embarrassed, shamed, or made to believe that their employment is conditional on providing sexual favors.



Wanted: Collaboration; Communication; and Teamwork

The ability to collaborate, communicate, and work effectively in teams are some of the competencies most in demand by employers today. However, companies are not preparing people adequately for these IMG_1327
mutually cooperative functions. Susan Adams writes this in Forbes:

Can you work well on a team, make decisions and solve problems? Those are the skills employers most want when they are deciding which new college graduates to hire. The next-most-important skill: ability to communicate verbally with people inside and outside an organization. Employers also want new hires to have technical knowledge related to the job, but that’s not nearly as important as good teamwork, decision-making and communication skills, and the ability to plan and prioritize work.

Sodexo’s 2017 Global Workplace Trends Report summarizes research that points to collaboration and teamwork as critical to the workplace today. The report explains the critical importance of organizations having agility and that the key to agility is having common goals and working in teams to achieve those goals. The authors write:

An agile mindset embraced by management fosters adoption throughout an organization; once adopted, agility yields benefits both inside and outside. To get there, businesses can set their sights on three principal characteristics:

  1. A common orientation toward organizational goals
  2. An emphasis on teamwork
  3. A principle of adaptive performance

The Sodexo report points out that teamwork has been important for a long time but that now employees across organizations and across generations must be committed to collaborating for the purpose of flexibility, adaptability, and speed, characteristics of any successful, 21rst Century organization.

In the Knowledge Economy, cross-functional teamwork is how work gets done. It's no longer about managing hands, as was the case in the Industrial Economy; today it's about managing minds. That means helping people become more competent, capable, and engaged in contributing to the success of the organization. It’s about maximizing the collective intelligence of people which is why work is done in teams more now than ever.

Workplaces are being designed to facilitate collaboration and teamwork. Open spaces, flexible work areas, and smart offices are all contributing to a culture that supports work in teams as needed. This is quite a change from the Industrial Economy standard of private offices for executives and cubicles for everyone else.

However, even with this awareness that much of the work that needs to be done today needs to be done in teams, we don’t do a very good job of preparing people for this role. Pulling people out of the workplace for training in teamwork, is not the best way to learn about collaboration and teamwork in our fast-paced world. Part of the problem is the way leaders think about learning in organizations. As Elizabeth Doty writes in strategy+business:

"...leaders tend to think of learning too narrowly — equating it with training, mentoring, or “constructive feedback” during performance reviews. But all of these are inputs that may or may not correlate with the results we want to create...If you want to accelerate learning on your team, first engage them in a meaningful challenge, then design a feedback system that enables them to learn naturally, every day."

The Economist warns us about the downside to collaboration. When it is not done well, attempts at collaboration can eat up precious time trying to connect with others and meetings can be a waste of time. True! But this is why people need help developing their collaboration and communication skills, so that they minimize unproductive communication and maximize productive collaboration and teamwork.

Training departments can explain the need and lay the groundwork for good communication, collaboration, and teamwork skills, but it is up to managers to help employees hone these abilities in the context of the workplace. Managers need to create ways (with the help of learning professionals) of developing good collaboration and teamwork in their work groups. These are learnable abilities that require a continuous process of feedback and reflection.



Mindfulness for Leaders

Mindfulness is defined as:

the psychological process of bringing one's attention to the internal and external experiences occurring in the present moment,[1][2][3] which can be developed through the practice of meditation and other training.[2][4][5] The term "mindfulness" is a translation of the Pali-term sati,[6] which is a significant element of some Buddhist traditions. The recent popularity of mindfulness in the West is generally considered to have been initiated by Jon Kabat-Zinn.[7][8

A slightly different definition comes from Psychology Today

Mindfulness is a state of active, open attention on the present. When you're mindful, you observe your thoughts and feelings from a distance, without judging them good or bad. Instead of letting your life pass you by, mindfulness means living in the moment and awakening to experience.

Mindfulness has become a very popular notion in the business world. Even Harvard Business Review is publishing articles on the topic. Rather than brushing it off as just another “touchy feely” fad, organizational leaders, overwhelmed with trying to do more and achieve more with less resources in a rapidly changing world, are turning to anything that will help them reduce stress, balance all of the pressures in their lives, and feel better about what they are doing.

The question they are asking themselves is, “How do I achieve mindfulness in the course of my day-to-day life, without taking a year off at an ashram?”

Robert Pasick, in his new book, Self-Aware: A Guide for Success in Work and Life, provides answers. This very Pasick book-219x300 practical book, inspired by Pasick's work with business students and clients, has application to any organizational leader, and any adult for that matter. It is about achieving self-awareness and what that means for one’s career and relationships and the work one must do to achieve that level of self-awareness.

Pasick warns:

If you are not ready to make significant changes in your life, my advice is not to read this book. Keep this book in a safe space for another day. My students often report that through the processes in this workbook, they have switched from one career path to another.

However, this book is not only about making career choices. It is also a guide for living fully in relationships, whether at work, at home, or in the community. Relationships are key to receiving feedback, reflecting on one’s strengths and areas for improvement, and experiencing a meaningful life.

Pasick adds:

If followed, you will embark on a process designed to increase your self-awareness. You will be asked to read, reflect, answer questions, and engage actively in a series of exercises. Some exercises will require the participation of significant people in your life.

In some ways this is a deeply personal book as Pasick tells us his own story about development as a man, a psychologist, a healer, a son, husband and father, giving us examples of his experience of mindfulness so that we can learn from him as we read stories about what he has learned from family, friends, students, and clients.

“Self-Aware” has the tools you need for getting feedback from others and using that feedback for self-reflection on mind, body, and spirit. Pasick doesn’t promise you an easy journey but he does provide what you need to make the trip stimulating and fulfilling.



Megan Torrance Talks About Learning in Organizations

I’m always looking for examples of companies that put learning ahead of training. TorranceLearning is one of those companies. They design custom learning experiences for client organizations by starting with the intended results and related performance problems and then, and only then, do they provide employees with the tools, structures, and processes to learn what they need to know and do to be successful.  

I had the pleasure recently, along with my Learning to be Great™ business partner, James Stilwell, to interview the founder and CEO of TorranceLearning, Megan Torrance. She answered our questions about how her company helps clients create a learning culture and how she creates a learning culture within TorranceLearning. Lessons for all of us are in this video of the interview.



Of the many insights I gained from this interview, two stand out for me. One is the key role of managers in learning. As Megan says, “The single biggest impediment to applying something on the job tends to be managers.” We need to help managers learn how to support the learning and development of their direct reports and co-workers. The second insight is “collaborative learning”. According to Megan, this takes two people, one person willing to be vulnerable and open to feedback and another person willing to give help within a culture that isn’t punitive regarding mistakes, failures, and just not knowing. All good lessons.



The Power of Beliefs

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

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

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

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

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

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



Stop Training Leaders and Start Developing Leadership

[This post first appeared on the Learning to be Great Blog.]

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

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


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

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


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Beyond Training: Three Models

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

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

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

The Continuous Learning Technology Stack

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


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

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A Manager's View of Employee Learning

I rarely post a guest blog, but in this case I couldn’t resist posting Bernard Donkerbrook’s reaction to my last blog post. Bernie is a long-time automotive company manager and experienced engineer. Having retired from the auto industry, he is now an executive coach focused on improving Emotional Intelligence (EQ) in leaders. I have tremendous respect for Bernie’s wisdom and insights that come from years of experience. Bernie wrote this in response to my last blog post:

Steve, your 5As material is so good.  The logic and specifics are great.  I love the sense of understanding, enthusiasm and acceptance the leadership team conveys here regarding their role in learning.  This is a really good-news story for you and their company!

As you might expect, based on my input to a previous blog (3/25, Training Isn’t Learning), I was delighted EmployeesShakingHands to see the emphasis on the necessary role of the manager!  Allow me to offer some further viewpoints on how strongly I feel the necessity is to strengthen the individual manager’s ‘obligation’ to be ‘actively and personally accountable’ for ensuring delivery of results from the learning intervention. For me, ‘accountable’ means managers are as much, and maybe more, responsible as the individual learner for applying learning and delivering results.

It’s hard to over-emphasize the role and impact that managers have in the daily lives of their employees in a large, long-standing corporation. This is especially true for those organizations with a culture of hierarchy, command-and-control, departmental/functional silos, active and sometimes manipulative competition between managers for recognition and promotion, and less-than-excellent history of departmental collaboration. 

Managers control the weekly priorities which go to solving the current crisis, inevitable quality glitches during mass-production, next quarter's targets, budgeting/interviewing/staffing problems, daily work issues, etc.

I’ve taken the liberty of suggesting strengthening a few of your points relating to the manager’s role. See below.  It is my personal attempt (and tone) to address these conflicts of priorities, especially when a new learning intervention is adopted (or mandated), and to unambiguously make clear the expectation of the manager’s prime role in the success of any learning intervention and to make it one of his/her prime priorities.  If the company is going to the time, commitment and expense of a learning intervention and is serious about it, then it needs to be led and executed on a daily basis by the manager.

From my long personal history in this kind of corporate work environment at the management level, and knowing from more recent years of managerial coaching what it takes to change behaviors, my views are more directive, more forceful in tone than yours. It takes clarity and intention to change behaviors, and it takes practice.  If bosses and senior executives are on-board and involved, then it makes ALL the difference, as you so well know and advocate.  Recognizing and rewarding the leadership team and individual managers for facilitating this continuous learning and obtaining performance improvement results is so important, and a catalyst for success.

In order for any kind of learning intervention (training, coaching, mentoring, action learning, etc.) to have a positive impact on achieving the organization’s goals, managers have to take an active role in supporting learning and become active, personally-responsible leaders for their immediate staff in delivering actual results from new learning. Both learner and boss should be held clearly accountable for improved business results in their organizations and operations.

This is the role of managers from the perspective of the 5As Framework:

  • Alignment: managers explain to employees the importance of a particular training program and how that learning will help them help the company be successful; make this conversation part of employees’ performance reviews; define this effort as the leadership role expected of managers and, therefore, clarified in their performance review objectives.
  • Anticipation: managers clarify expectations for what they want employees to learn; managers should communicate high but reasonable expectations for employee learning; this should be part of informal conversations managers have about performance and expected deliverables on a frequent basis (not only at annual performance review time).  Success depends on managers establishing a regular process for status, progress, issues and results with each key direct report participating in the learning intervention.
  • Alliance: managers meet with employees before training to identify learning goals, meet with employees during training to discuss progress (a pre-scheduled process by manager works best), and meet with employees after training to identify what was learned, how employees will apply that learning in the workplace, and what additional learning/tools/resources they might need.
  • Application: managers lead the department efforts to determine and provide opportunities for employees to immediately apply learning in their work in a way that will make a difference
  • Accountability: managers give employees feedback on an ongoing basis, typically regularly scheduled, on their application of learning and measure the impact, measure the beneficial results/improvements of that learning on their teams, the organization and how it’s affected their personal skills, competencies or effectiveness



Leaders Learning about Learning

Recently, I conducted a workshop for the leadership team of a company that wants to increase the impact of its training programs. I explained the limitations of formal training and the need for taking an organizational learning perspective. I argued that in order for any kind of learning intervention (training, coaching, mentoring, action learning, etc.) to have a positive impact on achieving the organization’s goals, managers had to take an active role in supporting learning.

This message was well received by these senior leaders. They immediately understood the vital role they play in developing individuals, teams, and the organization as a whole. They wanted to know specifically what they could do to facilitate learning.

I suggested the 5As Framework as a place to start. This is a useful model for ensuring that, regardless of the 5A logo learning intervention, they will achieve performance improvement and organizational success. The 5As are: 1) Alignment – align learning with strategic business goals; 2) Anticipation – expect success; 3) Alliance – form a learning alliance between learner and boss; 4) Application – apply new learning immediately; and 5) Accountability – hold learner and organization accountable for business results.

We discussed what leaders can do to ensure that these elements are addressed. Here are their suggestions:

  • Alignment: explain to employees the importance of a particular training program and how that learning will help them help the company be successful; make this conversation part of employees’ performance reviews.
  • Anticipation: clarify expectations for what you want employees to learn and communicate high but reasonable expectations for their learning; make this part of informal conversations they have about performance on a frequent basis (not only at annual performance review time).
  • Alliance: meet with employees before training to identify learning goals, meet with employees during training (if possible) to discuss progress, and meet with employees after training to identify what was learned, how employees will apply that learning in the workplace, and what additional learning they need
  • Application: provide opportunities for employees to immediately apply learning in their work in a way that will make a difference
  • Accountability: give employees feedback on their application of learning and measure the impact of that learning on their teams and the organization

I was encouraged by the enthusiasm and understanding that these company leaders had for their role in learning. I can only hope that higher level executives and the company's CEO will support this role and recognize and reward what my workshop participants are doing to facilitate continuous learning throughout the organization.



Informal Learning and the Pivot Point

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

FullSizeRender (3)

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

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









2015 - Year of the Learning Culture

The theme that cuts across most of my blog posts from last year is creating and sustaining a learning culture in organizations.

As a way of review, I’ve selected five blog posts about a learning culture from 2015 that have the most 2016 interest for readers. Here is the title of each post with a short excerpt. Click on the title to go to the full post.

  1. Developing a Learning Culture Infographic This infographic explains briefly and concisely the need for a learning culture, barriers to a learning culture, actions of a learning culture, and results from a learning culture.
  2. Training Culture vs. Learning Culture What’s the difference between a “training culture” and a “learning culture”? The answer is, “A great deal.” As the chart shows, in a training culture, responsibility for employee learning resides with instructors and training managers. In that kind of culture the assumption is that trainers (under the direction of a CLO) drive learning. Whereas in a learning culture, responsibility for learning resides with each employee and each team.
  3. Pull, Don’t Push, Employee Learning 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.
  4. PwC Canada Strives for a Learning Culture If you’re looking for examples of companies that are striving to create and sustain a learning culture, PwC (PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP) of Canada should be on your list. I recently had the pleasure of speaking about the importance of a learning culture to the Edmonton meeting of The Conference Board of Canada’s Council for Learning and Leadership Development. Another speaker at the event, Karin Muchall, Development Leader for PwC Canada, impressed me with her description of how PwC is implementing the principles of a learning culture through a program they call Enhanced Working PracticesTM.
  5. 50 Ways to Lever Learning In a learning culture, formal training is just one of many methods used to facilitate employee learning. In a learning culture, we start with the performance goal and then select the mix of methods that will help employees acquire and retain the knowledge, skills, attitudes, and beliefs they need in order to achieve those goals. This is a list of 50 of those methods.



PwC Canada Strives for a Learning Culture

If you’re looking for examples of companies that are striving to create and sustain a learning culture, PwC (PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP) of Canada should be on your list. I recently had the pleasure of speaking about the importance of a learning culture to the Edmonton meeting of The Conference Board of Canada’s Council for Learning and Leadership Development. Another speaker at the event, Karin Muchall, Development Leader for PwC Canada, impressed me with her description of how PwC is implementing the principles of a learning culture through a program they call Enhanced Working PracticesTM.

PwC Canada is a 100 year old company of 6,500 partners and staff in offices across Canada and part of a PwC network of 208,000 people in 157 countries. Using the benchmark of Johns Hopkins Hospital, PwC Pwclogohas created a vision for a learning culture: Achieving desired business outcomes and higher performance through continuous learning at work: individually, in teams and as an organization; everywhere, all the time, over a career lifetime.

Enhanced Working Practices is the company's way of reaching for this vision. The PwC Canada Web site describes the program this way:

Promoting Enhanced Working Practices (EWP) and experiential learning
Our EWP program empowers our people to learn within the context of their day-to-day work. Incorporating structured learning routines into our working practices (e.g. job shadowing), provides us with opportunities to accelerate employee development on the job in a supportive environment. Also, EWP leads to increased accountability and a feeling of project ownership among team members while deepening trust and confidence across the team. In FY13 we worked to expand EWP across our firm, while in FY14 we accomplished our goal of establishing EWP across all of our lines of service. EWP practices are now embedded into our formal learning programs, expanding learning into our everyday activities and work.

During FY14, we actively branded EWP as our approach to on-the-job coaching. We’ve also embedded EWP into other key people processes, such as recruitment, on-boarding and performance management. In FY15, we’ll continue to focus on EWP as a way to accelerate the development of our people so that they are able to deliver distinctive client and people experiences.

With “teach don’t tell” as the central motto, they are using a variety of learning interventions to facilitate learning “everywhere, all the time.” These methods include shadowing, observation and feedback, team workshops, lessons learned meetings, and rounds (a medical learning model). And they are aligning learning with business objectives, piloting methods before full implementation, starting with leadership buy-in, celebrating success, and evaluating impact. All good practices of a learning culture.



Imagine a Learning Culture

Imagine a company that, in the face of unprecedented change, is continually learning how to learn Disney-world-226721_1280 fast: managing tremendous amounts of information; creating new products and processes in response to global competition; using new apps to be more efficient and effective; and being responsive to learning preferences of a multi-generational and diverse workforce.

Imagine a company in which employees are hired because they are excited about learning and improving themselves. They have a history of taking responsibility for their own learning. They aren’t afraid to admit that they don’t know something and they willingly seek out the help they need to improve themselves and become high performers.

Imagine a company in which the message from the CEO to new employees is that learning and self-development are highly valued. Continuous learning is expected from senior leadership and everyone else in the organization. Incentives and public recognition reward those employees who seek out opportunities to enhance their competencies and increase their capability to contribute to the success of the organization.

Imagine a company in which critical information is easily accessible on a mobile device. Equipment operators can view safety information on their smart phones when and where they need the information. They can learn how to operate and maintain a machine from their tablets. Managers can download coaching advice prior to meeting with a direct report. Leaders can see a video on open book management just before discussing this approach with their teams.

Imagine a company in which managers meet every few weeks with their direct reports to discuss performance goals and learning goals. Employees report what they’ve been learning. Managers give employees constructive feedback and together they decide how to achieve goals. Managers provide opportunities for employees to practice newly acquired skills and put into practice what they've been learning.

Imagine a company in which team leaders ask for feedback on their leadership. They discuss their communication, delegation, coaching, team facilitation, and planning with team members. Team leaders are constantly improving the effectiveness of team meetings and modeling meeting management for team members. Together, they are learning how to facilitate and contribute to meetings that are engaging and productive.

Imagine a company in which project managers conduct an “after action review” at the completion of each project. Project team members discuss what happened, how it happened, the results of what happened, how that compares to what the project was intended to accomplish, what were the successes and failures, and what should be done differently in the future. Project managers and team members put this learning into practice on their next projects.

Imagine a company in which organization-wide strategic planning is seen as an opportunity for learning. Participants are asked to discuss the strengths and weaknesses of the planning process. Leaders and managers use that feedback to improve the organization's strategic planning process and this new process is standardized in the organization.

Imagine what it would be like to work in an organization like this.


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Lies About Learners and the Internet of Things

In a blog post for ATD provocatively titled “Lies About Learners”, Larry Israelite writes:

Our current learning approach is outdated. Now is the time to reinvent it. The global business environment is changing rapidly; access to sophisti­cated, social, digital technologies is increasing; and the digital generation’s expectations of how, when, where, and why work gets done are shifting. The learner needs to be at the center of our reinvention. 

The first lie—or assumption—is that learners need a break from their hectic work setting, and thus need a peaceful and tranquil environment to soak in and apply content. Instructor-led delivery of training content continues to lead the way when it comes to formal programs, but most learners prefer an anytime, anyplace, any path, and any pace approach to learning. 

The distinction Larry Israelite is making is the difference between “push learning” and “pull learning.” Traditionally, HR managers and training specialists have been given the responsibility to decide what employees need to learn, often with input from SMEs, and then they push that onto the learner through training programs. No surprise that employees, who are being told what and how and when they will learn, lack the motivation to develop new competencies. Retention of learning is low and application to the workplace is minimal.

Pull learning, on the other hand, gives employees control over what, when, and how they learn. An example of this kind of learning is KnowledgeStar™. This is an app and system for just-in-time learning. David Grebow describes it this way:

The app is driven by iBeacon technology connected to any cross-platform internet connected device that can pull information from the cloud. The beacon goes on any machine or piece of Internetofthingsequipment and sends out a specific signal when you get close. The app ‘hears’ the signal and calls the cloud for the information on that machine or piece of equipment. You get a tailored menu of information choices that could include safety checklists, operating instructions, functional specs, diagrams, and safety warnings. Whatever you need. Whenever that information is really needed.

KnowledgeStar™ makes machines smart so that employees can pull information and instructions “…anytime, anyplace, any path, and any pace...”  The app and process is designed to do the following on-demand:

  • Show employees what they need to know to operate the machine
  • Tell employees how to use the machine correctly and efficiently
  • Help employees be safe working with and around the machine
  • Help employees complete and submit regulatory forms and checklists
  • Show employees how to fix the machine if it is broken
  • Show employees how to maintain the machine over time
  • Provide employees with the schematics and diagrams they need
  • Contact an expert or get emergency assistance if needed

And all of this is done using the method preferred by the employee. This could be text, sound, video, graphics – whatever is best for that employee to “pull” the information he or she wants.

HR and training managers don’t necessarily need internet technology to facilitate pull learning. Action learning, coaching, experiments, and internships could be used for pull learning. However, internet technology continues to offer more and more ways in which employees can take charge of their own learning. KnowledgeStar™ is one example of this.

What are examples of “pull” learning that you are seeing in your organizations?

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