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Imagining Workplaces of Tomorrow: Managing Minds

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

We think that the heart of managing minds was summed up years ago by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, who was a keen observer of the relationship of hands and minds at work, is thought to have said, “If you want Minds-at-work-150 to build a ship, don’t drum up people to collect wood and don’t assign them tasks and work, but rather teach them to long for the endless immensity of the sea.” We cannot anticipate the turbulent seas and uncharted territory ahead in the economy, but we can prepare managers for navigating their organizations to success.

Imagine that we have traveled to the not-too-distant future. All organizations are managing minds, from the most high-tech companies to the oldest factories and mills. What would a day be like? Imagine a company in which:

  • Continuous learning, and learning fast, is key, even in the face of unprecedented change: 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 responding to the learning preferences of a multigenerational, diverse workforce.
  • 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 do not know something, and they willingly seek out the help they need to improve and become high performers.
  • The message from the CEO to new employees is that learning and self-development are highly valued. Continuous learning is expected from everyone in the organization, from senior leadership down. 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.
  • Critical information is easily accessible on the go. Equipment operators can view safety information on their smartphones when and where they need it. Managers can download coaching advice prior to meeting with a direct report. Leaders can see a video on open-book management just before discussing it with their teams.
  • Managers meet every few weeks with their direct reports to discuss performance 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.
  • 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.
  • Leaders of projects conduct an after-action review at the completion of each project. Project team members discuss what happened, how it happened, the results, how that compares with what the project was intended to accomplish, successes and failures, and what should be done differently in the future. Project managers and team members put these lessons learned into practice on their next projects.
  • 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.
  • People start their workday with an attitude that can be described as fearless, looking forward to using their minds to contribute to the success and happiness of their organization.

There is a purpose to imagining a company in which people are managing minds. The current neuroscience theory is that we use the past as a scaffold to build an image of the future; the way we did things in the past helps determine what we will do in the future. But the biggest problem any organization has when it tries to change is the inability to imagine a different way of doing things. So imagining a company in which we are managing minds, doing things very differently from when we were managing hands, is necessary if we are to get from here to there, from today to a better future.

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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.

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Command, but No Control Management

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

The command-and-control model for organizations was developed to maintain order in large marching armies with the mission to destroy other large marching armies. This style of management dates back to Minds-at-work-150 the Roman Empire, if not earlier. Modern corporations codified this structure to control the numerous hands that needed to be managed. As the Industrial Revolution gained steam, command and control became the accepted approach to building corporations—it was ingrained in the processes and procedures and codified into articles of incorporation used today for old and most new corporations.

A command-and-control manager says:

  • “I’m the manager, so I make the rules.”
  • “Your job is to do what I say.”
  • “If you mess up, I’ll let you know about it.”
  • “If you don’t hear from me, that means you’re doing fine.”
  • “You’d better be careful not to make a mistake or cross me!”
  • “Respect for the boss is the most important attribute you can demonstrate.”
  • “I make the policies, and you follow them.”

Guilds and apprenticeships, in which control was more democratic and decentralized, only worked in relatively small organizations of artisans and craftspeople. Most workers today find themselves in command-and-control organizations run by command-and-control managers.

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.

A command-and-control style of management is often the main barrier to corporate learning. This style of management prohibits the more open, transparent, and fearless approach that the newer communicate-and-collaborate model facilitates and supports. Decisions and options often feel predetermined by people at the top and are not open to discussion. Any call for review is too often viewed as unwillingness to be part of the team—a challenge that should be punished. Using training as a reward is the flip side and also symptomatic of this approach.

Deciding to start dismantling your company’s command-and-control structure takes real courage. But trying to maintain the illusion—or delusion—that control in today’s knowledge economy is even possible is far more dangerous. You’re not alone if you fear that you could commit to reconstructing your organization into one that holds knowledge sharing and collaboration as core values, only to find you have turned it into something that’s half fish, half fowl, and can neither swim nor fly.

Fortunately, there is evidence that this does not have to happen. Consider the software development company Nearsoft. Founded in 2007 by Matt Perez and Roberto Martinez, the company has more than 200 employees and has enjoyed rapid growth and increased profits. It also has a highly unusual culture that includes lots of freedom, no managers, and very few rules. Instead, Nearsoft employees rely on a set of five core values: leadership, commitment, teamwork, long-term relationships, and being smart and getting things done.

“We don’t believe in command and control,” Perez told Corporate Rebels in an interview. “Our people have the freedom and responsibility to make their own decisions . . . and therefore [are] probably more structured than many hierarchical organizations. We have clear processes in place for many things we do.”

Perez and Martinez built trial and error into Nearsoft’s DNA. “When a person or team wants to experiment with something new, and there is enough internal support, they are completely free to give it a try,” said Perez. Once the company decides to try an idea, they commit to it for at least a full year, to give it time to work. And if an experiment fails?  No problem: All lessons learned and new information are viewed positively.

 

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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

Passive

Active

Dependent

Independent

Fearful

Fearless

Obeying

Challenging

Closed-Minded

Open-Minded

Rigid Roles

Fluid Roles

Conforming

Nonconforming

Not Curious

Curious

Thoughtless

Thoughtful

Unmotivated

Motivated

Following

Leading

Stupid

Smart

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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Training Will Not Eliminate Racist Behavior In Starbucks

In response to a racially charged incident at a Starbucks in Philadelphia that resulted in the unnecessary arrests of two black males waiting for a friend, the company has announced that it will “…close more than Clem-onojeghuo-228522-unsplash 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

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Managing Hands or Managing Minds, It's Your Decision

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

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

Minds at work infographic-jpg (002)

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Closing the Job-Skills Gap

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Managing Minds in the Workplace While Big Brother is Watching

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Year In Review - 2017

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

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

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

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

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

Hire Learners for the Knowledge Economy – July 6, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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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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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.

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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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Hire Learners for the Knowledge Economy

Companies today need learners. In the Agricultural Economy, a strong back was enough. In the Industrial Economies 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.

Maybe some organizations can teach people how to learn fast, but most do not have this capability. They need to hire people who already can learn fast and learn well. They need to hire  people who are continuous learners and who can help others learn continuously. This is not simply about attending training programs or, as a manager, sending others to training programs. You want people who are always receptive to increasing their knowledge and developing new skills and competencies. You want people who seek out opportunities to grow. You want people who recognize the learning needs of others and can figure out ways to support their growth as part of the day-to-day work of the organization.

Edgar Wilson, in a post on e.Mile, writes that a “healthy” learning culture has four features:

  1. Humility – accepting that you don’t know everything, that you need to be continually learning new things, that you embrace change as an opportunity to develop new skills
  2. Curiosity – staying excited about learning and always looking for new and better ways to do things
  3. Collaboration – building teams that share work, share lessons, share advice, and share skills
  4. Appreciation – recognizing and rewarding the effort of others to learn and grow; not waiting for a major change

These features are a good guide for recruiting, selecting, and hiring employees. Look for people who have humility, are curious, are excited about collaboration with others, and who express appreciation for the effort and progress of others. Ask about specific examples of these behaviors in their previous work.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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.]

 

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Managers Need Empathy in the Digital Age

The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place. -George Bernard Shaw                                   

Early in my career, as a university professor, I was responsible for training and developing counselors for work in schools, colleges, and community agencies. An essential competency that we helped counselors IMAG0002-2develop was communicating empathy to a client. Not easy to do but absolutely necessary for helping another person learn how to achieve self-awareness and make the personal decisions that will improve their lives.

I’m pleased to see that empathy is being recognized as a vital manager competency in the workplace. One might think that in this age of automation and robots, that the quality of human interaction and mutual understanding are becoming less important. Actually, the opposite is true. With much of the routine work being done by machines, people are being freed up to do knowledge work which requires more and higher quality interpersonal interaction than ever. Norbert Schwieters and Bob Moritz write that the tenth principle for leading the next industrial revolution is “Put Humanity Before Machines.”

David Grebow and I have called this the historical shift from “managing hands” to “managing minds.” The manager’s job today is less about producing things and more about developing people so that they can collaborate with others to apply creativity and innovation to the fast pace of technological change, globalization, and a diverse and multi-generational workforce. And in order to facilitate development of people with this capacity, managers need to help people learn, and this requires empathy.

Empathy is not an easy competency to learn. Let’s look at a definition:

the capacity to understand or feel what another person is experiencing from within the other person's frame of reference, i.e., the capacity to place oneself in another's position. Empathy is seeing with the eyes of another, listening with the ears of another and feeling with the "heart" of another.

This ability is often characterized as walking in another person’s shoes. In the workplace, empathy is when a manager or co-worker communicates this deep level of understanding to another person so that the person feels like he or she is being understood, that somebody cares about her, that she is not alone, and that the she has the level of self-understanding needed to make good decisions.

Empathy is not sympathy. Sympathy is communicating how we would feel if we were in that person’s situation. When we make statements such as, “I know what you mean. I know how you feel. I had the same thing happen to me and this is what I did,” we are expressing sympathy, not empathy. Humans are generally pretty good at sympathy.

Empathy is another matter. Empathy means suspending the judgmental conversation we all constantly have with ourselves in our heads (“To really listen, you must first be silent.”), listening intently to the meaning and feelings behind the words (and nonverbal cues) that someone is saying or writing, and then communicating what is being heard back to that person for further clarification and validation. This is a quality of interpersonal exchange unlike anything that is typical of normal conversation. It’s the difference between advocacy and inquiry.

Empathy can be learned. First of all, you must believe in the ability of people to learn and grow from reflecting on their own experiences. Then you must listen deeply to the other person and ask yourself, “What does he really mean by what he is saying? How does he truly feel about his situation? Is he confident or scared, happy or sad, engaged or detached? What can I say that will help us check out if I’m hearing him accurately?

So when people talk about the need for more empathy in companies, they need to be aware of the challenge. People can learn to be more empathic, but it takes coaching and practice, as with any skill that is worth learning.

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Being Human in an Automated Workplace

Agility, adaptiveness, flexibility, creativity, innovation, critical thinking, collaboration, cooperation, communication, teamwork, risk-taking, networking, compassion, empathy, inclusiveness, knowing how to learn…these are the abilities needed by people in the automated workplace. The operational abilities sought after in the previous economy are no longer high on the list.

According to McKinsey, “…as many as 45 percent of the activities individuals are paid to perform can be MP900438708
automated by adapting currently demonstrated technologies.” This portends a future where people must take on a different role than they had in the Industrial Economy. No longer will people be needed to make things, operate things, fix things, or move things.

A McKinsey Global Institute Report says:

Recent developments in robotics, artificial intelligence, and machine learning have put us on the cusp of a new automation age. Robots and computers can not only perform a range of routine physical work activities better and more cheaply than humans, but they are also increasingly capable of accomplishing activities that include cognitive capabilities once considered too difficult to automate successfully, such as making tacit judgments, sensing emotion, or even driving. Automation will change the daily work activities of everyone, from miners and landscapers to commercial bankers, fashion designers, welders, and CEOs.

However, that doesn’t mean that humans are out of a job. It’s what David Grebow and I have called the shift from “hands” to “minds”. The emphasis is on being smart rather than how well you do a specific job. Workers in the digital workplace need to continuously learn, helping their organizations adjust to the dramatic changes brought on by technology, globalization, multi-generational workforce, and, according to Tom Friedman, climate change and population growth. Workers need to use their collective intelligence to design innovative solutions to the challenges of the day and the future.

The kind of work people need to do requires much more human to human interaction. Success depends on strong interpersonal relationships. Claire Cain Miller, in an article for The New York Times, writes:

The problem, at least for now, is not that there isn’t enough work — there is, but it is very different from the kind of work technology is displacing. Manufacturing and warehousing jobs are shrinking, while jobs that provide services (health care, child care, elder care, education, food) are growing. 

Being creative and innovative, which can’t be automated (so far), are essential to stave off competition. Competition can come from anywhere on the globe and at any time. Nobody is safe. From manufacturing to health care to education, every organization has competitors that can do better at speed and cost. Companies will have to compete on creativity and the customer experience. Take Tesla, for example. Although competing with historic brands, this rapidly growing auto company has found a niche among people who want an electric vehicle and high status.

Also needed is the human-robot interaction to ensure that we are doing the right things for the right reasons and in the right way. It will be easy to make everything faster, cheaper, and higher quality. But is that what we should be doing? What is the environmental and social impact of the business? Just because we can do it doesn’t mean we should. We need humans to ask these questions. We can’t rely on robots for the questions or the answers.

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Reprise: The Self-Directed Learner

(This post first appeared on this blog on February 11, 2016.)

The most common way in which companies train employees today is basically the same as organizations have been training for the past hundred years (some would say thousands of years). Instructional designers, with input from managers and subject-matter-experts (SMEs) decide what employees should know and then “push” that content at the learners through formal training programs.

That model of training worked adequately in an industrial economy where jobs and equipment changed slowly and executives had relatively low expectations for productivity. Things are quite different now and, therefore, training needs to change. In the new knowledge economy, the pace of change is such that the push model of training can’t keep up with organizational needs and with the way employees learn best.

Now companies need self-directed learners who can “pull” the knowledge and skills required for their jobs, when and where they need it. To be successful today, learners and their managers must work together to ensure that employees acquire the competencies they need to help the organization succeed. They can no longer rely on a centralized training function for this. Managers and their direct reports must rely on each other.

In a learning culture, dependent on pull learning, the parallel roles of managers and learners look like this:

MANAGER ROLE

LEARNER ROLE

Develop a growth mindset

Develop a growth mindset

Hire for ability & motivation to learn

Be actively learning how to learn

Help learner identify strengths & weaknesses

Identify one’s own strengths & weaknesses

Encourage employee learning

Learn continuously

Make it safe to learn

Take risks; learn from risk-taking

Create opportunities for employees to learn individually & in groups

Take advantage of opportunities to learn as individuals & with/from others

Give feedback effectively

Receive feedback effectively

Co-create & co-curate information with learner

Co-create & co-curate information with manager

Convey high expectations for learning

Strive to do best; exceed expectations of manager

Recognize and reward learning

Use recognition and rewards to further one’s learning

The learning relationship starts with a “growth mindset”. Carol Dweck defines this as the belief that people can develop their talent. Without this belief, people will not be motivated to learn and improve. This belief needs to be shared by managers and their direct reports. You need to hire people who have this belief, are motivated to learn and to learn how to learn.

You want employees who make learning part of the way they work. You want employees who are constantly assessing their strengths and weaknesses and seeking out the knowledge and skills that will position themselves to be more successful. You want managers who encourage this and create a psychologically safe environment where employees feel they can be open about their strengths and weaknesses without being criticized, ridiculed, or judged less competent.

You want opportunities for employees to learn, to apply newly acquired knowledge and skills to important work on the job and to do this shortly after learning. Employees can arrange some opportunities for themselves but this requires managers giving permission, making time, and providing the resources to apply that learning.

You want managers to give performance feedback in a helpful and productive way to employees. You want employees 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.

Your managers and learners must co-create and co-curate knowledge. The amount of information that is available to employees today is massive. Anything learners want to know is at their fingertips…literally. However, some if it is accurate and useful and some is not. Managers and employees need to work together to make sense of this information, sort out what is accurate and useful, and apply it to their work.

Your managers should have high but realistic expectations for their direct reports. Employees should be clear about these expectations and how these expectations are linked to organizational performance. This gives learners a clear direction and path to performance improvement which motivates learning and application of learning.

Managers should recognize and reward the impact of employee learning 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 their learning resulted in this expression of appreciation.

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Becoming a Learning Culture: Competing in an Age of Disruption

(This article was initially posted on the Hospitality eResources blog on February 7, 2017.)

All industries are undergoing enormous change, mostly due to new technologies, globalization, and a very diverse workforce. For example, in the hospitality industry smartphones put scheduling and reservations HolidayInn at our fingertips, literally. Social media allows restaurants, hotels, airlines, and travel services to market
directly to us based on our personal interests. Apps give us car services and meals on-demand – no waiting. These services are competition for established companies and are changing the industry and guest expectations. Uber, Lyft, Airbnb, and Grubhub are just the beginning. The industry will continue to evolve dramatically.

Any company, faced with these kinds of disruptive forces must keep learning. Employees must learn how to use new computers and new apps, how to operate new, high tech machinery, how to be responsive to customer demands, how to create innovative products and services, how to manage a multi-cultural, multi-generational workforce, how to work effectively in cross-functional teams, and how to plan for a future that is constantly in flux.

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.

In a training culture, most important learning happens in events, such as workshops, courses, elearning programs, and conferences. In a learning culture, learning happens all the time, at events but also on-the-job, facilitated by coaches and mentors, from action-learning, via smartphones and tablets, in social groupings, and from experiments. Learning is just-in-time, on-demand.

In a training culture, the training and development function is centralized. The CLO, or HR, or a training department controls the resources for learning. When new competencies need to be developed, employees and their managers rely on this centralized function. In a learning culture, everyone is responsible for learning. The entire organization is engaged in facilitating and supporting learning, in the workplace and outside the workplace.

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

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

Managers play a pivotal role in creating and sustaining a learning culture. They do not have to be instructors nor do they have to be expert in the knowledge and skills needed by their direct reports. However, they do have to hold the belief that people can learn and change, what Carol Dweck calls the “growth mindset”. Managers must care about their own learning, and they must value the development of the people they supervise. If they have these beliefs and values, then managers can contribute significantly to learning in their organizations.

In our book, The 5As Framework, Sean Murray and I describe seven steps managers can take to facilitate and support learning of their direct reports:

  • STEP ONE: Discuss what the learner needs to learn in order to help your business unit achieve its objectives and the organization’s strategic goals.
  • STEP TWO: Agree on a set of learning objectives for the short-term and long-term.
  • STEP THREE: Agree on the indicators that will be used to determine progress toward those objectives and achievement of goals.
  • STEP FOUR: Describe how the learner can get the most out of the learning intervention.
  • STEP FIVE: Arrange for the learner to get whatever resources he/she needs to apply the learning to your business unit.
  • STEP SIX: Plan regular meetings (they may be brief) to discuss progress toward objectives and goals and any changes that would help the learner’s progress.
  • STEP SEVEN: Make modifications in the learning intervention as needed.

Essentially, managers should work with learners to set goals, clarify expectations, provide opportunities for application, and hold them accountable for making a difference. Learning professionals can certainly help managers with this, but managers are in the best position to facilitate the kind of day-to-day learning that is needed in high performance organizations today.

Managers are essential to employee development in our fast changing world. But the culture of the organization as a whole needs to be supportive of learning. Applying traditional notions of education (K-12 or post-secondary) to the workplace will limit the growth and competitiveness of any company. Learning must be woven into the very fabric of the organization.

As Arie de Geus said:

The ability to learn faster than your competitors may be your only sustainable competitive advantage.

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21rst Century Organizations Need a Learning Culture

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

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

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

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

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

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

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