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Learning for a Rapidly Changing World

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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.



The Great Training Robbery Continues

When I ask the training and development leaders who participate in my ATD Essentials of Developing an Organizational Learning Culture workshop to say what percentage of employees who attend training programs Trainrobbery actually apply what they’ve learned on the job, the answers range from about 10% to about 50%, with most at the lower end of that range. This indicates a dismal state of affairs. It’s what some authors have called “The Great Training Robbery.”

Rajeev Peshawaria wrote about “The Great Training Robbery” in a Forbes blog post in 2011. He was talking about the failure of leadership training to have a significant impact on companies. He argued that before leadership training can make a difference, leaders must have “clarity of purpose and values.” Then the training must be followed up with more learning on-the-job. He writes:

Emotional energy fueled by clarity of purpose and values, accurate knowledge and attitudes acquired by the right training, and on-the-job experience including failure are all important aspects of leadership development. Careful planning about how to spend a company’s training & development investment can yield long lasting excellence, but it is key to avoid the all-too-familiar traps of maximizing butts in seats in programs that offer formulaic recipes for leadership effectiveness. Unfortunately, what we see all over the world is the great training robbery, in which over $60 billion is wasted every year on ineffective [leadership] training and development activities that don’t make a difference.

Michael Beer, Magnus Finnstrom, and Derek Schrader, in a Working Paper for Harvard Business School titled, “The Great Training Robbery”, make the point that companies are not getting much from their investment in training and education programs. They write:

In 2012 U.S. corporations spent $164.2 billion on training and education Overwhelming evidence and experience shows, however, that most companies are unable to transfer employee learning into changes in individual and organization behavior or improved financial performance. Put simply, companies are not getting the return they expect on their investment in training and education. By investing in training that is not likely to yield a good return, senior executives and their HR professionals are complicit in what we have come to call the “great training robbery.” 

As the authors point out, the cost of low transfer of learning is not only in dollars, but also employees become cynical towards training and organizational change and leaders remain misguided regarding their critical role in learning and performance improvement.

This failure of training to change organizations has been known for decades. Rob Brinkerhoff and I wrote about the shortcomings of training in our 1994 book, The Learning Alliance, which was based on the research and experience of others who came before us. So why do organizations, after decades of contradictory information, continue to try to solve problems with more training?

Roberta Holland, in her summary of an interview of Michael Beer for Harvard Business School’s “Working Knowledge” blog, provides an answer:

Too often CEOs turn to HR to create a training program when faced with a problem. The CEO avoids opening a Pandora’s box of larger organizational flaws, and HR is happy to comply because it puts the function more at the center of things and avoids a risky conversation with the CEO about why training might not solve the problem.

Because organizational problems remain undiscussable, and HR and trainers don’t want to admit that training is not the answer, HR and training departments keep "robbing" their organizations of precious resources.



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.



Learning to Lead in the Time of Disruption

Being sufficiently knowledgeable and skilled when there was relative stability in the workplace, when products and services didn’t change much, when companies did essentially the same work for their entire existence (e.g., Ford Motor did assembly-line manufacturing of internal combustion vehicles for over a century), and when entry into a mature market was very difficult and costly, is challenging enough. Being sufficiently knowledgeable and skilled in times of disruption can seem nearly impossible.

And here we are - in a time of tremendous disruption. According to Annmarie Neal and Daniel Sonsino, 40 percent of the jobs we know today will be disrupted by technology within the next five years. Uber and Lyft
have disrupted urban transportation, online banking and investing have disrupted the financial services FullSizeRender (2)
industry, self-driving cars are disrupting the automobile industry, drones are threatening to disrupt the package delivery business, specialty drop-in health clinics are disrupting health care, Fiverr is disrupting the creative services business, Warby Parker has disrupted the retail eyeglass business. I could go on and on. Nearly every business has or will have a disrupter. The barrier to entry in most markets is very low; all a competitor needs today is a good idea and an app.

So, what is a leader to do? JD Dillon, of Axonify, writes…

An organization’s long-term viability is not solely determined by the quality of its product. It’s now highly-dependent on how quickly the company can evolve in the face of disruption. Just look at what happened to Blockbuster, Polaroid, and (most recently) Yahoo. Organizations must be learning constantly to ensure survival. This extends to all employees, who are being asked to flex in their roles and handle more and more responsibility.

It’s not a question any longer if a business or industry will face disruption, but rather, when it happens, will leaders and managers know what to do. David Dotlich and Raj Ramachandran, in an article for ATD titled Leading in Time of Disruption and Ambiguity, write:

Leading well, gaining followership, and delivering results in the next 10 years—in which change, volatility, and industry disruption are the constant, and periods of stability and predictability are unusual—will be the challenge that underlies all else for executives and those who help develop them. Effective leaders will need to be able to adapt to such a wide variety of different contexts, conditions, and situations that it will be increasingly difficult to simply teach "how to lead." What we can do instead is develop leaders who have the skills to flourish in complex, ambiguous, and uncertain environments.

So, what are the leadership skills for “…complex, ambiguous, and uncertain environments”? Annmarie Neal and Daniel Sonsino, in their ATD blog post titled “Challenge Your Assumptions About Learners” argue that the new, digital generation of workers are tech-savvy, collaborative and connected, want flexibility in how they work, learn, and play, and have an “I can do anything” mentality (Sounds a lot like my generation!). Leaders of digital-generation workers will need similar qualities or at least be comfortable supervising employees who have these qualities.

In a time of disruption, leadership has to be about continuous development of the people around you. Everyone needs to continually learn fast, learn collaboratively, and learn flexibly. Leaders need to be agile in the face of new technology, new competitors, new expectations, and new goals. Leadership today is less about learning a specific set of skills and more about an attitude that embraces the challenges that come from disruption.


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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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Does Your Organization Need a Learning Culture?

If this post describes your organization, you need to make the transition to a learning culture.

The amount and complexity of knowledge and skills that each of your employees needs is increasing dramatically every day due to technology and globalization. Simple, repetitive tasks are being automated (e.g., banking) and online technologies are disrupting traditional businesses (e.g., transportation). Employees that survive automation and disruption will need to know more and do more.

Employees need to learn quickly. They need to acquire new information, new skills, and develop new Businessmeeting abilities and they need to do this in a way in which that learning will be retained and applied immediately. They can no longer rely on formal training events. Stephen J. Meyer, addressed this issue in his blog for Forbes online:

Any corporate learning professional will tell you that sales and leadership training need to be processes, not events. The learning cognoscenti know there are no shortcuts to effective learning. If sales managers want their inside sales team to conduct powerful discovery, they’ve got to teach an approach, listen to tapes, let reps self-evaluate, give feedback, listen to more tapes, give more feedback, and so on. Leadership training requires a similar process. For high-level soft skills training, organizations need to create a path to mastery, and accompany people down that path.

Current onboarding and training programs are not helping you achieve your business goals. Dani Johnson, writing for Bersin by Deloitte, explains that the old corporate training model worked because information moved top-down, there was one way to do things, and the corporate sponsored job-training was all an employee needed (or so they believed). Now, according to Johnson, this is no longer the case. Johnson writes:

…advances often mean that people who show up to training events know as much as, if not more than, the facilitators. They also have other options for learning than just company training. Information is ubiquitous, free, and comes from many, many sources.

Likewise, today’s knowledge workers are asked to do more than just complete tasks. Now the focus is on “thinking outside the box,” embracing innovation, improving processes, and helping the company to better compete.

This shift in focus leaves L&D in uncharted waters. The processes and infrastructures that L&D organizations have built over the years are reinforced by architectures, systems, and technology which support antiquated thinking. L&D departments need to completely reinvent themselves; and they need to develop new skills, capabilities, and behaviors in order to do it.

In the past, your L&D department could get away with delivering well attended, well-liked training programs. Today, L&D is being asked to show evidence that learning interventions are contributing to the bottom-line. The approach of Jenny Dearborn at SAP is an example of this. In January 2016 issue of Chief Learning Officer magazine, Kate Iverson quotes Dearborn:

Justifying and inciting change in an engineering organization like SAP requires hard metrics. Dearborn would argue that’s the case for CLOs in general. “As a learning professional, if you can’t provision your program without affecting those metrics that an executive thinks about, then you really shouldn’t be having this conversation,” she said. “If you can’t speak that language, you’re out of your league.”

The pace of change is making it difficult for your organization to compete effectively in the marketplace unless the organization is constantly learning. You need a work environment that is supporting learning all the time so that you can respond quickly to trends and disruptions in your industry and your customers. You must be able acquire new knowledge and skills in anticipation of these changes and as they take place. For example, if customers are demanding same-day delivery and some retailers are meeting that demand, then any company that can’t adapt will be faced with a tremendous loss of business.

You have a multi-generational and diverse workforce that requires a learning culture. This is a workforce that is clamoring for personalization. One size does not fit all. Increasing and maintaining employee engagement and productivity depends on being responsive to the individual learning needs of workers. Some older workers are waiting for management to push what they need to know to them; some younger workers want to pull what they want to know and do it now. Elliott Masie puts it this way in January 2016 issue of Chief Learning Officer:

The future of learning has embraced the fascinating reality of personalization. More than ever, our workers expect to be able to select, sequence, manage and access learning resources in a manner of their choosing.

Personalization is the ability to choose time, device, style and even intensity of content, context or collaboration. But is personal choice the learning goal?

The learner might have some ingrained preferences. [The learner] might like video more than reading or practice more than theory. A learner might be drawn to one topic and have no interest in another key element of a curriculum. Or, [a learner] might feel fully competent in an area and skip a learning offering altogether.

Your work teams are not as efficient and effective as they need to be. Meetings are tedious, time consuming, and unproductive. Team projects are late and over-budget. Team members are not engaged in the work. Often, this is because team leaders and members do not know how to be successful. This is something the team can learn. To do that they need to learn how to learn about teamwork.

And your organization as a whole could be better at communicating across silos, strategic planning, making decisions that affect everyone, managing information, and creating a positive climate. In other words, your organization needs to "get better at getting better." This takes learning; learning how to continually improve as an organization.

A training culture, which is what we’ve had in most organizations for the past 100 years, cannot meet the needs of workers, teams, and organizations in the world we live in today. The pace of change, the need to adapt quickly, global competition, personalization of learning, and a demand for results, are all forces that make it necessary for learning to be constant, for everyone, using many different methods . If that's not your organization, start making the transition now.



50 Ways to Lever Learning

(My apologies to Paul Simon.)

In a learning culture, formal training is just one of many methods used to facilitate employee learning. In a learning culture, we start with 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. The first 25 are primarily instructor-directed; the second 25 are primarily learner-directed.

  1. Instructor-centered class (fact to face) – traditional classroom in which instructor controls the content and learning Classroom trainingprocess
  2. Instructor-centered class (virtual) – similar to classroom except instructor delivers instruction via the Web and class can be synchronous or asynchronous
  3. Instructor-facilitated seminar – meeting convened by an instructor; learners discuss a topic relevant to their work and chosen by instructor
  4. Instructor-facilitated workshop – meeting convened by an instructor; participants learn from experience of working together on solving a problem or creating something new
  5. eLearning  – content delivered to learner via computer; usually desktop computer
  6. Mobile learning – a form of elearning that is accessed by a mobile device such as smart phone or tablet; can be anywhere, anytime
  7. Coaching – a relationship in which a trained coach helps an employee develop the knowledge and skills to be a more effective manager by addressing real situations that manager faces in workplace
  8. Mentoring – a relationship in which senior leaders impart their knowledge and wisdom on employees who are learning to be leaders
  9. Learning alliance – a relationship between managers and their direct reports that focuses on employee learning and how managers can support that learning
  10. Game –engaging employees in learning by applying principles of gaming (scoring, competition, rules of play, etc.) to create an experience that is interactive and fun
  11. Simulation – replicating real-life problem solving within a safe environment; for example, learning business acumen by working with a team to solve a typical business problem and receiving immediate feedback on their performance
  12. On-campus college courses – attending for-credit courses or non-credit courses that are relevant to one’s job
  13. External online courses (e.g., MOOCs) – taking relevant courses online from leading institutions and from renowned faculty
  14. Webinars – participating in a Web-based program using video conferencing software; usually a one-session offering by an expert on a specific topic
  15. Internship – working in a temporary position for the purpose of learning about a job, the work environment of that job, and the organizational culture
  16. Apprenticeship – working under the guidance of experienced employees for the purpose of learning specific skills
  17. Business case-study – drawing lessons from discussing the documented story of actual events in another organization
  18. Performance measurement – learning from measures of performance such as sales figures, production numbers, and customer service feedback
  19. Success Case Evaluation Method – a method of evaluating training (or any learning intervention) by identifying those participants who successfully applied learning in the organization and telling their stories; learning comes from analyzing those stories and drawing useful conclusions from successes and failures
  20. Assessment center – a dedicated space where employees participate in exercises designed to simulate the conditions of their jobs; observers look for specific behaviors that indicate the employee’s suitability for the work; learning comes from receiving performance feedback and planning how to improve
  21. Department meetings – often a lost opportunity for learning, these gatherings can be designed so that participants learn about processes such as planning, project management, innovation, and evaluation
  22. Testing knowledge – using results of knowledge tests to facilitate more learning
  23. Testing performance – using results of behavioral demonstrations of learning to facilitate more learning
  24. Training evaluation – learning from evidence (quantitative and qualitative) collected to show the impact that particular training programs have on individuals, teams, and the organization as a whole
  25. Learning Management System (LMS) – using the data from training program tracking software as a focus for discussing employee learning goals and progress toward those goals
  26. Roleplay – people (usually two or three) acting out roles to learn about themselves and others by putting themselves in Groupmeetingsomebody else’s shoes
  27. Reflection-in-action – learning from reflecting on an activity while doing it
  28. Reflection-on-action – learning from reflecting on an activity by looking back on what happened
  29. Reflection-for-action – learning by applying what was learned to a new situation
  30. Daily log – individual employees writing or recording learning from each day of work and then discussing their observations with co-workers
  31. Survey debrief – meeting with co-workers and other stakeholders to discuss what can be learned from the results of company surveys (such as pulse, employee satisfaction, and climate)
  32. Experiments – gathering evidence in a controlled environment to support or refute a particular change that is being proposed (for example, testing an innovation in the product development process)
  33. Prototyping – testing a new design of a product or process by constructing an example or model and then trying it out and learning from what happens
  34. Content apps – using a software application on a mobile device to provide information and instruction on-the-job, just-in-time
  35. Job share – splitting the hours required for a job with someone else and sharing experiences with each other for the purpose of learning
  36. Job rotation – trying out different jobs in an organization for the purpose of discovering the best fit and, at the same time, learning about the organization and its culture
  37. Community of practice – people who share the same interests or responsibilities in an organization come together to learn from each other
  38. Social media – using computer-mediated platforms for sharing information, such as Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, and blogs
  39. Benchmarking – learning by comparing the structure, policies, practices, products, and programs of one’s organization to the best in the industry
  40. Structured observation – learning about some aspect of individual, team, or organizational behavior by observing what occurs according to a set of questions and criteria
  41. Books and articles – reading books and articles that have information and expert advice about an area of needed performance improvement
  42. Video – learning as-needed from high-quality, relevant videos on sites such as TED and YouTube
  43. Recordings – learning as-needed from high-quality, relevant recordings of presentations by business and organizational experts
  44. Team reflection – working with team members to find useful meaning in data about team performance
  45. Enterprise-wide reflection – working with co-workers across the organization to find useful meaning in data about organization performance
  46. Performance support tools - print or electronic tools, such as checklists, micro-lessons, and video demonstrations, used post-training to ensure on-going performance improvement
  47. Interactive performance support system (IPSS) – performance support tools that allow the user to interact with Web-based materials for the purpose of shaping the support being provided so that it’s just-in-time and just-enough
  48. Professional conferences – attending local, regional, national, and international meetings that have presentations of content relevant to one’s work; learning comes from reflecting on that content and discussing application with others
  49. Book groups – groups of employees meeting during the workday to discuss a book they have all read; they learn from the discussion about how it applies to their work
  50. Internal wiki – like Wikipedia, this is a company Web site where any employee can contribute content that might be helpful to every employee’s learning; this could include relevant books and videos, tools such as checklists, best practices, survey results, project results, etc.

I’m sure you can think of more ways to lever learning. What would you add to this list?



Can People Learn and Improve? Yes or No?

A culture, as I have written previously, is foundationally the beliefs, values, and artifacts of its people. A learning culture is an organizational culture in which beliefs, values, and artifacts support employee learning, In terms of beliefs, research is showing us that what people believe about the potential of themselves and others has a profound impact on organizations. Whether people have a fixed mind-set or a growth mind-set seems to make an important difference in their learning behavior.

In a July 8, 2008 blog post titled Fixed Mind-Set vs. Growth Mind-Set, I wrote:

Which would you rather have on your team: a high achiever who believes that people either have talent or they don’t, or a person who has a passion for learning and is willing to take risks, make mistakes, and learn from his/her mistakes? According to a July 7, 2008 article by Janet Rae-Dupree in NY Times, if you want to foster teamwork and creativity, you should choose the latter. The article describes the implications of the research of Stanford University Psychology Professor Carol Dweck.

In a post by Maria Popova titled, Fixed vs. Growth: The Two Basic Mindsets That Shape Our Lives, the work of Dweck, as reported in her new book, is described. Popova writes:

At the heart of what makes the “growth mindset” so winsome, Dweck found, is that it creates a Dweck book passion for learning rather than a hunger for approval. Its hallmark is the conviction that human qualities like intelligence and creativity, and even relational capacities like love and friendship, can be cultivated through effort and deliberate practice. Not only are people with this mindset not discouraged by failure, but they don’t actually see themselves as failing in those situations — they see themselves as learning.

Employees with a growth mindset define success as getting smarter, while employees with a fixed mindset define success as showing how smart they are. Popova goes on to say:

What it all comes down to is that a mindset is an interpretative process that tells us what is going on around us. In the fixed mindset, that process is scored by an internal monologue of constant judging and evaluation, using every piece of information as evidence either for or against such assessments as whether you’re a good person, whether your partner is selfish, or whether you are better than the person next to you. In a growth mindset, on the other hand, the internal monologue is not one of judgment but one of voracious appetite for learning, constantly seeking out the kind of input that you can metabolize into learning and constructive action.

Organizational leaders can talk about training, learning, and performance improvement all they want but unless they confront the underlying beliefs that are a barrier to learning, all of that activity will have little impact. Those with a fixed mindset do not develop themselves and do not support the development of others. They do not value training and other types of less formal learning opportunities because they don’t believe people can learn and change. They do not create and encourage learning experiences because they believe it’s a waste of time and resources.

Organizational leaders who believe that employees can learn and develop their abilities support training and other learning interventions. They provide opportunities for employees to learn and improve themselves. These growth-oriented leaders support the risk-taking, experimentation, and stretch assignments that result in more successful employees and successful organizations.



Four False Assumptions About Leadership Development

Deloitte has identified “leadership development” as a major challenge for HR leaders in 2015. However, the research group observes that HR leaders do not have the capability to meet this challenge. As I reported in my last post, Deloitte asked “…more than 3,300 business and HR leaders from 106 countries” to rate the importance of ten trends and their readiness to deal with these trends. From this study, they conclude:

Organizations around the world are struggling to strengthen their leadership pipelines, yet over the past year businesses fell further behind, particularly in their ability to develop Millennial leaders.

I don’t think that organizations are going to close this leadership gap until they confront four false assumptions about learning that are deeply embedded in their cultures.

  1. Once is enough – This is the belief that people can learn something as complex and ego threatening as leadership the first time they are exposed to the material. Sue Fry and David Grebow ask in their blog post, “Would anyone consider handing a Bach score and a cello to someone who played a little guitar and expect him to master it after two hour-long seminars and a demonstration video?” I don’t think so. Yet this is what we do to aspiring leaders. We put them through intense one-shot programs and expect them to become high performers.
  2. Experience is the best teacher - If that were true, I should be playing professional golf. Just because you are in a leadership role doesn’t mean you are an effective leader. Experience alone is not how we learn; we learn from reflecting on that experience, sharing those reflections with others (coaches, mentors, experts, etc.) and then applying that new found learning.
  3. Paint by numbers - It seems so simple: just follow the ten steps, nine principles, seven habits, six ways, or five truths. Unfortunately, the art of leadership can’t be reduced to a list of do’s and don’ts. To be a leader you need to do the hard work of practicing leading, getting feedback, and practicing more.
  4. Learn by osmosis - This is the belief that you can learn about leadership by being with other leaders. So we send high-potential leaders to a three-day meeting with other high-potential leaders in Las Vegas, or we have aspiring leaders meet together once a month to discuss leadership for a couple of hours, or we have them visit other organizations and interview their leaders. Each of these activities has value and might be fun for the participants, but if that’s all you do, you won’t develop leaders. This is not the way people develop new competencies.

As evidenced in the Deloitte study, the old models of developing leaders are not closing the gap between the current quality of leadership and the kind of leadership needed in high performing organizations. However, this gap can’t be closed until organizational leaders change their beliefs about training, learning, and performance improvement. The four assumptions described above are sustaining a “training culture” in organizations at a time when what is needed is a “learning culture”.





The Corporate Learning Gap

Each year Deloitte studies trends in human resource development. This past year, Deloitte asked “…more than 3,300 business and HR leaders from 106 countries” to rate the importance of ten trends and their readiness to deal with these trends. One major conclusion from this 2015 study is:

… more than 8 out of 10 (85 percent) respondents cited learning as “important” or “very important,”—up DeloitteGlobalTrends 21 percent from last year. Yet, in a troubling development, more companies than ever report they are unprepared to meet this challenge. The capability gap between the importance of the issue and the ability to respond grew in magnitude by an enormous 211 percent over the last 12 months (from -9 to -28).

While we should be cautious about over-interpreting this data (true of any survey), the comparison of findings with previous years does suggest that employee learning has become more of a concern to HR leaders and that they believe they are less able to respond to that need in their organizations. The investigators attribute this change from previous years to:

  • Increasing need for high performing employees, especially leaders
  • This talent cannot be recruited; it needs to be developed internally
  • Corporate training and development programs are not meeting this need
  • Many employees demand learning opportunities based in the latest technology
  • Organizational cultures don’t support employee engagement and learning

I think the risk is that companies will leap to technology solutions to improve learning without examining the barriers to performance improvement that exist within their own cultures. You can install the most sophisticated LMS, register employees for the best MOOCs, give them the latest mobile learning apps, and have them participate in fun and engaging online business games and simulations, all with no impact on organizational performance.

If your managers don’t encourage, support, and recognize learning, if your leaders don’t communicate the value of continuous learning and its application in the workplace, if the alignment between learning and achievement of performance goals is not clear to employees, then all the latest technology will make no difference. You need to ask yourself, “What is it about our organizational culture that is getting in the way of employee learning (and application of that learning) and what can we do to overcome those barriers?”



The Secret to Bold and Gutsy Leadership is Learning

I don’t know if John Baldoni intended his latest leadership book to be about learning, but that’s exactly what it is about. Through other leaders’ stories and through his own experiences, Baldoni describes what outstanding leaders learn in order to be effective. He has an acronym for it: MOXIE. Putting this in terms of learning, here’s how I would define the elements of MOXIE:

  • Mindfulness - learning deeply about yourself; becoming aware of what you value and what Moxie-3dmotivates you; reflecting on and learning from your own experiences
  • Opportunity - learning to recognize needs in your environment and how to develop solutions to those needs
  • X-Factor - discovering what makes you unique and your special contribution to the success of your organization
  • Innovation - developing the ability to embrace the new, to take risks, to learn from your successes and your failures, and to persevere
  • Engagement - creating opportunities for others to learn and contribute to the success of the organization

Having MOXIE is having the ability to continually learn from your own experiences, from your interactions with the people around you, and from attending to the present while keeping an eye on the future.  The great leaders, as Baldoni suggests in his book, are not about command and control, as the popular wisdom about leadership would have us believe, but, instead, are learners who continually take in information from their environment and then, with courage and conviction, shape their behavior to fit the circumstances.



Warren G. Bennis 1925 - 2014

Warren Bennis, who Bill George calls the "father of leadership", died this week after establishing a Warrenbennislegacy of research, writing, teaching, and advising that is unparalled in leadership studies. In the nature-nurture debate, he came out strongly on the side that says people can learn to become leaders. He writes in On Becoming a Leader:

Leaders wonder about everything, want to learn as much as they can, are willing to take risks, experiment, try new things. They do not worry about failure but embrace errors, knowing they will learn from them.

We can all learn to become better leaders by heeding the words that Bennis left behind.



Stealing Tools From the Masters

I had the good fortune to vacation in Spain the past few weeks. While in Barcelona, I took this photo in the Picasso Museum.


Banksy, the graffiti artist, engraved a large stone with a quote from Picasso and then crossed out Picasso's name and put his own. Both Picasso and Banksy were trying to say that one kind of creativity is presenting art in new and different ways. Picasso did this with his riffs on paintings by Velazquez and others. Banksy does this with his parodies of popular and commercial art.

It occurred to me that those of us who create tools for organizational learning and improvement also stand on the shoulders of the talented people who came before us. Kurt Lewin, Ronald Lippitt, Peter Drucker, Chris Argyris, Donald Schon, and many others, contributed the theories, tools, and techniques that are now part of every effective consultant's and trainer's storehouse. We have "stolen" their art out of respect and made it our own.



The Performance Management Myth

In an article for T+D titled, A Closer Look: Myths vs. Reality in Training, Pat Galagan presents a number of provocative challenges to popular assumptions about training and learning.  One of these “myths” that grabbed my attention is, “Performance management can be improved by installing the right software to manage performance data or changing the way people are rated.” Galagan writes that recent research suggests that the reality is, “Human nature plays a bigger role in performance management than any process or software.” This observation flies in the face of popular rating and ranking systems and software designed to track course completion and goal attainment.

Galagan references the writing of David Rock, author of Your Brain at Work. In an article for the Brain-image-picture-clipart-4NeuroLeadership Institute, Rock and co-authors present the case that the most important factor in improving performance is a person’s belief system. They write:

Research suggests that people’s beliefs about whether intelligence or talent is born or can be developed, dramatically impacts the success or failure of a whole performance management system.

Based on Carol Dweck’s work at Stanford, Rock and his co-authors say that employees can be divided into two groups: those who believe talent is “fixed” and those who believe people can develop their brains and abilities. The problem is that most performance management systems reinforce the belief that talent is fixed and that people can’t change and, therefore, fail to encourage development. These systems are used to monitor achievement of goals, not progress toward goals and not shifting goals, sending the message that the organization only cares about a static set of competencies.

I’ve written previously about the importance of creating a learning culture in organizations. Performance management systems that are based on the talent-is-fixed belief are a barrier to creating a learning culture. If Rock and his co-authors are right, employees are being discouraged from admitting failure and exposing their short-comings. That would be an admission that they don’t already have the talent, which, if talent is fixed, would mean that their future in the organization is limited.

This explains much of the resistance to learning and change that is evident in many organizations today. A fixed-talent mindset, expressed through the culture of the organization and demonstrated in the behavior of its leaders, prevents employees from taking steps to continuously improve themselves, their teams, and the organization as a whole.


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Do You Have a Learning Culture? (Part One)

The answer to this question is important because of theimpact culture has on an organization.  I like this quote attributed to Peter Drucker, “culture eats strategy for breakfast”. You can have the most elegant strategic plan, but if your organization’s beliefs and assumptions, values and guiding principles, workplace symbols and artifacts, and company lore are not consistent with that plan, not much will happen.

Culture used to be considered a byproduct of organizational life. Today, many companies are being quite intentional about culture. So, how do you know what kind of culture you have and, if you want GreatWallPicture1 to create a learning culture, how do you know when you have one? Dharmesh Shah, Founder and CTO at HubSpot, gives us a way to think about this. He writes, “The true nature of your company – and its culture – is determined by how you instinctively react.”

Taking a cue from Shah, here are some espoused values (not necessarily values in use) and instinctive reactions that indicate either the presence or absence of a learning culture.

The espoused value says, “We want all employees to develop their skills and abilities.”

An executive assistant asks her boss for permission to attend a series of workshops on financial management that is being offered by the company. She explains that this would help her understand the company better, be more helpful to him, and strengthen her career portfolio. Is the executive’s first reaction to say, “I appreciate your ambition, but I need you here right now. We can look at arranging something in the future. And, besides, I don't have the budget for that.” Or, is the executive’s first reaction to say, “I appreciate your ambition. That would be useful knowledge for you to have. Thanks for bringing this request to my attention. Let’s talk about how we can make that happen as soon as possible.” Both reactions are reasonable, but one is indicative of a learning culture and the other is not.

The espoused value says, “We learn from our mistakes.”

A project team member reluctantly admits to the team leader that due to some unforeseen factors their project will not come in on-time and within budget. Is the team leader’s first reaction to say, “I’m very disappointed in our team. Why weren’t these problems anticipated? Why wasn’t I told about this sooner?” Or, is the team leader’s first reaction to say, “Let’s get the team together and review what happened. I want us to learn from this experience so that we can do a better job of reaching our goals in the future.” Both reactions are reasonable, but one is indicative of a learning culture and the other is not.

The espoused value says, “We share information and have open and honest lines of communication.”

The R&D department of a company has produced several prototypes of an exciting new product that has the potential to become a blockbuster for the company. Manufacturing helped with the prototype but has not learned enough about it yet to move it into production. The Marketing Department is telling potential customers about the new product and the Sales Department is taking orders and promising delivery. Is the CEO’s first reaction to say, “We have to fast-track this product with Manufacturing so that we can fill orders and keep customers happy.” Or, is the CEO’s first reaction to say, “Let’s get all of the departments heads together and find out what each of them needs to know from each other in order to make a successful launch of the new product.” Both reactions are reasonable, but one is indicative of a learning culture and the other is not.

How would people in your organization instintively react to these situations? What other situations would help you determine if you have a learning culture in your organization?

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Agile Learner; Agile Leader

I have to admit that prior to hearing Elliott Masie talkabout “learning agility” last week at the virtual Human Captial Media Symposium for CLOs, the concept was not on my radar. However, aspiring to be agile myself (mentally and physically), I’m willing to learn something new and, maybe, discard some old notions about human development and leadership.

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

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

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

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

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

I would say that this kind of learning agility is most needed when leaders are under pressure to respond MP900406772 quickly and decisively. We know that when people are under stress they become less mindful, their perception of options becomes restricted, and they often make the most expedient and safest, rather than best, choice. Agile leaders are able to step back from these pressure situations, engage with others in a way that helps them see the range of possibilities, and make choices that are best for the organization.

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


Related articles

The Unexamined Leadership Program is Not Worth Doing
Tools of a Learning Organization
Future of Employee Learning

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Leader Learning Library

Online resources for leaders and wannabe leaders are quite extensive these days. We are witnessing the democratization of leadership, making the "servant leader" even more possible. Everyone can become a leader (as well as an effective follower) by learning about leadership when and where it is most convenient and applicable.

But it's not easy to find Web links that have been screened for quality and topics. Masters in Exemplary_site_for_leaders (2) Leadership has put together 100 Exemplary Sites for Future Leaders. And I have the honor of having my blog included in that list.

One of the very useful features of the list is the categorization of topics. These include:

  • Leadership Coaching
  • Team Building
  • Business Leadership
  • Women in Leadership
  • General Leadership

While Masters in Leadership has created an excellent resource, that has something for everybody, as with any best-of list, each of us can think of people and organizations that we would have included. For example, I would have selected the sites of Wally Bock and John Baldoni for a hundred-best list. I hope Masters in Leadership continues to monitor the sites on their list and remove and add links as these Web-based sources of information change over time.




When Did You Become A Leader?

I recently returned from a nine-day trip to Rwanda whereI teamed with two colleagues to train the ASYV Mural leadership team of Agahozo-Shalom Youth Village, a residential community for orphaned youth, in how to use evaluation to continuously improve their educational and personal development programs.

One of the first things we did with the staff was to ask them to share a story about when they discovered that they were leaders. This exercise, which had their enthusiastic participation, set the stage for our week of training and learning. We heard many inspirational stories. We heard stories about:

  • Feeling compelled to take action to right an injustice
  • Making a difference in other people’s lives and their communities
  • Being entrusted with leadership responsibilities by people who are highly respected
  • Taking a risk to fill a major leadership role and then succeeding
  • Having leadership thrust upon them and rising to the occasion
  • Being chosen by peers to be their leader

Interesting to me was that nobody mentioned a college course on leadership, a leadership training program, or leadership coaching. Their newly acquired awareness of their own leadership capabilities came from meeting challenges they faced in everyday life.

When did you first discover that you were a leader? Where were you? What were you doing? What happened that told you that you could lead others and be effective at it?


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Executive Coaches Talk About Coaching Effectiveness

I participated in a presentation on coaching at Zingerman’s Roadhouse inAnn Arbor, Michigan on September 21, 2012. My co-presentors were Rob Pasick and Barb Allushuski. We talked about the growth of executive coaching, the range of styles of coaching, the ups and downs of coaching, and how to evaluate coaching. See below:


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