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Year in Review in Learning - 2018

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

1) This Is What I Believe About Learning in Organizations

I wrote:

The Purpose of Business is Learning

Yes, the purpose of business is to make a profit, retain customers, be sustainable, satisfy shareholders, and, for some, make a difference in the community. But none of this is possible without learning. At its core, any high performing organization is about learning; continually using new information to become smarter, better, and more effective.

This post was selected by Jane Hart for her 30 Favorite Blog Posts and Articles of 2018. She published the list in her magazine, Modern Workplace Learning Magazine, under the title, “Jane Hart’s Pick of the Year”.

2) This Is What I Believe About Learning in Organizations

eLearningLearning featured another part of this post. eLearningLearning wrote: …let's revisit @sjgill's fascinating dive into the realities of modern #corporatetraining, and the essential nature of a #learningculture.

I wrote:

Work is No Longer Work. The nature of work is changing. This world is one in which humans no longer make things or fix things or sell things or provide basic services. Work has become mind-intensive instead of hand-intensive.

3) Learning in a Managing Minds Company

This post was selected for the “2018 eLearning Learning MVP Awards”. The post is a selection from our new book, Minds at Work. We wrote:

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.

Badge-elearning-small

 

 

 

4) Managing for Success in the Knowledge Economy – The Podcast

Listen to my conversation with David Grebow and Andi Simon as we explore changes in work, management, and learning. In the podcast, David says:

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

Podcast: Stephen_Gill_and_David_Grebow_-_Edited (1)

 

5) Short Course on Evaluation of Training and Learning in Knowledge Economy

I was asked by LAD Global, in partnership with the Singapore Training and Development Association, to make a short course on evaluation of training and learning available online, for free. This blog post announces the course and provides the links.

I explain the purpose of the course:

My emphasis in this course is on using measurement and evaluation for learning. Much of evaluation in organizations today is still focused on formal training programs and limited to Kirkpatrick’s “level one”. LAD course on evaluation In other words, L&D professionals are using “smile sheets” that measure immediate reaction to classroom instruction, collected at the end of training. Of course, we all are curious about what participants think of our programs and us as trainers. Great to know for marketing purposes…But this information is not particularly helpful to the organization.

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This Is What I Believe About Learning in Organizations

Work is No Longer Work 

The nature of work is changing. This world is one in which humans no longer make things or fix things or sell things or provide basic services. Work has become mind-intensive instead of hand-intensive. People are no longer being judged on the basis of how hard they work or how much they produce. Work is no longer about simply doing a job; it’s about becoming adapting to new jobs, new technology, new ways of
working with others, and anticipating the unanticipated. Automation, robotics, and AI are eliminating Brxxto-495156-unsplash tasks that had been mundane, routine, monotonous, and, in some cases, dangerous. Now tasks done by humans are being enhanced by the Internet, providing the collective knowledge of the world at their fingertips. This is a future in which workers are smarter, more agile, and more innovative. The skilled worker today wants a different kind of experience. People realize they need interpersonal skills, creativity, reasoning, and empathy. As globalization increases and communities become more diverse, the competitive advantage of any organization will be its collective knowledge and its expanded expertise. In the past, people tolerated poor work conditions and didn’t expect much from their leaders, but now people want to be treated fairly and respected for their contributions. People want meaningfulness and joyful workplaces.  For all of these reasons, the fundamental nature of work is being transformed. 

 

The Purpose of Business is Learning

Yes, the purpose of business is to make a profit, retain customers, be sustainable, satisfy shareholders, and, for some, make a difference in the community. But none of this is possible without learning. At its core, any high performing organization is about learning; continually using new information to become smarter, better, and more effective. Every industry is faced with disruption, whether it is aviation, health care, manufacturing, mobility, hospitality, retail, education, philanthropy, etc. To survive and thrive today, industries need innovation which is essentially about learning. Innovation is how to use products and services in new ways that rapidly respond to changing market demands and create new products and services. Companies must learn more deeply about their customers and markets. They must learn how to build an organization that becomes increasingly effective in achieving its goals, learn how to use new technology to improve efficiency and safety, and learn how to compete with every new technological and competitive threat. Whether learning how to operate a machine, learning how to make decisions in a team, learning how to function more effectively as an organization, the organization must learn continuously to adapt for success.

 

Training Is Not Learning

Training is not and never has been enough. Organizations waste billions of dollars per year on training. Data indicates that less than 20% of participants apply learning from formal training programs. Unfortunately, companies continue to spend most of their employee development budget and most of their time and effort on training programs and systems tracking training activities. Companies continue to emphasize training with little payoff while these programs are more costly and less effective than other kinds of learning interventions. We know that people learn most from their co-workers and from on-the-job experience, yet we invest the most in formal, training programs. Consider the alternatives: just-in-time e-learning (desktop and mobile), coaching, mentoring, simulations, on-demand video, and experiential-learning. And in some situations people might learn best from the workflow, through action-learning conversations, through self-directed experiences, or from apprentice and internship assignments. Traditional, formal training programs are often almost never the best solution to a performance deficit.

 

Manager’s Role is People

The biggest barrier to learning in organizations are the beliefs and attitudes of managers and leaders. If they have a fixed mindset, people are not likely to learn. And if they are not invested in people succeeding, if they worry that they will be “found out”, if they come to work in fear, then managers will prevent other people from learning. Managers are the catalysts and gatekeepers to learning, so if they don’t open that gate, employees will not have access to knowledge. To be effective gatekeepers, managers MUST set expectations for learning, show people how to learn, provide opportunities for learning in the workplace, structure opportunities for application of learning, and communicate feedback for improvement. Managers are key to employee engagement and retention. Managers must be committed to developing people and, in particular, growing future leaders. Managers must learn how to learn and help employees learn how to learn. Learning is always about managers creating an environment of openness and trust among relationships. The most important role of a manager (and leader) is the learning and development of its employees.

 

It’s the Culture

Learning is not the result of a program; it is ingrained in the culture of an organization. A learning culture is expressed in the assumptions, values, environment, and behaviors of the organization. To learn, people must have a growth mindset. Learning must be valued and advocated throughout the organization. Learning must be reflected in the routines and rituals of employees. The physical setting must create an environment that supports learning. Asking questions, giving feedback, and encouraging debate and alternate viewpoints, must be the routine activity of the organization. This is even more powerful when its leaders and managers ask questions, listen deeply, and follow-up with action. Sharing successes and failures are done openly and without disapproval. Employees tell stories to draw lessons and learn from their experiences. Action-learning is essentially part of how people do their work. Managers encourage their direct reports to acquire new knowledge and skills and apply that learning throughout the organization. They advocate for collaboration in teams that promote psychological safety. The work environment is one of respect and trust and transparency. People do not feel harassed, teased, and bullied. They are not ignored and marginalized.  Importantly, people are deeply listened to each other. Feedback is considered an opportunity to develop and grow; an occasion for learning. A learning culture is all of this and more. An organization that is creating and maintaining a learning culture, is truly ready to compete in the world today!

Photo by Brxxto on Unsplash

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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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Reprise: Training Will Not Eliminate Racist Behavior in Starbucks

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photo by Clem Onojeghuo on Unsplash

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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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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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Sexism and Harassment Are Rampant in the Workplace

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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L&D Professionals: From Trainer to Learning Coach

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Managing Minds in the Workplace While Big Brother is Watching

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Training Isn't the Answer

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Independent Learner in the Knowledge Economy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Business Leaders don’t really Value People

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

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

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

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

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

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

But the Tangibility biased are wrong!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Managing Minds, not Hands

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Reprise: Managing Minds, Winning Hearts

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The Future of Work and the Workforce

In the latest issue of Deloitte Review, authors John Hagel, Jeff Schwartz, and Josh Bersin describe the forces, based on research and their own experience, that are shaping the future of work and the workforce. 2000 mind workers The forces they identify are technology (e.g., robotics, artificial intelligence, and sensors), demographic diversity, and customer empowerment. They believe that these forces will change every job and transform the workforce and that success in this new environment will depend on lifelong learning.

They write:

In the new landscape of work, personal success will largely depend on accelerating learning throughout one’s lifetime. As a lifelong learning imperative takes hold, we see individuals increasingly focusing on participation in small but diverse workgroups that can amplify learning. Workers will need to take action on their own to enhance their potential for success, but the impact of their efforts will be significantly influenced by the willingness and ability of the other two constituencies—businesses and public institutions— to evolve in ways aligned with the shifting nature of work.

David Grebow and I couldn’t agree more. Our book, Minds at Work: Managing for Success in the Knowledge Economy, due out later this year, describes what companies are doing to support lifelong and self-directed learning in the workplace. We believe that the key to success is involvement of leaders and managers in facilitating continuous learning by everyone. As the Deloitte Review authors suggest:

Organizations will need to cultivate new leadership and management approaches that can help build powerful learning cultures and motivate workers to go beyond their comfort zone. Indeed, leadership styles must shift from more authoritarian—appropriate for stable work environments shaped by routine, well-defined tasks and goals—to collaborative. In the future of work, we expect that the strongest leaders will be those who can frame the most inspiring and high-impact questions and motivate and manage teams.

Easier said than done. Organizations need to learn how to build a learning culture and individuals and teams need to learn how to learn continuously.

Our definition of a “learning culture” is a work environment that supports and encourages the continuous and collective discovery, sharing, and application of knowledge and skills at the individual, team, and whole organization levels in order to achieve the goals of the organization.  A learning culture is a culture of inquiry; an environment in which employees feel safe challenging the status quo and taking risks to enhance the quality of what they do for customers, themselves, shareholders and other stakeholders. A learning culture is an environment in which learning how to learn is valued and accepted. In a learning culture, the pursuit of learning is woven into the fabric of organizational life.

If this is the kind of culture necessary in “the new landscape of work” that Hagel, Schwartz, and Bersin argue for, then a huge gap exists between where companies are today and where they need to be in the future. Command-and-control leaders need to accept that they must change and then they need to commit to learning how to lead in a collaborative work environment. And managers need to learn how to help workers acquire new knowledge and apply new skills in this collaborative work environment. This transition will take time, patience and perseverance. We should not assume that people already have the understanding and abilities to make this change.

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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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New Corporate Structure for New Economy

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

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

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

Wordpress

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

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

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

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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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