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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.





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.



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



The Future of Education and Training in an Automated Workplace (Reprise)

It's a vexing question: As automation, robots, and AI do more of the work that people used to do, and do it better and safer in many cases, what will people be doing and how should we educate and train people for Alex-knight-199368-unsplash these new roles?

The Pew Research Center and Elon University address this question in a survey they did that resulted in responses from just over 1400 experts and highly interested individuals, selected because of their familiarity with the internet and its impact on work and education. They were asked what they think will happen to jobs and education over the next 10 years.

Claire Cain Miller, in her analysis of the survey report for the New York Times, concludes:

The logical response seems to be to educate people differently, so they’re prepared to work alongside the robots or do the jobs that machines can’t. But how to do that, and whether training can outpace automation, are open questions…People still need to learn skills, the respondents said, but they will do that continuously over their careers. In school, the most important thing they can learn is how to learn.

The authors of the report reduced the many lengthy responses to five major themes, presented in the summary below.


No doubt, the workplace now and over the next 10 years will require people to be continuous learners and to be more self-directed in what and how they learn. Methods of learning in schools, colleges, and in the workplace will continue to evolve and be more learner-centered. Proof of competency will become more important than evidence of educational completion. Companies will have to assume greater responsibility for employee learning in response to an ever-changing workplace. The danger is that people who can't adapt readily to change, who are not independent learners, or who are not a good fit with the new workplace culture, will be left out in the cold.

Photo by Alex Knight on Unsplash



Imagining Workplaces of Tomorrow: Managing Minds

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

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

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

  • Continuous learning, and learning fast, is key, even in the face of unprecedented change: managing tremendous amounts of information, creating new products and processes in response to global competition, using new apps to be more efficient and effective, and responding to the learning preferences of a multigenerational, diverse workforce.
  • Employees are hired because they are excited about learning and improving themselves. They have a history of taking responsibility for their own learning. They aren’t afraid to admit that they do not know something, and they willingly seek out the help they need to improve and become high performers.
  • The message from the CEO to new employees is that learning and self-development are highly valued. Continuous learning is expected from everyone in the organization, from senior leadership down. Incentives and public recognition reward those employees who seek out opportunities to enhance their competencies and increase their capability to contribute to the success of the organization.
  • Critical information is easily accessible on the go. Equipment operators can view safety information on their smartphones when and where they need it. Managers can download coaching advice prior to meeting with a direct report. Leaders can see a video on open-book management just before discussing it with their teams.
  • Managers meet every few weeks with their direct reports to discuss performance and learning goals. Employees report what they’ve been learning. Managers give employees constructive feedback, and together they decide how to achieve goals. Managers provide opportunities for employees to practice newly acquired skills and put into practice what they’ve been learning.
  • Team leaders ask for feedback on their leadership. They discuss their communication, delegation, coaching, team facilitation, and planning with team members. Team leaders are constantly improving the effectiveness of team meetings and modeling meeting management for team members. Together, they are learning how to facilitate and contribute to meetings that are engaging and productive.
  • Leaders of projects conduct an after-action review at the completion of each project. Project team members discuss what happened, how it happened, the results, how that compares with what the project was intended to accomplish, successes and failures, and what should be done differently in the future. Project managers and team members put these lessons learned into practice on their next projects.
  • Organization-wide strategic planning is seen as an opportunity for learning. Participants are asked to discuss the strengths and weaknesses of the planning process. Leaders and managers use that feedback to improve the organization’s strategic planning process, and this new process is standardized in the organization.
  • People start their workday with an attitude that can be described as fearless, looking forward to using their minds to contribute to the success and happiness of their organization.

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



Creating a Culture for Learning

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

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

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

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

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

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



Managing the Self-Directed Learner

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Manager Role

Learner Role

Have a growth mindset

Develop a growth mindset

Hire for ability and motivation to learn

Be actively learning how to learn

Help learners identify strengths and weaknesses

Identify personal strengths and weaknesses

Encourage employee learning

Learn continuously

Make it safe to learn

Take risks and learn from successes and failures

Create opportunities for people to learn individually and in groups

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

Make technology available to learners

Learn how to use technology to learn

Give feedback effectively

Receive feedback effectively

Co-create and co-curate information with learners

Co-create and co-curate information with their managers

Convey high expectations for learning

Strive to do their best and exceed expectations of managers

Recognize and reward learning

Use recognition and rewards to further learning

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

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

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

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

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



Push Training vs. Pull Learning

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


Push training is a siloed, top-down, management-driven approach that sends people to formal training events Minds-at-work-150where they receive nice-to-know information—as in, it will be nice to know someday. People are not connected to one another during or after the training event, and do not collaborate. The focus is on showing up (attendance), participating (raising your hand), and passing or failing (testing). If that sounds famil­iar, that’s because it’s school transposed onto the workplace. It is a static system created to control and manage hands.

In contrast, pull learning is a learner-driven, bottom-up approach that enables people to access the information they need when and where it is needed. People are able to collaborate and make the best use of the supporting technology that links them to one another and sources of information. The focus is on performance (what you can do), sharing knowledge that leads to better performance (collaborating), and provid­ing two-way feedback about the information that affects what others will learn (communicating).

Imagine people facing a new situation in which they require more instruction. Using the push model, no one is sure where to go to get the information they need. They attended a training program, but it did not cover all the possible situations they would encounter, and they have already forgotten most of the content. With pull learning, people can quickly and easily locate and access the most up-to-the-minute infor­mation in a variety of ways, when and where they need it. They can call a co-worker who has already learned what is needed, talk to an expert, or search an interactive site for the latest ideas from other people. The pull model of learning is performance-based. The focus is on what you can do when you need to get it done. 

Event-based learning On-demand learning
Delayed response to changing needs Immediate response
Knowing Doing
Instructor-centered Learner-centered
Delivery of programs Delivery of results
Top-down centralized Bottom-up decentralized

Replacing push training with pull learning is a transformative step toward supporting and sustaining a company. It is managing minds and placing a mission-critical value on learning. By taking a managing minds approach, a company can provide relevant, usable, and on-de­mand access to the knowledge and skills people need to perform their jobs. This includes technical, operational, and managerial knowledge and skills.

Corporations that make the commitment to manage minds and emphasize pull learning experience measurable, significant, and sustain­able increases in on-the-job performance, talent-retention, sales revenue, and innovation. They are more agile, and more able to respond instant­ly to the ever-changing requirements and demands of a fast-paced, hyper-competitive marketplace. Their employees can quickly access the technology and support to find what they need to know, when and where it is needed.



Command, but No Control Management

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

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

A command-and-control manager says:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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




Learning in a Managing Minds Company

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

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

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

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

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

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

Differences Between Managing Hands and Minds:

Managing Hands

Managing Minds











Rigid Roles

Fluid Roles



Not Curious










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

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



Why Management Needs to Change

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



Managing 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)



Managing for Success in the Knowledge Economy - The Podcast

The workplace is changing dramatically and managers need to change the way they manage people in order to keep up. Listen in on my conversation with David Grebow and Andi Simon as we explore these changes in work, management, and learning. We have moved from building things with our hands to using our minds to do our work. Today's "knowledge worker" is very different from the industrial worker of the past. It's no longer about what you can do with your hands; it's about what you can do with your mind. Therefore, managers have to help people develop their minds.

In the podcast, David says:

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

Many companies have taken the lead in learning new ways organize their work and to manage people. They are discovering what it takes to enable people to grow and perform at their peak, professionally and personally. In this podcast, you will hear all about what you can do to build your organization around today's knowledge workers. 

Stephen_Gill_and_David_Grebow_-_Edited (1)

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



L&D Professionals: From Trainer to Learning Coach

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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.



How to Hire an Agile Learner

How do you find agile learners, people who can curate information for themselves, use a wide variety of learning methods, and quickly apply new learning to their work? In our new book, Minds at Work: Managing for Success in the Knowledge Economy, we explain the importance of having self-directed, agile learners in our modern organizations.

Look for people who have humility, are curious, are excited about collaboration with others, and who 3D Carexpress 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 too 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 some questions to get you started in conducting a job interview to identify agile learners. Ask them:

  • 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?  Which kinds of employees do you think can continue to learn and develop competencies in an organization like this?
  • 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?
  • 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? What did you learn from that failure
  • In what areas do you need to improve? What goals do you have for your own growth?

New knowledge, new skills, new technologies, new customers, new business partners, new competitors, and new ways of working are coming at us so fast that we need to be continually learning and learning fast. This takes agility. It will be the agile learner that will be successful in our modern companies. We need those learners and we need work environments that support individuals taking responsibility for their own learning.



Search for the Agile Learner

Modern organizations need agile learners. Given the pace of change due to technology, globalization, workforce diversity, and hyper-competition, people need to continually acquire and apply new knowledge, skills, and values at a rate unheard of in previous eras. As we explain in our new book, Minds at Work: Managing for Success in the Knowledge Economy, simple and routine jobs are being replaced by automation Agility leio mclarenand robots. Even more complex tasks are beginning to be done my artificial intelligence (AI). Soon all workers will need to be smarter and more adaptable than ever. The most successful employees will be those who embrace the change and seek out learning when, where, and how they learn best. In other words, they must be agile learners.

As I wrote in a previous blog post, at least three definitions of learning agility are 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 life-long learners. 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 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.

This kind of learning agility is most needed when leaders are under pressure to respond 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.

Elliott Masie suggests a third definition of learning agility. This is the ability of people 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 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 performance of self, teams, and our organizations.



Short Course on Evaluation of Training and Learning in Knowledge Economy

LAD Global, in partnership with the Singapore Training and Development Association, has made my short course on evaluation of training and learning available for free online. I hope people involved in talent LAD course on evaluation development will find this course to be a helpful introduction to measuring the impact of all types of learning interventions, not only formal training.  

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”. 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. It doesn’t tell us why the program was the right solution in the first place, what was learned, why that learning is helpful or not helpful to participants and other stakeholders, what happens when participants apply the content in their organizations, what are the intended and unintended consequences, what can be done to ensure that the content is applied in a positive way in the future, what organizational factors beyond the training are affecting impact, and what difference, positive and negative, the training has contributed to achieving organizational goals. This is the kind of information we need if we want to increase the impact of our learning interventions.

Given this purpose, the course covers methods that can be used to measure and evaluate the process of learning in organizations. I summarize three major approaches to evaluation: Kirkpatrick’s four levels; Phillips’ ROI; and Brinkerhoff’s Success Case Method. And then I explain how to select the best method for the situation and how data (quantitative and qualitative) from any of these methods can be used to improve learning across an organization. If you take a look at the course, I welcome your feedback.

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.



Year In Review - 2017

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

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

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

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

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

Hire Learners for the Knowledge Economy – July 6, 2017

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

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

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

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

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



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.



Managing to Learn, Learning to Manage in the Knowledge Economy

BrainHarness the power of employees’ minds! Although many companies pay lip service to the idea that employees are their most valuable asset, they remain stuck in a 20th century mindset in which employees are a liability. In our new book, MINDS AT WORK: Managing for Success in The Knowledge Economy, David Grebow and I lay the foundation for companies to compete in the 21st century knowledge economy by focusing on the incredible potential of empowering and enabling people’s minds.

Companies whose roots lay in the industrial economy in which we used our hands to make things learned to “manage hands,” where success was often measured by the number of widgets that can be cranked out in a set amount of time. Most current management practices, principles and methods for learning were developed in response to the needs of that previous economy. In the knowledge economy, we are working with our mind to produce work, to transform data into information and then into useful knowledge. 

Change happens more rapidly than ever before, and companies need to be agile and responsive to be successful. They need to learn to “manage minds,” where success is measured by employees’ ability to continuously learn, collaborate, communicate and innovate. “There is no way to become the smartest company on the block if you continue managing hands in a world that demands managing minds,” we write. “You can’t solve 21st-century problems using 20th-century solutions.” Grebow adds, “The knowledge economy that caused these problems also contains the solution if you know where to look.”

Continuous learning, and enabling learning anytime and anywhere, is one of the most important attributes of a knowledge economy company. These are the three competencies that are necessary to move forward and successfully compete:

  • Learning independently - In a company that manages minds, managers need to enable people to quickly and easily find the information they need to grow professionally and personally, and people need to take responsibility for learning what they need to know, when and where it is needed. 
  • Learning interactively - Technology is an integral part of managing minds; people need to use the tools available today to learn, communicate and collaborate, and look for and be willing to adopt any new tools developed in the future.
  • Learning socially - Almost all learning in the most successful organizations is social; that is especially true in a company managing minds.  It makes sense for management to be intentional about creating opportunities for people to connect, to enable, and not disable sharing and collaborating.

MINDS AT WORK illustrates these concepts through real-world examples of companies that have made the transition from managing hands to managing minds. It’s not only about small companies and startups, but also large, multi-national conglomerates. AT&T for example is a large company trying to go through the transition. With the first transcontinental line, rotary phone, transatlantic phone service, mobile phone, automated switchboard, and transatlantic phone cable, AT&T was an icon of a company that managed hands. Those hands literally built a telecommunications industry. 

Today, AT&T’s competitors include not only Verizon and Sprint, but Amazon, Netflix, and Google. These new competitors are all about the new digital and cellular technology, and are hard at work employing the minds of the best and brightest in these new fields. The change for AT&T is profound. Copper wires, phone lines, and switching equipment are becoming obsolete, along with the related work skills.

Randall Stephenson, AT&T's chairman and chief executive, knew he had to reinvent the company to compete, to move rapidly from the earlier management model of managing hands to the new approach of managing minds. In 2014, he asked 280,000 employees worldwide to start a retraining program. He had no choice. According to Stephenson, “If we can’t do it, mark my words, [by 2020] we’ll be managing decline.”

Oberg Industries is another example of a large company that is making the transition. Oberg manufactures precision components and tooling from a variety of materials used by Fortune 500 companies and other manufacturers. As the company began to automate and sell into a global market. Donald E. Oberg, the company’s founder, realized that simply managing hands would no longer be effective as the company evolved. He began an apprenticeship program that has become a model for other manufacturing companies worldwide. The values of the program, which has trained more than 1,000 employees, are straightforward and simple: establish a culture of continuous learning for employees, and introduce new employees to the learning culture.

Oberg’s story illustrates the key to this or any major organizational change: it starts at the top. As we say, “The key to success for all knowledge economy companies is whether the company’s leaders, managers and employees can successfully make the shift from managing hands to managing minds.”