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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



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.



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.



Managers Need Empathy in the Digital Age

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



Email: Lost in Translation

Lost in the so-called "Email Scandal" surrounding Hillary Clinton's campaign for President is the fact that email is a terrible way to communicate anything other than names, dates, and times (just the facts!). Anything else can be easily misinterpreted. 

Farhad Manjoo addresses this problem with regard to the apparent hacking of Clinton campaign email and the taken-out-of-context message from Jennifer Palmieri, the campaign's communication director. In a New York Times column, Manjoo writes: 

...there’s something even more pernicious than weak security here. The deeper problem with email is that it has never quite settled on a social mode. An email can be as formal as a legal letter or as tossed off as drive-by insult. This invites confusion. For instance, in context, Ms. Palmieri’s “Take the money!!” doesn’t sound so bad — it looks like a quick, half-cheeky way to end an overlong discussion. If it were said on a phone call or an instant message, “Take the money” would have sounded like an entirely normal way to end the conversation.

In 2008, one of my blog posts addressed this email problem in business communication. I wrote:

Email appears to be replacing the telephone and even meetings (heaven forbid!) as the primary mode of communication, especially in global companies. This is causing miscommunication to be the norm Email rather than the exception. Non-verbal behavior is an essential element of face-to-face communication, but, obviously, totally absent in email communication. In her blog post “Why Email Humor Falls Flat (and What to Do About it), Jessica Stillman cited research reported in an article in Psychology Today that found that sarcasm and humor were communicated in email messages only about half the time. She concluded:

Email strips us of the smiles, widened eyes and posture signals that help us convey our meaning and mood, while leaving intact our conviction that we’re being perfectly clear.

One commenter to the blog post wrote:

As a manger of several extremely competent senior professionals on a virtual global team where email is the main mode of GTD, I spend more time managing the impact of email misunderstandings than any other single thing.

When email is the only mode of communication between two people, the danger of miscommunication is even more serious. In research conducted by Janice Nadler at Northwestern University, email negotiations between law students were much more likely to end in agreement when the negotiations were preceded by a getting-to-know-you telephone conversation. Without voice contact much is lost in building rapport, without which there is a tendency to make negative assumptions about what is in or not in email messages.

I find that even simple comments in email can be interpreted in many different ways by the receiver. Take for example the statement, “I think you handled that well.” The sender knows exactly what he means. You, on the other hand, can understand this in different ways depending on which word you put the accent and what meaning you attribute to that accent. If you put the emphasis on “I”, you might say to yourself that he thinks I handled the situation well but nobody else thinks so. If you put the emphasis on “think”, you might say to yourself that he’s not sure if I handled it well. If you put the emphasis on “you”, you might say to yourself that I handled it well but nobody else handled it well. If you put the emphasis on handled, you might think that he thinks I manipulated the situation for personal gain. If you put the emphasis on “that”, it might be interpreted as sarcasm. And if you put the emphasis on “well”, you might wonder if “well” is good enough. In face-to-face and phone communication you hear the word emphasis and tone of the statement.

This might sound like an extreme over-analysis of a short, innocuous sentence, but in the hurried, stressful environment of a workplace, this is the kind of instantaneous interpretation that occurs. And in a global environment, language and culture increase the likelihood of this kind of interpretation leading to miscommunication with possibly dire consequences.

The use of email as the principal mode of communication in business, government, and politics has increased since I wrote that post six years ago.  At the same time, hacking and Freedom of Information Act requests in the U.S. have exposed more and more private email to public scrutiny. I can only surmise that many people are being misunderstood and unfairly maligned because of this still popular way to send messages. 



The Changing World of Work

Microsoft and PopTech have created an eight part video series that describes how the world of work is changing, in both the company workplace and the global workplace.


The videos present these eight core themes:

  1. Digital technology and an abundance of information are causing profound changes in the way people work.
  2. To be competitive, companies are shifting from a focus on “efficiency of process” to a focus on “effectiveness of outcomes.”
  3. Companies are being more responsive to the decision-making and information needs of employees.
  4. Employees are more interconnected and, therefore, more interested in a collective response to business issues.
  5. Leaders are developing adaptive organizations that depend on collaboration and trust.
  6. Human contact matters; therefore, workplaces are being designed to increase collaboration.
  7. Workplaces are being designed to accommodate a wide variety of spaces that fit the range of workers’ needs.
  8. Automation is eliminating jobs but also providing an opportunity to create new, more creative jobs.

The 23 notable speakers in this video series emphasize that continuous learning must be a part of this new workplace that is local and global. They say that we don’t know what tomorrow will bring so we need to continually learn how to adapt to whatever comes at us and whatever we seek to change. And given this rapid transformation and increasingly networked world, adaptability is key.  Stanley McChrystal says it this way:

…when you combine the two, speed and interconnectedness, suddenly you have this unpredictability, so you don’t know what tomorrow will be like, you don’t know what next week, and you certainly don’t know next year is like…so you’ve got to have adaptability to respond to changing conditions so organically, it has to be in the DNA of the organization so that it doesn’t have to come from top down directives that says, “now we are going to produce a new version of this”. Instead, it allows the organization to learn, adjust, and adapt automatically. 



Stop Training Leaders and Start Developing Leadership

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

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

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


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

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


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Learning to Work in a Time of Digital Disruption

What will the workplace be like in an age of disruption? What will employees be doing and what will managers be doing when companies are going through digital transformation? These are important MP900438708questions for the many companies that are faced with dramatic technological change in the near future…or right now!

John Boudreau, in an HBR blog post, writes that “five fundamental forces” are driving change in the workplace:

  1. Shift from traditional hierarchies and social contracts to more flexible work arrangements and more project-based and collaborative work agreements
  2. Increasingly inclusive workforce with individualized work policies
  3. Increasingly virtual with work done anywhere and any time
  4. Continual adaptation to “rapid business reinvention”
  5. Acceptance of automation and creation of new work to support automation

This fifth force seems to be the one that is causing the others. Boudreau writes:

Robots, autonomous vehicles, commoditized sensors, artificial intelligence, and the Internet of Things reshape the work ecosystem so that flexible, distributed, and transient workforces adapt to rapid business reinvention.

As automation takes over more and more jobs, we tend to think in terms of how many people will be put out of work. But more helpful is thinking about how to use automation to create satisfying jobs and a workplace that is joyful.

This is how the Global Center for Digital Business Transformation describes the challenge:

In an age when technology seemingly reigns supreme, people remain a company’s greatest asset. Workforce management, however, is among the most vexing challenges facing any organization. It also presents one of the greatest opportunities. When properly channeled, the collective knowledge and skill of a workforce can drive the next multibillion-dollar market. After all, disruptive technologies and business models are fueled not by algorithms, but by people—innovating, collaborating, and taking bold chances.

The DBT Center says that this will require “digital business agility” and their research suggests that the underlying capabilities are:

  • Hyperawareness – ability to gather and analyze data from employees, contractors, customers, competitors, and the marketplace
  • Informed decision-making – ability to use the collective intelligence of the workforce to make good strategic and operational decisions for the organization
  • Fast execution – ability to act quickly to find the talent that is needed and get the right people on the team to achieve the strategic goals of the organization

Companies need to develop their capabilities for lasting change, not just a short-term reaction to disruption. Companies face obstacles to lasting change according to The Boston Consulting Group:

The biggest obstacle [to developing new capabilities], however, is that new capabilities call for fundamental changes in behaviors—the ways that employees, managers, and executives work on a daily basis. And behavioral change is hard. Without a systematic and explicit approach, companies can, at best, change these behaviors only superficially and temporarily. Once the transformation process is over and attention shifts to the next priority, employees can easily revert to their old ways of working, and the improvements of the transformation disappear.

The digital transformation confronting companies requires that they develop new capabilities. These new capabilities, if they are to be sustained, require that workers acquire new knowledge, skills, and beliefs, teams learn how to make good decisions and act quickly, and whole organizations learn how to use their collective intelligence to make good decisions in the face of profound transformation of their industries.

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Force Field Analysis of Organizational Learning

A force-field analysis helps us with a problem by modeling the factors that drive people toward achieving a particular change (i.e., learning) and the factors that block people from achieving that change. The table below lists forces that commonly drive learning in organizations and the factors that block learning in organizations.

Strategic Goals Limited Resources
Technology Lack of Leadership Support
Competition Work vs. Learning
Compliance Fear of Failure
Need for Agility Lack of Alignment
Hiring Low/Unclear Expectations
Retention Not Role of Managers
Creativity No Opportunity to Apply
Innovation No Accountability

The forces that drive individuals, teams, and whole organizations to learn and, therefore, improve performance, often include: shared commitment to achieving organization’s strategic goals; constant and rapid change brought on by adoption of new technologies; global and relentless competition from old and new players in the marketplace; government and industry regulatory requirements for quality, safety, security, and service; a need to be agile in response to internal and external pressure for change; attracting the right people, getting them in the right jobs, and keeping talent; and being creative and innovative with products and services.

The forces that block individuals, teams, and whole organizations from learning and, therefore, prevent improvement of performance, often include: a mistaken belief that there isn’t enough time, money, and energy for learning; leaders who do not communicate and model their support of learning; a mindset that working and learning are separate activities and that work is more valued; fear of not succeeding at something and, therefore, not taking any risks; not knowing how a learning intervention (training, coaching, etc.) will help the organization achieve its goals; not being clear about what needs to be learned and why; managers who do not involve themselves in the learning process; no opportunity to apply new learning in the workplace; and no accountability on the part of employees and managers for learning and performance improvement.

The usefulness of this force-field analysis of organizational learning is in stimulating action to add and enhance the factors that drive learning and stimulating action to eliminate and reduce the factors that block learning. What are the factors that drive and block learning in your organization? What can you do to increase the drivers and decrease the blockers?


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Organizations Don't Learn

The culture of most organizations prevents them from learning. And without learning they are destined to have disengaged employees, high turnover, low performance teams, unproductive workplaces, inadequate GreatWallPicture1 responses to competitive pressures, an inability to keep up with the pace of change, and an unsustainable business. They might survive, but without continuously acquiring new knowledge and skills, enhancing competencies, and adapting to a rapidly changing environment, they cannot perform at the highest level.

What prevents organizations from learning? Francesca Gino and Bradley Staats, in an article for HBR titled Why Organizations Don’t Learn, provide us with some answers. They write:

Why do companies struggle to become or remain “learning organizations”? Through research conducted over the past decade across a wide range of industries, we have drawn this conclusion: Biases cause people to focus too much on success, take action too quickly, try too hard to fit in, and depend too much on experts.

The authors argue that organizational learning depends on overcoming these biases. Companies should embrace failure. They must see failure as a growth opportunity. Companies should take time to slow down and reflect on their actions and learn from that reflection. Companies should respect non-conforming behavior that might result in creative solutions to problems. Companies should give employees opportunities to apply their strengths and learn from each other.

In summary, they say:

It may be cheaper and easier in the short run to ignore failures, schedule work so that there’s no time for reflection, require compliance with organizational norms, and turn to experts for quick solutions. But these short-term approaches will limit the organization’s ability to learn.

I would add a few more barriers to organizational learn. One is that leaders tend to desperately seek control. Leaders use short-term, simple solutions, as well as policies, rules, and norms, out of fear that they will lose command of the situation. This discourages risk-taking. A leader who is self-confident, trusting, and has a growth mindset, will put learning ahead of control and will encourage risk-taking for the sake of learning.

Another barrier to learning is the work-learning dichotomy that is drilled into people at a very young age. Work is what your parents leave home to do someplace else; learning is what you do in school. This mindset is reinforced in college and in the workplace. When jobs and knowledge changed very slowly, this distinction made sense. Today, workers need to be continually learning and improving their performance. Work and learning have merged and it no longer makes sense to separate these activities.

Still another barrier to learning is the training culture of most organizations. This is an environment in which training is seen as the solution to any deficiency in performance, whether individual, team, or whole organization. Rather than accept responsibility for employee learning, managers assume that a training department, or a CLO, or HR will solve the problem by offering a training program that addresses the issue. A course on leadership, a workshop on listening skills, a seminar on ethics, or an elearning module on the latest project management software. Participation in training is considered a proxy for learning when we know that learning requires so much more.                                                                                                                                                                                 

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2015 - Year of the Learning Culture

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

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

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



50 Ways to Lever Learning

(My apologies to Paul Simon.)

In a learning culture, formal training is just one of many methods used to facilitate employee learning. In a learning culture, we start with the performance goal and then select the mix of methods that will help employees acquire and retain the knowledge, skills, attitudes, and beliefs they need in order to achieve those goals. This is a list of 50 of those methods. The first 25 are primarily instructor-directed; the second 25 are primarily learner-directed.

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

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



PwC Canada Strives for a Learning Culture

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

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

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

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

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

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



Learning to Change Culture

The culture-change bandwagon appears to be off and running at a fast pace. Companies are jumping on because they are desperate to compete, create new services, and get products to market faster. They Bandwagon have automated the simple and routine tasks and now they want to be more productive with a smaller workforce.

My fear is that in the rush to change they will overlook the hard work of preparing and supporting employees through the transition. Announcing a new, maybe better, way of doing things is the easy part. Helping people learn how to work in the new system is the challenge.

Zappos, the billion dollar online retail shoe company has implemented “Holacracy”, an anti-bureaucracy culture that eliminates managers and shifts responsibility for leadership and results to every employee. CEO Tony Hseih's intent is to enhance employee engagement and be more creative, innovative, and productive. Employees will have to learn to function without managers, to take responsibility, to take initiative, to learn from successes and failures, and to be innovative.

Accenture, a 330,000 person global management consulting, technology services and outsourcing company, is changing its culture dramatically by eliminating annual performance reviews and its employee ranking system. Instead, managers will provide ongoing feedback to employees based on their assignments. This change has come about because CEO Pierre Nanterme believes that employees need timely, day-to-day feedback in order to improve performance. In this new culture, managers will have to learn how to give timely and helpful feedback, employees will have to learn how to make use of that feedback, and everyone will have to learn to communicate effectively and build trust.

Seattle Seahawks, a very successful professional football franchise, might be the last place you would expect to find a culture change. But the traditional confines of macho my-way-or-the-highway leadership has been transformed into “…a learning-based organization that is hungry to figure out the challenges of expressing human potential.” Of course, it helps to have a “relentlessly positive” coach in Pete Carroll who encourages players to express themselves and who listens to his players and staff. Players and staff have to learn how to effectively express themselves, how to stay positive like their coach, and how to support each other.

There have always been maverick leaders of small companies who have experimented with a different kind of organizational structure. What we are seeing now are mainstream companies of varying size and purpose saying that they want their organizational culture to be aligned with their values and strategic goals. This is not an easy change for employees whose only experience has been bureaucratic, command-and-control, demeaning work environments. They have much to learn in order to fit in and support these alternative workplace cultures.



Performance Management and Alignment of Values

AlignmentA number of large companies are confronting (willingly and unwillingly) the issues around their own performance management and making some hard choices to try to improve performance by changing workplace culture. They are faced with tradeoffs between what they aspire to be as an organization and what has evolved from the intended and unintended pressures they put on their employees.

Amazon founder and CEO Jeff Bezos’ response to recent New York Times articles about work-life in the company, exposes a lack of alignment between the kind of organization that Bezos espouses and the organization that actually exists for many workers.

Brad Federman summarizes the charges against the Amazon culture in this way:

Shocking workloads, memorizing leadership principles, laminated cards describing the culture, quizzes on the culture and rewards for perfect scores, pushed to play devil’s advocate, late nights, sabotaging others careers, mechanisms to secretively provide feedback on other employees, significant turnover valued, high risk/high reward, attractive stock options, lack of concern for people with health issues or personal crisis, practiced use of counselling out, purposeful Darwinism, a.k.a Amazon.

Bezos, on the other hand, wrote in an email to his employees this week that he expects them to show empathy for the problems of their coworkers and “…hopefully, you’re having fun working with a bunch of brilliant teammates, helping invent the future, and laughing along the way.”  Apparently, Bezos thinks that Amazon is a happy, collaborative culture. This isn’t what many employees are reporting.

Zappos CEO Tony Hseih is adapting Holacracy to his organization in order to increase employee involvement and commitment. Theoretically, this structure is leaderless and depends on self-management. Zappos (owned by Amazon) also faces a cultural alignment challenge. I wrote about this in a previous post:

I do wonder about an apparent disconnect between the intention to create a company in which there are no managers and self-management and self-organization are highly valued, yet the decision to become that kind of company was decided by the CEO and is being enforced as if the company is still hierarchical and command and control. Zappo’s might aspire to be leaderless, but that will be very hard to achieve for a company in which the charismatic founder and inspirational leader is still around and the parent company is a much more traditional organization.  

Cultural change is a struggle, especially when espoused values do not align with values in use. Leaders can aspire to a humane, egalitarian workplace but if the incentives are elsewhere, employees will behave in response to the incentives. If managers are rewarded (pay, promotion, recognition, etc.) for the amount of work they do and the amount of time they spend at work, they will do all the things they need to do to look busy and productive. And they will expect the same of their direct reports. If managers are rewarded for treating their employees humanely and for involving them in decision-making, that’s what employees will do for each other. There must be alignment.

Some companies are working hard at alignment. Accenture is eliminating annual performance reviews and ranking of employees. Instead, managers are expected to provide ongoing feedback to their direct reports. CEO Pierre Nanterme became convinced that annual performance reviews and rankings were not improving performance. He believes that what improves performance is just-in-time feedback around everyday work activities. He wants employees to learn and grow and is trying to align the performance management system with those values.

Business leaders need to pay more attention to workplace culture. These days, the competition is fierce and the expectations of customers are high.  Espoused values need to be aligned with values in use if they are going to have a chance to achieve the level of productivity, creativity, and innovation needed to compete and succeed over the long term.


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Performance Management at Deloitte

Kudos to Deloitte for making a concerted effort to develop a fair, efficient, and useful performance management system for its 65,000 employees. In a blog post for Harvard Business Review titled Reinventing Performance Management, Marcus Buckingham and Ashley Goodall describe Deloitte’s evolving system. They write:

This is where we are today: We’ve defined three objectives at the root of performance management—to recognize, see, and fuel performance. We have three interlocking rituals to support them—the annual compensation decision, the quarterly or per-project performance snapshot, and the weekly check-in. And we’ve shifted from a batched focus on the past to a continual focus on the future, through regular evaluations and frequent check-ins. 

To me, the key to their performance improvement will be the weekly check-in. This is where team leaders talk to team members about past performance, goals for future performance, and what can be done to be successful. This conversation, as I have written in a previous post, is an essential aspect of any leader’s role. As the authors say, “…check-ins are not in addition to the work of a team leader; they are the work of a team leader.”

Also, Deloitte has designed a potentially efficient way to measure performance over time. They intend to ask team leaders four questions at the end of each project or at least once a quarter. The questions are:

1. Given what I know of this person’s performance, and if it were my money, I would award this person the highest possible compensation increase and bonus [measures overall performance and unique value to the organization on a five-point scale from “strongly agree” to “strongly disagree”].

2. Given what I know of this person’s performance, I would always want him or her on my team [measures ability to work well with others on the same five-point scale].

3. This person is at risk for low performance [identifies problems that might harm the customer or the team on a yes-or-no basis].

4. This person is ready for promotion today [measures potential on a yes-or-no basis].

It remains to be seen whether these questions will “fuel” performance in the long-run. Given research that shows manager ratings of employees are more about the person doing the rating than the person Rating-24184__180being rated, Deloitte is trying to make the ratings more objective. However, it still requires rating by managers who are affected by their own attitudes and biases. If this process results in more conversation between team leaders and team members about learning and improving performance, then it will have served its purpose.

What concerns me most about Deloitte’s new performance management system is the apparent lack of alignment between wanting to be strength-based and using variable compensation. A system that rewards the performance of some and not others can be a disincentive for learning and performance improvement. In a strength-based system, everyone is recognized for what they contribute and for what they can become. A variable compensation system is a good way to control behavior but not necessarily a good way to encourage learning and improvement.

I want to be clear. I admire Deloitte’s intent and the willingness to experiment and use evidence to improve their performance management system and I am very curious to hear about results and impact on the organization. My concern is that the recognition and reward aspects of the system will negate the learning that can be achieved from leader feedback aspects of the system. We’ll see.

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Colleges Need a Learning Culture

The academy faces extinction unless it learns how to learn. Like the dinosaurs, the amazing thing about higher education institutions is not extinction but that they lasted so long. The ivory tower is only now beginning to crumble after nearly 200 years.

Higher Education institutions have resisted change, and for good reason. Their reputation and rewards have come from keeping traditions, maintaining academic disciplines, supporting an insular campus environment, and hiring people exactly like themselves. Faculty, students, and employers depend on degree programs and course offerings that look the same from year to year.

Some exceptions exist but these institutions have only tinkered around the edges change: shortening or lengthening academic terms; eliminating grades and tests; creating interdisciplinary programs; giving credit for life experience; or adding online courses and degrees. Those are relatively modest improvements to a system that is fundamentally the same as a nineteenth century German education.

Now, like many for-profit and non-profit organizations, colleges and universities are facing extraordinary pressure from competition that is global, well-funded, and very attractive to learners of all ages. In order to compete with these “schools”, change at the margins will not be enough; colleges and universities need transformation.

In their recently published book, titled Leading Innovation and Change
Larry Smith and Al Blixt write:

The forces of change are multidirectional and inescapable, especially if you are in a leadership position. An increasingly complex, digital, and diverse world is emerging. It is a world that is shaking Innovations_cover_final_web__medium the foundations, values, guiding principles, mores, and customs as well as the very existence of many institutions of higher learning. New subjects are being taught in new ways to new types of students. Funding is shrinking, and accountability is becoming relentless. New technologies have altered the workplace, and there are increased demands for change in how student affairs professionals prepare students for post-college success. In this new world, those who adapt to new realities will survive and thrive. Those institutions that endure may look very different from the ones we have known.

In a chapter I wrote for this book, I argue that the future success of colleges and universities must come from creating a learning culture. I call into question the notion that colleges and universities are, by virtue of being educational institutions, bastions of organizational learning. They know how to teach but they don’t necessarily know how to learn as organizations.

To be successful in the years ahead, these institutions need to learn how to continually improve, innovate, and compete for students, resources, inventions, and ideas.  They need to continually adapt to a rapidly changing global educational environment. They need to continually learn how to incorporate new technology into teaching, research, and administration. They need to develop capabilities in leadership, teamwork, decision-making, and communication. They need to learn how to plan for an unknown future. All of this will require breaching the barriers of academic tradition and creating a new organizational culture. 



Employee Learning Should Be About Change, Not Continuity

In their post titled, There’s No Such Thing as Corporate DNA, Hans-Paul Bürkner, Vincent Chin, and Ranu Dayal challenge the popular notion that successful organizations have unchanging values and set ways of doing things that are passed on from one generation of employees to the next. It is common for ID-10061975companies to say that their mission and values are in their DNA. This used to sound good from a marketing perspective but makes no sense today. The authors make the case that organizations should no longer claim stability, that constancy in this era of rapid change is not a virtue. They argue that the sustainability of a company is built on change, not continuity.

They write:

In our globalizing world, market shares are shifting fast. Companies that were hardly known ten years ago—often, but not always, from emerging markets—have become not only global challengers but also market leaders in their own right. And once-great companies have slumped, disappearing either into bankruptcy or into the hands of successful rivals. Why? Because for too long, old stalwarts have clung to their company’s so-called DNA when radical change—evolution with a capital “R”—was called for. They tried to protect their heritage when new approaches were required. They emphasized continuity when discontinuity was necessary.

Examples abound. Apple, Ford Motor, and GE have made dramatic pivots on their march from success to success. Companies like Radio Shack, Blackberry, Bethlehem Steel, United States Postal Service, and Sears have faltered badly because, in part, they desperately stayed the course. Colleges and universities cling to their academic traditions at all cost and hospitals adhere to the medical model in the face of stiff economic, political, and social pressure to change. All of these organizations behave as if organizational DNA is determining their future.

Same can be said for employee learning. Companies act as if formal training programs are in the genes of the organization. They seem to believe that having courses, workshops, and seminars that pass on the values and norms dating back to company founders, is pre-determined. This traditional training culture perpetuates stability and consistency at the expense of innovation and change. This event-based, just-in-case, buns-on-seats approach to learning does not give employees the learning agility they need to respond to new information, new technology, new goals, and new competitors.

What is needed in this fast-paced, global, high tech environment is less reliance on formal training programs and more emphasis on just-in-time learning, learning from experience, and co-creation of knowledge. People need to learn what they need to know when and where they need it. They need to learn from the successes and failures of their teams. They need to learn how to learn from each other. Organizations need to learn fast and learn how to change fast. They need a learning culture!

Image courtesy of jscreationzs at



Training Culture vs. Learning Culture

What’s the difference between a “training culture” and a “learning culture”? The answer is, “A great deal.” As the chart shows, in a training culture, responsibility for employee learning resides with instructors and training managers. In that kind of culture the assumption is that trainers (under the direction of a CLO) drive learning. Whereas in a learning culture, responsibility for learning resides with each employee and each team. In that kind of culture, employees are expected to seek out the knowledge and skills they need, when and where that knowledge and those skills are needed.

In a training culture, the assumption is that the most important learning happens in events, such Training Culture vs Learning Culture graphic as workshops, courses, elearning programs, and conferences. In a learning culture, it’s assumed that learning happens all the time, at events but also on-the-job, through coaches and mentors, from action-learning, from smartphones and tablets, socially, and from experiments.

In a training culture, the training and development function is centralized. The CLO, or HR, or a training department controls the resources for learning. Employees and their managers assume that if new competencies are needed, they should rely on this centralized function. In a learning culture, everyone is responsible for learning.  The entire organization is engaged in facilitating and supporting learning, in the workplace and outside the workplace.

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

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