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If You're Not Learning...

[Note: I apologize to my readers for failing to post on this blog for the past two months. I have been dealing with a health challenge that diverted my attention from professional activities. Now I'm back and hope I will be able to continue writing about learning and management.] 

According to LinkedIn’s 2018 Workplace Learning Report, “The #1 reason employees say they are not engaging in workplace learning is because they don't have the time.” I think this excuse is a red herring. If learning is made a part of work, time is not a barrier to learning. Learning is the work.

Acquiring new knowledge and skills is not a matter of time; it’s a matter of how we think about learning. If we continue to think of learning as something added, extra, and supplemental, people will never learn at the urgency, speed, and quality that is required today.

The nature of work, and therefore what people need to learn, is changing dramatically on a daily basis. As we wrote in our new book, “Minds at Work: Managing for Success in the Knowledge Economy,”:

…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 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.

Dan Pontefract, in a blog post for Forbes, suggests ways in which people can find the time they need for learning. His “Pervasive Learning” model is offered as a way to think about the many, efficient methods of learning that, if done well, add very little time to the workday.
PervasiveLearningO

Organizational leaders need to realize that learning is their business, not tangential to the business. As many leaders have said, “learning faster than our competitors is our only competitive advantage today.” Being rich in resources no longer puts a business at an advantage. Only learning puts one company at an advantage over others.

Because of digital technology, anyone (literally!) can be a competitor overnight and any business, from retail to social services, can lose their market share overnight. The only thing that distinguishes successful, sustainable organizations from failures is continually learning what works and what doesn’t, what customers want and what they don’t, how to be faster with greater quality, how to function more effectively as an organization, and how to prepare for the future. Without learning, none of this happens.

Learning must be embedded in the workflow. For example, a machine operator can learn how to operate effectively and safely as well as maintain and fix problems directly from a smart machine. A team leader can learn team building from action learning. They are learning by reflecting on a team’s actions with the other participants and observers. An organization can learn how to develop new disruptive products by engaging in design learning. In these examples, learning doesn’t take more time; learning is the work that the company does.

To make this shift in mindset, organizations need managers who stop thinking about learning as something we do if we have the time. Hire managers who have made this shift in thinking about learning, who are good at developing the people around them, who are constantly thinking about ways to learn faster and better than their competitors. Support this role through messages, the organization’s recognition and reward system, and how the organization evaluates success.

No better example of this transformation is Ford Motor Company, a Detroit-based, 115 year old, conventional manufacturing business that now realizes it must be more agile and responsive to dramatic changes occurring in the mobility market. Ford is building a co-working space within the $350 million dollar rehabilitation of an old Detroit train station. The intent is to learn from creating an environment, modeled after Silicon Valley spaces, that encourages employee innovation. Ford Motor is taking a risky step toward changing the working culture but knows that they must to stay viable and competitive in the future.

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This Is What I Believe About Learning in Organizations

Work is No Longer Work 

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

 

The Purpose of Business is Learning

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

 

Training Is Not Learning

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

 

Manager’s Role is People

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

 

It’s the Culture

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

Photo by Brxxto on Unsplash

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Reprise: Training Will Not Eliminate Racist Behavior in Starbucks

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photo by Clem Onojeghuo on Unsplash

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Training Will Not Eliminate Racist Behavior In Starbucks

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photo by Clem Onojeghuo on Unsplash

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Managing Hands or Managing Minds, It's Your Decision

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

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

Minds at work infographic-jpg (002)

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Closing the Job-Skills Gap

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Independent Learner in the Knowledge Economy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Managing to Learn, Learning to Manage in the Knowledge Economy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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R-E-S-P-E-C-T: Sexual Harassment Has No Place In the Knowledge Economy

The explosion in sexual harassment charges against company executives is a symptom of the dramatic change that is going on in the workplace. This is about much more than a few courageous women standing up to a few misogynist men. We are witnessing a sea change in the way employees relate to their leaders and to each other. The command-and-control, hierarchical, do-as-I-say work environment of the 20th Century industrial economy is giving way to the communication and collaboration workplace of the 21rst Century knowledge economy. Companies will never be the same.

Rapid change due to technology, globalization, competition, and diversity is bringing to light the many failings of traditional workplaces. Disrespecting women—or anyone--has never been right, but the demands of the modern organization are now making this behavior intolerable. 

In our forthcoming book, Minds at Work: Managing for Success in the Knowledge Economy, David Grebow and Cover 3D I contrast organizations stuck in the “managing hands” environment of the industrial economy with organizations that have a 21rst century, “managing minds” environment. We write:

Companies that are learning to manage minds are focused on being open, transparent organizations in which collaboration and communica­tion are basic operating principles. They believe that sharing knowledge is power, and continuous learning is the key to successfully meeting the challenges of the knowledge economy. Failures are to be learned from and not hidden. Opposing viewpoints and ideas are valued and listened to by everyone in the company. Conversations are open and honest. The hierarchy of roles, and the secrecy and compartmentalization that go with it, has been replaced by the hierarchy of ideas, in which openness is a prerequisite.

In the managing minds workplace, there is no place for harassment or discrimination of any kind — whether it’s based on gender, sexual orientation, disability, race, religion, or age.  You must insist that your employees live these values not only because it is the right thing to do, but also because it creates a workplace that is happier, more collaborative, and more productive.

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

David Grebow and I have written Minds at Work to explain why organizations cannot succeed unless they commit to giving up behaviors that date back a hundred years with ones that are better suited to today’s business realities.

To succeed in the knowledge economy you need the intelligence, commitment, skills, and talents of every one of your employees. You cannot attain that goal if you have female employees working in an environment where they may be intimidated, embarrassed, shamed, or made to believe that their employment is conditional on providing sexual favors.

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Learning for a Rapidly Changing World

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Reprise: Managing Minds, Winning Hearts

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Hire Learners for the Knowledge Economy

Companies today need learners. In the Agricultural Economy, a strong back was enough. In the Industrial Economies Economy, a set of good hands was enough. But in the Knowledge Economy, companies need people who can develop their minds.

The Knowledge Economy needs people who are self-directed learners, who know how to get the information and skills they need when and where they need them, who can think critically in terms of evaluating the accuracy and usefulness of this information, and who can learn from both successes and failures.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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United Airlines Needs New Approach to Learning

Fly the friendly skies…unless they need your seat. The recent United Airlines debacle which resulted in 69-year-old Dr. David Dao being dragged off a plane to make room for United staff, could have been avoided if Unitedthe company saw its responsibility as “managing minds” instead of “managing hands.”

United, like many other airlines and many companies in other industries, has been stuck in the 20th Century’s industrial economy. This is a command-and-control, hierarchical, risk-avoidance way of working with people. In that world, it’s all about getting the job done, as in making something, fixing something, or moving something, and collecting money for it. In other words, managing hands.

In the current knowledge economy, organizations, especially those that are supposed to be about the comfort and safety of customers, need to focus on what employees think, how they can improve continuously, and what they can contribute to the success of the organization. Companies today need a high level of collaboration, communication, and cooperation. Employees need the freedom to make decisions and do the right thing for customers and for each other. No sense hiring smart employees and then telling them not to think.

United CEO Oscar Munoz’s initial response to the Dr. Dao situation was classic managing-hands. He blamed the customer and then he blamed individual employees. The focus was on following policies and procedures, not doing what’s best for customers. Fortunately for the company, Munoz seems to have come to his senses and now realizes that the culture of the organization is to blame. He has since taken responsibility and acknowledged that the incident was a result of how staff do their work. Washington Post reports:

In an interview with NBC’s Lester Holt, Munoz called the incident “a system failure across the board.” He said outdated policies and procedures, which focused more on operations and logistics than customers put all those involved in “impossible situations.”

This acknowledgement by Munoz of a systems failure is a major step in the right direction. An operational mindset had taken over common sense. Employees believe that they must follow the rules even when the rules are not appropriate or ethical in a particular situation. The airline has the small-print right to remove a passenger to make room for staff who must arrive in another destination by a certain time. However, employees must feel free to ask themselves in each situation if that is the right thing to do.

The ten, policy and procedure changes that United said it will enact over the next year should help. One of those changes should go a long way toward United becoming a more customer-focused company. As reported in USA Today, flight attendants and gate agents will be given much greater authority to address customer problems. USA Today quoted the company:

Rolling out later this year, United will launch a new "in the moment" app for our employees to handle customer issues. This will enable flight attendants (by July) and gate agents (later this year) to compensate customers proactively (with mileage, credit for future flights or other forms of compensation) when a disservice occurs.

This is all well and good but the most important change that needs to occur in United is to shift from managing hands to managing minds. This means developing every employee, creating a trusting and empowering work environment, facilitating collaboration, communication, and cooperation among employees and with other stakeholders, encouraging risk-taking and experimenting as a way to improve, and continuously learning for the betterment of individuals, teams, and the whole organization.

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

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Managers Need Empathy in the Digital Age

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Work Is Learning

This is an infographic by Arun Pradhan that explains why and how we need to stop separating learning from work. That might not have been a significant issue in the Industrial Economy, but it is a serious issue in our current Knowledge Economy

Infographic-Work-Is-Learning

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Wanted: Collaboration; Communication; and Teamwork

The ability to collaborate, communicate, and work effectively in teams are some of the competencies most in demand by employers today. However, companies are not preparing people adequately for these IMG_1327
mutually cooperative functions. Susan Adams writes this in Forbes:

Can you work well on a team, make decisions and solve problems? Those are the skills employers most want when they are deciding which new college graduates to hire. The next-most-important skill: ability to communicate verbally with people inside and outside an organization. Employers also want new hires to have technical knowledge related to the job, but that’s not nearly as important as good teamwork, decision-making and communication skills, and the ability to plan and prioritize work.

Sodexo’s 2017 Global Workplace Trends Report summarizes research that points to collaboration and teamwork as critical to the workplace today. The report explains the critical importance of organizations having agility and that the key to agility is having common goals and working in teams to achieve those goals. The authors write:

An agile mindset embraced by management fosters adoption throughout an organization; once adopted, agility yields benefits both inside and outside. To get there, businesses can set their sights on three principal characteristics:

  1. A common orientation toward organizational goals
  2. An emphasis on teamwork
  3. A principle of adaptive performance

The Sodexo report points out that teamwork has been important for a long time but that now employees across organizations and across generations must be committed to collaborating for the purpose of flexibility, adaptability, and speed, characteristics of any successful, 21rst Century organization.

In the Knowledge Economy, cross-functional teamwork is how work gets done. It's no longer about managing hands, as was the case in the Industrial Economy; today it's about managing minds. That means helping people become more competent, capable, and engaged in contributing to the success of the organization. It’s about maximizing the collective intelligence of people which is why work is done in teams more now than ever.

Workplaces are being designed to facilitate collaboration and teamwork. Open spaces, flexible work areas, and smart offices are all contributing to a culture that supports work in teams as needed. This is quite a change from the Industrial Economy standard of private offices for executives and cubicles for everyone else.

However, even with this awareness that much of the work that needs to be done today needs to be done in teams, we don’t do a very good job of preparing people for this role. Pulling people out of the workplace for training in teamwork, is not the best way to learn about collaboration and teamwork in our fast-paced world. Part of the problem is the way leaders think about learning in organizations. As Elizabeth Doty writes in strategy+business:

"...leaders tend to think of learning too narrowly — equating it with training, mentoring, or “constructive feedback” during performance reviews. But all of these are inputs that may or may not correlate with the results we want to create...If you want to accelerate learning on your team, first engage them in a meaningful challenge, then design a feedback system that enables them to learn naturally, every day."

The Economist warns us about the downside to collaboration. When it is not done well, attempts at collaboration can eat up precious time trying to connect with others and meetings can be a waste of time. True! But this is why people need help developing their collaboration and communication skills, so that they minimize unproductive communication and maximize productive collaboration and teamwork.

Training departments can explain the need and lay the groundwork for good communication, collaboration, and teamwork skills, but it is up to managers to help employees hone these abilities in the context of the workplace. Managers need to create ways (with the help of learning professionals) of developing good collaboration and teamwork in their work groups. These are learnable abilities that require a continuous process of feedback and reflection.

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Reprise: The Self-Directed Learner

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

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

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

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

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

MANAGER ROLE

LEARNER ROLE

Develop a growth mindset

Develop a growth mindset

Hire for ability & motivation to learn

Be actively learning how to learn

Help learner identify strengths & weaknesses

Identify one’s own strengths & weaknesses

Encourage employee learning

Learn continuously

Make it safe to learn

Take risks; learn from risk-taking

Create opportunities for employees to learn individually & in groups

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

Give feedback effectively

Receive feedback effectively

Co-create & co-curate information with learner

Co-create & co-curate information with manager

Convey high expectations for learning

Strive to do best; exceed expectations of manager

Recognize and reward learning

Use recognition and rewards to further one’s learning

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

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

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

You want managers to give performance feedback in a helpful and productive way to employees. You want employees to hear and understand that feedback and make use of it to learn and improve their performance. This must be more than an annual performance review. Performance feedback, positive and negative, should be given at every opportunity throughout the year.

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

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

Managers should recognize and reward the impact of employee learning on achieving the goals of the organization. This could include public statements about the learner’s success, a promotion, new responsibilities, or special compensation. Whatever it is, learners need to see clearly how their learning resulted in this expression of appreciation.

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Using Your Head and Your Heart

Tom Friedman, in his recent New York Times column titled From Hands to Heads to Hearts, advises us that “the relentless march of technology” is making human-to-human connection in our work more important IMG_1327
than ever. Even high tech jobs need what Friedman calls “STEMpathy”, combining knowledge and skills in science, technology, engineering, and math with empathy, the ability to understand and have compassion for the experience of others, such as a boss, coworkers, suppliers, business partners, or customers.  

Quoting Dov Seidman, Friedman writes:

Economies get labeled according to the predominant way people create value, pointed out Seidman, also author of the book “How: Why How We Do Anything Means Everything.” So, the industrial economy, he noted, “was about hired hands. The knowledge economy was about hired heads. The technology revolution is thrusting us into ‘the human economy,’ which will be more about creating value with hired hearts — all the attributes that can’t be programmed into software, like passion, character and collaborative spirit.”

So the question for me is, “What is a manager’s role in the technology revolution? How can they manage people to get the most from their heads and hearts?” In a December 6, 2016 blog post titled “Managing Minds, Winning Hearts”, I wrote:

…workers will have to be smarter, more agile, and more innovative than ever. As automation and robotics improve, the demand for globalization increases, and communities become more diverse, any organization's competitive advantage will be in its collective knowledge and expertise. This means managing minds. The primary role of managers will be helping the people they supervise to become more competent, capable, and engaged in contributing to the success of the organization.

Friedman and Seidman remind us that the heart matters, too. In addition to increasing job competency, we need people who can develop the compassion and empathy and caring to collaborate, cooperate, and communicate with their teams, across their companies, and with partner organizations.  

But businesses cannot find and hire all of the sufficiently smart, compassionate people that they need. Managers have to develop these employees. Training programs are not the answer. In the knowledge economy, or, as Friedman calls it, the “human economy”, people need to learn continuously, on the job, in the flow of their work. And they need to be technologically and humanly proficient.  

As my co-author David Grebow has said, "The point being that successfully managing minds means being able to get the best from people - their talents, thoughts, creativity, ability and willingness to cooperate and collaborate, trust and more that we can’t anticipate as technology advances. This requires managing hearts as well as minds. In the industrial economy, you could hate your boss and your coworkers and your job and have a low EQ and still crank out work with your hands. Playing well in the sandbox was not a prerequisite. Try that in the knowledge economy, in a company that needs you to be producing with your mind in concert with others with whom you work, and you'll soon be out of a job.”

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Managing Minds, Winning Hearts

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

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

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

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

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

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

To learn more about "managing minds", attend our webcast, Managing Minds,Winning Hearts, on December 9, 2016, at 1:00 Eastern.

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Workplace as Learning Lab

Every worker learns differently given the task, content, and circumstances. Yet, we continue to try to educate, train, and develop everyone in the same way. Maybe it’s time to turn our workplaces Innovation lab into learning labs. By experimenting with different methods of learning and evaluating the process and outcomes of these methods in the workplace, we might discover what methods are best for which workers under what circumstances.

Michael Noble, in his post for “Chief Learning Officer” titled, How to Build a Learning and Innovation Performance Lab, suggests that learning professionals should start looking for workplace opportunities to try out new ways of learning. Of course, he recognizes the obstacles. He writes:

The biggest challenges may not be cost, time or talent, but corporate preference for transactional rather than consultative support. With some initiative and determination, both leaders and learning practitioners can move from being learning producers/providers to strategic advisors.

Noble argues that the day-to-day activities of an organization provide opportunities for innovation in learning. The workplace can be a lab for experimenting with new methods of learning and performance improvement. The key is to be intentional about learning from these experiences, to be willing to try new methods and to evaluate what works and what doesn’t.

Saul Kaplan writes about the urgency to focus on learning from innovation in the workplace in his book, The Business Model Innovation Factory: How to Stay Relevant When the World is Changing. He writes:

The real trick is creating a business model innovation factory where technologies and capabilities can be remixed in new combinations to deliver value. The imperative is to do R&D for new business models. Not just concepts on a whiteboard or in a consulting deck, but R&D in the real world to explore the viability of a new business model in real market conditions. Not just tweaks of the current business model, but entirely new ways to create, deliver, and capture value. Organizations need a business model innovation factory to explore new business models unconstrained by the current one.

Substitute “learning model” for “business model” and you can see how you can make the workplace a learning lab. Kaplan recommends experimenting with innovation projects separate from the main business activities but close enough organizationally that effective changes can be easily and quickly adopted by the whole business, government agency, nonprofit, or educational institution. We need to do more of this with learning. That is, create experiments in the workplace to try out new ways of learning fast and learning well.

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