…But Some Managers Are More Equal Than Others

You may remember the famous line in George Orwell’s Animal Farm, “All animals are equal, but some are more equal than others“. The idea is that some roles in organizations are more important than others in operating the business (a farm in this case). Today, many organizational leaders often carry the same titles across the business, i.e Manager, Managing Director, Sr. Vice President of…, etc. (as that’s convenient) but truly they are not seen or treated as equals. A manager in an operations role, one close to the work being done, one where revenue is made or lost is considered far superior in the eyes of of the C-Suite than a L&D manager. And they all know it too.

Operations managers have learned through experience too that they can impact performance without L&D. Often their ideas can bring real value and are executed very quickly. When this happens, L&D sees it as getting lucky but to the Operations Manager and C-suite it is seen as a L&D value deflating act. lucky or not, the belief up top slowly gets cemented that anyone can do this learning thing and thus it leads to the some are more equal than others belief.

Sorry L&D, this won’t change with evermore new and flashy technology and approaches, more course offerings, mobile learning, microlearning, or games and gamification. These are mostly seen as add-ons in the corporate world, more push into the world of work but not of the world of work. The only way to shift course and have organizational learning be on par with other functions and departments is to become more a function of the work and become primarily department-less.

The late Jay Cross from his book “Work Smarter: Informal Learning in the Cloud” laid it out in this hypothetical pitch he gives early in the book:

Next week, we will close the training department. We are shifting our focus from training to performance. Any remaining training staff will become mentors, coaches and facilitators who work on improving core business processes, strengthening relationships with customers and cutting costs.

So, L&D leadership can remain subservient and kowtow to the “greater” managers and departments. They can remain on the outside looking in, nestled in their unique technologies, processes and roles awaiting information or worse, marching orders that only add to the disrespect. OR they can subscribe to the simple solution of getting closer to the work by focusing on the social and informal practices happening in they day-to-day activities of the employees they serve, not in the traditional effort to capture information and re-purpose it in a formal solution but rather to free information by reducing barriers to connection. This alone would surly begin the transition away from organizational second class citizenry… and not to mention improve performance.


BTW: I couldn’t find Jay Cross’s book in print, however a similar and more recent book of his to consider would be the Working Smarter Fieldbook (2011).


Keeping Your Hands Dirty

One thing that I greatly appreciate about working for the Guild is their strong desire to stay close to organizational learning and the learning industry. Many of us engage in side opportunities in design, elearning development, consulting and speaking in an effort to stay close to our roots. This is pretty progressive considering that often those who rise to management levels lose touch with the work they once did and as such can lose the faith and trust of those under them.

Staying in the game is important.

My work prior to joining the Guild was in heading up L&D at an IT Healthcare company. More specifically I engaged in changing the mindsets around the function of L&D and promoted the need for increased social collaboration and connection. I worked to shift L&D from being seen as a training department and course factory to one that provided performance consulting and workflow analysis. I miss doing this work.

When the 702010 Institute reached out to me, the conditions were ideal and the Guild was more than receptive to my keeping a strong foothold in organizational strategy.

Today, in addition to my ongoing work with the eLearning Guild, I am preparing to engage organizations looking to do what I have done. As a service partner with the 702010 Institute I will be available to provide guidance and support to organization looking to change their approach to meet the complexity of learning and working in the digital age.

I’ve created a page here on my site to provide more details about the venture and look to regularly share my experience in the journey.

Preparing Leaders to Support Post-Training is Treating Symptoms and Ignoring the Disease

I came a cross this article from 2016 as it was shared recently in my network, One Minute, One Question: How Well Does L&D Prepare Leaders to Support Staff Post-Training?

I had a few questions initially about this piece such as who were the 159 survey respondents? And how come two questions appear to ask the same thing; “we do a poor job” and “we don’t prepare” (our leaders). I mean, isn’t “we don’t prepare leaders” doing a poor job in this context? Also, it is focused only on new hires, leaving out training on new skills or systems of current employees. How’s that going?

I know this sounds quite nit-picky negative but alas these aren’t the parts that really bother me. The fact we don’t prepare our leaders is not telling the whole story. For example – What if you’re not preparing your leaders because you don’t need to? I would then select “we don’t prepare our leaders” and that would wrongly appear to be a strike against me/ my organization but it isn’t if my leaders are so in tune with and supportive of L&D that they don’t need any special prep. Maybe they respect L&D and see the work as equals. Maybe L&D work is intertwined with the every day work of employees and “learning” isn’t bolted on but baked in to the work.

Heh. Wouldn’t that be nice?

However the impetus of this article speaks to L&D today because the reality is most leaders I’ve encountered don’t care, don’t get it, and/or can’t be bothered. If L&D is worried about leader’s preparation for post-training then they are far too focused on treating the symptom and not this disease of apathy. If L&D were seen as critically important they would not even be having this survey. Is Marketing, Research, or IT asking for support? Hell no. Business leaders are fully invested because the the work is intertwined, the work is the business. The simple reason L&D fails where other groups succeed internally is – Those others are a part of the work, not apart from it.

L&D has much to do to make it’s relevance obvious and stop the never ending beg for attention with each initiative. My suggestion is, get outside your bubble. Stop thinking training first and focus more on how, where, and who is doing the work. Get closer to the business. As my friend and colleague James Tyer of Togetherwise asked during our recent LT17uk session – “how many people are you talking with each week?”. When you’re in the know, you’re in, and the necessary training that arises along the way will be greeted more favorably.

L&D needs to get out and start learning, start providing performance support (social being the best here), mentoring, and coaching first, resources not courses, consulting not delivering. Until they do, they’ll continue to be begging leaders to play a role.


The Best Example of “Micro-learning”: Us

The definition of this new, not new, over-hyped, trending idea is pretty vague. Plus I’m not a fan of yet another formal intervention commandeering the term “learning”. I get it, it’s easy. Yes, these things can lead to learning but in itself, it’s not. Learning is a verb, a process, not a tool or technology. Donald Taylor did well to pull together a definition in his latest post and referenced some of the others who had opinion such as Nick Shackleton-Jones and Donald Clark. I also recommend seeing what Gary Wise had to say.

Micro learning’ is learning from content accessed in short bursts, content which is relevant to the individual, and repeated over time to ensure retention.” – Donald Taylor

Content, short burst, relevant. I think he’s right, but these terms still leaves lots of wiggle room. And given I have the space to work with as do all the vendors, I contend that 10,000 years of evolution has really been defined by micro-learning and most specifically micro-learning in the form of conversation. Small “nuggets” in the form of quick quizzes, video vignettes, audio clips and demonstrations have value but rarely contain the trust, specific context, emotion and right size of information (knowledge and even wisdom) that are found in our interactions.

So once again, rather than seek some glitzy new technology, organizations would do better to improve communication, to make it easy for knowledge to flow. I repeat, this is not a technology solution, it’s a human one. It starts with a mindset shift to be open, to “show your work”, to reposition management as a resource, to create environments where it’s ok to ask and answer questions and to be wrong.

This is simple, conversing is simple, but it’s not easy… certainly not as easy as purchasing a new technology and avoiding real, long-term impact.

Social Business is Business as UNusual

Some of the weakest value propositions still offered by enterprise social tech vendors today are 1. having less email and 2. fewer meetings. Seriously? Is this the best we can do? So what? And sorry, please don’t assume that less of one thing means more of something else (collaboration).

The promise of social technology is (or was) about doing the work of working differently maybe even changing business structure altogether. We know that when diverse people connect and can talk openly, interesting things can happen –  new ideas are fostered, innovations take place, and problems get solved. But it still takes the right people, in the right systems, in the right culture and the right kind of talk; real, honest talk. Technology alone is not going to magically make this happen. Getting it “right” is hard work and takes time.

I remember encouraging a VP to ask the organization in our social platform for help with a sticky company-wide problem. As simple as it was, it wasn’t easy for him to do (the top of the food chain admitting he didn’t have the answers and humbly asking people for help). Yet the result was undeniable; People opened up, shared, presented new ideas, asked secondary questions, and even unearthed the root cause. It was a small but fantastic example of what can be; humanity over rigid hierarchy and the power of inclusiveness only found in social organizations. It was also the opposite of the typical meeting of only “key” people and similarly it was the anti-email as it was open for all to contribute, continuously, with no pressure, no strings attached.

That’s powerfully different than the default, that’s business as unusual… and that’s the promise of social.

A Culture of Capitalism

And yet another company was cited for ethical behaviors. This time it’s Princess Cruise Lines for illegally dumping tens of thousands of gallons of untreated waste water into the ocean for almost a decade. Many will conclude and promote that this is another example of culture and/or leadership gone wrong. Volkswagen’s EPA violations and Wells Fargo’s illegal account creations are two others in recent times to get into hot water. And although I agree that organizational culture, driven by corrupt systems of recognition and reward, play a significant role but they do not play the only role or maybe even the main one.

It’s easy to pin the blame on an idea or a concept of leadership or culture, because really “culture” is nameless and faceless. The fact is though that individual employees knowingly entered false information to create bogus accounts, made modifications to override emissions data, and now installed pipes to bypass waste treatment. Each of these individuals had to have known what their work was in effect doing; jeopardizing people’s credit and polluting the air and the water. These workers chose to do it and chose not to blow the whistle. They got their directives by system or by authority, bullied or not, and consciously chose their path. Of course people were fired at many levels and organizations took on bad press and criminal charges but I suspect that even with all this, these behaviors will continue. There is another system at play that drives how our leaders lead, how business culture forms and how employees behave – surprise, it’s our economic system!

The Culture of Capitalism today is one where people can achieve unlimited wealth (and debt), and one that can obviously fuel unethical behavior. Few will risk being fired for speaking up and for speaking out. There is too much at stake, the job market is challenging for many and the road to financial hell is littered with do-gooders whose story can’t be told or won’t get heard at the next interview since they were terminated from their last position. Additionally Consumerism, “Keeping up with the Jones”, and acquiring the latest and greatest is far more the norm than the exception today as far too many live beyond their means because living within their means isn’t living.

So yes, I’ve argued that systems drive behaviors which creates the culture and I was speaking of activity inside organizations. But we are foolish if we ignore the influence of the outside getting in. Each and every day employees bring themselves and their lives to the workplace and Capitalism, with its offspring of Consumerism, really underpins it all.