Smaller, Faster Training is Not Going to Move Us Forward

The world of work is rapidly changing. New technology, new competition, new strategies demand workers stay current, adaptable and responsive to this change. Organized learning, historically the course factory, has a solution and frankly it’s just more of the same in smaller packages. L&Ds latest answer to this growing complexity is faster, smaller training. This has really been building for some time as the data drawn was pointing to workers being opposed to lengthy courses with bells and whistles; multiple paths, and animated characters.

Was what workers wanted, what was needed? The scenario sure reminds one of Henry Ford’s quote “If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.”

So, courses are being broken up, pieces floated into the workflow at best or still something to login to the LMS to access at worst. A new name appeared called “micro-learning”. Say What? Sometimes these are mini-courses, video vignettes, or quick quizzes, 30 seconds, 2 minutes, 30 minutes… alas the definition is in the eye of the vendor and it reeks of desperation. Many a vendor have pitched it as a way to address the shorter attention span myth or millennial expectation nonsense, all claims that the way we learn has changed. Nonsense. How we get information has certainly changed but the wiring of our brains?? Marketing drivel.

Sadly L&D continues to rest on its laurels, its golden era behind it and yet only capable of doing what they know best with the tools they know best vs. what is needed most. The industry has taken a page right out of big pharma’s playbook; convince people there’s a widespread illness and provide the cure.

So what is needed most? The most effective learning tool is and has always been conversation – humans are built for it. And although it’s not the only way to improve performance, it is the place where the solutions should start. Nothing is smaller and faster than conversation, sharing, and collaboration. And if organizations reframed to enable more free flow of information, then L&D should shift to enabling this and pause all the creation. The job is and has always been about outcomes not outputs… no matter how small.

Simple ≠ Easy

There is a lot of talk today about making work more human. This is a simple statement and it has universal appeal. I mean, who is arguing to make work more robotic? It speaks to meaning in ones work, passion, connection, and collaboration. For organizations it’s about openness and transparency – a whole bunch of warm and fuzzy, right?

It’s a simple idea, “communicating”, but unfortunately in most organizations it’s not easy to put into action.

Maybe the suits in this cartoon already feel they communicate with the employees… through newsletters, broadcasts in internal blog posts or emails, annual meetings, or through the mid-level managers and expecting and assuming trickle down. But we all know this guy meant conversing when he said communicating.

Asking “what if?” like “why?” or “why not?” are simple questions and yet each has the ability to change the direction of an organization or shake its very foundation. Ask and act and you may soon find you’ll be fighting tradition, the status quo, hierarchy, and/or fear of change. If you decide to move simple forward, standing your ground and digging deeper to support these ideas and utterances will be hard work, it’s not going to be easy.

Simple and easy regularly and wrongly get paired together.

 

Organization, Heal Thyself

I hurt my back pretty bad back in February. Shortly after the injury I reluctantly went to a Chiropractor. I say reluctantly as it’s not something I completely understood or believed in as I have always been conditioned to accept traditional medicine; surgery, medications, etc. What I learned from the experience is that Chiropractic medicine is about the body’s ability to heal itself. Generally speaking (and likely oversimplifying it) when the body is in alignment, effective communication happens through nerves and blood flow and the body maintains health. This got me wondering about how poorly organizations are designed today, they are misaligned resulting in:

  • cultures that need to be changed,
  • the creation of blanket HR policies to address small, singular problems
  • structures that support star chamber-like decision making in times of crisis,
  • procedures developed to secure consistency and conformity but stifled innovation and creativity
  • training being overused to address performance issues
  • a default to meritless, inflexible hierarchy

Everything is out of alignment (with the way the world works today).

So, similar to the chiropractic view of the body if an organization is aligned correctly, when the systems and the people can effectively and efficiently communicate, won’t it to function properly?

Gwynne Dyer wrote an exceptional article a few years ago about Democracy, nation building and the Middle East. From it I caught a quote that really resonated:

Tyranny was the solution to what was essentially a communication problem.

With a slight adjustment; replacing the word tyranny with hierarchy the remainder of the message holds true. Hierarchy was the answer to what was essentially a communication problem… in the industrial era. As organizations grew a top down systems of communication and power was need to keep every part of the organization informed.

Today we no longer have an excuse for communication problems or at least we shouldn’t. Psychology, sociology and technology are opening our eyes to new, better ways of organizing people. Hierarchy should be being transformed because of the emerging obviousness of Wirearchy, yet this isn’t really happening. And in learning, the principle of 70:20:10 is real but oft ignored as training continues to hold a tight grip.

What then if organizations just focused on improving communication, putting “social” first so to speak? Aligning all, making ideas, initiatives, information more obvious. Would unnecessary training, procedures, and policy diminish? And isn’t this what every small company has by default (albeit unconsciously)? With a small numbers of people, they are in tune, open, connected and transparent – then unfortunately lose it as they grow. This doesn’t have to happen today, as I said, we have the knowledge and technology to ensure this if we could just let go to our traditional beliefs as I did about medicine.

In the 21st century how the organization needs to communicate should determine it’s design and being and remaining aligned is the key to a responsive organization.

The Long Tailers of Social Business

Social business talk hasn’t progressed much beyond what it is or how it’s done. Jon Husband noted this in a brilliant and succinct post back in 2013 where he said that “most of the conversation circulating and re-cycling regarding [social business] … what ‘social business’ is and/or is not, how to do it right, or in 7 easy steps, or with pizzazz and ROI and why it’s changing everything (or nothing at all)

What has changed however in the past 2 years is that the idea of Social Business, like Social Media, has been further positioned by large firm Marketing and Advertising departments as their charge. Markets are conversations so says the ClueTrain Manifesto and so shortsighted marketing and sales have moved to “Social Business” strategies which mostly just employing social technology with the same push information tactics.

Social LongtailHowever where social sincerely exists are those businesses on the long tail . Organizations here, the smaller more niche players, are more often inherently, unconsciously and positively social inside and out. Their business survival is predicated on a meritocracy over hierarchy, openness, trust, feedback and transparency – it’s here where the soil is most fertile.

Social Business, (what we do) can’t survive long without firm roots in a Social Organization (who we are).

For the larger, market dominating organizations, they turn to social technology (like any other technology) to fix problems vs. prevent them. Inside these organizations social tools are applied in a futile effort to open communication for knowledge sharing, a cure for their social atrophy. However the best opportunity for social technology inside has passed, the arteries are now clogged by competition, policy, procedures and rigid hierarchy.

Social technology may be best as preventative medicine vs. the miracle cure.

It’s the Long Tailers that need to understand this and move quickly to stay who they are. But to stay small as they grow larger, technology alone won’t be enough – social requires people and a holistic approach. They should also employ a Change Prevention strategy (vs. Change Management), maybe a new internal role of an Unchanging Officer to help leaders see their culture today and the big picture potential of social tools beyond communication and knowledge sharing. A well crafted change prevention strategy can anchor their progressive culture and help maintain the healthy status quo.

It’s far too easy for long tail business leaders to fall into established, yet floundering, 20th century practices as they grow. There are still many visible, seductive monuments of this past success and misguided social business approaches.

Long Tailers must act now for there is much to lose if they don’t change.

 

 

Between Us

Real knowledge does not exist within us but between us, in our conversations is something I’ve felt for a long time. So with that, if we want to create more knowledge, we need to create more conversations.

In principle it’s that easy. However the practice, although simple, is much harder to do.

To create conversations we must understand what it means to converse. To be equals, to listen, to communicate without agenda. The barriers to real conversation today are not physical or even technological, they are cerebral. Ego, power, fear and positioning get in the way. Because of these, most conversations are only labeled as such when in reality they are just carefully crafted monologues devoid of empathy, compassion or respect for another’s perspective and history. In these communications information is shared but this information can struggle to become actionable knowledge because this transfer happens best when there is a human connection.

Ask yourself – when did you last have a true conversation and who was it with? In all likelihood it was with others you respected, trusted and enjoyed. The outcome was likely mutually fruitful and satisfying.

Now imagine if you could have these at work with peers and leaders alike. It starts with you.