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.

Reimage Work


As you likely know, Reimaging is the process of removing all the software from your computer and reinstalling it. This process is necessary if your operating system becomes damaged or corrupt. This is actually an excellent metaphor for what needs to happen to many organization’s operating systems.

There is much criticism of the world of work today. Many see stagnant approaches and dated power structures hindering real potential in this digital age. A reimage is not however about wiping out the disengaged, or cleaning out the c-suite (common approaches). Nor is it moving to an open office floor plan or eradicating email. No, this is about the actual work we do, or more specifically the structures that govern this work in organizations. It is about the policies, procedures, power systems, roles, and unwritten rules that impact the people which ultimately effects the work. This, the organizational software, the operating system – is often damaged and corrupt.

Recognizing this is only the first part, taking action is the other. Unfortunately just like with our sluggish laptop, where we manage to continue working when it’s performance isn’t optimal, most leaders find work-arounds that allow things to get done although not as efficiently or effectively as they could. These work-arounds typical comes in the form of new tools, “reorgs”, downsizing, engagement activities, and revamped strategic plans – business as usual and bandaids. So as expected, a reimage won’t even be considered as it takes a significant mindset shift.

For what it’s worth, here’s 5 actions I think an organizational reimage should include.

1. Changing the Defaults – The world of business is changing frequently and with that it should be expected that something that works today won’t work tomorrow. The world of work, markets, and labor are complex. Through the lens of Cynefin, the knowledge management/sense-making framework, we learn that in complexity we only know what right is after the fact. Organizations then must learn to continually probe their environments, make sense of of the information gathered and respond accordingly… rinse and repeat.

2. Strategic Reflection -Internally organizations need to pause and sharpen the saw. It must be a strategic focus to periodically assess each element that impacts the work, the policies that send the message to employees that “we don’t trust you”, the procedures that maintain efficiency yet serve to prevent innovation, and the power structure that are maintained by fear vs. ones maintained by merit. Morale is a huge part of the effectiveness equation.

3. Role Play – managers, supervisors, directors are titles of the bygone era of manufacturing, of routine work. These titles have connotations of us vs. them, command and control, authority without legitimacy, “the man”. Today we need mentors and coaches, supporters and connectors to serve workers as living forms of performance support. Imagine arriving to work on day one and being greeted by the Chief Barrier Remover? Odd? Sure but equally refreshing.

4. Redo Rewards – when the process is working, the product is right. Reward the process, the product will take care of itself. Those who help, who share, and those who encourage are your heroes. Reward their cooperation and collaboration not competition. A rising tide lifts all boats.

5. ESN over LMS – learning is a part of the work, not apart from it. If the vast majority of our new learning takes place in our doing of the work then we need tools to help us reflect and share easily this new knowledge. An ESN (vs. an LMS) is an open system. Here knowledge can freely flow in the conversations we have (this is where real knowledge exists, not within us but between us). This openness also means all the cooperation and collaboration you need to reward (pt.4) is made obvious.

Each organization is as unique as a finger print and a reimage, if warranted, may take different forms yet each is a true move towards social business. A move that is far more about people than about technology.


We Are A River


In a brilliant example of showing your work, Dave Grohl of the Foo Fighters shared his process for writing the songs on the album Sonic Highway which included having conversations with random people in various cities, copying and pasting snippets into a song outline, and reflecting on the experiences. I admire this transparency, an example of the real learning that Charles Jennings speaks of; experience, practice, conversation and reflection.

This song in particular, the last track titled “I Am a River”, caught my attention. The lyrics, “the channel’s changing, the heart is racing, from voices on a wire” gave me great pause as I thought of technology today and the very important human component within. Here Dave shares details about writing the song of which he says:

I thought it was a beautiful idea that there’s something natural and prehistoric (Minetta Creek) that runs underneath something as monolithic and futuristic as New York City. And maybe we’re all connected by something like that.

The fact this river is covered, out of sight, and is continually being built upon is an interesting metaphor for us, our human story today. We are natural and prehistoric, a great connected river of humanity being buried under increasingly changing technology; the voices on the wire.

Is that what you want? Is that what you really want?” – Dave Grohl.


We Don’t Do Social Here

Implement, Do, Start, Launch, are all terms that indicate a program or project is underway. It’s the language of the business initiative. But when these words precede the action of “Social”, it’s a bit perplexing.  

We don’t “do” social, we are social. 
Being social is just connecting, communicating, and sharing usually with the key action of conversing. Don’t let anyone tell you different. We should know too that being social is not purely positive. People can connect for the wrong reasons, communicate inappropriately, or share way, way too much. Therefore being social is neither something exclusively good or bad, it is just the essence of being human. To say things like “we are going to start doing social in our organization” is like saying “we are going to start doing breathing.” This comparison is equally similar and different. Similar in that both actions, social and breathing are naturally occurring and required (in an organization or otherwise), and different in that breathing is not something that can ever be consciously done poorly or insincerely.

You can encourage people to increase their social connections, expand their networks, start more meaningful conversations and share ideas. But make no mistake, your organization is already social, it just may not be healthy enough to transform the work that’s being done or make the environment less toxic, or draw people to connect with your service or products.

So if you’re still thinking about “doing” social in your organization, maybe start by “being” a better organization, leader, employee, peer. Somethings you just can’t project manage. 

Network Navigating

I’ve written recently about the futility of organizational internal social efforts. Their efforts to corral conversations into an ESN is ineffective and short sighted. Wirearchy is here. It exists with or without ones conscious effort as our networks extend in multiple directions and multiple “places.”  We will go to where our people are and if our people overlap, all the better, but the reality is they rarely will. For example my running community members have zero interest in my social learning and social business discussions. 
So it is that we must learn to move in and out of various channels of conversations and relationships, adjusting as we need to to make it all work. However in the networked age this seems as overwhelming as the amount of information that comes at us.

Do choices have to be made? Of course. It’s really no different than our behaviors prior to the advent of social technology. We made room and found balance then in things like our physical meeting spaces, telephone conversations, email, etc. We made choices then of how and where we would spend time. We (often unconsciously) seek out the people who matter most and in that seeking we inadvertently learn to navigate the places that keep us connected.

My networking “places” are as fragmented and unique as my relationships. Here are a few of my places I visit daily which I’m sure look much like yours.

  • Twitter for amazing global relationships and conversations
  • 2 Facebook groups for specific professional development and a book club
  • LinkedIn for local ATD conversations and sharing
  • iMessage groups (smaller, family & friends)
  • Skype group for larger L&D discussions, tips, needs
  • Evernote chat for project collaboration
  • Yammer for organization cooperative and collaborative activities
  • Slack for idea sharing in L&D topics for various activities

This is our reality. I doubt highly that as social tools evolve there will be one tool to rule them all or a way to link them. This reality may be inconvenient to many but social networking has always been inconvenient to some extent. Waving the white flag is not an option. We will learn these new network navigation skills through experimentation, increased exposure and they will strengthen with deeper experiences in the context of connecting. With modeling and guidance by those in the know, the learning curve can be reduced more quickly but even without the experts, we will learn to navigate, it’s what we are built to do.