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

Replace

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.

 

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.

 

 

vox populi

InterviewMOS

Recent network conversations, some I’ve been a part of and others I picked up on, have led me to question who really gets all this discussion around social business and organizational social networking. The first was prompted by seeing Alan Lepofsky engaging his network with tweets like this:

AlanLapofsky_Tweet

Later, I joined #H2HChat which focused on a book about “Human to Human” and social business. I left feeling a bit disillusioned in that a conversation that would appear to be about human nature and behavior was ultimately about tools, making me further wonder who really gets this? Furthermore the articles and posts I read share summaries of data and research into business and where things are trending. Anonymous survey and high-level discussions are happening but who is having granular conversations that provide level-setting information and the frameworks for change?

Finally, in some 1:1 texting with my sister-in-law, who reads my blog but doesn’t really move in this “social” space, gave me a fresh perspective as she is honestly intrigued and raised some good thoughts/questions. She texted:

… for a company to make a mindset shift I can only imagine that there is a high level of skepticism from employees. Like… Why is the boss being more open, asking for ideas etc? Am I going to get a pink slip if I collaborate with dead beat Dave, how will I get ahead? More to your overall message I think mindset shift requires not only personal growth but also a community acceptance.

I suspect many people (leaders, managers, and workers) feel and think this same way. Social business doesn’t even have a clear definition for them let alone a reason to be pursued or a clear path to that end. It appears to me that I am having a lot of conversations about this subject with people who generally get it. However I want to have more conversations with the others, outside of these circles, the ones who don’t get it or don’t care. It’s time to hear from the voice of the people (vox populi), the “Man on the Street” about this topic.

Euan Semple, author of Organizations Don’t Tweet, People Do, has said that Change Happens One Conversation at a Time, so with that, I plan to embarking on some personal work to gain perspective. I look to physically sit down and talk to anyone who is curious about these ideas, terms, notions. I want to listen and if I can, offer some ideas or at least points to ponder. My first opportunity is coming up with a VP at an organization I used to work for. Another in the works is with a more traditional Director of L&D, and a third is with a Human Resources leader at a defense contractor. All are going to be local and face-to-face over coffee or lunch. Although I’m not really sure the best way to start these conversations, I do like how my sister-in-law began our chat with “that’s a good question.” So maybe that’s what it needs to be – a good question put out there that one feels they must learn the answer to. What then is that one question around this central idea of social business? Maybe it will appear in my first meeting or it could be as simple as “what do you know of social business?”  I look to share here what I am learning, what it means, and how it can move the conversation forward.

The “Working” Culture and the Struggles of Social Business

Tim Kastelle recently shared his excellent post about flat management efforts at Zappos and how they paid about 210 people to leave if they didn’t like the direction of the organization. He went on to point out that in the past 12 days over 15,000 people were laid off in various industries (which can be seen on a site that tracks daily layoffs) as an exclamation point about the ridiculous attention Zappos is receiving. What happens next is anyone’s guess. Hopefully the 15,000 land quickly on their feet, hopefully they left on good terms. But I doubt it. Many may had been blindsided, many will struggle, many will be bitter. And when they do return to the world of work they will carry this memory with them. It will taint their perspective, attitudes and sense of trust.
Today much of the Future of Work conversation refers to organizational culture, the idea that in the confines of a single business people behave a certain way. Although this is true, I do think it overlooks a significantly larger culture, the Working Culture – a culture of workers ironically created by cumulative actions of all business.

Culture is an emergent property of the many practices that happen every day. Change the practices and a new culture will emerge. – Harold Jarche

Each worker’s experience contributes to the present Working Culture’s understanding, beliefs and practices. The Working Culture permeates organizations but isn’t easily diffused by an individual organization’s culture. So no matter what an organization’s efforts at “engagement” are, most employees are skeptical and will remain so.
This skepticism has developed over the past 25 years or so due to factors such as globalization, a focus on short-term results, systematic turnover (as noted in Tim’s post), contractual and temporary work, the demise of unions, automation, and outsourcing, etc.  Due to these factors loyalty is non-existent on both sides; employer and employees have disconnected from that part of the working relationship. A good lagging indicator of today’s Working Culture can be seen in the less than stellar adoption rates of enterprise social network platforms (ESN) and their failed promise of corporate-wide collaboration and cooperation. In an interview style post, Sahana Chattopadhyay elaborated on the nature of collaboration in work environments saying:
In many instances, [collaboration] takes place only at the team and project levels and does not radiate or percolate to other divisions.” 
I agree but would argue that this lack of adoption is found in MOST instances not just many.
When the work doesn’t “percolate”, it’s less about the tools that make the invisible visible and more about people just not caring enough about the work happening outside of their own areas. Care and trust are very intertwined and is happening at the point of work and not easily advancing beyond. Lack of leadership involvement and leadership style can be a barrier for sure, but so too is a workforce with an expectation of intentionally short tenures. Grow and go attitudes seem to dominate the Working Culture resulting in employees staying a mere 18-24 months (a far cry from the 20+ in generations past). Can that really be enough time to build trust and a level of community beyond the point of the work? The trust issue therefore is bigger than within an individual organizations, this is about trust of business as a whole and it is our social tools helping us to see this condition more clearly, not necessarily improving it.

Change happens one conversation at at time and those conversations can change organizations. But until a critical mass of organizations changes, the Working Culture will generally remain one that is jaded, suspicious and distant. “Change the practices and a new culture will emerge…