Fire Me

OK that request seems a bit extreme and could just as easily be titled “Just Shoot Me” as you will see as you read on… but what the heck I’ll go for the provocative. I believe – today, tomorrow or a few years from now you will fire your training department. So lets proceed as if this is an open letter from Training to the Executives.

You (execs) will inevitably hit a financial down turn and have to make the painful decision about who in which departments to cut. I’m as obvious a choice as a plump turkey on thanksgiving to be selected for the axe. It’s easy really. I gave you what you wanted, not what you needed. Shame on me.  You asked for training. You asked for education and helping our workers meet compliance needs. I obliged as that’s what hierarchies do; don’t think, just do. 

So I did. 

eEverything is the rage so you jumped in feet first. I answered the bell and built really cool courses and we bought an LMS. web-based live course became the next venture and we needed skilled folks to lead these webinars. The growth in elearning courses pushed us to get 2 ISDs. Damn if we didn’t swell the department. A department filled with non-businessy words and acronyms like classroom, courseware, ILT, LMS, LCMS, JIT, and REL. Come to think of it we didn’t just build a different department, we built a different company within the company! 
(Photo on right? Yep, “The Kiss of Death“)

The bottom line is… well, the bottom line.  And frankly all this effort resulted in little to no real impact and what gains we saw are hard to tie just to me and my efforts alone.  So in the end all I did really was add a huge cost. The courses were taken, the box in the LMS was checked and yet here we are… In the red. Sure the economy got ugly. Sure sales slumped as new competitors entered the market. Sure we had some turnover…some bad hires but frankly none worse than me.  

What the organization needed was innovative thinking, we needed creative problem solving and we had the answer to ride it out or even thrive during this time right under our roof and we missed it.

I missed it…

It’s time to call me in and break me the bad news. But with my one final drag on the proverbial cigarette as I await the Governor to call in a pardon… I have one last request… 

Hire me back. I’m reformed!

Hire me back tomorrow… no wait, hire me back in two weeks I’ve got some stuff to do around the house first.  But when you bring me back let’s call me something other than T&D Manager or whatever. Lets speak in outputs not inputs – I’ll be your Performance Strategist. Come to think of this, lets go at this as if training was not an option! Lets hire back those people (or a few who get that the world has changed) from the T&D department and embed them in the work flow. No more trainers & designers we need more coaches and mentors, advocates and ambassadors. We need to go full throttle into connecting our people and further getting them connected globally. Let these folks who have learned how to connect, and learned how to continuously learn show others how to do it in their contexts. 

Actually hiring me back and some of those talented folks is really not enough though. Here’s a few things you need to help me with.

1. Support me with your actions (not your words and money). Be a part of this, be vocal, be available. It’s a hell of a lot cheaper and in addition to walking the talk you might just prove to be inspiring and create a raging fan base of employees who serve as beacons for even more talented folks to join us.  No more department even if appropriately renamed something to do with performance. We need to be intertwined in the business that is our business.

2. Change the expectation Lets build a connected workforce of “Learnkers” or “Workners” (Learner-workers) or better yet maybe “Performists” (workers-artists)? Corny? Maybe but since the real learning is happening in the real work we can’t refer to our people as learners or participants or attendees. We must encourage our employees transformation to ones who believe in and readily show their continuous learning.  Maybe if we start by changing the language, we start empowering our people to be more than what the hierarchy sets for them (Peter Principle?). Let’s enable a force of dedicated, collaborating people – A force that seeks and shares the most innovative ideas and the best tips and tricks to get the work done. 

3. Free the tools. Don’t buy unique tools for an exclusive group. Lets find free tools that help everybody in all groups. And by help I mean tools that allow them to better connect and create. Connect them to each other, connect them to content their peers are creating. Learning is not a course, not a destination, its a verb. Its ongoing and going on everywhere. The “e” in eLearning now is for “extended” – Extended over time and space. Lets encourage our people to not only dip into the stream but feed it too, leaving breadcrumbs everywhere. 

4. Blow up the hierarchy. Keep your title and all that but let new voices in to the conversation regardless of where they sit in the pecking order. Technology today really lets everyone have a seat at the table anytime. It’s an ephemeral meritocracy (HT @euan). Your job now is to keep the seat open. People will come and go. Let others from all ranks sit in it for a bit, make their contribution and step aside. You and I and hell everyone here wants the same thing – success.

So lets not wait – fire me and let’s really get the company moving forward.

Willingness vs. Ability to Change

Dave Kelly @LnDDave wrote an interesting post comparing Blockbuster’s demise to the changes facing Learning Professionals due to technology advancements. I think he’s right, there are learning professionals resistant to change …but the lack of change is not always due to internal denial as it can be a result of …girth. So, in the case of Blockbuster Video I’m think girth more than denial was the cause and don’t completely agree that they failed to accept that the market was changing. (Although, in all honestly, I don’t have any data to support my beliefs, so humor me). Can we consider then that their downfall was less about a conscious choice of denial and maybe a bit more about an inability to be agile?

It seems to me that Blockbuster was like a big, lumbering Brontosaurus that thrived in an era with few predators (competition), an abundant food supply (limitless market), and a warm earth (strong economy). The need for speed and flexibility was not even a consideration. In the end it’s not that poor old Brontosaurus (Blockbusterosaurus?) didn’t hear the asteroid hit…it’s not that she didn’t feel the weather getting colder …being so big and entrenched in their model and in their world she just couldn’t evolve fast enough. She was built for an era that was suddenly & quickly ending.

Likewise I think that this happens in many L&D departments too; entrenched in formal, top-down models being THE solution – approaches that may have worked well in “warm earth days.” This belief is built upon years of indoctrination by the “Training-Industrial Complex”, snake oil solutions, Industrial Age mindsets, and archaic internal processes, hierarchies and politics abound.

I think that another kind of asteroid has struck the L&D world …it’s called a global financial crisis. The weather is getting colder but the good news is that we are not Brontosaurus. We are not our Organizations …we are not our Departments, we are individuals within who are built to anticipate change, accept change, and be agile of mind. We can work within our systems to change them.

Evolve or die.

The Microwave as a Metaphor for Organizational Learning

The oven is the cornerstone of the kitchen, been around forever. Sure it’s changed its look and fuel over the centuries but the bottom line is the oven is big; it’s designed to cook large amounts, and over a longer period time. Think holiday dinners. It’s really an event kind of appliance.

Me, I’m a free standing microwave guy.

Microwaves aren’t ideal for me to cook say a pot roast but for smaller meals and tid-bits that give you just what you need, when you need it – the microwave is perfect!

Microwave ovens heat food quickly, leaving me more time to do what I need to do – like the honey-do list the “boss” gives me.

I have a free standing microwave- When we were remodeling our kitchen last year we had to keep ours in the living room. Place it anywhere in the house and it does the job – why limit yourself to the kitchen for cooking; it’s mobile!

A microwave is not a threat to replace the oven. We still need the oven for the big stuff like a Thanksgiving dinner. You must have an oven for that event…Turkey, pies, rolls, etc. But the microwave (often used during these events but typically given little credit) is used to defrost food in preparation for the event and also used to cook the gravy, green bean casserole, and the pumpkin soup – critical for a successful meal. Then it is called upon after to reheat many of these items in short order while you watch the Detroit Lions attempt to play football.

I like metaphors and the “microwave” is a useful one for me to use when explaining my beliefs about organizational learning.

Organizational learning must:
• be small (nibbles not full courses)
• be delivered quickly so workers can have more time to do what they are paid to do (minutes not hours)
• happen more where and when needed, not limited to the kitchen ….err I mean training room (on the move not at the table)
• take place before and after an event (defrost and reheat)

I think there is something Social and Informal here too…