Money Talks, Bullsh*t Walks

Ah the tentative marriage of Democracy and Capitalism. When times are financially good, incumbents win. When times are tough, the public moves to “throw the bums out!” In many organizations L&D is the long serving incumbent and as we know when organizational times get tough, L&D seems to be the first “bum” to get the boot. But what if the organization is profitable and division, departments and individuals can choose L&D services or not because they are a real cost (or investment)? 

In my organization we have charge codes for all activities. Simply put, if we don’t charge our time on a customer project, we don’t get paid (the org that is). To ensure that time and money is accurately recorded we have also had specific charge codes for non-project related activities, things like travel, training, and internal events. However this changed in 2015. Employees (about 80% of our workforce) are now required to charge any training event time directly to their project (vs. a single universal corporate code). 
Hold the phone! So any training taking 15 minutes or more outside of ones work will be charged against the profitability of the project? We may see managers and employees alike scrutinizing every offering and analyzing the impact of every attended event! Requests to L&D to build elearning, host a webinar, deliver a face-to-face event will plummet! Employees will now be cautious when selecting a training class over say a job aid or an informal coaching opportunity! Many employees will even forego an event altogether, instead promoting the idea to their peers that those in the know need to share openly and frequently!  

I couldn’t be happier!

This can only make our organization stronger in my opinion. Better connected, thoughtful, continuously learning, and with everyone focused on the finances. Pragmatism can take it’s rightful place on the learning throne! Unnecessary training and time away from doing the work will be on the decline. The question of how can we get this information/skill without taking time out of work? will be murmured throughout the organization. Now we may have a real opportunity to help people embrace workflow learning. More social approaches to knowledge sharing can thrive in these environments not because of some stale executive mandates to use an ESN, unconvincing presentations on loosely related industry comparable statistics re: social and informal learning, lukewarm peer encouragement efforts, or god forbid gamification tactics. No, now it’s in using the model of business, it’s economics, supply and demand, it’s because people get hit in the wallet that behavior changes! 

At the end of the day, the bottom line is what matters and the fatter that bottom line is, the better.  Caveat Emptor! 

L&Ds Business Is Not In Driving Social Business

I’m becoming more convinced that organizational efforts to help people build social networks and personal knowledge management skills should not involve L&D any more than the Accounting department. And it appears it not just me. Sam Burrough and Martin Couzins recently co-led a MOOC on Social Learning and asked the question in a final Tweetchat: “What role should L&D play in Social Learning?” which for me is a small one. Additionally, in a recent Tweet, JD Dillon made the point that in organizations, many are really doing similar things:

However, I think James Tyer put it best in his blog post titled “Who Owns Organizational Learning? You.” and I encourage you to read it.

My take? As social tools become more commonplace many people today are already (unconsciously) building networks and have developed processes (undocumented) to manage fluid knowledge without much assistance. These people may not be as effective as they could be, or will be, but the way to learn this is not through training which arguably L&D still looks to as the first choice. What people need is to be more conscious of their behavior and then they need encouragement to make their tacit knowledge (processes) explicit for others. This should not really be exclusively L&Ds charge, which organizational leaders tend to default to because when the word “learning” is uttered all eyes tend to turn to L&D. 

Social learning is structureless, the opposite of formal learning. Social transcends the traditional organizational boundaries of departments and divisions. It knows no hierarchy or roles. To help social tools and behaviors to be more a part of worker’s activity, it must simply become more a part of the worker’s work. Learning the work is done by doing the work and this happens best within the work itself not outside of it where L&D typically sits. 

My thoughts on this were further cemented by Dion Hinchcliffe‘s recent article in ZD Net “The Growing Evidence for Social Business Maturity“. This article highlighted the move of organizations from social adoption to adaptation (of open, collaborative work). It spoke of the importance of organizational culture, the significance of executive commitment, business partnerships with operations and IT, goals and KPIs as keys to progression. It was all about the business, the business leaders, the use cases, ambassadors, CoPs, and community management. There was no direct mention of L&D… but for an implied mention when speaking of training – but it was more specifically termed “viral training”; Helping people use the platform’s features and functions peer-to-peer. This would be a significantly minor role for L&D, especially if the tools are intuitive as the should be and even then, motivated folks figure the complex out.
Today there is much focus on trying to convert learning professionals to new understandings and practices using social tools and encouraging social behaviors. This is a mistake in my opinion. Many learning professionals don’t engage or understand the practices any more than any other organizational roles – why assume they will be best suited? Connecting, communicating, curating, etc are not exclusive to a single department. The learning of effective social practices and tools is best done socially; through observation, experimenting, feedback and conversation. This will take time and mistakes will be made of course but I think less control is the best path to longterm success. It’s a higher up decision that patience and trust are to replace command and control. So render unto L&D that which is formal and render unto the entire organization the social efforts that truly surround business execution. 

It’s All Training Until It Isn’t

The course is a seductive solution. I’ve written and spoken about this before as I believe it’s due in part to years of formal learning dominating our lives, better known as learning learned helplessness. And because employees can’t always wait for L&D to develop a solution they will take matters into their own hands. Sometimes this is good as they find the resource (human or material) to solve their own problem or it can be troublesome in that sometimes they create a PowerPoint presentation for others. It’s enough to raise the hair on a learning professional’s neck… but I say don’t fight it. Appreciate their moxie and shift your focus to consultant and help people rethink the decision.

 It’s about  an opportunity not ownership.

So what does Consultative L&D look like? Here are 5 short examples of actual engagement with some of our stakeholders that has not only worked to pragmatically solve a business issue, but helped enlighten those we worked with to stop thinking training only. Again, each of these began with something along the lines of “we need a course on…

1. People Don’t Argue with There Own Data 
A senior divisional leader requested training.  Donning Performance Consultant we stepped in to see if there was a skill gap and if it warranted training as a solution.  This is how the conversation went: 
Me:  “How are new employees learning the methodology and approaches today?”
Him: “Our programs that employ it learn on the job. Seasoned developers already know the general methodologies and our rendition is not that much different than industry best practices. The new individuals who are less aware will have a mentor who will sit with them to bring them up to speed.
Me: “What are the biggest gaps in execution today?”
Him: “Nothing that stands out. Each team/project does it slightly different to accommodate their project, environment, customer, etc.”
Me: “Since our methodology is very much based on industry methodology how/where is it different?”
Him: “It’s different in just a few ways: it accommodates customer processes, documents, and tools.”
Me: The objectives speak to having employees “Understand.” How will we know they understand? i.e. how will success be determined regardless of solution chosen? Are their project executables/deliverables that can be identified that would show knowledge/skill advancement?”
Him: “We are talking about very tightly knitted teams, they “self-organize” and are accountable for what they sign-up for. It’ll become immediately apparent if someone is not keeping up or they just don’t get it.” 
As we dialoged it became apparent to him that a training course was inappropriate, too heavy and unnecessary. Today we are working on small modules loosely connected, some may be podcasts, SME video demonstrations, job aids and checklists that people can pull on as needed to supplement time with knowledgeable team members.
2. When a job aid will do, do a job aid.
After a SME crafted a highly visual step-by-step on generating financial reports in a PowerPoint presentation meant for a live session, I aimed to understand the need and overall objectives after the fact. Not one to throw the baby out with the bath water, we determined that simply following each screen could produce the desired results, no direct instruction needed. The next step was to fine tune through some actual user testing, then reproduce as performance support for use when generating the reports.
3. Need a presentation? Flip it.
Sometimes content is so new or the workforce is so new to the process that a more formal solution is warranted. It’s important to strive to “do no harm” to the work flow and keep learning opportunities as pull vs. push for our employees. Recently I was approach again to help develop a live presentation. Ultimately it was determined, after a bit of dialog about attention and attendance, to release the session as prerecord and then tag it in our ESN. We’d give the audience a week to view and review as needed and then ask them to post in the ESN their additional questions for the SME to address along with peers.
4. Don’t Reinvent the Wheel
In a desire to reaffirm the commitment we have to our client and ensure consistency of execution, the idea of creating a course for a segment of our workforce to complete on a client methodology and tools was promoted. In our analysis we though this would be redundant as much of the material was readily available. Our solution was to curate vs. create. Tapping into the already available formal materials we proposed an internal certification program which modeled similar certifications recognized by our folks. This two level certification not only recognizes employee completion of identified materials but will also acknowledges their successful application in using the materials in the authentic situations. Additionally, they are credited for sharing their knowledge and contributing to the growth of their more novice peers.
5. Pull not Push
Choosing a performance support solution over a course is not always the correct option. People need formal especially when they are new to the content or safety or security is on the line. However when people are more experienced they need less formal and more informal or social opportunities. This was the case with one of my first efforts. Initially a Project Manager’s boot camp was proposed but this made little sense for our experience Project Managers just needing to understand the nuances of our organization’s project management approach; which for the most part was very similar to what most Project Managers knew from their certification through the Project Management Institute. So instead we leveraged numerous SMEs to co-create job aids, templates and short recorded sessions to orient and reinforce our unique ways of executing project tasks. Each of these could be pulled on in the time of need.

Each of these efforts in and of themselves is small. They grew out of small conversations via email or phone call. In each one we have reinforced the approach I think L&D needs to take; small, embedded, impactful, and integrated with the workforce solutions focused not on just on learning but performing. For L&D to reinvent itself it must not only meet the business need but reframe the thinking throughout the organization one problem, one person, one conversation at a time.

Changing Words. Changing Practices. Changing Cultures

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


I always thought Harold nailed it with this quote, showing equally how obvious yet how difficult organizational culture change can be.
But where, when and how does change start? Is it through a huge strategy and subsequent tactics or is it smaller, more individualized, gradual. Practices are the actions we undertake and the behaviors we exhibit. Everything from how we conduct meetings, organize project teams, or decide how long to stand with a colleague talking over a cup of coffee. All are practices that make up our culture. Words to are practices as they are deliberate actions; thoughts transmitted. In the organizational learning subculture the words course and training are unfortunately defaulted to when people who don’t understand them toss them around as THE solution to work performance problem. So if the words change does the related practice follow and then the culture shifts? Are words then the spark to ignite the potential change to come?

For me, each and every opportunity where the cry of “we need training” or a “we should have a course on xyz…” is raised I swoop into performance consultant mode and probe to determine the nature and significance of the issue and remind them for example that a PowerPoint deck is NOT in and of itself Training.  I’m relentless to the point where my staff asked me if I have a template of my responses. I’m also confident that on the other end of the call or email, eyes have rolled. 

Recently though a key leader responded in an email to my typical inquiries with the words “training” and “course”…

The words were in quotes. 

I sensed some subtraction by addition with these quotes bracketing the terms. Maybe it was an element of uncertainty, a glimpse into his internal questioning. However possibly he only wrote it that way to stave off my railing against training first, training always. Regardless, he was singling out the terms as being different than the definition. He was unsure what the solution was but used the only terms he knew with a subtle punctuational caveat. 

Maybe this then is the trigger, the first practice to change in an organizational culture – Words shared, one conversation at a time. 

The Social Element in Motivation

As I launched my campaign to yet again run a 1/2 marathon and begin a training regiment that will involve early morning runs in the heart of winter, my wife encouraged me to join Method 360, an exercise class she’s been attending several times a week to strengthen her core and improve he overall fitness. 

She has, for lack of a better word, become hooked.  

So I joined.  After my 4th visit I could see that the owner/ instructor, Trish Gallen had nailed the recipe for motivation that Daniel Pink identified in his book Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us.


Autonomy – Mastery – Purpose


Autonomy: for every exercise Trish promotes, she has alternatives that do the same but give you an option based on your fitness level and as you fatigue. As a newbie who was fading fast during one of my first classes, Trish shared several options to all of us and we could select one during that circuit. It didn’t lessen the exercise but change was good.  Because I had choice, I couldn’t fail, I couldn’t quit and I couldn’t blame her for how crappy I felt!  The choice was there, I got to own the exercise and I took it.

Mastery: success is personal. It is in feeling you are improving and seeing results. In my first class, feeling lightheaded, I had to step out for 5 minutes while she carried on with the class. The next time I felt like vomiting at one point and my transition between exercise (15 seconds) was slow but I pushed through. by my 4th class I wasn’t the quickest and I wasn’t the most technically sound but I didn’t feel sick, and I didn’t stop. Additionally my form has improved as she isn’t assisting me as much anymore in adjusting my position.  I am gaining mastery!

Purpose: I’m getting older. Each year I run, I seem to get a whole new injury (calf, foot, achilles, etc). A diverse exercise class like this serves to improve many supporting muscles, thus making my running more efficient and less damaging. I exercise in order to run better, longer. My purpose is clear.

The elements are present to maintain my motivation; control, growing success, and a goal.

The structure of the classes surely meets the 3 points above but now that I know this, can’t I just do this all on my own?  No.  The one element not included here is that which ties them all together – Social, which in my opinion is critical.  Don’t confuse this with just being around other people who share a common goal and some rah-rah. Social is being human and all the “real” that comes with it. Trish and her instructors connect with those in class; sincerely. Its nothing they do intentionally, they just show their humanity by sharing their stories, making mistakes, they laugh at themselves, they’re open and transparent. Sure they know more than any in there about exercise but they listen, inquire and want to improve. It’s a connected experience.

As I reflect on this seemingly unconscious motivational approach I wonder how well we (learning professionals) do the same in our efforts to help people improve work performance?  
  • When formal course development is warranted are we involving the learners in the process?
  • Are we designing to “their” goals as well as that of the organization?
  • Is instruction encouraging and helping them see even incremental success? 
  • Is failure treated as a part of the learning process?
  • Are we offering alternatives to the traditional course model? Blended, performance support, coaching, mentoring, networking.


What about in the use of internal collaborative tools? 

  • Are certain behaviors being demanded or do people have the time and space to experiment and learn? 
  • Do they have a voice to express their concerns, fears, needs? 
  • Are business results noted and shared or are we caught up in counting likes and shares, uploads and views?  
  • Is the purpose clear? Is the tool helping them solve a problem specific to them?
  • Is Be Human a key component to adoption and use

You’ll know motivation is there when people fumble through the “exercise” of learning (or connecting), when they struggle, when they’re slow to start but keep coming back. You’ll know to keep encouraging and stay the course… they’re hooked.





Speaking of exercise I’d be remiss if I didn’t share that I run for charity.  Any donation amount (really, any!) will go a long way for me to help fellow Central New Yorkers and the Upstate Medical Foundation.  Check out my donation site and please spread the word and or give what you can.  Thank you!