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.

In Pursuit of Athens Inc.

On the recent anniversary of the Gettysburg address by Abraham Lincoln I serendipitously was re-introduced to an ancient text by the Greek leader Pericles which has uncanny similarity to Lincoln’s famous speech in a similar context. Both wrote of their current struggles and the glory that was the nations they fought to preserve.

“We throw open our city to the world, and never by alien acts exclude foreigners from any opportunity of learning or observing, although the eyes of an enemy may occasionally profit by our liberality; trusting less in system and policy than to the native spirit of our citizens.”

Funeral Oration of Pericles

These are the some of the words of Pericles (Leader of Athens 444BC to 430BC.) where he gave historians a vivid picture of Athens and all it’s practices that helped lead it to be a model for much of Western civilization.

Being a former History teacher, I have always been fascinated by eras of great advancements in humanity and the human condition which often are a result of cultural diffusion and removal of barriers. I see parallels to current events and the past and feel too that with the advancements in collaborative technology we are diffusing on a massive scale and entering a new and probably the most significant of Golden Age‘s …and organizations can also be transformed.  

For example during the Golden Age of Athens, fearless and without hindrance, Athenians placed greater attention on creative and innovative pursuits. Furthermore Athens, being a seafaring power, ventured out to the edges of known civilization uninhibited. Through trade, Athenians brought more than merchant goods to all of Athens but idea from other worlds that would fuel its innovation and lead to advances in Arts, Literature, Architecture, Governance, etc permeate all of Western civilization today.

What lessons can organizations today, which can be compared to nation-states, take away from the Golden Age of Athens? 

Geographically Athens was surrounded by a rugged landscape. Fertile farmland was scarce and thus an agrarian society was not a choice. Athenians had to turn to the sea. Likewise organizations today cannot survive isolated; resting solely on its internal workforce and leadership will not result in a sustainable enterprise. The successful organization must reach out from its borders not to seek and acquire talent but to enable its people to connect with talent everywhere and through these connections grow, innovate and create. 

Athenian merchants, driven by self-interest, served themselves but unconsciously served to grow Athenian influence and power. Athenians were proud and loyal because theirs was a nation that placed the individual above the state. Together they rose. Today organizations who aim to contain and control their people in their pursuits limit themselves and ultimately create distrust and disenchantment; not the loyalty they so greatly expect and desire.

As Pericles eludes to in the excerpt above, Athens subscribed to both transparency and openness. They revealed their innovations to the world and invited others in knowing full well their strength was not in their systems and products but in their people. Their enemies might profit occasionally but the long-term gains of openness far outweighed the short-term losses. 

Organizations too, who choose to invest in their people and their happiness, drop their fruitless efforts at security and reap the rewards of individual freedom of the people. People, free to connect and create with passion and zeal, benefit their organization. And although organizations will encounter periodical challenges from competitors. This trust can only lead to greater gains.

Arguably the greatest reason for Athens success was [Direct] Democracy. The belief that the people, collectively, determined and directed policy. Debate was encouraged and contribution to Athenian politics was not a request but a duty. Hierarchy existed to execute the laws but not create them. Each, regardless of position, had a voice and was encouraged to use it.

Today, through collaborative tools, Democracy can be reborn in our modern [organizational] nation-states. We have an technology enabled ability in our organizations to hear all voices, to debate, to encourage contribution, and to influence hierarchy. These same tools can extend us beyond our borders, seek fertile environments and bring back to the enterprise innovative ideas and solutions. This is about trust; trust in our organizations, trust in the systems, trust in each other. 

Leaders today have an opportunity then to embrace the principles of openness, transparency, and democracy as Athens subscribed, resulting in great work and prosperity or continue down the path of exclusion, deception, control.

The Power of Pause

Typically when I read a story to my kids I don’t respect punctuation all that much. This is probably because I approach reading to them as I approach reading to myself; consuming a lot of content in a short time. Now I must say I am mindful of correct tone with those potent punctuations; exclamation points and question marks,  and I can diversify my voice to make characters spring to life like no other but comma’s, periods, semicolons, etc are hardly a bump in the road.

In the end we cuddle and read the story. The kids are happy, I’m happy… but I began to wonder if they really got it.

During this time of year the kids and I have been reading from a book of 24 Christmas stories . These stories are somewhat abstract as they aim to teach the kids about God through the story of a small bear working his way to Bethlehem. Each short story, of no more than a single page, invites much for the mind’s eye. They are filled with emotion and vivid scenery. Some of the tales even have titles like “The Wolves”, “The Giant.” and “The Thief” which awaken my children’s imagination.

Up until now, upon finishing a story, I’d ask my kids to tell me what happened and what it was about and then later to share it with their mother. Frankly they get about 30% of the story right and none of the meaning. Characters, plot, etc…all lost. So no, they didn’t get it.

I then decided to read it differently. I felt maybe the issue was my pace, that too much was coming at them at once. I really focused on the pause that periods and comma’s enable. Maybe I paused a bit too long at times as my kids would look at me oddly and I have to admit it was an uncomfortable period of silence.

It probably sounded something like this:

Benjamin had finally reached the edge of the forest. …………………………………………  The snow began to fall silently around the weary traveler as…

Something fascinating happened though – they remembered…and they remembered much longer. Furthermore the were getting the meaning, and excitedly revealed it in their own words! They asked additional questions and made connections to other ideas.

It appears that each comma or period was a pause and gave my kids micro moments to reflect on all the information they were presented. The story was somewhat chunked and they now could process every rich nugget of the unfolding plot before adding new content. Maybe they immersed themselves in the scene more; empathized with the character, sense the cold snow, heard the wind, felt the fear and then they were ready to take on more. Their eyes widened, they grew silent, and hung on my every word. They were engaged.

This experience made me wonder about the “micro moments” our employees are afforded in the learning opportunities we create in formal interventions and those we help enable within their work? In formal learning, what if more time were built into each so that reflection was an equal part along with content delivery and practice? How much opportunity do we grant for conversation and I don’t mean Q&A? Are our experiences created with reflection in mind?

What about the benefits of pauses during work? What if we encouraged blogging? What if each employee took time to better reflect upon their processes, narrated their efforts, progress and invited conversation?

Wouldn’t they too share more, question, make connections, be more engaged?

Residue Not Retention as a Strategy

Two relatively recent tweets helped formulate my thinking about our mobile workforce.

The first a vision, the second a reality.

“The firm of the future may be ten million people working together for ten minutes”@EskoKilpi
“Hans: It would be ridiculous for my company to invest in me, where I expect to change job every few years” – @shackletonjones (referencing a speaker’s quote at #LEARN12)

Mobile is an activity, not a technology. We hear much that the average worker will have numerous jobs in his/her life. The number varies depending on the estimator but nobody seems surprised anymore that the number is not 2. Some employees are flying out the door because working in their current company is a fate worse than death but others move on because of a lack of opportunity or bad fit of skills to organization need – not always a harsh criticism of the organization then. The bottom line is that 2 years not 20 is the new normal.
So lets be honest employers, your people are leaving you or you’re leaving them. Lets not kid ourselves anymore, it’s a revolving door and its only going to continue. No sense in fighting it and desperately trying to hang on with grandiose (and expensive) retention strategies… but then again don’t just throw up your hands on trying to “engage” them.  Be human, be compassionate, be fair, compensate accordingly, grant the time deserved to do good work, make it meaningful, give them a say, and hand out “atta boy’s” like candy at Halloween. Do this not because you are trying to get them to stay but in the name of sincere appreciation for what they do.  In the end your employee may stick around but even when they don’t, they won’t exit with a slew of brand destroying tweets either (It’s better to have loved and lost…).

As employees continue to pass through like vapor, employers must shift thinking from retention strategies alone to ones that embraces expected attrition. Workers are fluid like the knowledge they consume and expel. You won’t hold them for long but what organizations need to do is hang on to their residue.  This residue being the rich artifacts of their time in the organization. I am not talking work product so much as work process; the wiki’s they contributed to, the blog posts and comments they made, the quick collaborations and Q&As in micro-blog tools, and the bookmarked (tagged) content. 

As they exit, others enter and the give-n-take cycle begins again. This is where the energy and time should be put. T&D needs to beat their swords (of classes and courses) into ploughshares (for carving out rows and rows of connections). T&D needs to show workers how to plant the seeds and reap the fruits that fuel their labor. HR needs to orient and on-board by introducing employees to a rich culture that invites their contribution. 

T&D should be modeling, encouraging, and sharing Personal Knowledge Management (PKM)  approaches with employees and demonstrating the value of narrating one’s work. PKM should be the default approach for all but especially the increasing transient workforce we see today; Make it unavoidable and easy.

Organizations can’t stop the transition of employees any more than mankind can stop the sun from rising or the wind from blowing. Mankind has transitioned to embrace and leverage this continual motion. It’s a shift for organizations like the shift in energy policy we see today, as nations turn to solar and wind. This type of force strikes and continues on; unconstrained, it briefly turns the blade or fills the cell. The energy though is captured with ample, efficient, and strategically placed tools. This energy is used and then replenished again and again through movement. Organizations too must focus on capturing for brief moments the force of people, as they and their knowledge is in constant motion. 

Networks Fuel “Minn-ovation”

“To be called an innovation, an idea must be replicable at an economical cost and must satisfy a specific need. Innovation involves deliberate application of information, imagination, and initiative in deriving greater or different value from resources, and encompasses all processes by which new ideas are generated and converted into useful products.”

                                                  “Innovation.” 2012. Web. 15 November 2012

Innovation should not always be equated to a grandiose product or service that takes a business to the next level. Rather innovation is more often in the form of micro bursts (which never get the press they deserve) that bring value in even the smallest of situations.

The need for speed

The real winners in the 21st century will be those who can navigate the chaotic and complex quickly. To do this, people must be problem solvers and critical /creative thinkers. Euan Semple (@Euan) in his book Organizations Don’t Tweet, People Do made a strong point that an entrepreneur within an organization (Intrapreneur) should work to release Trojan mice – or small uses of social media to garner interest and results. These tools, by expanding connections and collaboration, help to solve problems faster. Furthermore, when people reach outside of their org using social tools to find solutions, they can share their results and the approach helping propel tool adoption; making a stronger case for support of deeper, external networks.


Earlier this year a key director sought my assistance in a presentation she was planning.  With only 2 days to go she lacked sound equipment to project her voice to over 40 people and thought I had a quick solution.  I did not.  Rather than pay (a highly inflated) price to rent equipment at the venue she simply wanted to plug a mic into her laptop and project out a set of auxiliary speakers.  The problem was – its not that easy. But could it be done? I set out and took the natural course of action – I dialed up the IT department and discovered that they hadn’t a clue.

I then Tweeted the request to my PLN and in about 18 minutes Dave Havis (@dochavis) in the UK replied with a series of tweets on how it could be done as he, using Audacity, had a misstep once and discovered his voice coming through the speakers.   About 20 minutes later he had produced the following for me:

I sent a link to the Director and boxed up a wireless mic and receiver. She set it up, executed the meeting, and it went off perfectly.

The effort was small in a business sense, but innovative none-the-less as it saved time, money, and frustration. And the participants experienced a more effective event. Win-win.  My immediate response for this success was to credit the social tools and the network it fostered as the solution is terminal but the ability to generate solutions in the future – perpetual.

Networks drive continuous minn-ovation and minn-ovation matters. This is how work gets done.