Friday 29 May 2009

Accountability for Business Results

UK politicians have been in the spotlight over the past few weeks with their creative use of the parliamentary allowance scheme. “Flipping” was one common way that some found to maximise their allowance income. This involved declaring one of their homes - either in their constituency or in London closer to the House of Commons - as their main residence, then claiming all manner of expenses against their second home. Then they’d “flip” and claim expenses on the other house. This was a really neat, if totally immoral and possibly illegal, way to spend taxpayers’ money. Now they’re being found out and punished.

L&D departments have been '”flipping” for years. In some organisations they are moved from being embedded in HR to reporting into the business line and back again on a regular basis. Some also “flip” between local and global accountability as well.

Most L&D “flipping” is an attempt to ensure a better workforce development service to the organisation.

In fact, there’s no right answer – some L&D departments sit in HR and deliver a great service to the business lines, some don’t. Equally, some L&D departments sitting in the business do a great job and others don’t. There’s no structural silver bullet out there.


The silver bullet, however, lies in two accountabilities. Firstly, L&D’s ability to be accountable for business results (or organisational results if you’re in a public sector or not-for-profit organisation). Secondly, there’s an equal need for L&D to be accountable for the efficiency and effectiveness of it’s services. If an L&D department is using sub-optimal approaches, flying ILT trainers around the world to deliver content-heavy classes for example, or is developing expensive media-rich eLearning programmes that only small numbers of employees need to use, it will likely be failing to deliver on these two requirements respectively.

A strategic approach (from both top-down and bottom-up) is needed and get both business accountability and an efficient and effective L&D operation in place. The diagram below is an attempt to break out the high-level parts in these accountabilities. [1] standardising; [2] globalising; [3] integrating; [4] aligning; [5] optimising. Focus on these will result in greater likelihood in L&D being able to deliver a service that brings value to the entire organisation.



I spent most of my 8 years as CLO at Reuters involved in L&D transformation in one way or another. One tool I found very useful in planning a structure that would work for the organisation was the ‘C’ curve for an accountability-oriented L&D framework. The Global HR Director at Reuters and I developed this ‘C’ curve for L&D to help us make the initial changes.

We used the ‘C’ curve model to define the journey needed to build an L&D function that was accountable for business results, whose operation was closely aligned with the company’s overall strategy, that embedded the ‘efficiency & effectiveness’ mantra but - at the same time - where the component parts of L&D could have some autonomy to operate and make decisions locally.

This ultimately resulted in a federated organisational structure – a small core L&D team sitting in the corporate HR centre managing the overall strategy, alignment, standards, infrastructure etc. while the majority of L&D resources (and their budgets) sat in the various business lines delivering operational L&D services to their stakeholders. L&D was held together by a central governance board (mostly senior business managers, but chaired by the HR Director), and functional reporting lines for each of the Heads of Learning (every major business unit had one) into the CLO (my role).

The ‘C’ curve below shows the steps that were taken to move to an accountability oriented structure that worked for us.

Ideally organisations want to move from [1], where pieces of the L&D puzzle are operating autonomously without being strategically aligned, to [4] where they still have a level of autonomy, but are strategically aligned.

Many organisations are still living with [1] and don’t really know how to move away from having a gaggle of un-coordinated L&D/Training groups who are all doing their own ‘thing’ and often competing internally.

The ‘C curve model is a mechanism for making that move.

It’s highly unlikely that a 1->4 move is achievable without the intermediate [2] and [3] steps. That’s the way found it at Reuters. We first needed to bring all the L&D resources (or as many as we could put our arms around) into the corporate centre’s zone of influence – at [2] – and put the ‘twin pillars’ of standards and infrastructure in place. This meant removing the previous autonomy for the sake of alignment. Then we established a solid governance model [3]. Only then could we return autonomy to the groups by restructuring as a federated service, creating the functional Heads of Learning role and moving most of the L&D people into the various business lines.

The result was a structure that worked for the company. Operational L&D was aligned with the business. Business managers chose how to deploy their L&D resources, how to prioritise their L&D budgets etc. At the same time, corporate HR maintained overview of L&D and ensured that strategy, standards and infrastructure services were consistent across the organisation.

As I said, there’s no structural silver bullet, but this model can be very useful as a means to get both alignment and accountability.

Monday 18 May 2009

When the Game's Up

Last month I was asked to give my thoughts on the UK Chartered Institute of Personnel Development (CIPD) 2009 Annual Learning & Development Survey.

One thing became clear when I examined the CIPD data. It was that many L&D professionals (in the UK at least) seem to lack the innovation necessary to push the profession forward to become a leader rather than a follower.

Of course there are exceptions but based on the data in the 2009 Survey L&D is simply not doing enough.

The survey results suggests that the majority of time is still spent in designing and delivering instructor-led courses and curricula.

This should be a real worry to everyone involved in the profession because that game’s well-and-truly up, and has been for some time.

Training/L&D is a big business. In 2007 organisations in the US spent $134.39 billion (that’s right BILLION) on employee learning and development (reported in the 2008 ASTD ‘State of the Industry’ publication). Yet studies have shown that only a small % of this spend actually results in improved performance in the workplace – the Baldwin, Ford & Weissbein studies estimate that not more than 10% of spend transfers to the job.

Yet if the CIPD data is to be believed, over the past 2 years (when the budget pressure has really been on) only 39% of UK organisations have introduced or extended the use of eLearning – for which I think we can read ‘technology-supported learning’ as a whole.

And conversely, the time L&D staff spend ‘delivering courses/time in a training facility’ is still a staggering 46% – down just 3% from the previous year. An additional 46% of time is spent in the overall management/planning of L&D activities.

This means that many Training/L&D staff only plan, develop and deliver ILT training and have no time to do anything else.

What’s happening here?

Well, for a start, only 7% of the L&D Survey respondents thought that eLearning was one of the most effective practices, and only 27% viewed on-the-job training as the most effective L&D practice.

So even L&D professionals haven’t done their research and reading. They are not champions of ‘new world’ approaches.

There’s enough evidence now to show that Instructor-Led Training is not effective as an approach for the majority of employee development. ILT may be helpful for some change management and big-picture ‘concept’ development, but it is demonstrably the least effective and certainly the least efficient approach for most learning that’s required.

The millions of $ / £ / € / ¥ spent on ILT for systems and process training, for instance, are 100% waste of time and money. This training is invariably content-heavy and people can’t retain what they’ve been taught for more than a few hours unless they have the chance to put it into practice in the workplace(which they invariably can’t as the training is carried out pre-rollout/pre-upgrade).

We’d be better off giving our employees the money we spend for training them in classrooms on CRM and ERM systems and letting them go to the pub to spend it themselves – we’d all get better value through a more engaged and less stressed workforce.

If you would like to read a report of my presentation that appeared in PEOPLE MANAGEMENT you’ll find it HERE

The CIPD’s summary of the 2009 Survey can be found HERE.

Monday 11 May 2009

What Does a 21st Century L&D Department Look Like?

A month ago, on April 21, Jay Cross at learntrends co-ordinated a round-the-globe series of online conversations on how learning can impact performance in organisations. Starting on the US West Coast and ending somewhere east of New Zealand, these virtual conversations opened up a whole Pandora’s Box of issues around the challenges and opportunities that learning & development faces if it is to really have an impact of organisational effectiveness.

Jay’s reflections on the event are worth reading.


Ellen Wagner, Curt Bonk and I spent our 30 minutes facilitating a discussion on the topic of ‘New Roles for Learning Professionals’. Going back through my notes and the archive of the (very animated) chat/discussion that took place, some clear threads emerged on the types of capabilities that a 21st century L&D department need to have.

Here are some of the core capabilities identified:

1. consulting / coaching acumen (as well as learning acumen) that is focused on performance problems and outcomes. The ability to engage with senior (and not-so-senior) line managers to identify the root cause of performance problems, and not simply focus on learning.

2. the ability to ‘speak business’. An understanding of business goals is the ‘so what’ in learning. Everyone in L&D should be able to read and draw conclusions from a balance sheet and P&L account and understand the business drivers that line managers are focused on.

3. a good grasp of technology – across-the-board - but especially emerging technologies, and how they can fit into learning solutions

4. adult learning – an understanding of how adults learn in the workplace, and ‘what works’ in organisational learning.

Along with these, another set of attributes such as: ‘empathy, ’ listening’, ‘tolerance for ambiguity’, ‘basic communication ability’ were identified as essential by participants.

Harold Jarache also made the important point that ‘attitude trumps skills’ for a learning professional. We’ve known that in a more general sense for years – many of us have used the axiom ‘hire for attitude’ when we’re recruiting. I certainly have found it has served me well. I can’t think of any situation where I’ve hired on the basis of attitude where I would have done otherwise in retrospect.


One one other vital high-level capability every L&D practitioner needs to have in spades is the ability and, even more importantly the desire, to innovate. Innovation in designing new approaches and solutions to solve performance problems is the oxygen for L&D. It’s not vitally important whether the innovation involves technology or not – although technology does offer some huge opportunities for solving business problems and we’re just plain stupid if we ignore them – but an L&D department that fails to demonstrate that it continues to be innovative is one that’s quickly becoming irrelevant as a strategic business tool. Such L&D departments deserve to have their funding redirected elsewhere.

Wednesday 6 May 2009

70 years on and still relevant: The Sabre-Toothed Future

This first post is a long one. I certainly expect my regular jottings to be more succinct. But I thought it a good starting point for a new blog about performance, learning and productivity.

In early 1939 McGraw-Hill published a profound little book that should be on the reading list of everyone involved in learning and training today. Copies can still be found in dusty bookstores and even on Amazon at times.

Selling at $1, this book was a light satire on education and educators that carried a heavy, and still very relevant, message. It’s called ‘The Saber-Toothed Curriculum’. ‘Saber’ rather than ‘Sabre’ because it was published in the USA and written by one Harold Raymond Wayne Benjamin PhD. Benjamin was described in a contemporary report about the publication by no less than Time Magazine as “the tousle-haired director of the College of Education of University of Colorado, onetime cowboy, fisherman, soldier, who can roll two cigarettes at once”.

So Benjamin was a man of some skills that I aspire to.

Benjamin initially only admitted to writing the foreword to the book, as it was allegedly the text of a series of lectures on the history of Palaeolithic education delivered by a fictitious Professor J. Abner Peddiwell while he drank tequila daisies in a Tijuana bar. Professor Peddiwell described the three fundamentals taught to youngsters in the Palaeolithic curriculum. These were: 1) fish-grabbing-with-the-bare-hands; 2) horse-clubbing; and 3) saber-tooth-tiger-scaring-with-fire.

Below I’ve recounted (and adapted) some of Professor Peddiwell’s lecture because I think we can learn from it when we reflect what’s happening in the training and development world. It tells us about the need for the  world of education, L&D and training to adapt, to leave ineffective practices behind, and to always look to innovation and stay in front of the curve.

Underlying the story is the message that a lot of things that are done in the name of ‘learning’ are of little if any use – and are sometimes even counter-productive.

The story also tells us that some of the views held by the wise old men that Peddiwell was poking fun at have merit – even if they held the views for the wrong reasons. They thought that formal education/training should stick to teaching high-level principles, as the details are likely to change and become irrelevant. Of course they are right.

However, sometimes even the principles also change. In our current times it’s almost a certainty they will do so, and probably sooner than most of us think …


Professor Peddiwell described the first great educational theorist and practitioner, a man named New-Fist-Hammer-Maker. New-Fist was a man of thoughtful action in spite of the fact that there was very little to think deeply about in his environment. He made a name for himself by producing a very fine version of the pear-shaped chipped-stone tool anthropologists call the coup-de-poing, or fist-hammer. New-Fist was pretty handy with other weapon production as well and his fire-using techniques were patterns of precision and simplicity. (I’m sure he would have been recruited by Steve Jobs to work at Apple had he been around today).

Anyway, New-Fist knew how to do things his community needed to get done and he had the energy and the drive to go ahead and do them. By virtue of these characteristics Hammer-Fist was what was called ‘an educated man’.

However, he was also a thinker (education and thinking, then as now, were not necessarily bedfellows). When the others in his community gorged themselves on the proceeds of a successful hunt and vegetated in a dull stupor for days after (not unlike recent behaviours seen in financial centres around the world following successful short-selling or credit swap coups), New-Fist ate a little less heartedly, slept a little less stupidly, and got up a little earlier than his tribe. He woke early to sit and think.

This thinking led New-Fist to catch glimpses of the way in which life could be made a little better for his community. By virtue of this thinking, he became a not only an educated man, but a dangerous man as well.

His thinking led New-Fist to hit upon the concept of a conscious, systematic education. He’d been watching the (Gen Y) children play at the entrance of the cave.  New-Fist noted that they seemed to have no purpose other than the immediate pleasure in the activity itself. He compared the children’s’ activity with that of the adults in the community. The children played for fun. The adults worked for the security and enrichment of their lives. The children protected themselves from boredom; the adults protected themselves from danger.

New-Fist thought “if only I could get these children to do the things that will give more and better food, shelter, clothing and security I would be helping the tribe have a better life”. The children, when they grow up, will have more meat to eat, more skins to keep them warm, better caves to sleep in, and less danger from the striped death with curving white teeth that prowls at night ...

Having set his educational goals, New-Fist proceeded to construct a curriculum for teaching them.

His first curriculum subject was fish-grabbing-with-the-bare-hands. The tribe had always caught fish in the big pool around the river bend in this way.

The tribe also caught little woolly horses by clubbing them. Woolly horse meat was one of the staples in their diet. So woolly-horse-clubbing became the second curriculum subject.

Finally, old New-Fist introduced his coup-de-grace, sabre-toothed-tiger-scaring-with-fire. The tribe had always scared away the ‘striped death’ with fire sticks.

New-Fist then put his curriculum into action.

However, he ran into some opposition. Some of the more conservative tribal elders took exception to the contents of New-Fist’s curriculum. Some maintained that New-Fist was going against the natural order of things. However, New-Fist won out and fish-grabbing-with-the-bare-hands, woolly-horse-clubbing and sabre-toothed-tiger-scaring-with-fire led them into the brave new world.


However a new Ice Age approached (and it was going to have nearly as great an impact as the invention of the Internet several millennia later). As the glacier came down from the north, the river silted up and it was impossible to see into the muddy water to catch fish with bare hands. Moreover for some years the fish had been getting more timid, agile and intelligent. The stupid, clumsy, brave fish had all been caught years ago. Only the fish with superior intelligence and agility were left. These smart fish hid under the boulders and in the depths of the muddy stream. No matter how good a man’s fish-grabbing-with-the-bare-hands education had been, he couldn’t grab fish when he couldn’t find fish to grab.

The water from the approaching glacier also made the ground damper. The Woolly Horses went east to the dry ground. Their place was taken by little antelope who were far too speedy for the tribe to catch to club to death. Even the best educated Horse-Clubbers, with the best clubbing techniques, returned empty-handed. You can’t club horses when there are no horses to club.

Finally to complete the disruption of their Palaeolithic life and education a new dampness in the air gave the Sabre-Toothed tigers pneumonia, and they died. In their place New-Fist’s tribe had to face a new, more ferocious danger in the glacial bears that took their place. And glacial bears weren’t afraid of fire…..

So tiger-scaring, horse-clubbing and fish-catching simply became academic exercises for the tribe.... things had moved on.

Some of the younger men of the New-Fist breed forgot what they had been taught in their formal training, began to think in a radical and practical manner and developed new ways to catch fish (one even developed a NET - a NETWORK wouldn’t be far away, I’m sure). Others developed new ways to catch horses by bending young trees over and hanging noose vines on them. Another young man forgot what he had been taught and dug a big pit to catch the bears in.

They practices these new approaches, refined them, and were always ready to try a newer, more efficient or effective approach.

And they shared their new learning with their colleagues through their conversations, so the new practices became widespread. “These new activities of net-making, snare-setting, and pit-digging are indispensable to modern existence”, they said. "Why can't they be taught formally?"

However, the wise elders replied:

“What have practical activities got to do with school and training? Anyway, the curriculum is too full to add any more….”

“Moreover, the things we teach our people are not for any direct practical purposes. We don’t teach fish-grabbing to catch fish. We teach it to develop a generalised agility which can never be developed by mere training. Education is timeless. It is something that endures through changing conditions like a solid rock, standing firmly in the middle of a raging torrent.”

The young men persisted a little in their questioning. "Fish-net-making and using, antelope-snare construction and operation, and bear-catching and killing”, they pointed out "require intelligence and skills - things we claim to develop in our training. They are also activities we need to know about. Why can't we teach them?"

But most of the tribe, and particularly the wise old men who controlled the education system, smiled indulgently at this suggestion. "That wouldn't be education" they said. "It would be mere training".