Thursday, 27 December 2012

Exploiting The Link Between Employee Development & Customer Engagement

linkThis  post is adapted from a commentary written for the Spark Interactive / ClerkWell 2012 Digital Customer Experience Report – an annual industry report that focuses on customer engagement and how businesses are using digital means to build closer relationships and interact with their consumers.

You can download the report from the Spark Interactive website. It contains excellent data and analysis.

Customer engagement is directly linked to employee development.  If employees don’t understand how to delight their customers, then their organisations will almost certainly fail.

The role that learning and development professionals play in this process is critical. If they are to deliver value they must focus on the things that matter and use the best approaches possible to help their organisations delight customers.


Lessons from The Cluetrain

cover187-cluetrain-10th-0465018653 Back in 1999 the authors of The Cluetrain Manifesto posited the significant ways the Internet and associated technologies would transform all business activity. “Markets are conversations” they said, and “companies that assume online markets are the same markets that used to watch their ads on TV are kidding themselves”.

Equally, resilient companies understand that what constituted value in the past has changed significantly, too.

No-one would now argue that The Cluetrain Manifesto authors got it wrong. Speak to anyone across any number of industries – travel, consumer marketing, newspapers, finance and banking, and elsewhere – and you’ll hear how the new communication technologies have disintermediated the flow of information and changed the perception of value. What were once premium services can now be obtained or executed at the click of a button.

Intangible Trends

Twenty-five years ago intangible assets accounted for around one third of the valuation of U.S. companies. By the turn of the millennium more than 80 per cent of that value was intangible.

Value has migrated from property, plant and equipment to ideas, relationships, intellectual property and reputation. From assets created by people’s hands to asset held inside people’s head and hearts.

source: ocean tomo

As times passes the importance of these intangible assets, particularly of relationships (rich social networks) and reputation (customer centricity) will only increase.

The Agility Imperative

The impact of these changes are manifest no more starkly than in workers’ ability to delight customers.

No longer can workers expect their employers’ formal learning and training approaches to meet their needs. The past world where development was ‘delivered’ in a way decided by learning professionals – packaged and inflexible – simply isn’t adequate for today’s fast-moving and always-changing world. The imperative for business agility and increased customer focus demands ‘learning at the speed of business’, and social networks and new communication channels are essential tools and conduits to achieve appropriate levels of responsiveness.

This increased rate of change and demand for agility doesn’t accommodate the rigidity and lag times of formal training and development. Workers today expect to drive their own development based on (ever changing) personal needs, and they expect to do it in the context of their work and together with their colleagues.

They also expect to manage their development in consort with their wider social networks – both within and outside their work. The loose ties with people outside our organisations provide insights that would never come from colleagues, so the value for organisations is significant, too.

However the answer is not simply ‘building relationships’. A recent Harvard Business Review article pointed out that customers don’t necessarily want ‘relationships’. What they want is help in making decisions. Deep down, every customer-facing worker also knows this. The single biggest driver of customer ‘stickiness’, by far, is decision simplicity.

All of these factors point to the need for new skillsets, new capabilities and new support approaches for staff in customer-facing roles, and there is no doubt that new social tools and approaches will be the bedrock. No organisation will escape the inexorability of the need to provide better customer experiences. Changing approaches to employee development are a critical element in that process.

David Weinberger, one of the authors of The Cluetrain Manifesto sums the situation up well:

“Your organization is becoming hyperlinked. Whether you like it or not. It’s bottom-up; it’s unstoppable.”


The Cluetrain Manifesto by Chris Locke, Doc Searls, David Weinberger & Rick Levine

‘To Keep Your Customers, Keep It Simple’. Spenner & Freeman. HBR May 2012.



Wednesday, 15 August 2012

Compliance Training: does it really work?

Sea Pool_1Until relatively recently I’d bought into the argument that organising regulatory and compliance training is one of the important and necessary tasks for an L&D department.

Virtually every organisation has regulatory and compliance requirements it needs to meet. In highly regulated industries even more so.

So it seemed sensible then that part of the obligation should fall on L&D to train employees to understand what’s expected of them to be compliant in their work.

However in light of experience I’ve come to ask myself whether compliance training has any real effect at all. Or is it mainly a waste of time, effort and the (vast amount) of money spent on it?

The answers I’ve found have been quite enlightening.

One way in which compliance training works

Compliance training undoubtedly works in one way. That is to ensure the right ‘boxes are ticked’ should something go awry.  Rather as support for the ‘we followed orders’ defence.  This is often the situation found in the wake of some non-compliant act that had led to an unwanted occurrence. The question as to whether the organisation has followed statutory or relevant professional body compliance training guidelines is often the first one raised.  Organisations produce their records of compliance training to be used as part of the defence.

In other words compliance training is useful as a back-stop to help avoid financial sanctions and, at worst, the CEO or Chairman ending up in front of a jury and possibly in prison (in the past a number have). Sometimes this ‘defensive compliance’ strategy works. Increasingly it doesn’t.

But does it actually improve compliance and lower the number of non-compliant acts?

The evidence

Certainly the evidence seems to indicate that the related domain of diversity training has little or no effect. Peter Bregman’s March 2012 article on the Harvard Business Review certainly states the case that diversity training doesn't extinguish prejudice. In fact, it promotes it. Bregman cites a study of 829 companies over 31 years that showed diversity training had "no positive effects in the average workplace."

If diversity training has no impact, or even negative impact, is compliance training in the same boat? If so, what are the alternatives?

A study by Yassi, Bryce, Maultsaid, Lauscher, and Zhao in the Canadian healthcare service showed that requiring completion of an online compliance module, rather than simply encouraging completion and allowing voluntary access, generated a higher intention to comply. So this might suggest that mandatory compliance training is a good thing.  But the difference was simply in the intention to comply, rather than compliance itself.

On the other hand Jeff Kaplan, a US lawyer and national expert in compliance and ethics, reports major problems with compliance training, especially online training. Kaplan found:

“An employee of a global company recently told me “In Europe, people pay their children to click through it” and at another company the phrase “mind numbing” was used to describe such training.  (Indeed, a lawyer whose full-time job had been developing on-line Compliance and Ethics training recently told me he doubted its efficacy.)   And, not infrequently, in-person training is criticized as well.”

Kaplan goes on to say:

“None of this should be surprising.  From a design perspective, training is often created in an utterly wholesale manner, so that, for instance, salespeople, those in finance and senior managers are all being given the same FCPA training even though their risks and responsibilities differ significantly.  Perhaps worse, from a deployment perspective, training is often disconnected from risk-causing events or other contexts in which Compliance & Ethics messages could be more effectively conveyed.”

There’s also another set of fundamental problems I’ll discuss below. But before getting into those, it’s worth thinking about environments where compliance is seen to be critical – in highly regulated industries.

Highly Regulated. Highly Compliant?

standard charteredEven in the recent past our press reports have been littered with highly regulated industries behaving in absolutely non-compliant ways on a huge scale. Just this week Standard Chartered Bank has agreed to pay a $340m fine for its alleged breaches of US sanctions that US regulators claimed left the financial system vulnerable to corrupt regimes and weapons and drug dealers. And there may be more sanctions and fines still to come for Standard Chartered.

BarclaysBefore Standard Chartered came Barclays (‘Barclays had a culture of gaming – and of gaming us’ said Andrew Bailey, the top banking regulator at the UK Financial Services Authority). Along with HSBC and others with their manipulation of the LIBOR rates. A damning report by the US Senate concluded that HSBC had a “pervasively polluted” culture, and that the bank’s Head of Compliance warned the CEO of non-compliant activities, but Lord Green, the then-CEO, took no action.

In July the economist David Blanchflower declared that in the wake of the interest rate fixing scandal “there are no longer any UK bankers who are credible candidates to become the next Governor of the Bank of England.

And it’s not just the banking industry.

There’s the Energy industry, with the disaster and fines encountered by BP and its sub-contractors in the Deepwater Horizon spill. The death of 11 men and extensive damage to marine and wildlife is simply another example of disasters resulting from non-compliance in what is supposed to be a highly regulated industry.

The report on the causes of the spill by the White House Oil Spill Commission blamed BP and its partners for making a series of cost-cutting decisions and the lack of a system to ensure well safety. The Commission also concluded the spill was not an isolated incident caused by "rogue industry or government officials", but that "the root causes are systemic and, absent significant reform in both industry practices and government policies, might well recur".

BP set up a $20billion compensation fund which has had more than one million claims to date, with more still coming in. 

The pharmaceutical industry, another one where regulation and compliance is held as paramount on every executives’ lips, has its share of high-impact non-compliance incidents. Just last month GlaxoSmithKline was instructed to pay $3bn in the largest healthcare fraud settlement in US history. GSK pleaded guilty to promoting drugs for unapproved uses and failing to report safety data to the Food and Drug Administration. Does GSK have a comprehensive programme of compliance training?  You bet it does.

The list of non-compliance incidents in highly regulated industries could go on almost ad infinitum.

Non-compliance is equally rife in not so regulated industries. It’s hardly worth starting on issues encountered in the media industry, in Mr Murdoch’s empire and elsewhere.

But what does all this tell us?

Just a waste of time, effort and money?

Actually, it tells us a lot. It gets to the heart of of what effective compliance training and approaches should be all about.

In his HBR article Jeff Kaplan reported a study that found the ‘decoupling of compliance training from sales activities’ in financial services firms was at the heart of many of the problems and was seen as having contributed to the misconduct at issue.

We need to step back from the standard knee-jerk response that compliance training is a necessary and effective way (and often the only way) of improving levels of compliance, and that there is no alternative open to us. There seems to be little evidence to support the link between compliant behaviour and current standard compliance training approaches. In fact some of the evidence indicates the contra-argument.

In other words it is likely that most of the time, effort and money spent on compliance training is simply being wasted. At best it’s a security blanket. At worst it promotes non-compliant behaviour. Even paper-waving training records in front of judges and national commissions no longer holds much sway.

Existing evidence points to a situation where most companies would be better off simply ditching their existing compliance training efforts wherever they can, and making mandatory training as fast and simple as possible. Maybe even encouraging the behaviours Jeff Kaplan reports above – getting children to click through the training to get a tick in the LMS box with as little thought and effort as possible.

So, is there a better way?

Effective compliance training

There is, and it involves something other than running endless compliance training courses.

First we need to start thinking about ways in which compliant behaviour is best encouraged.

The main objective for any organisational learning is to engender behaviour change. After all what is ‘learning’ if it isn’t changing and adapting behaviour to achieve different and, hopefully, better outcomes of action? Many seem to have forgotten this when they think about compliance challenges. When dealing with compliance training often the process becomes more important than the results, and training becomes the only club in the bag to deliver the process.

If training is to be used, it should be focused on changing behaviours. Testing short-term recall following some compliance training event won’t do that no matter what the regulatory bodies who define the ‘compliance curriculum’ say.  We need a different approach.

Compliance training needs to be top-down

There seems to be a common thread that runs through almost all high-profile compliance catastrophes. It is that the top-tier executives and middle managers in the organisations simply didn’t model the behaviours that would lead to a culture of compliance.

Take perceived value of employees. If you’re working in an organisation where the CEO is being paid many $millions and where the differential between top executive remuneration and bottom-tier worker pay is huge, why would you expect a culture of compliance to exist? Humans don’t work that way.

If you’re driven by extremely challenging targets and eye-watering potential rewards if you deliver value and profit for your organisation no matter what, why should your organisation expect you to be 100% compliant? If you can cut corners it’s likely that you will. Humans often work that way.

What about where employee treatment is differentiated on rigid hierarchical lines – where ‘masters of the universe’ rule, or where there is a culture of ‘it’s OK to say one thing and do another’? If people see their leaders as ‘different’ and disengaged from them they themselves are less likely to be engaged with the organisation. Less engaged workers are less likely to be compliant with standards and regulations.  That goes for senior as well as junior team members.

Organisations where leaders model the compliant behaviours they would like to see across the workforce are far more likely to display those behaviours across all levels.

Take the John Lewis Partnership in the UK, for example. This is an organisation that’s been built on the concept of fairness. ‘Never knowingly undersold’ is one credo that John Lewis has lived by since 1925. But behind that is a successful employee-owned business. More than 28% of stock ‘shrinkage’ in UK retail is due to internal theft – employees taking things. At John Lewis employees are ‘partners’ and own a share in the company. Even if you’re simply stacking the shelves you share a common goal with the company to safeguard profit. Low levels of internal theft are the result at John Lewis. Far below the average for the retail sector as a whole. I recall a John Lewis employee speaking about a colleague who had been discovered removing items from the Shepherd’s Bush, London, store. Her view was that the colleague was ‘stealing from us all’ and the policy of instant dismissal, with all shares and other benefits removed, should be enacted forthwith.  ‘We don’t do that stuff around here’ she said.

This view is common across the John Lewis partnership. Employees are engaged, so they value compliant behaviours, and will speak up when they see others being non-compliant. 

In the recent banking scandals, even senior managers didn’t speak up when they knew about non-compliant behaviour.  No amount of compliance training will change that. 

So where does this leave compliance training?

It certainly doesn’t mean compliance training isn't necessary at all. But it does mean that it’s likely to be far removed from the vast majority which currently exists, and that much of the future activity and focus to improve compliance won’t be through ‘training’.

Firstly, any formal compliance training should be led by senior managers and actively supported by executives. Not simply by leaders issuing homilies from afar, but by them ‘walking the walk’ and ‘talking the talk’. By modelling compliant behaviour themselves. By ensuring that everyone understands that employee fairness and ‘doing the right thing’ is at the core of their organisations. By ensuring that fairness is demonstrated across their workforces. Not by employees being told that’s the case, but by them seeing it with their own eyes.

Together with any formal training, at the top of every executive and manager’s priorities should be the encouragement and participation in awareness-raising about compliance and expected behaviours. If it isn’t then they shouldn’t be surprised to find non-compliance rife no matter how many compliance training programmes employees have been compelled to attend or complete.

The implications

As Ross Dawson points out in his ‘12 Themes for 2012’, reputations are more visible and vulnerable than ever before. We all know that. Reputations can and will be trashed in moments, especially with the increased pervasiveness of social media as a way for individuals to get a hearing. The era where the powerful controlled the distribution of information is well and truly over. Organisations large and small will increasingly have their innermost secrets washed in public.  Organisations that behave badly will be exposed. Compliant behaviour will become even more critical for survival for many organisations. And non-compliant behaviour will become ever more difficult to brush under the carpet.

So, we’d better get our approaches to compliance right. Some training may be needed, but it will never be sufficient.

To give Jeff Kaplan the last word on the training element:

What, then, will the future of Compliance & Ethics training and other communications look like?   Very possibly, the “same as it ever was” – because many companies simply do not push for excellence and innovation in Compliance & Ethics program matters (the way they do for corporate functions more traditionally seen as mission critical, such as sales).  Indeed, it is not only businesses actively engaged in bribery that pursue Compliance & Ethics “half measures.”

“But for organizations with a dynamic – and truly risk-focused – view of Compliance & Ethics programs, the path is clear: training should be developed in a far more granular way than it currently is and deployed when, where and how it can make the most difference.  After all, if Compliance & Ethics risks can evolve – which they do all the time – so can training.”

Thursday, 5 July 2012

The Higgs boson of Training & Development?

512px-CMS_Higgs-eventYesterday, scientists at Europe’s CERN research centre announced that they have found a new subatomic particle that behaves like the much sought-after Higgs boson, the ‘god particle’ (or ‘goddamn particle’).

The discovery of this elusive,  ethereal particle represents a major breakthrough in our understanding of the universe.

So what does this have to do with the learning and training world?

Listening to the announcement from CERN yesterday made me think how a better understanding of our world helps us act in different and improved ways – and that maybe we should be doing things differently in our attempts to help organisations and people learn, develop and perform.  After all, some 22 years years ago we found the Higgs boson of the learning and development world.

The Atom – indivisible, indestructible, with hooks.
Thinking back to yesterday’s momentous announcement, I started pondering earlier discoveries in the field of particle physics that had led to enormous changes the world and in the way we work due to inventions built on the back of them.

JJ Thomson’s identification of the electron in 1897 gave a huge boost to our understanding of electricity, and allowed the inventions of Edison, Tesla and others to be turned into the electronics industry that drives almost everything we do in the world today. New Zealander Ernest Rutherford’s work on atomic structure at the Cavendish Labs in Cambridge in the early years of the 20th Century built the base for nuclear physics and the development of atomic power (and atomic weapons) and a lot else - including the humble smoke detector with its ionising chamber.

All very interesting, but what about the learning and training world (again)?

Well, some earlier work at CERN in 1990  by Tim Berners-Lee and Robert Cailliau led to developments that changed the way people communicate, collaborate and learn for ever. You’re reading this only because of their work. Berners-Lee and Cailliau changed the face of commerce and almost every walk of life with their invention. Yet many learning and training practices that are still being used in organisations around the world seem to be ignoring this fact.

It’s not just about the technology and ‘shiny things’. It’s the fact that the technology has changed the speed that organisations move and do things. It’s changed their ability to respond and their ability to innovate. It’s changed the way people in organisations communicate and share, and the way they work – and its changed the way they learn.

Schrödinger and the Training World
The invention of the Web should have been equivalent in the training world of the collapse of Schrödinger’s wave function (he of the ‘cat in the box’ of particle physics) and a total re-think of how we should do things.

The idea that learning is best carried out by removing people from the workplace and providing them with structured content and (if they were lucky) opportunities to practice in a simulated environment was blown away with the invention of the Web and the appearance of ubiquitous information sources.  Suddenly we had the ability to do a lot of things better, faster, more efficiently and more effectively – and often with higher levels of engagement and enjoyment.  It’s taken us a while to realise it, but that’s what happened. Why should I attend a product training course when I can watch a short video of an expert explaining the product and engage with her and my colleagues synchronously and asynchronously from wherever I happen to be – from my desk, from home, from the park or while I’m travelling? I can discuss my challenges, get hints and tips, ask for further explanations and heads-up about potential problems, and obtain feedback from people who have already been piloting it.

Is there any real reason why product training in classrooms still exists? What about systems training? Or training on that upgrade of our CRM tool that embeds some new processes?

Surely if I can obtain information and build my knowledge in more effective and efficient ways rather than attending a training course I should be doing that?

Of course we’re seeing massive changes in the way people learn many things as part of their normal workflow.  Learning and work are intermingling – workscapes describe this phenomenon. Who would ever contemplate attending a training course to learn how to construct a pivot table in Excel for instance? Ten years ago there may have been a good reason to do so. Now there is none. A quick search for ‘excel pivot tables’ on YouTube returns over 3,000 hits. Of course some may be less-than-useful (just as some of the classroom training courses we’ve all attended have been less than useful), but we quickly identify great teachers who upload their tutorials and which ones suit us.

If It’s Informational: Use the Web, Use Colleagues, Use the Intranet, but Don’t Use Training
If the requirement is mainly informational or simple instruction there’s absolutely no reason for anyone to leave the context of work to attend some form of course. Yet there’s still a whole industry inside training and development departments and an entire industry of training providers that exist simply to do just this. We must be crazy to put up with it. It’s as if we know that electricity’s been invented but choose not to use it for no reason other than it threatens our out-dated work practices and our 19th century thinking.

My old physics teacher used to tell us that when he was at school (about the time Ernest Rutherford was making his atomic discoveries) he was taught that atoms were indivisible, indestructible with hooks on them. He then taught us that isotopes were created when one of the Gabriel’s Angels returned to the production line after eating jam sandwiches for lunch and hadn’t washed the jam off her fingers….

256px-Large_Hadron_Collider_dipole_magnets_IMG_0955The announcement at CERN yesterday made me wonder whether some people working in training and development will still be clinging to the idea that training is the only, or best, answer to developing capability and performance long after it has passed its sell-by date for most purposes.

The invention of the Web, the rise and rise of social media, and our understanding that most learning happens in the workplace, have deflated that particular wave function some time ago – these three discoveries and developments are the Higgs boson of organisational learning.

(If you’re interested in seeing an excellent explanation of the Higgs bosun this is well worth a few minutes of your time )

Wednesday, 6 June 2012

70:20:10 - It’s not about the numbers, it’s all about change

Remembering Prof. Allan Tough (died 27 April 2012 aged 76 years) – a great man, a pioneer researcher into self-directed learning, a futurist, and author. Allen’s research was fundamental to 70:20:10 thinking.


During the past 6 weeks I’ve had the pleasure of working with representatives from more than 60 organisations in a series of master classes identifying ‘quick wins’ and developing action plans for implementing the 70:20:10 framework.

In fact, over the past few years I’ve had the opportunity to work with many other organisations – from huge multinationals with hundreds of thousands of employees across the world, to small and medium-sized enterprises and regional government departments – all organisations that are exploring the best ways to deploy the 70:20:10 framework, or are actively making it work.

This work has provided me with a number of insights which I think the FIVE below are worth sharing:

  • it’s not about the numbers, it’s about change
  • top-down thinking and bottom-up action are both essential
  • a new understanding of ‘learning’ is needed by everyone
  • learning professionals have to step up and let go
  • manager engagement and capability are both critical

[1] It’s not about the Numbers, it’s all about Change
70:20:10 is not about a fixed ratio. It’s a simple and extremely helpful framework for changing focus and aligning resources to support workforce development and learning with where most of it already happens – in the workplace.

So, why use ‘70:20:10’ at all?

The numbers are a useful reminder that most learning occurs in the context of the workplace rather than in formal learning situations and that learning is highly context dependent. The numbers provide a framework to support learning as it happens through challenging experiences, plenty of practice, rich conversations and the opportunity to reflect on what worked well and what didn’t.

It’s also useful to keep the ratios in the back of our minds to remind ourselves that learning naturally occurs this way. They’re not some tight formula that organisations should be targeting.

It’s well worth reading my Internet Time Alliance colleague Jay Cross’s article about formal/informal learning ratios on his Informal Learning blog. Jay makes clear something we all know deep down - that learning is not a binary process – it usually doesn’t happen exclusively formally or exclusively informally, but mostly part-formally and part-informally. The mix varies depending on the situation.

I’ve also stressed this point in my ‘70:20:10 Learning Approaches’ presentation on SlideShare.

The KPMG work with the global food manufacturer, Sara Lee, cited on the Informal Learning blog, provides a good example of the fact that the ratios will vary with specific situations and therefore shouldn’t be taken as a mantra.

One thing I do know from working with many organisations using the model is that The 70:20:10 framework is an extremely helpful change agent.

One of its most powerful uses is to provide a structure for de-focusing time and effort on sub-optimal away-from-workplace training and re-focusing on more efficient and effective types of development. Almost without exception in my experience organisations that have adopted 70:20:10 have achieved greater impact on performance at organisational and individual level at lower cost than was being achieved beforehand.

Recently I’ve seen variations on the numbers being put forward. Some of these ideas are the result of thoughtful and useful analysis. Others are ‘angels dancing on heads of pins’. It would be an exercise in futility to re-define the Sara Lee data above as the 45:30:10:8:3:2:2 model.

My own view is that as social media comes into more ubiquitous use in workforce development – from executive and leadership development to individual contributor functional development - the ‘20’ will strengthen at the expense of the ‘10’, so we may get to a time when the ‘70:20:10’ just doesn’t make sense anymore and we’ll need to find some new way to express the need for change.  However, I think that we’ve some way to go before that point is reached.

[2] Top-Down and Bottom-Up
Organisations that succeed in deploying the framework are those that understand the need for adopting a clear strategy, but then focus on practical ‘low-hanging fruit’.

This top-down and bottom-up approach is essential. Clear direction plus senior stakeholders who are engaged, enrolled and prepared to act as ‘champions’ will get the change process underway and keep it on track, but then HR and learning professionals who can identify the quick wins and achieve them are also critical to ensure that change happens on the ground.

Simple things such as embedding 70:20:10 concepts into annual development planning and templates, educating workers and their managers that ‘development’ does not equal attendance on programmes and courses, ensuring that social learning and reflection is embedded into work practices, all contribute to the change process.

[3] Re-thinking ‘Learning’
The thinking that hard-wires ‘knowing’ to ‘learning’ has set our efforts to build high-performing organisations back many years.

Learning and knowing sometimes coincide, but they are different beasts.

There is still a huge focus on ‘knowing’ in organisational learning. We build formal classroom courses and eLearning programmes that consist of pre-tests and post-tests. We then assume that if we gain a higher score after some formal learning process (almost invariably assessed through a test/examination/certification based on knowledge recall) than we did before, then learning has occurred.

Most of us know deep down that this is bunk.

Passing knowledge tests immediately following a course tells us little about real learning. It may tell us something about short-term memory recall, but real learning can only be determined by observable long-term changes in behaviour.

The 70:20:10 framework, with it's emphasis on learning through experience (the ‘70’ and ‘20’ bits, especially), helps push the understanding of what learning means towards ‘know-how’ from ‘know-what’. Towards demonstrating learning through action – behaving differently when confronted with specific circumstances. Morgan McCall, one of the researchers who carried out the Centre for Creative Leadership survey of managers that led to the 70:20:10 framework becoming more widely known and adopted, explains the power of experiential learning here.

Organisations that effectively incorporate the 70:20:10 framework into their workforce development strategies invariably build a wider understanding of what ‘learning’ means – and follow that up with empowering many people to think of learning opportunities outside the class/curriculum mind-set.

[4] Learning Professionals: Stepping Up and Letting Go
70:20:10 implementation challenges entrenched learning and development practices and, in so doing, puts pressure on quite a number of learning professionals.

It does this because one of the underpinnings of the framework is the acceptance that only a small percentage of organisational learning (the ‘10’) can be managed by the HR and L&D departments. The vast majority occurs outside their bailiwick. 

The categorisation below, developed with my Internet Time Alliance colleagues Jane Hart and Harold Jarche, shows clearly that most ‘informal’ elements of learning can’t be managed, but can only be supported by HR/L&D. Others can only serve as lessons themselves.

Learning Categories

So, a precursor for effective implementation of the framework is for learning professionals in the organisation to let go trying to control everything and look instead to support, encourage and learn from the learning that is happening all around them.

This is not to say learning professionals are necessarily redundant.  However it does mean that they need to step up to challenges that they probably haven’t faced before and change their modus operandi from simply designing, developing and delivering formal learning activities and programmes.

Effective deployment of 70:20:10 usually requires significant support for line managers – as they’re the people who have the most influence over effective implementation of the ‘70’ and ‘20’ (and the most influence over learning and performance improvement generally). The L&D staff can play an important role in supporting line managers to identify, enable and encourage social learning, information sharing, collaborative knowledge building and other workplace development activities. But the skills they need to do this may differ from the skills that the learning professional role previously required.

[5] Managers: It can’t Happen without them
Every time I work on the 70:20:10 framework with an organisation I’m reminded of the fundamental role that manager/line leader engagement and capability play in overall success.

We know from the Corporate Leadership Council’s Employee Development Survey research into Driving Results Through Employee Development that line leaders who are focused and effective at developing their reports achieve around 25% better performance from their teams than line leaders who are not effective at developing their people.

It is essential that senior leadership and line leaders fully understand the implications of this research – that the greatest levers for learning and performance improvement are in the hands of people managers.

There is a large number of tools and techniques that are available to make this job easier for managers. These need to be an integral part of any 70:20:10 rollout - from simple techniques to help reflective learning as part of regular manager-report meetings, to guides, templates, tools and tips to support experiential learning and learning through people networks. I wrote about this in my previous blog post (below) ‘Managers and Mad Hatters: Work That Stretches’.

Friday, 27 January 2012


This is the third and final of three posts adapted from articles I’ve written for Inside Learning Technologies & Skills magazine. It was published and distributed in the magazine for the Learning Technologies Conference and Exhibition in London 25-26 January 2012.

1book28"It's a poor sort of memory that only works backwards,” says the White Queen to Alice.

In the previous two articles I addressed some of the challenges learning professionals face in the changing world of work and how they are responding. I also looked at some of the approaches an increasing number of organisations are using to exploit the fact that most learning happens in the workplace rather than in the classroom or through structured eLearning courses – especially the adoption of the 70:20:10 Framework.

In this final article I want to address the challenge with which many L&D and HR departments struggle. This is how to enrol managers in the practice of people development, how to engage with them, and how to ensure learning activities are aligned with their priorities.

Manager support and active participation is vital to develop and support a culture of continuous learning. Arguably the role that managers play is far more important than that of either L&D or HR. The research supports this. It also supports the fact that the ‘whole is greater than the sum of the parts’ when leaders, line managers, HR, and learning professionals align their efforts and each takes accountability for part of a combined workforce capability development strategy.

A Lessons for Managers from the Mad Hatter

1book24The Mad Hatter’s tea party provides the first lesson.

When Alice sat down at the tea party with the Hatter,  the March Hare and the Dormouse, the Hatter (who Carroll never actually referred to as ‘mad’) poses a riddle for Alice:

"Why is a raven like a writing desk?"

Alice and the Hatter then enter a dialogue that culminates in Alice giving up trying to guess the answer to the riddle, and the Hatter admitting he doesn’t have an answer himself anyway. Alice says wearily to the Hatter “I think you might do something better with the time than waste it in asking riddles that have no answers”. To which the Hatter replies; “If you knew Time as well as I do, you wouldn’t talk about wasting it”.

So, what’s the relation to managers and learning?

Well, sometimes people feel that their managers are posing riddles just like this for them to try to resolve – expecting them to perform without providing any guidance or feedback, and without appearing to have an answer as to what they expect themselves.

Many managers simply don’t set clear objectives and explain their expectations, and don’t follow up and help to embed learning. This has a significant impact on performance.

In fact, research carried out by the Corporate Leadership Council/Learning & Development Roundtable showed that Managers who set clear objectives, explain their expectations, and clearly set out how they plan to measure performance have teams that outperform others by almost 20%.

That’s the equivalent of obtaining an extra day’s work from every team member every week – at no extra cost to organisation or employee! (see Fig 1.)

CLC Data 1

Fig.1: 15 manager-Led Activities That Improve Performance
Source: Corporate Leadership Council / Learning and Development Roundtable

As you can see from the table, the three activities that impact performance significantly more than any others are:

  • Managers setting clear expectations and explaining how performance will be measured.
  • Managers providing stretch experiences that help their team members learn and develop.
  • Managers setting aside time to discuss and reflect and help their team members learn from development experiences.

The impact of each of these actions on worker performance is almost 300% greater than through building or teaching necessary knowledge and skills – the core role of the L&D department!

Working Closely with Managers

This data tells us that the L&D department needs to work very closely with managers if it is to help build capability and provide real benefits. Focusing on building knowledge and skills is simply not enough.

It also tells us that experiential learning through ‘work that stretches’ is the most powerful tool we have in the box, and that managers have the greatest influence in providing those experiences. However, even more can be achieved if the L&D department and managers work together.

It’s all about providing an integrative environment to encourage development.

Here we can learn a little more from Lewis Carroll.

The Importance of Work That Stretches

1book25It’s thought that the Hatter's character in ‘Alice’ was inspired by a man named Theophilus Carter. Carter was a servitor at Christ Church College at Oxford University, where Dodgson taught mathematics. After attending university Carter became an eccentric furniture dealer and inventor in the city and became known as "the Mad Hatter" partly from his habit of standing in the door of his shop wearing a top hat, but also from some of his inventions (which included an alarm clock bed - exhibited at the Great Exhibition of 1851 - that tipped sleepers into a tub of cold water to wake them up (his Oxford education had some value!)

Clearly innovation, experience and work that stretched all were important to the ‘Hatter’ as they are everyone, mad or not.

Integrating Learning with Work

There are many theories of learning, but I think we can boil the sum of adult learning down into four key areas:

  1. Experiences: learning through exposure to new and challenging experiences.
  2. Practice: learning through having the opportunity to practice and improve.
  3. Conversation: learning through our interaction with others – informal coaching and mentoring, and building social networks inside and outside work.
  4. Reflection: learning through having the opportunity to reflect on all of the above and plan further activities that will improve performance further.

There is no doubt that experiential learning in the context of work is vital. In the second article in this series I talked about the work of Morgan McCall and his colleagues at the Centre for Creative Leadership. They identified the fact that ‘the lessons learned by successful and effective managers are roughly 70% from tough jobs; 20% from people (mostly the boss); 10% from courses and reading’. In other words, experiential workplace learning represents about 90% of all adult learning.

L&D professionals should hold up every away-from-work learning intervention they design and build – whether it’s a workshop, a course, or a programme – and ask ‘how much will this support each of the four elements of learning above – experience, practice, conversation, reflection - once the participants are back in the workplace?’ If the answer is ‘it won’t’ or ‘maybe only some’ and if the away-from-work learning is simply focused on updating information and so-called ‘knowledge transfer’ then it may be better to save your effort, write the information down and distribute it through the best channels available – online, email, paper or parchment.

A huge amount of L&D time, money and effort is spent on separating learning from work and expecting magic to occur once people are back in the workplace. My advice is to make every effort not to contribute to that.

Learning and work are merging even more now that change is the norm and the rate of change is relentlessly increasing in almost every aspect of life.

Learning and work have always been intertwined, but the development of the ‘curriculum’ and set subjects as a model for education in 18th Century Prussia and it’s uptake across the world (the USA was an early adopter) separated them and we’ve been locked into the idea that education and learning consists of a series of formal events ever since. We’re now breaking out of that mind-set and seeing the power of networks, of information sharing, of immersive scenario-based simulations and, of course, the power of learning in context.

For learning in context to occur effectively, we need managers who are aware of the role they have to play in learning and development, and we need L&D professionals to build relationships with line managers and support them to achieve their joint objective of improving individual, team and organisational performance.

And we need development solutions that are focused on workplace learning and that integrate learning with work.

Managers and Their Role in Formal Development

Managers also have a major role to play with formal learning. If they abrogate their responsibilities for people development and expect the L&D department to achieve performance improvement they are simply hoping for ‘magic’ to happen.

Mary Broad and her colleagues carried out research in the early 1990s that found the role of the manager and the integration of learning with work were essential to assure performance improvement, even with formal training and development (Broad’s work is well documented in her ‘Transfer of Training’ book).

The lesson is that the L&D department can’t do it alone, not even with support from HR colleagues.

Broad’s research demonstrated that the single most important factor in assuring performance improvement following off-the-job development activity (a training and development course) was what the manager of the delegates attending a formal learning intervention did before the delegate attended the course or programme. She also showed that what the manager did following the off-the-job development activity was almost as important.

So, what does this tell us?

Broad’s research highlighted the fact that the manager’s aspirations and needs in terms of the performance of her reports should closely align with the objectives and design of any formal learning course. Otherwise the course will be of little (or no) use.

And this doesn’t mean that the L&D department simply needs to carry out a training needs analysis.

It means that the manager should have a detailed understanding of any formal development activities designed by L&D professionals, and have thought about how she can build on these through stretch activities, new assignments and challenges, and providing opportunities to practice once the delegate returns to the workplace. Of course, she may also need to carry out some preparatory work with her reports before they attend any off-the-job development as well. There is no point agreeing for the wrong people to attend the right course.

Managers and Their Role in Workplace Learning

This tight-coupling of the manager to away-from-work learning activities pales into insignificance when we turn our focus to workplace learning. Here, the manager’s role is absolute. She’s flying solo.

Jack Welch, the oft-quoted, admired, and sometimes disliked former CEO of GE understood the role of the manager in development. He saw his prime job as leader being the development of the company’s senior talent and his role as coach and mentor to his senior team. He also understood the role of continuous learning, saying:

“An organization’s ability to learn and translate that learning into action rapidly is the ultimate competitive advantage.”

In order to maximise learning through work managers need to continually look for opportunities to stretch and challenge their reports, both individually and as a team. Typical approaches might include:

  • Providing opportunities to apply new knowledge and skills in real situations.
  • Assigning stretch assignments focused on new initiatives.
  • Providing cross-divisional and cross-regional experiences.
  • Arranging co-ordinated swaps and secondments.
  • Creating challenges through assigning greater responsibility.
  • Providing opportunities for team members to reflect and learn from work activities.

A Simple Technique to Support Manager-Led Development

1book26“Alice looked back once or twice, half hoping they would call after her: the last time she saw them they were trying to put the Dormouse into the teapot”

Many L&D people struggle with the challenge of engaging and enrolling business managers in employee development. Trying to wedge them into a place they don’t really want to be.

Yet we know that managers who are focused and effective at developing their people have teams that out-perform those that are not by around 25%[1]. So it’s worth thinking about the best approaches to get managers actively involved in learning and development activities in the workplace.

There’s one simple technique I’ve often employed to overcome reluctance and make it easy for leaders and managers to support practical workplace learning. It’s straightforward and managers really appreciate having it to hand. It involves the following simple advice:

During your regular one-to-one meetings with each member of your team, ask them these three questions:

Question 1: Can we talk about your reflections on what you’ve been doing since we last met?

Question 2: Can you tell me if there is anything you would do differently next time?

Question 3: What do you feel you have learned from your activities since we last met?

Some managers ask their reports to keep an ‘experiential learning log’ to record the sessions. Others simply find it a useful way to focus on experiential learning and reflection and, at the same time help identify opportunities for further development. It also helps managers themselves develop their coaching skills.

The approach you take is not important. What is important is the fact that, without active support of managers at all levels in your organisation you will struggle to achieve any significant level of success in the area where most learning happens – the workplace.

[1] Source: Corporate Leadership Council / Learning and Development Roundtable Employee Development Survey