Thursday, 3 August 2017

Learning in the Collaboration Age

(Repost and update from August 2014)
Berners-Lee_and_CailliauMany may not have noticed it at the time, but the world of learning changed in 1990.

In November of that year British computer scientist Tim Berners-Lee together with his Belgian colleague Robert Cailliau proposed a project to develop the use of hypertext “to link and access information of various kinds as a web of nodes in which the user can browse at will”…..

… the rest is history.

Over the next few years the Web turned technical networks into ubiquitous conduits for everyone to use. The Web reduced our need to hold detailed information in our flesh-and-blood memories as it blew away the barriers to easy access. The Web allowed us to reach out easily and establish connections with others that previously were impossible or extremely difficult to make.

And for Organisational Learning?
The Web has allowed us to totally redefine our traditional learning models. It has allowed us to reach beyond content-rich learning approaches and focus on experience-rich learning. It has allowed an evolution from ‘Know What’ learning to ‘Know Who’ and ‘Know How’ learning; and it has allowed the emergence from learning in the silos of our own organisations to learning with and through others across the world – easily and transparently.

The Collaboration Age
On a wider plane the Web has been the harbinger of the Collaboration Age. It has blown away many of the barriers to access and has reinforced the power and influence of collaboration and co-operation1 over silo mentalities.

In the Collaboration Age it is those who share and work together who are the winners. Those who hide behind organisational garden walls end up deep in weeds.

If we’re to succeed we must no longer just collaborate and co-operate inside the ever-softening boundaries of own organisations. We need to do so with others, in some cases even with our competitors. The rather ungainly term ‘co-opetition’ is being increasingly used to define co-operative competition, where competitors work together to achieve increased value at the same time as they are competing with each other. There is no doubt this is one of the ways forward to success.

In the world of talent, learning and performance the impact of the Collaboration Age is only now starting to take hold. The emerging understanding that invariably we need to work with others to solve problems is driving these collaborative and co-operative behaviours and, in turn, fuelling a focus on collaborative learning.

The Collaborative Age requires collaborative mindsets to drive collaborative learning. We can’t simply redesign content-rich courses and curricula and hope that changes will occur. We need new thinking, new approaches, and new strategies if we’re to fully exploit the potential.
However, we’re starting to see some fundamental changes happen in practical ways.
“If any one of us can find the answer to almost any question or problem we face almost instantly with a few clicks or a posted question, why should we need to learn and memorise all this ‘stuff’?
This question is being answered by re-imagining traditional learning approaches and defining new and sometimes novel ways for the world of learning and development to respond to today’s challenges.

Traditional Learning to MindFind
Although experiential and social learning have been around for eons, in the past most structured organisational learning and training has focused on knowledge acquisition and memorising. We filled them up with information and then assessed their abilities of recall. We still see it today in many classrooms and eLearning programmes.

This process is (still) generally referred to as ‘knowledge transfer’ and is both overrated and totally inappropriate for the post-1990 world.

The ‘knowledge transfer’ model of training is based a number of assumptions that no longer apply.
  • the assumption that information is generally static
  • the assumption that information or ‘knowledge’ is acontextual
  • the assumption that we work as individuals, so individual training and development is the best solution
A few years ago David James Clarke IV and I developed a model to address the failings of the first and second of these assumptions.  We called it MindFind. Inside the MindFind model we explained the migration of traditional learning to the find-access approach2.

Traditional Learning Approach
Find-Access Approach

The find-access approach is based on the fact that with today’s information explosion and the increasingly dynamic nature of information it only makes sense to memorise and ‘learn’ core concepts. These are the bedrock that will be needed for some time. Core concepts are likely to be unchanging, or change very slowly. They are the ‘Newtonian Laws’ of the domain or discipline. Core concepts will apply to most situations and it’s helpful to have them at hand (or in the head).

Then you need to familiarise yourself with the contextual job and project-related information. This is likely to change more frequently, so it is often a hindrance to have memorised it. This type of information is better familiarised. You know where it is. You are familiar with its nature and content, and you know how to find, recall and verify it at the point-of-need.

And ultimately, the majority of the detailed information or ‘knowledge’ we need at any time is not only ephemeral and in constant flux, it is very often contained in other people’s heads rather than being codified and held in structured documents and databases.  If you have learned the ‘Know Who?’ then you will be able to quickly locate and retrieve the detailed information.

The Power of Collaborative Learning
Over the past 15 years I have worked with the 70:20:10 framework and used it as a powerful tool to help organisations evolve their organisational talent and learning & development approaches from pre-1990 to present day practices. It provides a very good starting point to help make this move.

Collaboration sits firmly across the ‘other 90’ - the 70 and 20 (experiential and social elements) - in 70:20:10. We collaborate in our work teams while we learn through experience and practice. We collaborate when we share within and outside our organisations, and we often collaborate as part of our own reflective practices. In fact reflection is usually enhanced when shared with others.
Of course, the ‘10’ also provides great opportunities for collaboration.

Success in the Collaborative Age
We don’t need to go far to see tangible successes resulting from collaborative behaviours in fields other than learning and development.
Year over year, Tesla Motors, Inc. has been able to grow revenues from $413.3M USD to $2.0B USD.
Tesla CEO Elon Musk announced in a press release and conference call and blog on June 12, 2014 that the company will allow its technology patents for use by anyone in good faith, in a bid to entice automobile manufacturers to speed up development of electric cars.

In an industry (the electric car market) that was killed almost at birth by the the internal combustion engine and mass production of petroleum more than 100 years ago, Tesla has emerged as a shining light the second age of alternative-powered personal vehicles.

The driver for Tesla’s collaborative approach and decision to share its patents, usually the ‘gold’ for any innovative organisation, is obvious. In order to grow the market there is a mutual interest in sharing. This behaviour is successful not only for Tesla but for the industry as a whole.
The learning industry could take some lessons from Tesla.

Going Forward
In the global industry and profession of talent development there are many opportunities to adopt and exploit collaboration as a fundamental tenet of operation. In fact learning professionals owe it to the profession to build practices and platforms to not only help others exploit the benefits of collaboration, but also to collaborate themselves.

Without the adoption of collaborative mindsets, learning and development professionals and the entire industry that supports talent development will find themselves foundering and failing to join everyone else in the Collaborative Age.

(August 2017 observations)
It is interesting that the majority of L&D practices in 2017 are still continuing based on the three outdated assumptions:
  • that information is generally static, can be ‘extracted’ and packaged into content-heavy courses and that  memorising – and being tested on – short-term recall of the content constitutes ‘learning’
  • that information or ‘knowledge’ is generally acontextual and can be ‘transferred’ irrespective of specific situations and needs
  • that we work as individuals, so individual training and development is the best solution. Whereas we are all aware that the majority people work in teams and that these teams are sometimes fluid and changing, and that ‘organisational learning’ (the learning that organisations undertake) is all about developing the ability to be agile, responsive, reflective and to change rapidly when needed. Organisational learning is not about trying to static build knowledge and skills in some form of ‘competency framework’.

At the 70:20:10 Institute, with our 70:20:10 Methodology, we have developed ways to embed performance support as a core element  (but not the only element) in the 70:20:10 solution set.

1 Collaboration and co-operation are two distinct behaviours. My colleague Harold Jarche has written about the distinctions.
2 I have written about the three categories of find-access model and how they align with the memorisation:familiarisation:on-demand model developed by Ted Gannon at Panviva in a past post


Monday, 10 July 2017

70-20-10: Origin, Research, Purpose

This is a re-post of an article by Cal Wick of Fort Hill. The original is on the 70-20 Blog site. There are a few observations from me at the bottom. (first published August 2016).

Calhoun Wick
Cal Wick

Cal is deeply experienced and knowledgeable in the area of workplace learning. He has been studying and supporting it for many years and is co-author of the highly acclaimed Six Disciplines of Breakthrough Learning: How to Turn Training and Development into Business Results (Pfeiffer, 2010). Cal’s company has also developed the 70-20 tool, which supports learning in the workflow in innovative and measurable ways – it is well worth test driving.

Learning through Conversation – April 2016
Cal - Bob - Charles

Cal Wick
Bob Eichinger
Charles Jennings




70-20-10: Origin,Research, Purpose by Cal Wick


Where It All Began
The 70-20-10 model has been part of the corporate learning and development lexicon for decades. Some people find implementing 70-20-10 brings transformational change to their corporate learning cultures. Others are not quite sure what to make of it or how to leverage the model. A last group discounts it claiming 70-20-10 has no research to back it up and that it provides little value because the numbers are not accurate.


Recently I had a conversation with Bob Eichinger, one of the original thought leaders who created the 70-20-10 model, about its origin, research, and purpose. I found what Bob said to be so compelling that I asked him to write it up. Bob agreed.

Here is what he shared:


To Whom It Apparently Concerns, (Bob Eichinger)

Yes Virginia, there is research behind 70-20-10!

I am Robert W. Eichinger, PhD. I’m one of the creators, along with the research staff of the Center for Creative Leadership, of the 70-20-10 meme [the dictionary defines a meme as an “idea, behavior, or style that spreads from person to person”]. Note: see The Leadership Machine, Michael M. Lombardo and Robert W. Eichinger, Lominger International, Inc., Third Edition 2007, Chapter 21, Assignmentology: The Art of Assignment Management, pages 314-361.

At the time in the late 1980s, Michael Lombardo and I were teaching a course at the Center called Tools for Developing Effective Executives. The course was basically a summary of the findings of The Lessons of Experience study done over a 13-year period at the Center and published in 1988. My job was to convert the study’s findings into practical practices. Mike represented the CCL research staff and I was a practitioner at PepsiCo, and then at Pillsbury.

We were working on a section of the course on planning for the development of future leaders. One of the study’s objectives was to find out where today’s leaders learned the skills and competencies they were good at when they got into leadership positions.

The study interviewed 191 currently successful executives from multiple organizations. As part of an extensive interview protocol, researchers asked these executives about where they thought they learned things from that led to their success – The Lessons of Success. The interviewers collected 616 key learning events which the research staff coded into 16 categories.

The 16 categories were too complex to use in the course so we in turn re-coded the 16 categories into five to make them easier to communicate.

The five categories were learning from challenging assignments, other people, coursework, adverse situations and personal experiences (outside work). Since we were teaching a course about how to develop effective executives, we could not use the adverse situations (can’t plan for or arrange them for people) and personal experiences outside of work (again, can’t plan for them). Those two categories made up 25% of the original 16 categories. That left us with 75% of the Lessons of Success for the other three categories


So the final easy-to-communicate meme was: 70% Learning from Challenging Assignments; 20% Learning from Others; and 10% Learning from Coursework. And thus we created the 70-20-10 meme widely quoted still today.

The basic findings of the Lessons of Success study have been duplicated at least nine times that I know of. These include samples in China, India and Singapore and for female leaders, since the original samples of executives in the early 80s were mostly male. The findings are all roughly in line with 70-20-10. They are 70-22-8, 56-38-6 (women), 48-47-5 (middle level), 73-16-11 (global sample), 60-33-7, 69-27-4 (India), 65-33-2 (Singapore) and 68-25-7 (China). A number of companies including 3M have also replicated the study and found roughly the same results.

So some have said that 70-20-10 doesn’t come from any research. It does. Some have said the 70-20-10 is just common sense. It is now. Experience has always been the best teacher. Still is.

I might add that there is a lot of variance between organizations and levels and types of people. These studies were mostly about how to develop people for senior leadership positions in large global companies. The meme for other levels of leadership and different kinds of companies might be different. There might also be other memes for different functional areas.


From My Perspective (Cal Wick)

From my perspective, Bob and Mike’s genius was to take the 16 sources of learning present in the 616 key learning events, as recounted by the participants in the Lessons of Success study, drop out the 25% of learning that comes from hardship and beyond work, and turn the remainder into a meme of three sources of learning now known around the world as 70-20-10. As a meme or reference model, it both validates the importance of Formal Courses – the “10” as well as opening up the opportunity of intentionally activating Learning from Challenging Assignments – the “70” and Learning from Others – the “20.”


1. Bob and Mike’s 70-20-10 meme made visible that learning takes place both in formal settings (the 10) as well as in experience (the 70) and through relationships (the 20). As a model, its value is not in trying to determine with precision the exact numbers to the left or right of a decimal point, but instead to use it to open our eyes to learning that is happening all the time on-the-job, but is largely invisible.

2. When 70-20 learning becomes visible and intentional, the implication is that Learning & Development has the opportunity to harness its potential. The challenge is how can L&D activate and support informal and social learning in an intentional, high impact way that builds a vibrant learning culture? And this learning culture leads to higher performance as employees embrace continuous development on the job. The 70-20 learning of today’s workforce is largely self-directed. Just look at the web searches you have done in the last week. The opportunity for L&D is to add value by making available the resources, people, expertise and digital tools to support and accelerate the 70-20 learning that happens every day and everywhere.

3. It turns out that there is now significant research that supports the reality and value of learning beyond the formal “10.” For example, David Kolb in his Second Edition of Experiential Learning cites nearly 4,000 bibliographic research and application references. The question is how can L&D best take advantage of the great research that has already been done and put it into practice? How can today’s L&D groups be effective at delivering formal learning with support so that it is well applied on the job? What approaches can we take to enable self-directed 70-20 learning that improves capabilities and performance throughout an organization?

This is a very exciting time in our industry and we’re delighted to be part of the conversation and the exploration of new strategies to drive competitive advantage and improved performance through 70-20 learning.

My Observations (Charles Jennings)

There’s no doubt the work of Bob Eichinger, Mike Lombardo and the team at the Center for Creative Leadership was fundamental in highlighting a critical fact – that most learning, most of the time, comes not from courses and programmes, classrooms, workshops and eLearning, but from everyday activities.

This research set the ‘70:20:10 ball’ rolling, and Bob’s explanation above answers many questions that I’ve heard raised over the years.

It’s also important to recognise, as Cal Wick points out above, that many other researchers have also identified the importance of learning beyond the ‘10’.

Jay Cross, a friend and colleague in the Internet Time Alliance, spent the last years of his life raising awareness of the importance of ‘informal learning’ across the world. As early as 2002 Jay was describing the unrelenting focus on formal learning in terms of the ‘Spending/Outcomes Paradox’.

Jay talked about ‘the other 80%’, the informal learning that happens beyond the control, and often the sight, of the HR and L&D departments. Jay cited a number of studies and observations that supported this. They were briefly documented by Jay here.

More recently, researchers have been validating the importance of the learning that happens as part of the daily workflow. One example of is the work of Professor Andries de Grip and his team at the Research Centre for Education and the Labour Market at Maastricht University in the Netherlands. Professor de Grip’s 2015 report ‘The importance of informal learning at work’ explains that:
‘On-the-job learning is more important for workers’ human capital development than formal training’
and also that:

’Rapidly changing skill demands and rising mandatory retirement ages make informal learning even more important for workers’ employability throughout their work life. Policies tend to emphasize education and formal training, and most firms do not have strategies to optimize the gains from informal learning at work’

We’ve known for years that the ‘70+20’ are critical and that it’s in these zones that most learning happens. It’s now time to put this knowledge into action.

The 70:20:10 Institute has developed a full methodology based on 70:20:10 principles. This methodology is explained in detail in the book by Arets, Jennings and Heijnen ‘70:20:10 Towards 100% Performance’. Full information is available on the 70:20:10 Institute website.

Wednesday, 5 July 2017

Jay Cross Memorial Award - 2017

3280567380_ccd19a93a1_oThe Internet Time Alliance Jay Cross Memorial Award is presented to a workplace learning professional who has contributed in positive ways to the field of Real Learning and is reflective of Jay’s lifetime of work.

Recipients champion workplace and social learning practices inside their organization and/or on the wider stage. They share their work in public and often challenge conventional wisdom. The Jay Cross Memorial Award is given to professionals who continuously welcome challenges at the cutting edge of their expertise and are convincing and effective advocates of a humanistic approach to workplace learning and performance.

We announce the award on 5 July, Jay’s birthday.

Following his death in November 2015, the partners of the Internet Time Alliance (Jane Hart, Harold Jarche, Charles Jennings, Clark Quinn) resolved to continue Jay’s work. Jay Cross was a deep thinker and a man of many talents, never resting on his past accomplishments, and this award is one way to keep pushing our professional fields and industries to find new and better ways to learn and work.

The Internet Time Alliance Jay Cross Memorial Award for 2017 is presented to Marcia Conner.

MarciaConner-AB4block-1012Marcia was an early leader in the movement for individual and social learning, and an innovator. As a Senior Manager at Microsoft, she developed new training practices and wrote an accessible white paper on the deeper aspects of learning design. She was subsequently the Information Futurist at PeopleSoft.  She also served as a co-founder and editor at Learnativity, an early online magazine.

Marcia  co-organized and co-hosted the Creating a Learning Culture conference at the Darden School of Business at the University of Virginia, leading to a book of the same title.  As an advocate for the power of learning, alone and together, she wrote Learn More Now and co-wrote The New Social Learning (now in its second edition) with Tony Bingham of the Association for Talent Development. She also was the instigator who organized the team for the twitter chat #lrnchat, which continues to this day.

Marcia’s a recognized leader, writing for Fast Company, and keynoting conferences around the world. She currently helps organizations go beyond their current approaches, changing their culture.  She’s also in the process of moving her focus beyond organizations, to society. In her words, “I’m in pursuit of meaningful progress, with good faith and honesty, girded by what I know we are capable of doing right now. When we assemble all that is going on at the edges of culture, technology, and (dare I say) business, we find a wildly hopeful view of the future. People doing extraordinary things, on a human scale, that has the potential to change everything for the better.”

Marcia was a friend of Jay’s for many years (including organizing the creation of his Wikipedia page), and we’re proud to recognize her contributions.

Tuesday, 2 May 2017

The Knowledge and Learning Transfer Problem

Milk carrier Frederick (Fred) Jones delivers full milk cans at Drouin's co-operative milk factory, Drouin, Victoria [picture] /During a meeting at Cambridge University around 30 years ago I was thoroughly chastised by a Cambridge academic.

I’d used the phrase ‘learning delivery’ when describing computer-supported collaborative learning (CSCL) approaches. CSCL was one of the hot pedagogical approaches of the day – when network-based learning was in its relative infancy.

“Charles, my dear fellow”, said the Cambridge man, “we may deliver milk, but learning is something that is acquired, never delivered”.

Of course he was right. I’d been sloppy with language. What I’d meant by ‘learning delivery’ was ‘providing the resources and environments that help learning and, by inference, improved performance, to occur’. Learning takes place in our heads. We alone make it happen.

I guess the phrase I’d used was a shorthand. However, it was the last time I ever used it. It conveyed an inaccurate message.

Sometimes language does matter.

The myth of knowledge transfer

imageThe same could be said of the phrase ‘knowledge transfer’. We can’t and don’t transfer knowledge between people. We transfer information. A subtle but important distinction.

We can create and use techniques and approaches that help and facilitate knowledge acquisition. We can share information in the form of data and our own insights. We can create environments where people are likely to have their own insights – their lightbulb moments – and we can help people extract meaning and learn through their own experiences.

But we don’t transfer knowledge. Not between people, or even between organisations.

Of course exposure to other people is one of the primary ways we learn and improve our performance. Some organisations, such as Citibank, refer to their 70:20:10 approach as the 3Es – learning through experience, exposure and education. The ‘exposure’ part is important.

Exposure to other organisations’ experiences can also be very useful for our own organisation’s learning and development, but no two organisations are exactly the same. If we package up the acquired data, information and practices in one organisation it’s extremely unlikely that they can be simply unpacked and used as-is with the same effect in another, no matter how closely aligned the organisations might be. The ‘knowledge transfer’ model doesn’t even work between organisations in industries with relatively standardised process . What works for Mercedes is unlikely to work for Ford without quite a bit of thought and customisation.

The incessant desire to hear about ‘best practice’ is really a need to hear about good practice and emerging practice (Dave Snowden explains the important differences extremely well in his Cynefin Framework). In other words, people are actually asking ‘tell me about the things that work for you. They might give us some good insights if we can apply them in our own way’. There is no ‘best practice’ where there are different environments and processes.

It’s the case of language carrying deeper meaning again, and often distorting our thinking – in this case building a belief that there is a ‘best way’ that can be picked up and transferred. But there is no ‘best practice’ in anything but very simple situations.

The problem with learning transfer

The knowledge transfer myth and best practice misunderstanding have striking similarities with the ‘learning transfer’ problem, in both senses of the phrase – transfer of learning into heads and transfer of learning from heads into action.

Of course we don’t ‘deliver’ or ‘transfer’ learning either. The way we learn best is when the stimuli are relevant to our need. Learning is a highly contextual activity. The closer to the point of use that it occurs the more effective it is likely to be. There’s a number of reasons for that.

When we develop a new capability, for example, it’s best to acquire it within the context we’re going to use it. Then apply it as quickly as possible. In that way we’re much more likely to remember how to use it correctly, and more likely to be able to recall it again later.

We know also that practice is critical for retention, and that spaced practice has been shown to provide an effective mechanism to help memory retention over the longer term, so we can recall when we need it. Spaced practice, procedural learning, distributed practice, priming and other methods have a long history of demonstrating greater persistence of learning resulting in improved performance.


Eliminating the Learning Transfer Problem

There can be no challenge to the fact that a major problem exists with learning transfer, and that it has existed for years. It could be argued that the problem came into existence the day we separated training from the workplace.

“Estimates of the exact extent of the transfer problem vary, from Georgenson’s (1982) estimate that 10% of training results in a behavioral change to Saks’ (2002) survey data, which suggest about 40% of trainees fail to transfer immediately after training, 70% falter in transfer 1 year after the program, and ultimately only 50% of training investments result in organizational or individual improvements” (from Burke & Hitchens)

One of the best ways to overcome the learning or training ‘transfer’ problem can be simply to eliminate the need for it.

“"Talent development specialist Boudewijn Overduin says the solution to this problem is simple: ‘If you don’t train, you don’t have a transfer problem’.” (from our 702010 towards 100% performance book)

If learning is embedded in the daily flow of work, rather than away from the workflow, the idea that we need to develop ways to ‘transfer’ that learning into practical use disappears. When there’s little or no gap between the two there is no ‘transfer problem’. When we learn from work (rather than learning to work), even better.

Of course this is easier said than done. Especially as most organisations have an often large and continuing investment in formal training and development, the vast majority of which is carried out away from the workflow. The overwhelming majority of staff development budget is spent on the acquisition, design, development and delivery of formal development in the form of programmes, courses, and eLearning modules.

If just a fraction of that resource was spent on embedding learning into the workflow – through designing solutions that start with the ‘70’ in 70:20:10 parlance (learning through working) and embrace the ‘20’ (learning though working together) before adopting the ‘10’ (formal training and development) – then the transfer issues become minimal or are fully eliminated.

This approach needs a detailed understanding of the issues to be addressed, the ability to architect and create solutions that stretches well beyond instructional design, and the trust of stakeholders so they play their part in the process.

There are some important reasons to adopt this approach, expressed well by Jay Cross in his contribution to our ‘702010 towards 100% performance book:

Our learning ecologies are entering a do-or-die phase similar to global warming. Management is demanding that the workforce be more effective but ‘what got us here
will not get us there’. We must nurture learning in the workplace or face corporate meltdown.

Beyond schooling

Work on hybrid learning environments (see Zitter and Hoeve, 2012) suggests that most of the work L&D departments carry out is still firmly grounded in school-based learning where ‘learning is central and organised in a formal curriculum or learning paths with predictable outcomes and a focus on explicit knowledge and generalised skills’.

On this side of the dimension, learning tasks are constructed to facilitate knowledge acquisition and knowledge is considered as a commodity that can be acquired, transferred and shared with others (Sfard, 1998)

When L&D moves beyond schooling, learning is characterised as ‘becoming a member of a professional community’ (Sfard) and is acquired in realistic, real work situations.

By melding working and learning, and becoming immersed in real problems and real experiences, we eliminate the knowledge and learning transfer problems. The future role of L&D, and of managers, is to make this happen. That’s an area where the 70:20:10 approach and the 70:20:10 methodology can really help.



Burke, L. and Hitchens, H. (2007) Training Transfer: An Integrative Literature Review

Zitter, I. and A. Hoeve (2012), Hybrid Learning Environments: Merging Learning and Work Processes to Facilitate Knowledge Integration and Transitions, OECD Education Working Papers, No. 81, OECD Publishing.

Sfard, A. (1998), “On Two Metaphors for Learning and the Dangers of Choosing just One”. Educational
Researcher, 27(2), 4–13.

Milk carrier Fredrick (Fred) Jones delivers full milk cans, Drouin, Victoria, Australia. National Library of Australia. Wikimedia Commons
Pancakes and Cream cake. Cake and photograph by Lindsay Picken, LP Cakes, Kirkcudbright, Scotland. Used with permission

For more information about the 70:20:10 model and the 70:20:10 methodology, visit the 70:20:10 Institute site.

Tuesday, 24 January 2017

Heading towards high performance

This article was initially published on the Totara website on 4th January 2017.

“Welcome to the first instalment of our new Disruption Debate series, where we speak to leading industry experts to discover more about disruption in the L&D industry. In this post, Totara Learning's Chief Commercial Officer Lars Hyland speaks to Charles Jennings.

Charles is a co-founder of the 70:20:10 Institute, as well as a leading thinker and practitioner in learning, development and performance”.

How technology has changed business forever

As we enter uncertain global times, never before has technology played such a key role in our lives, whether it’s at home, on the move or in the workplace. Technology is now widely considered a fundamental change agent for how we live our lives and run our businesses, and Charles believes that embracing technology is one key factor for the success of L&D and HR departments.

“At a meeting I recently attended, we spoke about the capabilities trainers need in order to succeed in their roles,” said Charles, “and one argument that came up was that there’s a group of trainers who work primarily in the classroom who don’t need to know about technology. However, we can’t even begin to think like that in today’s world. Of course we might need face-to-face specialists, but everyone in L&D today needs to be able to operate within a technological environment and enhance what they’re doing through the use of technology.”

Technology, Charles said, has given us the ability to deliver both reach and richness through our learning. “Prior to the emergence of the internet, you could provide very rich development experiences in classrooms, workshops, business schools and so on, but this simply didn’t scale. Face-to-face teaching is expensive, and it’s impossible to ‘process’ large numbers of people through physical training. Some years ago it wasn’t uncommon for companies to fly people from China to the USA, or from Boston to Frankfurt at great expense, or to send people from Singapore to London for a five-day course. What technology has done is break the richness/reach trade-off. In the pre-internet era, decisions needed to be made between rich development environments or those with much greater ‘reach’ - such as correspondence courses. In today’s world we can have both. We are able to provide rich learning opportunities to lots of people located anywhere.”

“I’m a great believer that access to information is a human right almost as much as access to clean water and healthy food”

A personalised social learning experience

Today’s L&D technology requirements are vastly different from how they started out. The traditional L&D infrastructure came out of HR/IS requirements for digital record keeping, and the first learning management systems were essentially extensions of these HR systems. They were filing and scheduling systems for training, with no real support for any flexible learning. Charles said: “To launch an e-learning course, some of the early LMS platforms I used required as many as 15 clicks, some of them counterintuitive”. However, with the rise of social media, a whole new generation of technologies arrived which can be attached to modern LMS products that can enhance the learning experience.

“One question we face today is ‘How can I have a personalised learning experience’?”, said Charles. “This doesn’t just mean a tailored learning path - I want my learning to be like my online shopping experience. I want it to have some ‘understanding’ of what I’m looking for, and what I need to do,  and then to recommend tips on the things I’m interested in and which will help me, and obviously that’s not currently happening.”

This is a clear move from organisation-led to consumer-led behaviour as economies and organisations evolve. People today expect technology to be proactive and to prompt them with what they need to know in order to ‘do’, rather than having to seek it out themselves. However, there is a balance for organisations to strike between the user’s desire for just-in-time learning and changing the direction of behaviour effectively. People need the information and tools to do their jobs, but there is also a cultural element in what L&D needs to do. It is our job as L&D professionals to ensure that learning is constructed to be engaging, persuasive and responsive to workers’ needs, not dictatorial, and that we help support our workforce to a common purpose and culture. Charles believes that the 70:20:10 model is an effective way to ensure that this happens.

“I spend a lot of time with organisations looking at the 70:20:10 model, and talking about how the model itself is a change process that helps shift mindsets and practices. The closer to the point of work we learn, the more effective the learning will be. That’s a simple fact. Therefore we need to think about enabling learning just before, or at, the point of need rather than developing and delivering set learning experiences outside the context of the workplace. This means that learning resources must be available all the time, with L&D professionals working to ensure people have the right tools to help them learn effectively.”


Reshaping our approach to high performance

“We get better at doing what we need to do when we take some time to reflect on our experiences, and when we get feedback from other people,” said Charles. “ We should reflect on our own behaviour, then ask others about whether what we’re doing is having an impact. Then we need to act on those insights and that feedback.”

Charles also shared a joke: “How many HR people does it take to change a lightbulb? The answer is “Only one, but it usually takes the entire department to determine the process”. What does this say about L&D? Much of what L&D professionals do is around processes, but process is just part of the picture, and it’s around inputs. We need to flip our thinking, and instead be focusing on the outputs, not just on how we get there. What do people need to be able to do? What does success look like? What elements of this already reside in our people? How can we help build that knowledge and those skills?

Discussing skills, Charles mentioned a recent study from the US Midwest. The US Government has put the problem of jobs in the area not being filled down to a skills gap, but this study found the problem wasn’t a lack of skills at all, but that in fact, people simply were not prepared to do the available jobs for the money being offered, leading to rising unemployment. The knee-jerk ‘skills’ reaction was wrong. People had the skills, but the environment being offered for them to use those skills was the inhibiting factor. Situations like this, which are increasingly common, present a real challenge for L&D. The idea that helping people develop skills alone will lead to high performance is a fallacy. L&D needs to look and work beyond ‘skills’ if it is to have an impact. Knowing what to do and how to do it are two important ‘bricks’ for high performance, but if we stop there people will never fully achieve it.

“There are several things which set high performers apart from other employees. First, like others, they usually learnt the basics of their role in a structured way. Second, they have taken as many opportunities as possible to practise under the guidance of a mentor or manager. Third, they are well embedded in their professional community - better connected people are better performers. Fourth, they have access to performance support at their fingertips when they need it. Finally, they make the time to practise.”


The inertia issue

“Research suggests that engagement in most organisations is very low. But engaged people deliver more and are more productive. It comes back to workforce capability - if L&D spent more time thinking about what it can do to help stakeholders and their organisations, then L&D professionals could significantly increase the level of engagement,” said Charles. One study found that the teams reporting to managers who were focused and effective at developing their people were around 27% more productive than other teams. They were also significantly more engaged and satisfied at work.”

“If L&D practitioners thought less about knowledge and skills and more about keeping people engaged and motivated, we’d see a huge change in results. Learning is a key engagement motivator, but behaviour change only comes about when learning is ‘deep’.

A key issue in the battle to play their part in developing high performing people, teams and organisations  is that often, despite their best efforts, L&D professionals are dragged back by people asking for a specific course to tackle a specific skills challenge. This often doesn’t take into account the bigger picture, and usually results in L&D doing more of the same. Instead, we should be thinking in terms of how to motivate people effectively to do their jobs, and whether or not our motivation tools are designed to help us achieve our objectives. So what’s the answer to the inertia issue? Charles has a suggestion of his own.

“L&D needs to think about how they can help the development of metacognitive skills. Instead of teaching detailed material up front, make it available to people when they need it. We’re better off spending time helping people develop better acuity, critical thinking, creativity and communication capability. Then they can apply those capabilities in the context of their specific needs. We should also make sure people take time to reflect and share their experiences.”