Wednesday, January 19, 2011

E-Learning Doesn’t Work

Most discussion on e-learning is like analyzing a novel by discussing the font and typeface of the edition you are reading it in. This might sound exaggerated, but if you look at training and development departments in many large companies, you will find that the sourcing and creation of e-learning assets is the responsibility of the e-learning manager. Or outsourced to an e-learning provider. In other words, someone with an expertise in the media used in computer-assisted learning.
Now, don’t get me wrong, these people have a vital role to play and contribute profoundly to establishing on-demand learning in organizations. But take a step back, and consider another simile: would you stock a university library based solely on knowledge of the different media that the information comes packaged in?
What I’m trying to get at here is that, with the advent of e-learning, many organizations have lost sight of why learning is there in the first place.
Henry Mintzberg has said that the web alone misses something important – we need to bring important topics down to the workplace where managers work together and bond together. Using alternative channels shouldn’t mean excluding face to face. In fact, it should encourage collaborative learning.
Interacting with peers can be one of the most engaging and effective aspects of a successful learning experience. The workforce is changing, and as employees understand and use Internet-based technologies outside the workplace, they expect these technologies to be part of their professional experience as well.
As a result, the new generation of online learning programs must provide social learning tools that enable collaboration to be successful.
To take it a step further, the collaborative learning experience is greatly enhanced when leaders take a central role in it.
Leaders are uniquely positioned within the organization to provide the context and relevancy that is crucial to effective talent development. When leaders communicate the organization’s priorities and values during each learning interaction, the conversation helps drive enhanced business results.
So, to make e-learning work, it must be part of a larger experiential context that incorporates collaborative learning, using social networks, and driven by those in a leadership role. It must become part of the day to day work, not an entertaining distraction from it.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Leader-Led Development

We have all heard that a good leader must be able to tell a story. This is important when communicating an organization’s priorities, and creating a shared vision. In other words, leaders should assume a ‘teaching’ role . Evidence has shown that effective leaders always participate in developing leaders within their organizations. From an organizational perspective, this skill cascades throughout the organization as a leadership competency, from new managers to CxO’s.

As Noel Tichy writes[i]: “winning companies—those that consistently outperform competitors and reward shareholders—[have] moved beyond learning organizations to become teaching organizations. That’s because teaching organizations are more agile, come up with better strategies, and are able to implement them more effectively.”

This is reinforced by how people actually learn anything within their organizations. Most famously, the 70/20/10 learning concept , developed by Morgan McCall, Robert W. Eichinger, and Michael M. Lombardo at the Center for Creative Leadership, states that learning occurs in the following proportions:

·         70%  from real life and on-the-job experiences, tasks and problem solving. This is the most important aspect of any learning and development plan.
·         20% from feedback and from observing and working with role models.
·         10% from formal training.
As Bossidy and Charan confirm in Execution: The Discipline of Getting Things Done, “Keep in mind that 80% of learning takes place outside the classroom. Every leader and supervisor needs to be a teacher.”[ii]

Practically, how can leaders actively cultivate leader-led development? Here is a quick checklist.

Leaders can:

1.       Provide personalized, one-to-one development.
2.       Give and receive organizational knowledge.
3.       Drive participation and involvement in learning.
4.       Promote bi-directional learning.
5.       Increase mastery of content.
6.       Increase the speed of change.
7.       Create a culture of ongoing learning and teaching.
8.       Provide accessible and ongoing learning opportunities.

And not only does leader-led development benefit learners: teaching also improves leadership skills.

[i] Tichy, Noel. The Leadership Engine: How Winning Companies Build Leaders at Every Level. HarperCollins Publishers: New York, 1997.
[ii] Bossidy, Larry, and Charan, Ram. Execution: The Discipline of Getting Things Done. Crown Business: New York, 2002.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

The People Thing (Revisited)

In his recent book - The Lords of Strategy - Walter Kiechel wrote that the “people” element in the developing concept of strategy over the past 4 decades had not developed “a paradigm that can hold its own with strategy”. He goes on: “We’ve seen how successive thinkers [since the 1960s]built on an original construct [of strategy] that integrated calculations of cost, competition, and customers…[but they] failed to come up with a competing paradigm (…) that would have put people at the core of an enterprise’s success”. Essentially, this boils down to the failure of finding any satisfying metrics that demonstrate the contribution people make to an organization’s success.

Why is this the case? I think it lies in the complexity of outputs that is required from (and is the nature of) any human being working in an organization. If you think about it, most things that have a single cost input usually produce a single output (enhanced processor speeds, or quicker deliveries). A person working in an organization also has a single cost, but invariably, the range and complexity of outputs cannot be easily aligned with that cost.

For example, as a sales-person, my cost to the company is measured against the revenues I produce. Pretty simple? But look closer: as I am selling complex solutions rather than just widgets, there are a whole lot of activities, decisions, empathic behaviors, and feedback loops happening sequentially and simultaneously that are necessary for me to be successful.

On the other hand, companies that want to make simple, repeat, commodity sales can make use of a website (like Everybody realizes this, and understands this is why you can’t sell a customized two-year consulting project on a click and pay portal. However, when searching for metrics, both ways of selling (human and non-human) are measured and evaluated in the same way: cost to revenues.

The vast majority of business success is measured in cash flows and profits. Put crudely, we measure the contribution of people to this success in the very same terms. This is why enhancing those complex and multifarious human outputs presents such a problem when evaluating their impact on the business. In developing people and talent, looking for things such as ROI on training always comes up against this ‘mushy’ disconnect between people skills and results. That’s why we call them ‘soft’.

A better word would be ‘complex’.

Monday, September 13, 2010

How to make e-learning successful?

Most online learning is now part of a wider, blended learning within organizations (i.e. supporting a F2F program; a resource portal for an action learning project).

Nonetheless, how do HR stakeholders cascade learning to the thousands of managers in their organizations without incurring exorbitant costs and impossible logistics? The only way is to make the learning "on-demand".

So how to make on-demand learning successful? At Harvard, we have research that shows that learning participation and retention rates rise dramatically when collaboration takes place both among learners and between learners and their superiors. In fact, Harvard wholly advocates the principle of "leader as teacher". This is why it is important that there is a social or peer networking element to e-learning.

Remember, 70% of learning in organizations is informal. So, what is the best way to capture this dynamic? It is when learners take control of their own learning, and when they are able to collaborate with others in their teams, in their organizations.