Crying Wolf? Changing Organizational Culture in a Downturn

Cry WolfOkay, these thoughts have been swirling around in my head and I can’t quite get a grip on them. I have delayed posting about them thinking that I could get a more well-thought out post on the topic, but it hasn’t happened…so, I’ll just spill it out on paper and see where it goes. Consider yourself forewarned! This is likely to be a rambling post…you know how a cat sometimes jumps up inexplicably and runs to another room – that’s what this post will resemble. (If you are a cat lover you know what I am talking about if not – go ask a cat lover and watch them smile knowingly!)

One of the challenges to any learning professional is how to build a culture of learning in an organization. As I have written previously, new technologies and the new landscape in today flat world require that learners take control of their own learning. However, not everyone sees the urgency in this imperative. In particular, C-level folks all the way down to mid-level managers have jobs to do and numbers to hit. There is no time for formal learning let alone building up a personal learning network. What’s a learning professional to do? Cry wolf? That only works for so long, particularly when you are only one that seems to see the wolf. So we are left with learning professionals using Twitter, pushing delicious, blogging and a host of other ways to learn each and every day on the job. But what about everyone else? How can we bring them along? Does anyone out there have experience with this? If the culture doesn’t value openness, connections, sharing, etc. how can we unleash the potential of EACH AND EVERY employee in the company? Anyone….Bueller?

The corollary to this problem is what happens to learning and training initiatives during a downturn. Namely – every time budgets tighten and the economy goes south, companies start cutting costs and drawing back on investments. Interestingly, during such times nearly every learning/training professional screams out: Now is the time to invest in human capital! However, here is the dilemma I see: If we talk about such investments, they look self serving, but if we don’t, the consequences could be dire. How do we engage the C-level folks to consider such investments during this time of tight budgets, let alone MAKE the investments! And another thing, where is the data to back up our claims? I must admit – I don’t have it. (And worse – I don’t know where to get it!) What evidence do we have as learning professionals that training investments during a down cycle have ever benefited a company when the cycle turned upward? Anyone….Bueller?

So you see, I have these two huge questions running around in my head and I really don’t have any answers to them. They seem to be linked in some way and both require taking a more holistic, organizational behavior approach (here’s to you Mark Oehlert!), but where to start?

I am interested to hear from others in the corporate environment out there: Have you been able to create a learning culture in your organization? If so – how? In addition, did this have a positive impact on your company – one that was measurable and would convince a C-level type to make such an investment?

To date, the silence has been deafening…I am hoping you all can change that!


A Compass or a Map?

Jules Verne Pocketwatch (compass) by nullalux. Taken on February 12, 2008, uploaded February 12, 2008.

Jules Verne Pocketwatch (compass) by nullalux. Taken on February 12, 2008, uploaded February 12, 2008.

I have been working designing courses lately for our Leadership Development Program (LDP) on important topics for first time supervisors and managers. All of the courses involve soft skills in management and leadership. Some of the topics include Managerial Behavior, Solving Problems, Coaching and Mentoring, Delegation, Effective Communication and others.

Recently, over the past two or three courses, I have been mulling over the question of how to present the core material to the users. We are a traditional training department, so most of the courses in the past presented material in a “glorified PowerPoint” manner – you know the drill – narration with graphics and bullet points…hit the next button to continue. Basically, we torture the users by forcing everyone to go through each and every screen of material in order to “pass” the course. Regardless of what they might already know or bring to the course or what they want to learn about the material, each and every user MUST review each and every narration. It’s all mapped out for them – just like a AAA triptick. Every turn, every stop, every road.

Roadmap by Brain farts. Taken on May 30, 2003, uploaded February 9, 2006.

Roadmap by Brain farts. Taken on May 30, 2003, uploaded February 9, 2006.

In the past few courses, though, I’ve tried a different approach. Specifically, I’ve been challenging the users with a problem or an activity right off the bat and then providing a “Manager’s Toolbox” for them to access information about the core content as they need it. The analogy that comes to mind is the difference between a compass and a map – or the AAA TripTick mentioned above to be more exact. The compass gives you the tools to solve your problem by letting you determine the direction you wish to go in order to reach your destination. The TripTick on the other hand shows you exactly how to get there – turn by turn. What if you know a shortcut? What if you want to go off the specified road for a different view? The TripTick doesn’t provide much help in these instances.

I think I like the compass a bit more since it allows freedom to discover, to make mistakes and to learn from those mistakes. It just feels like a better approach, but I am interested in hearing from all of you as to what approach you prefer. I know, I know…many of you will strongly state that “It depends.” I get that. But I am still interested in learning if this approach has worked for you and MORE IMPORTANTLY, has it worked for your learners? Does it leave them frustrated or are they happy to be free to explore the content on their own?

So which is it for you….a compass or a map?

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Did you say revolution or resolution?

So the other day I went on a terrific rant about the web2.0 revolution and what it has done to the age-old traditions of corporate training and learning. The core message was that we, as individuals, are now in charge of the means of production – our own intellectual capital – therefore we are also in charge of our own learning.


Road Closed From Creative Commons and Flickr. Uploaded on January 19, 2008 by stevelyon

That got me thinking about whether or not people want to be in charge of their own learning. It seems that some people are highly motivated lifelong learners. Some are not. The question that I am mulling over on this Friday afternoon is – how do you get the latter to become the former? Are people born to be lifelong learners? Can you create a lifelong learner? If so, how. I am not sure where to go with this, other than to let everyone know that I am thinking about it and maybe you have some ideas as well.

Some places for me to start:

Are there organization barriers that prevent people from becoming ardent lifelong learners in our company?

How are lifelong learners different from non-learners?

Is there anything that we can be doing as a company to motivate our employees to become lifelong learners?

What can I do as a learning professional to help create this environment?

I find these questions to be very interesting, and of course, any input would be welcome!

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Welcome to the Revolution!

Museum of Communism

Museum of Communism
Attribution: Taken by Jon's pics on November 8, 2006, uploaded November 10, 2006

The latter weeks of the recent US election saw the term socialist get a LOT of mileage. It was an interesting attempt to frighten people with the idea that their wealth was about to be redistributed to those that are too lazy to make it on their own. Similarly, no casual conversation about socialism or communism can avoid the inevitable reference to ownership of the “means of production.” While this phrase conjured up specific images of factories and laborers throughout the post-WWII era, I am wondering what kind of connotations it has in today’s world – a world that is hot, flat and crowded. Furthermore, with the ever worsening economic news about company closings, layoffs and bankruptcies, perhaps it is time to get a better understanding of just what the “means of production” are in the digital world and exactly who owns them.

The traditional model of training was a push model in which the company decided what skills you would need and then designed the training to make sure you acquired the skills necessary to do your job. In most cases, this meant operating a machine on the factory floor. The digital age, however, has turned this model on its head. Companies can no longer keep up the the flow of information and the rapid pace of change. By the time the Training and Development department gets the courses out the door, they are nearly obsolete. Since the company can’t provide the training anymore – who can? Well, the answer is YOU!

What began as a small movement among the “alpha geeks” to use the web2.0 world to create individualized learning and personal learning environments, has morphed into a full blown revolution of social media, social networking, learning on demand and content creation as well. In this new world, training and personal development are no longer the job of the company. In fact, it’s the responsibility of the individual to create a personal learning environment (PLE). The main reason for this change is – you guessed it – ownership of the means of production!

What’s that got to do with training you ask. Everything. The means of production are no longer owned by the company. Nope…they’re owned by you! The new means of production in the digital world is information, knowledge, digital literacy, content creation. The bottom line is that employee’s create value for the company by what they know, who they know and what kind of problems they can solve. All of that resides within you. In an odd twist – everyone now owns the means of production – at least their means of production. Since that’s the case, it’s up to you to take charge of your own training and personal development. Evey employee needs to become literate in today’s digital work skills. Even more important is to develop a network of people with whom you can share ideas, comments, highs and lows. This means getting a Twitter account, creating a Facebook page, creating a blog, and getting LinkedIn to name just a few.

As companies downsize, you need to protect yourself by taking stock of your own means of production. Do it today…do it now. Take a look at what you know and who you know and work on improving in these areas each and every day. The revolution is here and you’re a part of it whether you want to be or not. As the Edupunks over on the academic side of learning like to say: The Revolution is here! Long live the Revolution!

Take a page from their book and Rock the Company!

*Credit to CogDog for this amazing Edupunk video

If you build it, they will come…

One of my favorite movies of all time (for a variety of reasons that can be covered in another post) is Field of Dreams starring Kevin Costner. In the film, Costner’s character hears a voice talking to him. Typically, the voice utters only a sentence and the meaning of the sentence is somewhat cryptic and open to interpretation. The first utterance that Costner hears is “If you build it, he will come.” Interestingly enough, this movie phrase has, over time, crept into popular culture and you will often hear folks misquote the line saying “If you build it they will come.”

My interpretation of this phrase from the movie and its subsequent use in popular culture is that sometimes we attempt to create something that seems like folly to those around us. In Costner’s case, he turned valuable farmland in Iowa into a “useless” baseball field that did not produce any crops. However, by passion, belief and determination, we create it and eventually others see it and find value in it as well. While they may not use it as we initially intended, they find value in it and flock to it.

Oddly enough, what reminded me of this line and this movie was Tony Karrer’s recent post, Leading Learning and New Skills. In this post, Tony challenges learning professionals to rethink the scope of their responsibilities in light of new technologies and the web2.0 world.

My take on Tony’s question…If you build it, they will come! As a learning professional, I see my job as providing the means to improve personal and organizational performance. I definitely agree that as learning professionals, we need to be out in front demonstrating how to use these various web2.0 technologies and social media tools to advance our own learning and development. In addition, we need to build a culture of acceptance and practice in our organizations. I am less concerned about these new technologies and how to use them. These new technologies are not much different than other technologies that we have adopted in the past including web1.0 tools. More of a concern to me is leading the change in outlook or mindset.

It seems that the biggest obstacles that I encounter are not with the technologies or teaching them to employees in any organization. Instead, the challenge seems to be how to change the mindset of the organization regarding the change in locus of control. Traditional training and performance support came from the center, from top-down directives, or at the very least from the Training Department deciding where the gaps were and who needed to take what online or instructor-led course. Now, however, web2.0 and the social media revolution has turned the traditional pyramid on its head. Now the locus of control is in the community. This causes a great deal of concern for organizational leaders that worry about control. Blogs, wikis, microblogging and a host of other technologies require openness, transparency and trust. Corporations are not always good at this.

Our job as learning professional is to put these tools into practice in any ways that we can in order to demonstrate how the community can contribute to building value in the organization. I see my job as finding pockets of interest and implementing these new work literacy tools in order to begin the change process in the organization. It is imperative that any organization change to adapt to this new social media world. Those that do not will not survive down the road.

So the answer to Tony’s question is: If you build it, they will come. We need to build these tools into our organizations. Even when others don’t see the immediate value and when it seems that we are a bit crazy, we need to persevere. My belief is that the end result will be much like the end of the movie…people will come…people will most definitely come.

Learning by doing, some success

I have been working on a new approach to training in our company for the past 9 months or so.  Over time, I have become more and more convinced that Roger Schank is onto something with respect to learning by

Learning to Ride a Bike

Learning to Ride a Bike

doing.  (Roger’s approach is rather simple – You don’t teach a child to ride a bike by showing them PowerPoint and giving them a quiz do you?)

In looking at the courses that I was developing, I found that most of my courses were simply glorified PowerPoints that asked the learner to click…read….click…take the quiz…Great!  You have been trained – Now go perform better!  I knew I was doing a disservice to our employees and that I could do better.

Based on reading Roger’s amazing book, Designing World-Class E-Learning : How IBM, GE, Harvard Business School, And Columbia University Are Succeeding At E-Learning, I took up the challenge of the learning by doing approach.   We started off with small steps.  Specifically, we created some branching simulations as part of our training for first time supervisors.  We have just begun piloting these new courses for our Leadership Development Program (LDP), so I only have anecdotal evidence that suggests we are on the right path.  So far so good.  All indications are that the participants enjoy the simulations and that they are internalizing the training to a greater degree.

We were certainly proud enough of our progress that we wanted to tell our story.  Luckily, Trivantis, the maker of our awesome Lectora design tool, indicated that they would be interested in hearing our success story.  So, just last week, this appeared:

Trivantis Case Study

Trivantis Case Study

Pretty cool, huh!  Sometimes it is just nice to get a feel for where you are in relation to where you were.  Initial feedback and reaction to the case study has also been very positive.  In fact, we are working with Trivantis to put together a webinar so that anyone interested can learn more about our journey.

Here is a short screencast that I put together to give people a better feel for what we are doing with Lectora and how we are creating interesting, dynamic branching simulations in our LDP Training Program. The embed code for Screecast would not work, you will have to click on the image below and then view the screencast in another window.  Enjoy!

Screencast of Simulation

Screencast of Simulation

Photo Attribution: Learning to ride the Bike by Photochiel Taken on July 3, 2005, uploaded to Flickr on July 21, 2005

Jumping in With Both Feet

Splash by iampeas Tagged with birthday, party, happybirthday, familytime ... Taken on July 22, 2006, uploaded July 24, 2006

Splash by iampeas

Taken on July 22, 2006, uploaded July 24, 2006

Well, here it is, my very first blog post!  I have been lurking long enough, dipping my toes in with comments to other blogs, sending tweets and in general taking it all in will the social media train pulls out of the station.  Luckily, it doesn’t look like it has left just yet….

I suppose the first place to start is who I am and why bother to blog.  I consider myself an emerging social media evangelist – still in the minor leagues, but hoping to get to the majors soon!  I have long been fascinated with web-based technologies in a variety of guises.  I have taught online for many years and have also designed some online courses as well.  I am currently working as an instructional designer focusing on sales and leadership course development.  I have become a firm believer in the power of social media in the creation ofPersonal Learning Environments (PLEs).  Tony Karrer has been a wonderful influence in this regard with his blog on eLearning Technology and more recently on Work Literacy and the skills necessary for a knowledge worker in today’s society.  Other influential blogs and bloggers include, Michele Martin’s The Bamboo Project Blog, Alan Levine’s Cog Dog Blog,  Clark Aldrich’s Serious Games and Simulations blog, Garr Reynold’s Presentation Zen blog (contributing to the visual learning movement), and Britt Wattwood’s Learning in a Flat World.  Britt was instrumental in providing me with a number of resources as well as the simple advice (a la Nike) to just do it.  So here I am!

My intention is to use this blog to think about work literacy and social media and how I can help our workers to do their job better in the web2.0 world.  I know, I know…who hasn’t heard THAT before.  My hope is that my thoughts and ideas can contribute something of value to the blogosphere….but in reality, that is a side benefit to what I expect to gain for myself from thinking about these challenges in a public space.  I also hope to gain from fellow bloggers posting comments and ideas to my future posts.  Just like the tree that falls in the forest without anyone around, I wonder if anyone has yet to figure out if a blogger blogs and no one comments….will it really make a contribution?  I guess we will save that discussion for another day.

So there you have it!  My very first blog post in what I hope will become a long and fruitful journey of professional and personal development and a solid contribution to helping the modern knowledge worker make sense of what it takes to succeed in today’s technology enhanced, social media supported world.

Count me in with a thunderous cannonball SPLASH!