Learning Sustainability

Coincidentally I entered into the discussion in separate occasions with others on how to sustain the impact of learning interventions.   Whilst achieving 100% learning transfer all the time is not possible, I think the question is more about ‘How to sustain learning impact to a larger extent?’   Among all the ideas we discussed, it seems to me the ARL (Action Reflection Learning) practice is still the key.   (Yet, it is not without implementation challenges)

I may have written some of the following points before.   Allow me to refresh my thought (to myself) by possibly repeating some.

I think ARL, or the practice of ‘Learning whilst Earning’ is the future.  I once was asked a question ‘What do you think the future of leadership development will be?’   Ideas came to my mind and I said:

“I think we will not have any traditional openly-nominated classroom-based workshop.   We will not have a fixed schedule and thick binders for the learners.   We will not do Just-in-Case learning anymore.   In the future, we will do Just-in-Time learning.   Our facilitators will go into business meetings, perhaps those annual strategy planning meetings. We facilitate their real business discussion.   More than that, we will pause the leaders to reflect on their behaviors in the meetings and if necessary we will introduce some concepts or tools for them to use on spot.”

There are a few reasons why this is probably the future:

Learners’ Commitment – There are lot of problems in the Just-in-Case setting.   I become more and more skeptical of ‘prisoner’ type of learners. They are in the learning event because they are asked to.   Everybody suffers – themselves, the fellow learners and the facilitator.   Time is wasted.   However, if the event is a real business meeting, everyone will be much more engaged.   Things are relevant and real.   And if we can introduce tools and concepts to be immediately used in the on-going situations, learning retention is high by definition.

Sponsors’ Commitment – No matter how well one learns in a workshop, learning retention will drop a great deal if he or she is not supported to apply the learning back in the workplace.   And the line managers are the most important factor determining whether there is enough support.   A typical example – one learn the GROW model to coach.   He applies it back to the workplace but is challenged by his line managers on why he asked so many questions instead of just telling.   And the line managers in fact always just tell.   This will kill his learning on coaching skills right away.

On the other hand, if we install learning in a real business setting, the sponsors are likely involved and in fact become learners as well.

Effectiveness Measurement – Learning professionals have been struggling how to measure effectiveness on leadership development initiative.   There is no perfect solution yet.   However, in the Just-in-Case setting, the intervention effort can possibly result in better business result e.g. cost saving / attrition rate, on top of developing leaders.

Cost Pressure – Given the more and more difficult operating environment, learning resources will likely be cut ……. unless we can prove the effectiveness.   When the next financial crisis comes, it is not unlikely that corporations will further either cut down the stand-alone learning department or outsources majority of the work.   It will however be a different proposition if the so-called learning department can facilitate both earning and learning.   I wrote more about this idea in my previous blog post Forget about ‘Training’

Despite the above, the move from traditional practice to ‘Connecting Earning with Learning’ is still a big paradigm shift for most organizations.    Essentially, it is ‘safe’ to run traditional classes.   And there are often stakeholders with vested interest to the traditional practice.

To me, the key outstanding questions are:

  • How to balance the need for consistency in learning across the organization in adopting Just-in-Time learning approach?
  • Should we adopt a higher balance of conformity for more junior learners i.e. less Just-in-Time?   And if so, how much and where to draw the line?
  • What kinds of quality are needed for the facilitators or Team Coaches to be able to conduct Just-in-Time learning?
  • How to build the initial success in order to influence other stakeholders?

Tavistock Experience – Learning Design

Further reflection on the Tavistock experience – As said, it is a very uncommon learning experience. To the extreme, for some parts, I could not help comment them as bad learning design.    On the surface of it, there were things looking like ‘shallow debrief’, ‘loose instruction’, etc.    On the other hand, I questioned myself on ‘What am I missing?’.   In sharing these thoughts with others, I was challenged with a question ‘So, what does good learning design mean to you?’

I think this is a good question to ponder on.   Given how unusual the Tavistock experience is, the question can really uncover and challenge my assumption on learning design.    I think there are a few elements which a good learning experience should consist of (not meant to be a prescriptive answer to good learning design).

A good design should create an environment which generates more learning around the topic as agreed with the learners than environments otherwise experienced by the learners.   What such intended environment should look like thus depends on what the topic is.    By environment, it includes the process, facilitators, the physical set up, the material, the learners mix, etc.

In order to achieve the above, a good design should take into account the Adult Learning Principles.   To me, the key ones are WIIFM, variety in learning styles, repetition, a balance of realness and unfamiliarity, learning transfer, effective use of pre and post experience.

In particular, a good design should enhance learning transfer as much as possible so long as it does not crowd out learners’ own responsibility and compromise learning depending on the nature of the intended learning topic.   To be more specific on experiential learning, a good design should provide space for learners to make sense out of the experience individually and collectively with fellow learners.

In that sense, my Tavistock definitely create an unique environment to learn about group relations which the participants would not experience otherwise.  In particular, it is very successful to create the learners’ mix – the size, the willingness to learn and the variety.   Re the Adult Learning Principles, being an open program, the Tavistock conference has limitation on repetition and ‘pre & post’.   I think it did well on variety in learning styles and realness.   Yet, i think there is missed opportunity in WIIFM and learning transfer.

For those who have been to Tavistock experience, what good learning design means to you and what do you think of Tavistock from the learning design perspective?

Is Training (alone) a form of Work Avoidance?

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‘…  Beyond selection, leadership development is a line manager’s daily responsibility.   Training and development processes like those we design in our consulting services are no substitute for regular on-the-job debriefing….’  

From The Practice of Adaptive Leadership

This is so true.  It is such a common illusion held by managers (me included) that sending people to development interventions (mostly training course) is THE answer to develop people.   The managers in fact are the most important teachers as we can role model, coach, give feedback, reward etc on timely basis…  frequently.   This is more the case for soft-skills capabilities e.g. leadership, managerial skills, presentation, but also applies to technical skills to a certain extent.

Some more reflections on this:

1. Our contribution – L&D practitioners actually help create this illusion.   We are eager to help, sometimes, by doing more and better at what we know i.e. running workshops.   Sometimes we could unconsciously convince the managers that attending workshops is the magic pill.   Politically, in order to justify the existence of a training department, we make ourselves busy.   The immediate answer is more workshops.   We are promoting technical fixes to an adaptive challenge.

2. Reward – In most organisations I know, managers are not rewarded for developmental work.  At least for most managers I know, they do not see it this way.   Even though some companies measure managers’  developmental effort, the norm is that such effort can be ‘sacrificed’ in the name of quarterly business result.

3. Organisational Collusion – Somehow, simply putting people into workshops is easy for the managers as well.   We (in fact the whole system) do not need to face the pain in adapting ourselves to be people developers.   In a way,  is training a form of work avoidance (from the organisational perspective)?

See my related previous posts

How much does training matter? (2008)

How much does training matter? Cont’d (2008)

Be careful about L3 and L4 (2014)

 

 

Lucky Me

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This post is a bit dated.   But I still want to post it here since it is rather significant to me.    The photos were taken in Gazipur, Bangladesh – the outskirt of Dhaka.   I conducted a team development workshop there for 2 days.    The event is significant to me in a number of ways:

 

  • The workshop went very well.   The sponsor and the participants were apparently satisfied and more importantly their relationship seemed to start changing.   In the final 1-word check-out, one participant said ‘change’.   He further elaborated that he now saw people differently.  In addition, we arrived with very concrete Requests and Offers between leader and the team, with specific person and date for follow-up.
  • It was the last workshop with my previous employer.    It nicely marked the end.    I am particularly happy that I end it with a piece of ‘real’ work.   As I mentioned before here, I believe more and more that learning happens much more effectively when we get the learners do real stuff.
  • Most importantly, I felt very grateful during the event.    I was absorbed with what I did there.   I felt like time just passed by so quickly.  I was in the flow.   People say everyone is borne for reasons.   If that is the case, I really feel like I am borne to facilitate group work.    Not that I am very good at it.   Just that I like to do it so much.

 

 

 

I guess I am lucky.

Be careful about L3 and L4

A great piece of learning I got in talking to a learning / training veteran – It goes like this:

Business leader: ‘I am sending people to your programs. Can you guarantee that they will do what they learn (i.e. L3) and perform better (i.e. L4)? Oh, and how are you going to prove such to me?’

Learning consultant: ‘You tell me. You have your reasons in why sending people to programs. And you are the one who control the environment in how they transfer the learning into the workplace.’

The above may be a bit extreme. But there is some truth in it. Conversely speaking, problem will arise if as a passionate learning consultant, one promises to produce and measure L3 and L4 result. He takes away the business leader’s responsibility in clarifying what specific result he tries to improve and providing the necessary support for learning transfer. It is like a stationery store selling a pen to a dad for his kid. And the store keeper is trying to promise to the dad that the kid will use the pen and will win the caligraphy award. It is tempting to be so helpful but it could actually be…… not helpful….

I experienced it before. Lesson learnt.

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