New Paths to Learning at Work

I did a three part interview series recently with HRM Online introducing emerging approaches to learning.  You can probably guess what they are:

  • Informal Learning
  • Social Learning
  • Mobile Learning
  • Virtual Learning
  • Gaming and Simulation
  • Performance Support

Part one introduces the new paths to learning at work. I’ll post each part in the series here as they are released.  I’ll be doing a Webinar on the same topic on May 15.  Information on how to register are listed with  the video or you can register here

Here’s the preamble for the video:

“As technology and workplaces change, the way we learn needs to adapt to meet the needs of your employees. Classroom learning and traditional online courses aren’t sufficient on their own anymore, but what replaces it? From social media and mobile technology to gaming and virtual tools, there is a lot to learn and there are lots of tools available”

Click the image to play the video…

Click here to play Embrace new paths to learning

Update May 1/2013:

Here is part 2 of the interview.  The focus is on social and mobile learning with some discussion of gaming and simulation. Click the image to play.

Click here to play Social, mobile and gaming: the new training tools

Update May 14:

Here is the third and final instalment of the interview.  The focus is on virtual learning, performance support and implications for the learning and development professional.

Click here to play What HR needs to know: keep up with new tech for learning

Practice and the Development of Expertise (Part 3)

practice

Image courtesy HRVoice

This is a variation of an article I prepared for CSTD and HRVoice, summarizing research on practice and expertise.  Part 1 introduced the signature skills demonstrated by experts that separate them from novices. Part 2 presented the type of practice that develops experts.  This post gets to the implications I see for Learning and Development and makes the connection to existing approaches that embody the principles of deliberate practice.

It would be easy to position deliberate practice in the formal learning camp. Indeed for some physical and routine skills  elements of deliberate practice can be build into formal training programs until a learner reaches mastery.  However, in the modern workplace jobs are more complex and demand greater cognitive (versus physical) skill.  The research findings challenges us to consider how we can better support the full novice to expert journey, embed learning and practice in the job, design experience to include practice and reflection, build tacit knowledge, and design rich feedback. In a past post I listed some general principles for using deliberate practice in learning

Fortunately we have a number of approaches available to us that align well to the conditions of deliberate practice. Most of these approaches are not training in the traditional sense. They do however have a structure to them and require significant support. Consider them more non-formal learning than pure informal learning.  Here are some well defined but under-used learning methods  that match well to deliberate practice.

  • Action Learning. Small teams create a plan of action to solve a real business problem. Impacts of these actions are observed, analyzed, lessons extracted and new actions prepared. This cycle of plan, act, observe, reflect embodies the key elements for deliberate practice. The approach has a significant and growing following. Used frequently for management development, it would be great to see it expanded to other types of professional work. See this  earlier post on action learning. 
  • Cognitive Apprenticeship. The standard apprenticeship model updated for modern knowledge work. Instead of demonstrating a manual skill, experts model and describe their thinking to “apprentices” who then work on the same problem while they articulate and verbalize their own reasoning. The expert provides coaching and feedback to encourage reflection. Support is “scaffolded”–gradually released as skills build and confidence is gained.
  • Communities of Practice. Groups with common professional or project goals work together sharing and discussing best practices. In doing so they develop rich tacit knowledge and the hidden “how to’s” that are often missed in formal learning programs. New knowledge is created in the process of collaborating with others. Social media environments can provide a home for the conversations and knowledge that is created.
  • Simulation and Games. Great simulations are a surrogate for real experience and incorporate authentic  work tasks. This allows the learner to attempt challenging tasks, experience failure and learn from errors–all critical elements of deliberate practice.  I like games that model real work and allow for fun, repeatable practice, but worry about “gamification” that uses game mechanics to motivate employees to use the same old ineffective training.
  • Feedback in the Workflow. Wonderful natural feedback exists in the form of business results and performance data. We don’t tend to think of it as a learning tool, but in the context of deliberate practice, it is one of the most powerful. It requires connecting the data to individual or team behavior. It is the cornerstone of approaches to team learning found in improvement methods like Lean, Six Sigma and performance technology. Here’s a post with some ideas on implementing a learning feedback system
  • Stretch Assignments with Coaching. One of the most powerful approaches to “practice” is challenging work assignments that push current capabilities. Already a staple of executive development, we need to see much more of it for other types of professional development.
  • Open Practice Centers. Instead of tired corporate universities and course catalogs populated with learning programs, Practice Centres could provide progressively challenging practice, simulations and work assignments matched to key job roles. Individualized practice is designed to support the full novice to expert journey using the principles of deliberate practice. Learning “content” is considered only in a support role to accomplish practice goals. Heres an idea for organizing the learning function around practice instead of content and courses. And the core idea applied to Management Development

These approaches and others like them occupy that fuzzy middle ground between informal and formal learning. Each can be aided significantly by social media/social learning and learning technologies. Most importantly however they are approaches that allow us to apply the research on “deliberate practice” to help improve our organizations and in doing so improve our own professional performance.

Practice and the Development of Expertise (Part 2)

Deliberate PracticeThis is a variation of an article I prepared for CSTD and HRVoice, summarizing important research on how practice develops expertise and implications for the learning function.  Part 1 introduced the signature skills demonstrated by experts that separate them from novices.

It seems these signatures of expertise are the result of years of effortful, progressive practice on authentic tasks accompanied by relevant feedback and support, with self-reflection and correction. The research team have labeled this activity “Deliberate Practice”. Others have called it deep practice and intentional practice. It entails considerable, specific, and sustained efforts to do something you can’t do well—or at all. Six elements for are necessary for practice (or on the job experience) to be “deliberate” practice:

  • It must be designed to improve performance. Opportunities for practice must have a goal and evaluation criteria. The goals must be job/role based and authentic. General experience is not sufficient, which is where deliberate practice varies from more laissez-faire approaches to informal learning. Years of everyday experience does not necessarily create an expert. Years of deliberate practice does.  See my post Everyday Experience is not Enough for a deeper discussion on this.
  • It must be based on authentic tasks. The practice must use real work and be performed in context-on the job. The goal is to compile an experience bank, not a vast list of completed formal training programs.
  •  The practice must be challenging. The tasks selected for practice must be slightly outside of the learners comfort zone, but not so far out as produce anxiety or panic. Deliberate practice is hard work and stretches  a person beyond their current abilities. The experience must involve targeted effort, focus and concentration
  • Immediate feedback on results. Accurate and diagnostic feedback must be continuously available both from people (coaches) and the business results produced by the activity. Delayed feedback is also important for actions and decisions with longer term impact as is often the case in knowledge based work.
  • Reflection and adjustment. Self-regulatory and metacognitive skills are essential. This includes self-observation, monitoring, and awareness of knowledge and skill gaps. Feedback requires reflection and analysis to inform behaviour change. Experts make mindful choices of their practice activities.
  •  10,000 hours. For complex work, ten years seems to be the necessary investment of in deliberate practice to achieve expertise. Malcolm Gladwell drew attention to the 10,000 hour rule in his book Outliers and it is one of the most robust findings in this research.  It poses a real challenge for our event based training culture. Of course the less complex the work, the less time required to develop expertise.

If we aspire to evidence-based approaches to learning it’s hard to ignore this body of research. Among other things, it challenges us to consider how we can better support the novice to expert journey, embed learning and practice in the job, design experience to include deliberate practice, build tacit knowledge, and build rich feedback into our organizations.

Fortunately we have a number of approaches available to us that align well to the conditions of deliberate practice. I’ll outline those approaches in Part 3.

Here is a nice illustration of the key process and concepts of deliberate practice courtesy of  Michael Sahota:

Deliberate-Practice-630x357

Practice and the Development of Expertise (Part 1)

I’ve been presenting recently on the research and application of Deliberate Practice for developing expertise in the workplace.  I’ll be doing so again at the upcoming British Columbia Human Resources Management Association (BCHRMA) conference on May 2.  A version of following article on the topic appeared in the CSTD Learning Journal.   A modified version will also appear in an upcoming issue of HR Voice.   It is posted here in three parts.

******

expert We all know well-designed practice is a critical for effective training.  It’s what differentiates meaningful learning from passive information presentation.  But as work becomes more complex and knowledge-based, are the practice activities we design for our formal learning programs (both classroom and e-learning) enough to meet the need for expertise in the modern workplace? A comprehensive body of research on how professional expertise is developed suggests it may not be.

This research, led largely by Anders Ericsson at Florida State University and popularized in recent books such as Malcom Gladwell’s Outliers and Geoff Colvin’s Talent is Overrated, indicates that the type of practice needed to develop true expertise is more intensive and “deliberate” than we thought, and that it must be embedded in the context of real work.  Also, it must occur on a regular basis over much longer periods of time. The research has implications for us as learning and performance professionals.  It argues for a profound shift away from event based formal learning to approaches that could be categorized as informal learning or learning from experience.  However, it turns out not all experience is created equal when developing expertise, so simplistic notions of informal learning also won’t work.  So how should we rethink the design of practice if it is to truly develop the complex skills of the knowledge workplace?  To answer that question it helps to first understanding what expertise looks like.

Characteristics of expert performance

Ericsson’s research has found that top performing individuals at work, besides being very good at what they do, consistently demonstrate the following differences compared to novices and lower performing individuals

  • They perceive more.  Experts see patterns, make finer discriminations, interpret situations more quickly and as a result make faster, more accurate decisions.  Novices slowly review all information and don’t have the contextual experience to recognize patterns
  • They know more.  Not only do experts have more facts and details available to them, they have more tacit knowledge–that all-important unconscious “know how” that only comes with experience.  Novices rely on limited explicit knowledge
  • They have superior mental models.  Experience helps experts have rich internal representations of how things work and how knowledge is connected.  They use this to learn and understand situations more rapidly. Novices rely on simple, sometimes inaccurate, rules of thumb and loosely connected knowledge
  • They use personal networks more effectively.  Experts know who to go to for help and answers.   Novices are not able to identify access critical information and people as quickly
  • They have superior “meta-cognition”. Experts are better self-monitors than novices.  They set goals, self evaluate against a standard, and make corrections and adjustments more quickly from feedback

novice to expert

These are skills we want in all employees.  At times they seem like they come from an innate ability or deep “competency” unachievable by others.   However the research shows that while natural ability may play a small role, practice and experience are far more significant.  The nature of this experience is critical.  “Practice makes perfect” is only true for practice of a certain type which I describe in part 2.

Everyday Experience is Not Enough

A core tenet of informal and social learning is that we learn through experience. It’s the elephant in the 70-20-10 room. It’s often used as an admonishment to formal learning. Advocates of the most laissez-faire approaches informal learning suggest that given the right tools (social anyone?) employees will do just fine without all the interference by the learning department, thank you very much.

No one in their right mind would argue that experience is not a powerful teacher, or that our most valuable learning occurs while working. But it’s pretty broad generalization don’t you think? Some experiences must be more valuable than others for achieving learning and performance goals. And if so, what makes those experiences more valuable and how do we know them when we see them? Or, from the perspective of the learning professional, how can we help create the right experiences to help people develop their skills? These seem to be important questions if we are to get beyond loose approaches to informal learning.

Indeed research in developing expertise has shown that not all experience is created equal. Years of experience in a domain does not invariably lead to expert levels of performance. Most people after initial training and a few years of work reach a stable, acceptable level of performance and maintain this level for much of the rest of their careers. Contrast that with those that continue to improve and eventually achieve the highest levels of expertise. It seems that where high performers may have 20 years experience , average performers seem to have 1 year of experience 20 times!

The following chart from the body of research on developing expertise, illustrates the results of different types of “experience” on workplace performance.

Ericsson K.A., "The Influence of Experience and Deliberate Practice on the Development of Expert Performance” The Cambridge handbook of expertise and expert performance (2006)

Average performers learn just enough from their environment (experience) to perform everyday skills with a minimal amount of effort. In contrast, experts continually challenge their current performance and seek feedback from their environment to stay in a more or less permanent learning state, mastering everyday skills but continuously raising their personal bar. This deliberate approach to learning from experience is what separates top performers from the norm. Continuously challenging current skills is hard work and it takes it’s toll. Some decrease or stop their focus on deliberate practice and never achieve the excellence of the expert (arrested development).

Designing experience

So, performance does not improve simply through cumulative everyday experience gained face to face, using social media or otherwise. It requires targeted effortful practice an environment rich in accurate and timely feedback. That does not mean formal training.  It does means experience designed and targeted to develop skills and expertise. This is a very different thing than routine, everyday work experience.

Some of the best learning approaches that work well in helping people challenge their current skill levels fall into that fuzzy middle ground between formal and informal learning (see this post for a continuum of learning experiences) and can include the following:

Designing, fostering and supporting work experiences that develop expertise is an emerging role for the learning professional. That role is to assure that people are working in a setting where they can challenge and develop their knowledge and skills. You can’t make them learn but you can help surround them with the resources they need to learn. This approach to learning is truly a partnership between the individual, their managers and you as a learning professional. In doing that work you are practicing and developing your own expertise.

Mapping Informal and Formal Learning Strategies to Real Work

During the Q&A at a recent conference session on Social Learning, a retail industry attendee asked “I have to train 300 store level associates in new product knowledge in the next three months.  Is social learning really what I want?”  What would your answer be?

I advocate informal and social learning when appropriate and get as excited about them as you likely do, but it’s not a panacea for all our learning woes.  The current zeal around social learning solutions can distract from real performance needs (we’ve been distracted before).  Social learning gets positioned as the enlightened and “correct” solution for the modern workplace. Formal learning is old, tired, and reluctantly tolerated for the vestiges of the traditional, mechanistic workplace.

But, set aside your biases one way or the other for the moment and simply think of the roles and functions you support in your organization.  It will vary by industry of course, but your list is going to be some subset of the following

  • Marketing
  • Sales
  • Product Development
  • Manufacturing
  • Operations
  • Administration
  • Service Delivery
  • Order Fulfillment
  • Information Technology
  • Procurement
  • Management and Leadership

Now think of the jobs or roles within those functions…the engineers, technicians, account executives, managers, IT specialists, health care workers, service specialists, and operations staff you support.  Do they demand a singular approach to developing skill and capability necessary for their job?  Is social learning or traditional skills training the most appropriate for all job types?  I hope your answer is no.

Consultants have been telling us for years that traditional, mechanistic organizations are disappearing, and with them linear and routine work.  There is no doubt that is the economic direction, but look around you…at the auto assembly lines, big box retail, supermarkets, call centres, healthcare technicians, administrative clerks in government, insurance, finance and elsewhere. Think about the jobs you support and you’ll see many examples of traditional work where social media based learning will simply not be feasible to quickly develop skills.

Task variety and standardization: Routine vs. knowledge work

Instead of over generalizing the value of any solution it’s best to truly understand the skill and knowledge requirements of the jobs, roles or initiatives you support.  I’m not talking about task or needs analysis (through both are valuable tools).  Instead go up one notch higher and categorize the types of “work” you support in your organization.  Almost all work, indeed entire organizations and industries, vary on a continuum of two broad factors: task variety and task standardization.

An approach for categorizing jobs, roles and work environments

In between these ends of this spectrum is work that combines standardization and task variety to different degrees. The following framework provides a classification tool to place work types, jobs and roles. It’s an adaptation of the work of Yale Organizational Sociologist Charles Perrow.  Jeffrey Liker and David Meier used a different variation of this model in Toyota Talent.

Work Types, Task Standarization and Task Variety

Routine work

Routine work is highly standardized with little task variety. Job fundamentals need to be learned quickly and performed to company or industry defined standards. There is little room for variation and the skills that need to be learned are narrow and focused. Progressive workplaces will also involve workers in problems solving and continuous process improvement where experience will result in tacit knowledge in problem recognition and problem solving than can be shared with others through informal vehicles.

Sample jobs and roles:

  • Assembly line workers
  • Bank teller
  • Data entry clerk
  • Oil and gas well drillers
  • Machine operators
  • Fast food server

Learning approach:

  • Formal structured, job specific skills training, performance support tools that enable standardized procedures

Technician work

The work of the technician is less standardized and includes more variety in the tasks and skills required by the role. Work still has many defined procedures and processes. However, they are more complex and often based on sophisticated systems and technology. The sequence can vary depending on the situation so employees have more autonomy in selecting appropriate procedures. There’s also greater variety in the procedures and tasks to be completed and as a result the learning programs need to consider problem solving, decision making and continuous improvement. Tacit knowledge will be needed to solve real technical problems that arise and there is often a service element in technician work that can benefit from informal approaches to learning. Performance supports system are a natural fit for technician oriented work as is mobile learning for customer support technicians often working at customer locations.

Sample jobs and roles:

  • Lab analyst
  • Quality Control Specialists
  • Radiation technologist
  • Maintenance workers
  • Technical support specialists
  • Most “trade” occupations

Learning approach:

  • Formal structured learning for required procedures, performance support systems. Informal learning and apprenticeship approaches for building “know-how” and problem solving

Craft work

Craft oriented work introduces even greater amounts of variety in tasks, skills and knowledge, but retains significant amounts of standardization for optimal performance. While there is a definable number of tasks, each situation faced by employees is somewhat different, and each requires creative and slightly unique solutions. Over time patterns in problems and solutions emerge for individual employees and this becomes valuable experience (tacit knowledge) that they can pass on to novice employees through informal approaches. Basic skills and procedures are most efficiently taught through formal methods but the most critical parts of the job are learning through years of experience facing multiple situations. Management is more flexible and with fewer rules and formal policies. Teamwork and communications are paramount.

Sample jobs and roles:

  • Nurse
  • Sales professional
  • Call centre agent
  • Graphic designer
  • Air traffic controller
  • First level supervisor
  • Insurance administrator

Learning approach:

Formal learning for foundation procedures and skills. Informal learning and deep work experience and mentoring models for tacit knowledge.

Knowledge work

Finally, knowledge work involves little task standardization (although there is always some) and a great amount of task variety requiring a wide range of skills, knowledge and collaboration. Professionals move from task to task and each situation is unique calling for spontaneous thinking, reasoning and decision making. Knowledge workers must adapt to new situations, assess complex data and make complex decisions.  They also need refined people skills.  The most critical aspects of what experts and knowledge workers do (after formal education) can only be learned on the job over time through experience, mentors and knowledge sharing with other professionals.

Sample jobs and roles:

  • Professional engineers
  • Middle and senior management
  • Professions: Law, Medicine, Architecture, Scientists, Professors etc.
  • Software developers
  • Creative director

Learning approach:

Professional education, extensive job experience on a variety of situations and work assignments, action learning, mentorship, Communities of Practice.

Balanced approaches

Of course most work requires a combination of knowledge work and routine work. These characteristics of jobs and work environments call for different approaches to training and development. There is a continuum of learning solutions that range from formal to non-formal to informal. I’ve posted my view on this continuum in the past (Leveraging the full learning continuum).

Avoid over generalizing your solutions at all costs. Participate in social media and learn it’s value to develop tacit knowledge and create new knowledge in your organization but don’t assume it is the “correct” solution for all your audiences. Start with the functions you serve. Truly understand work that is done by the jobs and roles within those groups and the skills necessary for them to be successful. Only then create a solution that will meet those needs.

Making Informal Learning Assets Work

Seeking ways to leverage new social media environments, learning departments are discovering ways to sneak a little formal learning through the informal learning back door. Some of our clients for example, are looking to load up their social learning environments with small bits of learning content related to business goals. The notion being that these informal learning assets will live or die on the strength of their connection to employee performance need. Informal learning assets (or perhaps more accurately formal learning assets designed for informal consumption) are small segments of learning media such as videos, podcasts, documents, animations, short interactive pieces, images, performance guides, job aids, process descriptions, anything with a learning intention that can be posted to a social media environment. They can be created by anyone, from learning designers, to managers and employees and team members.

Survival of the fittest

The strategy creates a kind of Darwinian free-for-all of digital learning resources. Those of best fit to real learning and performance needs will get viewed, liked, shared, discussed and commented on more than those that don’t quite measure up. The best become internal learning memes that do their viral tour of duty and those that don’t hit the mark fall off the social radar, never to produce their learning offspring to see another day. Or so the theory goes. It’s an interesting strategy with loads of implications for designers, suppliers and users of learning content. The idea (I hesitate to call it a trend) is leading some organizations and training suppliers to deconstruct their existing learning programs into learning bits and pieces for populating internal social media environments such as they are.

Making informal learning assets work

I like the idea of infusing communities with digital learning assets but there are a few cautions to watch as we enter this new path. Foremost is the profusion of “information” oriented learning assets at the expense of the practice, application  and reflection that we know is at the heart of real learning and improvement. Information based assets no matter how novel or entertaining we make them are not enough. To bastardize an old Magerism, if telling alone resulted in learning we’d all be so smart we could hardly stand it.

There are ways to structure and design informal learning assets to maintain the best of what we’ve learned from formal design and bring them into the informal learning world. A model we’ve been experimenting with connects formal, informal and social learning, based on five learning essentials (you’ll recognize them if you are familiar with David Merrill’s First Principles or Bernice McCarthy’s 4Mat). Effective learning requires solving authentic problems and tasks, connecting new knowledge with existing mental models, uses powerful ways of presenting and demonstrating new knowledge, provides many and varied opportunities to practice new skills with coaching and reflection, and finally guides the the application to new situations on the job.

Too many informal learning assets target only the “key knowledge” requirement (#3), without any connection to the remaining four learning essentials. Well designed learning programs will account for each of the essentials, but there is no reason they all have to bundled up together in a tidy formal learning bow. In fact, the essence of good informal learning is that the guided application essential (#4) takes place on the job with feedback and coaching from colleagues or mentors inside social media environment or face to face. Forums and discussions are excellent ways to gently guide application. Job aids and performance support systems are effective vehicles for building skills into workflow (#5). Real business problems and tasks (#1) can be used instead of artificial cases. My point is that with care each of these other essentials can be developed as informal learning assets as effectively as a good information driven asset.

This view can also serve as a guide when deconstructing classroom programs for  conversion to social media environments. Instead of retaining only the key knowledge from your programs, look for effective ways to create assets that support the other learning essentials as well.

Learning assets associated with a specific knowledge domain, role or learning objective can be connected through tagging, linking or even a good old fashioned learning path.

Once loaded into social media environments users and community members will begin using them to improve their performance and manage their own knowledge. Not only will they consume the learning assets, they will create their own and in doing so create new and emergent knowledge. As new ideas emerge they will evolve to standard practice and can feed the development of new or revised formal learning programs.

This connection between formal, informal and Social learning might look something like the following:

The 30 Second MBA

I came across this interesting resource recently–The 30 second MBA.

It’s a venture of Fast Company Magazine.  Leaders and entrepreneurs from a variety of industries are asked to describe their approach to various leadership problems and topics in 30 seconds or less (ticking clock and all).  The site describes their mission like this:

The great lament of any reporter is what to do with the jewels that routinely get left on the cutting room floor after a really great interview. Enter the 30-Second MBA, an ongoing video “curriculum” of really good advice from the trenches, directly from people who are making business happen.

The “professors” providing this curriculum include the likes of Mark Zuckerberg (CEO, Facebook) Alan Mulally (CEO, Ford), Padmasree Warrior (CTO, Cisco) Vivian Schiller (President, NPR) and a host of others.  They each take on topics and business problems such as leadership, teamwork, decision making, customer relationships, growth, communication, crisis management and more–all within the 30 second video format.

The site is interesting from a few perspectives.  You can take or leave the messages provided, but the site demonstrates a model that can easily be mimicked inside organizations for capturing and sharing knowledge.  The site also includes community features to discuss the perspectives from the business leaders and post post your own perspectives.  Knowledge captured like this can be used as informal learning assets to support a management development approaches like the one I described in my recent post Management Development Redux.  Learning assets like this are not the complete picture however, and should never be used as a replacement for a targeted management development program.   They should used as learning resources to support solving unique business challenges through discussion and reflection in action learning teams, communities of practice or other collaborative approaches.

Sites and management development services like this are popping up more frequently.  They’ll likely start to change the shape of management development inside organizations, both as suppliers of content for internal communities and simply as models for the direction internal management development might take.

Management Development Redux

My last few posts have been about management and leadership development.  In this post, I thought I would bring some of those ideas together in the form of a process or heuristic for a management development system built around defined business challenges, informal learning approaches with less reliance (or no reliance at all!) on classroom learning.

Here is an alternative management development process then…in just 5 easy steps!…built around authentic learning tasks and supported by informal learning assets and small team action learning sessions.

Step 1:  Define a management/leadership model suited to the organization

Too many senior leadership teams abdicate responsibility for defining coherent roles and expectations for their managers.  Instead, they “buy” a management model in the guise of a training program, rather than defining one consistent with their values, organization design and business goals.

HR and Training enthusiastically taking up the charge and end up buying management programs currently in vogue or that suits their personal vision of leadership.  Also many purchased management programs focus only on the “people” side of a manager’s role and ignore the many other important facets.  I’ve seen many management development programs that are completely at odds with the actual management culture of the organization.    Behavior and performance that gets rewarded and encouraged on the job is not what is taught in development programs.   Not good.

HR and Training have a role in helping the senior team craft a vision and approach for management but they should not be digging it out of the recesses of a commercial management program. Learning and training initiatives should support a coherent model of management not the other way around.  Of course, the model can and should be fluid. Adjustments should be welcome and encouraged as an organization learns and matures over time.

Step 2:  Develop an inventory of management scenarios and business challenges

Using the management model as a guide, create a series of realistic scenarios, cases,  and business challenges  (whatever your term of preference) that will be the core of your management development program.  We know the best management development is built around authentic problems, tasks and opportunities.  Managers also tell us it’s the way they prefer to learn.

Make it your mission to work directly with the managers of the business units you support to understand their day to day challenges, responsibilities, successes and best practices.  Use this inside knowledge to create a progression of challenges from simple to complex, perhaps based on the levels of management in your organization.    The inventory should be highly dynamic and constantly evolving as goals and objectives change.

Challenges can and should have focus on desired competencies and target all of the spheres of responsibilities managers have including business, functional, financial and human. Mangers themselves can start creating challenges and problems scenarios to add to the inventory.

Step 3:  Organize the business challenges into learning paths.

There are a variety of ways the business challenge scenarios could be organized.  By management level, by progression of challenge complexity, by competency or skill area, by management responsibility.   All of the above are possible using simple tagging tools.

The most important thing is to provide an organizing structure for managers to access and use the learning assets.  One of the early failings of social learning environments is the assumption that people will fully manage their own learning in personal learning environments.  Some may, but the majority prefer guidance and a few nudges along the way.

The learning paths are most useful for new managers.  More experienced managers will begin using the business challenges on an as needed basis, which is the way it should be.

Step 4:  Acquire and/or develop a series of learning resources and performance aids to support solving the business challenges

Using the business challenges and problems as a guide, purchase or develop learning assets that contain the key concepts, principles, practices and practices that will help managers solve the full range of business challenges in your inventory.  Use media appropriate to your audience and technical infrastructure including print, digital video, performance guides, e-learning, people (coaches/mentors), job assignments and others.  They are getting easier to find as learning content suppliers are starting to deconstruct their programs into smaller learning assets for use in social media environments.

They can be housed in your organization’s social media suite , Management Community of Practice,  Learning Management System (if you still have one), or in an old-school style learning centre.  Most importantly they must be connected directly to the business challenges managers will be assigned to solve as part of their development.

Learning assets should not be the exclusive purview of the learning function.  Social Learning has taught us that “user-generated” content is both powerful and motivating.  Get managers involved in contributing learning assets.

Learning assets will be used by managers individually and in action learning teams to research and discuss solutions to the business challenges from your inventory.  Assets can be organized into clusters or paths matched to the scenarios. The scenarios are the learning motivators.  The content is only the path to the solution.

Step 5. Assemble action learning teams

The learning assets can and should be used independently to solve the business challenges, but doing so exclusively misses the benefits of social learning.  We’ve learned that small teams of managers working together (face to face or virtually) to solve business challenges is a key success factor in management development.  Action learning has refined a robust approach to small group learning that incorporate the best of informal learning.  Other problem-based and case-based learning models also offer springboards to build management learning teams.  See the links here for a few examples).  I offered an approach using management communities of practice here.

Whichever approach is used the goal is for managers to share their experiences and perspectives together as they solve the business challenges.   Here here is a diagram of how management teams working together can use the business challenges and informal learning assists  to continuously develop.

An Idea List: Using Web 2.0 for Management Development

At the session I described in my last post, table groups did a short brainstorming session on how web 2.0 tools could be used in a Management Community of Practice to facilitate learning.   Each table recorded their ideas and left them for me.  I promised the group I would post them here.  So here you are folks.

Communities of practice are dynamic social structures that require both initial design and ongoing cultivation so they can emerge and grow.  However, through a series of steps, learning professionals and community members can design a community environment, foster the formalization of the community, and plan activities to help grow and sustain the community. But ultimately, the members of the community will define and sustain it over time.

Here are most of the activities listed from the session.  Some are slightly edited for consistency or to merge with similar items to create a single list.

  • Solve specific problems in an operations environment. Organize, create communities of interest around subjects of common interest such as people management or quality management
  • On-line book/learning resources club, recommended resources
  • Train community leaders in on-line community leadership
  • Create subgroups for community members more literate in web 2.0 technologies
  • Virtual lunch and learns–Identify a topic–Facilitated discussion–follow-up discussion thread
  • Create mentoring communities to share documents and collaborate through social media
  • Create a group Wiki project to create new knowledge
  • Use Wiki to seed environment with core body of knowledge
  • Share knowledge of plant managers with a balance of structure and free discussion using forums
  • Managers can have scheduled time to answer questions and provided by peers in his or her area of expertise
  • Use discussion thread to solve specific problems
  • Reduce emails by using chat for knowledge sharing and discussion between a few people
  • Owner of a discussion board (some structure) to share experience and develop ability to reflect
  • Balance free form and moderation of activities and discussions
  • Structured review of stored conversations for themes and ideas to formalize as best practices.
  • Scheduled live Webcasts
  • Scheduled Case Study/scenario. Use live chat or discussion features a case study, problem or scenario
  • Question of the week (or month etc). A question or problem is posed. Community members provide guidance and ideas in discussion forum
  • Storyshare– Digital video or text storytelling
  • Glossary and Shared links.  Group creation of online links or bookmarks and resources for defined topics
  • Scheduled application of specific best practices with reflection and facilitated discussion to debrief.
  • Invited Guests
  • Have people go to Community after formal training events

Keep the list going.  Anyone have anything else to suggest?