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Posts Tagged ‘Learning Culture’


This blog has frequently stated that a successful learning culture must accept that failures are an important component of learning.

So what, exactly, does that mean?

Does this mean that managers are to overlook mistakes and praise and reward those who’ve screwed up?

Wouldn’t the end result of such behavior be an organization whose members were sloppy, inaccurate and imprecise in their work?

What, specifically, would an organization interested in making a shift from the “push” training culture to a “pull” learning culture do if it wanted to make failure an opportunity to learn about problems before it grew too expensive –or too late — to address and correct them?

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These are all important questions — and I’ll talk about them in this and a series of blogs to follow. But let me start by quoting Amy C. Edmondson, the Novartis Professor of Leadership and Management at the Harvard Business School who states, “All failures are not created equal.”

In her highly engaging and readable article, Strategies for Learning from Failure published in the Harvard Business Review, Edmondson illustrates how some failures can provide highly valuable information, while others are inherently less helpful.

Edmondson has divided failure into the following three categories for which I have provided abbreviated descriptions, which are based largely on hers:

Preventable failures in predictable operations

These are failures most of us would consider “bad.” As Edmondson states, “They usually involve deviations from spec in the closely defined processes of high-volume or routine operations in manufacturing and services. With proper training and support, employees can follow those processes consistently. When they don’t, deviance, inattention, or lack of ability is usually the reason. But in such cases, the causes can be readily identified and solutions developed.”

Think of the famous Toyota Production System, which instills in all employees the importance of pulling a rope to stop the assembly line immediately upon spotting — or even suspecting –there is a problem. Diagnostics and problem-solving process kick in, and there is no “punishment” for initiating this process, which over the years, has helped the company identify real and potential problems early, before they became serious, system-wide, and costly to the company and its reputation.

 

Unavoidable failures in complex systems

This relates to work involving “a particular combination of needs, people, and problems may have never occurred before,” as Edmondson puts it. Some examples of this type of work includes healthcare professionals in hospital emergency rooms, soldiers in battle, people working in nuclear power plants

Even if workers follow best practices for safety and risk management, small process failures will occur. Often, true disaster is caused by a series of small failures that occurred within a short period of time, or occurred in a particular sequence. To prevent this, workers need to feel they will be supported — not stigmatized — when they report small failures with equipment, systems or procedures while it is possible to address and correct them, rather than waiting until a true crisis  — or disaster –occurs.

 

Intelligent failures at the frontier

The term “intelligent failures” was coined by Duke University professor of management, Sim Sitkin. Dr. Edmondson defines these as “good” failures that “occur in environments where answers are not knowable in advance because this exact situation hasn’t been encountered before and perhaps never will be again.”

Intelligent failures are to be expected in companies working to create a new vaccine, build a new type of aircraft or vehicle. In these situations, good work involves good experimentation– and it is always hoped that the failures good experimentation will produce will be quick and decisive. If they are, they will prevent the organization from sinking further time, money and other resources into unproductive work.

There you have it: the hierarchy of organizational failure as laid out by one of the finest minds at Harvard Business School.

My next blog will consider the reasons why organizations are so resistant to the idea of “destigmatizing failure.”

KnowledgeStar is a corporation that consults with large and small organizations to transform themselves into learning cultures. Contact us at David(at)KnowledgeStar.(com) 

5 Votes

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This post written by Susan Fry and David Grebow

“Push” learning has gone the way of the cassette tape, tube television and electric typewriter.

Leading educators and trainers now regard push learning as inefficient, suboptimal and outdated. Even many schools, often the slowest institutions to change, are rapidly making the transition away from that model.

Yet, despite the fact that “push learning” is clearly not suited for today’s “economy of ideas,” corporations have been surprisingly reluctant to make the necessary change.

Why?

The reason may well lie in the fact that a “pull” learning culture is truly democratic. It’s a culture that encourages and supports everyone to explore and demonstrate their initiative and abilities, allowing the best to rise to the top based on merit.

That sounds like a great benefit to any organization. But when put into practice, the concept can prove to be quite revolutionary.

Throughout history, providing access to knowledge has been a way to control who gained power, wealth and status.

Learning and training are often hoarded and carefully doled out to people upon whom top management wish to confer success. Often, they are golden keys to elite private club that are given to friends’ children, colleagues, and clients, alumni from the same university, people of the same culture, class or color.

There can be no doubt that in the last 50 years, countries with the world’s leading economies have worked to erode discrimination and provide greater employment opportunities to people regardless of their race or gender.

It’s time organizations make another much-needed cultural shift, and “tear down the wall” by replacing the old, “push” learning culture with a “pull” culture that ensures equal opportunity learning.

KnowledgeStar is a corporation that consults with large and small organizations to transform themselves into learning cultures. Contact us at David(at)KnowledgeStar.(com) 

5 Votes

Screen shot 2015-03-18 at 10.37.18 PM

This post written by Susan Fry and David Grebow

“Push” learning has gone the way of the cassette tape, tube television and electric typewriter.

Leading educators and trainers now regard push learning as inefficient, suboptimal and outdated. Even many schools, often the slowest institutions to change, are rapidly making the transition away from that model.

Yet, despite the fact that “push learning” is clearly not suited for today’s “economy of ideas,” corporations have been surprisingly reluctant to make the necessary change.

Why?

The reason may well lie in the fact that a “pull” learning culture is truly democratic. It’s a culture that encourages and supports everyone to explore and demonstrate their initiative and abilities, allowing the best to rise to the top based on merit.

That sounds like a great benefit to any organization. But when put into practice, the concept can prove to be quite revolutionary.

Throughout history, providing access to knowledge has been a way to control who gained power, wealth and status.

Learning and training are often hoarded and carefully doled out to people upon whom top management wish to confer success. Often, they are golden keys to elite private club that are given to friends’ children, colleagues, and clients, alumni from the same university, people of the same culture, class or color.

There can be no doubt that in the last 50 years, countries with the world’s leading economies have worked to erode discrimination and provide greater employment opportunities to people regardless of their race or gender.

It’s time organizations make another much-needed cultural shift, and “tear down the wall” by replacing the old, “push” learning culture with a “pull” culture that ensures equal opportunity learning.

KnowledgeStar is a corporation that consults with large and small organizations to transform themselves into learning cultures. Contact us at David(at)KnowledgeStar.(com) 

5 Votes

Screen shot 2015-03-18 at 10.37.18 PM

This post written by Susan Fry and David Grebow

“Push” learning has gone the way of the cassette tape, tube television and electric typewriter.

Leading educators and trainers now regard push learning as inefficient, suboptimal and outdated. Even many schools, often the slowest institutions to change, are rapidly making the transition away from that model.

Yet, despite the fact that “push learning” is clearly not suited for today’s “economy of ideas,” corporations have been surprisingly reluctant to make the necessary change.

Why?

The reason may well lie in the fact that a “pull” learning culture is truly democratic. It’s a culture that encourages and supports everyone to explore and demonstrate their initiative and abilities, allowing the best to rise to the top based on merit.

That sounds like a great benefit to any organization. But when put into practice, the concept can prove to be quite revolutionary.

Throughout history, providing access to knowledge has been a way to control who gained power, wealth and status.

Learning and training are often hoarded and carefully doled out to people upon whom top management wish to confer success. Often, they are golden keys to elite private club that are given to friends’ children, colleagues, and clients, alumni from the same university, people of the same culture, class or color.

There can be no doubt that in the last 50 years, countries with the world’s leading economies have worked to erode discrimination and provide greater employment opportunities to people regardless of their race or gender.

It’s time organizations make another much-needed cultural shift, and “tear down the wall” by replacing the old, “push” learning culture with a “pull” culture that ensures equal opportunity learning.

KnowledgeStar is a corporation that consults with large and small organizations to transform themselves into learning cultures. Contact us at David(at)KnowledgeStar.(com) 

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Move over, Cambridge, Palo Alto, Madison, Ann Arbor, New York and Nashville —  Carmel, California may soon become the hotbed for innovation in education!

We at KnowledgeStar thank our clients  — McGraw-Hill, the United Nations, Brandon-Hall Group, Bersin by Deloitte, and the Navajo Nation — for giving us the privilege of working on such exciting projects this last year. Without them, we wouldn’t have received the nice honor pictured below.

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This post was written by David Grebow and Susan Fry

When we talk about creating a learning culture, we’re defining learning as “the ability to adapt what you know and what you know how to do to an ever-changing variety of circumstances.”

To become a learning culture, an organization must understand that learning is not a discrete training event or even a series of them. Rather, learning is an ongoing process, one that occurs over time. Sharing and expanding knowledge in a culture is very different from the “rote learning” or classroom learning model that prevails in most organizations, and which rewards short-term memory.

By “rote learning,” we mean any brief, highly structured learning event that employs quizzes to provide a score intended to gauge how much the participant “learned.” The problem is that the goal of these “learning events” is  to ensure that, to be considered “successful” requires only that the attendees retain information long enough to get a passing score on a quiz or test (or multiple ones, scattered throughout the session.)

Ask yourself what the scores would be if the quiz was taken again, a few days after the “learning event” was over. A huge percentage of what was supposedly “learned” would already have been forgotten. (I’ll leave the cost-effectivemess of such training for another discussion.)

Interestingly, art and science have proved to be two areas where what we’ve just stated above do not apply.

This is because art and science require an evolving degree of knowledge from basic to advanced. Think about learning to play the tuba or conducting a chemistry experiment. This is subject matter that was always learned by apprenticing with or being tutored by a master, someone with a great deal more experience.

Would anyone consider handing a Bach score and a cello to someone who played a little guitar and expect him to master it after two hour-long seminars and a demonstration video?

Real learning is somewhat like sleeping. You do not go to sleep; rather, you go through the process of sleeping, which is completed in a number of stages. If you’re constantly interrupted, you wake up the next morning feeling like you had a bad nights’ sleep. Real learning requires stages as well and you cannot skip over any of them.

What neuroscience researchers have learned by studying golfers helps shed light on this.

They describe how learners reach a point during the adoption phase where they peak at the physical learning part of the game. After enough time has been spent “on the job” practicing the required physical movements, a point comes when it stops being necessary to consciously think about the movements.  When that happens, the brain is freed to focus on the parts of the game that require active mental thought and calculation. When you hear coaches use the phrase “muscle memory,” or tell athletes “get out of your mind” or “you’re over-thinking it,” this is what they mean.

When a golfer has mastered the essentials of the physical game, the mind becomes is table to focus on more complex issues.  And that focus is truly the key to transforming a good player into a great one. But it takes a very long time, and a lot of practice to get to this stage.

An analysis of the eye patterns of novice golfers on a green, lining up a putt, translated the players’ eye movements into graphics. What it showed looked like someone had thrown a plate of spaghetti on the green: there were lines and loops going every which way.When they graphed the eye movement of top golfers, the patterns were a few lines most of them moving directly towards the cup.

The reason why most classes offered by organizations are essentially a waste of time is because they do not include enough time to complete the learning process. The material presented is not reinforced and internalized through experience.  No time is allowed for the learner to practice the concepts or methods that have been presented and try them out in the “real world” or workplace, repeatedly, over time, until they become like “muscle memory.” Because of this, little is retained.

Now imagine what would happen if the organization provided continuous opportunities for learning, actively encouraged its members to be learning continuously, built in time for them to practice, and measured progress not by pop quiz scores, but increased productivity.

Now imagine that the organization is your organization.

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This post written by Susan Fry

The question I’m asked most frequently these days (besides, “ATM or credit card?”) is “How do I start to create a learning culture in my organization?”

I’d actually prefer to start with a different question, which is “How close is the current culture in my organization to a learning culture?”

Many organizational cultures–and maybe yours–already have some of the key characteristics of a learning culture in place.  Finding out where you stand is the logical first step.

We employ a variety of tools to help organizations understand their culture because it helps makes for a smoother, faster transition from an obsolete “push/training” mode into the “pull/learning” culture.

Below, you can view a sample from one of the assessment tools we use. In the left column , you’ll see brief descriptions of key characteristics that  encourage learning; on the right, you’ll see descriptions of those that block it. Beneath the sample you’ll find instructions for taking and evaluating the assessment. new assessment captureTake a moment to answer the questions yourself.  Some of your answers are likely to be surprising.

You can view the full, printable Learning Culture Assessment here.

How to use this assessment

The assessment asks respondents to rank you organization on each characteristic by writing a number in the square at the bottom of each section.

The number “1” indicates strong disagreement with the statement, while “5” indicates the strong agreement. Adding all the  numbers in each column will show whether your organization is currently perceived to be a learning culture.  Questions that received the lowest scores indicate areas that need the most attention.

After you’ve taken it yourself, I suggest that you distribute this assessment to a group of people within your organization. Choosing as many audit participants as possible from diverse areas and levels of responsibility will provide you with more accurate information.

The survey has an additional benefit: it will communicate that you are starting to take a hard look at how good your organization is at providing learning opportunities that enable employees to do the best job possible.

This assessment was first published in Creating a Learning Culture: Strategy, Technology and Practice (Cambridge, UK; Cambridge University Press, 2004). I’m grateful to Marcia Conner, my colleague from my Peoplesoft days and friend of many years, for recently bringing it to my attention. (Check out her blog at http://marciaconner.com/

In case you didn’t note the publication info above, let me point out that this assessment was published more than ten years ago. In Silicon Valley terms, that makes it almost ancient — and yet I constantly meet people who think the “learning culture” is a radical new concept!

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The Inevitable Future of Learning

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As recently as eight or ten years ago, transforming your organization’s culture from a teacher-led training culture to a learning culture, driven by digital technology, may have been a matter of managerial preference.  Today, it’s an absolute necessity.

The change to digital technology is so profound, so dramatic that it can be compared to the invention of the printing press in 1450 or Edison’s success in making electric lighting commercially viable in the 1880s. We are only now beginning to see the changes.

Digital communication is changing everything about learning. In a recent report on global human capital trends, Bersin by Deloitte advised organizations to look at the ways people learn in their organization and “Prepare for a revolution.”

With all due respect to Bersin by Deloitte, we think their timing is a bit off. The revolution isn’t coming, it is here. In our kids’ K-12 classrooms, changing the ways they learn. Anyone can now be a publisher or a video producer and provide news channels for knowledge. Performance support systems, virtual classes, video conferences and more are finding their way into individual departments and divisions of many companies. Yet the technology is not significantly changing the way we learn in our organizations.

ATD’s 2014 State of the Industry Report confirms that instructors still reign supreme in workplace learning, with 70% of formal training hours delivered by an instructor in a classroom.

While we’ve eagerly adopted digital technology and the changes it has brought to our personal lives, the vast majority of organizations have not seemed to grasp the need to adapt our organizational lives so they embrace the possibilities presented by the digital world. Either they are resistant to the change or simply don’t know how to go about making the change.

In fact, relatively few leaders have fully grasped what enormous benefits there can be in transitioning their training culture to a learning culture and changing the way their employees learn. This is true despite evidence showing that significant value accrues to organizations that make the transformation from one culture to the other.

I have an spent my entire career defining, designing, developing, delivering, and evaluating corporate education programs around the world. When I started, the model was all “push.”  Now it’s becoming “pull”.  About creating an organizational culture that supports people in automatically finding what they need to learn, when they need it, anytime and anywhere. Learning at the point of need.

Susan Fry, Stephen Gill and I have written a whitepaper to answer questions about what we believe is the inevitable future of learning:

  • What is a “learning culture”?
  • Why is creating a learning culture is critical to my organization’s future success?
  • How can I assess progress toward changing my organization’s culture?
  • What are the key elements of a roadmap that I can follow to get started?

If you’re interested in receiving a free copy, leave a comment.

What do you think about the idea of the learning culture?

dilbert on training

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