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dilbert on training

I have been researching the difference in approaches to learning between Boomers and Millennials. I recently started reading and hearing about a new approach to hiring and learning called a “high innovation system”.

We know there has been a sea-change in the old hiring for life contract between employer and employee. And the union agreements are disappearing faster than you can say “retiring boomers”. There is also a newer change in the way companies view employees learning.

We originally had a “high commitment system,” which valued long-term employment and on-the-job training. The new approach is called “high-innovation”. Here’s the idea in a quote from  Andrew S. Ross writing in SFGATE

Engineers are typically hired because their skills and knowledge are required for a specific technology or product being developed. This system is seen as cost-effective, since the company can hire required skills and does not have to retrain experienced workers, who usually command higher wages than new graduates. Of course, this puts engineers, who are no longer retrained by their companies, at a disadvantage as they age.

I had an epiphany about why older workers over 40 are becoming an endangered species, not only in the high-tech industry, but in companies worldwide.

I come from a generation of continuing education – workers tagged to go from event to event to learn new skills and improve or update old ones. I wondered why we consider so many older (read post-40) workers as part of the ‘long-term unemployed’. The answer is that “knowing” has replaced “learning”. According to the SFGATE article, if a company can find a worker with a specific skill to fill a job that requires that skill, then there is no need to spend the time and money training someone to learn it.

In today’s flat and hypercompetitive world, it’s the equivalent to trying to teach a square peg ‘roundness’ when simply finding a round peg will do.

It is the difference between the “high-commitment system” in which employees expect to be taught and learn and improve skills while they are working in order to improve their performance, and the “high innovation system” in which people only become employees when they can already perform the skills that are required. How they learned them is not important. Being able to prove they can do them is all that counts.

In the industrial economy, where change happened more slowly, there was time and money to train someone in a new skill. In today’s Digital economy, where there is more talent out there than time or money for training, the trend among some companies is that learning and development is irrelevant. The digital revolution happened so fast that an entire segment of the workforce now has an ‘use by’ date stamped on their foreheads.  It appears that what a Digital Native has already knows will always be in higher demand than what a Digital Immigrant can learn.

To quote Mark Zuckerberg: “I want to stress the importance of being young and technical,” Facebook’s CEO told a Y Combinator Startup event at Stanford University. “Young people are just smarter. Why are most chess masters under 30? I don’t know. Young people just have simpler lives. We may not own a car. We may not have family. Simplicity in life allows you to focus on what’s important.”

The problem with this approach to hiring and learning is that it may work for hard skills, but with regard to softskills – for example people management – learning never stops. You may temporarily find the round peg for the round job, but wait a few months and the shape of things will change. The Digital Immigrants and Digital Natives must both be continuous learners of softskills. And the experience of the older workers – especially in the area of soft skills – will always be an important part of the younger workers learning. Mentors are not born, but only made by adopting and adapting to success, failure, more success over lots of time.

Training for hard skills will soon become as obsolete as the chalk board. My prediction is that it will soon be replaced by performance support utilizing the Internet of Things (IoT) to help people who simply want operational or procedural information on the job.

Training for hard skills will soon become as obsolete as the chalk board. My prediction is that it will soon be replaced by performance support utilizing the Internet of Things (IoT) to help people who simply want operational or procedural information on the job.  Using embedded chips or beacons, machines or equipment will be able to ‘talk’ to you. They will tell you what to do to make them work, how to troubleshoot a problem, instruct you about fixing a broken part, walk you through completing a safety inspection checklist or finishing a regulatory compliance report form. That finally solves the problem of your mind falling off the forgetting curve and takes hard skills training – and the many millions of dollars and uncountable hours of development time – off the high-commitment table.

It’s the people-to-people skills that are still and always will be hard to learn, especially for people who prefer to spend time focused on things or ideas. You cannot put a performance support beacon on a worker and have it instruct you about what to say if their performance is not meeting the company’s expectations. Or they need time off for an operation. Or they are depressed over someone’s death. Or … or … or ….

So that still leaves us with the need to learn soft skills. An area from what I understand Mark Zuckerberg and Facebook could go to school on.

How would you define your company, as high-innovation or high-commitment? And as time marches on is this just a temporal blip on the hiring radar of the Millennial generation? Is high-innovation a symptom of an outmoded approach to training that no longer really works? Will a culture of learning evolve and replace what we once called the high-commitment company? You tell me ….

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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?

Screen shot 2015-03-25 at 12.22.30 AM

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

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) 

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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old-typewriter-with-mouse-thumb3355

This post was written by Susan Fry, Vice President, Creative Strategy, KnowledgeStar.

A recent experience proved how dangerous adhering to the old “push” model can be. In consulting with one of the world’s best-known NGOs, I conducted an exhaustive series of interviews with Managers and Directors at different levels, located in countries around the globe.

This NGO is funded to do work throughout the world improving health — which also means working to eradicate deadly diseases or control outbreaks. The interviews quickly revealed that members of the NGO in one country were not sharing information that could be extremely beneficial to coworkers in other countries, even though doing so surely could have eliminated suffering and saved lives.

Deeper investigation revealed that the NGO had a long-established culture of “hoarding” learning and training and doling it out to those that the top management had decided they wanted to bring into “the fold.” When a favored few rose to the top in their own country, they were invited to the world headquarters located in a vibrant, wealthy city, where they were wined, dined and welcomed into the elite “inner circle.”

They then moved to the headquarters city to take their new positions, where they communicated information to the other “elites,” occasionally returning to their home countries. The pattern had been in place for years and there was little desire to change it — even though changing to a learning culture could clearly make them much more agile, effective and successful in meeting the stated goals of their organization.

This exposes one of the dangers of a “pull” learning culture as well, where inputting knowledge is power. If I go to my PC, it is KIKO (Knowledge In, Knowledge Out). The technology systems that enable the learners are only as good as the information they contain. If the underlying culture is still embedded in the old command-and-control hierarchy in which knowledge is power, then selectively sharing knowledge will become power.

The culture is the bedrock upon which leaders, learners and the enabling technology is built. In a true learning culture people instinctively believe that sharing knowledge is empowering and automatically act on that belief.

This is yet one more reason to build a real learning culture and not just erect a facade that might be able to pass for one.

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I came across the following piece when I was Googling around for information about new versus old forms of learning. I thought the picture in the article was worth more than a thousand words.

It sums up the problem.

There is a pool of always and rapidly changing, ever-growing knowledge that people need to know and the “training department” or whatever name it chooses, is the bottleneck between the knowledge and the people who absolutely need to know and know how to do.

What I especially liked about this article is that it does not just list the problems, it also proposes thoughtful solutions.

(more…)

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