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Profile of a learning architect: Peter Butler

Peter Butler

Throughout my book The New Learning Architect I take time out to look at real-life examples of great learning architects in action. In this extract, we show how, with the right vision and leadership, a large multinational company can successfully establish a bottom-up learning culture, in this case with the aid of the latest social learning technologies. Peter’s work with Dare2Share has demonstrated what can be achieved within what many would regard as a relatively traditional management hierarchy.

Peter Butler was for six years Learning Director at British Telecom, a major international telecommunications company with 160,000 employees and contractors, about 1/3 of which are based outside the UK. When he started the job, Peter set up a governance process embodied in the BT Learning Council which he chaired and which oversaw some £70m annually in direct training costs. Peter talked to each of the BT businesses and developed learning plans aligned with the strategic direction of each business. Initial priorities of the Learning Council were to rationalise down from 14 learning management systems to one, establish an evaluation strategy, develop an online learning ...


Can a Job Change Change Your Politics?

In an article by Gardiner Harris of the NYTimes, the writer says that as physicians' jobs change, so do their politics.  Although doctors were once overwhelmingly male, usually owning their practices, more than 50% of the younger generation of physicians is now female and more and more physicians, male and female, are taking salaried jobs. That's especially true in the NorthEast, but even so in the deep South. What this also means is that as doctors switch from private ownership to shift worker, they are changing from Republican to Democrat.

In the last two paragraphs of the article, Harris quotes the former president of Maine's Medical Association who describes himself as "very conservative." The physician's summary is a classic example to add to my store of beliefs, by otherwise astute people, who get caught in the "fundamental attribution error." 

That "error" is the belief that our decisions are made primarily on the basis of our own psychological nature. Here's what the "very conservative" Dr. Kevin Flanigan of Maine's AMA has to say:

People who are conservative by nature are not going to go into the profession because medicine is not ...


Performance Appraisals: Online or Traditional?

Ensuring that formal employee performance reviews take place on a consistent basis is an important part of every human resource manager’s job. Reviews ensure that everyone understands what’s going well, and what needs to change. Transparency helps prevent surprises when promotions, lay-offs, and salary reviews take place.

But human resource management is moving into the digital era. As you transition to more software- and cloud-based management, it makes sense to stop and think about why you’re making the change. What are your goals?

Most HR managers that go digital report that they want to improve efficiency, service delivery, and standardization. Are these goals realistic? Recent studies from Texas A&M University and Cranfield School of Management indicate that, at least when it comes to performance appraisals, they are.

At Texas A&M, researchers compared the reactions of employees who received their PA online to those who received it in paper and pencil form.

Don't pull out your hair!

Gaaaah! Stress! Doing performance appraisals online can reduce your stress by getting more people involved. (

The online group reported that they found this delivery method to increase the evaluators’ ...


Performance support systems should explicate the process

I think supporting performance is important, and that we don’t do enough with models in formal learning.  To me, another interesting opportunity that’s being missed is the intersection of the two.

Gloria Gery’s original vision of electronic performance support systems was that not only would they help you perform but they’d also develop your understanding so you’d need them less and less.  I’ve never seen that in practice, sad to say.

Now it might get in the way of absolute optimal performance, but I believe we can, and should, develop learner understanding about the performance.  If the performance support is just providing rote information so that the learner doesn’t have to look it up, that’s ok. But if, instead, the performance support is interactive decision support, the system could, and should, provide the model that’s guiding the decisions as well as the recommendations.

This needn’t be much, just a thin veneer over the system, so instead of, after asking X and Y, recommending Z, saying “because of A and B, we’ve eliminated C and recommend Z” or somesuch.

It could also be making the underlying model visible through the system.  Show the influence ...


The synaptic fluid of social business

Questions about the nature of human connectivity are now at the epicentre of what constitutes and creates personal, commercial and social value.

How will leaders connect with stakeholders in order to be able to do their jobs, and what are the appropriate business models with which to develop connectivity to build business?

Many organizations are yet to integrate the benefits of network effects fully into their business models. As I watched the social media discussions at Davos last year from the comfort of my own desktop, what I observed was a group of decision-makers, however, becoming increasingly aware of the impact that social media is going to have, that when they make their decisions there may be, at least metaphorically, other people in the room. Social business is bringing with it a big shift, and the key is that it involves going from messages to experiences.

There’s no doubt that C level curiosity around this is subject has been aroused; it’s becoming palpable, but whether it’s a pandora’s box or a burning platform is unidentified and uncertain. As Jeff Jarvis tweets, what’s the endgame of ‘FT’s @johngapper sitting on floor; Facebook investor ...


Project Social: Do You Facebook?

Dave, Lyn and I decided to carry on with the ‘social’ themes we’ve been tackling lately and discuss the different social mediums we are active in and how we use them.  Dave already has his post up at HR Official and Lyn’s aiming for Monday over at the Bacon Hut.

When it comes to social media, I pretty much stick to the basics: LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, blog.  I don’t use Foursquare, although I totally would if I were a stalker.  I don’t even have a logon for HootSuite or Empire Avenue.

I know, I sound soooo 2007…

As I explained in an earlier post, I’m a late adopter.  I wait to try things until I have a reason to use them, rather than inventing a reason in order to try them.  So, I didn’t join LinkedIn until my company was about to be acquired, I didn’t join Facebook until I decided to write a blog post about it and I didn’t join Twitter until my job went 'social.'

If you’re an even later adopter than I am, the hardest part is getting started, especially when it seems like everyone else already knows the ropes and has a million contacts.  I still remember signing up for Twitter long after everyone I knew was already using it and ...

Social Business? It Depends What You Mean By Social

Image00065You say social, I say social. Let’s call the whole thing off. I didn’t mean to get drawn into the social business thing again, I really didn’t. The reason I think it worth wading into the various discussions, erm … positions that people are doggedly adopting, me included, is that this issue is so important. From where I am standing, business is so obviously social.
Some of you will know that I am deeply influenced by the social psychologist, Karl Weick. I am of course aware that there are countless other prominent social psychologists. It just so happens that he was the first one I stumbled on serendipitously and what he said made such a lot of sense to me. I had a first go at making the case for social business in an earlier post, Business Is Social – Get Over It!

Some of you will know that I am deeply influenced by the social psychologist, Karl Weick. I am of course aware that there are countless other prominent social psychologists. It just so happens that he was the first one I stumbled on serendipitously and what he said made such a lot of sense to me. I had a first go at making the case for social business in an earlier post, Business Is Social – Get ...


Too Big to Fail or Too Big to Care?

Can a company get too big to care?

Lately, I've started to get some requests for Customer Service skills training. I take that as a positive sign. After many months of time management and stress management (definitely "signs o' the times," eh?), it's nice to be returning to the thing we ought to be most focused on, that is, The Customer.

In a recent seminar, when I asked the participants to reflect on their own experiences of good and not-so-good service, there were many (too many) stories shared about companies that had gotten too big to care:

- the cable company that kept transferring a customer from point to point without any resolution of the caller's question
- the financial services company that promised to kill a duplicate bill, but continued to send the double bill month after month
- the phone company that promised to stop billing a customer for a service he did not want (and had never asked for in the first place), but the service continued to appear on the monthly statement anyway

And more. The phrase that came to mind was "too big to care," inspired no doubt by the phrase that appeared just a couple of years ago during the financial meltdown, "too big to ...

Posting Jobs Online

It’s no secret that the majority of job openings are never advertised. The good people at PostRank have made it obvious, however, that companies that don’t advertise their positions online are missing valuable opportunities.

Every month, hundreds of thousands of people share job postings through Facebook, Twitter, and other social networking sites. They reach an audience of millions.

Established corporations spend fortunes trying to get the same publicity that a surprised kitten (averaging 2–3,000,000 views per month; see below) or a crudely drawn face find online. Some even create positions specifically to solicit such online attention.

Widespread internet use and a competitive job market make optimal conditions for the viral distribution of well-constructed job advertisements. Online postings can dramatically increase the number and quality of applicants, and can also serve to improve brand recognition and customer loyalty. What are you waiting for?

Did you get your job from an online posting? Does your company post its open positions online?

Paul Baribeau writes for TribeHR, studies Knowledge Integration, and once considered a career as a pirate (it didn’t work ...


Leading Change in the 21st Century: The Power of Letting Go

Photo: Christine Rose/Flickr (Creative Commons)

The story goes that the hunters put an apple in a glass jar with a narrow opening and leave the jar deep into the jungle under a tree. In the evening the monkeys come out of the trees triggered by the alluring fragrance of the apple. They find the jar by following their noses. As soon as a monkey sees the apple in the jar it doesn’t hesitate and puts a hand in and grabs the apple. But when it tries to pull the hand out it gets stuck in the neck of the jar because holding the apple makes the hand too big for the neck. The monkey is caught in an agonizing dilemma: letting go of the apple and having its hand back, or trying over and over to pull the hand and the apple out of the jar. The desire for the apple wins … In the morning when the hunters return they find the jar with the monkey next to it on the ground, exhausted.  Its hand still stuck in the jar. Too exhausted to fight the hunters, too tired to flee. An easy prey.

When I heard this story I was struck by the simplicity of the hunting technique, but even more by the power of its message: how not being able to let go of certain things can have serious consequences.