Integrating learning into the business

This is the second part of my response. See Part 1: Corporate Learning’s Focus.

Inspired by Jay Cross, Amanda Fenton asks how her Corporate Learning department could better meet the needs of employees. I think these are excellent questions and the answers form the basis of addressing how to integrate work and learning in the enterprise.

Questions on the role of managers and integrating learning into the business:

Q5) How can we facilitate the line managers’ ability to identify the root cause of a performance problem, own it, and know what to do about it (e.g. managing performance problems)?

The situation has gone beyond the case of  helping managers develop a few new skills for their professional toolbox. Transformational, not incremental, changes are needed.

The basic premises of most current management and organizational models no longer apply. These frameworks are based upon work that is being automated and outsourced every day. There is little time to prepare people for this change. Any scenario that I consider – peak oil, global warming; globalization; Asian dominance – still requires that the developed world’s workforce deals with more complexity and even chaos. We need to skill-up for emergent and novel practices and that means a completely different mindset toward work and the “supervision” of work. Knowledge artisans don’t need supervision as much as the reduction of barriers to communication and connection. That’s the role of the “supervisor”.

Here are two other examples.

Ev Williams, co-founder of Twitter, is doing everything he can to keep the company BELOW 150 people. He understands both the old (primates & Dunbar’s numbers) as well as the new (agility & networks). For the past century, the key has been to grow companies. It’s celebrated and rewarded by markets and pundits. Not any more. This company is not growing and not hiring more managers and supervisors. In the new organization, everybody is an independent contributor because there is no need for layers of command and control. Everyone talks to everyone else in this hyperlinked world.

This is one the fastest growing occupations today – community manager. The skills needed here are completely different from traditional command and control supervision. Soft skills are now the hard skills. Supervision is not needed when all work is transparent.

Q6) What if we closed the training department and became mentors, coaches and facilitators, where our focus was on improving core business processes, supporting communication and collaboration to help people perform better, faster, cheaper? Where we worked with managers to fund and develop appropriate tools and processes for employees? How could this be successful?

I would reword this question to: when the training department closes, what do we do? That’s what most people in the business of organizational training should be asking. This will happen with or without the training department. The future of the training department is to stop delivering content and focus on conversations and collaboration. Here’s an example of one of the best “training” programs developed by people who are not instructional designers: CommonCraft “In plain English” videos. There are thousands like this on the Net (e.g. Wiki-How). Add in just-in-time answers to questions on Twitter or Facebook and you have a learning ecosystem. Many workers no longer need the training department to learn. In fact, the training department is often a barrier to learning.

Trainers had better become mentors, coaches and facilitators very soon, or they will become irrelevant in an age of ubiquitous access to content and expertise.


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