Monday, 12 August 2013

Building a Culture of Continuous Learning

IMG_2749a_smallMost people get it. Classes, courses and curricula – structured learning events – don’t provide all the tools in the toolkit.
They’re bit-players in a much larger world of organisational learning and performance.
The part that formal, directed learning plays in overall organisational capability may be important at times, but organisations aspiring towards Peter Senge’s ‘learning organization’ – in other words, creating a culture of continuous learning - need to reach beyond simply improving structured training.
In a recent webinar I discussed with participants some very interesting data from the Corporate Leadership Council’s ‘Training Effectiveness Dashboard’ study. This research was part of the Corporate Executive Board’s ‘Building High Performance Capability for the New Work Environment’ report published towards the end of 2012.
The CEB study was particularly focused on ‘network performance’ – the outcomes achieved not alone, but with and through others. This is the way most work gets done.
This is the ‘20’ part of the 70:20:10 model.
The study involved more than 35,000 employees at more than 40 organisations, and CLOs were interviewed at 122 organisations.
There were three clear findings:
1. There is widespread agreement amongst senior executives, line managers and HR directors that ‘breakthrough performance’ is needed to meet immediate business goals. The average performance uplift needed to meet business goals was determined to be between 20-25% in the next 12 months.
2. ‘What got us here won’t get us there’. In other words, simply improving traditional training approaches – even introducing learning technologies into the classroom model – will not achieve the improvements needed.
A diagram from the study (below) illustrates this second point. Although the effectiveness of classroom training is seen as having improved, further improvements will not close the ‘breakthrough performance’ gap.
clc-network performance
3. Organisations will only achieve ‘breakthrough performance’ and achieve their business goals when employees go beyond individual task performance and demonstrate high ‘network performance’. In other words, we need to plan and work not only at building individual capability, but also team and collaborative and co-operative capabilities.
To achieve these three targets we need to think out of the traditional learning and development box – beyond the class/course and eLearning module approaches towards embedding a culture where learning becomes recognised as occurring within the workflow.
Then we need to adopt and implement effective strategies to get us there.
Example: Re-thinking On-boarding Training
On-boarding and induction programmes are usually fertile ground for structured learning. They have always been seen as as essential. Yet even this ‘sacred cow’ of formal training is being challenged with some companies updating on-boarding processes and, instead of hours or days of classroom induction, are providing new recruits with tablets stuffed with helpful information and access to resources such links to expert locators on intranets and repositories of stories to help new employees navigate the networks and alcoves of their new organisation or new role within their existing organisation.
Qualcomm’s ‘52 week's’ programme is an excellent example of this approach - enhancing or replacing intensive away-from-work on-boarding with information and resources ‘injected’ into the workflow. The 52 Weeks program initially started as a way to communicate company culture and values to new employees. Each new employee was registered to receive a weekly story by email.  These stories are submitted by employees across the company and co-ordinated by the employee communications team, which reports to the Qualcomm Learning Center. It is now used across the company, not just for new employees.
This is a great initiative, but approaches such as this need to be encapsulated within a clear strategy that encourages and supports the development of a culture of continuous learning.
Concepts, Contexts and Tasks
One way of thinking about the weighting of structured training against workplace and social approaches for on-boarding is to consider what is needed to to help someone get up-to-speed in their new role. I first encountered this some years ago when working with business process guidance specialists at Panviva, an Australian company working in the performance support area.
This is where the 70:20:10 framework helps. We can think of three aspects of building capability.
1. The Concepts – answers to questions such as:
  • What is expected of me in this role?
  • How can I go about finding the best sources of information to help me?
  • What are the core organisational principles I need to apply in my work?
2. The Context – answers to questions such as:
  • What processes does someone in my role need to follow?
  • How do I escalate problems if I can’t fix them?
  • Who do I escalate to in specific instances?
3. The Tasks – answers to questions such as:
  • What are the detailed steps to assemble this device/construct this spreadsheet model/help this client?
  • I have an uncommon situation – what do I do next?
The diagram above shows that the ‘concept’ issues can be addressed through training if needed, but most of the ‘context’ issues and all of the ‘task’ issues are better addressed through use of personal networks, mentors, and performance support at the point-of-need. The breakdown here is roughly 10:90, or 10:20:70 – in other words, the 70:20:10 model can be applied even within an on-boarding construct.
The Bigger Picture: Beyond Content-Centric Learning
As we move beyond content-rich learning to exploit experience-rich learning in the workplace we need solid models and approaches that will help, and we need tools that will help us support a culture of continuous learning. This is where many organisations are finding the 70:20:10 model useful.
My experience is that the 70:20:10 framework provides a holistic strategic model that helps build a culture of continuous learning.  It does this by helping learning professionals and their organisations focus on viable alternatives for development to the ‘10’ – structured, directed, ‘formal’ learning through courses, classes and eLearning.
By supporting and encouraging learning within the workflow, and through and with others, a culture of continuous learning will evolve – I’ve seen it happen.