Archive for January, 2012

Innovation – where do you get your inspiration?

In the corporate environment learning, or training, is by it’s very nature often a reactive exercise. As service organizations we partner with our clients to solve for very real problems – customer disatisfaction, a drop in sales, an increase in business. All require learning support in some manner. More often than not this need for support is not well anticipated nor well articulated which means that as learning professionals we need to react quickly to understand the need, to design and build the solution and in some way or form facilitate it’s delivery. No matter the end form, the starting point is usually a reaction. The process too can become very reactionary especially when we are faced with limited time, resources and budget. Human nature drives us to use solutions that have worked for us in the past based on what we know of the audience etc. In a reactionary environment it becomes increasingly difficult to drive towards innovation.

The reality of being a reactionary service providor will never change. There will always be unanticipated needs among the planned initiatives. It is what is it is. But as learning professionals there are steps we can take to get ahead of the game – to drive some proactive innovation even before the need arises. And it begins with our own mindset and challenging ourselves to look beyond the known.

So where do we go for this mind expanding experience? I find my inspiration in many places. Mentors, discussions with peers and reading among them. Reading from diverse sources is perhaps the most accessible way to develop insight and new ideas. The list below is by no means exhaustive and is designed only as a starting point from which to change and expand your perspective. A chance for some new tools/thoughts/ considerations in your learning professional toolbelt. Readers – please add your own recommendations in the comments section. Let’s build a library of “go to” sources for further learning and inspiration.

1. Success Magazine.www.successmagazine.com

This just happens to be my favourite “business” oriented magazine. I lean heavily towards business/industry publications because it allows me to develop an understanding of the current challengs and future directions. It allows me to see what others are doing. It allows me to understand what’s important to the key players. When I apply my filters I start the process of developing the direction I am likely going to have to move my team in order to continue to be a value added part of the organization. It allows me to challenge proactive thinking and learning within our reactive reality.

2. Chief Learning Officer Magazine. www.clomedia.com

A nice mix of big picture thinking (my preference) and getting it done (the business requirement). Don’t be put off by the title – it’s a great source of helping us to understand what learning industry leaders are thinking. Apply your filters and get out of it what you need.

3. Learning specific publications and/or websites.  The list here is broad but a few I enjoy are Learning Solutions Magazine (www.learningsolutionsmag.com/),  Kirpatrick Partners  (http://www.kirkpatrickpartners.com/) and eLearning Guild (http://www.elearningguild.com/) It’s always nice to see what others are doing.

4. Industry specific websites and/or publications including technology publications.

5. Talent Management, Communications and HR.

The reality is we are in the business of helping people grow and we need to work closely with these groups to ensure that we are supporting the right growth with the right messaging. A few favourites include Talent Management Magazine (http://talentmgt.com/),  Human Capital Media (http://www.humancapitalmedia.com/) and Melcrum (www.melcrum.com/).

Before you start your exploration a few words of advice. There is a lot of material out there and you can’t possibly read, absorb and apply it all. Help focus your reading and learning by applying a select group of filters to what you are reading. My reading is broad but the questions, or filters, I keep in the back of my mind are fairly consistent. From a leadership perspective the type of questions I ask include:

1. Can this be applicable to my company/industry

2. What future learning/leadership/innovation needs might this drive?

3. What skills sets do I need on my team to support this?

4. Who and what do I need to influence to allow for us to try this?

Depending on your position or role your questions may be a little different – the point is, a filter is going to help. A lot.

Questions to use as filters – ideal for the learning professional.

1. Who will this impact? How do they like to learn?

2. What new skill sets will this drive?

3. What is the competitive advantage that I need to help support.

4. How can I take this and make it my own.

Long term viability as a learning organization means we need to be linking our solutions to the business results of our clients. We need to be impactful. Expanding your perspective will allow you to do both. So tell me, where do you get your inspiratation to innovate? What resources can you recommend to your learning peers?

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The Leaders Role – Words Aren’t Enough

It is commonly accepted that an accountant adds value by making sure the numbers balance, a civil engineer by ensuring the bridge stays standing, and an architect by creating an environmentally sound building. You rarely hear these people ply the tools of their trade as evidence of their credibility or their value add. When is the last time you heard an accountant try to impress an audience with the fact that he is he is utilizing the iFRS GAAP type in place of the MGTVIEW GAAP type? The answer is likely never. Why? Because we accept that said accountant is using the GAAP type relevant for the reporting that needs to occur for the legal/financial entity that they are supporting. We assume a level of professional competency.

Why is it then that as learning leaders we pepper our conversations with terms such as dual modalities, learning styles, e-learning, m-learning, virtual learning, blended learning, adult learner, pedagogy? The list is long. We use these terms as education tools because we feel the need to explain. We are ‘teachers’ by nature. If we were really honest with ourselves we would see that we speak them in an attempt to create professional credibility. Not everyone understands what training or learning is all about and we feel the need to explain and justify our existence. The question that we need to ask ourselves is, are we being effective? Peruse just a few websites, read a few blogs or delve into industry publications and it is apparent that as learning professionals we don’t always have a common understanding of what these terms necessarily mean. Add in a listeners own personal filter (the experience through which we interpret the world) and the lack of common understanding is compounded. It is not a surprise that learning organizations find themselves answering to a dissatisfied customer when expectations are not met. But we agreed right? Wrong. And “industry” words are not going to fix that.

My role as a leader, learning or otherwise, is to support my team to deliver results. That means I need to make available resources (learning, technology, people) , provide direction (vision, coaching, performance management) and clear paths. That’s where the language of learning, and of business, becomes so important. As a leader I clear paths by building relationships and helping to establish the credibility of my team.

So how do you actually do that – let’s move this discussion from a philosophical post to a practical one.

1. Understand the business of your client.

What does departmental/business success look like for them? What are their short, medium and long term goals? What challenges are they experiencing? What logistical restrictions do they have. This goes far beyond the typical needs analysis where we try to pinpoint how best to deliver a learning solution against a specific problem. This is about developing a contextual understanding of what drives your client. The benefits are many. Firstly, and in line with this article, it establishes a common understanding of what is important. If you understand their world then the validity of your solutions are less likely to be. Secondly, it allows you as the leader to take a much more holistic view of the work that your team is doing to support the client. Is a short term need a real one, does it truly drive towards the realization of the departments goals, is there an opportunity to create a ‘program of learning’ that will allow the client and your team to build a series of learning solutions that support and build on each other rather than a mish mash of offerings? Lastly it allows you better support your team by providing meaningful direction and context. As an added bonus – understanding the business of your client will help you to build a more recession/economy proof value proposition.

2. Drop the “learning” language.

Common language allows us to better build common understanding. Don’t get me wrong – the principals of learning are valuable and have enabled us to grow professionally but language is a communication tool and communication is only effective if the recipient receives it as intended. For example, instead of talking about designing and developing a training program that encompasses the principles of adult learning (sounds impressive right) talk about the fact that your team is committed to rolling out a program that is going to give every employee who goes through it the best chance of being able to walk away having learned what we need them to. Talk about demonstrating how it will help them do a specific task well (relevancy, goal and respect – we adults don’t like to look foolish). We will make sure that the program is practical (taps into their experience, engages them, hands on) and equally important we will make sure that the program supports the messaging they are hearing from you. Talk about meeting objectives. Talk about improved customer satisfaction. Talk about sales. In other words talk about what’s important to your clients – how you get there thanks to the rich experience of your learning team is of no interest to them.

3. Measure, measure, measure.

Agree objectives that tie back to a short, medium or long term goal. Look for, and agree, measures that are already in place within your clients organization. Realistically it is tough to put new measures in place especially if it relies on humans to capture the results. Let’s face it, everyone is busy and we risk not getting the feedback we need. Keep it simple and specific.

4. Own the results.

Be open to the feedback. The learning solution didn’t hit the mark? Why not? Are we measuring the right thing? Is the solution the right one? Is the problem the right one? Without setting a stake in the ground and measuring we don’t have a starting point from which to analyze and communicate the value that the solution adds. We need to own the measure and the objectives. Our learning scorecards should have elements of our clients scorecards – it tells us what’s important to our client and hence what is important for us to support. Measuring tells us how well we’ve done. I have held my teams accountable for customer satisfaction results (internal and external), for sales numbers, and for new hire attrition among other measures. Do we influence the results in their entirety? No but the accountability of it impacting your performance encourages behaviours that drive the results that you, and your clients, are looking for.

5. Repeat

Painful experience has taught me that establishing credibility is just a starting point. Continued credibility and demonstrating value add is about an ongoing dialog with our clients. Don’t assume that common understanding today means common understanding tomorrow. Regular touch points, constant reinforcement, sharing results and proactive redirection are all key.

 

Make “your success is our success” your mantra. The results will speak for themselves. If you have followed the above five steps you have likely empowered your teams to do great things, the “right” great things. As a business partner you will have enabled your clients success, as a leader you will have enabled team success and as an employee you will have proven true value…all without relying on words to do your talking.

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Serious Gaming

Over the years I have noticed two things

1. I have aged and
2. new hires have become younger

Funnily enough the two do directly correlate. There’s nothing quite as impactful when in a classroom of fresh faced new hires as the realization of “I am old enough to be your mother”.

Grey hair and mortality issues aside, I mention the passage of time for two reasons. Firstly because learning has changed over time. As the world has changed so has our desire, capacity and preferences for learning. The delivery mechanisms that we have available to us as learning professionals and consumers of learning have changed incredibly – tablets, smart phones, virtual, e-learning… all relatively new and all better support the time challenged reality of our lives. Secondly, the audience has changed.

For those of us that remember the 1970’s and 1980’s as an experience rather than as a page in a history book we will remember classroom learning as being rigid and memory based. Times tables reigned supreme, we had library cards and borrowed books to complete assignments, and in the corporate world we sat in the classroom and learned from those that had what we did not… experience.

The learner of today does not rely on memory, they rely on search. The learner of today is not taught by rote, they are taught through experiential exercises. The learner of today does not have time to sit in a classroom for a number of consecutives days. Economic reality means there is more work than time and a healthy dose of fear towards potential job loss keeps our learner of today tightly seated in their desk chairs. Learning, while valued, is often deprioritized.

So how do we, as learning professionals, stay relevant? How do we, as learning professionals, support the learning needs of our various audience groups? These questions can not be answered in one blog post but the problem can be boiled down as being one of engagement (relevance) and time (our learners don’t have much of it).

Serious Gaming as a learning delivery mechanism may be an interesting solution. Serious Games are games with a purpose that goes beyond the entertainment value. They are games that share a message and a learning experience. In the words of MSU “designing effective, engaging serious games requires theoretical understanding of learning, cognition, emotion, and play. Along with great game design, serious games need content and pedagogy expertise, design research, and impact research”. In other words, serious gaming is serious stuff.

Serious gaming provides serious learning opportunities.

As a learning professional who has supported call centre or operational businesses for much of my 15 year learning career, I find Serious Gaming intriguing. Games can be saved meaning learners, or Gamers, can stop and start as they have time. Games can mimic real life. We can create characters that capture the key persona’s within our customer base. Our characters can react to how we “play” with them. If we are rude, they can be rude back or take their business elsewhere. If we treat them with respect and support, they can provide us with positive reinforcement or increased revenues. We can build in rewards that tie into real life performance systems. Gaming allows people to practice behaviours and solve problems in a real yet safe way. A game character asks you a question you can’t answer? Not a problem just delve into the virtual knowledge management system (which just happens to mirror the tool the Gamer uses every day). Do it well and fast enough, and I bet that character will still give you great customer satisfaction scores. They may even become net promoters allowing you to meet your sales targets (insert any corporate objective here). Sound familiar? Watch children play – their fantasy games often mimic real life. So does Serious Gaming offer us the opportunity to mimic real life, offering real learning opportunities and real results.

Call centres have unique challenges in that they finely tuned machines balancing resources against expected calls. Service expectations are key and as such learning opportunities are often cancelled in order to meet expected service levels. Conversely when calls come in lower than expected it is often difficult for traditional learning organizations to respond quickly enough to bring the learning into the classroom. Serious Games can be primed and ready to go. What a great way to engage the overnight shift. What a great way to build some friendly competition between teams. What a great way to encourage some viral learning…imagine, the character asking to see a video that doesn’t exist. Give a team a flip camera and half an hour and watch the creativity fly. And by the way we now have a video we can load for others to view and learn from…

Call Centres have unique learning needs.
The opportunities are truly exciting – I see increased engagement, increased knowledge transfer, decreased time to learn (decreased cost) and increased satisfaction, both customer and employee. Just to name a few. Most importantly it answers to our original problem of relevance and time.

 

As learners and technology evolves, we learning professionals have a fantastic opportunity to impact the performance of the organizations and people we support. Game On!

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