Archive for category Learning Solutions

Social Learning as an Enabler of Distributed Leadership

Distributed leadership at its very core is about the act of being “leaderful” no matter the role that we play in an organization. As an organizational philosophy it promotes agility, innovation and shared learning. Formal leaders play a critical role in empowering their teams’ success through the sharing of vision, modeling the values, the coaching and management of performance and of building trust. It’s about setting the guide lines, providing the resources and allowing your people to soar. The end result, that elusive lagging indicator many of us know as employee engagement. And better still employee engagement that has at its heart shared ownership and targeted performance outcomes. All good for your stakeholders whether they be clients, shareholders or employees.

Transitioning from a more traditional hierarchical leadership model to a distributed one requires a mind shift on many levels – think change management in all its glory. It’s about the systems, the processes, and the people all wrapped in a communication plan that helps bridge the gaps in both knowledge and willingness. As I work with my own organization to bridge those gaps I am sure I will be inspired to share many learnings but today I want to specifically focus on social learning as a powerful enabler.

Social learning at its core is about observing and learning from others.  A child learns to walk, talk, etc. by watching the ‘experts’ around them. Similarly, in the work place we learn about the organization, the cultural norms and expectations, and organizational specific process from those that are already doing the job – from the experts. We observe, learn and mimic in a bid to reach fully performance and also to fit in. We want to belong.

Social learning is therefore not a new concept. What has changed in the last decade is the way in which we utilize or deliver social learning. Technology allows us to meet, share documents, share thoughts, learn, socialize, and share photos, send links to great information, funny stories, and video clips. Virtually.  It allows us to build connections.  And for the skeptics out there – the connections can be very real. Thirteen years ago when I was expecting my daughter in July of 1999 I joined an online community of moms who spanned the world – our common point of interest was the fact that we were all expecting babies at the same time. Thirteen years later many of us are still together. We have long left the original board – some of us connect through a private Facebook page, others have stayed connected through an email group, some we have met in person and others we know  simply through our ongoing virtual discussions. Together we learned about raising babies, navigating the school years and now we are in the territory of teenage hood. We also talk about ourselves, our lives and issues. We support those that need it, celebrate with each other and cry together as life throws its many challenges our way. We are stronger people, better parents, and more knowledgeable human beings all because we had a connection simply known as our July 99ers.

Imagine the connections and learning that could take place if you could harness that effectively and transport it into your work place. The key ingredients for success include:

  1. a strong and powerful reason to meet
  2. the technology that allows it to be safe and fast
  3. a willingness to share openly of your knowledge and talents so that others can learn from you
  4. An openness to learn from others
  5. Great content. The material need to be meaningful.

Communities of practice in the workplace can be used to discuss real time issues and share best practices. It’s a place where like-minded people who are geographically dispersed can come together to work, to socialize and to learn at a time and place that is convenient for them. Innovation, agility and shared outcomes become very real and very manageable. And it is here that I had my little ‘huh’ moment. The very things that technology enabled social learning encourages are the core of what distributed leadership is about. The opportunity is there for us to marry the two in a way that progresses and allows us to realize the full benefits of both.

I am on a path of supporting my organization to embrace distributed leadership. We are in the early stages of our journey but the future is exciting. I see social learning as an interesting tool in our cultural and learning tool box. I would welcome dialogue from those of you that are using social learning in the workplace to shift learning outcomes, to influence culture and to tap into the wealth of knowledge that our employees bring to the workplace.


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Learning, leading and cultural change… the synergies.

This post definitely falls into the arena of “things that make you go hmmm”. 

Story telling has long been used to pass down wisdom, as a tool for learning and to entertain. A good story leads us down a path, it allows us to discover, at predetermined moments, little nuggets of wonder that make us want to follow the path to the end. At the end of the story we are left with a message that the author/or teller wants us to have but the experience we had in getting there was very much our own for we saw it through our eyes, our realities, our emotions…

Recently I had the distinct pleasure of preparing a story as part of an interview process.  The story, at its heart, is about people, it’s about massive change and it’s about learning to do things differently. It’s a story about human frailty and incredible human strength. It’s about the excitement of the possibilities.

In “business speak”  it is a story about selling myself as being the right person to help an organization implement and embed a new leadership framework, of supporting the creation and sustainment of a learning organization and of leading a diverse team to do great things.

The organization that I interviewed with has a clear vision and the change required to support that vision, on the surface, was massive. However as I built my story, as I reflected on what I had done in the past and researched what others had done in similar situations I had an “aha” moment that made my story a very easy one to tell.

A few facts first

  1.  the organization was in the process of moving from a heirachical leadership model to a distributed one.
  2. achieving the vision and the strategic imperatives was going to require a strong cultural change  – the way in which the work got done would have to change
  3. the organization was committed to creating a learning environment (this was not shared up front but it was an assumption I made given that I was applying for a role with “Learning” in the title

I developed my story by asking myself “what does effective/successful” <insert topic> look like. As I asked this question for leading, cultural change and learning it became very apparent that there in fact four key success drivers that are common to all.

Distributed Leadership Model
Cultural Change
Effective Learning
Clear roles and responsibilities. Vision.
Clear definition of end state.
Clear definition of end state
Clear performance measures
Clear performance measures
Clear performance measures
Resources and support to meet goals
Resources to support the change
Resources to support the application of learning
Feedback and adjustment
Cultural audits and adjustment
Feedback and adjustment


First and foremost we need to know where we are heading.  We need a vision or end state that we are driving towards. As leaders, as employees or as human beings we are then able to self manage our alignment to that end state.

Secondly we need to be able to measure our success. Are we moving in the right direction? Are we seeing the changes in the way that we expect? Are we driving the right things?

Thirdly, do we have the right resources and tools in place for people to be successful?

And lastly we need to ensure that we are collecting the feedback we need to ensure that we can make course corrections as we go. This is a critical step for all leaders. Things change, people are unpredictable,  stuff happens – we can not always plan for every possible outcome but we can certainly build in an agile feedback and correction methodology that will allow us to keep steering to the vision.

As I was writing my story it became apparent to me that if these four success drivers were effectively cared for the individual stories of leadership, cultural change and learning would naturally merge to create a rich tale that could drive towards the strategic changes that this, and any other, organization was driving towards.

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The gift of the mirror – self reflection as a learning tool for leaders.

When you walk into most call centre environments you will likely see a small personal mirror on the desk of every phone agent. While it can serve to stroke ones vanity or serve as a personal grooming tool the real purpose of the mirror is to remind people to smile. Your verbal tone is very different when you smile – and when you are on the phone tone is one of the few tools that you have at your disposal to build relationships.

The humble mirror is often also flouted as an insult or rebuke as in “she needs to look in the mirror” meaning that perhaps “she” should be looking at herself for the answers/issues/ problems rather than looking at others around her. While the usage is very different than the call centre example the end result is the same – it is about relationships and human connections.

The mirror serves as an intimate 360 feedback session – a session with our ourselves. Good leadership means different things to different people but at its core most of us agree that is defined by vision, personal integrity, respect and relationships. We may use different words and we may have a few other criteria that we use but on the whole our views are very similar.

As a leader, I like to use my mirror for two purposes.

The first is to assess  “how did I do”? The questions can relate to today, this week, this quarter, this year.

  • Did I share the vision. Have I communicated it well?
  • Have I used my time effectively? Efficiency is only part of the question, the other is am I spending my limited time on the things that matter most?
  • Did I provide and ask for feedback?
  • How have I grown? Did I learn something new?
  • What have I done differently?
  • Did I model our shared values?
  • Have I treated everyone with the respect?
  • Did I earn my salary?

The second is a more focused look into the mirror when dealing with an issue or crisis. The type of questions I have asked include:

  • Could I have done anything to avoid the crisis from happening
  • Did I ask the right questions to understand the root cause of the problem
  • Was my response appropriate for the problem? Did I over react? Under-react? Did my reaction support the vision.
  • What will I do differently next time?
  • Have I cared for the “people” element involved (coaching, supporting, communicating)
  • What did I learn? How do I need to disseminate that learning?

The strength of the mirror is that there is no need to lie or fool anyone. It’s an opportunity to take an honest look at “you”. The fact of the mirror is that it shows all – the good, the bad and the ugly. The gift is that it allows you to learn and grow as a leader. It allows you to develop a true level of self awareness so that perhaps next time the bad and the ugly can be countered in the moment and quite frankly that makes for much nicer conversations with “you”.

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Non Classroom Learning Solutions – The Mentoring Program

I graduated from the University of Toronto Rotman School of Management as a part-time student in regulation time. Ten semesters in just over three years. During my final year I was working full-time in a role that involved frequent travel, got married, purchased a house and started my family. In fact my daughter was born one month after I graduated. Am  I some sort of super woman? No, far from it. In fact I didn’t crack a text-book during that last hectic year but I passed and passed well. I learned a lesson during that year that has benefited me throughout my career… a little bit of common sense, a committment to active listening and an openness to learning from others goes a long way. I had the privilege of studying with a group of very tenured professionals(average work experience post under graduate studies was 10 years) from all walks of life. Their experiences, combined with my own, applied to the theoretical frameworks that we were discussing in class and through project work taught me far more than a textbook ever could have. Without labelling it at the time I was part of an incredible learning exercise that was in fact a rich and robust peer mentoring program.

Since that day I have been involved with mentoring programs as a participant (both mentor and mentee), as an administrator and as an initiator. I believe in the power of the mentoring program as a learning solution. Mentoring programs have a number of benefits but as a learning solution they need to address a specific need so that we can build a program that makes sense for our participants and our organizations. Mentoring programs can be a solution to:

– transfer knowledge between seasoned tenured professionals and more junior ones.

– institutionalize corporate learning currently held in the hands, and heads, of a few

– develop high potential talent (both senior and junior)

– strengthen the desired organizational culture

– increase employee engagement, productivity and satisfaction

– bring together diverse groups from within the organization

Unlike formal classroom solutions a good mentoring program allows the participants to define the parameters of the learning exercise so that it is a meaningful exercise. The cumulative learning taking place within the mentoring relationships can be used to inform more formal learning programs aimed at meeting organizational goals. In so many ways it’s a win win situation.

Mentoring programs are not difficult to set up. They do require some work ranging from the administrative, to training and marketing but none of these things are difficult. If you’d like to explore further here are a few resources that may lead you to the program that works best for your organization:

As a learning exercise, and dependant on the need you are trying to find a solution for, there are a number of things that we, as learning professionals can do to support the mentoring program. All of these component parts have the ability to add a richness to the experience. Examples include.

– training on how to be a good mentor and/or mentee – how do you articulate your objective, how do you prepare for your meetings, what are you roles and responsibilities within the program

– exercises that encourage dialogue around a specific organizational need. This can be very effective when trying to change or strengthen organizational culture

– regular debriefs to capture what is being learned

– recommended reading, articles, discussion points in support of emerging needs

– check-lists or structure to help the mentees capture the learning

My MBA experience, as an exercise in mentoring, seemed like a lucky break. Today I would go further to say that creating non classroom learning solutions such as mentoring programs is critical if we are to create learning organizations that can meet the needs of tomorrows reality. Learning professionals – put this one in your toolbox. It can be very effective.

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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

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.

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 (,  Kirpatrick Partners  ( and eLearning Guild ( 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 (,  Human Capital Media ( and Melcrum (

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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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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Learning: Solution or Band-Aid?

As a learning professional I would hope that answer is always “solution” and a value added one at that! The reality, however, can be far from the truth. Ultimately it is not about what learning CAN do for you, it is about what it does.

And “does” can take many forms. At it’s ideal, learning is a tool or discipline to enable performance at either the skill or competency level. The targeted skills have been purposefully identified as necessary to move a person or organization in a certain direction to meet a strategic goal. The learning solution allows the individual to effectively move from the current state to the desired state. The end result? Objectives met, goals achieved, and perhaps more importantly, growth…something most adult learners crave and organizations need to flourish.

At it’s worst learning solutions are ill thought out band-aids. Reactive, not well understood and not well supported. The results can be devastating. Learning solutions are rarely an end destination. They should in fact be part of a greater change initiative that is supported by strong communication, leadership, reinforcement and evaluation. If the need for the learning is not well understood, it will fail. If the learning message isn’t a credible one (and credibility in learning is worthy of a blog post in its own right) meaning that the need for the learning doesn’t align with a commonly accepted performance gap or a preferred end state then it will fail. If an employees manager and higher level leaders do not support the learning messages, the learning solution will fail. If broader organizational systems do not support the new skill or behaviour then the learning will fail. Failure is unfortunately too regular an outcome. Common to a break down in any or all of these key areas is wasted resources. An investment in learning is expensive, an investment in a band-aid is an opportunity cost with little chance of a return on your investment.

Let me give you an example. A customer centric organization that I have worked with in the past prides itself on the exceptional customer experience it creates for each and every member. A key performance measure that the organization was held accountable to was the net promoter score….simply put, the number of people that would recommend your service to others less those that would not. Customers feedback was king and acted upon immediately. Or should I say reacted upon immediately. Solutions ranging from process changes to training sessions were thrown at the problem. Were the problems fixed? Yes…most of the time. But we will never know whether it was the change in process, the change in system, the quality monitoring or the training solutions targeting all who may touch the customer that fixed the problem. In this case we had band-aid layered on top of band-aid and no way of knowing whether the healing was taking place. The result for this organization was a suboptimal use of scarce resources. More significantly it negatively impacted the employees views on “learning”. They often felt that the learning solutions were overkill. Employees who were resistance to the change knew that it would be only a matter of time before a new and improved solution was rolled out. Why bother to change now? Passive resistance was rampant. Above all else this is the death knell of a learning solution for adults cannot learn if they are not open to it.

Learning should never be a band-aid. It should not be a gut reaction to a perceived problem. As leaders we need to better engage with our learning professionals to understand what the true need is. Only then can you design a solution that may move you forward. Understanding the need and the focusing on the objective will allow you to build in an evaluation process to measure whether you have actually addressed the problem and only then will be able to able to potentially call the solution “learning”.


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