“A complex system that works is invariably found to have evolved from a simple system that works.”
Would you like to guess the year this hypothesis was coined? That’s right! 1652. What a year!
If you find this concept plausible, if the clarity with which business results are expressed, then the more accurate learning objectives can be formed. Further, the more likely instruction can be well designed to achieve the intended outcomes. A + B = C. This is a simple system really – inputs and outputs built along a continuum.
But hold on – We can’t calculate, quantify, or qualify achievement unless measured against a benchmark.
While we can all agree a yardstick is required, we often have a hard time decoding points A and B, a decision provided by the business identifying current and preferable conditions. Now pivot over to learning where content is made from the distance between those 2 points.
A valuable exercise would seek to align the delta of between A and B as content now expressed by outcomes defined by the business and subsequently the ability of learning organization to tightly couple the content to media, methodology, trends, and technology. This is a simple system, quite linear and logical and when well executed, can sustain grand outcomes no matter the difficulty and complexity demanded by the challenge. Though we are in the realm of change management education is either a tool or a driver of the desired change; either way it is central to a reconstitution of an organization or, for that matter, a brand.
Let’s step back a bit. Gaule was a Church of England clergyman taking advantage of the newer technologies of his day, e.g. a rudimentary telescope and measuring instruments, good eyesight, resilience, and a compelling drive to ‘know’ wrote in 1652 that if one system made of many supporting facts was proven correct than others of the same kind would likely be equally correct. When interconnected a more complex system was revealed. But for a complex system to be true, all of its minor truths must be so. ‘Here endeth the lesson,’ said at the close of C of E services no doubt Gaule led or worshipped.
I hope readers are shaking their heads at this point warbling a mighty DUH. “This is so obvious – it’s what we always do,” you’re thinking. We follow ADDIE, or Gagne or Aldrich, et. al. so we always meet objectives. Really? How many learning developers—from the inside the company or delivered by external vendors dare create true assessment—on the job results that reveal measurable business improvement metrics, or fall back on the (recently departed) Kirkpatrick settling for learner satisfaction that will magically morph employees into production megatrons, or build authentic appraisals that may expose the absorption of the learning but say nothing about how the learning becomes dollars.
The point is we have two simple systems; one for determining what will most likely justify the time and money put into benchmarking efforts that expresses success—and another for design and delivering a method that will most likely meet results. Doing it right the first time means the business must be clear not only about content but about their expectations. Then the learning team surgically examines these outcomes and designs a system to deliver performance improvement using the appropriate tools.
Two enterprises, two sets of tasks for one unique outcome. How can we skew the odds in favor of building to square the first time? Is there a magic sauce? Well, no, but after almost 40 years in learning, and thousands of hours of design and development in every medium, at every subtask from writing narratives to managing multi-million dollar global rollouts I’ve observed the following characteristics present in successful engagements. Perhaps there are others or more—these are the ones I’ve viewed and in which I’ve participated.
5.1 Simple Things A Business Must Do To Ensure Learning Will Yield Quality Results
1. Know Exactly What Success Will Look Like.
Find the delta of what is now and what should be. Whether quality or quantity, people or object centric, how will you know it when you see it. The business must identify where the failure lies, e.g., the poor commission of the sales staff is a micro issue; but failure to perform over time will have macro consequences.
2. Communicate Business Goals Throughout The Enterprise.
Everyone must understand what the business is about, what it does, who it serves and where and how money is made—and the drivers of that income. When an employee has a panoramic view of the company and recognizes how their participation is vital, the door to learning opens.
3. Define With Precision, Exactly What Is Expected To Change Post-Learning And Why.
And how it will be measured. And by whom. Following on the heels of #2, the specific nature of the learning initiative is clarified. This will generate buzz, cross-talk and may be some push back. That’s great. Whether from professional staff or union reps, work towards understanding and acceptance before the learning is built. This is an opportunity to introduce the concept of change management.
4. Bracket The Learning Experience By Time And Effort.
The demands made on the time of the learner—and whether learning will be part of the working day or on their own time needs to planned and accepted. This is especially critical as we move to social media where technology to deliver learning on demand, including mLearning follows the learner around 24/7. What is management prepared to do to encourage participation which by design might become an intrusion on ones private time?
5. Provide One Example Of An Observable And Positive Outcome.
Tell a ‘big win’ company story by communicating its history, good and bad decisions, solutions, heroes, and goats. Publicize these ‘war’ stories. Think reality TV. From the CEO outward ‘soft’ communications changes companies into learning cultures. Humanizing an enterprise, especially a multinational behemoth is critical to successful change. Good internal marketing with collateral and internal PR goes a long way to make an individual feel like part of something grand instead of a cube farm drone (Remember ‘Office Space?’ If you haven’t seen it please do).
5. 1 Regression Test:
Everyone in the company should be encouraged to provide their own ‘war’ stories; tales of success and overcoming the odds. And ensure these get compiled and disseminated worldwide. Everyone likes to be noticed and in print (on the screen page), it carries a lot of juice, ergo loyalty and effort. These stories will be part of the CXO’s/Enterprise wide communications practices.
5.1 Responsibilities of a Learning Organization that Yields Business Performance Goals
1. Seek To Understand The Organization In Its Entirety.
Regardless of the scope of the project, the learning team must become virtual employees of the business. It is seductive to believe you may achieve learning outcomes at arm’s length, resolve the immediate business goal, and consider the assignment successful. However, to fully grasp how even modest courseware can influence the equilibrium of the organization, recognize, and learn operations, product, marketing, logistics, etc. Then you can build better learning because you can see how your piece fits into the whole. Even if you work for the company you should do the same.
2. Interaction with the client organization is necessary at all levels.
The more tightly coupled the learning organization is to the business the more effective the results. While a project manager may represent the client, direct evidence that senior leadership comprehends the outcomes of what this project means (even a limited project) to the enterprise is non-negotiable. He or she must be a stakeholder in the initiative and must check progress even if infrequently. Now there are three clients; the immediate project manager who needs the learning product; the real client, the learner; and now a CXO. All expect actionable changes from their – and your efforts.
3. Compel The Organization To Synthesize The Project In Writing.
A summation of the project, goals, schedules, milestones and QA reviews plus administrivia is the minimal communication required in an SOW or equivalent. Typically, the goals of our learning solution would be stated in behavioral terms. That’s too broad. Information must be more granular.
For instance, here’s an objective: The lab technician will learn how, and practice manipulating contaminant material. Clear enough for the course — but too general for planning the learning. What you really need to know are the underlying components of that objective: Why does the material have to be handled in such a way; what happens if the operator does not comply with material handling processes; what effects result from failures that exceed the norm? How will you – and the company – be able to assess whether the operator is indeed following procedure and how often not. You should plan – within the learning – a method of benchmarking compliance – what is and what is not tolerable. Moreover, do this first, before planning the learning design. Capture all of this information, archive it, and treat it as a contract. Share this with management as a check for understanding.
4. Play To The Medium
Every learning program usually starts with a proclamation, “This will be online e-learning because it must migrate to 4 geos. Or a blended learning solution, we’ve found, is the best way to engage learners.” Frankly, that’s inductive reasoning – making generalizations based on individual instances – a not very reliable construct. Be clear varying outcomes demand unique construction process and elements. How you create interaction online, with mobile learning as an add-on, will be completely different then a blended approach with webinars. Learning works best when built specifically to the strengths of the medium.
5.1 Ensure Your Customer Relationship Management Is Faultless.
Servicing the client is your mantra. Know who has the gravitas to champion the project or the authority to pull it The individual highest on the food chain who—if you’ve done everything right up to here—will defer to your judgement and insights. However, if you believe – and can back up – a problematic element even if expected by the enterprise, speak up. By now, your organization should be acknowledged as a team with a depth of understanding capable of making good decisions for their business.
5.1 Avoid Cognitive Dissonance
The discomfort felt at when there’s a difference between what a learner already knows or believes, and new information or a new interpretation should be resolved early. Just as the business wrestles with decision-making and problem solving, discord among the learning team must be resolved or greater difficulties will arise during the build out. If these issues leap the chasm and get on the companies radar, I’ve seen businesses torpedo the project fearing that infighting diminishes effort, a focus on quality, and a sense that the learning team works in conflict.
In the end, no learner should be left saying, “Yes, that was a great course and I learned a lot but they really didn’t understand how this affects me.” With diligence and truth – your learning – built on a foundation of insight and accuracy – will meet or exceed the organizations expectations and make believers of skeptics.
So, two simple systems aware of each other’s challenges. The learning team must broker the effort to make the project work. Sometimes this means educating the business. And of course, the business must open itself to close inspection. Success can be summed up as good communication, awareness of each company’s unique challenges, and respect for the process as much as the project that will ultimately improve performance and profitability.
Anyway, that’s what I know to be true. I’ve seen it and lived it. Sorry for the wordiness but it’s a big, important topic.
I’ll take questions now.