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In my ongoing research interviewing learning executives, I occasionally come across stories or ideas that just can't wait until the full set of data is collected.

This week, I interviewed a director of employee development and training at a mid-sized distribution company. She expressed many of the frustrations I've heard before in my consulting work with L&D (Learning and Development) leaders. For example:

  • Lack of good learning measurement, causing poor feedback to L&D stakeholders.
  • Too many task requirements to allow for strategic thinking in L&D.
  • While some SME's are great trainers, too many deliver poorly-designed sessions.
  • Lack of some sort of competency testing of learners.
  • Lack of follow-through after training, limiting likelihood of successful application to the job.

There were so many changes to make that it appeared overwhelming — as if making positive change was going to take forever.

Then she got an idea. Her organization had begun to train its customers (in addition to training its employees), and they began to search for ways to demonstrate the value and credibility of the customer-focused courses.

What this director realized was that accreditation might serve multiple purposes — if it provided a rigorous evaluation scheme; one that demanded living up to certain standards.

She found an accrediting agency that fit the bill. IACET, the International Association of Continuing Education and Training would certify her organization, but the organization would have to prove that it engaged in certain practices.

This turned out to be a game changer. The requirements, more often than not, propelled her organization in directions she had hoped they would travel anyway. The accreditation process had become a powerful lever in the director's change-management efforts.

Some of things that the accreditation required:

  • The L&D organization had to demonstrate training needs, not just take orders for courses.
  • They had to map learning evaluations back to learning objectives, ensuring relevance in evaluations.
  • They had to have objectives that tied into learning outcomes for each course.
  • Trainers had to be certified in training skills (aligned to research-based best practices).
  • Trainers had to be regularly trained to maintain their certifications.
  • Et cetera…

While before it was difficult for her to get some of her SME's to take instructional design seriously, now accreditation constraints propelled them in the right direction. Whereas before, SME's balked at creating tests of competence, now the accreditation requirements demanded compliance. Whereas before, her SME's could skip out on training on evidence-based learning practice, now they were compelled to take it seriously — otherwise they may lose their accreditation; thus losing the differentiation their training provides to customers.

The accreditation process was a catalyst, but it wouldn't work on it's own — and it's not a panacea. The director acknowledges that a full and long-term change management effort is required, but accreditation has helped her move the needle toward better learning practices.

I was speaking to a CLO (Chief Learning Officer) today about research-to-practice stuff, and he made a statement that blew my mind. It was brilliant!

First, a little background.

He’s been a CLO at two organizations with over a decade of tenure in learning-executive positions. He knows what he’s talking about.

He talked persuasively about how many learning and development units are stuck in the old-world view of learning as delivering training (and training alone). In such learning cultures, L&D folks are order takers. A more enlightened approach includes training, but it also involves performance-consulting, performance-facilitation, knowledge management, improved evaluations, etc., with a key goal of helping to create a partnership between L&D and its organizational stakeholders.

Okay, that’s not news. We know this is the right thing to do.

Here’s what struck me as illuminating. He said that what’s really needed to make the leap from the old way to the new way, you need a large capital-like investment to get you started, to bring in committed change agents, to overcome inertia, to have resources and tools to let you leverage research-based methods. Without a large resource infusion, you get incremental change, but it’s just not enough to change the culture so you end up fighting long exhausting battles with only some success.

But what CEO’s are going to be so enlightened as to pony up the dough?

You’d think they might. After all, making huge investments upfront is what successful businesses do, what successful entrepreneurs do, what successful athletes do, etc.

We in L&D have to figure out a way to convince our CEO’s to make the investment. Otherwise, we’ll likely remain in the purgatory of order taking henceforth.

 

Alex Khurgin, Director of Learning and Creative at Grovo (a Microlearning Vendor), says that Microlearning is good for enterprise learning because it builds alignment with organizational goals, it meets the needs of today’s learners for shorter and shorter learning nuggets, and it’s cheaper than longer learning initiatives.

You can read his article at the Chief Learning Officer website. It’s worth the read as further evidence that vendors are hot to push for shortened learning nuggets.

Of course, microlearning is more potent when it is intentionally threaded over time, utilizing the scientifically-backed principles of spacing, retrieval practice, and feedback.

After years of being embedded as a consultant in organizations who have struggled to move their stakeholders beyond a training-centric model to a performance-improvement approach, I finally realized that our painstakingly slow progress might be due to our own failures in getting our messages heard.

We in the workplace learning field are over-reliant on conveying our messages in a way that attempts to connect to our stakeholders' logical, analytical, conscious cognitive processing. The problem with this — beside the fact that it is obviously not working — is that most cognition occurs subsconciously. We've been trying to sing underwater.

I've always been enamored with the idea that we need to find the most important causal factors and focus on those–not on the hundreds of factors that might have minor impact. I've followed this approach in reviewing the learning research — finding the most important learning factors, not the fad-of-the-year learning factors. But this leverage-point approach applies to our workplace-learning organizations as well. We should be looking for our most potent leverage points and focusing on those.

So, after some lengthy reflection, I have written a book chapter which describes how our leaders — our chief learning officers, training managers, and other learning executives — might restructure some of their organizations' standard operating procedures to send stealth messages that resonate at both a conscious and unconscious level with their stakeholders.

You can access this chapter — which I should warn you is in rough-draft form — by clicking here.

If link doesn't work for you, go to Work-Learning Research catalog.

 

Speaking on Stealth Messaging

Also, come here me talk about this at the ASTD International Conference next week (May 7-9, 2012 in Denver, Colorado, US). Here are the details:

Tuesday 10:00 to 11:15AM

  • Room: Mile High 1F
  • Research-Inspired Rubrics to Boost Training Transfer to On-the-Job Performance: The Example of the Course Review
  • Co-Presenter: Russ Spaulding of DIA

Wednesday 10:30 to 11:45 AM

  • Room: Mile High 1F
  • How Learning Executives Can Use Stealth Messages to Change Their Organizations. For Example:  Moving from a Training-Centric Approach to a Performance-Improvement Approach

I'm speaking under the auspices of the ASTD Forum, a group of organizations who meet regularly to share best practices.

U.S. Loses 533,000 Jobs in November, the New York Times reports.

The largest one-month loss in over 30 years. The economy is now guaranteed to be in the longest recession since the Great Depression.

Ouch. Ouch. Ouch.

Prediction: The learning-and-performance industry is about to take a big big big hit. I'm thinking a complete disaster. I'm thinking maybe my MBA will come in handy. Master Burger Administrator. I actually worked full-time as a short-order cook for a year before going to college, so I'm ready. BIG GULP!

Polish up your resumes folks. Cut way back on holiday spending. Put in extra time at the office so they won't think you're quite the dead wood you seem to be. Stop eating the expensive part of meals, like the entrees and desserts. Encourage your family to become anorexic. Burn all your George Bush paraphernalia. Even if you're one of the 19% of people who still think Bush is a good president, don't tell anyone. Tell Corporate that there was a mistake in your job title, it wasn't supposed to be "Instructional Designer" it was supposed to be "Productivity Designer"; it wasn't supposed to be Director of Learning and Emerging Technologies" it was supposed to be "Director of Much Better Performance"; your CLO title didn't mean "Chief Learning Officer," it meant "Cutter of Learning Overhead."

Remember, in times like these, even if you can't have your dream job in being a "Learning Professional," being an earning professional is good.

My hope is that in times like these, the best of us will survive/thrive, perhaps by doing the right stuff.