Performance is more than support – Communities count

Community Often the subjects that are most critical to business performance are either complex, very specialised or specific to an organisation or profession. This can be referred to as domain knowledge and it is essentially what makes that organisation what it is. It’s this intrinsic link with the context and culture of the organisation that make a formal learning approach to skills acquisition in these environments so challenging: it’s difficult to make this knowledge explicit and capture it in a way that doesn’t lose that all important context. This is one of the main reasons why learning and development functions who do not operate at a partnership/internal consultant level are today bypassed as irrelevant.  Accessing information and a wealth of resources is not the issue; understanding how to readily and effectively apply or adapt it to my context and understand if it has positively impacted performance for the business is the key.  This is where communities step to the fore. Quickly returning to my quest for tennis mastery (well, tennis basic proficiency), a plethora of YouTube videos, apps, books and articles exist to help develop my knowledge of technique.  So to help frame the issue, formal assets are very helpful – there are some elements of the sport that can be captured as explicit knowledge.  However, I am a 40-year-old, fairly active but novice tennis player with pretty good co-ordination, a bit of a dodgy shoulder and a tendency to overthink.  This is not a search term that yields many results, but augmenting my research with a chat with Nigel, qualified coach support and this core knowledge starts to make more sense and gather more immediacy.  From this experience, friends who wish to return to the sport ask for advice, with many of us sharing some common traits.  So the input flow can be applied, adapted and shared with others to continue this process. Communities impact performance at so many levels and yet their value is often overlooked.  They deliver more than creating effective environments for learning, fostering good working relationships and sharing knowledge.  If learning professionals take an active interest in the facilitation and evaluation of community activity, they can shape strategy through providing deep insight into process efficiency, competitor performance, customer perceptions, opportunities for innovation.  But to fulfil this arguably limitless potential, they need to be supported. Communities, where there is real engagement and intensity of dialogue, deliver value to its participants even if the organisation doesn’t actually take much interest.  Where learning teams do take an interest and augment them with better technology to improve access to people and knowledge, measure their value to secure future investment and bring in new participants to provoke new direction and ideas, yield significant business results.

Quick case study: At France Telecom, global product managers were invited to participate in community skills development programmes to encourage these global leaders to adopt a more facilitative rather than commend and control approach to product management.

In just one case, the voicemail community reported that thanks to the adoption of this approach, over €10m of additional revenue was generated simply by that manager acting as the facilitator between sharing of practice in implementation of voicemail menu services between two European countries. 

These communities were supported with collaboration technology and a representative from the global learning and knowledge team who provided mentoring services to community facilitators and would measure community value against defined qualitative and quantitative measures.

All communities thrive on a clear purpose so in our next instalment, we’ll be focussing on the importance of goal setting.

Performance is more than support – Creating the conditions

So leading on from last week’s post, lets start exploring the first step in creating a performance culture – creating the optimal conditions Future performance infographic Conditions This is where culture, skills, career planning, reward and management skills come together to cultivate a performance mind-set, at both a micro level (individuals and teams) and macro level (organisations and society).  The issue here is that often these types of considerations are regarded as softer measures rather than at the hard and fast business results end of the scale. In a well cited paper from 2013 titled ‘ The future of employment: how susceptible are jobs to computerisation?’, Carl Benedikt Frey and Michael A. Osborne from the University of Oxford, concluded that 47% of job categories are open to automation within the next twenty years.  Now this may be a rather worrying figure, however the paper also recognises that some jobs—especially those currently associated with high levels of education and high wages—will survive.  Although what’s more interesting is to reflect on the skills that will become the most valuable. It is research such as that conducted by the New World Of Work board (the results you can see in the box to the right) that has led to models such as Harold Jarche’s Network Era Competences for Learning and Working, where ‘personal knowledge mastery’ is a way to describe the ways in which we find the right information, people and knowledge to develop skills and drive performance.  In this environment, the most valuable skills become those that make us deft at navigating and disseminating information rapidly, contributing effectively and efficiently and skilled at bringing information and people together to deliver objectives. Through the commitment of learning professionals and business leaders, these competencies are nurtured by creating the most conducive learning environment, leaving people free to add their talents and imaginations to finding new solutions, efficiencies, products and services.  In the rise of automation (described by Erik Brynjolfsson and Andrew McAfee, professors at MIT, as “The Second Machine Age”) its these skills that will become increasingly more valuable. A quick search on skills for the 21st century will yield page after page of articles, publications, research projects and comment, but most share common themes that support Jarche’s network era competencies.  They also often highlight why this is so important as we move through the information age into the imagination age, typifies by this quote from Michael Jung, a senior consultant at McKinsey and Company.

“Our old idea is that work is defined by employers and that employees have to do whatever the employer wants . . . but actually, you would like him to come up with an interpretation that you like — he’s adding something personal — a creative element.”

There’s also another great reason for investing in creating the right conditions – in his most recent book, More Than Blended Learning, Clive Shepherd emphasises that in today’s working world ‘an analysis is not for ever’.  His advice here is worth taking to heart:

‘Be prepared to revisit your analysis because situations are always changing and new information comes available all the time.  Design is – and should be – an iterative process as you strive to ever more closely meet the needs’.

Taking Clive’s point on board, this makes the conditions all the more important; anchoring your organisation to one particular approach is simply not tenable or relevant.    Once we accept this it really can be rather liberating!  No longer are we continually chasing the next big thing and committed to making that one big investment a success.  We are better informed and able to take opportunities as they arise because they are aligned to our particular performance needs. Once we’ve established the appropriate conditions for performance, it’s time to build a network or community to nurture and foster performance.  That’s what we’ll be focussing on in our next instalment.

Be a catalyst not a catalogue

This week I posted a quick video to YouTube whilst working gently from home nursing a nasty bit of bronchitis.  The obvious downsides were, as a hyperactive runner and cyclist, an enforced period of stillness does not come naturally to me, but it did give me the opportunity to pour some latent energy into a subject that is typified by a word full of activity – catalyst.

Catalysts remove barriers,  enabling new actions

Catalysts remove barriers, enabling new actions

A conversation I had with Tom Spiglanin at DevLearn 2015 back in October has stuck with me – as a scientist and now learning specialist in his organisation of aerospace experts, he offered to me an explanation of the role he plays.  ‘A catalyst acts in a unique way to make a lower barrier to cause a reaction to happen. Putting the right people together in the right environment at the right time with right tools, that’s how we catalyse that learning’. This could not be more timely, given the recent publication of the Towards Maturity 2015 Industry Benchmark Report.  Change is no longer in the air, it’s happening and there is an argument that those who do not free themselves of the definitions and boundaries of ‘the L&D department’ are going to fail.  They will become irrelevant and surplus to requirements. But learning as part of the workflow is critical to achieving business performance.   It has perhaps never been more important in the technology and innovation age.  So in a paper I have just finished between hot cups of tea, vicks vaporub and antibiotics, I offer a perspective on how learning as performance catalysts operate in the business.  I would love to get your comments on this.  

Commentary on Clive Shepherd’s commentary! The Towards Maturity Benchmarking Report 2015

Next week sees the official publication of this year’s Towards Maturity Benchmarking Report.

It's going to take a deep dive into understanding the business

It’s going to take a deep dive into understanding the business

Having been fortunate enough to catch up with Laura Overton and Marnie Threapleton at DevLearn 2015 where Laura gave something of a sneak preview of what was to come. Our friend, Clive Shepherd was one of the VIPs invited to the preview last week (in advance of the public release which you can tune into on the 5th November).  His recent post on LinkedIn confirms what many suspected but perhaps hoped was not the case: “the call seems only to be heard by the already converted. What TM calls the ‘Top Deck’ (those organisations that are showing the best results from their L&D efforts) are shooting ahead, overcoming barriers and exploring all the possibilities for workplace learning in all its contexts, formal and informal. The rest have been stuck for years.” As Clive says, the future is already here and there’s never been a better time to truly facilitate learning if we can shake off the shackles of the past.  I’ve just interviewed Clark Quinn for Learning Now Radio on this very subject, as its certainly not a UK only problem or just an L&D problem.  A significant barrier that should not be underestimated is how they are perceived by the rest of the business.  There are regular calls for L&D to be on the top table, which for many feels impossible, but the visionary, tenacious few that have done it and seen great results (such as Silver Award winner at the 2015 Learning Awards, Rick Jackson at DHL). Its about starting the conversation in terms of performance challenges and understanding at a deep level the inputs and outputs that make up the value chain to deliver your organisations products or services.  It takes a true partnership approach, a systematic exploration of workflow, an open-minded view of learning and an understanding of how to maximise technology, informal learning opportunities and build effective learning scaffolds that will get you noticed.  Link your solutions to real business metrics and you’ll pack a punch few senior teams could ignore. I for one would love to see some more substantive research in the quantitate impact of just the types of things you mention, such as thriving CoPs, blended learning ecosystems etc. This may seem like a daunting task but with learning as part of the workflow, it should then be a key element and a feed into the business metrics of the organisation. We can shake off the ROI of a single intervention (which in itself is crazy, as life simply isn’t that binary) if we look at the inputs to and knowledge needed to achieve key business objectives. Perhaps it’s time I dusted off the PhD idea 😉


If you need support in creating a learning strategy fit for the new work of work and learning, want to upskill your learning team in some of the key techniques and technologies you need or are looking for a learning provider that delivers content truly fit for business, we’d love to help.

An open minded approach to learning strategy can mean retracing our steps – MOOCs and Communities

“The trouble with having an open mind, of course, is that people will insist on coming along and trying to put things in it.” Terry Pratchett, Diggers


iStock_000001785644_Large At this month’s Learning Live conference, the L&D question time panel were fairly dismissive of the impact and future of MOOCs, despite some of the most vibrant sessions from the event were on that very topic. So is there another story? Well pinning the hopes of the future of online learning is far to heavy a burden to place on one solution such as MOOCs. However, they can certainly have a deserved place at the table. I’ll be at DevLearn next week exploring how to supercharge your learning with communities and there is a lesson in reinvigoration of a neglected learning and knowledge topic. Communities aren’t new but their value and role in delivering on strategy and building competitive difference is raising again a topic that I first started writing about an delivering consultancy over a decade ago.  Availability and ubiquity of social e-learning technology has made it much easier than when we started out, so a fresh pair of eyes is needed, but many of the principles of creating, nurturing and sustaining communities still hold true.  I am utterly delighted they have come back into the mainstream, they are taking on a different shape and context but there’s so much we can build on. So before we decide MOOCs had their day, its worth digging a little deeper.  This article from Harvard Business Review makes a good defence of their value.  Now as the authors themselves disclose, they are not an entirely independent voice in this debate, but it’s good to see some analysis of data behind the often cited low completion rates.  They have made a start at trying to draw some data out on the tangible value of MOOC participation and although its early days and took a very specific focus, it’s encouraging.  Not for a moment does this suggest that actually MOOCs are the answer and above scrutiny, quite the opposite.  However, as part of the open minded learning ecosystem, each element has to earn its place and that doesn’t always mean filling each place with the next new thing. The principles of creation and curation, the power of the cohort and learning scaffolds live in a good MOOC (something that could also be said for great communities). OK, they are not all perfect, but we can learn from that too!

Forget New Years Resolutions – summer is a great time to do the big thinking

Not sure its the same for you, but New Year is not the time to make any new work based P1060367resolutions – Q4 is traditionally a crazy time where budgets are being agreed, work signed up for the next year then just as you catch your breath, you hit the ground running after the christmas break (which for us also means frantic preparations for exhibitions like Learning Technologies!) However the summer can be a great opportunity to take advantage of the quieter moments in the office to take a coffee with colleagues around the business and listen to whats happening.  Its these types of conversations that can prove invaluable in uncovering the true learning needs in an organisation. By the time the formal development need passes your desk, its almost too late.   Taking a real interest in what’s happening on a day to day basis is when you uncover the SMEs you didn’t know your business had, the communities of practice already working together and collaborating, the outside influencers people turn to for help, the curated content colleagues are sharing with each other. So if you’ve already had your drizzly week in Devon and are back at work, take the time not just to debate whether the clotted cream or jam go first onto the scone but to follow your natural curiosity and find out how your organisation really learns.

Learning Ecosystems – a Vlog for OzLearn

You can always rely on Con Sotidis to be keeping a watchful eye on the latest from L&D, his twitter account @learnkotch is an essential on anyone’s top L&D lists.  So I was absolutely delighted to be asked to take part in the next OzLearn chat, happening this Tuesday (14th April) at 10am GMT.La Clusaz to Mont Blanc As many of you will know, Learning Ecosystems are a core part of our work here at WillowDNA so this Tuesday, I would love to find out how Ecosystems are playing a part of your learning strategy for 2015.  They have significant implications for the way we conduct needs analysis, define learning objectives, define the roles and responsibilities of the L&D teams and how we make best use of technology. To set the scene, I recorded a vlog for Con and the OzLearn team whilst on a little break to the French Alps with my family.  Being a fairly novice skier and also encouraging my daughter as she develops her skills as a junior shredder (snowboarder to you and me!), it was interesting to reflect on the different inputs and tools we used to maximise our opportunity to develop. There are a number of parallels (no ski pun intended!) with learning in organisations and in fact for any purpose.  I hope you enjoy it and really looking forward to connecting on Tuesday. Learning Ecosystems Vlog for OzLearn    

What makes an award winner? Substance and seeing it through

iStock_000003047867SmallWe received a great piece of news this week – one of our oldest (but very much dearest!) clients, the Institute of Practitioners in Advertising received the Mark of Excellence for the Foundation Certificate at the Association Excellence Awards.  As well as winning gold at the e-Learning Awards back in 2012, they have seen numbers taking the qualification increase year on year, surpassing expectations and opening the door to an international audience.  Of course we’d certainly like to think our learning design methodology, content and platform are a major part of the winning formula! But its been clear that over the last 6 years, since the IPA chose us as their learning partners, it has been the IPA’s wholesale buy in to online CPD that has made the difference. It’s been a journey that has evolved over time with a holistic strategy for rollout and maintenance. Our case studies on the Foundation Certificate and Leg Regs qualifications provide some great advice on learning design and overall orchestration of the learning experience.  Beyond the programmes themselves though, the relationship between our service management team and the IPA CPD team has been vital to the ongoing revision and evolution of the programmes as subject matter and audience needs have changed.  The IPA’s ability to work in partnership with agencies to provide real insight and raw content that truly reflects life in agencies today gives each programme a level of authenticity that learners greatly appreciate and the benefits of which are felt by agencies in overall performance. The IPA have also been courageous and broken new ground in online CPD, but with a very clear strategy underpinning every decision – they haven’t gone for the quick win or easiest topic, they have chosen to develop programmes that speak to the heart of the industry they support and deliver them by embracing everything online learning design and technology can offer. It’s a fantastic example of the true antithesis of the ‘learning initiative’ – the new shiny thing that’s launched with huge fanfare but dies out after an initial fuss and novelty has worn off.  The IPA are committed to ensuring advertising and media practice in the UK remains the shining example to professionals around the world, by providing innovation in learning, both in subject matter and online delivery, with a truly pragmatic view of what really matters and delivers real business impact.

Our Christmas gift to you – New learning ecosystem for 2015 White Paper

We thought we’d close out 2014 by helping you set out an exciting future for 2015.internationalisation

The ecosystem approach to learning strategy is changing the way in which needs are defined, learning is delivered and outcomes measured (with technologies such as xAPI driving new measurement definitions and possibilities).  

Drawing on our work with leading organisations to deliver learning portals, corporate universities and academies with our award winning hosted learning platform, Pathway LMS and custom portal service, you’ll explore how to create the optimal environment for learning.

The white paper sets the scene to help you bring together enterprise systems, collaboration technologies and communities to deliver the complete learning ecosystem:

  • Aligning learning delivery and measurement in an open, social world
  • Business strategy engagement – aligning learning strategy for business growth
  • Creating the right learning architecture – practical examples and case studies
  • Evaluation and the ecosystem

Download your copy now.

If you are coming to Learning Technologies 2015 then our team will be presenting a free seminar on ‘Learning ecosystems – creating the ideal environment for learning and knowledge’ at the show.  Check future mailings and the LT2015 website for date and time.

DevLearn – reflections from the New Learning Universe

As a break from the norm, I’ve decided to dispense with the written narrative and become reporter in the field. With the hottest talking points including corporate MOOCs, learning ecosystems, xAPI and the changing skill-set of L&D, it was a thought provoking and vibrant conference.   Here’s my round up from DevLearn 2014 and as an added bonus, you can download the slides from my presentation on What Corporates Can Learn From The MOOC Experience. Screen Shot 2014-11-10 at 12.14.05 WillowDNA DevLearn VodCast 2014