Performance is more than support – the future of learning

male tennis player in action This month we are introducing a guide for the future of learning: a 5-point framework for learning professionals to construct a holistic learning strategy that supports learning in their organisations.  Over the coming posts, it will build into a complete guide, which will later be published as an e-book.  So let’s start with understanding the environment. ‘As the ubiquity of technology fundamentally shifted the way we conduct all aspects of communication, work and learning, it created a less structured, predictable route to the end goal.  That’s a great thing – it provides choice, accessibility, widening of discourse, rapid dissemination, connection, personalisation and more…’ This is taken from our review of 2015 and what the changes to work and business mean for organisational learning.  Reflecting further on this, applying a performance lens in this ever changing social and economic environment that now typifies the status quo may be a more effective way in engaging everyone in learning; from the board to new entrants into the world of work.  Although there is significant work yet to be done to improve access to learning across the globe, advances in communication networks and supporting technology has driven a more learner driven experience to acquiring the knowledge and skills we need to achieve our learning goals. Some have drawn the conclusion that this means the end of formal learning in organisations, however it leaves out one important factor.  In an increasingly complex world, its an organisation’s unique blend of knowledge, delivery capability, product/service innovation and adaptability that make it successful.  This means context is king – you could argue every organisation needs effective leaders but clearly there is no one size fits all programme for it.  Furthermore, ‘effective leadership’ means something different because its strategic goals will need to drive what effective leadership performance looks like. …You can have the best people, best technology, best product or best lunch served in your fantastically well appointed staff restaurant (after all, we all need fuel!) but the key is in the alignment and orchestration of each of these.’ So when we look at this from a performance perspective, it helps organisations make the right choices in commissioning unique content from providers like ourselves, what it can curate from others and what it already knows that works and share it with others (as well as enable them to contribute to what will work around here). So to help bring this to life, I’ve drawn on the analogy of sport – a performance mind-set could be a given but environmental factors, skillset, technology and community all play their part.   It is a useful one in framing the position for organisational learning at a micro (individual) and macro (strategy) level. Matthew Syed, a former Olympic athlete and now organisational performance commentator and author in his recent book, Black Box Thinking explores the barriers to performance improvements.  One of the key arguments is that professional people have trouble admitting their fallibility, perceiving it as a threat to ego, to reputation. ‘It obliterates progress’.  If I reflect on my own experience of sport, I can freely admit that there is a great deal of truth in this when I reflect on my anxiety to participate in competitive sport (but with age comes less regard for dignity, so that helps enormously!).  The scrutiny, the comparisons, the frustrations have limited an openness to change and this can play out in the organisation. So how can this change?  It requires clarity of the goal and a performance focus.   Performance can help us look more holistically at the task at hand, so for the organisation, how to achieve its key strategic goal.   Taking a tennis analogy, a focus on how terrible my serve is counter-intuitive, it narrows opportunity to build on other supporting skills through a concentration on one aspect of overall performance. When we consider learning in organisations, learning needs analysis can be guilt of limiting our view, through a concentration on the goal being finding the right learning solution (which can translate into a course, piece of content or tool).  Taking an alternative approach by looking at the needs of the organisation through the variety of inputs that support better performance, we open our view.  We provide greater opportunity to capitalise on what we already have, make better informed decisions on the aspects of workflow that need to be enhanced to deliver a better outcome and understand whether it has worked. So rather than concentrate on either a particular strength (which can lead to over-reliance and stagnation) or weakness (which can frustrate and limit potential in other areas), a more rounded inclusive view gives a greater opportunity for performance improvement. Building a more holistic approach should include the following aspects:

  • Conditioning –training to develop strength and stamina needed to then execute coaching instruction: in the organisation, this means confidence in key skills, instilled from your induction through to each stage of career planning.
  • Goal setting – breaking down the areas for improvement into a more logical step wise process where improvements build upon each other. This also requires focus – disseminating the information (tried and proven technique) that is important, without overload.
  • Community support – conversations with others and understanding how their experience could be applied to my context (some of the best tennis advice came from my friend, Nigel Paine who shared with me the secret of preventing overthink). Gathering in context insights from others that have been there before you (think YouTube)
  • Tools and technology – the world of wearables, materials technology and coaching software has transformed the world of sports performance. OK, ability cannot be substituted for tech but the difference in materials and equipment spec is significant. By embracing enabling technology, it has helped my game enormously – those organisations that do the same with access to learning content and creation provide the most supportive environment for that type of performance change.
  • People – the core of performance, supported by each of the other elements. Performance does not reside in an individual role, it’s the collective efforts of all people to deliver performance, innovation and improvement.  So what becomes critical here is the orchestration and providing the right supporting roles to facilitate performance.  This includes:

Coaching – refining and moving beyond baseline levels of performance). Using both strengths and weaknesses to develop approaches suited to me (contextual performance)

Mentoring – coaches continues to learn through adapting approach and applying to different contexts and ability levels.

Role modelling – Reverse mentoring, senior team being visible in their contribution to performance strategy and content add to the richness and context of the performance environment. It gives that feedback loop into strategy by observing and understanding what’s really happening.  For my experience with Tennis, my daughter can observe my failures and will clearly become an infinitely better player than me!

Consultants – deep understanding, analysis and evaluation of current process and practices, their efficacy and identifying areas for improvement (and their associated solutions).

If we take these elements and apply them to organisational learning, it helps strategists and learning professionals better understand the type of environment and conditions you need to create, foster and evolve to survive through the information age into the emerging imagination age.  Rather than regard this as just a learning issue, reframing it as performance helps to cultivate a more strategically aligned mind-set, where learning is part of the workflow, rather than a supporting function. It also helps to inform decisions when procuring supporting technologies or investing in learning content: there may be absolute justification to become early adopters of Oculus Rift if your organisation works in complex, high risk environments, where virtual reality could become a key tool in accelerating performance.  However, equipping individuals who have specific domain knowledge with basic video capture tools and providing training on basic editing skills may yield significant results where knowledge simply needs to be make more accessible. So in an infographic, we have captured the building blocks of a performance environment and articulated indicators for a performance focussed culture.  These can be used as the basis of a diagnostic to see how performance ready your organisation is currently and what short and long term steps you need to take to get there. Future performance infographic Copyright WillowDNA 2015 In this series, we will take a look at each of these factors in more depth to build a complete picture of performance in organisations.  Its much more about just-in-time performance support, its about a performance mind-set.