Tag Archives: CoP

Trust or Control? It’s one or the other.

14 Oct

When I speak to people about the value of participating in professional learning networks (PLN), work out loud (WOL) practices, and the promise of sharing freely in order to reap the benefits of the Learning Age, I hear the same reservations time and again. The obstacles most often come down to trust.

Do I trust my organization and bosses to value my time and my contributions? Do I trust my peers, known and yet unknown, to accept my perspective and ideas without judgment to hostility? Do I trust my friends and family not to mock me for putting myself out there? (Early in my social sharing participation activities, I did get some “Who do you think you are, Mr. Fancy-pants?!” kind of responses. Then I realized that vulnerability is the part of the process of learning… a topic for another day.)

Most of all, at formal events and in conversations with individuals alike, I hear what amounts to lack of trust in one’s self. Do I trust myself to share the right things, and to be able to sort and make sense of what I find out there?

I attended an event at my local ATD Cascadia chapter last week in which Nan Russell presented on “The Titleless Leader.” What stuck with me most in a great presentation was when she asked the participants, “What’s the opposite of trust?” The answer? “Control.”

This is so important. We have to give up the idea that we can control our daily forays into learning, sharing, and growing. Nor should we want to hold onto control. In order to make the most of explorations, we should prepare to encounter the unknown. It is a matter of trust that good things will happen when we give up control, open to what comes.

Our Competition Is Our Co-Operator: The new coopetition

16 Sep

The term coopetition has actually been around for quite some time, as strange as it may seem. Going back to at least the 1930s, the word was coined to capture the idea that those who we compete against are in fact our partners in developing technologies and processes. We may fight fiercely to protect our trade secrets and to differentiate ourselves from our competitors, but we all gain from new developments. Think Microsoft and Apple—the mouse, windows, directory systems, tablets, product design—both benefit from “stealing” from the other.

However, the idea of coopetition is just now having—or about to have—its moment in the world of knowledge management, workplace learning, organizational dynamism and professional development. In our connected, networked, decentralized world, the very notion of X vs. Y, Us vs. Them, Me vs. You is falling away. Whether we think this is good or bad is irrelevant—it simply is. (I happen to think it’s wonderful.)

Manuel Lima has a really interesting take on how the interconnected, leaderless network is expressed in the shift in visualizations from the paradigm of trees and hierarchies to meshes of interconnectivity: from the “Tree of Life” to the “Network of Life.” If you have 12 minutes, check it out:

The point is that we are not insulated in our working groups, departments, organizations or the few professional colleagues who we happen to meet at annual conferences. We should seek out peers, experts and diverse members of our networks throughout our industry and across the globe. A widget manufacturer, a financial consultant or an electrician can and should learn as much from “competing” organizations as from the coworkers they see every day. We should constantly forage for innovations, learning and insights—the essence of modern work—across our networks. This is especially true of our supposed competitors.

We all improve together when we cooperate through open sharing and knowledge transfer. Coopetition requires a new mindset for our organizations. Individual workers are transitory, taking their expertise with them from workplace to workplace. Institutional memory becomes less important than mining the networks for functional knowledge that may or may not exist within the walls of a particular company.

The rising tide of shared knowledge and strengthening networks through coopetition really does raise all in our flotilla of ideas.

The lesson: Learn through the diversity of our competitors. In my next post I’ll share some ways to achieve that openness to learning that builds coopetition.

Learning is the lifeblood, not the appendix

13 Jul

No one puts learning in the corner. Those days are gone.

If you are a regular reader of this blog, or familiar with the work of forward-thinking learning organization practitioners, social network evangelists and advocates of Connectivism, this news will not come as a surprise.

But sometimes I find myself making a cardinal learning professional mistake: Assuming my audience’s knowledge where no evidence exists.

So, why isn’t learning just “learning” anymore? Because in today’s modern, hyper-connected world, traditional workplace learning programs have almost entirely lost whatever relevance they may have had as the centerpiece of how people actually learn. Training courses—be they live or asynchronous eLearning courses—should now be the last resort for all but the most stubborn learning needs.

Why?

  1. Few of us have a specific “job” for very long. I don’t think I need spend many words to convince you that hopping from company to company and even career to career is the new norm. Depending on which statistics you believe, we can expect the typical 30-year-old today to spend the next 35 years of her working life in at least 7 different jobs, and in 1.2 complete career shifts.

What does that mean for learning professionals? Learning is individual, portable, and an ongoing process.

  1. Learning is the job—or should be. People don’t rely on authority for answers anymore. There is no “received” wisdom of how things are done. A recent study (Bersin by Deloitte, June 2014) finds that 60% of L & D professionals report that employees have trouble engaging in corporate learning. That’s because this is based in the assumption that learning is something outside of “regular” work. Learning is the work! Every meeting, project, task and conversation should be thought of as part of an ongoing learning process, and catalogued, shared and honored accordingly. People shouldn’t get paid to “do a job” anymore: Rather, they should be paid to stay current, improve, serve and add value. That, my friends, is learning.

What are we (learning pros) doing to put process, skills and culture in place to properly nurture this new reality?

  1. Organizational structures are going to go through radical change. Individuals do not serve at the behest of their companies—at least, not for very long. Because of employee portability, workers are in it mostly for themselves. That is actually a good thing! To put it another way, we need to shift our thinking to make that new reality a good thing.

People are able to connect with experts in their field from within your organization as easily as with your partners and competitors. Equally, information is plentiful and access to new ideas (good and bad) is nearly limitless. We don’t need gatekeepers or managers to tell us to seek, synthesize and share. Those are simply the skills of the new reality.

PLN

A Professional Learning Network(s) (PLN) extends well beyond an organization’s real or virtual structures. Encourage all to develop these networks for both personal and organizational currency.

By empowering folks to digitally practice far and wide, we allow them to bring what they find back into your organization, while freeing them to chart their own professional development and career course. In this new paradigm, L & D professionals are guides, coaches and obstacle breakers. If either manager or employee is having trouble adjusting to this new arrangement, therein lies our opportunity as learning professionals to help our people thrive. Traditional training courses and programs (other than compliance) should be the last resort for the most complex situations. Telling folks to find the answer in a Google search or on YouTube is not an abdication of our professional learning responsibilities, it opens the door to more meaningful passageways of how to learn in the post-industrial era (what I call The Learning Age).

In short, we should all take it upon ourselves to ask:

  • What can I learn from my current task, project or activity?
  • How do I document that learning so others can benefit?
  • How do I share what I’ve learned, along with relevant artifacts, outcomes and tools (that is, how do I curate knowledge)?
  • How am I engaging with, and gaining from, what others are learning?

Promoting the culture that makes this a practice, a habit, is the L & D task of the moment. Bring learning out of the corner. It is now the lifeblood of your organization.

Quality, efficiency or efficacy? Hmmm … I’ll take all three!

22 Sep
fast-cheap-good,

Triangle of compromises, from 11 Bridges.

You’re likely familiar with triangular development tradeoffs: good, fast or cheap—pick two.

However, I suggest that when people are empowered to control their own learning, at their own chosen times, and within a framework that supports personal exploration and mastery, it is the epitome of learning efficiency. That is, better, faster and cheaper!

What does that look like?

Let’s take a look at a common professional services business topic: managing client expectations. It could have been any number of hard or (especially) soft workplace skills, but for our purpose here, let’s go with managing clients.

Traditional training and L & D approaches call for a comprehensive set of learning and mentoring activities. These may include classroom time with role-plays, eLearning courses sequentially laid out in an LMS, conference attendance, webinar sessions, readings, etc. There is nothing wrong with these approaches, but they don’t sit comfortably on two points of the tradeoff triangle, and certainly not all three. If done well, and tracked to metrics to demonstrate efficacy, the traditional treatment is a large, expensive endeavor. It may be worth it in the long run, but it is hard to get support for such rich projects.

Imagine an alternative program, one in which individuals are able to control their own professional development with thoughtful guidance. The added element is that the learners have to demonstrate their work—that is, work out loud as they collect information, connect ideas and form practices that fit into the working culture.

Perhaps you begin by providing a curated, annotated list of articles, videos and websites. Ask the learner to review and reflect on those items. Then, assemble additional resources into a collection (social bookmarked via Diigo, Scoop.it, Delicious, etc.) The collections are open to others, so that they share as they save (share is the new save!) via the enterprise social network (if one exists) or Twitter, Facebook or any other available platform. Every week or so, learners come together to present, discuss, compare and practice together for a short time (say, a working lunch hour, in-person or via web-based meeting platform), under the direction of a mentor and/or learning professional.

What have you gained? A cohort that is mostly self-directed, taking responsibility for their own development, creating a learning and collaborative culture, and normalizing how to manage client expectations (see how the topic almost becomes secondary—in a good way!) together with the manager’s direction.

If you have one or two great ideas for good interactive modules or focused, purposeful webinar topics, great. This framework allows targeted, well-designed instruction to take root in the larger learning culture.

What you end up with is an effective learning program, potentially bringing higher and more diverse quality than is possible from even the best L & D team on its own, while saving the cost of numerous eLearning courses or formal learning events. It drops the assumption that the established practices for client management already in place are better or preordained, welcoming ideas from across the networked world.

It covers all three corners, enabling a full 180° horizon, overcoming false choices that stand in the way of organizational agility and vision.

Open the triangle and see the horizon of learning (and perhaps, the reading rainbow).

Open the triangle and see the horizon of learning (and perhaps, the reading rainbow).

Leveraging expertise… and vanity

3 Apr

In reading about online learning communities, Communities of Practice, and the trend in social/informal e-learning, the common theme appears time and again: How can we make it sticky? How do we engage learners to take charge of their own learning, share it across organizations, locations, and technologies to create the kind of online learning community that is engaging, self-motivating and (most of all!) enduring?

It seems to me – and my thinking is constantly evolving on this, so forgive me if I contradict myself in a week’s time – that to build the scaffolding onto which a online learning community might take hold relies on two human dimensions.

First, insight. If a learner feels that what she does, what she knows, is solely wrapped up in their job function, she may have little reason to believe that what she has to share would be of any interest or consequence to others. What she lacks is the insight that her knowledge may be broadly applicable to a wide variety of potential learner/collaborators in dissimilar or even completely unrelated functions. She’s trapped in a silo and can’t see out.

The second dimension is vanity – in a good way. If a learner feels like he is an expert and couples that with pride (ego?) to share that expertise, that creates the backbone of social learning. Vanity here manifests as the confidence that others can benefit from what he knows.

The thing is, under the right circumstances, most everybody loves to be an expert.

Image

If you are working to support an online learning community, you may be lucky enough to have a number of folks who are will placed in the upper left of our simple matrix. However, if yours is like most attempts, you will have only a few if any who want to jump in. The trick, then, is to champion those who already reside in the upper left, and to nurture others to move in that direction. If you can get a conscientious fraction of your learning cohort to be active in sharing and learning (conscientious here means as interested in learning as they are in espousing), then you have a good shot at creating a self-sustaining social learning online community.

In the near future I will share some thoughts on how to move people up and over into the champion zone, but I welcome your thoughts if you’ve had experience (successful or not) in trying to make this happen. It is not an easy task.

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