Speed, Innovation, Change: How to Meet the Learning Challenge

by | Feb 17, 2015 | Articles

Towards Maturity’s eXchange once again welcomed Nigel Paine; independent consultant, author, conference speaker, former Head of Learning for the BBC. Here’s what he shared.

Nigel set the eXchange in the context of his new book “The Learning Challenge”. He explained why he wrote it: “It’s all about helping people understand the major issues of transformation in organisations and their consequences for learning”. It is a gateway and a location for people engaged in helping organisational and performance change through learning. Nigel told us about the process of its creation and an important lesson he had learned – his editor reviewed the content and told him that the structure is:

  • Understanding the workplace
  • Things L&D has to do
  • Game-changers for L&D

That is the Learning Challenge as Nigel sees it – getting our heads around those three dimensions of our role.

Nigel sees L&D as currently structured into a model that doesn’t work. It is boxed and regimented and subject to a turf battle with HR. The consequence is a yawning gap between need and fulfilment in a way that business recognises and is of added value. To break that mould, L&D needs the business to provide hard evidence to say the model is not working – so there is a critical need for L&D for L&D to be close to the business so that the issue can be addressed from a business perspective.

The opportunity that exists is that L&D now has many different approaches available to help the business but the downside is that it is seen to operate out of a rigid and disconnected organisation.

Nigel believes that measurement of the impact of L&D is the start point. That it does not happen is “outrageous”. It is the business job to measure impact and L&D must not be conned into justifying its own existence. Nigel provided a way of helping – by getting the business to focus on the whole performance improvement process of which a learning intervention is just a part. He referred the Exchange especially to the Brinkerhoff “Success Case Method” which embeds the learning intervention in a total organisation and individual performance improvement context.

Similarly, Nigel believes that the issue of continuing budget pressure on L&D is one that should be the responsibility of the rest of the organisation. He provided contrasting successful examples from:

  • Proctor and Gamble – where the L&D programme was dismantled and employees were empowered through access to a resource library
  • Google – where employees were invited to co-facilitate each other’s learning
  • Boeing – who provided learning rewards based on individual participation and achievement in a physical fitness programme
In response to a participant’s concerns about the dominance of rigourous timetabled compliance training in her sector, compared to the good practice of a 70:20:10 model, Nigel offered the suggestion that performance and HR data should possible enable a focus to be placed on the bottom say 30% of an organisation. It was also suggested that an alternative method of dealing with compliance would be the use of a few compliance questions each week appearing through the social media rather than a timetabled compliance session.

This raised the problem of remote invigilation. Approaches Nigel suggested include proctoring of assessments – a system that Coursera is offering on a fee basis to students requiring authenticated certification. Another approach to remote validation is correlation of course results to final assessments. However Nigel has a strong belief that because learning should be in the workflow it is ultimately informal peer assessment and workplace performance that are the real indicators. He again asserted that this not an HR function.

Tackling the issue of vendor performance, Nigel suggested that vendors should be required to participate in 360 review sessions involving learners, line management and internal coaches where these exist.

A final topic in a wide-ranging discussion was the issue of entrenched SME attitudes to modern learning methodologies and also not wishing to be involved in learning design. Nigel’s advice was to find even a single SME who is willing to engage – and when success is evident others will then join.

The over-riding message of Nigel’s Learning Challenge is that L&D has to become an integral part of the business process.

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