In the Race for Sustained Capability, Training Just Got Lapped…Again!

After thirty plus years in corporate training and cross-industry learning leadership roles, I can say with confidence that the velocity of change has been greater in the world of business operations than it has in the world of training. Certainly, countless new technologies surfaced over the years as innovative enhancements in the training world, but for many, the application of these technologies merely enabled the function of training to fall short even faster and with less human intervention. The shift to e-learning, all too often, became a digitized version of classroom training, and did precious little to improve human performance in the workplace. So…is this an indictment of the training profession? Absolutely not! It is a shot across the bow to forewarn that our job as professionals in the corporate learning space just got bigger than the traditions we cling to like flotation devices in a water landing.

Why the warning shot? Not to over simplify, but the future is upon us, and it has overrun the traditions and scope of training. Ask any training manager forced to reduce staff due to budget cuts. To ensure continued viability [and impetus for continued funding], training must become better positioned as a source for sustaining human performance. Tangible evidence of impact must become a standard outcome that directly contributes to the creation and sustainability of value through effective, measurable human performance. The challenge we face requires expanding our scope, not what some hear as a call to abandon training traditions completely. Sustainable human performance outcomes are manifest in the work context – not in the classroom or in on-line training courses. The work context is a real place with real attributes, and resides downstream from our formal training efforts, embedded within the actual workflows [work contexts] of those we expect to perform flawlessly.

Adding the downstream work context to our existing formal training domain draws new boundaries that define our expanded scope. This new aggregation of learning opportunities represents our expanded service target, and I refer to that new turf as the learning ecosystem. Not only is the real estate larger, the stakeholder headcount increased too as managers, help desk staff, clients, peer-to-peer collaboration, and even vendors play the role of supporting cast. There are other changes to address as well. Pre-solution design discovery competencies just got more complex because now business acumen and being “operations savvy” become critical to appropriately integrating new attributes that impact learning effectiveness. The role of Web 2.0 technology goes well beyond the limited role of the LMS. If design decisions do not consider variable technology options for eventual delivery of learning assets, we stand the risk of delaying effective learning when rapid, flawless response to business urgency is a key success driver.

Pull these changes together under the ecosystem umbrella, and we now see performance outcomes directly influenced by the consumption of informal learning assets at the point of learning and performance need. In fact, business demands for flawless performance are rapidly converging with learning moments of need, and it is this very convergence that has leap-frogged the successes of our primary formal learning deliverables. This convergence is happening whether we are ready for it or not…and it is happening outside of the scope of our training efforts. Call me crazy, but I can envision one of the new Electronic Performance Support Systems (EPSS) supplanting the LMS as the keystone learning technology.

So…where do you start this journey? Frankly, I feel the tasks at hand are more of a climb than a stroll down an unfamiliar path. Either way, this is a “climb” to seriously consider. Treating organizational learning as an ecosystem; building new competencies to sustain a holistic, workforce-centered learning model; evaluating prudent introduction of innovative technology; all imply a foundational willingness to confront change. Even more importantly, confronting change stands a greater likelihood of successful implementation if pursued from a state of readiness.

Defining readiness in any organization is much like climbing a mountain; a key question that demands an answer is “How far is our training environment from the summit?” The complexity of change introduced into the pre-ecosystem learning environment suggests considering the answer to another question first, “Where are we on the mountain?” Mapping a path to the summit without knowing where you are on the mountain runs the risk of overlooking what is working well; recognizing what needs minor tuning and/or major re-alignment; and inaccurately isolating top priorities when introducing the innovation necessary to sustain change.

Remember Richard Dreyfuss building that mud tower in his living room in “Close Encounters of the Third Kind”? That tower represented a nagging vision that became his obsession. This learning ecosystem concept is my mud tower…it represents the lion I choose to chase into a pit. My wife is still not convinced all the mud in her living room is a good idea, but she has yet to change the locks.

What are your thoughts? Do you see this as a need in your own training approach? If so, what is preventing your training unit from expanding into the work context?

I welcome any dialogue that comes from this rant or others on the blog, and I look forward to assisting any organization of any size that seeks to extend the life and scope of their training efforts. Being a recent recipient of a training organization reduction in force, this concept is fresh on my mind and heart and served as a catalyst to join MYCA Multimedia & Training Solutions as their Chief Learning Architect. Exciting times to be sure, and no time better to re-invent the role training plays in your pursuit of sustained capability.

If things you just read pique your interest or stoke your curiosity, we should have a conversation. If you are considering making the climb to your “ecosystem summit”, we should definitely talk about discovering where you are on your mountain. Each ecosystem will carry unique characteristics; therefore, each mountain and where you are on it, will be equally as unique. My engagement options emerge from a first step to determine where you are today – a Learning Readiness Assessment. The resulting discovery enables next step decisions regarding the potential and extent of my involvement ranging from making the climb with you, or simply mapping a route to the summit.

Gary Wise
 (317) 437-2555
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Twitter:  Gdogwise