Justifying Learning @ the Point of Work

A recent post “Evolving Training Into the Perfect Hole” brought a comment to me that I could really identify with as being a key challenge – justification for seriously considering learning @ the point of work. I find it stunning that the concept of learning @ the point of work is such a hard sell, especially when you consider that opportunities to learn and moments of potential failure happen at the same time…and very often in the same place – @ the point of work. Better training…or more training…have little-to-nothing to do with justification. What could you possible justify in the absence of real risk?

Certainly, we all have had learners fail during formal training classes, botched simulations, ugly, ugly role plays, and the like, but at what cost? None actually…aside from the costs of being there. It costs us nothing to fail in the 5% slice of the work year we spend in training. [See Figure 1] During training, we learn new things for the first time, or maybe more of something. In either case, we learn, practice, fail, rinse, and repeat in a safe, controlled environment.  Nobody dies. No sales are lost. No waste is created. No lawsuits are triggered. We settle for Training as being a cost of doing business. Being a cost center is NOT the role that has much of a future. Turns out, it is great justification for a smaller training budget.

Moments of Potential Failure

Figure 1

At the same time, we cannot just NOT train our workforce. The alternative? Move learning closer to the point of work. Why? We have less and less time to train, but, oddly, we find plenty of time to fail in the work context, and we manage to find time to re-do something done wrong. Our performance gaps represent our learning gaps. Here’s another thought – Our Training gaps are not our Learning Gaps. I say this because our current Training paradigms find us busting our humps training our workforce in excellent ways and then suffering failure @ the point of work. The point of justification for a new learning paradigm is also showing up consistently @ the point of work. Is it me, or is there a theme resonating @ the point of work?

Is every performance failure a result of a knowledge worker NOT having access to a learning asset at the last three moments of learning need? Of course not. But how many failures are? What is the cost of one failure? twenty? Is it revenue missed? Is it generation of material waste? Is it the cost of a lawsuit? Is it the loss of a long-time client account because a part-time customer service rep screwed up? How many of those kinds of failures could have been avoided if we were treating our work environment as a learning ecosystem.

Training, for the most part, does not track cost of failure [some call this level 3 & 4 evaluation]; hence, justification is hard to come by.  Why? Look at Figure 1 again. Training is focused in the 5% slice of the learning ecosystem gathering Level 1 & 2 evaluations. Training is transferring knowledge [Level 2]…and they are doing it very well…but they are not sustaining business outcomes [Level 4]. Justification for supporting learning @ the point of work can only be found in the 95% slice of the ecosystem.

Monetizing the impact of failure is easy when we get downstream and find where learning moments of learning need converge within workflows. This point of convergence is ground zero – where failure is a potential outcome in the absence of workflow-centric – role-specific – business-relevant performer support.  Justification is found at ground zero, and our business stake holders know the cost of failure, and they know what is at stake because those same business metrics are used for their evaluations.

Justification can also manifest as cost avoidance. What costs were avoided because failure was averted? Justification could be based solely on connecting knowledge workers with the right information at the point of need. Studies show that workers average about 25% of their work time searching for information. Connecting those dots is not a Training function. Never was. Never will be. This valuable time spent searching is in the domain of the last three moments of need.

Studies by IDC, as well as organizations such as the Working Council of CIOs, AIIM, the Ford Motor Company and Reuters have found that:

  • Knowledge workers spend from 15% to 35% of their time searching for information.
  • Searchers are successful in finding what they seek 50% of the time or less, according to both Web search engines and our own surveys. An IDC study in 2001 (“Quantifying Enterprise Search,” IDC, May 2002) found that only 21% of respondents said they found the information they needed 85% to100% of the time (see Figure 1).

Butler Group, a London-based IT research and analysis organization, this week released a report titled “Enterprise Search and Retrieval,” which concludes that “ineffective search and discovery strategies are hampering business competitiveness, impairing service delivery and putting companies at risk.” Specifically, the research firm contends that as much as 10% of a company’s salary costs is “frittered away” as employees scramble to find adequate and accurate information to perform their overall jobs and complete assigned tasks.

“Over 50% of staff costs are now allocated to employees performing so-called information work,” said Richard Edwards, senior research analyst and co-author the 240-page report, in a press release. “Employees are suffering from both information overload and information underload. As a result, the typical information worker now spends up to one-quarter of his or her day searching for the right information to complete a given task.”

I have only grabbed a couple of studies that focus only on the issue of wasted time in search efforts. Permit me to put some numbers to the study findings. Consider the impact on a small company of 50 workers grinding out 40-hour weeks at $25 loaded wage. That gives us a payroll expense of $50K per week, or $2.5M annually.

Assuming 25% of a worker’s time, can we afford $625K of unproductive work time searching?

What if we could reduce the time spent searching to 20%? We would gain back [protect] $125K of productive time. Keep in mind here that I am only looking at payroll impact. What are those employees generating in revenue or other tangible value generation during that $125K of now redeployable productive time? That’s 5,000 hours. If they generate on average $50 per hour of business value, we are looking at an increase of business value of $250K. That dollar amount was based on ONLY a 5% reduction in search time.

If we are equipping the right learners with seamless, frictionless, and ubiquitous access to the right learning assets…at the right moment in time…in a work context-centric amount…in a work context-relative format…to/from the right devices, there is no question the time necessary to search goes down. We must enable the consumption of learning assets closer to…if not @ the point of work. To be more specific, we need to tailor learning assets that are task-level AND role-specific AND accessible at the moment of need. If learning opportunities are converging with work, we need a learning infrastructure architected to facilitate that very convergence. Funny how this line of thinking keeps dragging me back to the concept of a Learning Broker. This is a vision that refuses to die for me, and I hope to have a prototype built and operational later this year. Watch the blog for more details.

Gary Wise
Learning & Performance Solutions Strategist
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Twitter: Gdogwise