A practical guide to implementing the 5As Framework for making any learning and change intervention in organizations successful.
5As Framework for Increasing Impact of Training Sean Murray interviews Steve Gill about the 5As Framework for achieving business impact from training. This is a 45 minute Webinar with several audience polls and responses to chat room questions from audience.
In a two-part article I wrote for BusinessThinker.com titled, Learning Culture: A Workplace Environment for Success, I start by posing some questions that I think people need to ask themselves about their organizations to determine if they need a stronger learning culture:
Do you want employees to care about their work and their customers and go the extra mile?
Do you want employees to improve their ability to contribute to the organization?
Do you want employees to be creative and innovative and think about new and better products and services?
Do you want employees to be focused on achieving results?
Do you want employees who openly discuss ways to improve performance?
Then I describe what must change if your answer is “yes” to any of these questions:
...you need to develop an organizational culture that supports continuous learning by everyone from the CEO to the hourly employee. HR and training professionals, by themselves, cannot develop this kind of culture. If you’re like most businesses, you rely heavily on these professionals to deliver programs that provide employees with what they need to know to do their jobs, whether that is assembling products, running complex machines, managing teams, or running an entire organization. That model of learning was effective for most of the past century. However, that model does not work for the modern company. Today’s companies require a culture in which everyone is continuously learning as individuals, as teams, and as whole organizations.
I go on to explain why this change is so important at this time. In Part Two, I talk more specifically about what organizations can do to create a learning culture.
A major characteristic of a learning culture is that individuals, teams, and whole organizations are constantly learning how to learn. They are learning how to acquire the knowledge and skills that they need to help the organization be successful. The teacher-centered, classroom-focused, right-and-wrong answer, static instructional environment that was the primary modality in the schools they attended does not fit the rapidly changing, technology mediated, on-demand knowledge and skills that are needed in today’s organizations. In this environment, people need to be continually figuring out different ways to learn, whether that be individually using new technology, in teams that are trying to become more effective, or as the whole organization learns how to communicate, how to use resources more efficiently, and how to make better decisions.
… Imagine an environment that is constantly changing. Imagine an environment where the participants are building, creating, and participating in a massive network of dozens of databases, hundreds of wikis and websites, and thousands of message forums, literally creating a large-scale knowledge economy. Imagine an environment where participants are constantly measuring and evaluating their own performances, even if that requires them to build new tools to do it. Imagine an environment where user interface dashboards are individually and personally constructed by users to help them make sense of the world and their own performance in it. Imagine an environment where evaluation is based on after-action reviews not to determine rewards but to continually enhance performance. Imagine an environment where learning happens on a continuous basis because the participants are internally motivated to find, share, and filter new information on a near-constant basis.
The environment that Thomas and Seely Brown are describing is one in which people have learned how to learn collectively. This collective learning is already happening in a number of different types of organizations. However, this is not how most of us learned how to learn in school. There we were evaluated on the basis of our individual retention of knowledge. We learned how to acquire information and analyze and synthesize that information on our own. Learning collectively is something that individuals, teams, and organizations today need to learn how to do. This is the work of twenty-first century organizations.
A learning culture is a community of workers continuously and collectively seeking performance improvement through new knowledge, new skills, and new applications of knowledge and skills to achieve the goals of the organization. A learning culture is a culture of inquiry; an environment in which employees feel safe challenging the status quo and taking risks to enhance the quality of what they do for customers, themselves, and other stakeholders. A learning culture is an environment in which learning how to learn is valued and accepted. In a learning culture, the pursuit of learning is woven into the fabric of organizational life.
Your organization needs this kind of culture in order to thrive and survive in the world today. There was a time when a static set of skills would last a career, when one kind of management (usually command-and-control) would be sufficient over the life of a company. Not anymore. Today, information is coming at us so fast, technology is changing so rapidly, the world is changing so dramatically, that the old methods of learning and performance improvement do not work any longer…if they ever did.
For example, in the past five years, Uber, the poster child for a “shared economy”, has grown from a smartphone app for requesting a taxi ride to a private-ride company valued at $40 billion that is disrupting the taxi business in cities around the world and changing people’s patterns of transportation. In its short history, Uber employees have had to learn how to use new technology and how to work with their customers. The organization has had to learn how to grow quickly while adapting to local laws, regulations, and customs. The CEO and other company leaders have had to learn to manage the media scrutiny that comes with being big, powerful, and having access to the personal data of millions of people.
Uber is just one of many examples. Healthcare, manufacturing, media, hospitality, banking and finance, shipping, construction, communications, education…practically every sector of our society is changing before our eyes at unprecedented speed. Seven major aspects of this change are compelling us to make learning an essential value of our corporate cultures:
Pace of Change. Change is happening faster and faster primarily due to technology and a mindset among young entrepreneurs who do not feel bound by the way prior generations did things. Knowledge and skills are not as static as they once were. You should assume that the knowledge and skills that got you your job will not be what you need to keep your job.
Competition is Cheap. Competition can come from anywhere in the world with little investment on the part of the competitor. To stay competitive, people have to be more knowledgeable, more skilled, and better able to apply new knowledge and skills effectively. Our organizations need to learn how to respond to new ways of working, new ways of leading, and new ways of managing.
Demands of Workers. For many organizations, an autocratic, command-and-control style of managing will not (and probably never did) get the most from employees. Workers want to participate in the governance of their organizations. They want to contribute in a meaningful way. They want to develop competencies to be effective in their current organizations and to be attractive in a shifting marketplace. They want to learn!
Ineffectiveness of Event-Based Training. Classroom, workshop, and seminar experiences do not have the desired impact on organizational performance. Most estimates put the rate of formal training transfer to the workplace at less than 20% of participants. This represents a tremendous waste of resources: cost of developing and delivering training that isn’t used and number of employees that don’t apply what they’ve learned. Instead of pushing information at employees, employees should be able to pull the information they need when and where they need it.
Need for Innovation. At the core of any organization’s competitiveness today is innovation. That is, developing and applying a new idea, product, or process. It can be for customers, stakeholders, or for better organizational functioning. Innovation cannot happen without learning – workers need to learn how to learn from previous experience and experiments, innovators need to learn how to develop new products and services, and users of the innovation need to learn how to apply the new technology or process to solve problems.
Pressure for Results. CEOs are under pressure from investors and from activist Boards. They hear the footsteps of competitors who can disrupt markets easily and cheaply due to the global economy and advances in communication technology. Company leaders feel the need to respond by shortening the product development cycle, being responsive to shifting demands of the marketplace, and producing products and services that are better and lower cost than anyone else. The organization needs to learn how to compete in this environment, to use market research effectively and efficiently, and to be responsive to customer demands.
Success Depends on Shared Information. Useful knowledge resides with many people. No one person has all the information needed to be successful. So much information is coming at us in so many different ways that we need each other to make sense of it all. HR and training departments cannot possibly keep up. And employees can’t afford to wait for a learning event; they have to develop and apply new skills immediately to a job that is constantly changing. It has always been that most of what people learn occurs on-the-job and from co-workers. Now we have to be more intentional about this learning and ensure that it is the right information at the right time and delivered in the right way.
For all of these reasons, companies need a culture that supports continuous learning and performance improvement. It’s not a matter of whether or not you should develop a learning culture; it’s a matter of how.
Creating a learning culture takes conscious effort on the part of leaders. It will take time and patience and perseverance. You will run into resistance because a learning culture represents a dramatic change in the values and behaviors of many organizations. As with any transformational change, people will find reasons why this can’t and shouldn’t be done. However, the success of your organization is at stake so you need to communicate the message, build support, and begin the process.
What and how people learn is changing dramatically. Digital technology has opened the door to new learning formats and created a demand for new, more fluid types of training and development efforts. Globalization, automation, and networking are making continuous acquisition of new knowledge and the upgrading of skills part of life and work.
In “The Lifetime Learner”, a publication of Deloitte University Press, the authors argue that the demand for new forms of education and training are quite different from what is being delivered by traditional post-secondary institutions and corporate training departments. They write:
Individuals are…challenged by an accelerating cycle of skill obsolescence in a period of unprecedented transition from skill set to skill set. The rapidly changing business landscape demands constant learning of new skills and domains, retraining, and applying existing capabilities in new contexts. It also demands a greater fluency in digital tools and comfort in virtual environments. It rewards those with greater capacity to seek and access resources and to build social capital through personal networks and participation in communities.
In this “rapidly changing business landscape”, we need individuals and organizations that know how to learn. Those institutions that can learn quickly and constantly will be competitive and will survive. It’s no longer about having the most creative training events; it’s about developing a culture that values and supports continuous learning. This must be evident in the actions of leaders, in the manager-learner relationship, in the allocation of resources, in the recognition and reward system, in the way people communicate with each other, and in how people are held accountable.
We need agility in learners and in learning interventions in organizations. Employees need to take responsibility for their own learning. They need to learn fast and learn just-in-time, whether how to fix a machine or how to fix an organization. And organizations need to create opportunities for individuals, teams, and the enterprise to learn how to learn fast and effectively.
Tom Friedman has a way of capturing the essence of complex economic, social, and environmental dynamics and putting that complexity in words that the rest of us can understand. He coined the phrase “the world is flat” to describe the globalization of everything. Now he has announced “the world is fast” to describe the three major challenges that we face. He writes, “The three biggest forces on the planet — the market, Mother Nature and Moore’s Law — are all surging, really fast, at the same time.”
These changes are having an enormous impact on what and how people need to learn. In a book by Andrew McAfee and Erik Brynjolfsson titled, “The Second Machine Age,” the authors describe the situation this way:
…as computers get more powerful, companies have less need for some kinds of workers. Technological progress is going to leave behind some people, perhaps even a lot of people, as it races ahead. As we’ll demonstrate, there’s never been a better time to be a worker with special skills or the right education, because these people can use technology to create and capture value. However, there’s never been a worse time to be a worker with only “ordinary” skills and abilities to offer, because computers, robots, and other digital technologies are acquiring these skills and abilities at an extraordinary rate.
Using this logic, we are not able to predict what skills and abilities workers will need even just a few months from now. It seems like every day there is a disruptive innovation that is dramatically changing the way work is done and what people need to know. Guests can now check themselves into their hotel rooms with their smart phones. Doctors can make “house calls” via the Web. First-run movies can be streamed at home. Clothes shopping can be done entirely online. Banking can be done entirerly online. In each case, old jobs are being replaced by new jobs and those new jobs require much more knowledge and skill.
Instead of trying to anticipate the training that will be needed in companies, we need workers who can continually learn and organizations that support continual learning and change. We need workers who can utilize learning opportunities that are presented to them, whether formal or informal, self-directed or social, desktop or mobile, and we need organizational cultures that value and reward learning. And we need leaders and managers who help workers learn where and when it is needed and hold those workers accountable for learning and for making a difference in their organizations.
This holiday season temporary hires in the U.S. are expected to surpass 800,000, the most since 1999 and two and a half times the 2008 numbers. This is according to Challenger, Gray & Christmas Inc., a leading outplacement consulting firm. They observe that as the economy improves, retail sales go up and our dependency on temporary workers increases.
The increase in temporary hires presents an opportunity for companies to help these new workers, in a very short time, become valued contributors to the workplace. This is not an easy task and the beliefs and worries of managers often get in the way of this happening. Managers say to themselves:
"Temps are a necessary evil. They aren’t reliable and they can’t be trusted but we need the bodies."
"We don’t have the staff to train temps, especially now, when we are so busy."
"I don’t want to give them too much. They will leave and take the information and skills to a competitor."
The attitudes reflected in these statements are setting up these workers for failure. And that will be a waste of resources that no organization can afford. Temps, as well as independent contractors, contingent workers, and free-lancers, are often the face of the company to its customers. Especially if they are selling products and services, their effectiveness on the job can make the difference between being profitable or not.
Contingent workers who are not trained and supported by their managers will create a negative atmosphere in the workplace. If they are not happy and not engaged, if they are angry and complaining, this will affect the attitudes of all employees. Also, temporary workers are a great source of future employees, so you want to give them every opportunity to learn and succeed.
Unfortunately, temps have not been contributing as much as they could to the overall success of business. They are not allowed to apply their knowledge and skills fully to the work of the organization. They are marginalized and ignored by full-time employees. They aren’t given the training they need to be safe and successful on the job. They aren’t encouraged to become engaged in their work and the organization.
If you want temporary employees to have the best interests of the company in mind, effectively complete essential tasks, some which require substantial knowledge and skill, and strive to do their best, then these workers need to be given every opportunity to do their best work for the good of the organization.
Here’s 5 things you can do (adapted from 5As Framework) to get the most from your temporary workers:
Alignment – help them understand how doing their job contributes to the success of the team and the organization as a whole
Anticipation – clearly state your expectations for them; have high but reasonable expectations; and make sure they have reasonable expectations for themselves
Alliance – engage their managers in helping them be successful; give those managers a role in the learning and performance improvement of temporary workers
Application – provide immediate opportunities for temps to practice and apply newly learned knowledge and skills
Accountability – measure performance to temps and give them constructive feedback on how they are doing and how they can improve
Companies can’t afford any longer to have workers, even if only temporary, who are not engaged in their jobs, who are not properly trained, and who don’t understand the mission and goals of the company. Rather, they need contingent workers who are excited about being there and will give their best effort.
Some people do temp work for the money, some for experience, some want to learn about that business, and some just want something to do over the holidays. Regardless of their motivation, they should be treated with dignity and respect and given the opportunity to learn and to contribute value to the organization.
Temps, independent contractors, contingent workers, and free-lancers have become a critical segment of the post-recession workforce. Many companies depend on short-term and part-time workers for their success. They are not movie extras any longer; now they have starring roles. Steven Greenhouse, writing for the New York Times Upshot column describes the situation this way:
The work of temping has changed vastly — today 42 percent of temporary workers labor in light industry or warehouses. And there are more of them. The number of workers employed through temp agencies has climbed to a new high — 2.87 million, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, and they represent a record share of the nation’s work force, 2 percent…
More than five years into a recovery marked by halting growth, many businesses are still adding temp jobs rather than permanent ones. “This is a reflection of business uncertainty, that businesses need to be more responsive, and part of that is keeping their work force flexible,” said Steven Berchem, the chief operating officer of the American Staffing Association.
The problem is that these workers are often not allowed to contribute fully to the work of the organization. They are marginalized and ignored by full-time employees. They aren’t given the training they need to be safe and successful on the job. They aren’t encouraged to become engaged in their work and the organization.
If you want temporary employees to have the best interests of the company in mind, effectively complete essential tasks, some of which require substantial knowledge and skill, and strive to do their best, then they need to be treated with respect and be given the opportunity to do their best work for the good of the organization. As I wrote in a May 2013 post:
Regardless of how long temporary workers have been with your organization, they should be treated as important contributors to your success. Applying the 5As Framework, here are five things you should keep in mind when supervising these employees:
1) Make sure that they understand how their jobs are aligned with the success of the organization. They should know how what they are being asked to do contributes to achieving business goals.
2) Let them know that you anticipate that they will have a positive experience and that their work is significant. Communicate high expectations for their performance.
3) Form an alliance with them for the purpose of their learning and success. Give them informal and formal feedback on how they are doing and how they can improve.
4) Create opportunities and give encouragement to apply what they know and what they are learning to their jobs. Being temporary means that it is all that much more urgent to provide these opportunities.
5) Measure their success and hold them accountable for doing a good job. This means being clear with them about the indicators of success and how you will help them achieve those outcomes.
Companies can’t afford to have workers, even if only temporary, who are not engaged in their work, who are not properly trained, and who don’t understand the purpose of their jobs and the company. Rather, they need contingent workers who are excited about working in the company and will give their best effort, not simply be a cog in the wheel.
Can companies link a high level of business success to the personal growth of every employee? In the August issue of Harvard Business Review in an article titled, “Making Business Personal”, Robert Kegan, Lisa Lahey, Andy Fleming, and Matthew Miller ask this question and provide evidence that the answer can be “yes”.
The problem, as they define it, is misdirected energy. They write:
To an extent that we ourselves are only beginning to appreciate, most people at work, even in high-performing organizations, divert considerable energy every day to a second job that no one has hired them to do: preserving their reputations, putting their best selves forward, and hiding their inadequacies from others and themselves. We believe this is the single biggest cause of wasted resources in nearly every company today.
I agree with this analysis. People waste much time and energy on “looking good”. Whether high level executive or front-line employee, they want to be considered smart, competent, and infallible to their bosses, to the organization, and to their customers. This is a tremendous burden for any human being to carry. None of us can be nor need be right and successful all the time and in everything we do.
A few successful companies appear to be overcoming this problem. The authors label these businesses “deliberately developmental organizations”. Two examples of DDOs are Bridgewater Associates and Decurion Corporation. These organizations have created cultures in which it is okay to be vulnerable and to grow from that experience. The authors describe the organizations in this way:
These companies operate on the foundational assumptions that adults can grow; that not only is attention to the bottom line and the personal growth of all employees desirable, but the two are interdependent; that both profitability and individual development rely on structures that are built into every aspect of how the company operates; and that people grow through the proper combination of challenge and support, which includes recognizing and transcending their blind spots, limitations, and internal resistance to change. For this approach to succeed, employees (Decurion prefers to call them members) must be willing to reveal their inadequacies at work—not just their business-as-usual, got-it-all-together selves—and the organization must create a trustworthy and reliable community to make such exposure safe. …progress for their employees means becoming not only more capable and conventionally successful but also more flexible, creative, and resilient in the face of the challenges—for both personal and organizational growth—that these companies deliberately set before them.
The challenge facing any organization that wants to become “deliberately developmental” is considerable. Significant work will have to be undertaken by everyone in the organization to create this kind of culture. Susan Palmer describes this challenge:
Creating a deliberately developmental organization is difficult, very time-consuming and demands significant and public growth on the part of the leader(s) of the effort. The kind of vulnerability required to champion this idea, and to demonstrate continuous learning to others as you go, takes profound courage and is not for everyone.
Even more fundamentally, I believe, this kind of organization cannot be created unless leaders believe that employees can learn and change. This attitude of leaders is not a given. Carol Dweck has concluded from her research that people have either a fixed mind-set or a growth mind-set. Unfortunately, many leaders of organizations have a fixed mind-set. This has to change before these companies can become “deliberately developmental organizations”.
Managers in any organization, whether nonprofit, government, or business, play a pivotal role in creating and sustaining learning. They do not have to be instructors nor do they have to be expert in the knowledge and skills needed by their direct reports. However, they do have to believe that people can learn and change, they have to care about their own learning, and they have to value the development of the people they supervise. If they have these beliefs and values, then managers can contribute significantly to learning in their organizations.
In our book, The 5As Framework, Sean Murray and I describe seven steps managers can take to facilitate and support learning of their direct reports:
STEP ONE: Discuss what the learner needs to learn in order to help your business unit achieve its objectives and the organization’s strategic goals.
STEP TWO: Agree on a set of learning objectives for the short-term and long-term.
STEP THREE: Agree on the indicators that will be used to determine progress toward those objectives and achievement of goals.
STEP FOUR: Describe how the learner can get the most out of the learning intervention.
STEP FIVE: Arrange for the learner to get whatever resources he/she needs to apply the learning to your business unit.
STEP SIX: Plan regular meetings (they may be brief) to discuss progress toward objectives and goals and any changes that would help the learner’s progress.
STEP SEVEN: Make modifications in the learning intervention as needed.
Essentially, managers should work with learners to set goals, clarify expectations, provide opportunities for application, and hold them accountable for making a difference. Training professionals can certainly help managers with this, but managers are in best position to facilitate the kind of day-to-day learning that is needed in high performance organizations today.