Saturday, May 18, 2013

Harnessing the Power in Your Organisation

I recently attended a conference in Prague and had the pleasure of listening and getting to know Luis Suarez. No, not the footballer, but a Luis who works for IBM and who has some crazy ideas about social media, email and Twitter. You can look him up on YouTube under his name but make sure you add ‘Social Media’ otherwise you’ll be looking at videos showing the other Suarez scoring goals for Liverpool or about his potential transfer to Barcelona.

What the social media Suarez has done is to get rid of email and use an internal social media site inside his organisation for communication within and Twitter for communication without. His main reason for doing this is to enhance learning and communication in IBM, which he believes is inhibited by email. If people want to discuss something in private he suggests they use the telephone although it seems to me they could use email for that. The internal social networking site involves everyone and people can chat, post information, send links to interesting sites, discuss issues and make decisions. It is what we do with email but it is open.

Luis claims the results are astounding in terms of creativity, sharing, participation, decision-making and learning. I can attest to the latter because I have taken to using Twitter and it is amazing the amount of information, connections and, indeed, learning that is available out there. As he told me when I expressed my doubts because of the rubbish stuff you get on Twitter, ‘You have to choose your tribe’. And he is right. I communicate largely with education people and we share and talk about learning stuff. If I want the social chit-chat I use Facebook and I keep the two separate.

I am not surprised about Luis’ claims. For years I ran strategic planning exercises for organisations. The key problem areas that came up were always, yes always, poor communication, lack of information and low participation. Nowadays we are calling this employee engagement- a term I think is most apt. And the literature confirms that employee engagement is, by and large, poor in most of our organisations. Something many CEOs are not aware of or perhaps don’t think it’s important. Well, low engagement is costing them lots of money.

We know that open systems function much more effectively than closed systems, especially in a turbulent or even chaotic environment, which we are definitely in right now (have been for 30 years but people often don’t notice). Open systems are aware of their environment, monitor it and are able to react to changes. To this end, they organise themselves internally by making sure that everyone in the organisation is: engaged with the organisational vision; able to provide feedback about what is going on in their area of expertise; is an ambassador for the organisation; is active in decision-making; has all the information they need to do their job to a high level; recognise expertise and enable it; and tend to be flat in terms of decision-making. The essence is that an organisation is organic and that every part of it (every person) creates an opportunity for adaptation.

Most managers find this a difficult concept. It is much easier to centralise information and decision-making in the hands of a few. It is just too hard to get people together, to manage democratic participation, to harness all the forces in the organisation. Delegating this to a series of line-managers makes it more impossible because of control issues, even though intuitively is seems the right thing to do.

Using the Louis Suarez approach makes it easier. The only thing standing in the way is, wit, will and fear. The fear that management will lose control, that the crazies out there will have a voice, that it is time consuming and messy, that only senior managers have the good ideas. Let me tell you that it is the crazies in your organisation that are most likely to have the ideas that create success. If a manager has neither the wit nor the will then they should not be in a management position.

None of these are good reasons for not adopting an open systems approach. And now we have the technology to make it easy. If that’s too hard then think of all the massive corporate mistakes made over the previous 100 years by organisations that could have been avoided had they been able to think outside of the box and not had concentrated decision-making. And then think of Apple- not without flaws but an open system, at least for now.

Thursday, May 2, 2013

We need to rethink how we conduct training programs

At a couple of conferences recently I had the opportunity to talk to people about our (with my good friend Chris Kenyon) relatively new concept of self-determined learning, or heutagogy. I am reliably told by one of my mentors that I should refrain from using that last tongue twister because it puts people off a bit and talk about learning. Instead. So, I’ll do that very thing. I won’t rave on about self-determined learning here because interested readers can find all about it by Googling the term heutagogy, or visiting the Heutagogy Community of Practice Website at: You might like to have a look at the blog postings that describe some applications in detail.

In any case it is how people really learn that interests me, no matter what we call it. And, the most recent evidence from neuroscience research and from many global observations by people is that our educational and training systems are deeply flawed (as I mentioned in a previous blog post here). Much of the ‘teaching’ in classrooms and training venues does not take into account what we know about how people really learn. A lot of what we do in organisational training is fundamentally a waste of time, money and effort if the object is learning. You can read the evidence for this if you’re interested at:

However, the implications of recent advances in understanding how the brain works for how we educate and train can be summarised as:

   involve the learner in designing their own learning content and process as a       partner;
   make the curriculum flexible so that new questions and understanding can be explored as new neuronal pathways are explored;
   individualise learning as much as possible;
   provide flexible or negotiated assessment;
   enable the learner to contextualise concepts, knowledge and new understanding;
   provide lots of resources and let the learner explore;
   differentiate between knowledge and skill acquisition (competencies) and deep learning;
   recognise the importance of informal learning and that we only need to enable it rather than control it;
   have confidence in the learner;
    and recognise that teaching can become a block to learning

I have conducted a number of workshops for organisations using self-determined learning principles and the outcomes are outstanding. What happens is that participants take away things that they can use in the workplace and that are relevant to them. That is because the workshop is learner-centred rather than presenter-centric. Coupled with individual coaching, if possible, the outcomes are even better. Most of all learners learn when they are ready and as a result of experience, not when teachers think they are ready.

At these conferences I showed a picture of a new fire engine that had been recently delivered. Actually it was an old one, from before the turn of the 20th century-I was trying to get a laugh with a bit of irony. But it could be a piece of computer equipment, a new widget maker or a gadget for baking cakes.

The question I asked of the participants in these conferences was how would your average teacher/training package/program/lesson plan/curriculum go about teaching how to use this new piece of equipment. The answer is fairly clear and would be much the same if you were an accredited trainer or a university professor (who is likely to be even less trained as an educator).

Most responded that the sequence of events would be: talk about how the equipment works using some nice slides and a movie of it in action; there might be some discussion about its uses and something about safety; perhaps some group work with the manual might follow; limitations and so on; the instructor then might take the group outside and demonstrate how the machine works. After this everyone gets to practice and then be assessed as to their competency and get ‘singed off’.

Another way of doing this, the huegagogy way, is to drop the manual on the seat of the fire engine and let the group get on with it. The ‘teacher’ will hover discretely in the corner and make sure no-one hurts themselves or the equipment. Maybe they will act as a resource when asked.

What you find in this situation is that some people will read the manual and others will experiment (inductive versus deductive thinkers). Each will help each other. They will work it out, mostly together.

This is how we naturally learn. Kids are brilliant learners before they go to school and unlearn how to learn. Even though about 70% of useful learning at work occurs informally, we don’t know how to harness it. Hence, it is often not maximised. Another opportunity lost.

It is time to rethink how we conduct training programs in workplaces and how to get the best value for the training dollar.