Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Integrated thinking: learning in corporations

I was at an event tonight where entrepreneurs "pitched" their businesses.  The lady who pitched her work as a corporate learning consultant didn't get much reaction for either her pitch quality or her business prospects. I sympathized.

Here's what I think is the most important thing that corporations need to know about learning:  your biggest challenge is owning the skills possessed by your best performers.  Corporations build results and resilience when they have a proven strategy for allowing everyone to learn to replicate the work of their best performers. If you could clone your best people, wouldn't you want to do that?

You can't clone them, but you can teach your people how to observe and replicate the behaviours that are making your top performers successful. This doesn't mean turning your top performers into teachers or mentors: you want them producing. It means giving everyone else a skill set for heightened observation and chances for systematic practice (with feedback) of the behaviours they observe.

Think of little kids: they learn new skills by watching and practicing. Over time, they are educated out of these natural processes. They begin to associate learning with being taught. And while having experts transfer information has its advantages, it slows down the learning process and weakens the ability to acquire skills. Corporations compound this problem when they associate corporate learning with courses and classrooms. There isn't enough time for either observations of real skills at work or to intentionally and safely practice those skills.

So what is the future for corporate learning? It's time to train people to be more effective at observing skills and then, when they have tools for effective observation to provide safe places for them to experiment with different elements in the skills they have observed. If you don't have the skills internally to build this kind of program, you need a consultant who can build you a terrific program.

I'm not sure that's what the lady I heard tonight does. But it is what I can do.

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