What I learnt about learning.

Transforming something that’s already good is indeed a huge challenge and it needs a very different mindset and very competent set of people (as your team) who are highly skilled in making major transformations happen. I have observed that business and functional transformation has fast evolved as a center of expertise in many organizations and in some organizations it is also evolving as a permanent function. The landscape of learning (What, Why, How, When and Where of Learning) has changed significantly over the last one decade and some of the major paradigm shifts have happened due to the following:

1. There have been new research outcomes and suggestions in the area of neuro science and human learning that has helped us understand how people learn and hence it has compelled many to re-think their learning interventions and designs.

2. The advent of technology and disruption caused by the digital and social media has turned the concept of training and classroom learning upside down. Today, the technology of Learning Management Systems (LMS) has beautifully evolved from systems of record to platforms of sharing, networking, knowledge management and hence learning. The LMS functionality and its apps have made them a superior platform for learning on the go. Smooth dovetailing of the LMS with the HR ERP is helping connect the learning function with the overall competency-based HR processes of the company.

3. The unique needs, styles and aspirations of the millennials and younger generational workforce members have compelled many organizations to re-think their learning function and its offerings. The whole shift from traditional classroom-based training to mixed models of learning such as on-the-job, coaching and mentoring, open source learning platforms on the internet is picking up rather fast and every company needs to have a clear strategy, plan and a technology platform that can cater to this.

4. Sustained economic uncertainty has compelled organizations to become more efficient with the learning and capability building investment. Theoretically speaking, learning is still a discretional spending. However, many have learnt that not having the right capabilities, skills, competencies and knowledge makes today’s knowledge workforce inefficient and unproductive and that severely affects the organizations’ performance and perpetuity.

It is important that the learning function takes advantage of the fast evolving digital and social tech platforms. You better be continuously innovating and learning or you will soon become irrelevant to your audience and learners. For instance, 20 years ago not many would have imagined that high-street banking will die and all those beautiful bank buildings on the high street will become cafes, bars or boutique shops. Because of the shift towards online banking, the banks with the best online banking products, solutions and service and security will survive and win. Similarly, not many imagined that you would not have to buy a newspaper or watch television at home to keep pace with the world and its news. Today, I don’t buy a newspaper and watch television for news!! Look at what’s happening to the retail sector. I had never imagined shopping suits or shoes online, but today I do and it works well. Hence, make sure you have team members who are tech savvy and have the necessary skills and competencies for leveraging the best in class technology and social networking/learning platforms.

Moving from Instructional Design (ID) to Learning Experience Design (LED)

Companies and vendors still talk about instructional design (ID) as the core of learning content development. ID was at the core when the dominant medium and channel of learning was the classroom, where the belief was that the instructor or teacher is detrimental to one’s learning. Charles Jennings, my good friend and the father of 70:20:10 learning principle and framework helped me understand and learn how important and fundamental this learning principle and framework is. 70 +20 = 90% of your LED should be on the job with leader led support and just 10% should be formal (Classroom + E-learning). E-learning modules, even if they are available on the mobile, are categorized as formal learning offerings. One of my biggest learning was in the area of designing action learning offerings for people to learn on-the-job. The difficult part in doing this is designing and ensuring a standardized way for the leaders to coach and support their employees whilst they are in action learning mode. I must say that I continue to learn in this area every day. Another important learning for me was that the company has to make some clear strategic choices about what they will do themselves versus what they should buy from vendors especially in the area of learning content development. We built a small but a powerful content development organization in Pune for the Philips University and they are more a COE, where they do develop some of the learning content for Philips University but their primary role is to ensure quality of learning design and content for all learning offerings of our company and develop strategic vendors for the bulk of learning offerings. It works very well and I am blessed to have a fantastic team of highly competent and skilled people who are making a huge difference.

Culture eats strategy for breakfast

I had once blogged on this topic and in my opinion it’s important when it comes to learning too. You can create the entire infrastructure and build all the technology platforms, but if you don’t work on creating a learning culture, culture where learning is sought, supported and celebrated – you will fail in achieving the desired impact of learning in any organization. Leader led learning is a very strong trait of any organization’s culture. It’s when leaders of the organization own, support and drive learning versus the Learning COE. Learning COE should be the enabler and the value creator and not the owner of learning. Building a learning culture is by far the most difficult thing when you are transforming learning and one my learnings is that it takes time to build the culture. It’s a journey – but you have to be at it.

1. Don’t confuse learning with leadership development. Learning is a sum of many parts, while leadership development, talent management, culture building, capability building, leveraging technology are some of the important parts. If you don’t embed leadership development under learning and treat and manage it separately – you might end up confusing the organization and there might be duplication of efforts.

2. Run your learning like a business. Most progressive companies invest significantly in learning and as the Chief Learning Officer you are managing significant budgets. Business acumen, the ability to manage P&L and be operationally excellent are pre-requisites for any CLO. Fortunately, I had done line roles in the past and had the experience of managing P&Ls and large budgets, but I learnt how to run learning like a business, which creates value for its stakeholders and measure its impact on the organization and its eco-system. The five practices of excellence—Project Management, Process Management, Change Management, Performance Management and Continuous Improvement—are fundamental in managing a large scale learning transformation program. Make sure you have the best-in-class people owning and leading each of the above-mentioned practice and apply lean and design thinking as you build the ‘Learning Machine’ for your company and run it like a business.

In conclusion, learning is indeed a very specialized subject and it has some very specific technical nuances, which one needs to learn. However, it’s not rocket science if you have a strategic mindset, are operationally savvy and have the will and wherewithal to learn and innovate. It takes time to transform learning and create a learning culture and in my experience it takes about two to three years to manage a project well. The transformation journey has its moments and every moment and experience over the past two to three years has been learning for me. If I was asked to do it all over again, I would say a BIG YES and will be able to do it more smartly because of my learning about learning.

I am re-blogging this article, which was carried by People Matters, a leading HR Magazine and learning resource for Human Resource Professionals. The original article can be accessed at http://goo.gl/VnUIsF 

What’s going on in the windmills of your mind?

Windmills

In the windmills of your mind…. this iconic song from the Thomas Crown Affair movie (1968, Steve McQueen & Faye Dunaway) was originally sung by Noel Harrison. As often found common with other rare melodies, this one has a touch of Mozart (The opening is borrowed from his work) is composed by legendary French music composer Michel Legrand, English lyrics by Alan Bergman and Marilyn Bergman. In the re-make of the movie (1999, Pierce Brosnan and Rene Russo) it is sung by Sting. This song has been on the playlist of almost every well-known chamber, symphony or philharmonic Orchestra. Other celebrity singers such as Barbara Streisand, Tina Arena, All Angels, Eva Mendes, Neil Diamond, Petula Clark, etc, have sung and recorded this song in various versions and languages (Lyrics and tune remain the same). It’s an epic!!!

When I like a song and if it stays on my playlist for years, it’s often coz of its terrific composition and seamless blending of superb lyrics, music, vocals, tune, harmony and the overall rhythm of that melody!! And this one has it all. In the movie the song is playing in the background and shows how the protagonist is dealing with his own thoughts and emotions, Thomas Crown is a rich and accomplished person who is seemingly bored with his life and for thrills sake he plans and executes heists and does it in style and challenges himself in order to challenge others who are in the pursuit of catching him. A smart mind leaning towards or flirting with the dark side and yet isn’t dark!!  One thing you wished is, if you found out and knew what and how other people think, especially the ones with whom you have little or no communication. Having communication with a person isn’t a guarantee to accurately know how he or she thinks!!!

This song is very poetic and allows us to interpret it – in our own unique way. This song is a classic depiction of how a human mind deals with its own motivations and temptations. Motivation and Temptation are two things (and not just words) that most people need to be aware of and deal carefully with. Motivation is generally understood as “the basic reasons that drive our acts and behaviors”, whilst Temptation is generally understood as “Inclination towards a sin”. The core meaning of both is very close if not similar.

One cannot, at least yet explain how the human mind works. There has been massive scientific research and now there is a reasonable understanding about the human mind but they are merely suggestions and there isn’t yet any conclusive explanation or finding. Hence as they say, Human mind is a very complex organ and as David Rock says, every brain thinks like a map yet it thinks very differently. Many are or have tried to study and interpret the human mind by observing and understanding human behavior and feelings and then they extrapolate or correlate those to how they must emanate from a thinking process of an organ know as mind (brain). Of course what seems to be clearly established is that, the way you think affects the way you feel and the way you feel affects the way you act and behave. The Think – Feel – Act & Behave chain of links and process.

I like the work done and presented by Stephen Covey, in which he clearly explains the way you can change and influence your and others behavior by influencing their thinking. If you want to change a behavior or a habit then change the way you think and the behavior will in-itself change.

What’s goes on in the windmills of the mind of senior leaders and employees of a corporation or an organization can impact the culture, performance, value system, existence and perpetuity of that organization. Yet we are so focused on assessing, evaluating, rewarding behaviours and the results (which we term as How and What of Performance Management). In fact the fountain head of How (Behavior) and What (Results) is the mind. Thinking is what happens in the windmills of the mind of every person. Organizations that focus, work and believe in shaping the thinking of the employees via using cognitive learning techniques are likely to prosper as opposed to others.

So, listen, feel and know what’s happening in the windmills of your mind… and live and enjoy the song and music of life.

A song that beats the “Windmills of your mind…” the one for me is, “Tusi Na Cosa Grande Pa Me…” have you heard it, if not, do listen to it 🙂

Image Above is Courtesy: A Pic of the Video Clip on YouTube by Petula Clark – Windmills of Your Mind

Can Culture Eat Strategy for Breakfast?

I came across this statement which said, “Culture eats strategy for breakfast”. It resonated with me and I thought of writing a blog post based on my experience and learning’s on how organization’s go about identifying, building, measuring and communicating their culture.

We have learnt a lot about strategy and there is a lot of experience, academic research and content around it. However, in relative comparison to strategy, culture as a subject needs to be understood a lot better. From my experience and learning, I would suggest that “Culture is an Organizational Capability” There are four big buckets of organizational capabilities and most organizations have traditionally focused on the three big buckets; “People”, “Processes” and “Technology” the fourth bucket “Culture” is probably yet not focused upon much. Most progressive organizations and their capability building models that I have seen (whilst working for some top companies and of other benchmark companies practices) have figured out well how to identify, build and measure capabilities in the first three buckets and not so much yet in the “Culture” bucket.

To begin with it helps tremendously if you first agree within your organization that next to People, Processes and Technology the fourth bucket of Capabilities is “Culture” Once you agree then your capability building framework will require you to look at “Culture Building” in a holistic manner. Some may argue and say that “Culture” is a sub-bucket of “People”, as people are the ones who construct, live, represent and communicate an organization’s culture. It’s not an invalid argument, but from my perspective culture goes beyond just people (Behaviors and Style), for example it involves the ways of working, physical environment and design of the workplace, social mechanisms and rituals of an organization, stories that are discussed etc. Hence it may be immensely helpful to look at “Culture” as something beyond just people capabilities (knowledge, skills, competencies, behaviors and attitudes).

Culture is a modern history concept based on a term first used in classical antiquity by the Roman orator Cicero “cultura animi” (cultivation of the soul).

However, one of the many definitions of organizational culture is the behavior of humans who are part of an organization and the meanings that the people attach to their actions. Culture includes the organization values, visions, norms, working language, systems, symbols, beliefs and habits. It is also the pattern of such collective behaviors and assumptions that are taught to new organizational members as a way of perceiving, and even thinking and feeling. Organizational culture affects the way people and groups interact with each other, with clients, and with stakeholders. And now you can see the rationale why some argue that Culture is all about just people. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Organizational_culture

Anyway my perspective is a bit different, but it strongly builds on this traditional definition.

How to go about building a strong organization culture, which, despite the sustained uncertainty of the economic and social environment and the ever changing strategy – can become a major pillar of strength. My 10 recommended practical steps for leaders and organisations are as follows: 

1)    The first step should be to assess and identify what your current organizational culture is. It takes finding out what your culture is and how you culture is perceived by internal (employees) external people (customers, talent, investors etc). There are various tools and methodologies that are there to identify your culture. One of the most powerful techniques is facilitated focus group discussions, which are similar to identifying the brand identity of the company. Also you need to asses if your culture is something that’s kept in mind by people when designing strategies, processes, systems, workplaces, policies etc

2)    Ensure that there is a clear articulation and shared understanding of the organizations vision, mission and values. Then compare the “Current Culture” and clearly articulate the “Required Culture” for achieving your vision and living the values. Do a proper gap analysis and planning of “FROM” – “TO” This is most effectively done via the process of LSIP – Large Scale Interaction Process. If this is done in isolation and only at the top of the organisation or just by the HR function it well could be a false start.

3)    Avoid evolving complicated culture building frameworks, keep things simple, build on and align to existing capability building framework of the company, with clear alignment to the vision, mission and values of the company. Having a clear plan of initiatives and activities to build culture is more important than having just frameworks and models. Ensure the the main components of the culture you are building are well integrated into each and every strategy, process, system, practice, policy design of your company.

4)    Integrate culture building strongly with the company’s existing learning practice and function, design and detail initiatives and activities (learning offerings, coaching, mentoring etc) and make them leader led. Avoid too much of classroom and e-learning offerings around culture building – leverage the 70-20-10 learning principle. Don’t make culture building a separate and an isolated activity.

5)    Whilst designing and activating culture building interventions, don’t focus only on soft part – people and their behaviors and styles. Focus also on designing and changing the hard part – workplace design, policies, social mechanism’s (meetings and its structure, rewards and recognition platforms, etc), hierarchy (Org structure and its levels), rituals (how is success celebrated, how is news communicated, etc).

6)    Make Leaders lead the culture building, but make everyone responsible and accountable for it and celebrate reward and recognize success stories and role models. Don’t make the mistake of making just HR responsible for Culture building, its every leader’s responsibility. HR should facilitate the process.

7)    Have a clear measurement methodology, process, tools and techniques for knowing and understanding how progress is being made and what needs to be further improved. Custom designed surveys and NPS (Net Promoter Score) are two powerful methodologies.

8)    If your organization culture is your strength and a differentiator, then make sure you have a good communication plan (internal and external) to further strengthen and build on your employer branding.

9)    Use your culture building plan to profile, attract and develop talent which will help you strengthen and build the riht culture. Dovetailing your culture building plan with the talent assessment, development and acquisition strategy of the company is very important.

10) Last but not the least, culture building needs investing of some money and lots of leadership commitment and their personal time. Without this investment you will achieve little.

In my opinion and perspective, if you get the above 10 steps right, you will be able to create a culture in your organization, which will eat your competitors strategy for breakfast!!

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Here is some content that, I have aggregated from my favorite HBR Blogs on Culture, I have learnt a lot from reading them and critiquing them in my own mind. Hope you enjoy reading them too:

Michael Watkins on “What Is Organizational Culture? And Why Should We Care?” suggests that, If you want to provoke a vigorous debate, start a conversation on organizational culture. While there is universal agreement that (1) it exists, and (2) that it plays a crucial role in shaping behavior in organizations, there is little consensus on what organizational culture actually is, never mind how it influences behavior and whether it is something leaders can change…. read on http://blogs.hbr.org/2013/05/what-is-organizational-culture/

John Coleman on “Six Components of a Great Corporate Culture” suggests that, what makes a culture? Each culture is unique and myriad factors go into creating one, but I’ve observed at least six common components of great cultures. Isolating those elements can be the first step to building a differentiated culture and a lasting organization….  read on http://blogs.hbr.org/2013/05/six-components-of-culture/

Carolyn Dewar and Scott Keller on “Three Steps to a High-Performance Culture” suggest that, senior executives tend to think about corporate culture as a topic that’s hard to measure and hard to change. As a result, many choose not to invest in it despite all the evidence that, when skillfully managed, culture can be a powerful and enduring source of competitive advantage…. read on http://blogs.hbr.org/2012/01/three-steps-to-a-high-performa/

Deidre H. Campbell on “What Great Companies Know About Culture” suggests that, even in this unprecedented business environment, great leaders know they should invest in their people. Those companies who are committed to a strong workplace culture tend to perform well, and now they are featured prominently in a new ranking recently released by Great Place to Work Institute. Among the top performers on the 2011 World’s Best Multinational Companies list are culturally-strong technology companies such as Microsoft, NetApp, SAS, and Google….read on http://blogs.hbr.org/2011/12/what-great-companies-know-abou/

Amy C. Edmondson on The Three Pillars of a Teaming Culture” suggests that, today’s leaders must build a culture where teaming is expected and begins to feel natural, and this starts with helping everyone to become curious, passionate, and empathic. She says, building the right culture in an era of fast-paced teaming, when people work on a shifting mix of projects with a shifting mix of partners, might sound challenging – if not impossible. But, in my experience, in the most innovative companies, teaming is the culture….read on http://t.co/5wkbbaou2G

Jason Sylva on “The Culture Cycle” James L. Heskett‘s book The Culture Cycle describes how an effective culture can account for up to half of the differential in performance between organizations in the same business. Heskett discusses how to calculate the economic value of culture through the “Four Rs” of referrals, retention, returns to labor, and relationships with customers… read on http://blogs.hbr.org/2012/06/culture-cycle-the-unseen-force/

Leading in times of turbulent change: @debjani_ghosh_ MD – SMG, Intel SA on #PhilipsHRtalks

Video

http://t.co/giLQTjrJ77

#PhilipsHRtalks is a unique and innovative open source learning platform created by Philips India HR Team. Renowned and accomplished thought leaders are invited on this platform to share their ideas and knowledge and video recordings on their talk is posted on YouTube on the Philips India Channel.

Debjani Ghosh @debjani_ghosh_ was invited to speak on this platform and her pearls of wisdom are encapsulated in this video. Thank you Debjani!!