On Enthusiasm

Book excerpt: Our industry’s path forward is not going to be an easy one and we will need a full tank of enthusiasm to fuel our organizations.

The following is excerpted from my open sourced ebook,

Running Training Like a Business: the startup way to delivering exponential value (working title, suggestions welcome)

I have been talking about the idea of this book for years. I was part of the team that launched Running Training Like a Business.  An industry staple and game changing approach in the nineties.  So why is it that after two decades, Learning and Development is still struggling to deliver unmistakable value?  Technology, just emerging when Running Training Like a Business came out, is now at the core of the learning organization. The tools used by learning and development practitioners for everything from course creation to measurement have improved. Yet the same problems that stirred the need for the first book continue to challenge Learning and Development organizations around the globe. Recent research by Bersin by Deloitte indicates that, while employee development has never been as important, faith of the organization in the L&D function to deliver value has also never been so low.

In those two decades, the companies that L&D organizations serve have changed. Companies of all sizes, once comfortable in their place in the market, have been disrupted. Innovation, once a source of competitive advantage, is now a business requirement. With all of these changes to the business, how has L&D evolved? Some would say not very much. The use of outsourcing, controversial at the time of the first book, is fortunately now a widely accepted solution for many functions of L&D. Thanks to the migration to digital learning, measurement data, formerly difficult to collect beyond “smile sheets”, is now readily available. But, in many ways, L&D has not changed at all. As stated recently by Bersin, “business leaders and employees often cite little or no value coming from the learning organization. An ominous comment about Learning & Development, an organization that we would argue is more important today than ever.

Enthusiasm is defined as “intense and eager enjoyment, interest or approval”. My sense, having sat with many industry professionals at all levels and comparing that to the enthusiastic energy inherent in fast growing startups, is that our industry is sorely lacking enthusiasm. While we may experience excitement, a short duration form of enthusiasm, about new tools, technologies or toys, this is the emotional equivalent of a sugar high. As the last two decades have shown us, we are running a marathon, not a sprint, and sugar is not the fuel of success.

The lack of enthusiasm is not entirely unwarranted. The importance of employee engagement in an organization’s success is widely recognized. We have all seen the studies on what increases it; mission, leadership, development, among others. Yet, when you talk to learning pros, the focus is often on the lack of funding, limited executive support or latest tool or tactic being deployed. Even the cup of sugar is half empty. And when we hear from executives, we often find they have a low expectation of training. My belief is that is because they really do not know what is possible. If we, as an industry don’t have any enthusiasm, how can we expect executives to have any enthusiasm for learning?

Successful startups have enthusiasm in abundance. Founders actually take enthusiasm to the next level, passion. Passion is that intense, driving feeling or conviction and while at points this may be divorced from reason, it sets the highest possible standard for others to follow. Sit with a startup founder for two minutes and they cannot help but tell you what they are building. They will talk fast, as if they have had too many cups of coffee. Most importantly, they will leave you excited about their mission and looking for ways that you might help them.
The passion for what they are doing is not only visible when they are talking to investors or potential customers. It comes through all the time. It is on display when they are talking with their teams, standing in line for lunch, sitting around with friends, riding the bus and even walking their dog through the park. If there are ears to listen, they feel compelled, like new parents, to share it. And this is not limited to just the founder.

Successful founders recruit people that share their passion and contribute their own enthusiasm to the mix. Enthusiasm is not solely enjoyment. It is also defined as “intense interest”. In this way, enthusiasm leads to curiosity and curiosity often leads to new, novel, more effective or more efficient solutions. Coding engineers at startups frequently spend long days at work only to go home and play around writing code for fun or to test ideas that they might be able to bring back to work. When was the last time you invited some friends over for some barbeque and some brainstorming on how redesign an assessment process or a learning program? Not because you had to, but because you wanted to.

Our industry’s path forward is not going to be an easy one and we will need a full tank of enthusiasm to fuel our organizations. We are enthusiastic about the future of learning and development and we think you should be too. We believe that unlocking the enthusiasm that our industry has for learning requires a new approach.  An approach built on the timeless principle of delivering value holds huge opportunities for the professionals that practice it and the people and organizations they support.

Enthusiastically yours, j.

Rotting Boards

L&D Advisory boards need a fresh look.

The current geo-political landscape aside, the topic of governance, with its advice, consent and oversight functions, remains at the forefront of discussions for L&D.  In the book Running Training Like a Startup I cite a report done by NIIT and CorpU to find out how learning organizations have adopted the core principles of van Adelsberg’s and Trolley’s book. Two findings from the report which jumped out at me were in the area of governance.  The study found that:

  • The use of governing boards with C-level executives to ensure strategic alignment is fine in theory but has little effectiveness in practice. Sixty percent (60%) of the companies have them to some degree, but only 10% deemed them highly effective.
  • The use of more tactical advisory boards, while slightly less prevalent (59%), are more useful in that 17% of the respondents deem them highly effective. 

While this study is now aged, my recent discussions with clients have confirmed  that this remains a sub-optimized tool for learning organizations.  While many have a documented governance structure much fewer are gaining the benefit.  Most of L&D seems to acknowledge the generally accepted three-tier model for governance. Executives form the strategic executive level with business heads and line managers operating in increasingly tactical functions in the lower levels.

Earlier this year, Training Industry Magazine published  a “Learning Governance Framework Cheat Sheet” that had been developed by Kaplan.  While fairly common sense, lots of “uh-huh and not a lot of “ohhh”, one pithy item on the checklist stuck with me as much for the pithiness as the “how?” questions that remained unaddressed.

“Construct a governance structure that is inclusive, agile, and commercially pragmatic with senior leader advocacy.”

I am currently working to expand the governance section of the book based on recent experience and research.  But, for those that are currently operating advisory boards at any level here are a few questions worth considering.  These are taken and adapted from a set that Jerry Colonna, executive coach to founders and author of Reboot, uses to assess the boards of startups.

  1. When the shit hits the fan, which of your advisory board members would you turn to and why?
  2. If your advisory board was your executive team, what experiences or temperaments are missing?
  3. What skills would you like to see on your advisory board?
  4. How do non-advisory board executives and managers view your current advisory board?

In today’s fast moving business environment L&D cannot fail to get the most out of this critical element of driving unmistakable value for the companies they serve. How are you using advisory boards and what challenges are you facing in getting the most out of them?

 

All About the Product

Rapid and effective product development requires key roles.  In the book I discuss the need for a product manager to oversee the raid iteration cycle required by minimal viable learning solutions.  This article from techbeacon.com further explains the roles of product owner and product manager. In many cases the CLO fills the role of product owners while the solution architect acts as the product manager.  In all cases keeping the voice of the customer (learner) close the product development team is essential.

You can see the article here