Your Learning Dashboards

Your Learning Dashboards: how to make sure they deliver actionable insights.

  1. Target a specific audience.
  2. Involve end users in the design process.
  3. Provide adequate context.
  4. Describe how to interpret the numbers.
  5. Choose the right data charts.
  6. Anticipate the flow of questions.
  7. Streamline for easier consumption.
  8. Highlight what’s important.
  9. Recommend prescriptive actions.
  10. Review content periodically.

In Running Training Like a Startup I propose several dashboards for L&D to consider. What dashboards are watching and sharing?

The Pause That Refreshes

Some thoughts on the value of taking a break.

I took the summer off.  I did this for several reasons.  First I took the break to focus on my health, both physical and mental. These are things that often find themselves on the back burner when a client challenge or passion project arrive on the scene.  The second reason was that after taking 18 months to research and write Running Training Like a Startup I had lost my perspective on the practices it contains.  Taking almost 90 days to work on myself initially felt like extravagant waste.  As the days passed it became increasingly clear that it was overdue and that I had come dangerously close to a place I did not want to be.

When my self allotted time began to come to a close I found myself quieter and able to hear my passion for rekilling today’s workforce.  I was growing increasingly confident in the path I had selected.  A confidence that had wobbled and waned prior the summer. I gave myself time to reflect on the learnings from client engagements and feedback I had received on the book. All in all it was an extremely valuable pause that I hope will make my future contributions that much more valuable to my readers, clients, friends and family.

The summer was not entirely without work.  I read and learned prolifically.  Articles, books, videos and conversations have fed my mind with ideas for blogs, book additions and activities.  You can look for the next version of the shareware book to be released in Q4 with expanded content on governance and minimal viable product design.  I am excited to share and get the advice of other practitioners.  You can see a curated selection of articles I have been reading here.

I recommend a pause to everyone.  It feels selfish.  It feels like a luxury that can’t be afforded. It feels amazing. Sometimes we forget our “why.”  Why we do what we do.  Applying the 5 Why’s exercise to our own actions can sometimes be a valuable check on the alignment that we have in our life and work.

Why I Do What I Do

I believe that learning is the silver bullet.  I believe it solves social and economic issues.  I believe it impacts terrorism and global issues.  I believe that it is the single most important driver in ensuring our future is better than our present.  I believe that Running Training Like a Startup is my contribution to improving the bullet.

The Accountable Chair

The mission of a company’s L&D organization is to provide the business with a skilled workforce that enables it to achieve its business goals.  In a tight job market, the ability to upskill the workforce takes on a even more critical role.  The costs of new hires is high.  Wage inflation, time to productivity, culture fit (or first year attrition due to the lack of it) are only two components of this cost equation.

So in this environment think about this. As L&D continues to ask for a “seat at the table.”

“Layoffs hit their highest level for a first quarter in 10 years as 2019′s job market got off to a shaky start, according to a report Thursday from outplacement firm Challenger, Gary & Christmas.

Total announced cuts hit 190,410, a 10.3 percent increase from the fourth quarter and 35.6 percent jump from the same period a year ago. The level was worst period overall since the third quarter of 2015 and the highest level for a first quarter since 2009 as the economy was still mired in the financial crisis.”

-Jeff Cox, CNBC

And that is not to mention the lost revenue and growth opportunities due to the mountain open positions.

And yet when you Google “CLO’s fired” you get ZERO results. I understand that many factors play into layoffs  and but with automation increasing and the digitization of the workplace sweeping over all business sectors shouldn’t we all be targeting the lowest layoff levels and job openings possible.  With a seat at the table will come accountability.  Are we ready for it?

Who’s the Boss?

This article referencing data from McKinsey hits on an important point regarding the importance of governance.  If we (as an industry) can figure out a solid  model for the governance of L&D, I am all for it.  But after two decades of hearing “we need a seat at table,” I am bored and a bit pissed. It is time to be bold and loud and get fired.  I address governance in the book but more importantly this article highlights why we have to get it. Credibility, resources and respect flow from having EARNED the right with senior sponsors.

I proposed three levels of of governance ( strategic, tactical and specific) but I seriously don’t care. The goal is connecting to the business. The goal is understanding the business. I remember Ed Trolley calling this disconnect out  by always asking learning leaders  whether, “if the company goes out of business, are you (L&D) sill around?”  The L&D organization is part of a larger whole and thinking any other way is dangerous.

When is it not Capital? When it’s Human.

Every annual report talks about people being the company’s most important asset.. Except it isn’t.  A quick glance at the balance sheet reveals no line item for people.  The facilities are there.  The equipment is there. But nowhere do the people show up as an asset. 

Over the last few months I have been doing a bit of research into the historic effects of automation on the workforce.  Think elevator operators and bank tellers.  More on that at a later date. [spoiler alert: the robots are indeed coming for some of our jobs but that is a good thing] One thing that came from my research is that companies are incented to automate on multiple fronts.  It is on one of these fronts, accounting, that we may have a lever to incentivize upskilling.

A quick primer.  When companies buy a robot, or any piece of equipment, they pay for it but rather than have it simply take cash out of their account it does something else.  If they robot is estimated have a working life of 10 years the company places that “asset” on its balance sheet, reducing its value for every year of service.  This asset sits opposite the debt the company has, allowing it to borrow more. If I replace a human making $50K with a robot that costs $250K but is expected to last 10 years after the first year I have an asset worth $225K on my balance sheet (the cost spread over the lifespan less the first year).  If I spend $5K  to upskill the employee to perform at a higher level, equivalent to the robot, I have nothing but an expense that hits my bottom line.

Large publicly traded companies are evaluated quarterly by Wall Street.  The results reported often drive a short-term mindset but it also keeps key metrics front and center for these companies.  In addition to the asset to debt ratio, one of these measures is revenue per employee. This simple metric, top line revenue divided by the number of employees offers a clear way to see the benefit of automation. If a company can simply hold its revenue steady while reducing its headcount it looks better on paper than a company that might grow revenue modestly with the same, but upskilled, workforce.

So what if a company’s investment in  people could be truly treated as an asset.  Invest $1k in an employee and your average tenure for that role is 3 years. Why isn’t that a capital investment to be added to the balance sheet ($666). The switch is a case of accounting policy but what is more interesting to me is what the change in behaviors of companies might be.  If employee upskilling was treated as a true capital investment would L&D see more money, stricter reporting standards and a more respected seat at the table.?      

Fall in Love with the Problem

I was reading a recent article from the folks at Lean Startup and it hit a nerve as began writing up some new ideas for the Running Training Like a Startup (RTLAS) v2.0  The article revisits a long held tenet of product development, “fall in love with the problem, not the solution.” This is similar to, “if all you have is a hammer everything looks like a nail.”  In RTLAS v1.0 I describe the importance of deeply understanding both the challenge and the learner as part of the design process.

As someone with a foot both inside and outside the learning industry I often feel torn.  My outside foot telling me that the industry is misaligned and in desperate need of a full reboot.  My inside foot knows many of the talented learning professionals and empathizes with the challenges they face. In fact, in 2010 when I first began writing my Learning Hacks blog to explore the connections between startup techniques and L&D I wrote a post originally titled, “This Industry Needs an Enema.”

That said, judging by the literature, discussions, and personal experience the learning industry is deeply in love with solutions and only friendly with the problems being faced by businesses today. We know have many more tools in our toolbox than just a decade ago.  In fact keeping up with all the tools can be a full-time job. But just as “convert it all to elearning” was a hammer looking at a course catalog of nails, the industry needs to remember that great solutions come from loving the problem. Let’s at least be “friends with benefits” with it.

What are your thoughts?



Open Source

I just re-read Walter Isaacson’s “The Innovators”, a wonderful history of the people and events that made the digital age possible. In it he describes the creation of the software industry and the early formation of two camps. One thought that software should be free, describing the hobbyists that openly shared code between another. He even noted that that Wozniack’s early schematics for what would become the core of the Apple 1 computer were given away free by Woz at community meetings. The second camp, characterized best by Bill Gates, saw the protection of intellectual property as key to supporting future innovation.

For the open community, allowing innovations to be shared allowed for rapid adoption and accelerated advancement. Innovators didn’t need to recreate a solution that had already been found and could instead focus on building upon it. Also, by adopting an open approach an entire community became an extension to the development team. The opposing camp felt that without compensation innovation could not be supported. I see both sides and as a former interim-CEO for a music technology company, an industry where rights are front and center, feel strongly that the creator has the right to choose, and that choice must be respected.

As I came to complete the book Running Training Like a Startup I realized that I now had to make this choice. I could publish the book, thereby monetizing my efforts or I could give it away. When I work with startups I often refer back to a presentation on startup success that I saw during the first dotcom run that simply stated CFIMITYM. Cash flow is more important than your mother. Without cash flow, a startups life is on the clock. Many startups, even those so-called “unicorns” that are now going public, often chose another path. Monetization slows growth and adoption. “We can always monetize once we have a million users,” they say. And so, the freemium model, where there is a free tier of services available, was born. Once a user has seen the value of the product, they can upgrade to a paid tier later. When I was at Forum we called this “earning the right” in our sales training.

I believe strongly in the value that Running Training Like a Startup can contribute to the industry. I think that upskilling is the number one challenges facing the world. I believe that more minds, not a select few, will accelerate our industry’s ability to overcome this challenge. I also know that at the pace of business today reinventing the wheel will not cut it. For this reason, I have decided to open source the book. Feel free to download it, share it, discuss it, build on and improve its concepts with your own. I will be doing the same. This blog will continue to document my evolving thoughts on the concepts presented in v1 and I am committed to sharing my learnings with our community. All I ask is that you do the same.

Open source book here