CLO: Huge Need for Angel Investing in Learning — from CEO’s

I was speaking to a CLO (Chief Learning Officer) today about research-to-practice stuff, and he made a statement that blew my mind. It was brilliant!

First, a little background.

He's been a CLO at two organizations with over a decade of tenure in learning-executive positions. He knows what he's talking about.

He talked persuasively about how many learning and development units are stuck in the old-world view of learning as delivering training (and training alone). In such learning cultures, L&D folks are order takers. A more enlightened approach includes training, but it also involves performance-consulting, performance-facilitation, knowledge management, improved evaluations, etc., with a key goal of helping to create a partnership between L&D and its organizational stakeholders.

Okay, that's not news. We know this is the right thing to do.

Here's what struck me as illuminating. He said that what's really needed to make the leap from the old way to the new way, you need a large capital-like investment to get you started, to bring in committed change agents, to overcome inertia, to have resources and tools to let you leverage research-based methods. Without a large resource infusion, you get incremental change, but it's just not enough to change the culture so you end up fighting long exhausting battles with only some success.

But what CEO's are going to be so enlightened as to pony up the dough?

You'd think they might. After all, making huge investments upfront is what successful businesses do, what successful entrepreneurs do, what successful athletes do, etc.

We in L&D have to figure out a way to convince our CEO's to make the investment. Otherwise, we'll likely remain in the purgatory of order taking henceforth.


By the way, if you're a CLO or other learning executive and you want to take part in my research on the state of the industry, please email me (see the announcement here). It's an hour-long interview over the phone, and your organization will get the report first and get it free.

The gentleman CLO I spoke with today actually made notes during today's interview, because our discussion triggered ideas for him and his organization. It's a win-win. Good for you, for your organization, and for our industry. Let other folks know!!


Effects of Burnout on the Brain and on Cognitive Performance

Great Article: Burnout and the Brain by Alexandra Michel, writing in The Observer, a publication of The Association for Psychological Science.

Article link is here.

Major Findings:

  • Stress may cause changes in the brain.
  • Stress may cause problems with:
    • attention
    • memory
    • creativity
    • problem-solving
    • working-memory problems in general

Will's Caveats:

  • Studies were mostly correlational, so not clear whether there is cause-and-effect relationship.

Defining Stress:

  • Stress is NOT caused just by working long hours. As the article says:

"a comprehensive report on psychosocial stress in the workplace published by the World Health Organization identified consistent evidence that 'high job demands, low control, and effort–reward imbalance are risk factors for mental and physical health problems.' Ultimately, burnout results when the balance of deadlines, demands, working hours, and other stressors outstrips rewards, recognition, and relaxation."

Learning-and-Performance Ramifications

  • If we want our organization's employees to work at their best, we can't put them under long-periods of stress.
  • We need to give them more control of their work, reward them appropriately especially with recognition and status (not necessarily with money), promote periods of rest and relaxation, and give employees input into their job environment.

Training Maximizers

A few years ago, I created a simple model for training effectiveness based on the scientific research on learning in conjunction with some practical considerations (to make the model's recommendations leverageable for learning professionals). People keep asking me about the model, so I'm going to briefly describe it here. If you want to look at my original YouTube video about the model -- which goes into more depth -- you can view that here. You can also see me in my bald phase.

The Training Maximizers Model includes 7 requirements for ensuring our training or teaching will achieve maximum results.

  • A. Valid Credible Content
  • B. Engaging Learning Events
  • C. Support for Basic Understanding
  • D. Support for Decision-Making Competence
  • E. Support for Long-Term Remembering
  • F. Support for Application of Learning
  • G. Support for Perseverance in Learning

Here's a graphic depiction:

 Training Maximizers Willversion with Copyright

Most training today is pretty good at A, B, and C but fails to provide the other supports that learning requires. This is a MAJOR PROBLEM because learners who can't make decisions (D), learners who can't remember what they've learned (E), learners who can't apply what they've learned (F), and learners who can't persevere in their own learning (G); are learners who simply haven't received leverageable benefits.

When we train or teach only to A, B, and C, we aren't really helping our learners, we aren't providing a return on the learning investments, we haven't done enough to support our learners' future performance.



Safety, Learning Design, and Organizational Culture

As a learning consultant, I've been called into workplaces to do work-learning audits specifically focused on safety. Unfortunately, what I've seen too often are poor safety-learning practices. People often talk a good game of safety, but their practices are just not effective. Let me give you one example. I was at a manufacturing plant and was told that all team meetings talked about safety. However, what I saw at actual team meetings was a perfunctory exhalation about safety that was likely to have zero effect on actual safety outcomes. Seriously, many team leaders would say something pithy like "10 fingers, 10 toes" and that would be it!!

To be truly effective, safety messages have to follow the principles of all good learning design. Specifically, safety messages have to be context-based. They have to refer to actual workplace situations, and get employees to visualize and anticipate safety-critical situations and the actions that are needed in those situations. Safety messages also have to prompt employees to retrieve these situation-action links and do that in a manner that is repeated in various ways over time.

Recently, while teaching a workshop, one of the participants told a great story about how General Electric has built a set of cultural expectations that propel safety. The author--who wants to remain anonymous--wrote up the following overview of what he/she observed at GE.

I have had the pleasure to conduct training for the field service organization at GE.  One key aspect of the field service organization is safety.  A seemly simple task of lifting a heavy object with a crane can easily result in fatality by a shift in the chain causing the object to swing out of control.  During my work I was impressed with the relentless focus on safety, which was not just in words, but in action.  I thought it would be useful to share an example of how safety is built into their culture.

Each day of a training session, or any meeting for that matter, always started with a safety moment.  This discussion focused on the potential safety issues that could come up, and precautions that need to be followed.  I would start the training by having the hotel facility manager come in and cover the emergency procedures.  If I failed to start any training session in this manner, a participant would, without exception, come to me during the first break indicating that we forgot the safety briefing.  Unlike other organization where I would be asked to show a safety video, and people would count sheep until it ended, this safety briefing was seen as important to all the participants. 

At the start of each training day, and after lunch, a participant would be assigned to share a safety moment in their work that enabled someone to avoid a potential injury.  There was never a problem getting participants to accept responsibility for conducting one of these safety moments.  In fact, after sharing their experience, there was always a round of applause from the other participants.  This consistent practice, and positive reception by individuals of all levels helps to foster a strong safety culture within the organization.

In talking with the author of this observation, I was amazed at how deeply ingrained a culture of safety was in this GE environment. From this example, here are lessons learned--many of which will be relevant even to those who are not dealing with safety, but who are focused on performance-improvement in general.

  1. They focused on specific safety issues and situations.
  2. They focused on safety ubiquitiuosly, not just in training and not just when it was "safety time."
  3. People bought into the importance of safety--they didn't just go through the motions.
  4. There were expecations that safety discussions were scheduled into everything.
  5. Many people wanted to volunteer to lead safety discussions--not just people designated as safety officers.
  6. People really appreciated the safety discussions--and they showed their appreciation.
  7. Management was not the only driver of safety.
  8. Safety messages were repeated, and spaced over time.

Special thanks to the anonymous author and to GE for demonstrating that safety can be inculcated into workplace practice.