Learning to Change!

How we work in corporations has changed and evolved considerably since my first day at work back in 1983, when I arrived fresh and green at the age of 16 to start a 4-year apprenticeship in telecommunications with the Signals and Telecommunications department of British Rail.

Back then British Rail was a great example of the traditional, hierarchical management structure that was common at the time. Training courses were typically measured in weeks rather than hours, and for a while I had several 4 week training courses each year somewhere scenic like Derby! Characteristics which are now commonly sought after when hiring personnel, like initiative, adaptability, agility, innovation and self direction, were unheard of at the time and we were still living in the world of the time and motion study.

The way we used to express our ‘creativity’ back then went more into having fun on the job than in finding ways to improve the systems and processes with which we work. It did have the side effect of teaching us to effectively hack the system so we could find plenty of time to do things that we enjoyed.

Ideas for ‘innovation’ included cooking a 10 course chinese meal on a 2 ring hob for the team in a telephone exchange, wiring theatrical thunderflashes into the work vehicles to prank your work mates, hiding a speaker system inside the transmission equipment to help get through those late shifts and placing fire alarm bells behind the toilet cistern which could be set off once a colleague settled down for a skive.

if innovation wasn’t officially rewarded then we would certainly innovate to get our own rewards from work.

Today’s worker

In today’s world workers are far less often judged by what time they come in and how long they spend at their desks and more often judged by their results and abilities.

With increasing frequency ‘the desk’ is more often at home or in a co-working space, or even on an airplane. Working with a globally disparate team across timezones means we’ve all had to change tactics. There is no one leaning over our shoulders checking we are not spending all day in bed or surfing the Internet. Progression is more likely to be based on who did the most to contribute to the teams targets or sales figures.

Due to budgetary, headcount and time pressures management focus is increasingly put on setting targets and allowing workers to find their own way of achieving the results. Self-directed workers who achieve or exceed their objectives get recognition for it.

Productivity now becomes key, and to gain career advancement means we have to be seen achieving targets and being better at what we do. Being able to maximise the amount of time spent delivering value rather than responding to unending streams of email and being reactive in our work.

Social workers

In 2012 Jane Hart wrote an article called “New Workplace Learning” about what she called “Smart Workers”.

The article started with 2 quotes:

“Today already 47% of business technology users at North American and European companies report using one or more website(s) to do parts of their jobs that are not sanctioned by their IT department. We expect this number to grow to close to 60% in 2011 as frustrated workers work around IT to self-provision technology”. (Forrester, February 2011)

and

“Between one-third and two-thirds of your employees are meeting their needs by working around [L&D].” (Jensen and Klein, CLO Magazine, April 2011)

The focus of the article was on how her ‘Smart Workers’ used social media tools in their work. Smart workers were characterised as being:

Tech and web-savvy, highly motivated, committed and dedicated to their work. They have a desire to do their job as well as they can and improve their own performance wherever possible. They are self-reliant, flexible, adaptive and curious.

Hart maintained that “Smart Workers needed Smart IT and L&D departments to support them.”

The learning behaviours she found that needed support all related to social and informal learning:
- learning continuously on the job
- need immediate access to solutions to performance problems
- sharing what they know
- relies on a trusted network of colleagues
- learns best with and from others
- keeps up-to-date with what is happening in the industry or profession
- constantly strives to improve productivity
- thrives on autonomy

Tools for the job

Social learning & informal learning are often poorly supported in many organisations, both technically and perhaps from a management perspective.

Ask yourself - What tools exist in our organisations to get instant access to the right information at the right time? How are workers able to share what they know with their colleagues? Are they rewarded for doing so? Or are they penalised for wasting time on work that there is no time code to book against.

eLearning as a supporting technology is a step in the right direction but often they are structured with the course as the minimum atomic unit. You can search for what course should you take, but if you are looking to find out how to perform one specific function, or the answer to a single problem, then taking an entire course when you are unsure if what you need is even covered, is hardly a good use of resources.

Let’s look at what recent research show’s us about demographics and learning behaviours. A UK based organisation called ‘Towards Maturity, wrote a paper called . “New Learning Agenda—Talent:Technology:Change.” 7 May 2013.

While 64 percent of employees still value a traditional face-to-face, instructor-led course (mostly older people), over 80 percent describe ad hoc and team conversations as their most productive learning environments. Over half of employees in the survey quoted search activity, manager conversations, job aids, and self-paced learning as effective methodologies. The use of technology-enabled games in learning is also rising dramatically.

To the cloud and beyond

Microsoft’s new CEO Satya Nadella in a recent email to all Microsoft employees called “Starting FY15 - Bold Ambition & Our Core”

In his email he laid out his vision of where he thought Microsoft should be going.

We live in a mobile-first and cloud-first world. Computing is ubiquitous and experiences span devices and exhibit ambient intelligence. Billions of sensors, screens and devices – in conference rooms, living rooms, cities, cars, phones, PCs – are forming a vast network and streams of data that simply disappear into the background of our lives. This computing power will digitize nearly everything around us and will derive insights from all of the data being generated by interactions among people and between people and machines. We are moving from a world where computing power was scarce to a place where it now is almost limitless, and where the true scarce commodity is increasingly human attention.

In this new world, there will soon be more than 3 billion people with Internet-connected devices – from a farmer in a remote part of the world with a smartphone, to a professional power user with multiple devices powered by cloud service-based apps spanning work and life.

Nadella then went into what he sees is the future direction of Microsoft:

At our core, Microsoft is the productivity and platform company for the mobile-first and cloud-first world. We will reinvent productivity to empower every person and every organization on the planet to do more and achieve more.

It’s the first time I’ve applauded a microsoft email!

Microsoft may seem to be a generation behind Apple and Google in this area but they also seem a generation ahead of enterprise IT in enabling a mobile first and cloud first approach to working. Not because our corporate IT departments are unaware of the technology, afterall you don’t get into IT if you don’t love technology. It’s not because they think the direction is wrong either, but to bring it off successfully it will need a new vision, new budgets and newly skilled workers to bring it about.

The change to come

Changing the workplace to support today’s knowledge worker requires some significant changes in thinking as well as new tools to make it all work.

Better knowledge management - to ensure the right information is accessible with a means of capturing and classifying it. Everyone contributes to the companies body of knowledge.

Better ways of finding information - search functions that work within an organisation, curated content, tagged and classified simply so it can be found.

Better ways of accessing information - mobile & cloud first - access information where and when you need it, synchronized between devices and team members

Better ways of sharing information and the encouragement to do so. Share what you know to build a learning culture - Easy knowledge creation tools - videos, blogs etc.

Better ways of communicating and collaborating You are now as strong as your personal network - IM, Twitter, Facebook, collaborative project management tools

Better ways of measuring If learning is no longer based around an event, then happy sheets and even the Kirkpatrick model becomes redundant. We need new metrics or who will value L&D as a department if we can’t prove its worth!

Learning to innovate

For an organisation to be innovative we have to risk change, innovation isn’t about small incremental improvements. It’s about changing your world view and striking out in a new direction.

In contrast to the early 80’s organisations we now need to be increasingly innovative to survive, and even then only the most innovative will thrive. Support your most innovative people and give them the tools they need to be productive and do it across the whole organisation. This helps your best people do what they do and helps them show others how to excel too. The potential impact of the network effect of a company full of innovators is huge

Photo Credit: Arthur John Picton