A Digital Coach: The LMS of the Workflow Learning World

This blog is generated from the Performance Matters Podcast episode titled A Digital Coach: The LMS of the Workflow Learning World. In it, Bob Mosher and Executive Director of the 5 MoN Academy Chris King discuss what makes a true Digital Coach and how its journey into the learning world is similar to that of the LMS. 

Bob Mosher (BM): Today, I am honored to be joined by a dear friend and colleague here at APPLY Synergies, but also somebody that we've known in the performance support space for quite a long time. He is a brilliant 5 Moments of Need (5 MoN) designer and more. Chris King, want to say hi and share a little bit about your journey? 

Chris King (CK): Thanks, Bob. My current role is the Executive Director of the 5 MoN Academy. In that role, I'm happy to be delivering a variety of different courses, helping people better understand the 5 MoN and become 5 MoN designers. The Designer Certificate course is what we use to help people understand how to design and deploy 5 MoN solutions. 

I've been on this journey for 11 years, and I've been in a variety of different roles at consulting firms trying to drive 5 MoN solutions into other organizations. It’s always fun, because as soon as you get one stakeholder up to speed, they move on or get reassigned, and you start all over again. So, it is definitely a journey. One of the things that keeps coming up repeatedly is technology and the technological capabilities that you need to deploy a 5 MoN solution in an organization. Part of my journey is helping people with that technology aspect. 

BM: We should do a whole other podcast on sustainability, right? Change leadership, change management, etc. would probably make a great topic. 

Today, we're doing a deep dive into this whole Digital Coach thing. It's really come up on a number of levels that we've determined in our work. The reality is that to do workflow learning well, you must have a Digital Coach in some way, shape, or form. You just do. It's like committing to any kind of platform. If you're going virtual, you’ve got to buy a virtual platform. Well, it's kind of the same here. If you're going deep into workflow learning and this type of skill, you must have the right tools. You're not going to pound nails with a saw. So, a Digital Coach really has emerged as an incredibly powerful aspect of the discipline. But people get hung up on the term and questions like, “Do I buy one? Have I got one? Is it just one?” 

Chris, you've been deep in technology for us for quite a while. I've heard you say this idea that a Digital Coach isn't per se a single technology. What do you mean by that? And what is it really? 

CK: I have to go all the way back to the beginning and Gloria Gery's original definition of an Electronic Performance Support System (EPSS). She wrote her book Electronic Performance Support Systems: How and why to remake the workplace through strategic application of technology in 1991. It was really visionary and ahead of her time. In it she said that an EPSS is an orchestrated set of technology enabled services that provide on-demand access to integrated information, guidance, advice, assistance, training, and tools to enable high level job performance with a minimum of support from other people. I think it's worth repeating that first part: a Digital Coach isn't a technology. It's an orchestrated set of technology enabled services. If you think about 1991, that was really cutting edge, but now, that's where we live. We live in technology enabled services. Software as a Service is everywhere now. You can put together a Digital Coach by stringing together different pieces of technology to cover different areas of capability that you really need to deploy a Digital Coach. Now, it is worth noting that Digital Coach Authoring Software has emerged in the last several years as a strong category in the learning technology toolkit space. The 5 MoN has ongoing relationships with strong technology partners, and they are definitely worth looking into. Three to mention (in alphabetical order) are AskDelphi, Panviva, and tt-s.  

There are three capability areas, as we think about them now, which are 1) content solution development and maintenance, 2) content solution delivery, with the ongoing optimization of that content, and 3) tracking, measuring, and reporting. These map back to the concept of an orchestrated set of technology enabled services. You've already got those things in your organization. If you have an authoring tool, you have a way to do content development. If you have a website, you have a way to do content delivery. What we're trying to think about now is how to apply some principles to those different pieces of technology so that you can really have some guidelines about the kind of capabilities you need. 

BM: Love that. And I think we have to be careful here too, Chris. In my opinion, all too often people go the other way and don't pivot enough on the word “orchestrated”. They skip right to “set of technology enabled services” and think, “Well, I've got all that. I've got 58 SharePoint sites. I've got an LCMS. I've got an LMS. I've got a knowledge management system. I've got MS Teams for social. Poof - I've got a Digital Coach.” I think we have to be careful there. For me, the “orchestrated” part has always been the tip of the sword. Every company we go into has got “stuff”. It's not a lack of stuff. It's just the sheer lack of orchestration. 

To be transparent, people come to us all the time (particularly vendors) wanting to sign up as a 5 MoN Digital Coach. They think they are one. Well, sometimes they're not. When you think about what rises to the top that separates a platform from moving into the Digital Coach area, what do you think are some fundamental things for folks to look for? What are the principles that define a Digital Coach? 

CK: I've got about 6 principles that I’ve been thinking about. The first two are around applying structure to your content:

1.    The first principle is to provide consistent structure for each type of content. You have to be able to present the content in a way that is consistent for the performer to consume. They’ll begin to look for that particular form when they're looking for that particular type of content.

2.    Consistent structure is important and has to be there on the back end for the authors. That way, the authors can establish what is a task, what is supporting knowledge, what is a step, and what is a resource. Your set of orchestrated technology enabled services must provide that consistent structure. 

The other kind of broad grouping of principles is around providing task-level performance support. This is really where the rubber meets the road for a Digital Coach. If you're not able to get those steps to the performer when they need them, you're not really helping them. Some of the principles behind this are:

3.    Providing access to the Digital Coach at all relevant points of work, whether that's through a screen on a desk, on a tablet, or on a phone. How are you providing access to the Digital Coach and is it in that work context?

4.    Setting up contextual access to the tasks and their supporting resources. That's about how you limit the choices a performer must sort through in order to reduce their cognitive load so they can get right to the work.

5.    Providing just enough. “How can I help you the least today?” is one way I've heard you say it before, Bob. It's all about limiting the amount of stuff they have to filter through when they're in the flow of work. Because if they have to stop and think about it, then they're out of the flow of work and that's defeating the purpose.

6.    Keep all content correct and current. In a Digital Coach, as soon as something is out of date, people stop using it. The operations and maintenance aspects of those technology enabled services have to make it easy for authors to keep things up to date.

BM: I think the only other thing I'd pivot on, Chris, that I always look for is the workflow itself. That’s the crux of it: the context, right? When I'm shown a tool, the first thing I ask if I don't see it right away is, “How is the workflow represented here? How does this technology allow the learner to see the workflow as their guide?” Instead of links and top-down menus and similar kinds of things, which are fine and I’m not knocking them, in the context of a workflow Digital Coach, fundamentally it must represent (graphically or otherwise) the workflow as its navigation. 

We've been running at an interesting metaphor lately because people say, “Look, principally I get it. But is this like anything that I know? Have I been on this journey before?” Something that I think has actually been resonating is this idea that a Digital Coach is to workflow learning what an LMS was to the eLearning domain. I think there are a lot of similar principles we can work through here, Chris. 

I was there when the LMS was invented if you will. I was part of a large eLearning company at the time that eventually went on to one that you may know as Skillsoft and other things. We ran headlong into this problem: as successful as eLearning became, the initial foray was, “I'm going to write one for Excel and I'm going to write one for Word, and…” and suddenly you had 20,000 eLearning courses. The word “library” started materializing. Like we described a moment ago with the plethora of resources and content types across an enterprise, suddenly we realized that this was not manageable. Our learners couldn’t navigate this stuff. They couldn't find what they needed. We had no way of reporting on the courses. To your point, we couldn't guide learners at all if we needed or wanted to. And poof—the LMS was born. 

I think there's a Digital Coach metaphor here for this idea that first, fundamentally, we needed a single source of truth on the training side. We couldn't just send learners off to whatever we had at the time. I don't think SharePoint was even around, but wherever these libraries were being stored and however they were named, we couldn’t just say, “Have at it.” So, I think there's an analogy here to this idea of the UI or the interface that a Digital Coach provides. 

CK: That development of the user interface really drove the popularity of the LMS in an organization. If we're drawing a straight parallel between the LMS and the Digital Coach, we can skip past the, “Oh my gosh, we can network this LMS!” and, “Oh my gosh, we can include content in this LMS!”, which were the phases of LMS evolution in the 1990s. But we're at the full-on Software as a Service learning portal that is web-based technology now. So how do we take modern web design principles and apply those as we present content to the performers and help the authors on the back end? Those are the two parallel tracks of LMS development that really made things workable as an enterprise system: the ability to author content somewhere and bring it in, manage it and date it, and then maintain it. Those are important aspects, but also how are you presenting it? We just talked about the principles for what it should look like on the front end, but the back end is just as important. I think you have to think about the user interface for both of those audiences—the content developers and the content consumers. 

BM: Anyone we've worked with runs headlong into that as soon as they start pulling this whole thing together. We've always argued that the journey to a Digital Coach—to your point, as a framework more than a technology—can often start at a linked PDF. That meets Gloria Gery’s definition. Likewise, to your point, some of the earlier versions of the LMS were equally as clunky and equally as immature, because they stepped up to the initial need, which was just structure. Then we learned pretty quickly that there were a whole lot of things that follow, like maintenance, reporting, and guiding our learners to what's appropriate. On the training side, we use terms like learning path, professional development, and HRS—all these things that help people on the training side. But the same things come up on the performance support and workflow learning side and become a really important part of the need for this kind of platform and what we need it to do. 

CK: Yes, it’s things like tracking for compliance. Are you able to show how many times a certain task or process in the workflow is being accessed in your Digital Coach? Those are the kinds of capabilities on the tracking and reporting side that I think are still maturing within the Digital Coach space. Ultimately, we're going to get to the point where the Digital Coach as a platform needs to be as robust and well thought out as the LMS has become. It's been a 20-year journey for the LMS. For Digital Coaches, we're a few years down that road, but we're not quite where we are with the LMS. So, if you're a vendor and you're listening to this, think about the software requirements that went into the LMS and how you can adapt those to your Digital Coach. How can you grow your Digital Coach in a way that's going to follow the principles we’re espousing and make it easy to use? I think the “easy to use” part is one of the big challenges. 

BM: Particularly on the Apply, Solve, and Change side, that's the different pivot for me. The LMS pivots on New and More and all the stuff we've talked about with tracking, versioning, and reporting. Although, we’ve always argued that New and More are parts of the performance support pyramid. This is the power of a Digital Coach. In some cases, it supplants the LMS in that it can also house New and More. But those are low in the pyramid. The reality is, it's a performance tool. It's not a training tool. It’s all about doing and all about applying. It really has to pivot on the tracking, the usage, and so on around how it helps people get their work done. 

The podcast before this was with our colleague Sara Chizzo, and she's so excited about this domain and has moved into it intentionally after 20 years of being in measurement, because she finally feels that this is cracking that nut. The tracking we're talking about here is not just click-throughs or attendance, which are clearly valid on the New and More side, and particularly with compliance and so on. But what we're talking about now is tracking and reporting on the application and doing of steps and knowledge. I think the Digital Coach opens a whole other door to us that the LMS never really got us through. 

CK: I think about things like the Experience API (xAPI), which allows us to track activity outside of the LMS. How can xAPI, if it's incorporated into a Digital Coach, start to really fill out those learning paths that the LMS has already been maturing and defining really well? You integrate xAPI into a Digital Coach and now you can say which performers are doing a specific task, and you've got a record of it in a Record Store somewhere that will be able to show how your performers are climbing that proficiency curve. You can see them getting to the point where they are acting in a way that lets you say, “We have reached that point where we're moving past integrating into the workflow. Now, we're performing and we're sustaining that performance, and we're improving that performance.” I think the Digital Coach is going to be a key aspect of that, because it will live in the workflow—unlike the LMS, where you have to stop working to go do something in it. The Digital Coach should live there in the workflow with the performers. If you've got xAPI or some other technology that's going to allow you to track what they're doing there, you're going to be able to create an amazing story about how you're actually moving the needle in your organization. 

BM: Here's another interesting parallel, Chris. Once the LMS matured to a point that it had the structure we're talking about, once it got pretty decent and our libraries grew, once we had significant volume and covered a lot of content, “blended learning” was born. In the sense that we took 5-day courses and made them 2-day courses and surrounded them with eLearning (making flipped learning or whatever we want to call it), these kinds of practices were born. Micro-learning, I would argue, has been around way longer than when the term came about several years back, because we had small chunks of instruction (aka “learning bursts” as Con likes to call them). So, “blended training” was born. We like to say that with a Digital Coach, blended learning was actually born. We called it blended learning early on, but I've always argued that if you ask the learner, it's not. It's blended training. We're taking New and More assets and mixing them up differently. The economics changed dramatically, which is spectacular, but that really doesn't change the intent and that moment of need. The Digital Coach gets out into the workflow—Apply, Change, Solve—and I think with it, we arrive at blended learning. What do we mean by that when we talk about that full journey? 

CK: For a Digital Coach, when we're focused on the blend, we're talking about incorporating Targeted Training so that we're leveraging the methodology to identify where the high-impact points are in the content and in the workflow. Which tasks in the workflow are going to have big consequences if they’re not done correctly? A Digital Coach gives us the ability to see the entire workflow, but it also opens space in the classroom for us to say that because performers have access to the entire workflow in a Digital Coach, we're now going to spend our classroom time focusing on those points where you need a safe place to fail in order to learn how to do something correctly. In the struggle comes the learning, as I tell my students in the 5 MoN Academy courses. We have to give people a place to struggle that's not live in the system, that’s not in front of an actual customer, etc. You would never want an airline pilot to try out a new maneuver in an airplane full of actual customers. We need an airplane simulator. 

I think the power of the Digital Coach is that we are presenting all the things we need to cover in the workflow. It's all there. It's in that Digital Coach that’s available to everybody. And now we've got the opportunity to blend in the learning so that we're focused on the high-impact points, where we can give space for practice, and how we can bring more discussion into the classroom. We can give performers a chance to do more exercises and more practice, rather than just trying to cover everything. 

One of my big failures as an instructor was a Microsoft Project course that I designed in the early 2000s. To my shame, in that course I started on the left-hand menu and went through everything in it. And then I went left to right across the menus. I just covered everything that was in the menus. I didn't teach anybody how to use Microsoft Project. With what I know now, I could have developed a Digital Coach that gave everybody all of those things in the menus, and then just focused my classroom course on how a project manager might use Microsoft Project. That's the promise that we've got with this. 

BM: Yes. Focus on the workflow of a project manager—not the menus of MS Project. 

Although performance support was born out of IT—which we understand because it's just so darn task driven and step driven—every job has a workflow, including squishy ones like leadership, sales, and customer service. They all have a workflow. They've all got tasks. They've all got critical things that if done wrong result in terrible consequences. Workflow learning lifts up and plops down—as eLearning did—in everything. I mean, the early eLearning courses we wrote back in that company I was a part of were all for IT. Then along came some other organizations, Harvard being one of them, who said, “What about business classes?” Sure enough, we broke out of that model and picked up hard skill courses and wrote soft skill (or power skill) eLearning courses. We can absolutely do that here. 

That's why I love the fact that for us, blended learning has two deliverables. One is Targeted Training, and I love that brand. I really do. Notice we didn't say targeted “learning”, because learning to the learner is the train, transfer, sustain journey. That is their learning journey. We don't inflict that on them. That's what a performer does. We enable their learning through Targeted Training in the training part, and a Digital Coach in the transfer and sustain part. It's just such a powerful thing. 

Let's put a bow around this. So many people are running at workflow learning. It's very exciting and global. We see it everywhere. But under the covers is this Digital Coach thing lying there. What I think we want to get across today is that you should absolutely run at the workflow learning discipline, but when you get into the weeds of it, there are things you must have to do it. 

CK: I agree completely. And you know, we're calling them our ADAPT principles, but they’re really principles that can be applied to whatever technology you have so that you can make decisions about how to make it into a Digital Coach. What are the interface standards you need? What are the capabilities you need for it to talk to other systems? What kind of measurement do you need to build into this? That's what we're talking about when we're developing these principles. And then they can be applied to any kind of orchestrated set of technology enabled services. That's where we're headed with this. 

I've also been saying that technology is not methodology. I think that's an important thing to end on. You can get a fancy, shiny, very modern Digital Coach, but if you don't have some sort of methodology behind it to help you organize the content and figure out what/when to produce and present to performers, it's not going to do you any good. I think that's where we really need to focus now. Let's develop this Digital Coach technology and make it into an LMS-style enterprise system that really checks the boxes on how to deliver content to the performers in their moment of need. But also, we need to make sure that we're organizing that content and figuring out how to design and develop it in a way that's sustainable and maintainable in an organization. 

BM: Yes, methodology begets technology. We've been down this road before. I do not believe in death by PowerPoint or that SharePoint sucks. It's actually death by bad presenting and SharePoint stinks because it's designed poorly. We love to throw barbs at these tools. I remember sitting in a meeting at Microsoft with someone from the Word group. He very nonchalantly said, “Look, just because we gave you Word doesn’t mean you’re a writer.” The same goes here. Without the principles you so brilliantly started us out with, and that Gloria Gery espoused over 20 years ago, we don't get there. Today, we can get there in ways we never could before. Gloria would be incredibly energized and proud of what her original definition could mean today. 

Great stuff, my friend. Great work as always and so appreciate the dialogue. Thanks for being here. 

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ROI is Measured in the Workflow

This blog is generated from the Performance Matters Podcast episode titled ROI is Measured in the Workflow. In it, Bob Mosher and Dr. Con Gottfredson are joined by APPLY Synergies’ Executive Director of Consulting Services Sara Chizzo. Together, they explore how embedding learning in the workflow empowers learning professionals to finally measure impact, effectiveness, and return on investment of learning solutions.

Bob Mosher (BM): Welcome back to another Performance Matters podcast. I can't tell you how excited I am about two things: 1) the measurement topic, which we really need to talk about after an event I recently attended, and 2) the people who are with me. They are two of the most remarkable colleagues that I'm fortunate enough to work with. First, the famous Dr. Conrad Gottfredson. Welcome back. Good to have you here.

Con Gottfredson (CG): Good to be back.

BM: And this next person just rings our bell. I've been fortunate to know her professionally and watch her work for about 20 years, and now we are fortunate to have her as part of our group. I'd like to introduce you to Sara Chizzo. Sara, welcome to the podcast.

Sara Chizzo (SC): Thank you. It is a pleasure to be here and a pleasure to work with you both.

BM: It's just a dream come true for us. Sara has a remarkable history in measurement. Sara, can you tell us a little bit about your journey?

SC: Absolutely. About 25 years ago, I pivoted to the learning and development space working for a technical training company called Productivity Points. That was my first foray into professional learning and understanding that companies actually pay for this kind of stuff, and for external providers and experts to help them train and develop their employees. After a few years of doing that, I got a little bit frustrated. My largest account was Motorola Solutions. At the end of their contract term, they came back to us and asked some questions: what did we train on during this period and what was the return on that investment? First, we couldn't even provide them with accurate information globally about what we'd actually trained their people to do. The systems didn't talk to each other. But we really didn't have any way of measuring the impact, the effectiveness, and the return on that sizeable investment. It was about that time that I joined a colleague of mine named Kent Barnett, who started a company called KnowledgeAdvisors with the desire of bringing some additional discipline to the space. We wanted to help provide more information and data to companies so that they could understand whether their programs were moving the dial. So, that was my journey. I’ve spent about 18 years in measurement and analytics for learning.

BM: Spectacular, and great work. We are really excited to have you here, because now we move into the workflow. Now we move into performance. Sara, why don’t you share a couple interesting stats? We're going to frame this discussion with some things we've heard lately that, frankly, have been a little troubling. So, why don’t you give us a couple to start?

SC: I'm first going to totally indict myself and the work that I did (or didn't) do over the last 18 years with the first two data points. I think it's important to understand where we are and the data about measurement in the learning and development space to better understand where we have been able to move the dial. So, I want to share a couple of things. The first is a data point from a McKinsey & Company study. Learning leaders say that only 25% of their programs improve performance. I remember the first time I read that. I asked myself, “What are we doing?!” What are we doing if, absent of any information, our learning leaders are instinctively saying that three quarters of our programs aren't doing anything? What are our stakeholders paying for? And then the second data point is from a follow-up study that the Performative team did where they asked learning leaders a bunch of additional questions. Ninety-seven percent of those polled (I think it was a sample size of about 250) said that there was waste somewhere in the learning process, but they had no idea where. Essentially, we were providing learning that wasn't netting an impact, either to the individual's performance or to that of the organization (talent or business outcomes). And now that I've had the benefit of looking at this from the 5 Moments of Need (5 MoN) lens, I cannot help but go back to the source, which is how we think about supporting our learners at the time of their work, as they're performing.

If you think about the first data point about three quarters of programs not improving performance, it's because we're not taking a performance lens to the development of our programs and the development of our solutions in the first place. We're not designing for performance. So, if we're not designing for performance, then we shouldn't be surprised when three quarters of our programmatic investments don't net a result. And to the second point about waste in the process, there's far too much of a disconnect between the actual work that's being done and where we're looking to try and support learners in doing their work. Of course, there's going to be waste in the process because the learning is not happening while the work is happening. So, those two data points really jumped out at me within the context of workflow learning and the 5 MoN because I think they both could be dramatically and positively impacted with the right design approach up front.

BM: Perfect. Con, what do you think about when someone says, “But you know, Con, it's busy. It's hard. There are just so many influencers out there after the training. My training could get lost in that. It's not a fair measure of my training, because the learner’s manager, the learner’s discipline, how soon they try to practice when they get back…all those things are unfair to measure my training against because those influencers cloud the measure.” So, what's your answer to that? What do you think that points to?

CG: Every time I hear that it tells me they're chasing a skunk down a hole. They're in a training mindset. They're certainly not thinking, designing, building, and implementing around enabling effective job performance. Gloria Gery saw this. What a remarkable visionary she was. In the 90s, when she wrote her book Electronic Performance Support Systems, she was very clear. In terms of indicting what was being done under the umbrella of training, she said that it wasn't leading to performance and that it needed to. And what she saw was that you can't measure impact if you're trying to get there from the training alone, because too much happens after the fact. By the time you measure learning, those learners have had to access a lot of other things to get where they need to be, because the training wasn't enough. That's the bottom line. The training was not enough to get them to productive performance. So, what do they do? They rely on other people, they work through other systems, and they do other kinds of things to achieve performance. Gloria said that if we build a performance support system that supports people as they do their work, that system—in the work and the workplace—gives us the ability to gather data to make those direct connections. Back to your question, when I hear that, it just lets me know that they're looking at the training, and the only way learners get to productive performance is by going and involving other things [besides training].

BM: I’ve shared my frustration around what I heard recently, which is, “Well, then let's just back off this. I'm sick of chasing the ROI thing. It's hard.” That's like a fireman saying, “Well, I just don't want to know if the fire is out because it's hard to sift around and dig in the rubble. It's hard to get into the dirt and the afterburn because it's messy.” But until we get to that level and understand that there are embers there, we don't go beyond just throwing water on the fire. For so long in training, it has been just that—and we see the flame go out. We assume the learner did well. They like the experience. They feel like they can apply what they learned and what they heard was relevant. So, we pick up our trucks and leave, but the learner is left with the mess of work and the reality of how messy and hard and volatile the workplace is. So, we have to get beyond training and training alone. I want to be careful. We're not condemning training as an entity. We're just saying that, for too long, it's been a safe place and our only answer to this world we need to journey into a bit more.

Con, talk a bit about this workflow thing and why it's been such a missing part of our analysis and our understanding for so long. Don't SMEs give us that? They tell us all that's important when we put them in a room.

CG: They could give us that if we ask the right questions. We generally go into a task analysis or whatever analysis we're doing with the mindset that we're going to build a training solution—not that we're going to enable effective performance on the job. And how are we going to enable effective job performance without facing the workflow? That's where performance occurs. Glory Gery called the workflow the “performance zone”. So, you have to face that; therefore, when you're dealing with effective job performance, the measurable objectives include the ability to complete a job task, whatever that task is—and we can measure that, we can gather data around that—but we've got to be able to face it. And you can't face that without stepping into the workflow and mapping it.

Let me just say this. Sara, you mentioned waste. When we look at onboarding programs and we step into the workflow, and we build workflow solutions that support people as they move through the training, as they move through that transfer phase, as they move into and begin to sustain performance in the flow of work—the moments of Apply, Solve, and Change—when we build that kind of a solution, we consistently see that time to proficiency is cut in half. I mean, we just saw a client take an 18-month time to proficiency down to 5 months, because they focused on performance. They brought in the power of workflow learning and they ended up with people being able to perform more effectively, more productively, and with less oversight. They were able to measure and demonstrate all those things because they were facing the workflow and designing and building and measuring around that.

BM: Sara, as you have learned more about this and you think about the world you came from, why does a Digital Coach excite you? As you look at L&D wanting to get to KPIs and other things we've talked about for so long, what does a Digital Coach add to a measurement conversation? Why do you think it gives us a different level of impact and approach?

SC: I think it’s really important to remember what we're in service of as learning professionals within our organizations. We are in service of the business. We are in service of performance. What gets me excited in thinking about how we provide solutions that allow our learners to optimize their work—while they are building their capabilities and their ability to do their work as effectively as possible—is that it really solves the measurement problem, right? The measures that we've been focusing on so far around waste and scrap learning, misalignment—those are almost entirely assuaged when you actually have a Digital Coach sitting shoulder-to-shoulder with you in the workflow. Because whatever my work is, I’m going to encounter a moment when I don't know how to do something. I'm struggling, and if I can quickly get the answer to my question and the support that I need, then I can get back to my work. Then we can say the work stoppage was a matter of minutes vs. other types of measures. For example, 60 or 90 days after a learning event, we hear from learners that they were only able to use 3% of the training we provided back on the job. I mean, how is that useful and helpful for a company that is in a very competitive industry and that’s trying to improve profit margins and overall competitiveness? So, that's what excites me.

The data points that I shared in the beginning of this conversation should be a call to action. We need to build our training differently. We oftentimes translate those data points to mean we need to find out what's happening with our learners so we can either improve the front-end training or provide them with some type of a job aid on the back end. Neither of those things is going to solve the issue. We need to robustly support them while they're doing their work.

BM: Anyone who can work “assuaged” into the answer to a question is in a whole new world for me. That was stunning, Sara. Love that.

So, let's talk about something I heard recently. I’d love to get your reactions. One measure we use is confidence, or self-efficacy, which is to feel that beyond just remembering everything, I have the metacognitive skills and tools—it's a combination of both—to enable and improve my performance. Recently, in a more traditional analysis, a learning professional learned that practice (aka “doing”) builds confidence, so their solution (to your point, Sara) was to go back to the front end—in a training mindset—and build more practice into the class. I agree that practice is better than 50 more PowerPoint slides. I'm all for that because of the cognitive load, etc. But that's confusing practice with true confidence building. Because even after I leave, having practiced a lot, I still just don't know. I'm entering the world of real work.

Con, run at this practice thing for me for just a second.

CG: Well, years ago, we did some work for the world's largest manufacturer of pumps. It was a European company and when they approached us, they said, “When our people finish their onboarding training, they are so confident. They leave, we survey them, and they're very confident. Even at six months, they are still confident, but something happens at the one-year mark. They suddenly say their training and onboarding experience was terrible and they have no real confidence in what we did for them. Can you explain why?” And I said, “Well, it takes them a year to figure out that what you were doing for them didn't help them.”

Albert Bandura did the most salient body of research in terms of self-efficacy and confidence building as it relates to learning. He found that the sooner people perform effectively and can recover if they make a mistake, that's the best way to build self-efficacy. Performing effectively in a controlled classroom is very different than performing effectively in the workflow. As you said the other day, Bob, the most powerful practice is work. That, to me, is a profound statement in and of itself. Work is practice: it's applying, it's doing the work in the workflow. The moment a person successfully performs on the job, that's when their confidence is reinforced and grows. The sooner we can enable effective performance in the flow of work, we begin to build that self-efficacy. The sooner people can recover when they make a mistake, we build that self-efficacy. Employee engagement is at the heart of self-efficacy, according to Bandura. That's where we've got to focus. It’s not about more practice in the classroom. It's about making sure that when people step into the workflow, they have the help they need from the Digital Coach (aka EPSS) to perform effectively on the job.

BM: If you want to practice anything, practice your Digital Coach. I don't want you to leave training because you did 10 practice runs of the same activity and got to the point where you think you can do it in your real work. What if I had you do 10 practice runs with a Digital Coach, so that when you leave, you know where to find what you need (you know how to recover)? Failure is a remarkable teacher and it's going to happen in the workflow. What if I mitigate your time to remediate if I help you avoid failure by teaching the practices around using a Digital Coach while performing so you do things correctly? That's where performance improves and confidence is raised. So, it's confidence in my ability to troubleshoot and survive in the workflow vs. confidence in my ability to memorize well.

SC: I'll give you an example. In between a couple tours of duty in the learning measurement space, I went to work for one of the most renowned business schools in the world, which also provides leadership development to corporations. That was the business unit I worked in. I was immediately going to be taking over a team and I had some things that I really needed to address with its members. Talking about this issue of confidence and coming into a role like that, I remember going through my onboarding process and being quite stressed about my personal brand and my reputation. I was asking myself, “Am I going to be able to hang with these people who are pretty incredible leaders?! Because we do world class leadership development!” I was worried I might mess up the first performance conversation, or the first time I had to coach somebody. I would have felt 100% more confident if I had come away from that onboarding with curated resources in a Digital Coach that were aligned to the work I was doing. I had experience doing the work I was being asked to do, but everything's a little bit different company to company and I hadn't flexed certain muscles in a while. So, I think that’s where we need to think about the confidence component. Onboarding is a great example of that. We want folks to feel confident coming out of onboarding, but we want them to feel confident because they know they're going to be well supported.

BM: And I think we confuse support with training or learning sometimes, meaning we don't think it's the same. I don't think a learner looks through the lens of “this is a training asset”, or “this is a support asset”. They look at it as a performance asset. So, if it helps me perform, and I learn while doing, that's training (in a way). Right, Con?

CG: Gloria Gery referred to that as unconscious learning. What she observed is that when you're in the workflow and you're doing your job, you're learning. If you have a tool to help you do that job, you are learning. It's not conscious and you’re not in a classroom. Again, she called it unconscious learning. But let's admit this: no matter how powerful and wonderful a training class is, when a person leaves that class, they are not competent. They are not proficient. They're ready to start. They're at the beginning stage of that, but expertise is developed over time through experience in the flow of work. So, if you want somebody who has expertise, it's not going to come from the classroom alone. It's going to come from a classroom combined with the workflow and experience over time. And that's real learning. Real learning happens in transfer. Real learning happens in those real-world practice activities, Bob, that you mentioned, when people are doing their work.

BM: Let's change the narrative. If we want to measure performance, let's live at the point of performance. Let's not live only in the weeks, days, and months before performance and try to correlate. Until we make this pivot, until we understand the workflow through analysis, until we enable it with a Digital Coach, until we understand the architecture and design of the performance support pyramid, criticality, and all the things we talked about in so many podcasts before, we're never going to get into those higher levels of Kirkpatrick and Phillips. We can talk about them all we want, but when we go to the C-suite, those leaders who demand these metrics are going to poke and shoot holes in them.

The exciting thing I like about what we do and about these podcasts, about the clients we're blessed to work with and folks like you, Sara, is that we know that the future in this is now. It's no longer something to talk about. It's no longer something to walk away from. Yes, it's hard, but it's doable. Sara, I love what you say sometimes: I think we've made measurement harder than it really is. I've heard you say that over and over again. We complicate this, partially because we don't understand the narrative. It gets simpler when you understand it from this perspective.

SC: One of the things that Con has been schooling me on that I've been so excited to incorporate into some of our thinking around measurement is really the partner to performance and productivity, which is the work stoppage piece. In the example that I gave you earlier when I had a job change, in the absence of a Digital Coach, what did I do? I made good friends with the best sales manager in that entire organization. Every time I needed something, I called him, I emailed him, I texted him, I Slacked him, etc. and got my support through his coaching. I mean, that is incredibly costly, not only in terms of my own work stoppage, but I was also causing his work stoppage. Ultimately, I ended up getting a lot of the answers that I needed, but at what cost? We can amplify performance and we can increase productivity dramatically without having that work stoppage. That's the important piece that I think is really the partner to productivity in the ROI conversation that I'm excited to have now.

CG: Across the board, the cost of stopping work to learn doubles the cost of learning per employee. It just doubles that cost. And it's a real cost because people are stopping work. Our goal is to enable and sustain measurable, effective job performance in a way that minimizes interruption of the work that employees are hired to do. That requires us to step into the workflow and support people in the workflow, which at the same time enables us to measure what is happening in that workflow and directly demonstrate that what we're doing is making a difference in terms of people being able to perform effectively.

BM: You know, I don't think we can go any further than that. That summed it up perfectly. And this is why I'm finally excited about this conversation. It's been the elephant in the room for my 40 years of doing this. In the last 10 or 20 years, Con, working with you and getting into the workflow the way we can now, the narrative changes. We can do this, but we as an industry must choose to change our deliverable, our approach, and the conversation with the business—and step up to wanting to do ROI. We can’t give up on it.

Thank you so much. You're both spectacular. Great podcast. Great conversations.

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Copyright © 2023 by APPLY Synergies, LLC
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Embrace the Benefits of Safe Failure

by Conrad Gottfredson, Ph.D., RwE

Any formal learning solution that lacks effective ongoing performance support leaves in its aftermath random acts of failure. This failure generally goes undetected by the organization unless its consequences are visible.

Even then, the distance between training and these subsequent failure points is often great enough to allow plausible denial of any culpability on the part of the learning solution. A key reason why we don’t see this failure is that the “grading” traditions of most school systems have oriented learners in their workstreams to do everything they can to avoid failure. When we throw them over the wall of our formal learning events into the real world of job performance, they tend to work hard to compensate for the limitations of those inadequate learning solutions. When they fail, they usually fail quietly.

Learning from Mistakes

From our earliest experience in formal education, we have been oriented to get things right and avoid making mistakes. Certainly, those of us who design and develop learning solutions should pursue effective performance as the primary indicator of success.

Yet, there’s a profound lesson to learn from former executive chairman and CEO of Cisco Systems John T. Chambers. When he interviewed potential leaders for his company, he rightly asked first about results and walked through what they had done right. But his next question was, “Can you tell me about your failures?” Chambers looked for candidness about the mistakes they’d made, but then wanted to know, “What would you do differently this time?”

Chambers understood that we’re a product of the challenges we face in life, because how we handle those challenges probably has more to do with what we accomplish than our successes.

Thomas Edison credited failure coupled with determination as the pathway to his success: “Genius? Nothing! Sticking to it is the genius! I’ve failed my way to success.” (1)

Now, no learning professional wants to take a chance on failure when the consequences are significant to catastrophic. This is where an approach called “critical impact of failure analysis” can help sort out tasks where failure can be a safe learning experience. Think about times when you have failed—where that failure didn’t harm anyone or anything. It might have been uncomfortable, but you learned from it, right?

Safe Failure

Learning through “safe” failure is most certainly a contributor to personal growth; therefore, our learning methodology ought to include identifying skills that people can safely learn while working, with the help of a Digital Coach, so that if failure happens, they learn from it and recover in the workflow. Here is an example of how instructionally powerful safe failure can be:

Recently, I was at a family home in southern Utah with my grandson. I asked him to load and turn on the dishwasher. Here is a 30-second video of his life changing learning experience:

Watch this short video!

Although Joseph had been taught by his mom and dad never to do what he did, he still made the mistake. After this safe failure experience, he will never make that mistake again. Through safe failure, he learned in one of the most instructionally powerful ways possible.

Again, no learning professional wants to take a chance on failure when the consequences are significant to catastrophic. But in our experience, on average, half of the skills taught in corporate courses can be learned safely in the flow of work, while working, without the need for employees to stop the work they have been hired to do. If an employee fails to complete a task successfully, that failure can be a safe and instructionally impactful learning experience. All that is needed is a Digital Coach to provide access to the support required to quickly recover.

Spend a few minutes studying the following rating scale:

Figure 1: Critical Impact of Failure Scale 

Consider the implications of identifying skills that score in the 1 to 3 range in the scale above. For these skills, an effectively designed Digital Coach provides a safety net that allows complete transformation of the classroom. How? By delivering 2-click, 10-second access to just what's needed to enable learning in the workflow, you can take these lesser-rated skills out of the classroom. This allows greater instructional focus on the remaining higher-rated skills.

Without this, most courses cram in too much for the allotted time. To cover it all, proper instructional methodology is often sidelined, which forces instructors into presenter mode; yet the critical impact ratings for some of that content call for significant investment of methodology.

Learning in the Context of Work

Critical impact of failure analysis has proven to be the means for safely removing an average of 50% of content from the learning queue and putting it into the workflow to be learned at the moment of Apply. This is actually the optimal environment for learning content and skills, provided the consequences of failure aren't significant to catastrophic. The real world, not the classroom, provides legitimate context and pressing need.

The closer a learner is to the place and moment of Apply, the more open and ready that learner is to learn. Consider your own learning mindset while in the workflow compared to when you step away from it to learn in the fabricated environment of a classroom or an eLearning course. At which of those moments are you most motivated to learn and ready to engage mentally, emotionally, and physically?

In closing, 1) experience confirms that we are most attuned to learning when we are in the context of our work, and 2) research shows that our work is the environment in which learning is most naturally optimized. Here's the good news: we can confidently push the learning of "safe failure" skills into the workflow, to be exclusively learned there with the help of a Digital Coach. If performers make mistakes, they learn from them in a very powerful way. Pushing "safe failure" skills into the workflow also allows us to give greater instructional attention to skills where the critical impact of failure is significant to catastrophic. By doing this, we responsibly mitigate potential failure points rather than leaving failure up to chance—something we should never do.

(1) https://www.inspiringquotes.us/author/3870-thomas-a-edison/about-genius 

Subscribe to The Performance Matters Podcast to stay up to date on all the latest conversations and guests in the 5 Moments space. 

Visit our website for additional resources: Certificate courses, an eBook on workflow learning, and our latest EnABLE Methodology white paper. 

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Copyright © 2023 by APPLY Synergies, LLC
All Rights Reserved.

2023 Learning & HR Trends: Where Workflow Learning Can Make a Difference

This blog is generated from the Performance Matters Podcast episode titled 2023 Learning & HR Trends: Where Workflow Learning Can Make a Difference. In it, Bob Mosher and Dr. Con Gottfredson discuss market research gathered by their colleague Brooke Thomas-Record and how workflow learning can help organizations meet current and ongoing challenges. 

Bob Mosher (BM): As we start 2023, we want to share some remarkable data gathering that a dear colleague of ours recently completed so that we can consider it in the context of the coming year. I think as learning professionals, we've got to strategically and intentionally think about where we're going and how we’re defining our priorities. So, I am so thrilled to be joined by two colleagues. Dr. Con Gottfredson, are you there? 

Con Gottfredson (CG): I am. It's great to be with you and I’m especially looking forward to our conversation today. 

BM: I am as well. We have been so fortunate at APPLY Synergies to have a remarkable lifelong friend in the industry, Brooke Thomas-Record, join us. As you'll hear in a moment, she brings remarkable insights about our industry into the work that we do. Brooke, welcome. 

Brooke Thomas-Record (BT): Thank you so much. It's a pleasure to be part of this with you today and thank you for the warm welcome.

BM: Toward the end of 2022, Brooke did some wonderful work for us. I don't know about the rest of you, but I struggle keeping up with the many trends that are spread across multiple resources. Brooke took on the challenge of looking across several of those to really see where thought leaders, research folks, and voices in our industry were thinking about issues that our field is dealing with and where we are headed. So, we asked Brooke to host a conversation with us today, obviously in the context of 5 Moments of Need, performance, and workflow learning. Brooke, we’ll have you kick that off. Give us a little bit of background about what got you here and what you took on. I know there are four areas you want to highlight. Take it away, friend. 

BT: Sure! This is the culmination of some market research I was asked to do for which I used 10 different resources. I'll list them here so that everyone understands how this information has been sourced.

Everything you'll hear me say today is pulled from those resources. 

BM: Remarkable. So, kick us off. What are some key topics that you think are important as we start the year?

BT: I picked 4 to start so I will list all 4 and then we can dig into each of them:

  • Reskilling and upskilling. (It's probably not a surprise to most people that this was a big trend across all the resources I reviewed.) 
  • Improving the employee experience. 
  • Supporting internal mobility. (I think this is really tied into that employee experience element.)
  • Pivoting toward hybridization. (Although COVID showed up three years ago and work has changed quite a bit since then, this shift is continuing. I think companies are still figuring out the best ways to approach hybrid work.) 

BM: Totally agree.

BT: Trend number one—reskilling and upskilling. Here are some key data points, statistics, and points of interest from the various resources I read. 
  • Worldwide, nearly 9 out of 10 companies are currently facing a skills gap. The pandemic sped up digital transformation and the ever-enlarging skills gap. Some 87% of executives report existing skills gaps or expect to face gaps within the next 5 years. 
  • While companies might be tempted to trim training budgets amid the ongoing crisis, experience should show them that investing in retraining can pay off in the long run. 
  • It's becoming increasingly important for companies to deliver timely and effective employee training. Workers are eager to acquire new skills with as many as 70% being willing to leave their current position to work for a company that's more willing to invest in their training and education. 
  • L&D sees the growing skills gap and certainly recognizes that leadership is concerned. 
    • 46% of learning professionals say that the gap has widened at their organizations, a percentage that has increased since 2021. 
    • 49% say executives are concerned that employees don't have the right skills to execute business strategy. Again, that percentage has increased since 2021. 
  • 53% of executives in Deloitte’s 2020 Global Human Capital Trends research expected that between half and all of their workforces would need to reskill by this year (2023) to provide capabilities needed now. A new study also by Deloitte estimates that 100 million global low wage workers will need to find a different occupation by 2030. At the same time, the demand for skilled workers is growing with 7 in 10 employers globally saying they're struggling to find workers with the right mix of technical skills and human capabilities. 
  • More than half of the low wage workers currently in declining occupations might need to shift to occupations in higher wage brackets that require different skills. In the US, 10% of workers in the onsite customer interaction arena (e.g., hospitality, restaurants, etc.) may need to retrain or gain additional skills or education to transition to more secure jobs by 2030.
  • Speedy and effective worker redeployment will be needed, for example, by recruiting and retraining based on skills and experience rather than academic degrees. Rapid changes in working practices and the jobs people do can be accomplished quickly. The key is to focus on the tasks and activities required rather than on whole jobs. Redesigning work in this way can streamline processes, increase efficiency, and enhance operational flexibility and agility. As companies look beyond the pandemic, they have an opportunity to reimagine work, their workforce, and their workplace by focusing on specific tasks and activities vs. entire jobs.
  • The change in labor demands over the next decade will require a major retraining effort as workers transition from jobs that entail mainly routine tasks that require basic cognitive skills like literacy and numeracy into work requiring more technological and social and emotional skills. But the scale of the retraining challenge goes beyond those workers who need to switch occupations, because even among workers who keep their jobs, the tasks they perform will shift.
    • For instance, delivery drivers now use GPS to calculate the fastest routes and use apps to provide real-time tracking, etc.
    • LinkedIn members’ skills for the same occupation changed by about 25% from 2015 to 2021. At at this pace, LinkedIn expects that member skills will change by about 40% by 2025. 
    • In the post COVID scenario, the greatest increase in demand is for technological skills like advanced IT skills, computer programming, engineering, and scientific research and development. In China, the demand for time spent on these skills may increase by 51% by 2030, reflecting that country's rapid move into advanced industries and digitization.
  • Demand is expected to increase for adaptability and continuous learning, reflecting the need for all workers to continuously learn new skills as technology evolves and continuously transforms jobs. This will change educators and employers as there's little consensus on how to teach social and emotional skills.
  • The changes brought by COVID opened the door for companies to play a larger role in retraining workers for new jobs and creating career pathways with upward mobility to ensure a supply of workers with the right skills.
  • L&D leaders report feeling concerned about continuous change and ambiguity. When asked what they want, they report a desire to enhance the capabilities of their teams and to upskill foundational developmental skills like coaching
  • Examples of behaviors associated with achievements in futureproofing by L&D teams include:
    • Managers recognizing the value of learning in the flow of work. For low performing companies, that recognition is only 9%, but in high performing companies, it's 62%. 
    • People understanding how their work is linked to the organization's performance. Again, in low performing companies, that's only 25%, but in high performing companies, it's 79%. 
    • The learning strategy allowing for changing business priorities. That is true in 25% of low performing companies and 93% of high performing companies
  • When we look at optimal educational journeys, we're increasingly seeing that they're led by individual students starting from the ground up with their motivation to learn on their own terms. Companies that want to deliver necessary skills to their workforce must respect that process and employ L&D solutions that empower learners to understand and integrate what they're taught—not just retain the bare minimum needed to pass the test.
  • In the 2022 L&D Global Sentiment Survey, the data shows a shift from 2021’s grand aspiration of reskilling and upskilling programs to the harsh reality of how difficult implementing those efforts really is as we emerge in our semi post-pandemic world. Still, 79% of learning professionals say it's less expensive to reskill a current employee than to hire a new one. And studies have found that retraining existing employees with proven track records is far more cost effective than hiring new people.
  • According to LinkedIn’s 2022 Workplace Learning Report, leadership and upskilling are the top 2 L&D priorities, followed by DE&I (diversity, equity, and inclusion). So, leadership and management training were in half of respondents’ top three choices, but 72% of learning professionals chose upskilling, reskilling, digital upskilling, and/or digital transformation as one of their top three priorities. So, 72% of learning professionals focused on skills. In Asia, upskilling/reskilling was rated the highest priority with 60% of learning professionals saying it's in their top three.
  • There is a 10% increase in large-scale upskilling or reskilling programs that were deployed in 2022 compared to 2021.
BT: After considering those key points, now we turn to some important challenges and areas of concern when it comes to the skilling arena.
  • Scale is a big challenge. According to McKinsey & Company, more than 100 million workers in the 8 countries they surveyed may need to switch occupations by 2030. Of the 17.1 million workers in the US who need to change jobs, almost 15 million might need to find work in different occupational categories. Given the concentration of job growth in high wage occupations and the declines in low wage occupations, the required scale and nature of workforce transitions will be quite difficult.
  • Only 15% of learning professionals say they have active upskilling and reskilling programs, and only 5% have made it to the stage where they're measuring and assessing results. The clear sense seems to be that L&D knows what to do, but is striving hard to obtain the resources, technologies, support, and/or engagement to make it happen. If there was a sense in 2021 that there was a lot of reskilling and upskilling work to be done, in 2022 that drive was somewhat tempered by scale alone.
  • Knowing if a program has made a demonstrable impact on employee performance and the business continues to be L&D’s greatest challenge because the industry is still lacking strategic metrics and relying too heavily on qualitative feedback.
  • Challenges specific to learning in the flow of work include:
    • Globally, 7 out of 10 L&D decision makers are prioritizing learning at the point of need, but learners are saying their learning experiences aren't practical enough. 
    • Although most learners are taking advantage of opportunities at work to help them do their jobs more effectively, it seems that L&D teams need to do a better job of understanding what learners need within the context of their roles.
    • Many L&D teams either don't have the resources to match learning strategies to specific roles, or they aren't invited to provide employees with crucial role-specific support and guidance. They just aren't given the opportunities they need to help people achieve more by learning in the flow of work. 
That wraps up our first trend of reskilling and upskilling. 

CG: Now, the question is how to take all of that and become actionable. I really think it starts with us asking, “What is a skill?” and then defining it. To upskill and reskill, to measure, and to adjust to change, we need to understand and define—as an industry—what a skill really is. The fact that skill gaps are being recognized is important, but how do we see and measure those gaps? This is one of the fundamental challenges that we face: knowing we've got to upskill and reskill, but what does that mean? We know from our work in workflow learning that at the heart of any skill is a job task. That job task must be infused with supporting knowledge that helps workers adapt, adjust, and generalize. And that task can be a soft skill: it can be a principle-based task or a procedural task, but at the heart of any skill is a task. We must understand that and then put in place a system that helps us tactically attack those skills and all those challenges that you've raised, Brooke.

BM: Yes. In your wrap-up at the end of that trend, Brooke, some things just screamed workflow learning to me. And that is my frustration! I’m sick of our industry nodding its head and having workflow learning on its radar. Let's put up or shut up. I'm being abrupt, but what upsets me is if you had a doctor who knew how to heal something, but didn't try to heal it, how irresponsible is that?! We're learning professionals. Workflow learning is not new. There are methodologies to do it. Let's make 2023 the year that we step up to these. 

I didn't hear a single challenge or concern you listed, Brooke, that I have not seen be solved by workflow learning in the years we've been doing it. Measurability? Yep. Time to competency? Yep. Filling skills gaps? I hate that term, by the way, because they should be called performance gaps. They’re not skills gaps. I have skills gaps in accounting, but I'm not an accountant, so I don't care. People have performance gaps and need skills to fill them. And so much vocabulary pivots on “training”. We've got to rethink our vocabulary. I think that will help us begin to rethink what we do and what we build. So much in what you shared was just screaming to me that we've got to realign ourselves around performance, get off the training bandwagon, and to Con’s point, redefine skills. Don't go down the road of competency modeling! Let's look at skills as being based on performance. “Lack of context” means we don't know the workflow. “Irrelevance of training” screams that we don't know the workflow. I mean, if you listen to what Brooke said, it's all in there. So, let's see if this year we can make that pivot.

CG: You know, behind all of this is an organization’s need to be able to adapt, to adjust for the workforce, to pivot to meet market changes, and so forth. As you said, Bob, we know through experience how to meet that need with true workflow learning, which is learning while someone is doing their work, and putting in place the infrastructure to do that. You must map the workflow to build a support system that helps people in their workflow at the job task level. A great example of this is The Hartford’s ability to pivot 2 divisions into work outside of their norms in a matter of weeks because an infrastructure was in place to support learning in the flow of work. It supports people as they perform. 

BM: Yes. Next point, Brooke.

BT: Trend number 2—improving the employee experience. 
  • In the Gartner 2023 HR priority survey, employee experience jumped from 6th place in 2021 to 3rd place in 2022. 
  • LinkedIn Learning is saying that learning leads the way through what they're calling the great reshuffle, which is defined as a period unlike anything in the history of work. Individuals are prioritizing flexibility and fulfillment, and their demands are steering organizations to reexamine business strategies, workforce models, values, and culture.
  • L&D leaders are responding to workers’ calls for growth and purpose while helping futureproof their organizations. Learning leaders are knocking down traditional silos to collaborate on a more holistic vision for HR. They're reaching for fresh solutions to tie skill building to career paths, internal mobility, and retention, while also bringing a new sense of care and humanity to employee wellbeing, diversity, and inclusion. Organizations that prize constant learning will, according to LinkedIn, lead the world as they build the new normal.
  • 81% of executives are changing their workplace policies to offer greater flexibility to their workforce.
  • Having opportunities to learn and grow is now the number one factor that people say defines an exceptional work environment or culture. In 2019, that was ranked ninth in LinkedIn’s survey, so that's a big change in just a few years.
  • Instead of committing to a day of training once a year, or even blocking off a little time each day for eLearning, employees far prefer to learn as they go, making the most of opportunities to speak with people and look things up for themselves. Most learners want to learn as they work, seeking solutions to issues organically at their points of need
  • 3 “blocks” that L&D can address to improve the learner experience:
    • Time crunch. Employees want to learn during work hours, and L&D cites time and resources as their biggest obstacles.
    • Relevance of both content and timing. 41% of learners say that content is too generic. Specifically, onboarding and manager training are identified as key arenas to make sure that the timing and relevance of learning are just right. 
    • Technical limitations. Nearly half of L&D professionals either don't know if their LMS can support integrations for targeted training in the workflow, or they're sure that it can't.
  • Care is moving to the center of conversations about reducing burnout and boosting wellbeing.
    • The most critical factor in a caring employee experience is each person's manager. To that end, almost 50% of learning professionals put increased attention on manager training and support this past year.
    • Employees who feel cared about are over 3 times more likely to say they're happy working for their company, and almost 4 times more likely to recommend working for their company.
    • At companies that struggle with manager care, employees are nearly 50% more likely to apply for a new job. Managers need supercharged soft skills to attract and retain talent
  • It's important to recognize that workers deliver more value when they're respected and invested in. If such investments include reskilling—tying back to our first trend—that will better prepare employers for the future as well
  • One way to show workers the value of their contributions is to emphasize outcomes and performance management since outcomes speak more directly to a worker’s contributions toward organizational objectives.
    • There's evidence that the shift toward outcome-based performance management is already underway. More than 65% of executives surveyed for the 2021 Deloitte Global Human Capital Trends Special Report agreed that they believed metrics would need to shift to capturing outcomes rather than outputs in the next 5 years. In that same report, when executives were asked what workers will increasingly value in the next 5 years, 86% predicted that they would value a meaningful mission and an opportunity to make an impact on that mission. 
So those are the key points about improving the employee experience and now we go into the challenges and areas of concern. 
  • We talked about managers being critical, but they are also at really high risk of burnout. Data shows that many learning professionals are leaning in to activate the power of managers, but there's a word of caution because managers have shown higher burnout levels recently when compared with individual contributors. Over-relying on them is a potential problem.
    • 29% of learning professionals say they're delivering learning programs to managers about leading through change and change management. 
    • 29% of learning professionals say they're increasing the number of trainings and support for managers.
    • 33% of learning professionals say they're focusing on strengthening managers’ coaching skills. 
    • In Gartner's 2023 HR Priority Survey, leader and manager effectiveness jumped two spots from the prior year to reach the number one spot. The problem remains that we don't know what they really need, and they're burned out. Managers feel squeezed between senior leaders’ demands and expanded responsibilities. Burnout is real. 
  • CEOs care more about the workforce than ever. In terms of business priorities, it's risen from 5th in 2020 to 3rd today. For the first time ever, it's higher than financial concerns. So, it's good that the CEOs recognize the importance, but they're focused on it because they're worried. HR strategy needs to be better than ever and support the business strategy with a solid people strategy. Of course, everyone's managing multiple tradeoffs, like cost savings vs. business requirements, talent investments vs. employee needs, etc. 
That's trend number two in a nutshell.

CG: You know, Bob and Brooke, one of the first things we do when we walk into any organization is map the workflow and the work people do. Even though many organizations talk about performance and so forth, most haven't truly mapped that work. How do you manage work that you can't see, that you haven't mapped, and that you don't know? At the heart of workflow learning is this journey of mapping the workflow and then building an infrastructure that supports people as they perform their job tasks with all the resources they need. If you do that and you understand those job tasks in the context of where the critical impacts of failure lie, then it's a different ballgame for managers (e.g., managing work, measuring performance, guiding and directing workers, etc.). But at the heart of managing the work is understanding it and having an infrastructure to support it.

BM: If we want to enhance an employee's experience and all that you shared, Brooke, a bunch of things jumped out at me that I think, again, map to the shift we're pushing for here: opportunity to grow, continuous learning, learn as they go, organically adapting, content is too generic (to your point, Con, we lack context and we don't know the workflow). Technology is an issue. Your LMS can’t do it? Well, LMSs haven't done it for a while. A Digital Coach is what we've been talking about forever. 

The moons align so much for me in this category because, fundamentally, if you want someone who feels valued, someone who feels listened to, and someone who is aligned to the mission, self-efficacy steps up for me here. Feeling trusted steps up for me here. Feeling empowered and enabled steps up for me here. You want to take pressure off managers? Empower your employees so they need less managing. The danger is putting the onus on the manager to carry the brunt of this while the learner sits there waiting. 

So, 3 things jump out to me:
  • Outcomes. I love the emphasis on shifting to outcomes vs. output. Outcomes are measured through understanding workflow and designing workflow learning. 
  • Enabled learners come from learning in the workflow and being empowered with intentional tools, methodologies, and deliverables that let them feel trusted, valued, and empowered. 
  • Having enabled learners solves part of the manager problem, because it takes the emphasis off of the manager being the tip of the sword and focuses instead on the employee. 
Each of those points supports why we've got to go more in this workflow learning direction.

BT: Trend number 3—supporting internal mobility. This seems to be in line with improving the employee experience, so here are some key points. 
  • 54% of people surveyed for the LinkedIn Learning report agree that internal mobility has become a higher priority at their organization since COVID hit.
  • Career mobility and growth is a huge concern for the HR leaders who responded to the Gartner 2023 survey, and 44% don't believe they have compelling career paths. 
  • Employees who don't feel that their skills are being put to good use are 10 times more likely to look for a new job compared to those who do feel their skills are being put to good use. 
  • Cultivating a culture of internal mobility means giving employees access to on-the-job learning opportunities that can include mentorships, shadowing, new jobs, etc. And the benefits are increasingly obvious: retention, engagement, and agility, plus reduced costs and hiring time. 
  • Companies that excel at internal mobility can retain employees for an average of almost 5 1/2 years. That's nearly twice as long as companies that struggle with mobility, whose average retention span is just under 3 years. 
  • Most workers want to be empowered where it matters most, which is in the work that they do and advancing their careers. By providing internal mobility through opportunity marketplaces, employers may be able to satisfy workers’ desire for empowerment by putting them in control of their careers. 
A big challenge and area of concern is reflected in the fact that only 31% of one survey’s respondents said they feel their organization provides a great deal of support for learning new skills and expanding professional capabilities and goals. There seems to be a disconnect between what companies know they need to do and what's actually happening.

BM: Con, I think The Hartford is a good example of the power of mobility, be it laterally or in career advancement.

CG: Yes. When you map the workflow and you have a Digital Coach that's supporting performance, and you have that across all your work, the ability to move in whatever direction is needed increases exponentially. Also, when you're supporting tactical work, that allows individuals to be freed up from trying to remember how to do something or how to find something. They’re able to move to higher order thinking, innovation, and contribution. Workers today are so caught up and busy in trying to remember how to do the work, figuring out how to do the work, and finding the resources they need to do the work that they're unable to move to that higher order thinking and be free to contribute, to move, and to grow in necessary ways.

BM: Love that. One thing you said, Brooke, jumped out to me and that was “empowered in the work that they do”. You want to have somebody feel mobile, be allowed to be mobile, own their mobility, own career growth, and own their development. It all gets back to this repeated theme of enablement. Earlier you talked about the whole idea of feeling supported, but what followed is that L&D is thinking about giving workers coaches. I don't think that's an enablement/empowerment model; that's still a dependency model. Is the employee being empowered to own their mobility in that model? I'd argue maybe not. It gets back to understanding the workflow, the Digital Coach, and supporting workers to support themselves—not throwing more resources and managers at them. And back to your earlier point, Brooke, we can’t exhaust managers and ask them to solve this problem. 

Your last trend, my friend.

BT: Trend number 4—pivoting toward hybridization. Again, this isn't brand new, but I still think we're figuring it out. The shift and adjustment continue. Here are some interesting points:
  • Roughly 20% to 25% of the workforce in advanced economies could be as effective working remotely 3-5 days a week as working from an office. If remote work took hold at that level, 4 to 5 times as many people would work from home at least part of the time compared to before the pandemic, which would have a profound impact on all kinds of things like urban economies, transportation, consumer spending, etc. 
  • Hybrid remote work models apply mainly to computer-based office work because it's the arena with the lowest requirements for site dependent work. In this arena, 70% of time could be spent working remotely without losing effectiveness.
  • Remote work presents a potential opportunity to be a great equalizer. 
  • In one survey, only 27% of remote workers say that they feel less connected to coworkers since the pandemic began regarding producing quality work. 
  • A 2017 two-year study by Stanford University shows that, on average, remote workers are 13.5% more productive than their office-based counterparts, 9% more engaged in their jobs, and 50% less likely to quit. 
  • The recent American Opportunity survey by McKinsey & Company revealed that when given the option, the vast majority (87%) of employees across industries and job titles would choose to work remotely. 
Despite all that positivity, now we talk about the challenges and concerns:
  • 47% of HR leaders surveyed believe hybrid work worsens employees’ connection to culture, and just 1 in 4 employees today reports feeling connected to their culture. 
  • 54% of workers feel less connected than before to their organization when it comes to everyone working toward the same business goals. 
    • 65% of senior managers say they feel more connected to their company and aligned with common goals.
    • Only 42% of middle managers and individual contributors feel the same. Employees who are lower on the food chain find themselves consuming scraps of information delivered to them more slowly and sporadically than before. Especially in remote and hybrid situations, middle managers and individual contributors are unable to connect as quickly as they could in an office environment with the context, the nuances, and the clarity of work roles and goals coming down from senior managers.
  • Today, L&D leaders are reporting that attitudes towards learning are at their lowest point in 3 years. Employees aren't as engaged as they were during the height of the pandemic, and the appeal of digital learning is wearing off.
    BM: And therein lies the rub. How are we defining digital learning?

    CG: Traditional digital learning is deadly, right? As I listened to you share all of that, Brooke, what comes to mind is how do we manage a dispersed work team whose members are not together? How do we tie them together in that work? Again, it requires us to understand and map the workflow, and to have a system in place that supports that workflow. When you have that common workflow defined and you have a system in place supporting that work, then you're able to work together, because you know what that work is and you're able to act as a team. That's so vital. We are not going to be able to address this hybrid work environment without defining our workflows and putting in place a Digital Coach that supports that work.

    BM: The elephant in the room is that waiting for this to go away is wrong. COVID has birthed a new work culture that is the new normal. Now, it'll settle out to maybe 1-2 days in the office per week, but we're not going back to 5 days per week in the office. I think in many ways this was a sleeping giant. Our company itself has been remote since its inception and we've done fine. So, there have always been remote workers. This just accelerated and exacerbated the situation.

    Brooke, a couple things jumped out to me, like lackluster digital learning, which I also think encompasses virtual learning. I love the fact that this is still on the radar. Even though, to your point, it may have started 3 years ago, I think we're just getting our arms around what it really means. I think we triaged and patch-quilted it in the beginning. We weren't solving it then, but the dust has settled and now we're having to deal with it. We must go back to look at what we made. 

    Too often, we see statistics like what you shared about digital learning dying off and think, “Well, then digital learning is bad.” Maybe the kind of digital learning we have is bad, but digital learning could be stunning. Virtual instruction might be lackluster or unengaging, but we don't throw virtual learning out. Maybe we do it differently. I think that's the challenge of the day in 2023. How do we reinvent ourselves in our approach to these things? 

    Some think performance support is scrap information. So, don't make it scrap. Structure it well! If workflows have been redefined and workers feel like the rug has been pulled out from under them, rapid workflow analysis will define the new workflows and enable consequent collaboration. Are workers missing access to resources because no one is sitting in a cubicle next to them anymore? Let's help redefine that access. The opportunity to revisit all of this in 2023 is stunning. The door is open, but will we walk through it? That is the question, because people will make it work with or without us. They just will. 

    I think your research is stunning, Brooke. The data is compelling. I think we're beyond the irrational nature of hybrid work, if that makes sense, so it's time to take this on in a rational and intentional way. But I would argue it's not a time to just boomerang back or assume the definition of insanity (i.e., doing the same thing repeatedly expecting to miraculously get a different result). We live in a brave new world, and it has shown us that there are cracks in the dam. We need a new way, and we know we have that new way.

    Brooke, brilliant. Really, such good stuff. My gosh, this could be the most data-heavy podcast we've ever done. I'm sure you're all going, “I’ve got to listen to that seven more times.” I've been taking notes myself, and I've heard the data before! What a powerful, substantiated, validated way to kick us off and show us the challenges ahead. But let's take them on now! Now that they’re apparent, what are we going to do about them? Thanks so much. Thanks, Con.

    CG: Thank you, Bob. Great work, Brooke.

    BT: Thanks to you both.

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