It’s Time to Give Learning’s Greatest Failure a Second Chance (Part 2)

By Dr. Conrad Gottfredson

Everything we have been doing in designing, developing, implementing, and measuring 5 Moments of Need solutions has, as its primary intent, enabling employees to perform effectively in fluid-task environments. There’s nothing more fluid than the Moments of Apply, Solve, and Change.  When Peter Senge challenged organizations to develop the capacity to learn and adapt quickly he was, in reality, challenging them to learn at all 5 Moments.

Part 1 of this blog showed how The 5 Moments of Need can provide organizations implementable concrete prescriptions for moving forward as a learning organization.  But as noted, two other obstacles stand in the way.  Here’s how The 5 Moment’s addresses them:

The 5 Moments response to obstacle 2: Lack of Tactical Alignment   

From the HBR article: “Second, the concept was aimed at CEOs and senior executives rather than at managers of smaller departments and units where critical organizational work is done. Those managers had no way of assessing how their teams’ learning was contributing to the organization as a whole.”

Just following the financial downturn in 2008, Dr. Timothy Clark and I coauthored a research report, “In Search of Learning Agility.” In that report we acknowledged that any true learning organization requires “leaders who stand first in line to model patterns of high performance learning.” We asserted that “this shift in how leaders lead may be the biggest shift in emphasis in leadership development theory. As a pattern, high performance learning leaders must be exceptionally attuned to the changing environment and the perishable nature of competitive advantage. Because of this ongoing acknowledgement, this new kind of leader is less wedded to trappings of status and privilege, less ego-driven, less yearning for deference, and certainly less attached to the status quo. Instead, dynamic learning leaders are more concerned with understanding the changing ecology of their organizations and protecting the value the organization has created through a vigilance and readiness to learn and adapt. These leaders understand that learning is where advantage comes from, that it represents the highest form of enterprise risk management, and that the biggest risk a firm can take is to cease to learn.”

Certainly, leadership is an important start. They do need to possess deep patterns of aggressive and self-directed learning. However, the same holds true for those they lead. The ability of leaders to engage their workforce in ever changing environments is no small feat. No matter how adaptive leaders might be, their adaptiveness can’t compensate for lethargic workflow processes. These inflexible organizational systems are what Senge warned against and eventually defeated his efforts. An organization’s workforce must not only be ready and willing to follow its leaders, it must also be aligned tactically, and adapt individually and collectively so it can navigate change rapidly and effectively.

There are two additional factors that enable the responsiveness of an organization’s workforce.  First, tactical workflow practices need to be visible and manageable to the organization.  Although employees may have figured out what they need to do individually to successfully perform their own jobs, what they actually do needs to be mapped by the organization so it can be intentionally supported, optimized, aligned, and realigned to meet ever changing market priorities. This is a fundamental practice in the discipline of performance support. Efforts by organizations historically to map workflow processes failed miserably to support this need because those efforts never reached deep enough into the tactical operations of the organization. The methodology of performance support requires making those connections. 

Second, today’s workforce needs to be rapid, adaptive, and collaborative in how they learn, unlearn, and relearn. They must cultivate a mindset that anticipates change. These dynamic performers must also have access to tools to help them detect change before it is on top of them. Because they live in a state of continuous change, they must also cultivate personal learning strategies that minimize the probability of their own skills becoming automated (deeply rooted) unless those skills merit becoming so. These dynamic learners learn on the run and rely on performance support tools to assist them at every moment of learning, unlearning, and relearning. And when these dynamic learners see change coming at them, they know how to assess their current readiness to perform, identify what skills and knowledge they need to cast aside and then determine how to take advantage of performer support systems to assertively adapt to the conditions around them.
The 5 Moments response to obstacle 3:  Inability to Monitor and Measure Business Impact

From the HBR article: “Third, standards and tools for assessment were lacking. Without these, companies could declare victory prematurely or claim progress without delving into the particulars or comparing themselves accurately with others.”

In 1978, when Gloria Gery was the Director of IT and End User Training at Aetna, she was asked to provide a report using traditional learning metrics. Her response to her leaders was, “Why don't we weigh the students and report on a cost per pound?” She went on to publish an article titled “Why Don’t We Just Weigh Them?”[1] In that article, Gery encouraged organizations to focus on a different set of measures, measures that focused on actual business impact, with this insight. 

It's much easier to actually employ these assessments in a performance support environment because the connections between performance support in the actual work context is so much more direct than the distance between training events and work performance. That very statement says a lot, doesn't it? – Gloria Gery

What Gery understood was that one of the primary benefits from embedding a performance support solution into the workflow is the ongoing measurement capability it can then provide an organization.  An Embedded Performance Support System (EPSS) is designed specifically to support on-the-job performance.  When people choose to use that EPSS to help them perform their work, their usage patterns provide vital data points that can be directly associated with business impact measures.

Here are just some of the impact areas Gery identified that an EPSS can help measure:

Increase profitability
  • reduced support costs
  • reduced work stoppage
  • reduced transaction costs
  • work shifted to less experienced employees or to customers

Optimize performance in the flow of work
  •  successful completion of mission-critical skills
  • optimized mission/work processes
  • reduced time to proficiency
  •  reduced work stoppage
  • time to successful performance
  • decreased gap between less experienced and star performers

Reduce operational risk
  • critical error reduction
  • use of mission-critical assets (policies, intellectual assets, etc.)

Cultivate a dynamic engaged workforce
  •  reduced time to changed performance
  • increased user adoption
  • increased performer confidence
  • increased confidence between co-workers

Here are a few blogs that provide deeper detail. If you haven’t read them, they’ll reinforce what you’ve read so far. 

It was encouraging to read the July 2019 article in The Atlantic regarding what the Navy has been doing in this area. Our company just completed hosting a second Benchmarking Summit seeking to identify the challenges and associated best practices and lessons learned in this vital area, There simply isn’t a more important organizational challenge today for us to solve. For learning leaders, the call to action is clear. It’s time to give learning’s greatest failure a second chance.

More 5 Moments of Need Resources.

[1] May/June 1997. See also: .

Copyright © 2022 by APPLY Synergies, LLC 

All Rights Reserved.

It's Time to Give Learning's Greatest Failure a Second Chance (Part 1)

By Dr. Conrad Gottfredson

I am blessed to have had a lengthy career which provides me the ability to view emerging learning insights and initiatives with 35 plus years of hindsight. This hindsight has proven especially helpful in recognizing reoccurring patterns of the same or similar ideas. Recently, I experienced this as I read an article in The Atlantic. I recognized in it reoccurring patterns of a transformational set of ideas that should have made their way into every organization’s learning strategy. But for understandable reasons they fell by the wayside. I believe this miss was the greatest failure in learning in my lifetime.    
But now, Jerry Useem in the July 2019 online-edition of The Atlantic (see At Work, Expertise Is Falling Out of Favor) has reopened that door in a must-read for anyone interested in improving how their organization learns.  It’s not the full story, but It chronicles a 30-year effort by the Navy to implement “minimal manning” with workers who have “fluid intelligence” with the mental agility needed to “be all, do all, and pivot on a dime to solve any problem.”
Minimal manning wasn’t a consideration In 1990 when Peter Senge made a compelling case for companies to become “Learning Organizations.” Instead, in his book, The Fifth Discipline he challenged leaders to figure out “how to tap people’s commitment and capacity to learn at all levels in an organization.” Although he didn’t use the term “fluid intelligence”, he described that a learning organization is one with the adaptive capacity to learn faster than its competitors.  He proposed that this capability would prove to be “the only sustainable source of competitive edge.”
Unfortunately, even though more than 2 million copies of his book were sold, Senge’s vision failed to gain any real traction in practice. In March of 2008, the Harvard Business Review published “Is Yours a Learning Organization?” The authors of the article attempted to explain why “the ideal of the learning organization”, as envisioned by Senge and others, had not then been realized.  They proposed that an underlying reason was the lack of sufficient market forces to compel organizations to pursue the benefits a learning organization promises.
However, that overarching obstacle absolutely disappeared later that year when the financial tsunami of 2008 swept world markets in a 24-hour period.  Corporate burial grounds, since, have been heaped with the remains of slow learning organizations making Senge’s warning prophetic. And, today, disruptive forces of market upheaval, technological shifts, demographic churn, and political instability are presenting themselves in combinations of speed and complexity that demand companies either become learning organizations or perish. There has never been a time when there has been greater need to pursue this enduring competitive advantage.  This pursuit requires organizations to develop their capacity to respond to adaptive challenge--whether opportunity, threat, or crisis--through the acquisition and application of knowledge and skills. In other words, to become what Senge proposed—learning organizations.  

So, with these compelling market forces in place now for more than a decade, why haven’t organizations repurposed and developed the “adaptive” and “generative” capacity envisioned by Senge?

The 2008 HBR article, after thoroughly vetting Senge’s work, noted three formable obstacles that gave good reason then and continue to do so now:
1.       Lack of concrete prescriptions
2.       Lack of tactical alignment
3.       Inability to monitor and measure business impact

Here’s the good news.  Everything we’ve been doing to help organizations learn at The 5 Moments of Need have placed us in position to fully address these challenges.

The 5 Moments response to obstacle 1: Lack of Concrete Prescriptions
From the HBR article: “First, many of the early discussions about learning organizations were paeans to a better world rather than concrete prescriptions. They overemphasized the forest and paid little attention to the trees. As a result, the associated recommendations proved difficult to implement—managers could not identify the sequence of steps necessary for moving forward.”

Senge described a learning organization as a place “where people continually expand their capacity to create the results they truly desire, where new and expansive patterns of thinking are nurtured, where collective aspiration is set free, and where people are continually learning how to learn together.”  This is a great description of the key objectives of “workflow learning,” and certainly what was happening onboard the Littoral Combat Ship 10, the USS Gabrielle Giffords.  How unfortunate that Senge was unable to connect his work in the 90s to that of Gloria Gery’s. Her contemporary efforts in tactically supporting on-the-job performance is providing organizations today the “concrete prescriptions” they need to be truly adaptive. 2-clicks/10 second support to just what’s needed at the moment of need.  That’s what’s been missing.          
Furthermore, The 5 Moments of Need framework has helped us build upon Gery’s work in crucial ways opening the door to establishing the kind of workflow learning environment described by Senge.  Organizations can now facilitate learning in the flow of work while they actually perform their jobs. This performance support infrastructure enables performers to unlearn and re-learn in the flow of work as they do their work. 

Here are a couple of blogs that provide deeper detail. If you haven’t read them, they’ll reinforce what you’ve read so far.


Stay tuned for Part 2 where I’ll address how The 5 Moments can help overcome the obstacles two and three.   

Copyright © 2022 by APPLY Synergies, LLC 

All Rights Reserved.