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: .

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