Experience Matters | Do Something!

This blog is excerpted from the Performance Matters Podcast. In this episode host Bob Mosher sat down with Doug Holt, the Executive Directors of the Training Institute at the Council of the Inspectors General on Integrity and Efficiency (CIGIE), to talk about their approach to learning and how Doug is getting others to join the party!

Bob Mosher (BM): I am extremely excited for today's podcast as I get to spend time with a dear friend, one of my heroes in the space, and a learning leader of great stature in our area. Mr. Doug Holt. It's great to have you here. Doug, welcome.

Doug Holt (DH):  Thank you, Bob. I'm really glad to be here excited to have this chat.

BM: We’re kindred spirits around our strong feelings about the direction of L&D and that it should be all about performance. We both bang the drum around this shift—shifting away from training-first and instead putting performance-first. What was your “aha” that changed the way you view training?

DH: I vividly remember it; it was at an ATD event. And you were the presenter. This was maybe eight or nine years ago at this point, but your comments really filled in the answers to some of the major questions I was asking myself about the L&D profession as a whole. For example, “if training works, why doesn't it work?” “Why is it that we always must make a circumstantial case to demonstrate ROI, if I can use that term, instead of a direct evidence case?”

So, as you were sitting there going through your methodology and general thoughts about the L&D field, suddenly everything made sense and I think I went up to you right after and said, “Hi, I'm Doug, and I want you to come talk to us.” That was it.

BM: We did, and so the journey began. But why do you think our industry finds this shift so hard?

DH: Well, I think there are a number of factors that come into play. I'll list a few, but I'm sure there are more.

First one is we're shaped by our experiences and our collective experiences. Learners in the K through 12, or K through college model, or slight variations thereof, it's what we know. And you can look at most of what happens and see yep, that's the K through 12 model really. One of the things that I used to do at DIA when I was trying to make the point that we need to do things differently is I would put up an image of learning in the Middle Ages. It was a guy standing at a lectern talking to rows of people who were just kind of passed out because they were so bored. In my presentation I’d say, “you see much difference between this and what we do today?” And of course, the answer was always “no, it's largely the same”. In my mind, we've been doing the same thing the same way since the Middle Ages. So that's some pretty significant shaping, that would be number one.

Number two, in my experience, most people enter the learning field as a collateral duty, to fill some kind of role that they don't know much about. That's how I got into it. They learn what to do from those who preceded them, who learned from the people before them, and so on and so forth. It's sort of a hand me down, here's what I know. And I'm going to teach you what I know, there's no right way to do it. There's just lots of flavors of the month that we encounter, and people run to this one or that one. But there's no sort of central standards that people tie to, or body of research that people know about, or whatever, you know what I mean, it's just kind of like we’re all winging it.

Number three, and this is a big one—administrative convenience. It is much easier to do Monday through Friday, eight to five, I just bring you in, do the teaching thing and then turn you lose and you go back to work the next week. As opposed to, I have to figure out a way to chunk your learning to bring you in for a couple hours here, a couple hours there, maybe make some virtual kind of things. And you know, that’s really hard to do. And so, we default to the thing that we know. I also think that practical reality really does work against us in a lot of ways and that it's often hard for learners themselves to engage in ways that research might tell us they learn best.

So, it's that combination of things, and others, but it's a pretty steep hill to be pushing this rock we’re pushing up.  

BM:  Well, I think that plays perfectly into my next question. For those listening, who are going to make this pivot, what challenges lie ahead for these learning leaders and their teams who want to embark on this performance-first journey?

DH: You have to first understand that you are the outlier, you are the heretic, you're the different one and you have to get comfortable with that. I love it.

Second would be resistance and that could be from within your own team. They may not be comfortable with it; they may not understand it. You are going to get some resistance from your team and it's not personal. It is just different. Some people within the team will gravitate right to it, others will not. Then, some will be in the middle, but you have to be okay with it and work with people over time, meet them where they are and grow together until you get to a point where everything's working.

Third, unlearning and relearning. And this, I mentioned up front, that I was originally hired because I didn't know anything. And I found myself saying the other day, from here on out, I'm only hiring people who don't have a clue about anything to do with learning so that we can work with them; it's much easier to work with a blank slate. I then thought, oh my gosh, you know, I have become the person that hired me. I reflected on it, they were hiring me to do traditional things, maybe in nontraditional ways, but traditional things. And the struggle previously, or the struggle that they were fighting against, was applying traditional learning in a nontraditional format, but it was still traditional.

So, it's a lot easier to work with people who are starting from knowing nothing than it is to start from a base of people who have really worked in this field for a long time and have deeply ingrained beliefs or are simply just accustomed to doing it this way.

That brings me to another one—the ability to maintain strategic patience. This is probably the hardest of all the challenges because you run into so many delays and roadblocks and frustrations. So, it's just maintaining a view of the North Star. Therefore, this is one of those things where you want to involve everybody upfront. But the practical reality is, you can't, you have to work with a smaller team. So, then you have those folks who are in and those folks are out and managing the relationships becomes very challenging. And then when do you bring them in? You know, there's a point where you have to expand the circle here, but when and how and have you burned bridges by that point that you know, they don't want to be in your circle anymore? Because you didn't let them in at the beginning? Yep.

And then the last thing, once you've seen it, you can't unsee it. Once you've seen the flaws of the traditional and the goodness of the new. It's just going to be the thing that gets under your skin. So, if you're not prepared to have something under your skin that's pushing you forward every day and making you crazy that you haven't fixed it yet. Don't get into it, because it will absolutely do that.

BM: Perfect. So, appreciate you've always been so willing to share the good, bad, and the ugly of what you've been through. So, appreciate your candor and directness about the whole thing because like my dad always said, “there's good things in everything”. And as L&D professionals, there’s never been a better time than now for us to support performance in this way. 

For Bob and Doug’s full performance-first discussion, listen to the full episode.

Don’t forget to subscribe to The Performance Matters Podcast to stay up to date on all the latest conversations and guests in The 5 Moments space.

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