Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Learning and Development 3

Here is a disruptive idea for the LnD world. Make that two. How does one make the coordinatosaurus extinct? Exactly the same way that the internet eliminated middlemen.
What if we had a marketplace of Learning and Development consultants, vendors, content creators and the like available at one place?
Imagine this. A marketplace of Learning partners. With ratings by their users. Searchable by Speciality. Feedback from the companies who have used them. Like Transparent pricing. Transparent usage. (I know that transparent prices may not exactly be to everybodys liking, but bear with me.)
If Redbus can do it and Bookmyshow can do it, why not a Learning portal to sell training and learning to companies (mainly) and employees?
As we speak, companies are trying to reduce cost by either outsourcing the entire LnD or hiring cheaper program managers  - whose only job is coordinate trainings. And this is the apt kind of job that should be eliminated – because algorithm and data can do this better than humans. Even as we speak, in the financial services industry robots are doing a better job than humans as wealth advisors. If robots are good enough for wealth advisors, why not for training advisors?
A portal like this does two things. One is, it eliminates wastage for companies. Once companies register on the portal, they can request trainings, float RFPs, and even trade on training seats. On the other hand, it allows learning vendors to optimize capacity, and make themselves available to a larger range of companies.
And for the companies, you need not hire LnD guys who are program managers in disguise. You can seek out genuine guys who add real value. Who are passionate about the learning process as genuine enablers. Who can consult with you in the true sense and move away from the ‘learning as an event’ that often qualifies as training.
(Yes, there is a website that purportedly does that, but what I have in mind is a slightly more ‘premium’ portal if you will. Is it possible? I don't know, if the idea will work at a macro level.)
But in a smaller way, this idea can be replicated within an organization. All it takes is a set of registered vendors who have delivered programs for a company. These programs are rated by those who engaged them – and once they deliver with a certain level of feedback and effectiveness, it is available for other leaders to use. Thus it reduces the level of coordination that is required from the LnD world plus it allows for much more transparency on what exactly is being used by the organization and by whom. Over time, the best vendors rise up to the process and are sought after by the company. And the company can create criteria for newer vendors to be part of this program and so on and so forth.
(If it can be overlaid with team stages, self-assessments, training algorithms, learning roadmaps – you practically have a learning and development roadmap built in for any team. That means, for any incumbent who takes over a team, the entire development roadmap is immediately visible as well – though this may be a bigger bite to chew.) This can be done for other types of training as well – and it is probably easier to do so when it comes to technical and process training. Since the objectives are easily measurable. And feedback is clearer as well.
It can also be made available for employees – using a logical algorithm to point out to potential next steps on their learning path – whether technical or behavioural or others. And with the rich data that organizations typically have with them, it is very much possible to leverage that to offer a great learning experience. Add ‘social’ into the mix and you have word of mouth as well. Parts of these exist for sure, but clearly much more can be done. Now to find someone who will help implement this! And this can be extended to any ‘service provider’ or ‘middleman’ function.
On a related note: The internet has removed many ‘middlemen’, however the intranet can remove many more! 

Learning and development 2

A typical coordinatosaurus response to the nature of their work is, “Hey, but I manage many senior business relations – or I am into relationship management”.
What is relationship management, especially in the context of service groups like Learning and Development? For a lot of people, their understanding of relationship management is that of a cargo cult science. It means, to drop by someone’s desk, chat a little, asking how things are going and then go underground until the next meeting. It could mean, once in a while, meeting them for tea, taking their opinion on world events or recipes or vacation spots (sarcasm alert).
I once met a Business Unit head who told me quite candidly, “Can you ask your team to stop setting meetings with me. I see no value out of them. Just do the work with the assigned coordinator and let me know when you have achieved something. Don't wait for my permission, get going on a business problem and let me know when you have solved it. At that time, I would be happy to meet.”
That was an a-ha moment for me – coming as I did from the school of thought that believes that relationship is an outcome – it is earned, not gifted for free. What he said was music to my ears.
A lot of times, relationship building ends up being all about meeting the highest paid person (usually the head of a group), taking approvals and using that stick to beat up those who do not comply (and that passes off as Learning and Development). It is a bit like wandering around with a t-shirt that says, “By order - Management”. Not many business leaders are as candid as the above person, but what he is said is true. Business leaders have a limited amount of time. So, unless your meeting adds value to them – don't meet. How would you know that? Your meeting gets moved. Or cancelled. Isnt that signal enough?
The question to ask is not why am I not getting to meet them.
Ask yourself how you can add value and those meetings will magically happen.
Instead of setting up time to ask how things are going – go with a problem and a potential solution. Go with a problem and seek a deeper understanding. Go with a question that keeps them awake at night (to use a proverbial corporate phrase) and then see if you can help resolve it. Go with the solution of a problem you have solved for that group. Seek out problems. Find out those who are passionate about solving them. And help them solve it.
And then watch how relationships get built automatically. Or as an outcome! Sure, schmooze all you like, but this is a surefire route to relationship building. Each time, I see a group that I don't have a relationship with, metaphorically speaking, I ask myself what work did I do for them? What problem did I solve for them? And mostly, I see that we have delivered ordinary day to day work or that we have not solved any business problem for them.
This is happening in other areas as well, including sales, where traditionally relationship building was all about lunches and networking and knowing people. While that is useful, the one who wins is the one who has solved or is solving your burning problem.  

Learning and Development 1

A few years ago, I used to work in the IT industry as a Project Manager. My role was to manage the team. It was my dream job at that time. But the truth was that I was a people manager. I did no real work. Honestly, I had very little idea on what my team exactly did.
Somewhere along the way, I realized that I was more and more of an administrator than contributing in any real way to the team and the organization. A series of career moves, mostly out of serendipity, I found myself in the Learning and Development space. And discovered that it is my passion. And over the years, continue to build my skills, bit by bit – and yet remain ‘hands-on’ simply because there is no other way to get better at what you do than by doing it.
So, from the point where I should have been happy ‘managing people in IT’ to the point where I became ‘hands-on in LnD’ is the story of the IT and the LnD industry – where the delivery part of IT is facing a crisis. The IT industry today does not want pure people managers. They want people with hands on experience. At 15-20 years of work experience – that was unheard of some years ago!
Cut to the LnD (Learning and Development) space. The LnD world is going through a similar crisis, if you will. There is a shortage of people who have relevant skills. Today the industry has a plethora of program managers – coordinators. Their primary job is that of a middleman – to connect those who need training to those who deliver training. (Some of them are also gatekeepers and do very important things, like manage the training budget and write stringent rules and play god on training nominations.)
Like in the technology delivery some years ago, when software engineers came of age when they stopped coding, the coming of age of a learning and development professional is that they no longer need to create content, design and deliver solid learning enablement programs. They zoom in and zoom out of meetings – organize meetings with vendors/learning partners and have check in meetings with business partners – relationship management. And yes, many of the vendors are hands on – they have to be (indeed, many of those passionate about learning go independent so that they can continue to work on what they love to work on instead of filling out meaningless spreadsheets). The vendors work with the business and come up with an engagement or a program and the LnD manager then basks in reflected glory and maybe gets an award or two.
While working with vendors/partners is good, it is also worth asking, how much and at what levels. Because many training and learning needs go way beyond what a vendor can do – almost anything meaningful will need wholehearted internal participation and championship. And while vendors bring specific expertise, the LnD owner also needs go beyond just co-ordination. Because if this is all they do, like in the IT industry, any company will look to cut costs. And that happens at the first places where there are middlemen. Some companies are looking to outsource entire LnD departments. Others have outsourced the program management to ‘bodyshopping’ companies who supply program managers at a cheap rate. It is like a librarians job. Once books go online, a librarian is no longer needed. So too with training. Once an available list of training is created and put up, the LnD is no longer needed, because business can call up and get any training delivered at their door. And they need a thin staff for doing real work.
Do I hear you say, LnD is not just about organizing trainings? Of course. But unless LnD professionals are able to communicate this to their organizations by delivering solid, value added work, organizations will never see it that way.
Are you a real LnD professional? Are you the first person that comes to the mind of business when they think of a learning initiative? Do you always have seat on the table when there is a learning initiative? Are you able to direct the business to plug gaps in their learning portfolio? Do you give a-ha moments to your business partners? Is the level of collaboration between your HR and LnD seamless? Are you able to address gaps on your own – without always involving a vendor? Are you driving change management programs with the visceral engagement of business? (Notice, I have not mentioned training yet).
If you are, that's great, because coordinatorsaurses deserve to be extinct!