Thursday, 2 June 2016

Bridging the gap between our consumer technology experience and work

Increasingly, many of us are becoming tethered to our mobile devices and technology platforms in a sort of symbiotic relationship. The emerging Internet of Things is connecting people-people, people-things and things-things. This will have significant implications for the way we work and the way we support learning and performance at work.

Learning support at work, particularly for process or technical knowledge, should include an on-demand component. This enables people to pull learning to the point of need and means we don't need to store and recall information that is infrequently used. It also means we can free our cognitive load for higher level thinking and analysis. The use of digital 'knowledge centres', with powerful search engines, puts information and knowledge at our fingertips.

I often hear managers say - "but our people aren't tech savvy, this is the problem" - then why is it that these same people, are effortlessly navigating the web and using multimedia creatively on social platforms, in life outside of work?

As much as possible, we should be designing technology ecosystems at work that are consistent with our experience at home and beyond. Consumer technology puts people at the centre of design and uses stereotype design patterns to create an 'intuitive' experience. We generally shouldn't need to 'train' people in how to use our business systems if we design human/technology interfaces that reflect our consumer experience. A series of short, sharp videos and job aids can then provide targeted learning and performance support.

For remote workers in the field, mobile technology can augment learning and support performance. Recently I saw a hot water technician - probably an apprentice - taking photos and video footage to share with an experienced colleague for advice about a technical solution. This is just-in-time learning at its best. Interestingly I've often found our 'blue-collar' workforce to be much more innovative and willing to explore the use of technology for this purpose than office-based knowledge workers. Perhaps this has something to do with the degree of autonomy offered to field-based occupations.

On the topic of video and job aids, we're certainly in a visual age with most of us now consuming enormous amounts of video content outside of work. We're also seeing infographics become a ubiquitous medium for communication and marketing. So what does this mean for learning and performance in the workplace?

Over the last couple of years I've supported subject matter experts to create content to support an organisational shift to self-service technology. The screen capture tool - Snagit - has provided a low cost, easy-to-use platform for this purpose, with a video hosting solution. Interestingly, people become totally immersed in these projects when given an opportunity to extend the skills they regularly apply in their home lives with smartphone technology and Web 2.0 social media.

Part of the reinvention of learning and development in the workplace should be narrowing the technology gap between what we're doing with consumer technology outside work and our business technology ecosystem. Bridging this gap will enable us to truly mobilise our people as creators and curators of learning and performance content. Coupling this with a generous spirit of sharing, working out loud and collaboration, it becomes a powerful catalyst for continuous improvement and innovation.

After all, it's largely our people at the coalface who truly know what's needed to get the job done. So let's provide the tools, ignite their imagination and get out of the way.

Friday, 22 April 2016

Less is more - communicating concepts visually

I haven't been doing much blogging in recent times, despite a lot of reflection and iterative thinking on-the-job. Writing remains a significant focus around much of my work. However I'm really trying to be more visual in the storytelling and ideas that I socialise. Here's a sample of infographics I've created using

Monday, 11 March 2013

And what is expertise these days?

And what is 'expertise' really these days in a dynamic business environment where change is the norm?

Probably many of us still believe that expertise is something revolving around concrete knowledge that is linearly acquired with years on the job. Maybe something represented by a knowledge pyramid where learning is a step by step process that adds knowledge rungs to the expertise hierarchy.

I really like this quote by futurist Alvin Toffler, a notion which I think is a critical dimension of 'expertise' for today's knowledge worker:
"The illiterate of the 21st century will not be those who cannot read and write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn, and relearn."
Is that more what expertise looks like today - an aptitude for iterative learning and agile relearning to meet emerging challenges? Taking a few familiar ingredients and combining something new, adding a catalyst to reformulate strategies and solutions - distilling something new, something fresh.

Occasionally it may even be necessary to explore revolutionary change that risks throwing out the baby with the bath water.

Previously I've discussed Personal Knowledge Management (PKM) and in particular highlighted a Seek - Sense - Share approach.

I think an individual's capacity for PKM really is the foundation of what we refer to as 'expertise'. Without PKM it's difficult to maintain currency of expertise.

Harold Jarche views the fast-paced dynamic environment that most of us now work within, as being characterised by perpetual beta. That is, the process of change tends to be the norm and we now operate within a state of flux where knowledge is continually shifting. The expertise to meet the challenge of perpetual beta largely depends on PKM and perhaps the notion of learn-unlearn-relearn.  

Maybe the process of developing expertise these days is something like the journey to becoming a chess master. Sure, you need to learn the fundamentals - but over time you need to adapt quickly to changing circumstances and ultimately you need to become unpredictable to stay ahead of your competitors - you perhaps need to unlearn classic patterns and relearn strategies to create novel moves.
learn - unlearn - relearn.......................innovate

Saturday, 9 February 2013

Personal knowledge management & the chemistry of self-belief

Harold Jarche defines personal knowledge management (PKM) "as a set of processes, individually constructed, to help us make sense of our world and work more effectively".

In a nutshell, PKM enables us to pull our learning to match the specific knowledge demands encountered at work. PKM can be viewed as a 3 stage process where we seek out relevant information, we make sense of it in the context required and share it with our network to test it, refine it and then apply this as knowledge on the job.

Harold Jarche has made a significant contribution to the application of PKM and you may like to explore the resources available at

I've previously discussed the value of PKM in the context of agile learning for the workplace. In this post I'd like to consider PKM as a vehicle for attaining professional confidence.

Self-belief or Self-Efficacy was defined by Albert Bandura as the belief in one's capabilities to organise and execute the courses of action required to manage prospective situations.

Does personal knowledge management (PKM) enable us to walk the fine line between self-belief and self-doubt? Is PKM the key to growing into our jobs - excelling and developing expertise - but also a sense of mobility and confidence to create a fulfilling career?

When I say 'expertise' I'm talking about bringing your existing knowledge to new situations and having the capacity to adapt this to match the specific circumstances. How successful you are in meeting the challenges helps you expand your knowledge and provides a platform to take on new projects and different jobs. This to some extent is a product of learning experiences that enhance your sense of self-belief.

This ability to solve problems and create solutions also relates to Dan Pink's notion of what drives motivation - autonomy, purpose and mastery. I think motivation also has a synergy with an individual's sense of self-belief or professional confidence and how comfortable they become with a degree of autonomy.

Returning to personal knowledge management, Harold Jarche's Seek-Sense-Share model contains an element of critical thinking and personal self-directed learning, supported now by an array of web-based tools.

However, it's the ability to share and engage in dialogue that provides the link to practice. In other words, connection with others across networks is the real key to contextualising your knowledge and facilitating innovation.

I've touched on aspects of PKM that build and support our sense of self-belief, our self-efficacy. Firstly, the PKM framework provides us with a relatively systematic approach for addressing new challenges or performance improvement. Secondly, by making connections and expanding your networks there's a means of getting a 'best-fit' solution. Further, the corroboration of others brings peace of mind and confidence that you're getting it right. Ultimately of course this also needs to be reflected in the business metrics!

"People with high assurance in their capabilities approach difficult tasks as challenges to be mastered rather than as threats to be avoided." - Albert Bandura

Monday, 12 November 2012

Supporting the new starter journey towards competency

It’s always a challenge to get a new starter up and running – and to work out how to best facilitate their learning.

A key principle to guide our thinking about how to support a new starter, is to think more about facilitating “learning” - rather than “training” through the delivery of copious amounts of content.

In other words, what learning experiences can be created for the new starter to largely learn by doing? Avoid delivering masses of information out of context and hoping this morphs into performance on the job!

The traditional training approach in many organisations is predominantly based on ‘just-in-case’ content delivery. We commonly overwhelm new starters by presenting them with every bit of information they may ever require to cover off every possible eventuality.

I think it’s better to use a ‘just-in-time’ approach where you structure the learning to match the needs on the job. Limit the information flow by ‘pulling’ the learning as required. Assist the new starter to know where to retrieve relevant information as required. Knowing where to go looking for key resources encourages self-directed learning.

The other dimension to consider is assisting the new learner to establish a broad ‘learning network’ of subject matter ‘experts’ within and beyond the immediate team. As the new starter gets settled in, start to shift away from having a single ‘coach/buddy’ and expand the network of people that can provide informed discussions about issues/challenges on the job.

So the guiding principles for the new starters L&D program should gradually have more of a focus on:

  • Learning experiences on real work  
  • Just-in-time learning
  • Pulling the learning as required to meet the context on-the-job
  • Opportunities to practice, get feedback, reflect, improve
  • Establishing a learning network of SMEs
  • Promoting conversations/collaboration
  • Gradually increasing the complexity of work as knowledge/skill develops 
The best learning is from work that stretches people towards the edge of their capacity. The art is to allocate work to the new starter that provides challenge without overwhelming them, in a supported environment.

Thursday, 23 August 2012

Rebranding social learning through the art of collaboration

I've been talking a lot to people about the value of collaboration, as a vehicle for social learning and  creating solutions for complex issues. However, the practical application of 'true collaboration' is limited and remains a nebulous concept for many. Further, the notion that informal learning can occur through conversation, is perhaps seen as haphazard and disorganised, particularly in organisations that restrict the autonomy of its people and equate control with the illusion of order.

Jane Hart suggests that it may be wise to support social learning under the banner of Workplace Collaboration. I like this idea of 'rebranding' social learning, in a covert way, to embed learning in the workflow. In the end it's about performance on the job and what we call this informal learning path to achieve this is incidental.

Interestingly, a group of colleagues took this idea of using collaboration as a vehicle for informal learning and created a structured opportunity for people to come together, share ideas and engage in a dialogue. This established a forum for discussion and a relevant, specific context for learning.

A collaborative structure was introduced into a human services case management environment and was branded as 'Summarise / Analyse / Strategise' (SAS).  SAS rapidly became a colloquialism and the meaning inherent in 'Summarise / Analyse / Strategise' went a long way to marketing the new learning opportunity.

Another term introduced to rebrand and demystify collaboration was 'case conversations'. This label is now used more broadly to also include unstructured, spontaneous discussions about cases in a timely way that essentially provides an avenue for 'pulling' the learning 'just-in-time'.

The case conversations are gradually becoming a habitual work practice for many case managers and demonstrate Jay Cross's observation that conversations are the stem cells of learning, and social networks are the carriers of conversation.

This collaborative structure has been a considerable success both in terms of facilitating case management outcomes and supporting informal learning. Key ingredients of this process have included:
  • Access to subject matter experts and other experienced senior colleagues
  • Providing a formal framework to support the summarise/analyse/strategise process
  • Creating a non-threatening, respectful environment with a spirit of collaboration
  • Generating tangible learning and performance outcomes for case managers
  • Highlighting the value of sharing and narrating your work
  • Creating a sense of empowerment and a degree of autonomy
Another feature of the SAS approach has been the trickle-down influence on the work practices of case managers outside the formal structure. The organisation has also provided low budget enhancements to the physical workspace, with the acquisition of round-tables to support spontaneous case conversations.

This shift to a more connected, collaborative culture has energised the workspace, increased capability, enabled innovative solutions and enriched the experience of work for many case managers. Will it also flow on to improving engagement and retention in a high turnover industry? Perhaps!