Dienstag, 31. Mai 2022

Most learning occurs in the daily flow of work - First Part of the interview with learning expert Charles Jennings

HR Innovation Day 2022 is approaching. It is a good tradition to present the keynote speakers and workshop hosts in interviews. For me it is a great pleasure to have Charles Jennings as an interviewee today. Charles Jennings is a leading thinker and practitioner in organisational performance, culture, change and learning. He has more than 40 years’ experience in different fields of corporate learning and has contributed significantly to the development of performance related concepts in this field. I am very happy that he will keynoting at this year HR Innovation Day. The title of his keynote is „HR’s Critical Role in Building High Performance in the Future Workplace“
Peter: First of all, thank you that you can contribute to the success of this year HR Innovation with a keynote.
Charles: Thank you, Peter. I’m delighted to be invited to contribute to HR Innovation in 2022. Especially at this critical time in history as we re-assess almost everything and look to find the best ways forward following the events over the past two years. 

Peter: Your last big appearance in Germany was in 2018. A lot has happened since then - not just the COVID 19 pandemic. What did this mean for corporate learning and performance support in general at the moment? 
Charles: Of course, the pandemic has been one of the major factors to impact workforce practices, and many other areas. For example, before the pandemic digital transformation programmes often extended over 2-3 years and it was assumed that face-to-face learning was essential in some areas. Leadership development is an example. The pandemic changed that. Apart from the impact of the pandemic, the past four years has seen an increased awareness of the importance of ‘informal learning’ and ‘workplace learning’ – the learning that happens outside courses and classes. Many organisations now realise they need a strategy to encourage and support informal learning. If they only focus on formal learning, they are missing opportunities to increase workforce performance and agility, innovation, and quality.

Peter: Your work as Chief Learning Officer at Reuters and Thomson Reuters is often mentioned in relation to the development of the 70:20:10 model. All my students know this model. But for many practitioners it is new. Many of them struggle to understand the specifics of informal learning in particular. How would you argue here?
Charles: I developed the 70:20:10 model as a corporate learning tool and as an approach to extend the impact of learning at Reuters. For me, 70:20:10 is a framework to help organisations get the most out of learning. 70:20:10 is a ‘reference model’ or set of guidelines to help expand thinking and practices to support both organisational development and individual development (and, of course, team development) with a clear focus on improving performance and output. 70:20:10 is based on a range of research that has found most learning and learning experiences occur as part of daily work. Of course, formal training is important, but formal training alone will never result in expertise. We all know that. The ‘70’ and ‘20’ in the model focus on learning from working and from others.

Peter: What resistance did you encounter when introducing the model? What were ultimately the success factors for the implementation of this model? 
Charles: Many people misunderstand 70:20:10. They think it is a way to separate learning into ‘formal’ (the ‘10’), ‘social’ (the ‘20’), and ‘workplace’ (the ‘70’). Conversely, it is in fact a model to extend thinking and practices to include all types of learning. The resistance I often encounter with the use of 70:20:10 is due to corporate learning and HR practitioners being pushed beyond the ‘schooling’ model for supporting learning, and being asked to build closer links between learning, performance, and organisational goals. Ultimately, the successful use of the 70:20:10 model is based on good problem analysis, co-creation of learning solutions with key stakeholders, using the right (business) metrics to measure impact, and adopting a mindset of continuous improvement. All of this is different to the traditional ‘upskilling’, ‘competency frameworks’, and ‘learning pathways’ that many HR and learning teams in organisations focus on. Each of these is focused on learning outcomes. 70:20:10 is focused on performance outcomes.

Peter: How was the success measured?
Charles: When I was at Reuters, we measured success through the senior leadership team’s assessment of business performance and the role employees across the company played in business improvement. For example, we used metrics such as increases in the level of customer satisfaction delivered by our customer service teams; process improvements that led to better, faster, or more cost-effective outputs from our project teams; greater opportunities for employees to learn in the workplace across the company; increases in managers’ involvement in building a high-performing workforce; and many other metrics.

Peter: In an interview you emphasised the role of social networks for learning among knowledge workers. Isn't there also a danger of distraction or too much information? 
Charles: Many of us feel we live in a world with information overload! But as the academic and writer Clay Shirky puts it: "There's no such thing as information overload. There's only filter failure." Learning through social networks is one way we can filter out what is meaningful and useful from all the ‘noise’. Professor Rob Cross, a world leader in social network analysis, has researched this area for years and shown that people who have strong and diverse social networks tend to be better performers than those who don’t. Jerome Bruner, who was probably the greatest educational psychologist in my lifetime, once pointed out that ‘our world is others’. What Bruner was suggesting is that we only exist through our connections with others. Bruner also asked the question “what’s the difference between learning physics and being a physicist?” His answer to this was that to develop the expertise of a physicist (or in any other field or profession) we need to be ‘inculcated into the culture of the field’. In other words, we need robust social networks to help us develop expertise. Formal learning may get us started, but the ‘20’ and ‘70’ is where most of the learning to apply happens. Of course, there’s a danger of distraction from so much information. We all need to develop ‘personal filters’ to address this.

Peter: Often the 70:20:10 model is applied in the area of the so-called knowledge workers. But at this year's HR Innovation Day we will also talk about the specific requirements of deskless workers. From your point of view, are there any special features in the implementation of the model?
Charles: Actually, I have found 70:20:10 can be applied to any type of work and workers. Deskless work – whether it is manual work, technical work, or distributed work – all require a balance of formal, social, and workplace learning and respond well to the use of the 70:20:10 model. On HR Innovation Day I will talk about some case studies where 70:20:10 has helped deliver significant improvements (and saved millions of Euros) in factories.

Peter: How can we enable all employees to learn successfully in a self-directed way in the long term?
Charles: There are several factors that help create a culture of continuous improvement and self-directed learning – which is the outcome of an effective 70:20:10 approach. Daniel Pink defined some of the underlying drivers in his book ‘Drive: The Surprising truth about what motivates us’. Pink identified ‘autonomy, mastery, and purpose’ as the three key drivers. Each of these can be used to help enable self-directed learning. Another important action organisations need to address is to ensure all managers at all levels understand their important role in encouraging and supporting self-directed learning. Most learning occurs in the daily flow of work, and managers are best placed to influence what happened in daily work. Research suggests that the most effective learning has its origin in (a) rich and challenging experiences; (b) opportunities for stretch work and practice; (c) building robust networks and engaging in ongoing conversations, and; (d) reflective practice. One of the major barriers to overcome for managers and management is a false trade-off that many believe. The false trade-off is the belief that a manager or leader either must focus on operational excellence (delivering on objectives) or on developing their people. The reality is that they must focus on both. Operational excellence is often short-term and tactical. Developing people is often long-term and strategic. If managers are not focused and effective at helping their teams develop, they find employee engagement and satisfaction is lower, productivity is lower, and employee retention decreases.

To be continued.

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