Evolution of a Framework

“Traditional training departments will shrink.”  

This statement wandered across twitter last week as a result of Jane Hart’s, founder of the Centre for Learning & Performance Technologie, tweet regarding the resolution as part of the EPIC debate series.  Anyone who knows me (or has read this blog) will not be surprised to find that I wholeheartedly agree with this notion.  But I believe that the rather than focusing on what is a long overdue realignment of resources away from the traditional, the more interesting question is where those resources will go.

Keeping Score

I have built my share of corporate learning.  But a majority of my time while I was at Forum, and since, has been spent building better training departments. I conducted assessments of the training departments serving global companies in technology, finance and other industries. We looked not solely at what the department was delivering (product) but also the people and processes that built that product (factory).  Our approach at Forum was described in the book “Running Training Like a Business” and was anchored to a framework called the Dynamic Business Scorecard (DBS).

The DBS was developed by Bill Fonvielle (@wfonviel).  Bill was one of the many big brains at Forum.  Bill saw that while the whole world was enamored with the work of Norton and Kaplan on the balanced business scorecard that metrics were best when the dependencies, and implications could be made more visible.  The DBS made diagnosis and communication a more straightforward affair.  People knew how they impacted the overall results and when something went wrong, root cause was easier to determine.

Over the past decade I have been working to build more organizations.  Not just training ones but all types; new lines of business for larger companies, fresh starts for troubled companies and early stage startups.  It is from this last group that I think the framework for building tomorrows learning organizations will come.

Have You Tried This?

I have written in previous posts about the lean methodology for the development of learning solutions.  The approach is an adaptation of the agile software development process that advocates rapid releases and a quick iterative feedback cycle.  The foundational assumption for this approach is that the solution is unknown.  While I feel strongly that this is true when considering the development of learning I also believe it is true for the organizations that do the development today.

I recently wrote a letter to a friend of mine suggesting that leaders in learning were going to be characterized as the experimenters.  Those organizations that try, fail and try some more.  Those that acknowledge, that in this period of rapid change, the best way to serve their company is to embrace a process of rapid releases and a quick iterative feedback cycle.  Not just for the learning but for the learning organization itself.  For this reason, I believe the framework by which we view learning organizations must support this as well.

What Do Customers Know?

The second criteria for a new framework is the need to force training organizations to engage with their customers and make clear to all the assumptions that they are running under. Successful startups quickly realize that the best source for determining a product’s features, uses and value are customers not an internal development team.  By observing, testing and rapidly incorporation companies are able to align their product with the market.  In startup land this is called product/market fit and is the holy grail.  Only once this has been found can a company confidently put its resource towards scaling and seizing the opportunity.

Age Appropriate

The final criteria I propose for a new framework is that it must be consistent with the stage of the organizations it intends to serve.  Despite a long legacy I believe that corporate learning must put itself into startup mode.  When industries stall on the innovation and value creation fronts they are ripe, not for evolution but rather, for disruption.  The training departments serving many of today’s organizations have evolved little over the last decade.  The tools used may have changed but the core activities, assumptions and frameworks have barely budged.

A recent study commissioned by NIIT to revisit the concepts of the decade old book, “Running Training Like a Business”, showed little movement on the core ideas.  Specifically it reported that only 21% of companies survey were “customer driven” and only 29% “measured their success by the success of their customers.  With results like this how can we not say that traditional departments will shrink in the coming years.

Here Comes the Hack

I am not a fan of re-inventing the wheel.  So as a starting point, I will describe over the next few post how I think the Business Model Canvas, developed by Alexander Osterwalder, can be adapted to be a new framework for thinking about a company’s learning organization.

I have been using this canvas in my work with startups for years now.  The canvas is widely accepted by early stage companies as the framework for experimenting their way to product/market fit. To me, the canvas seems to me to be the perfect frame for igniting the important discussions with training’s customers at a time when the unknowns outweigh the knowns.

What are your thoughts on the criteria, and do you think that the time has come for disruption?

Add your comments below.

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