The shift has happened. The focus has moved from “learning” to “performance”. “Training” as a panacea for all ills – from lack of productivity to lack of motivation, attrition, and lost profits – is losing its power. The industrial era required the completion of standardised work and obedient workers who would follow pre-defined processes. So, a loop of training followed by application of the knowledge and processes learnt became the norm. It was “learn, then work.” to focus on their part of the process.
With the passing of the industrial era, the ground began shifting under everyone’s feet. Training neither taught the meta-skills of learning nor did it foster the abilities for creative thinking, innovation and pattern sensing – all necessary 21st century skills. Most importantly, training couldn’t capture tacit knowledge and nor could it prepare the employees for a rapidly changing landscape. And so, training wasn’t necessarily leading to the desired performance outcome anymore. Frameworks like the 70:20:10 has espoused this for many years now. So I won’t repeat any of those points. I will instead focus on a few other aspects that we (L&D) miss out or don’t focus on enough when thinking of workplace performance in the Knowledge Era.
We know that effective learning leads to visible behaviour change. That is, it has a direct impact on performance. People should start to do things differently. However, we also know that a training program – even a well-designed one – doesn’t guarantee any behaviour change. Training is an event. The effect of the Forgetting Curve sets in soon after the event is over. For visible performance outcome, we need to enable paradigm shifts. This in turn requires the fostering of a growth mindset and a letting go of limiting beliefs – both critical paradigm shifts. Add to this a fear of failure and unwillingness to expose one’s ignorance, and sharing and collaboration – the pillars of social learning – fall apart.
A quick summary of each of the paradigms mentioned above shows how these could probably have an impact on the overall performance of each individual, and on the organisation as a whole:
Growth mindset - Carol Dweck, in her research, differentiated between Fixed Mindset and Growth Mindset. For someone harbouring a fixed mindset, it could be difficult to see how engaging in social learning and collaborating could make them perform better. Since they believe that intelligence is static, this can become an obstacle to change in behaviour. On the other hand, people with growth mindset are likely to take every opportunity to pull the resources they need to perform better. They are usually the ones to volunteer information, ask questions and try out new ways of doing things. Recognising those with a fixed mindset and providing them with the necessary support and coaching could lead to better performance.
Limiting beliefs – Related to fixed mindset, limiting beliefs constrain us in many ways. While as learning designers we may well think that someone’s personal limiting beliefs are not within our purview of work, it’s a reality that limiting beliefs can often adversely impact the outcome we expect. Hence, as L&D, we need to dig deeper and check for this, and if necessary, enable employees to overcome these through coaching, mentoring, job rotation, and so on. Even a well-designed program will fail to achieve the desired performance outcome if not supported through other means.
Fear of failures – This could directly stem from the organisational culture and environment. An organisation that’s intolerant of mistakes, reprimands failures and discourages risk-taking is not likely to see a whole lot of change. Employees will find it safer to stick to the old ways than experiment with new ones. An enterprise collaboration platform might lie unused because employees don’t wish to display their ignorance.
It is important for L&D to recognise and take into consideration some of these so that when facilitating the learning-performance loop in organisations, they can focus on enabling the required changes. By facilitating an ecosystem that goes beyond training, L&D can enable performance change. The training represents one component – the formal one – of such an ecosystem. The knowledge and skills acquired via training could be supported through other means – informal and social – which is illustrated below:
These are just some of the associated factors that can have an impact on the overall performance of an organisation. While organisations strive to design effective programs, create performance support tools, facilitate enterprise-wide collaboration by putting in place social platforms, and encourage transparency and sharing, they may still encounter less-than optimal performance and resistance. Probing may reveal some of the causes to be related to what is discussed here.