This post follows on from a couple of recent posts:
1) Talking about learning – can you feel it? – “it’s worth keep reminding ourselves that a) many of us have a “yearning for learning” and b) continuous learning and adaptation are integral to high-performing work systems.”
2) Learning, leading and Spartacus moments – “I’m trying, in a very small way, to kick off a sort of social business school. I want this to be a resource and source of social support – particularly for people in operational roles, whose work is becoming more socially, technically and politically more complex.”
High-performance work systems
I reviewed process innovation approaches like lean, quality and agile manufacturing in the research-based book I had published last year, Smart Working: Creating the Next Wave. At their core is a philosophy of whole workforce involvement in innovation and continuous improvement, customer-focus, and connected, collaborative learning sewn into everything a business does.
It seems to me that these approaches have failed to take root outside manufacturing.
I also reviewed studies of high-performance work systems (HPWS). Businesses built on HPWS principles invest heavily in skills development, and design work in a way that provides opportunity for skills to be practiced.
But despite repeated accounts of links to a range of benefits, HPWS businesses are few and far between.
Do it ourselves
My view? If businesses are slow to provide HPWSs, why not do it for ourselves? Why not grab the opportunity to create a more meaningful experience of work for ourselves and our colleagues – if we can – while at the same time upgrading our skills for increasingly complex and changing work?
That’s why the second bit of the title of the book is called ‘Creating the Next Wave’. It’s a call for each of us to take responsibility for own experience of work, and to do it through action – connecting, discovering, experimenting, experiencing and reflecting together.
I think that the MOOC focus on courses – Massive Open Online Courses – reinforces old notions of expert-led content delivery, with the only difference being that the content is now widely available online. I know that’s a bit unfair because millions of people are getting value from access to useful content, talking about it, sharing it and using it.
All the same, I’m proposing an alternative starting point for my social business school. Do something and learn from the experience – and the secret sauce is supportive communities of others similarly doing something practical, sharing experiences and helping each other.
Content’s still important in this action-focused way of learning but its role is to feed conversations that kick off and encourage action – Content as Fire-Starter. So I’ve pulled together content into nine actionable high-performance principles into an ebook, Calling All Instigators! – that will be available from 1st May.
I’ve developed three tools that I hope will be useful:
- The ebook reviews insights from decades of research and it summarises themes arising into the nine principles, along with suggestions for things to try for putting each into practice. This is content to encourage reflection and conversation about what do.
- A High Performance Learning Framework with a business problem at the core – something people want to do better, differently or for the first time. The framework is used in combination with a set of diagnostic questions to help people understand their own work context.
- The outcome of applying the framework and diagnostic questions, informed by the content in the ebook, is the bones of a personalised action / learning plan. This a very emergent, experimental approach to change and learning through experience.
Step 1 Raising awareness
The idea of learning through work is hardly new or earth-shattering. But in the UK at least, I sense it’s still seen as tainted by association with vocational learning – you know, for people ‘too thick’ to go to university?
Then there’s the deeply-engrained influence of a model of teaching (not necessarily learning) in universities that has been dominant since the Middle Ages. My colleagues and I, when we were trying to promote work-based learning at post-graduate level at a UK university, faced resistance from some academics. It was seen as somehow not rigorous – we were giving away Master’s degrees. I can’t begin to tell you how misplaced that view is.
The notion of learning being the outcome of expert-led courses and events is equally deeply-engrained. My friend and ex-colleague recently reminded me of his experience of talking to an HR Director who was baffled by what he and our other colleague were trying to tell her about the work-based route to earning a Master’s degree.
So I think I need a community of curious and interested people to explain and explore how the social business school would function. The other reason for an exploratory, awareness-raising community is to help people identify a project they’d like to use for the dual purpose of doing something and learning from it.
Step 2 Do something!
With help and guidance, scope an action / learning plan.
This is about exploring purpose and context.
This is about exploring parameters, boundaries, intersections, risks, barriers and enablers.
This is about exploring what people need.
This is also about people but now its about relationship dynamics and cultural issues. This is also about tools and techniques.
This is an exploration of performance environment – it’s increasingly crucial as people and work become more distributed and mobile.
This pulls everything together. How do you know project objectives are being met? What are you learning? How do you know – what’s the evidence?
Step 3 Do it together
As I said earlier, doing and learning together is the secret sauce.
The next step
The tools are done – although these will of course evolve in use. The next step is to see if I can get the community going. I’ve already fallen over on that one. Learned a lot though. I’ve dusted myself off and having another go.
Wish me luck! And please feel free to email me if you’d like to be involved – firstname.lastname@example.org