Lessons Learned at Rockwell Collins

Lessons Learned at Rockwell Collins

Combining the hard data with the information gleaned from the interviews, focus groups, and surveys, we learned a great deal about the culture and attitude of Rockwell Collins's employees .

We discovered that management paid lip service to the idea that employee education is important. While the company talked a lot about the value of training and noted its importance in the corporate value statement, too many employees canceled training programs or left early because of other, "more important" commitments for us to believe that training was truly considered an important part of their development. Employees wanted training, but they were not allowed to make it a priority. Managers consistently used or withheld training, not to achieve strategic performance goals, but to reward or punish team members .

Our research further showed that the idea of e-learning was alien to this conservative group , which for fifty years had held training exclusively in classrooms. For example, one of the comments we received to the question "Would you like to be able to start and stop learning whenever you like?" was "Yes, but won't that be really disruptive to the instructor?" While a comment like this initially produces giggles on our part, a more serious look underscores the adage "You can't know what you don't know." Keep this in mind as you begin to assess your organization's readiness for e-learning.

The classroom was so ingrained in their understanding of the training process that they were convinced one had to be in a classroom in order to learn. And because managers had the attitude that an employee who isn't working is goofing off, we knew it was going to be very difficult to provide learning opportunities at employees' desks.

We also discovered that like many other organizations, Rockwell Collins approached learning as a passive process. Employees had the attitude that it was the company's responsibility to educate them, and that they were passive, often grudging vessels to be filled with knowledge. This was an important environmental factor that would significantly affect our transformation process, because in a learning organization employees are expected to actively seek knowledge and take responsibility for their learning. The passivity we encountered was an indicator of the need for major change in the attitude toward learning.

It's the same passive attitude that was instilled in all of us from the first day of kindergarten. We arrive at school and are told to be quiet and obedient children. This model doesn't change throughout our educational experience. It goes on all the way through college and often into graduate school ”you must be quiet and listen to the expert who has come to give you knowledge. Unfortunately, this model places the entire burden for learning on the shoulders of the instructor. That's not all bad when they're educating six-year-olds. But it isn't an ideal model when the intended audience is adults.

Every organization we've ever worked in or been associated with as consultants has used this model for the training and development of its employees. The move away from this model is one of the fundamental shifts that must take place in every company that is serious about becoming a learning organization. This is why moving into an e-learning environment from a classroom environment is first and foremost a shift in corporate culture. You are moving from the passive "Fill me up, I'm an empty vessel" learning system to one that requires a contract between employee and employer. Each side has an equal but different role. Employees must now take responsibility for acquiring the skills and knowledge needed to perform their jobs. Employers must provide clear, direct feedback to each employee about any skill or knowledge gap and create an easily accessible way for that employee to acquire the needed skills and knowledge.

If you think about the transition to e-learning in these terms, you can easily understand why "even though you built it, they don't come." Employees are used to being taken to the schoolhouse and fed the knowledge. Now they have to go there of their own volition and learn at their discretion. Your responsibility as the leader of an e-learning initiative is to make it as easy as possible for this transformation to take place.

Further confounding Rockwell Collins's attitude toward training was the fact that the training department was internally focused, was unmanaged, and had zero accountability. There was no common design standard for the development of courses. The subject-matter experts who performed as trainers at Rockwell Collins were acting on their own and creating programs based on their individual tastes, so it was impossible to predict the quality or strategy of any course. Repeatedly, in all of our data, the value of the training that was being offered was rated below average. Employees frequently told us that the best part of any course was the free lunch .

That was of course for those who worked the day shift. Third-shift employees, weekend employees, and anyone off site had little to say about the quality of training because they had little access to it. Courses were offered in the classroom only Monday through Friday from 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. And, even though 60 percent of Rockwell Collins's 17,500 employees worked outside the Cedar Rapids area, all training was delivered at headquarters, which meant that global employees either didn't receive training or incurred considerable travel costs for it. Over and over, the data told us that the training department wasn't meeting the most basic training needs of vast segments of the population.

The last critical obstacle we discovered through our research was that there was a great deal of cynicism toward learning at Rockwell Collins. People were very distrustful of the survey itself, almost to the point of paranoia .

One day, we were sitting in Cliff Purington's office when an irate manager barged into his office ”in spite of the fact that a meeting was in progress ”and began berating him for pushing a survey that was clearly biased in favor of alternative learning. Her perception was that the questions were designed to kill all classroom training at Rockwell Collins. If anything, the opposite was true. We attempted to have an unbiased survey, but we also wanted to show the need for change. Purington asked the irate manager, "If Rockwell Collins didn't want unbiased data, why would they have hired an outside group to write and analyze the survey?" The manager left without answering the question.

Rockwell Collins has a strong culture, and certain elements of it had the potential to create significant obstacles to our success. There was a "knowledge is power" attitude, and those who had the expertise guarded it jealously. There was little individual responsibility and a tyranny of the minority. It took very few people to bring new initiatives to a crashing halt.

Without the assessment, we wouldn't have known that some of these barriers were deeply ingrained in the company. Even if we had crafted the same strategic plan, if we had not been aware of the cynicism, the disconnected attitude toward the value of training, and the confusion about e-learning, our team would have had serious problems with the initial implementation.

The company's culture had elements that were antithetical to its becoming a learning organization, and in order to succeed at our mission we first needed to address those attitudes. Because we knew about them in advance, we were able to create strategies that worked around them, as opposed to confronting them head on.

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  1. Have gathered all empirical data that relates to training over the past five to ten years in your company. That includes budgets , surveys, smile sheets, ROI evaluations, seat time, cancellations , percentage of employees trained, and so on. This data gives you an overall vision of the training experience of the past and sets the baseline from which your future accomplishments will be judged.

  2. Have selected an outside consultancy to help with your research effort. No one can effectively judge the culture or success of the company from the perspective of operating from within it. Find a trusted outside expert to give you feedback and guidance on your efforts.

  3. Have conducted focus-group studies, informal interviews, and employee surveys to give you anecdotal and statistical data about employees' experiences with and opinions of the existing training structure and corporate culture.

  4. Have researched the training trends in your industry ”including your competitors and customers ”to get an idea of what other companies are achieving and what it's possible to achieve if you change your current approach to training. Together, all of the data you collect in this phase will give you the raw material for your strategic plan.

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