"Tomorrow is the most important thing in life. It comes in to us at midnight very clean. It's perfect when it arrives and it puts itself in our hands. It hopes we've learned something from yesterday ."
Don't rest on your laurels.
Reassess needs and readiness.
Monitor your progress.
Have you completed every step? Have you done the necessary research to uncover the hidden truths about your culture and business vision? Have you written a bold and committed strategic plan detailing every step you planned to take, complete with budget and timelines ? Have you sold it brilliantly, implemented with great success and continued to market and adjust the process until it was humming along with few problems and great support?
Congratulations. If you've made it this far, you have won the right to call yourself the champion of a learning organization. Your organization and its employees are transforming themselves from passive learners waiting to be filled with information to active gatherers of skills and knowledge. Your management has backed up this transformation with its infrastructure, guidance, and support, empowering its people to complete that quest. You've created a learning system with targeted objectives, front-end needs-assessment tools, and an educated team of learning consultants who can take your message to the masses and determine which problems require training as a solution. You have stood up to the pressures of naysayers and perhaps even converted many of them with your deep understanding of the project and a wealth of statistics to combat their complaints. You have begun changing the culture of your organization, making it a place where learning is a key component to every job description, knowledge is starting to be shared openly rather than guarded because of its intrinsic power and use for personal gain, and learning is directly tied to the business vision of the company.
The transformation may not be complete, but it's moving. Research shows that it takes five to eight years to change the culture of a medium-to-large- sized company. And as you've read so many times on the preceding pages, fundamentally this is a culture-change initiative ”not an e-learning initiative. In terms of actual time, you are probably two to three years into the actual implementation, which means if you are doing things correctly you will only now begin to actually see the culture of your organization shifting.
So how do you know that the change you want is taking place? There are no hard rules to tell you when it has happened . Generally speaking, though, you'll know that the culture is changing when managers fill out the needs analysis before requesting a training program and when they automatically assume that you'll provide it online, even if that's not the appropriate vehicle. Another good indicator that the culture is changing is when required courses delivered in computer-based training format generate a very small number of complaints versus successful completions. Of course, this assumes that required courses work properly and are of high quality.
Early on in the process you will know you're being successful by the number of complaints you receive. Keep in mind that change is always accompanied by a lot of griping, if you're doing it correctly. If after your initial "go live" nobody complains to you, something is wrong. Check it out! Remember when we stopped providing free lunches and doughnuts for the instructor-led classes at Rockwell Collins? The learning and development team had to deal with a huge outpouring of complaints and outright anger. At the time, the change really stressed the staff, but we knew by the number and nature of the complaints that we were doing the right thing. The issue of the refreshments was a petty one, but it symbolized the reward culture of training at the company. We believe that the change served as a tangible element of the entire transformation that was taking place and it made it easy for people to latch onto.
If you see the change, and have met your initial goals, be proud of what you've accomplished, but don't fall into the mindset that "this is the way things are." That's the death knell for training. Even a revolutionary learning transformation will stagnate without proper care and attention. Pat yourself on the back, reward your staff, then go back to the beginning of the process and start again.
Being a learning organization is a never-ending process of research, evaluation, selling, and upgrading. The reason you wanted to become a learning organization is still valid ”to stay on the cutting edge of a knowledge economy. You can't just arrive on that edge and settle in for the ride. Getting there is the toughest challenge, but staying there requires diligent attention and reaction to the rapidly evolving marketplace . It means providing your people with new tools and structures so they can constantly improve their ability to acquire new skills. In a world in which technology development evolves monthly, your strategic plan will not be valid unless it is constantly reevaluated and upgraded to maintain pace with the competition.
The balance you need to strike is to keep advancing the learning system without getting too far out in front of your organization's ability to adapt to changes. Going too fast with a lot of change will confuse the organization and cause frustration. Going too slow will also frustrate the organization because the system becomes stagnant and loses the momentum and robustness that is now expected.
Going back to the beginning of the process may seem like a waste of time, but you must realize that the company you have now is vastly different from the one you started with.
In the beginning you were in the infant stages of a learning-organization transformation. Your plan was based on a certain level of readiness and access to technology, and your strategy was tied primarily to changing the mindset and skill-acquisition process of your workforce. Now everything has changed. By the sheer force of your project and the achievement of your objectives, your target audience is not the same group of novices you started with. Their knowledge of what it means to be an active learner will have developed. As a group , they will have adopted the behaviors that ultimately translate into a learning organization, and most will have done so without any real understanding of what a learning organization really is. Their ability to understand the value of e-learning and use it will have grown significantly. They will have a new attitude about their own learning. Their desire to push their skill sets will have increased, and they will expect you to support that desire .
Once you achieve your initial objectives and push the change process forward, reevaluate what you are now capable of delivering. Reassess end users' computer literacy , access to technology, and motivation to learn. You'll find that people's attitudes and savviness have changed, and this change will affect your ability to roll out new tools and processes.
At Rockwell Collins, we began with a population largely new to the concept of self-paced learning. Our team battled cultural issues, such as the belief that the classroom is the only legitimate place to learn, and the fear and skepticism toward e-learning. Over three years we fought those cultural issues and changed the attitude of our core population. They now use e-learning readily and require much less prodding and hand holding then they did in the past. Because their learning skills have matured, we are now able to launch tools that the company has wanted for years but couldn't make work because end users weren't ready or able to use them.
For example, in our original project plan we wanted the learning councils to break job roles down into core competencies and tasks. They were unable to achieve that goal, but the need for that information remained. Two years after our team launched Project Oasis, software was developed to accomplish that task. SmartForce now offers SkillScape, a relational database software system that identifies job families and breaks each one down into tasks and how they are supported through the specific skills, knowledge, and abilities required to perform each role. With the jobs broken down sufficiently, employees can assess themselves and gather feedback from their respective supervisors, peers, and subordinates if appropriate, on their ability to do the tasks associated with their jobs. For the first time in their performance-review process they are able to measure themselves against a defined list of competencies instead of relying on subjective ratings of perceived performance.
This system won't just work in isolation; it will be linked to other HR systems at Rockwell Collins ”including performance assessment, training and development, staffing, and succession planning. The new goal is to create a seamless connection between systems allowing the company to flow valuable employment information across functions so that everyone can benefit from existing knowledge. Doing so will give us a better perspective on existing knowledge and skill gaps and allow us to forecast staffing and training needs to support future objectives. Rockwell Collins will be able to delve deeper into the competencies of the organization and see the hidden talents that reside within. Typically succession-planning efforts are targeted only at high-profile employees who've made big splashes within their units. This system identifies low-profile high achievers , ensuring that the company takes full advantage of all our best people.
This is a huge initiative that Rockwell Collins has been striving toward for seven years.
Had our learning consultants not still been researching the industry and communicating with our vendors , we might not have discovered this relatively obscure piece of software. And this style of tool fits much more smoothly into our new learning-organization culture, because our people have a greater comfort level with computer-based training applications and an increased desire to improve their performance. Four years ago, even if the software had existed, it would have been a struggle to get our people to see its value.
Before Rockwell Collins implements this tool, however ”or any new piece of software ”we go back to the research phase. Over the past several months our team has been surveying employees and managers about the need for these capabilities and quietly testing the tool to see if it can do what it claims ”before rolling it out to the company.
Besides forging new trails into the unchartered territories of performance-management software, keep a constant eye on your existing tools and how well they are meeting your needs. This advice may seem contradictory, but it is valid nonetheless. Even though this whole process is about culture change, you've likely chosen to use technology as the major tool to drive that change.
In some cases, tools need to be upgraded every eighteen months or they become obsolete. In other cases, a great new technology that can vastly improve your process may hit the market. Bandwidths will get bigger and cheaper; simulations will become more realistic and more powerful. Artificial intelligence will create training scenarios unheard of today. The U.S. Army is already working with virtual-reality headsets programmed with artificial intelligence to train junior officers in problem solving. While the technology is expensive today, it won't be five years from now.
New tools are always popping up, which means that conducting research and staying in touch with new and existing vendors is always going to be part of your job. You can't let these issues linger or you will fall behind. The industry will continue to change and improve. If you aren't careful, your cutting-edge system today will be obsolete in three years.
At Rockwell Collins, we've made the conscious decision to continue teaching certain nontechnical skills in instructor-led classes because we believe live interaction is necessary for communication skills, feedback, and performance conversations. The technology isn't here yet to accommodate that environment online in a self-paced course, but that doesn't mean it won't be.
At Rockwell Collins, instead of trying to monitor every piece of software ourselves , Cliff Purington gives responsibility for specific tools, such as our virtual-classroom software or learning-management system, to the learning consultants who oversee those areas of Project Oasis.
Every tool has a schedule of evaluations. We rely on the learning consultants to tell us when the system no longer meets their needs. They help us decide whether to upgrade an existing piece of software or to scrap it and start over.
As you move forward, launching new projects and overseeing old ones, always keep the future in mind. Every eighteen months to two years, reassess your organizational environment and survey end users about their needs and how well those needs are being met. Ask your constituents what needs to be changed and whether you are helping them meet their needs. In the beginning these people probably knew very little about training, but by now they have seen what you can do. Just as the senior vice president of operations came to us with the problem of a loss of unique team expertise or tribal knowledge that spurred The Performance Engineering Group to invent the hugely successful QuickLearn methodology, so too will your executives begin to see the potential of your new training system. If we hadn't gone back to our executives regularly with our updated business case, we might not ever have uncovered that particular training issue. Even though the senior vice president of operations didn't completely understand that his problem was training related when he brought it to us, he saw Project Oasis as a valuable resource that could provide new insight into old problems. From these insights, new initiatives arose.
Also, don't ever forget that this is a change-management process. Keep asking yourself, "How far have we come?" Have the changes you predicted come to fruition? If not, what else needs to be done? If you have achieved the change-initiative element of your plan, you can focus more effort on the architecture and infrastructure to support it, but never take your eyes completely off the cultural elements of the project. Every time you roll out something new, you will encounter pushback. The business model will become unbalanced as your strategies and initiatives fall out of alignment with your culture. Pay attention to both the cultural and strategic needs of your organization. Melding cultural attitudes with strategic goals is a constant balancing act that requires consistent and delicate intervention. If you stay on top of it, you will avoid becoming overwhelmed by the needs of the business or your people.
Companies are living, growing entities. Just like people, they change and require new clothes or new hairstyles. Pay close attention to the evolving culture and constantly go back to your business executives to see what has changed strategically for them. Help them match their strategies to the culture.
As long as your primary goal is to provide a learning structure that directly supports the business needs of the company and you tie every piece of training to measurable performance-related goals, you will continue to thrive as a learning organization.
Congratulations. If you've made it this far, you have turned your company into a learning organization. But don't forget that this transformation is a never-ending process. Don't stop monitoring users' needs and new opportunities in the training industry. Regularly reassess your needs and employees' readiness for continuing change. There will always be opportunities for improvement.