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Learning The Hard way

never stop learning concept on blackboard

A recent survey found that a third of New Zealand teachers didn’t understand basic fractions. The irony of this is that third are the very people who don’t know what “a third” is. On average, teachers are wonderful people, only a third of whom you might need to explain what “on average” means. They’re also passionately committed, two thirds are really well educated and they’re collectively really well organised. So, I hope they’ll be forgiving after being the butt of a cheap joke at the start of my article. (OK, three jokes but only a third of which was cheap. OK, four.) They’re also fantastic people to be in a committed relationship with. If you ever fail to satisfy them as a lover, it’s not that you’ve failed, it’s that you’ve ‘not yet achieved.’

There’s a ratio that gets trotted out in workplace training. (And by ‘training’, I mean ‘building workforce capability.’ And ‘ratio’ is another term for a ‘fraction.’) 70:20:10. 10 percent of learning by workers is courses and reading. 20 percent is from bosses or co-workers in semi-formal efforts to upskill a newbie. The 70 percent is from “tough jobs.” The research is generally accredited to the Centre for Creative Leadership (CCL) and “tough jobs’ was their phrase. The ratio sounds about right to me. As a trainer, I used to be precious and disproportionately enamoured with training – out of self interest as much as any interest I had in my trainees. I was lucky in that I had a 20 and a 70 experience that flipped my perception. The 20 experience was some very specific and useful feedback from a boss. The 70 experience was a tough job I endured as a result of initially not heeding that boss’s advice.

I flipped on a dime really from being me-centric and training others to a mindset of being learner-centric facilitating an optimum learning environment. It seems a small thing but it is not and it is not just semantics. CCL identifies one of the benefits of their “tough jobs” approach is that the pain of the failure or feedback drives a motivation to improve, part of which is addressed by learning – a learning that is self-driven by the learner, which is the best kind.

Workplaces vary wildly. They vary in their support of their people who want to do the 10 percent and read and attend formal courses. But the good ones acknowledge the importance and try. The good ones develop their leaders and performance management systems so the 20 percent can be managed systematically and effectively, linking that learning strategically to organisational goals. The wildest variation, in my experience and observations, comes in the 70 percent. If it is true that the vast majority of workplace learning occurs during tough jobs, how many workplaces plan and prepare for that? And upskill the team leaders on delegation and providing feedback? Traditionally the focus may have been on the 10 – listing courses and ticking off attendance. Now I’m often super impressed by the number of workplaces with competencies dripping off simple but effective skill matrices that everyone understands and sees the benefits of. Identifying gaps in current skills needs and development opportunities for individuals and collectvely, and planning to fill those gaps. Organisations need to put as much effort into planning the 70 and the 20 as they do on the 10.

This is a great time and opportunity for e-learning. To me, the number one advantage of e-learning as a delivery method, regardless of its shortcomings, is that it can be delivered just in time. It can be created in anticipation of tough jobs – both before and after. It’s never going to replace an effective team leader’s coaching before and during, or feedback after, a tough job but it usefully augments it in a timely way. If the learner genuinely gets some motivation out of the tough job in anticipation or experience and a useful e-learning resource is easily available, why wouldn’t that self-motivated learner take advantage of it?

Other words to describe CCL’s 70:20:10 ratio might be experiential, social and formal. Tell me and I hear. Show me and I understand. Involve me and I remember – that’s experiential. Social is interesting. I read some research recently advising that a powerful lever of behaviour change for these millenials entering the workforce is social nudging. What we might’ve called the buddy system in our day. For all the use of closed inhouse FaceBook groups, the principle of social learning remains the same. I saw a electronics chain use this method far more effectively than any intranet, memo or newsletter. Create and manage a closed group, advise staff that it exists and they start sharing – asking questions o rrevealing discoveries about new products. For them it worked.

Maori have a principle called Ako in which learning is a two-way street between teacher and student. One thing those in charge of workplace learning could learn from students is that there are new ways of learning.











Training And Development Is Work


People often see training and development as events, whereas the vast bulk of it occurs seamlessly everyday on-the-job.

Daniel Pink in his book ‘Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us’ identifies three primary drivers of motivation and engagement. One of those is mastery – the sense that tomorrow we’ll be a little bit better at whatever it is that we do than we were yesterday, a need we all have to perceive a sense of self development and personal progress. Part of our fundamental human set-up probably has you irked right now that I haven’t yet mentioned what the other two primary drivers of motivation and engagement are.

Last century, Lombardo and Eichinger came up with their 70-20-10 model depicting the average sources of training and development in the workplace. (I say last century but it was 1996. But these days, 1996 is so ‘last century.’) My son was born in 1996. He’s taller than me now. He has a great part-time job with a great employer at Albany Pak n’ Save. His experience pretty much replicates the 70-20-10 model. 70% of his workplace learning occurs ‘on the job’ whilst performing tasks and solving problems. 20% occurs in semi-formal coaching sessions and via feedback. The remaining 10% occurs in formal situations like classroom training sessions and self-directed reading.

Some people see training as an event that occurs in the training room, according to a schedule on a wall or computer somewhere. There is a line on a budget called ‘Training and Development.’ One of the services I deliver for organisations is training. A trend I’ve noticed accelerating is a greater awareness, acceptance and embracing of supporting that informal, on-the-job learning.

These days I’m loving that, due to demand, I’m running a lot fewer sessions delivering content and a lot more on how to deliver content, provide feedback, manage performance and vary communication styles. That’s the stuff that enables workplace leaders to support workplace learning. I’m not in love with the term ‘Training and Development’ but I will marry the term ‘Workplace Learning.’

From smartphones to intranets to job-aids to NZQA to remuneration matrices linked to demonstrable and documented skill acquisition, a whole raft of ideas, technologies and demands have driven and supported this sea change. We need to know what we need to know when we need to know it. The people we lead in an increasingly complex and flexible workplace can’t be expected to be trained in everything then let loose. Increasingly in job descriptions and job interview scripts, I’m seeing ‘Ability to Learn’ as a critical competency. And it should be.

Knowledge and expertise you have today may be obsolete soon enough, if not tomorrow. Recently the last factory in the world that made typewriters closed down and the last telegraph service was discontinued. I presume once there was a hey-day when parents tried to convince their kids to grow up and get into the lucrative typewriter manufacturing and telegraph delivery gigs. They’re looking pretty foolish now. We all need to learn better skills on how to learn – how to be more efficient and effective at learning and, more importantly for employers, how to support others in their everyday learning.

Even more last century and harder to attribute than the 70-20-10 model is the Four Stage Competency Model. Wiki says it’s from the 1970s and credits Noel Burch. It’s a task-specific model so let’s use driving as an example. At stage 1, you’re not very good but you’re keen as you don’t yet realise how not good at it you are. This is unconscious incompetence. Then you have a go and experience some failure. This is conscious incompetence. Over time and with practice and coaching, you can do it unsupervised but you still really have to think about it. This is conscious competence. Eventually, you get in your car, blink, and suddenly you’ve driven to work with no recollection of the preceding forty minutes. You’re in stage 4 – unconscious competence. Any bad habits are well engrained now. You might get stuck on a level. You might go backwards. Critical to progression is the support of a supervisor via deliberate practice and feedback. The model is helpful for workplace leaders to know because you need to provide the people you lead with different things depending on what stage they’re at.

So let’s let T&D go the way of typewriters and telegraphs and let’s celebrate workplace learning. (Oh, and the other two drivers of motivation and engagement are Autonomy and Purpose.)

But, do people really care passionately about investing in learning? Recently, on my Brain-Based Boss FaceBook page, I posted a link to a great article on research linking investing in skills paying off economically. It got zero responses. Separately, I also posted a flippant and sarcastic criticism of the new Whittaker’s L&P flavoured chocolate. It got dozens of responses…






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