Leveraging ‘People Led’ development tools

people building business

Managers today play a vital role in talent management. Gone are the comprehensive career management systems and expectations of long-term employment that once functioned as the glue in the employer-employee contract.  In their place, the manager-employee dyad is the new building block of learning and development in firms. Good managers attract candidates, drive performance, develop, engage and retain people, and play a key role in maximizing employees’ contribution to the firm.

Employee Development Planning is often the most neglected yet important aspect of management. For many reasons this valuable activity gets ignored –

  • Managers tend to focus more on here and now vs future. Businesses operate in such dynamic environment that managers naturally focus more on day to day operational issues rather than thinking long term which may have less certain consequences.
  • Most organizational processes turn out to be so bureaucratic, time consuming and confusing that managers are just satisfied to finish them. There is hardly any time spent to create something constructive from the whole data.
  • There is just never enough time to do the job. Managers keep struggling to cope up with business exigencies and fire fighting.

Managers understand that taking genuine interest in the future of their team members builds loyalty, engagement and drives productivity. Some of the key tools that can be used by the managers in their day to day routine to help develop their team members are discussed below:

  1. Feedback – Regular, timely and objective feedback is the most impactful way of helping employees understand their current strengths and development areas which can be the base of development planning. Setting a rhythm to discuss performance, progress and pitfalls with employees provides them with confidence about their future.
  2. Coaching – It is a powerful way to help employee achieve an important goal! Managers can either themselves take up the role of a coach or assign someone within the organization as a coach to support employee’s growth and development. Coaching is goal oriented, time bound, skill/ task related intervention which provides guidance and support to experiment, explore and facilitate learning.
  3. Mentoring – It is long term relationship oriented tool. It focuses on skill/ career/ professional development of employee. Mentor can span the role of coach, motivator, role model, provider of contacts etc. Usually mentors don’t have direct working relationship with the employee so that confidentiality and trust are maintained.
  4. Networking – Providing ample opportunities to participate in cross functional meets, projects, presentations, trainings etc. to facilitate cross pollination of learnings. I helps brings fresh ideas, knowledge, thoughts and enrichment to routine job.

Using a healthy combination of such interventions ensure a deep connect with the employee and the organization. They also help in complementing other formal employee development initiatives like trainings, certifications etc.  to  create a holistic development model.

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New trends in e-learning

Elearning is changing. Despite a decline in overall training expenditure since 2009 in the corporate sector, elearning itself has grown and is continuing to grow General budget constraints, reduction in training time and other mitigating factors appear to be the main drivers of the shift towards using e-learning. As the eLearning market continues to grow from strength to strength, it’s only natural that eLearning evolves too. Here are some key upcoming trends in this industry.

1.Big Data – Numbers in eLearning are becoming so large that processing user generated data using traditional methods is becoming impossible. Big data analysis can help eLearning in many ways – deeper understanding of learning process, helping track learner and group patterns, feedback analysis, compiling a comprehensive ROI report for learning.

  1. Gamification – This is arguably one of the most exciting developments. Gamification is the concept of applying game mechanics and game design techniques to engage and motivate people to achieve their goals. Learning based games can be quite easily implemented in many elearning courses and learning management systems. Almost 80% learners say that they would be more productive if their institution/ work was more game like.
  2. Personalized Learning – Personalized Learning is the tailoring of pedagogy, curriculum and learning environments to meet the needs and aspirations of individual learners. Some aspects of personalized learning are – adjusting the pace of instruction, adjusting the learning approach, allowing users to choose their own learning path, adjusting the form of content presentation between audio, video or text, leveraging participants experience and interests.
  3. Mobile Learning – As mobile use continues to grow, mobile will become the dominant medium for offering learning material. Devices like smartphones and tablets are allowing the learning to be on the move. In enterprises, the usage of tablets for business related activities and enterprise mobility is on the rise, making eLearning on tablets almost a necessity. Another related trend most commonly found in organizations in m-enablement – which is conversion of existing elearning courseware into tablet compatible format.
  4. Focus on ROI – Return on Investment (ROI) compares the investment in a training deliverable with the benefits over a specified period of time. Despite the traditional difficulties of calculating ROI, its importance will rise, as it provides a strong argument in favor of e-learning.
  5. APIs – Application Programming Interface (API) is basically the way applications communicate with each other. The widely accepted SCORM and Tin Can are two examples of APIs in eLearning. Systems like Zapier, offer non-programmable ways to integrate APls between services and achieve desired effects. TinCan API is the next generation of reporting for learning and LMSs around the world, if your LMS doesn’t support TinCan, then you are in for major problems!  This year TinCan hit version 1.0, so expect to see even greater adoption the latter half of 2013.
  6. Automation – Content creation is a tedious and time consuming process. If we could somehow automate the process of content creation then we could potentially create a revolution in the quantity and quality of online courses. Areas where automation is possible are quizzes, tests, exercises generated automatically from course content, customizing content to each user by automatically matching difficulty levels to user skill levels.
  7. Augmented Learning – Augmented learning is an on-demand learning technique where the environment adapts to the learner. Augmented Reality market is expected to grow significantly – from 60 million users in 2013 to 200 million in 2018.
  8. Corporate MOOCs – Possibly the most controversial trend, MOOCs are causing quite the stir, but the utility of the model is not certain.  Still, the possibility of MOOCs is quite exciting. Massive Open Online Courses are open courses for large numbers of users. MOOCs are often used by top universities. In the last few years MOOCs have also been getting more popular among companies and organizations in areas such as – internal training of big group of employees, open courses for teaching skills that are tailored to company’s future needs.
  9. Rise of Cloud LMS – Despite speculations about the death of LMS, last year showed continued growth in the industry. Forecasts for 2015 predict it will continue to grow. Out of all learning systems, cloud-based platforms had the highest growth in the last two years.

How would L&D evolve in 2015?

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Let me tell you some interesting conversations I have recently had with two people I know in the L&D industry – both of them run their own companies in the L&D space. While the former is a young 35+ year old, the latter is quite a veteran with over 25 years of experience. I met them recently and asked both of them the same question – what are the key changes that the L&D industry is facing? Both of them had contrasting answers. While both of them spoke about the increasing challenge of keeping learners engaged and making learning sticky (given that the Gen-Y workforce is much more stressed and has shorter attention spans), the solutions spoken about were very different. The young guy spoke passionately about

  • Gamification – for creating engaging learning outcomes
  • Anytime/ anywhere learning platforms – using mobiles/ tabs/ flexible curriculum that blends easily with current lifestyles

The more experienced (and traditional?) guy spoke about the following

  • Personalised and meaningful learning experiences – Outbounds/ Coaching etc which immerse the learner completely in the learning process
  • Leveraging on-job learning opportunities – through Action Learning Projects, Peer Learning Sessions etc

I have been left wondering about who had a more appropriate view and the more I think, I believe that what they talked about were not two different things at all. Gamification makes any learning experience personalized and anywhere/anytime learning enables learning outcomes to get captured while on-the job. Let me give you an example. Suppose a retail chain is looking at developing visual merchandising skills for its store managers. One solution would be to create an online game which is accessible from any smart phone and can be played by the managers at any time. Another solution can be to take the managers through an intense classroom program followed by action learning projects where they implement learnings and track progress. Both approaches have their own merits and demerits. And probably the best solution would be to blend the two approaches to create a holistic learning experience which is suited to all learner types. Lets examine the following learning plan 1) Games and quizzes to pique learner interest before the program 2) Intensive classroom immersion programs 3) On-job learning projects where the learner applies learnings 4)Online learning games/ quizzes/ badges etc.  which support the learner during the project

Apart from the completeness of the learning journey, what this approach ensures is that there are several data points available to track the progress of the learner and introduce mid-course corrections if needed. The journey for most L&D organizations such as ours in 2015 is going to be a volatile and exciting one. Constant change, preserving the best techniques from the past while reinventing redundant ones would be what would make us stay relevant.

Experiential Learning in Schools – Is India Ready?

kids learning

Here’s this really interesting conversation I had with my 7 year old – One of his new year resolutions is to learn swimming. He feels lazy about it and given that he likes to read, he asked me a very pertinent question – why do I need to get into a pool to learn swimming, why can’t I just read about it and learn it? Very good question indeed, given that most of what he learns in the CBSE school he is a part of is by reading/ watching videos etc. To him, that’s the most logical format of ‘learning’.

This question got me thinking about whether we can change the learning path of children at very early ages to actually get them to learn most of the stuff that they learn by doing. At present, a bulk of the topics covered in schools and colleges are theoretical and consequently disengaging. Children are not made to sit passively in a chair for an hour and listen – no wonder attention span is low and retention is low. Memory experiments conducted by Ebbinghaus show that in this traditional approach, students forget approximately 50% of the content just in the first 40 minutes after learning. The figure shoots up to 70% within a day. Constant re-enforcements of the topics at home through assignments and home tuitions help but only in the short run.

Consider the alternative – a more engaging learn-by-doing approach in schools. There is no debating the merits of ‘learn-by-doing’ or ‘experiential learning’. In fact, we were born to learn through experiences and as kids, there is no other way we can learn. For example, a child might learn to be wary of touching a stove after burning her fingers on a hot plate that had been used recently. As we get older, our learning experiences become less ‘concrete’ and we do start to learn visually or through music or reading. However, the most deep-set format of learning remains experiential.

Then why do education systems not favour an experiential learning format? Firstly, the traditional system of education is definitely more ‘efficient’. More concepts can get covered in a shorter time frame with a larger set of students. Consider teaching the Newton’s laws – the traditional format teaches these through textbooks. Experiential learning of Newton’s Laws, for instance, is when the learner is given a ball and asked to roll it and experience it coming to a halt due to friction. This approach is far more interesting, engaging and proven to exhibit higher retention levels over traditional means of reading a textbook. However, while in the former method, a class of 50 students ‘learn’ the concept in 45 mins, in the latter method only about 10 students would ‘learn’ the method in 45 mins. In a country with abysmal student-teacher ratios and very limited schooling infrastructure, adopting the experiential learning format would be inefficient.

Another factor that makes experiential learning less practical is the fact that teachers in India are not trained to impart education in this fashion. Consider that ‘reflection’ and ‘feedback’ are the key to learning from experience because it consciously focuses our attention on what we have learnt and thus consolidates it. Further, understanding the general principle (‘generalisation’) that they experienced and ‘applying’ the same to new situations are higher order skills required to complete the experiential learning cycle. Are teachers today equipped to guide and facilitate a reflection and feedback session with students effectively? Can they create an atmosphere in the class that stimulates higher order thinking and application skills?

There is no denying that the future of education is a more experiential format. But there are many steps that the education system in India needs to take before we can adopt such a format. Till then, we will have to make do with what we have.

Experiential Learning – Highly Abused Word in Training?

creativity

All of us as L&D professionals have been exposed to a host of so-called experiential learning programs. Unfortunately, however, most of them are junk – they just add a layer of gamification to a traditional program and claim to be highly engaging.

What would truly break the clutter would be ‘immersive gamification’ which basically is about imparting experiential learning through business simulations. These simulations are compatible with both online and instructor driven formats and have a universal appeal for most age groups and industry types. What truly differentiates such programs?

Firstly, they are close to real life. The storyline of the game is rich with constraints and opportunities which the participant must be facing in real life. He is expected to deal with the same kind of stakeholders and emotions as in real life. This ensures that the participant relates the learning directly to his life and doubts about ‘What is in it for me’ are dispelled right away.

Secondly, these simulations are like a real game. The participant is playing the game in the first person mode; the progress of the game is based on the action taken by the individual, and this affects the outcome dynamically.

Thirdly, these simulations involve real-time decision making. During the simulation, a participant is expected to display his skill or knowledge by taking a decision at various points in time. His expertise is judged by the repercussions of the decision. Making the participant take real life decisions in a safe learning environment immediately drives the learning into the participant’s mind.

Finally, these simulations cause tangible behavioural change. Participants internalize learnings by applying them immediately and  the resulting behavioral changes are effectively retained as they are a part of an experience – not a course!

Every L&D professional must use these four principles to test the efficacy of any experiential program and only then invest the time, energy and effort of the learners in order to derive maximum output from the learning program.

The Criticality of Employee Development Planning

development

recent Gallup survey showed that lack of career advancement opportunities was the most common reason for employee leaving organizations, being cited by 32% of respondents. So if you want to motivate engage and develop your top performers you must engage in good quality career development, the basis of which is a properly executed employee development plan.

A nimble organization needs an approach to talent management that can be fluid and responsive. This level of organizational agility requires that employees be able to better themselves. Offering a sophisticated individual improvement process is one of the most effective ways to accomplish that.

Most individual improvement plans, however tend to have a  “fix-it” development approach which is rarely the most effective or efficient route to improvement. Discovering and curtailing weaknesses can work, but focusing exclusively on one’s shortcomings can be challenging and discouraging. It is important to also concentrate on the individual’s strengths and help him leverage those to his benefit in achieving organization goals and career success.

What is an employee development plan?

In general an Employee Development Plan can be a paper or electronic record which sets out the following:

  • an employee’s development needs,
  • the actions to be taken to address these needs (e.g. training)
  • when this action will occur,
  • and what support the employer must give,
  • And what action the employee must take.

There will be two elements to an employee development plan; these are ‘Personal’ and ‘Career’ development. The difference between the two is important to note. The Personal Development Plan: This looks at the employee’s weaknesses as identified in the review process in relation to their current job and seeks to address these weaknesses with training. The Career Development Plan: In larger companies this may be linked to the succession planning process. Typically, this plan looks to the future and looks to develop skills within employees which they will need to progress into a future leader or to simply advance and reach their career goals.

How to create these development plans?

Having communicated the areas for development to the employee in the review discussions, you can begin to address those weaknesses, item by item. You can do this by completing the development plan and the structure of the document should guide you through the development planning process. There are many variations of development plans available, but a good development plan must have the following 5 components.

  1. Area for developments
  2. Interventions, e.g. training
  3. Date when it will happen
  4. Manager’s actions
  5. Employee’s action.

Employees are bound to have a range of developmental needs and fortunately there are a range of developmental initiatives available to managers that can be applied to employees to help them develop skills. Some of the development initiatives which can be taken are as below :

  • Stretch Assignments; this is where employees are given projects, roles or assignments for a temporary period which push them out of their comfort zone, hopefully forcing them to acquire new skills.
  • They are very popular within the Fortune 500.
  • Job Rotation
  • Structured Training Courses
  • Self-Guided learning
  • Mentorship programs
  • Attending Conferences

Each development plan is likely to include more than one of these development activities.

Development plans are a core part of the management process as they can improve staff engagement and retention levels through the provision of opportunities for personal and career development and staff growth.