Paradoxically, coping in the current climate of “survival of the fastest” is often more about helping people get off the productivity treadmill by making time for reflective learning than it is about working faster.
Improving bottom-line results seems to be everyone’s top priority in the current time-pressured business environment. It doesn’t matter whether you’re on the production floor or in the call center, finance department, marketing group, or executive suite, the challenge is the same. Find high leverage actions that can leapfrog your team, department, business unit, or company ahead of where it was last week, last month, last quarter, last year. In many ways, business has become survival of the fastest: the fastest to streamline and save costs, the fastest to secure new sales and revenues, the fastest to innovate and outdistance the competition, and the fastest to deliver ground breaking products and services.
To meet the challenge, there’s pressure to learn and innovate. Demand for learning programs that can deliver bottom-line results today—not tomorrow—is growing. As leaders, we need to get our high potential people in management development programs to unleash brainpower that can shift organizational performance results into overdrive.
But, do people have time to learn? Do they have the time required to reflect on what they and their colleagues are doing to find the genuine breakthrough ideas that can deliver major job improvements?
Gone are the days when people attended costly four- to six-week courses. Organizations have been so effective at squeezing out every bit of idle or down time to increase productivity that very little slack remains anywhere. Every minute of every day counts. No wonder people complain they don’t have enough time for learning! Workplace learning programs are competing with phone calls, meetings, email, and other job-related interruptions and daily work demands.
As a result, learning is often put on hold in the relentless pursuit of productivity. But that’s a disastrous long-term strategy. Once something goes wrong, it’s difficult to recover when you’re on a fast-moving treadmill. Bad generally goes to worse when learning gets squeezed out. People get caught in dated thinking and locked into outmoded practices.
Using learning to get off self-destructive treadmills
By making time for reflective learning it’s possible to find productive ways to help people slow down and regenerate. That’s what used to happen in classrooms and conferences. New ideas and social interaction rejuvenated people. But, it’s difficult to turn back the clock given the pressures of the current business environment. That leads many organizations to automatically cut the amount of development time per employee. Perhaps there’s a way to reinvent workplace development programs that reduces costs while creating the space for learning to meet personal and organizational needs. Enter technology.
Tips for Developing Programs to
Help People Slow Down
Here are five important things you need to think about to get programs underway that make room for learning while offering paybacks that outstrip costs.
Accessibility: Offer as much training and development online as possible to reduce the time away from the job that disrupts personal lives and creates a backlog of work when people return. But realize not all e-learning systems are the same.
Action-orientation: Abstract concepts and theories are fine. But for learning to have traction, it needs to get applied to the job quickly.
ROI-driven results: Everyone knows that what gets measured, gets attention—and gets done. When improving performance is top priority, programs need to focus on measuring visible results.
Reflection: For sustaining performance impact, don’t bury your head in the sands of the present. Learning for today is not enough. Programs need to create a foundation for learning for tomorrow. Build a performance culture of continuous learning by developing people’s capacity to learn-to-learn through reflective questioning and analysis.
Collaborative relations: Cross-organizational partnerships for launching e-learning programs between line managers, HR professionals, and technology experts gets learning on everyone’s agenda. Learners win from high-powered challenging programs with career benefits; HR/IT win by getting support for their budgets and buy-in for their programs; and line managers benefit from the direct impact learning programs have on their bottom-line performance results.
Paradoxically, the very technologies that contribute to the rapid pace of change also open doors to new opportunities for the space and reflection needed to slow it down—at least to some degree. Many e-learning technologies can deliver power-spurts of ten, twenty, sixty minutes, or more of highly targeted learning that fits into the daily routine of workers. This capability to learn on the job also reduces the time away, disruption of work, and associated costs of classroom-based programs. Self-directed e-learning programs tightly integrated with work issues are making it possible to learn and improve performance results simultaneously.
For example, one of the organizations I’ve worked with was interested in creating a blended e-learning program to enable a geographically dispersed group of high potential managers develop leadership skills creating a pipeline of talent for rapid expansion—a corporate strategic imperative. We worked together to design an e-learning program that
- empowered managers to learn and do their jobs at the same time using a just-in-time e-learning system for promoting individual learning paths that targeted personal leadership competence development needs.
- provided just-in-time practical online supports (e.g., worksheets and case studies) with embedded reflective coaching to guide the managers in applying what they were learning to action-learning stretch projects, enabling performance improvement while learning.
- included a robust blending strategy integrating work and learning with HR/IT online support throughout, a face-to-face workshop over the six-month program, regular mentored learning team video, teleconferences, program-wide calls, and a graduation ceremony at an annual operations conference.
Feedback indicated managers squeezed in time to learn on the job—sometimes in airports and hotel rooms. As individuals and groups, they developed reflective practice skills for really thinking about what they were doing and ways to improve work practice. Many new insights emerged. Some were implemented across the organization as best practices. Others had local business unit impact by improving customer relationships, thereby renewing contracts. The project won an ASTD 2003 Excellence in Practice citation with a payback of a 50:1 ROI.
Designing programs that help people slow down, to get their results up to speed
On-the-job learning programs give people permission to lock out the job for short periods as they go online to learn and apply the new insights directly to their jobs. When blended with opportunities for short online collaborative sessions, such as conference calls, people also get the social benefits of learning and comparing notes with others. In other words, people step off the treadmill, slow down, and go back to the job re-energized with new insights and ideas that can yield results gains.
It’s a paradox. By slowing down to learn, people can increase efficiency and possibly speed up results in tangible and intangible ways.
Published: July 2005