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Monday, March 16, 2009

Workplace Learning Professionals Next Job - Management Consultant

The Big Question this month is Workplace Learning in 10 Years:

If you peer inside an organization in 10 years time and you look at how workplace learning is being supported by that organization, what will you see? What will the mix of Push vs. Pull Learning; Formal vs. Informal supported by the organization? Are there training departments? What are they doing? How big are they as compared to today? What new departments will be responsible for parts of workplace learning? What will current members of training departments be doing in 10 years?

The answers to this have been very interesting. I like that the predictions are all over the place. Some people are suggesting getting rid of training departments and starting fresh. Others, including myself, don't believe training departments will go away any more than educational institutions will no longer exist. There will always be some level of training/education required. ut I think it's fair to say that most every response expects the role of training to either diminish or to change significantly in the next 10 years. But there was another significant trend in the answers…

Learning and Work Converge

In a world where Knowledge Work and Learning is Inseparable, finding ways to support and improve work is the same as finding ways to support and improve learning. Jay Cross in Ten Years After puts it:

In a knowledge society, learning is the work.

Who in an organization is responsible for supporting and improving work?

Isn't that the definition of management. Well not quite, but it is pretty dang close to the definition of Management Consulting in Wikipedia:

Management consulting refers to both the industry of, and the practice of, helping organizations improve their performance, primarily through the analysis of existing business problems and development of plans for improvement.

In this world, you can't really distinguish the mandate of Management Consulting from the mandate of:

  • Enterprise 2.0
  • Knowledge Management
  • Learning & Development

I do think there's a slightly different historical mind set and skill set, but Training Departments are going to need to think and act quite different or they will be marginal.

Take a look at some of the responses with this context in mind.

Supporting Concept Workers

In The Future of the Training Department by Harold Jarche and Jay Cross, they discuss how work models are changing. This is very similar to what I discuss around Concept Workers and Work Literacy but they attack the change based on complexity – which is truly why concept workers are so important.

The main objective of the new training department is to enable knowledge to flow in the organization. The primary function of learning professionals within this new work model is connecting and communicating, based on three core processes:

* Facilitating collaborative work and learning amongst workers, especially as peers.
* Sensing patterns and helping to develop emergent work and learning practices.
* Working with management to fund and develop appropriate tools and processes for workers.

…redeploying training staff as mentors, coaches, and facilitators who work on improving core business processes, strengthening relationships with customers, and cutting costs.

In 2019: A workplace learning odyssey

Performance support will be built into the workflow and take the form of online tools, networks and coaching.

In Minute Bio's Post -

We will see much more informal learning and knowledge management. There will be a need for trainers and/or knowledge managers who will guide, coach, be a catalyst for, and monitor social media and informal learning.

In The Big Question the folks from Bottom Line Performance say:

The challenge for instructional designers is no longer finding some relevant information on an obscure topic. Wikipedia does that for us. The challenge becomes identifying the most important content, the facts and information that will best support the performance the organization needs to drive business results. Ruth Clark tells us that people learn more from a short description of how something works than from a longer description of how something works. Learning professionals can weed through the nice to haves and create a program that best meets the needs of the business and the learner.

Matt Moore in an article Learning & Knowledge = ? (PDF) and his associated blog post Learning + Knowledge = ?

L&D and KM share something simple: an interest in improving the performance of an organisation through increased capability.

Jacob McNulty responds in a comment -

The KM + L&D merger is bound to happen - they’re both fundamentally about ensuring people have the information they need to perform…whether that’s obtained through a knowledge network or rapid elearning shouldn’t matter.

In my post Corporate Training

I do think that each and everyone one of us should be out understanding the ways in which you can support concept workers to be better at their work and learning. We should be looking to shift some resources within our corporate training department in that direction.

Changing our Understanding of Management

After thinking through what I expect to see inside organizations in 10 years, I think there's a very interesting change that's going to occur.

Drucker told us that productivity of the knowledge worker would be the primary challenge of the 21st century. I'm not quite sold on the term productivity, but if you put in performance and change it to the concept worker then it sounds right:

Performance of the concept work is the primary challenge of the 21st century.

But if learning and work are inseparable for a concept worker, then

Effective learning is part of the definition of performance.

This is central to the very definition of how to make organizations more effective.

Individual work and learning will be the focus of all levels of management.

When I look at the definition of management, I don't really see this called out. In Wikipedia, it's defined

Management comprises planning, organizing, staffing, leading or directing, and controlling an organization or effort for the purpose of accomplishing a goal.

In 10 years, this definition is either going to change or it will include support for concept work and learning.

Workplace Learning in 10 Years

If you peer inside an organization in 10 years time and you look at how workplace learning is being supported by that organization, what will you see?

The idea that work and learning are inseparable will be mainstream and CEOs will have spread responsibility for workplace learning far and wide. It will be part of management.

What will the mix of Push vs. Pull Learning; Formal vs. Informal supported by the organization?

There will still be Push/Formal, but most of the real learning will be Pull and Informal. Heck it's what everyone is doing every day.

Are there training departments? What are they doing? How big are they as compared to today?

Training Departments will still exist. They are responsible for delivering content that is for large audiences at a novice level. They are smaller and marginal players.

What new departments will be responsible for parts of workplace learning?

This is going to start with interesting new departments that focus on things like community management or enterprise 2.0. But since this becomes central to management, there will be other kinds of services within the organization that focus on particular needs. Management will be the primary owner.

What will current members of training departments be doing in 10 years?

Half of the current members of training departments will still be there. The others will have first jumped into these new departments. These will be the individuals who focus on performance, who get informal/pull learning, and who take the lead on understanding the role of technology.

I would predict that this half becomes some kind of management consultant within the next 10 years.

Hence my overall prediction -

50% of Workplace Learning Professionals will call themselves Management Consultants in 10 Years


Anonymous said...

I like everything you're saying in here Tony, but I have to disagree with your prediction that 50% of learning professionals will become management consultants. I agree that they should; I agree that that many of them should aspire to this.

I just don't think the majority of learning professionals have the professional experience or raw ability to pull this off.

I may have a jaded view after being in this industry for so long, but I'm not even sure that 50% of the learning "professionals" practicing today even understand accepted instructional design concepts and practices as well as they should, let alone the concepts of KM, EPSS, or HPT.

Now throw in the need to deeply understand change management, organizational development, and the MBA sorts of knowledge and skills required to be a true management consultant. How many practitioners do you know today who can pull all that together?

I think we're much more likely to see people slide over into roles of community management, moderation, SME-consulting on communities of practice, and a host of other "community" sorts of roles that enable them to transfer what ID and communication skills they do have to a broader and more strategic context.

I'm not disagreeing with your aspiration. I think this would be very cool. And who knows, maybe in 10 years, 50% of us will have the chops to do this. I just think we have a long way to go to get there.

Tony Karrer said...

Dave - I understand what you are questioning in terms of capability but I think I'm a little less jaded. Of course, I have a tendency to work with the more innovative folks out there.

And you may be right that they will need a much broader knowledge base (the rest of the MBA). But I would say that most MBAs don't know much about really driving human performance. They probably had one class that used something like Rummler-Brache. It's all very theoretical and looks like fixing things via org charts. Likely we need something in-between the two.

I don't disagree that there will be a move towards community management, but I guess I'm surprised that you don't see community management as core to management in the future. In many ways, that's the point - this stuff is not separate from everyday management in 10 years.

In other words, community roles are management consulting roles in 10 years.

Blogger In Middle-earth said...

Kia ora Tony.

"Driving human performance."

This conjures up a scene, sketched along athletic or academic lines. In general, groups of people do not respond to this high culture and degree of aspiration, ideal and desirable though they may be.

Different if the members of a group have been hand-picked for their personality, application skills, knowledge and desire to achieve. Even so, most who are in this league are not necessarily good group team members, so there's another criterion that should be considered. NASA's astronauts fit the elite category.

In these respects, I tend to concur with Dave, even when considering workers in a specialist field, such as instructional design. People per se are diverse in their aspirations, abilities and personality.

It is not practical to expect human performance to be driven in the workplace as a general prescription. Work teams that are driven do not foster the practices that flourish in communities of practice, as Patricia Sobrero points out. I think there's a lesson to be learnt here.

Catchya later

Tony Karrer said...

Ken - great point on the language. Driving is very much the wrong word to use as you don't really control.

Flourish I think is too far in the opposite direction.

Support and manage might be a good middle point.


Blogger In Middle-earth said...

Kia ora Tony

Yes, support and manage is where it should be at, I think.

Interesting points that Sobrero alludes to are that the forced work group requires more support and management than a genuine community of practice. There's a lesson to be picked up here too.

I have a lot of time for the work of Etienne Wenger. These studies give powerful pointers for managing effective working groups.

There's a lot to be found and more to be learnt.