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ASTDNY: Josh Bersin on Continuous Learning (Part Two)

ASTDNY logoThis is the second half of my write-up on Josh Bersin’s recent fascinating talk about Continous Learning at an ASTDNY meeting.  Before reading this post, you may want to read the first half here.

Part Two

Need for a Learning Architecture:  As part of his recommendations, John emphasized that success requires implementing a Learning Architecture, a structure of Constraints and Tools that work consistently for a specific company.  Again, the specifics may well differ from one organization to another.  He noted that the companies who leverage a Learning Architecture have greatly increased effectiveness in knowledge retention and behavioral change.

Josh cited Accenture as an example: they developed a five-level proficiency model, culminating in recognition at a cultural level of expertise.  Key learning components include Formal Learning, Job Experience, and Collaboration, with Deliberate Practice tying them all together.  He notes that many companies don’t consider “Job Experience” a legitimate category of learning, but that in fact it’s a core element not to be taken for granted.

Audience Analysis:  Josh reiterated that the more you know your audience, the better you can tailor your learning content to resonate with and motivate them.  Bersin surveys showed that companies know the obvious data like demographics, but very little about social and cultural personae.  He pointed to a couple of success stories: a Netapp learning resource custom iPad app that offers targeted, prescriptive learning based on the employee’s role, and an employee site at The Cheesecake Factory, that incorporates video sharing and gamified elements, to target their primarily young audience of employees.

Learning Culture:  Having touched on the concept of Continuous Learning, Josh posed the question: ‘”What drives real learning?”  He stated something that most of us have learned from our own painful experience: the majority of what we put out there into an LMS or other similar repository isn’t being leveraged.  Josh believes that High-Impact Learning Organizations (HILOs) achieve their success in part because they genuinely value learning at all levels in the company.  He also pointed out a key “ah-ha” moment from HILO survey responses: their Management is open to hearing bad news.  That flexible and pragmatic approach trickles down into the learning sphere, and it certainly ties in with Josh’s theme of the need for Continuous Learning in this ever-changing market.  Every challenge is an opportunity, and leaders who close their ears to bad news are missing that opportunity.  He also offered what he called his Six Keys to an Enduring Learning Culture, which included a number of expected items, and two that perhaps need more attention: Reflection, and Trust.

Talent Management:  For this discussion, Josh divided learning experiences into two basic categories:

  • Performance-Driven (simple measurement of accomplishing a specific new task successfully or not), designed to improve on-the-job performance for that role
  • Talent-Driven Learning (harder to measure), designed to improve performance across the company’s culture

He finds the Kirkpatrick model limiting because it doesn’t give enough weight to engagement as a component of success.  He considers Talent Management to be essential as a foundation on which to build a strong learning culture, and that neither is possible without strong engagement.  And of course, managing Talent mobility is always about finding that overlap between Company needs and the Individual’s needs and desires.  Their research has confirmed what many of us already believe: that the highest return is to create continuous development planning for employees, so that employees know what they should be taking, and why, at each phase of their growth.  Without that, employees are easily lost, overwhelmed, and become disengaged.  But blending Continuous Learning with robust and flexible Talent Management addresses the engagement gap, and leads the way to world-class career management.  And that, in turn, leads the way to business success.

Measurement:  It goes without saying that Josh is a big proponent of measurement.  He acknowledged that it’s a very complex topic, bigger than training itself.  He considers measurement another ongoing journey, and that it must be integrated with the rest of a company’s talent measurement efforts, so that the company can make meaningful, data-driven decisions.  This is the path to joining the ranks of HILOs.  He summed up his measurement recommendations neatly:  “Broaden your perspectives beyond the ROI of your training.”

By way of an illustrative recommendation, Josh shared the Bersin Impact Measurement Framework.  He noted that his team felt that the Kirkpatrick model needed to be expanded to a more practical list of targets:

  • Satisfaction (level 1)
  • Learning (level 2)
  • Adoption (whether the target audience completed the training)
  • Utility (would learners recommend the training as useful)
  • Efficiency (whether the learning experience was cost-effective)
  • Alignment (to identified business need)
  • Attainment (how well it met targeted goals: on time, on budget, well-presented material, etc.)
  • Contribution (success of social context)
  • Feedback (who contributed it, how much received, etc.)
  • Activity (volume, behaviors)
  • Individual Performance
  • Organizational Performance

He foresees a time in the near future when learning measurement will become part of something like “Talent Analytics.”

Josh brought his thought-provoking talk to a close with this mantra: “Remember that learning is a continuous process and is always talent-driven.”  Josh noted that he would be more than happy to return to another ASTDNY meeting, and we should certainly take him up on that generous offer as soon as possible.  Thanks again to our gracious hosts at Marsh and McLennan (who provided elegant snacks as well as a beautiful meeting space), and to Josh for his comprehensive and invigorating talk.