Change can be scary. If you agree, then 2010 has been a "scary" year. Along with the challenges of the economic recession, social media tools exploded onto the scene, five generations in the workforce created a whole new workforce dynamic, and talent retention and engagement concerns became everyday issues.
Mistrust in our leaders emerged as consumers expressed serious frustration with corporate America, where CEOs continued to give themselves big bonuses while laying off workers. The workplace culture changed, as did the landscape of learning. T+D examines some of the major issues that affected employees, organizations, and the world of learning
What's wrong with leadership?
In 2010, more than one survey surfaced reporting that many employees have no aspirations to assume a leadership role within their organizations, and more than one expert writing about leadership development asked the question: "Can ethics be taught?"
Consumers had a low perception of leaders and very little trust in corporate America. The BP oil spill was just the latest catastrophe that has eroded trust among leaders. This mistrust is forcing changes in the way leaders are developed and the competencies that are taught.
"Leaders must be transparent," Steve Arneson, founder of Arneson Leadership Consulting, said in an interview for ASTD Links Plus. "They must be able to talk about failures and successes. When Tylenol thought there was tampering, it pulled the product off the shelves. You have to be honest with your customers."
The recent economic recession is changing the way employees view employers, work, and relationships, according to Charlene Li, founder of Altimeter Group and author of Groundswell and Open Leadership. "Empowered customers and employees will not sit by on the sidelines and accept business as usual," she wrote in her book, Open Leadership. "The recent economic recession has seen a marked decline in business confidence, causing CEOs to promote greater transparency in operations and company financials to build customer and investor trust."
So, what has gone awry in leadership development, and what can workplace learning and development professionals do to help change negative perceptions of leaders?
"The training profession has traditionally approached leadership from a skills perspective, emphasizing communications and business skills aimed at producing better decisions," Doug Harward, president of Training Industry Inc., told Paul Harris in a March T+D feature article. "We haven't done a good job of teaching about ethics or the leadership selection process."
Arneson agrees, but questions whether "ethics" can be taught. "Integrity and honesty are hard things to teach in leadership development classes. Some people think,
'You either have it or you don't.' I would tend to agree with that. It is hard to open up someone's head and dump in five pints of integrity."
Let's get social
While most organizations and people are using Twitter, Facebook, and blogs to deliver critical messages and market products and services, the critical question surfacing in 2010 asked how workplace learning fits into this phenomenon.
"Historically, the learning community has stayed away from informal learning and social learning, and that is where most of the learning is taking place," ASTD CEO Tony Bingham said during an interview promoting his new book, The New Social Learning, with co-author Marcia Conner. "We now have the tools, and the catalysts, to engage [employees] with that kind of learning. I think that is going to help the learning community take it to the next level."
An ASTD and Institute for Corporate Productivity study made a strong business case for using social media to enhance productivity. Millennials found social media tools more helpful in terms of learning and getting work done than Generation X workers or Baby Boomers. More organizations dabbled in social media during 2010, using shared workspaces, social networks, and wikis to deliver learning and development.
"The next generation of workers coming into organizations will demand the ability to work in ways they've already found to enable success," wrote Jeanne Meister and Karie Willyerd in a July 2010 T+D article. "If the learning function does not step up to the task, some other department in the organization will, and the learning function will become irrelevant."
As Daniel Pink wrote in The New Social Learning foreword, social learning will not replace training and employee development, "but it can accomplish what
traditional approaches often cannot [It] can supplement instruction with collaboration and co-creation, and in doing so, blur the boundary between the instructor and the instructed. It can bring far-flung employees together into new communities in which they can not only learn from one another, but also fashion new offerings for customers. In short, social media can change the way your company works."
Productivity and performance
As organizations met the challenges of this difficult economic recession, a new buzzword emerged: "high-performing."
Organizations had to learn to compete in a completely new workplace with fewer resources and workers and more expectations. That meant finding ways to develop and keep top talent and to help employees excel in more effective and efficient ways.
However, trends emerged showing U.S. job satisfaction at its lowest point in two decades, making employee engagement and retention of top performers critical talent management issues in 2010. According to Jeff Garton, author of ASTD's Career Contentment: Don't Settle for Anything Less, employers need to stop believing that they can control how workers think and feel, and therefore how well or productively they perform.
"For performance improvement to be effective, it can't rely on trying to control how workers' think, which is impossible, or making workers temporarily happy and artificially enthused to fulfill purposes that are not their own," Garton wrote in a July ASTD Links article. "Instead, it involves capitalizing on a worker's self-motivation, natural engagement, and resilience to perform well by control of her contentment derived from fulfilling her own purposes for working."
To leverage an employee's performance, workplace learning and performance professionals should help organizations and especially middle managers create a culture that allows for innovative ideas to flourish, provide work that employees deem meaningful to the organization and their career paths, give workers control over what they do and how they do it, and recognize and reward employees' decisions to be content.
The new 24/7 world
The greatest technology growth of 2010 came with mobile devices, and thus, one of the biggest changes in workplace learning came via smartphones. Mobile phones have become an extension of the workplace and have made the world of work a 24/7 reality, but how have they changed learning?
An IBM study, published in the January 2010 issue of T+D, highlighted two main purposes for mobile phone use: in-field performance support and access to current, just-in-time information that is relevant to a specific project or task. But an even more important reason to venture into the world of mobile learning is that newer workers in the workforce, the Millennials, are demanding it.
The need to make social media and mobile learning a part of the workplace to attract, engage, and retain the younger generations is forcing learning professionals to explore new and innovative ways to deliver learning on these inexpensive devices, anytime and anywhere.
Merrill Lynch and Accenture created mobile learning projects that saved time and increased productivity - two valuable commodities in this new work environment. Job aids, podcasts, and support materials surfaced as perfect training tools to use in the mobile world, but as Judy Brown wrote in T+D's February Technology column, to begin any conversation on mobile learning, learning professionals must ask, "When is mobile delivery appropriate?"
Morgan Stanley estimates that by 2015, more users will connect to the Internet via mobile devices than by desktop PC. "Our world," Jeanne Meister and Karie
Willyerd wrote in a July T+D article, "will turn into three-minute learning vignettes."
GPS sensitivity, according to Meister and Willyerd, will help new hires find checkpoints so they can learn the company and its history, and could alert us when we are near an expert in a topic of our choice. "Perhaps the future role of learning is to find, organize, and enable the experts," Meister and Willyerd wrote.
Learning is trending toward the user and the moment of need. Workplace learning and performance professionals need to redefine the role that mobile learning will play in their learning initiatives because if they don't, they risk being left behind in this new workplace paradigm.
Ready or not
This new workplace, and the new competencies and expectations that are a part of it, will not wait for executives or organizations to embrace it. This change is happening quickly, whether organizations are ready for it or not.
So it is now time for learning professionals to adapt to these changes; create new strategies for learning, employee development, and engagement; and find their place in this new workplace structure.