Learning to Succeed: Rethinking Corporate Education in a World of Unrelenting Change

By Jason Wingard

AMACOM, 240 pp., $29.95

Several major questions that corporate trainers need to answer today are: "Can corporate education continue to be just a provider of training?" "Should companies continue to do 'business as usual' in this new global market?" "Is investing in people core to our organizational culture?" "Is learning essential to business strategy?" To answer these critical questions, Wingard says that corporate training should be considered a business activity, integrated with an organization's strategic decision-making process. His framework, Continuous Integration of Strategy and Learning (CILS), defines learning as a valuable partner of the business strategy. In Wingard's world, the chief learning officer would always have a seat at the table with the rest of the C-suite.

In Learning to Succeed, Wingard starts by describing today's business environment: global in reach and structure, shorter and more unpredictable business cycles, shifts in market demands, increased pressure on business units to show return on investment, and a new focus on performance management. In this competitive environment, Wingard argues that corporate education cannot be just "responsive training" on skills and knowledge gaps. Instead, it needs to be proactive, integrated with both short- and long-term business goals.

Organizations that align their learning initiatives with the corporate strategy prove to be mature learning organizations. This alignment includes an executive alignment, in which the CLO or designated executive is viewed as a company ambassador, a thought leader in the learning and leadership development arena, as well as a performance management monitor.

Wingard introduces three foundational pillars for a successful CILS: thought leadership, development programs, and advisory services. High-level executives can serve as internal thought leaders and respected spokespeople. Development programs can be designed for high-potential groups, or target other groups based on the company's strategic priorities. Advisory work includes conducting thorough performance needs analyses.

Integrating learning with corporate strategy is a paradigmatic shift that requires capital, time, and other resources, and causes some disruptions to existing workflows. People may be resistant for several reasons: opposition to change, inertia, lack of buy-in, and technical capability.

Despite these barriers, Wingard explains why learning organizations that implement the CILS model have a competitive edge in attracting, recruiting, and retaining the best talent in the market. These organizations have great reputations, facilitate internal mobility of employees, and prime high-potential employees for leadership positions.

Although the concepts in Learning to Succeed seem abstract, Wingard includes vignettes and detailed case studies that illustrate their application in the real world. This book gives trainers a sense of pride in what they do and helps them consider themselves as strategic contributors to their organizations' success.

Agile Talent: How to Source and Manage Outside Experts

Jon Younger and Norm Smallwood

Harvard Business Review Press, 256 pp., $32

More and more organizations now rely on external talent, forming project teams that are part internal employees and part contractors. In Agile Talent, Younger and Smallwood explain how to maximize the engagement and performance of temporary workers. Using survey data and plenty of case studies from companies such as Apple, Uber, Google, and IBM, the authors present a practical strategy for getting the best from agile talent. Readers will learn how to make a business case for hiring external talent, orient them to their organizations, offer them professional development, and optimize teamwork between them and permanent, full-time employees.

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The Emotional Intelligence Activity Kit: 50 Easy and Effective Exercises for Building EQ

Adele B. Lynn and Janele R. Lynn

AMACOM, 256 pp., $34.95

Research has shown that emotional intelligence is one of the biggest drivers of business performance. Yet few organizations attempt to cultivate or measure it, considering it too "soft" to deconstruct into measurable competencies. But in The Emotional Intelligence Activity Kit, the authors break EQ down into five key skills, explain problem behaviors, and map out activities that promote higher EQ. The book is a handy guide to help employees build their emotional intelligence, from entry levels right up to the C-suite (research shows that emotional intelligence actually decreases with seniority). These fun, insightful activities will have teams working together cohesively and effectively to drive results.

Unfinished Business: Women Men Work Family

Anne-Marie Slaughter

Random House, 352 pp., $38

In her 2012 article for The Atlantic,"Why Women Still Can't Have It All," Slaughter started a conversation that grew into an intense national debate over whether women can have both high-powered careers and a satisfying family life. She continues that debate in Unfinished Business. Slaughter, who left her job as the first female director of policy planning in the U.S. State Department to be closer to her teenage sons, offers both hard-hitting research and anecdotes that prove why it's so hard to close the gender gap between men and women in top jobs. She introduces a new argument that is impossible to ignore: For women to really shatter the glass ceiling, America's employers need to change.

What's on Alan Fine's Bookshelf?

The Inner Game of Tennis: The Classic Guide to the Mental Side of Peak Performance by W. Timothy Gallwey. This is the first book I read that described, in a way I could relate to, what used to happen to me as both a tennis player and a human being.

The Art of Possibility: Transforming Professional and Personal Life by Rosamund Stone Zander and Benjamin Zander. Ben has some really interesting and useful perspectives on how to access performance.

Winning Through Enlightenment by Ron Smothermon. This book challenges both what we think and how we think. It's not the easiest read, but worth the effort if you like being stretched.