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July 2009
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TD Magazine

Anders Gronstedt

Anders Gronstedt is an established management consultant and speaker whose global firm specializes in improving frontline performance through the use of customized simulations, podcasting, Second Life virtual experiences, and other innovative learning solutions. His global client list includes Dell, ADT, FedEx, and Volvo.

A former faculty member of the graduate Integrated Marketing Communications program at the University of Colorado at Boulder, Gronstedt also authored The Customer Century: Lessons from World-Class Companies in Integrated Communications, which was selected by Soundview Executive Summaries as one of the top 30 business books of 2000. He hosts a weekly meeting on Second Life called Train for Success, and has written for publications such as the Harvard Business Review and Communication World.

Q| What was your first job, and what lesson did you take away from it?

Throughout college, I worked as a writer at a corporate communications firm in Stockholm, Sweden. The agency pioneered a modern approach to integrated communications, which inspired me to move to the United States and get my doctorate on how leading companies like FedEx and Saturn integrate all their communication.

Q| Do you have any memorable anecdotes from your experiences working with companies such as Dell, Jamba Juice, Ericsson, and Volvo?

The Gronstedt Group was brought into Dell when the company was under siege from the blogosphere for poor customer service a few years ago. We got an amazing inside look at how the tech giant turned on a dime from a Web 1.0 to a Web 2.0 company. In the words of Jeff Jarvis, the blogger who started the firestorm, Dell went from "worst to first."

Looking back at the online program we developed for all the employees, it's almost laughable how we introduced them to the basics of blogging, given how deeply the company has now integrated social media and customer and employee conversations into their culture and business processes.

I remind clients about this story whenever I hear lame excuses about how "our culture is just not ready for Web 2.0." If you're not ready to help your culture catch up to the 21st century, I don't think you're doing your job as a learning professional.

Q| What are your thoughts on informal learning?

The very premise of "formal" learning being in the classroom and "informal" learning being around the water cooler is an artifact of early industrialism. Today's knowledge workers are learning while listening to a podcast during a workout, participating in a virtual world team building simulation from a coffee shop, watching a 3-minute instructional video on YouTube, and reading tweets from colleagues on the iPhone while waiting in line.

Are these examples of formal or informal learning? Are these examples of training or corporate communications? Are these examples of collaboration or knowledge management? Are these examples of communities of practice or social media? How many angels can dance on the head of a pin?

Q| What do you hope to see change within the training and development industry within the next 10 years?

Most training departments are the Detroit of business functions - creating products of little demand at the detriment of the environment. Flying instructors and students around the country to classroom sessions where learning is treated as a separate activity from work is as obsolete as the Model T. And the drone-a-thon e-learning programs that are built using the death-by-PowerPoint approach are a joke at most companies. Our industry will have to get out of the information delivery business and into the performance improvement business.

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This new learner-centric transition is hard for old-school learning professionals who are steeped in courses and curricula, learning management systems, and Kirkpatrick models. They need to come down from the stage, and get out of their faculty cloaks to join the online conversations. We have a long way to go.

Most training professionals still ask themselves how they can regain control over the new media. "How can we track podcasts in our LMS?" and "How can we prevent people from goofing off in a virtual world?" are questions I still get a lot. Instead, they need to ask how they can harness the power of games, social media, and virtual worlds for collaboration and learning to create a high-performing workplace.

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Q| Do you think companies today are doing enough to engage their game-savvy, socially networked employees?

A handful of companies do. EMC cranks out five to 10 podcasts a week to their employees. At IBM you can show up to a training session in Second Life as a fish. Jamba Juice has podcasts featuring "talking smoothies." Ericsson executives make cameo appearances in our story-based video simulations. We just developed a spy-themed augmented reality game for TELUS.

But a majority of companies a re still run by insecure bureaucrats who keep employees sequestered behind a Berlin Wall and provide e-learning programs that haven't progressed much from the CBTs [computer-based training] of the 1980s. The same people who banned email and Internet access in the 1990s are now banning Facebook, Twitter, and Second Life from the workplace. Learning professionals need to free themselves from these Tayloristic practices before all of their talent is out the door.

Q| How would you explain the power and reach of Second Life (and other similar interactive online environments) to a skeptical CEO?

I don't waste my time with skeptical CEOs. Adoption of virtual worlds is a bottom-up revolution. It starts with the evangelists. They come to our weekly Train for Success meetings in Second Life. Then they send their colleagues. Next, we help them pilot and test. Before we know it, we have an army of evangelists and a groundswell of support.

At that point, it's more a matter of pointing out to the CEO that there's an angry mob headed toward the castle with pitchforks and torches that appear to be a little restless. We demonstrate how virtual worlds address the CEO's business needs. We present studies from peer-reviewed journals that prove virtual worlds to be equal or better than live meetings and classrooms.

We always try to get the CEO into the world. Virtual worlds have to be experienced first-hand. We let them face t he unique qualities of 3D virtual worlds for rich immersive social experiences, authentic contexts for experiential learning, simulation and role-playing; modeling of complex scenarios, 3D data, and product visualization.

Q| Are you working on any new books or projects?

I'm keeping busy with a number of innovative client projects. In addition, our weekly Train for Success meeting has grown into the premier virtual worlds learning community. We now have 50 to 60 learning professionals who join us every Thursday, frequently from three or four continents, and the number continues to grow. It's a free service.

Come as you are - be it a two-legged fox or a robot. We have participants from Fortune 500 companies who wouldn't miss a meeting, even if it means locking themselves up in a hot, noisy server room, or working from home or a coffee shop to get outside of their firewalls. They are the evangelists who will start the revolution.

Q| How do you enjoy spending your free time?

I love hiking, snowboarding, and doing karate with my teenage daughter, and playing ice hockey with my son. Colorado is our playground.

About the Author
The Association for Talent Development (ATD) is a professional membership organization supporting those who develop the knowledge and skills of employees in organizations around the world. The ATD Staff, along with a worldwide network of volunteers work to empower professionals to develop talent in the workplace.
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