Saturday, August 8, 2015

"Digital Mindset": What is it All About?


"Digital mindset" seems to have become another buzzword--rather buzz-phrase to be grammatically precise--whenever the conversation (online or offline) veers toward social business, social learning, collaboration, and other 21st Century phenomenon in general. One of the oft-repeated reasons for the failure of Enterprise Social Networks (ESNs) in organizations is often attributed to a lack of "digital mindset" in the employees or leadership or both. It has become a specter looming over everyone's head. This post is an attempt to distill some of the skills/attitude/knowledge that possibly make up the "digital mindset". In an attempt to crystallize the skill sets, some of the finer nuances have been lost. It is also important to remember that there is no black and white distinction between digital and non-digital mindsets. It's a spectrum, and we need to move along the spectrum to make the best of the world we are in. The trigger for this post comes from a tweet-chat hosted by @WiproLPS with @bill_fischer sharing his insights on this topic. Unfortunately, I couldn't participate as I'd have wanted to but was lurking and following the stream. For those who missed it, here's the compiled chat in Storify. Thanks to @nidhisand for putting it together. 

As a precursor to my description of the defining characteristics of a digital mindset, here's a diagram created by Jacob Morgan--author of The Future of Work--encapsulating 14 Principles of the Future Organization
This diagram, by putting in perspective the characteristics of a workplace of the 21st Century, acts as a trigger to define certain qualities that everyone (employees, leaders, managers, partners, customers, and all other stakeholders) need to inculcate today. And these characteristics are what we term as "digital mindset". It's a way of being, an evolving philosophy. One of @bill_fischer tweets encapsulates the spirit of an organization that embodies the "digital mindset":
To substantiate my understanding, I also spoke to my daughter--a quintessential 23 year old--who juggles her education, projects and social life with apparent ease. Some of the insights gleaned from her adds depth to my analysis. I have noted down my cumulative understanding here. 

A "digital mindset" is not about using technology alone although that is a large part of it. While heralded by the growth and evolution of disruptive tech, it is characterized by a different perspective of the world. An individual with a "digital mindset" understands the power of technology to democratize, scale and speed up every form of interaction and action. Technology is playing a transformative role in virtually every domain today-- from IT and Telecom to Retail and Manufacturing. To cite an example: a 3D printer can reduce the design to prototype time dramatically while also allowing the flexibility to tweak the design as the model evolves (created). Technology is thus an amplifier. Having a digital mindset is the ability to grasp this spectrum of impact that the Network Era has on us and thus truly appreciate the futility of actions like knowledge hoarding for power, enforcing hierarchy, building siloed work environments, following old world processes, and such. The tweets by +Abhijit Bhaduri from the tweet chat synthesize the core qualities. 
I have tried to contrast the characteristics of the Industrial Era with the Digital. While it is obviously not always black and white, it's an attempt to delineate what differentiates this era from the ones gone by.
  • Agile and adaptable - Agility here is more than just adapting to change. In the age of disruptive tech, we must be able to foresee and change before the need to change arises. Agility in this context encompasses the skill of being able to scan the landscape and ecosystem of one's domain of work, keep pace with what is happening at the edges, and evolve to remain relevant. In the digital era, this would mean being comfortable with technology, seeing change as an opportunity, and accepting the new ways of working without feeling threatened. It means a comfort with ambiguity that would have been undreamed of in the process-driven era of assembly line production. 
  • Flexible about time and space: In a connected world where we are very often working, learning, and interacting with individuals across the globe as a normal course of life, time takes on a different meaning. We have to let go off a rigid definition of "work time" versus "personal time". We often complete personal work during the nine-to-five slot and collaborate with global colleagues post dinner to co-create proposals for clients. While many organizations still insist on office presence, it is becoming a thing of the past and anytime, anywhere work is becoming the mantra. What this means for IT, Cyber-security and other infrastructure-related challenges is a vast topic of debate and exploration. The emerging reality is that work and life are becoming one. Does this mean work will take over every bit of our time? It might if we let it. It also means we have to be excellent managers of time, have a clear vision of our life's purpose and devote time to what is important to us accordingly. It means taking full responsibility for all aspects of our life...
  • Comfortable with ambiguity: In today's landscape, we are more often than not operating in the Complex zone of the Cynefin framework. I often refer to this sense-making model because it provides a simple yet powerful heuristic for evaluating where we stand in relation to other contexts. I have included the diagram below for reference:

When we operate in the Complex zone, we can only connect cause and effect in hindsight. Exceptions, unusual business models disrupting traditional ways of operating, disruptive tech with their emergent nature, all fall in the Complex category. One needs to be agile, adaptive, and vigilant to operate in this zone. 
  • Taking risks and exploring: A digital mindset includes using technology as a tool for exploration. Possessing a traveler's exploratory nature and an innate curiosity to go beyond one's defined work role is a critical skill to have today. Complex, unknown work and exceptions cannot be captured by pre-defined Job Descriptions. Those who can seize the opportunity to explore and learn beyond the call of duty will be the ones who remain relevant, fearless in the face of change and bring value to themselves and the organizations they work for. The doors that a networked world have opened for us can be the playground. 
  • Open to learning and collaboration: "Collaboration" seems to be the mantra of the era. Whether it is about remaining agile and connected to the edges or about completing a project, collaboration gets called upon. And along with it comes "collaborative learning". In the Complex zone, past experiences and expertise are not necessarily reliable predictors of the future. And an individual with a handful of frameworks and heuristics cannot make sense of the immensely complex and rapidly changing ecosystem. Innovating and creating value in this context require a coming together of cognitively diverse individuals who come with varied experiences and different ways of seeing. Collaboration is the only way to make sense in a complex world and define emergent practices that work. 
  • Respectful of diverse perspectives: Collaboration alone won't suffice unless it is inclusive. Cognitive diversity is what helps us to make sense in the Complex zone. People thinking alike are unlikely to come up with innovative ideas when faced with an exception or an unknown challenge. It requires people with different mental models and holding divergent worldviews to do so effectively. Hence, a digital mindset has to be essentially open, respectful, and inclusive. This is perhaps one of the most critical ones and difficult to inculcate. We as humans are naturally prone to homophily and confirmation bias. Any person, idea or situation that threatens our preconceived and pre-held notions are usually met with defensiveness or evasion. A digital mindset essentially means going beyond the obvious and engaging in dialogues with different minds. 
  • Connecting the global with the local: This generation has grown up with a uniquely global perspective. They didn't have to wait to acquire global experience through travel. It was all around them, brought to them by the power of technology in a uber-connected world. Thus, there is an innately greater tolerance, acceptance of diversity, and an overall inclusive attitude. And those still unable to grasp the implications of a global world find themselves left behind made unfit for a more open world. The digital era requires the ability to switch context between the global and the local and to understand how each impact the other. 
  • Connecting through ideas: A critical digital is also the ability to build trusted connections with colleagues, communities and networks without necessarily any face-to-face connect. We often have a wide network of professionals and colleagues with whom we share a deep connect without having ever seen them. This is the era of connected ideas. We voluntarily come together and form communities and Personal Learning Networks (PLNs) because of our aligned passions, worldviews even though geographically we may well be worlds apart and mindsets. I have never met 70% of my most trusted and respected members of the PLN community and yet do not feel the distance. 
Hence, IMHO, digital mindset is not only about using technology but it is much more about changing the way we operate in the world, in our community and in our lives. It comes with its drawbacks but that is inevitable in a period of deep and hitherto unimaginable transition. The key is to remember that these characteristics do not exist in isolation. They are all interlinked and feed into each other. Someone who is open and collaborative is also likely to welcome diverse perspectives. It is a set of behavioral patterns that signify a digital mindset. It is about changing the lenses through which we view the world.


Thursday, July 9, 2015

"Working Out Loud": Using the Tools We Already Have

While the concept of "working out loud" has been gaining popularity, thanks to the work done by thought-leaders like Jane Bozarth (Show Your Work), John Stepper (Working Out Loud), Austin Kleon (Show Your Work) and such, I still encounter bemused looks when I bring up this topic. I wrote about the strategies and benefits of working out loud earlier here and here. In this post, I want to break down the activities based on the tools/platforms we already have at our disposal, and often access on a daily basis. These tools are free, easy to use and accessible to all as long as we have a device (smartphone, tablet, computer) and an Internet connection. A bit more conscious thinking behind why, when and how we use these platforms can transform our daily meandering interactions into purposeful habits around learning, sharing and community building. This thought was triggered by David Kelly's presentation - Social Media, Social Learning, and Curation where he highlights the role each of the social tools/platform can play in our sharing and learning. 

Before I get into how each of the tools facilitate and inspire #wol, I want to highlight that the process of working out loud is not only restricted to synchronous sharing of what one is doing at the moment with a closed group or team. Working out loud ranges from specific, objective-driven collaboration (as in the case within project teams) to just sharing of thoughts and ideas with the wider social networks. The former leads to focused learning and the latter leads to serendipitous discoveries. These wider implications are brilliantly captured in the diagram by Harold Jarche below. 

The different elements of working out loud from sharing with purpose and leading with generosity to building relationships, engaging in visible work and learning are all achieved through thoughtful and generous use of the different tools. I have discussed each platform based on my usage pattern and preference; the order in which they are listed is not a reflection of the  tool's inherent quality or characteristics. 

Twitter: The trigger question, "What's Happening"? that Twitter greets you with is a great initiator to begin "working out loud". Summarizing what you are doing, learning, or being challenged by in 4~5 tweets of 140 characters each can be very useful in sharing it with the outer world and in putting one's work process and learning in perspective. Articulating a dilemma or a question or a learning adds clarity and often brings insight. These kinds of summation comes out of reflection - a key component in the learning cycle. Adding relevant (#) hashtags make the tweets easy to find later. In effect, it can act as a set of notes of one's day's learning aggregated and filtered via hashtags and shared with the broader world. Any response to the tweets brings additional insights and new  perception. The additional advantage is the ability to @mention individuals and thus share with definite folks or direct questions at specific individuals. Working out loud on Twitter therefore has dual advantage of collaboration & cooperation as well as the ability to seek direct help. Small working out loud circles can use Twitter effectively through facilitated tweet chats as well. It may require a facilitator to add cohesion and keep the live conversation on track. 

When is it most useful to use Twitter?
Sharing and #wol on Twitter is most useful when one is engaged in the activity -- it can be a project, a subject/skill/topic one is trying to master, a client challenge or any other activity. Sharing on Twitter encourages synthesizing the work in micro-chunks, reflection and collaboration. Because of it's byte sized updates, Twitter encourages live conversations and exchanges -- a hugely advantageous aspect of #wol. 

LinkedIn: It's a professional networking platform that offers various collaboration and sharing features like "Share an Update", "Upload a Photo" or "Publish a Post". While it's not a platform where one may be comfortable sharing updates regarding semi-complete work-in-progress projects or the day's challenge, it still offers possibilities of reaching out to a wide network of experts and professionals across different domains. LinkedIn's Group feature offers interesting #wol possibilities since these can be kept Open or Private as per the group's objectives. Creating private groups can help to eliminate inhibitions around sharing and create a safe environment. A group facilitator can channel discussions and encourage participation. Since LinkedIn is a professional network, trolling is likely to be controlled. The "Publish a Post" feature encourages thoughtful sharing around one's area(s) of expertise and passion. Since it's primarily a professional network, this also builds credibility, enhances your brand, and becomes a one point of reference to showcase skills and experience. Other professionals in the same field stand to gain from your sharing and you can come to be perceived as a thought-leader in the space. 

When is it most useful to use LinkedIn?
LinkedIn is most useful when #wol has been given some time to crystallize such that the sharing is more cohesive and holistic. It might encompass the entire process one followed when managing client expectation or the approach one took to learn about sketch-noting and implement the learning. Abhijit Bhaduri's post, Want To Improve Listening Skills? Try Sketchnotes is a great example of the latter. After reading the post, I have a better sense of how to approach sketchnoting, a skill I've been trying to pick up for some time. 

Facebook: While the platform gained traction as a social networking site where individuals find and stay in touch with lost friends and far-flung family members, I see it increasingly being used as a learning and sharing platform by various groups including passionate photographers, wildlife lovers, travellers, artists and such. Facebook invites its users to "Update Status", "Add a Photo/Video" or "Create an Album". Any or all of these features can be used to share what you are doing, seek other's help or just be a good community member and share one's learning. Facebook Groups are large communities where people are already working out loud in their varied areas of interests and sharing tips ranging from which lens to use when doing macro photography to where one might buy/hire such a lens. The group features encourage #wol in various ways as highlighted in the image below. 
The ease with which a group can be set up and content shared and discussed is a key to attracting users. As is evident, this #wol group set up by John Stepper is not only encouraging everyone to discuss what they think but is also helping to build a community around the concept and build it into a practice. It is therefore quite easy to see how #wol can have far-reaching impact beyond just sharing what one is doing at the moment - it enables skills like reflection, articulation of ideas, building of a personal learning network (PLN), managing one's learning (PKM), and connecting with similarly passionate people across the globe and thus build a learning community of cognitively diverse individuals.  

When is it most useful to use Facebook?
This is a platform that is perhaps most often used by the majority. Because it allows easy uploading of videos, images and text updates, Facebook can be used for any kind of #wol. For team level sharing, there can be private groups. For broader community building, one can have open groups. It is easy to add other interested individuals to the groups and thus build a community gradually. 

SlideShare: Presentations are a great medium for visually capturing complex thoughts and ideas. Synthesizing abstract concepts or showing a process via a presentation and posting it on SlideShare can be a very powerful means of sharing. Designing a presentation calls for multiple skills: visual representation, content design, pattern making and story telling. These skills are advanced meta learning skills that require consistent practice and effort. Crafting a presentation to share on SlideShare once a month or so can be an effective #wol habit that not only communicates your ideas to a wider audience but enhances your processing and meta-cognitive skills. I have tried to combine a couple of blog posts into these presentations: L&D Re-imagines - 21st Century Workplace Learning and Community Management - Towards a Learning Organization

When is it most useful to use SlideShare?
It is most useful when you want to capture your ideas in a cohesive flow and make it easy to assimilate at a glance. While it is possible to add comments to presentations on SlideShare, it is not a platform for conversation. It is more suited for sharing of well-thought out ideas in an engaging format. Since SlideShare users can Like, Share and download the presentations, it is best to make each presentation complete in itself. Thus, in contrast to the fast-paced, real time, informal sharing on Twitter, SlideShare requires a more thorough output. 

Pinterest: This can be a unique #wol space which uses the visual medium in powerful ways. Pinterest allows one to create Boards around topics. Within each topic, a user can collate images as Pins which can be shared with a broader network. You can also pin images from other people's boards to your boards, thus creating a rich network of images created/curated around specific topics. I find various boards on topics as disparate as social business to visual thinking very useful. Boards by Sunni Brown or Abhijit Bhaduri on sketchnoting and visual thinking are great learning tools for me. While on immediate thought Pinterest may not seem like a #wol tool, it can be used very effectively as one. It is primarily a curation and aggregation tool that lets you curate images/photogrpahs, infographic, diagrams and models around a topic. It is easy to share the link to your boards or specific pins. Here are the links to a couple of my boards: Future of Work and Content Curation

When is it most useful to use Pinterest?
When you have a collection of images (either created or curated) that can be grouped into topics, Pinterest comes in handy. Here is a Pinterest board on using Pinterest effectively

Finally, for those keen to begin working out loud, here is a You Tube video by Helen Blunden (@ActivateLearn) called Have I been Working Out Loud? that provides a practitioners' take on the topic. 

Monday, July 6, 2015

Social Technology, Community Management and Organizational Development


I have been reading a spate of articles and posts related to the need for a change in the way organizations function. The diagram below by Dion Hinchcliffe is a succinct illustration of how digital technology has been and will continue to play a key role in bringing about this change.


The diagram traces the evolution of different social technology and their potential to enforce and enable a deep change in how organizations function and their structure. With digital technology growing exponentially, the speed of change is going to be faster than any we have encountered before. And there will be no escaping this digital onslaught. A bid to ignore or sidestep it will only result in a quicker path to redundancy as is evident from cases like Kodak. The safest path is to embrace the change and assess its impact on the specific industry. It's also worthwhile noting that digital evolution is not only for the IT department to worry about. This evolution is heralding far-reaching and yet-unimagined impact in all spheres of life. Organizations and the corporate world will require deep and fundamental transformations in business practices including leadership, governance, processes, customer orientation, etc. Read the post, How Social Technology has Emerged as an Enterprise Management Model, for an in-depth understanding. I am not going to tread into management theory or organizational structures in this post. I wanted to set the premise for what is to come in the months and years ahead...and where do we come in as learning and organizational development specialists. 

Given that the shifts and turmoil will continue to exponentially increase as digital technology evolves at an hitherto unimagined pace, organizations will be left with no choice but to transform themselves. Superficial tweaks and process re-engineering will no longer serve the purpose. It is time for deep and fundamental transformation of all organizational and management principles practised with such astounding success over the past many decades. Standardization, efficiency, processes, supervisory management, planning, etc., were the tools and levers of the Industrial Age that brought us comfort, wealth and urbanization. The advent of digital technology has suddenly and with remarkable speed turned the world upside down in more ways than one. The diagram below taken from The Second Machine Age (a must read book) by Andrew McAfee, et al., shows the inflection point when the gradual pace of change shows a sudden shift, and the graph becomes almost perpendicular. And this happened around 2000.

Against this backdrop, we have organizations struggling with outdated platforms, old management practices, fossilized bureaucracy, dissatisfied customers and ever shifting market needs while the evolution is wreaking havoc in the old order of things. The solution is literally to begin from scratch. Transform and reinvent the organizational practices. Create organizations that are nimble, constantly learning, conversing and listening. 

For OD and L&D practitioners, this is a time of intense challenge as well as exhilarating possibilities. The digital world requires a set of digital skills and mindsets that most organizations are struggling with. The leaders at the helm of most organizations (start-ups are exceptions) come from B-schools that taught the skills predominantly required by the Industrial Era. The entire landscape of communication is changing with social technology, instantaneous chats, and forms like videos and podcasts entering the scene. Today's mobile phone has more computing and processing power than a laptop had 5 years ago. And one cannot ignore the power of SoLoMo, i.e., social, local and mobile coming together. However, these are not just technology changes but require uprooting of fundamental beliefs and behaviours that spelled success and power in the past. 

Hence, a plug-on social platform used to conduct business the old way will only yield frustration and cynicism. Individuals looking to follow processes and predefined rules to conduct their work will find themselves replaced by machines and robots. Organizations will find that only complex and creative work requiring skills like problem solving, pattern sensing, analysing, and such are left for the human workforce - the same workforce that through years of command and control has been reduced to order-following machines. And those individuals will suddenly find themselves facing the threat of redundancy. Scary? Yes! The same individuals now have to get back to using those faculties that humans are best at - analysing, empathising, collaborating. The "human" will perhaps finally come back to the corporate world! Today's landscape will require organizations to think beyond automation when designing workflow and business processes.And it's time for L&D and OD practitioners to play a key role in envisioning the strategy and laying the roadmap in collaboration with business heads. IMHO, its finally time for L&D to become integrated with business and take a seat at the table. 

While I cannot profess that L&D/OD specialists can change the nature of management, I can say that well-informed and skilled professionals from this field can enable an organization to empower its employees and management to acquire those skills that will get them to use the social technologies with greater efficacy. Sometimes, small actions repeated over a period of time can bring about behavioural change. Fogg's Behavioural Change method of instilling Tiny Habits could be a way, which I'll explore in a later post. Manifested behaviour-no matter how small-thoughtfully supported and encouraged over a period of time can bring about long term change. This primarily happens because individuals begin to see the impact of their repeated actions and the organization begins to reap the benefits. However, it takes time, commitment, skilled facilitators and a clear direction at a strategic level. 

And this is where L&D and OD professionals can intervene with support from the organizational leaders. This support is of paramount importance if the organization wishes to transform itself and become a truly "digital enterprise". Certain management practices which have become conflated with how the corporate world functions have to be dismantled and possibly discarded. Steve Denning quoting Hamel in this brilliant article "Why Bureaucracy Must Die" calls out the ills of bureaucracy, one of the detractors of social business: 
Bureaucracy is gripped by “the ideology of controlism” and “worships at the altar of conformance.” It’s hostile to “the irregular people with irregular ideas who create the irregular business models that generate the irregular returns,” and so “cripples organizational vitality.”  It “shrinks our incentive to dream, imagine and contribute.” It causes our organizations to “remain incompetent at their core.” 
I brought this up primarily to highlight that a truly digital organization enabled by social technologies and empowered employees and management are at the golden cusp of listening to those "irregular ideas". It is in these ideas that leap over processes and old ways of doing things that the salvation of organizations and the future of the corporate world lie. I have written before about the perils of having social as a bolt on strategy and of automation taking over complicated, process-based work. What will be left will be the complex challenges in need of creative solutions from "irregular people" unafraid to try their irregular ideas. 

To facilitate this exchange of "irregular conversations," organizations have to think like communities, to think of Workplace Learning in a World "Beyond Automation". Community Directors/Managers/Facilitators will become a key role in developing a successful social business. In an earlier post, I had emphasized the importance of L&D to don the mantle of community management. It's still not widely understood skill and traditional L&D departments used to conducting training needs analysis, skill-competency mapping, intervention design and delivery, and such are hard pressed to wrap their head around this critical skill. 

What role will communities play in transforming the way an organization functions? 

It is important to attempt an answer to this question if we are to fully comprehend the importance of community management. An organization does not become a social business or a digital enterprise just by installing a few social collaboration platforms and subscribing to an app marketplace. It requires a fundamental behavioural change at all levels and shifts in mindset. I have discussed this in earlier posts here and here. A community manager's role is to help the organization to cut across the hierarchies and foster open conversations. It's a strategic role requiring a rigorous understanding of various fields including organizational analysis and development, change management, management theories and practices, and human psychology and social behaviour. S/he may have other community facilitators to actively manage the online and offline activities that are so crucial to the success of social business. But the key role lies at a strategic and business level. IMHO, an organizational community manager--Chief Collaboration Officer??--will be as important as a CFO or CMO and of equal strategic importance in a digital enterprise. It's a role that is yet to be delineated and recognized but it's time has come. I have jotted down some thoughts around what this role could do to help an organization become a digital enterprise. 

The role will have to:
  1. Study the current organizational culture (this requires an OD background)
  2. Analyse the existing gaps/silos as well as the formal and informal channels of communication 
  3. Understand the broad business goals, processes and nature of the business
  4. Evaluate the current digital skills of employees, managers and leaders
  5. Create a framework and roadmap for the organization to help them:
    • Understand the social business journey and it's maturity model (Ref: Community Round-table report)
    • Acquire the necessary digital skills to participate in a collaborative environment with ease 
    • Build trust-based relationships to facilitate sharing of tacit knowledge, co-creation of new knowledge and innovate
    • Enable diverse kinds of communication from informing and sharing content to connecting, soliciting input, collaborating, and solving problems  
The individual will not only require a solid understanding of business processes but also of human behaviour. They will have to be the kind of individual who can demonstrate digital leadership in both words and deeds. They'll not only work with business heads across different verticals and product lines but will liaise with the executive team to define the strategy that will bring about the change. Their most important task may be to change the way an organization communicates - internally as well as externally. Today's L&D team may need to evolve into a Enterprise Collaboration and Workplace Learning team and report into the Chief Collaboration Officer.  

I will explore this role in greater detail in subsequent posts. I feel the time has come for organizations to move beyond implementing collaboration platforms to integrating a collaborative and cooperative mindset at the strategic level. It's a move that calls for a shift from the tactical to the strategic and must be supported at the highest level for any organization to reap the benefits of the digital evolution. Else, the same evolution will continue to wreak havoc. 

Saturday, June 13, 2015

Workplace Learning in a World "Beyond Automation"

I just finished reading an HBR article by Thomas Davenport and Julia Kirby called Beyond Automation, which is the trigger for this post. With automation, AI and robots looming over the job scene, there seems to be a constant fear of humans losing out to computers and technology. It's akin to one of our childhood sci-fi movies finally becoming a reality - the machines are taking over. The digital disruptors in the shape of Robots, Big Data and Sensors are here. However, this HBR article takes a different view of automation and digitization of work, going beyond the gloom and doom mindset. It posits:
What new feats might people achieve if they had better thinking machines to assist them? Instead of seeing work as a zero-sum game with machines taking an ever greater share, we might see growing possibilities for employment. We could reframe the threat of automation as an opportunity for augmentation.
In another related HBR article with an interesting title, We Should Want Robots to Take Some Jobs, the writer makes a valid point:
In the task-centered economy humans have no value beyond the tasks they perform. Consequently, they are indistinguishable from machines and will be replaced by them for reasons of cost-efficiency as soon as technically feasible. In the human-centered economy on the other hand machines liberate humans from predefined tasks with prestated outcomes. This allows them to exercise the value that emerges from collaborating with other humans on open-ended, creative endeavors. (Highlights mine)
Workplaces will have to become more human-centered and purpose driven if they wish to survive and thrive in the 21st Century. And another telling line from the post emphasizes this point : "In the 21st century, creating meaning and innovating will be democratized through technology."

The key is to remember that the tasks which cannot be automated - the ones that require contextual and human touch - are also the ones that cannot be codified and structured. Increasingly the human workforce will have to take on the unstructured work that requires skills like judgement, decision making, pattern sensing, emotional intelligence, social intelligence, and more. The reality is that any work that can be codified will be automated. The remaining tasks will require individuals who fundamentally think differently about work and learning. The key question we (as L&D/HR) need to think of is how are we going to support workplace learning to build such skills in the workforce? The table below captures the shifts as I see it:

I have been writing about social and collaborative learning, the importance of communities of practices and networked learning skills like building one's PLN and PKM for some time now. The overarching requirement is to develop workers who think for themselves, who can drive their own learning and are not restrained by the norms and processes of the past. Certain skills will become fundamental to thriving in future organizations. Given that the culture of an organization will also play a crucial role in whether employees are enabled and empowered to think and act autonomously, that is a complex topic related to reinventing organizations and their underlying structures. The transformation required are deep and often painful. 

The diagram below by Charles Jennings captures the shift succinctly. The last point in the image is particularly important -- in the past, workers were seen as part of the machine, replaceable cogs whose performance was measured by efficiency. In today's world, workers are co-creators with machines where the latter augment and help individuals to do what we are inherently good at while taking away the repetitive, "codifiable" tasks.  



Unfortunately organizations have been created with efficiency in mind. All the management framework and operational processes have been honed and polished to increase productivity and to bring about standardization. The digital era has suddenly turned everything upside down by bringing in automation and replacing the human cogs and requiring humans to become more "human like" - thinking, feeling, social and collaborative. This massive shift cannot be dealt with at an incremental level and requires a complete re-imagination and transformation of management models and operational processes. That is the topic for another post. 

This post tries to explore how L&D can partner with business to prepare organizations to meet this shift with greater equanimity and success. 

Build communities - Increasingly it is becoming evident that the era of "follow orders and processes" are gone. Unlike what Henry Ford had once said of his employees: “Why is it every time I ask for a pair of hands, they come with a brain attached?”, it is imperative for today's workers to bring their heads to hearts to work as well. However, complexity and constant emergence, exceptions and novel challenges also mean that individual workers will not be able to solve problems. An individual worker can be efficient; but innovation calls for collaboration, conversation, and cognitive diversity. Inclusive and diverse communities of talented and passionate individuals can do what computers and robots cannot. Communities foster collaboration and cooperation, exchange of diverse perspectives and creation of entirely new knowledge. CoPs lead to an outcome that is greater than the sum of the parts. And L&D must be able to enable such community building within organizations. 

A successful organization today will be an amalgamation of different communities - some of these will be transient forming around projects consisting of multi-disciplinary and cross-functional members. Other communities will be more permanent in nature forming around domains and practices to strengthen thought-leadership and innovation in key areas. L&D's role will be to enable these communities to form, to function effectively and provide sustained value to the members and to the organization.  

Foster meta-learning skills - It is evident from the HBR article that individuals who wish to grow and add value to themselves and to their work need to develop a different set of skills from what worked in the past. The past was driven by fixed knowledge bases, set ways of doing certain things, and a focus on increasing efficiency through task repetition, process improvement, and time management. The future will be driven by learning agility, effectiveness, and process innovation. The big question for L&D/Organization is how can meta-learning skills be fostered? How can workers become self-driven learners? What are the fundamental support required to enable this? IMHO, here are a few things organizations can do to start with:
  • Encourage "working out loud" - Put in place an Enterprise Social Network (ESN), provide community management support, and make openness the default behavior of senior leaders.  
  • Help individuals to extract learning from work - We know that most of workplace learning is experiential, happening on the job while in the process of solving a novel challenge or when creating a new design or managing a particularly "difficult" client. There are two ways to approach the work. There will be employees who will do what needs to be done to complete the work and then move on to something else. Then, there are those who do what needs to be done and take some time to reflect/analyse the learning gleaned from this. The latter are extracting learning from their work and thus building stronger neural pathways to tackle similar challenges in the future. L&D needs to facilitate this for organizations to continually learn. Managers and mentors can give feedback, encourage introspection, and show how sharing in a common forum can help in extracting and codifying the learning. 
  • Provide cross-functional exposure - L&D can recommend and support business in defining learning paths that will enable individuals to work across different functions on stretch assignments. Not only will this ensure that an organization has employees with a holistic view of how the business operates but also provide the diversity much-needed to build pattern sensing and critical thinking skills. It is now well-known that often the best solutions to crowd-sourced problems come from individuals who are far removed from the specific domain of the challenge.  
  • Create space for social learning -  While we know that all learning is social and individuals learn from each other, from experiences, from the environment and the ecosystem, creating a space dedicated to collaborating and co-operating with one's peers can help to build greater confidence in those still tentative about social learning. This will also mean an L&D team well-versed in the various aspects of building one's personal learning networks (PLNs). They will need to actively help the workforce build the required skills well-articulated in the PKM framework developed by Harold Jarche. 
Prepare for future "unknown" skills - This is a tricky one that most organizations steer clear of. There isn't any direct pathway that tell us what will be the core skills needed for the organization to survive 5 years from now. However, a little bit of research tells us that many a promising and thriving org vanished into oblivion because they failed to see what the future held. With organizational lifespan rapidly shrinking (down to 15 years from an average of 75 earlier), preparing to meet the future before it gets us is perhaps the smartest move. But how? The onus is on the organization, on L&D and on each individual to stay on the cutting edge of their domain, follow the digital and technical transformations taking place and evaluate their collective impact. Look at how the newspaper industry has transformed or the film industry for that matter. Kodak failed to see what was coming and went down ignominiously. No one can sit on their laurels and bask in past glory any more. The future can be bright or brutal depending on how we prepare to meet it. L&D and the business have the responsibility to maintain an ongoing research in their domain of operation on the skills they need to develop to grow the domain, the community and to create ongoing value. 

Develop a "growth mindset" - Today more than ever before, organizations need individuals with a growth mindset and flexible expertise. Dr. Carol Dweck eloquently writes about what growth mindset can achieve in her book, Mindset - The New Psychology of Success. According to her, growth of individuals - be they corporate leaders or sports-persons - can be largely attributed to a growth mindset. She cites examples from diverse fields to show how those with a fixed mindset eventually brought about not only their own downfall but also that of the organization they were leading or the team they were a part of. In this age of automation, one of the make or break skills/abilities could be developing a growth mindset. Without an ability to constantly introspect and learn, we will gradually become irrelevant with outdated skills and ways of working. L&D and business need to be constantly vigilant. An organization's culture can impact mindset. A repressive leader can kill passion and a desire to learn. A closed, ego-driven culture can foster a fixed mindset. I highly recommend the book for a through understanding of how to develop a growth mindset in individuals, in oneself and in the organization one serves. 

How is this linked to human work being augmented by machines?
It is closely related. Without the ability to self-direct one's learning and keep pace with change, we will run the risk of remaining tied to past skills and doing well those tasks that can be done more efficiently by machines. A growth mindset and learning agility ensure that we are able to course-correct and keep developing skills that can be augmented by a machine but not completely automated. The same HBR article referenced above talks of 5 ways that an individual can build and develop deeper skills in their domain. For a detailed understanding, do read the article. For a quick reference, I have inserted the diagram below. 

Some fields undergoing rapid development are healthcare, retail, telecom, manufacturing, and BFSI. The digital revolution will eventually embrace all aspects of business irrespective of domain. The dichotomy is that while we are scared of losing our current jobs to computers, we are not equipped to fulfill the potentials and promises that a digital era heralds across industries. Organizations have to be prepared
 to let go of what made them successful in the Industrial era to build the framework for success in the future. There is a serious dearth of skilled workers in all domains. How do we tackle this dilemma? And training is not the answer. The solution has to be holistic enough to let the employee learn in the natural course of his/her work and strengthen that learning through ongoing collaboration and social participation. 

There is much to do and much to think about...this is but a start. 

Monday, June 1, 2015

L&D's Role in a Purpose Driven Workplace


This post is inspired by last week's #ihrchat on Twitter hosted by Dr. Tanvi Gautam and supported by Team #ihrchat. The chat was full of insights and learning, as always. Flood of tweets poured in with inputs and suggestions on this thought-provoking topic - Reinventing HR for a Purpose Driven Workplace (PDW). And the trigger for this post was the question: How will learning & development shift in a PDW ?

I have been writing about the shifts required by L&D to meet the connected and collaborative knowledge economy for some time now. Here are links to some of the earlier posts:

One of the running themes across these posts have been about organizational change and how L&D will deal with the trends and shifts impacting us today. The diagram below illustrates the key trends:

The new generation of the workforce, today's employees, want much more from work than just a pay check. And we have to acknowledge and respect that. They are focused on the three qualities of work defined by Daniel Pink in Drive: AutonomyMastery and Purpose. They want to work for organizations with a Purpose. They want to know the Why  and not only the What or the HowSimon Sinek expresses this brilliantly in his popular TED talk: How Great Leaders Inspire Action:
But very, very few people or organizations know why they do what they do. And by "why" I don't mean "to make a profit." That's a result. It's always a result. By "why," I mean: What's your purpose? What's your cause? What's your belief? Why does your organization exist? Why do you get out of bed in the morning? And why should anyone care?
Employees today want to be part of a community where the work and the workplace will be an extension of themselves, their passion and vision. One of the criteria today's workforce look for is a vision large enough to inspire participation. I am reminded of Abhijit Bhaduri's post on Talent Communities in relation to this post. Talent usually congregates around a purpose and talent also acts like a magnet for other talented, passionate individuals. An organization with a defined purpose and vision is thus likely to become a community growing around a domain. Take the Linux community for example. Take organizations like Google, Apple or Zappos. They have a defined vision that drives everything they do and every decision they take giving employees something bigger than themselves to strive toward as well as a sense of pride in belonging. Aaron Hurst in his latest book, The Purpose Economy, says:
Like the information economy, which has driven innovation and economic growth until now, Hurst argues that our new economic era is driven by connecting people to their purpose, “It’s an economy where value lies in establishing purpose for employees and customers—through serving needs greater than their own, enabling personal growth and building community.” (Italics mine - http://purposeeconomy.com/welcome/)
Assuming we have such Purpose Driven Workplaces (PDW) what would be L&D role here? What would be the defining characteristics of such an L&D? What would they do differently?

Re-thinking L&D in a Purpose Driven Workplace?

So far, the role of L&D has been to define programs and training based on past data - identified skills gaps, best practices and established processes, explicit knowledge residing in experts or documented processes. Individuals are selected or nominated to attend "requisite" training and get back to work and be efficient. The training hours per individual seemed like a good enough matrix. We know how obsolete and redundant that matrix is in today's context. And it is definitely obsolete in the context of a PDW. 

Words like creativityimaginationvisionpersistence, etc., come up when we mention purposeIt is evident that a purpose driven workplace with passionate and engaged employees will require an entirely different breed of L&D. To start with, L&D needs to be integrated with business. Passionate, purpose-driven individuals do not need hand-holding and a checklist of training thrust at them to develop skills they require. They do not need stringent monitoring and managing. They take ownership of their learning and work because they don't perceive these as distinct from each other or from themselves. They are working because they believe in what they do and are proud to be a part of something bigger then themselves. For them, work becomes learning. Such a workplace will require L&D who not only understands business imperatives but will also be community builders and facilitators, connectors and enablers. 

IMHO, a PDW is: 
"A community of engaged and passionate individuals working and collaborating towards a common cause, stretching themselves to achieve what often may seem impossible, viewing failures as learning and using the possibilities of a networked organization to the fullest."

A PDW cannot operate in a wholly hierarchical, command and control manner. The more I think, I feel that a PDW has to have the characteristics of a social business. A social business that operates on the principles of trust, self-organization, autonomy to solve problems and collaboration forms an ideal basis for a purpose driven organization. In such an organization, L&D needs to become community managers and connectors. The need is not to train people but to facilitate connection between the right individuals, and enabling the network that exist in all organizations. The presence of an Enterprise Social Network (ESN) can be a benefit in a PDW. L&D's task would be to:
  1. Help the organization to use the platform to listen to different inputs - from business, from front-line employees and from customers
  2. Help people build communities around projects, domains and areas of interest
  3. Foster 21st Century skills that will help them to optimally participate in the network
  4. Surface diverse thoughts and ideas being shared; curate relevant content
  5. Build community management skills in others 
In summary, L&D role will shift from:

  • Designing training programs to facilitating communities 
  • Developing skills based on past analysis to fostering 21st Century skills 
  • Measuring number of training hours per employee to evaluating community engagement

P.S.: The diagram below captures the skills people in a purpose driven workforce will need:

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

7 Strategies to Facilitate "Working Out Loud"


I spent the greater part of the weekend mulling over the practice of working out loud, what makes some folks adopt the habit with ease while others struggle, and what could be some of the possible enabling factors that support working out loud. The more I thought about it, the more it seemed to me that it is one of the fundamental blocks of building a community of practice. A community grows around a domain where practitioners share their insights, knowledge and doubts, the work processes. A community grows through conversation, collaboration, and showcasing of work in progress. Community members learn together, share feedback, take onus of building the domain. Explicit and tacit knowledge gets shared. Take Linux or the GitHub community for example. Talented coders and developers come together to learn, share and co-create. The more evolved and engaged a community is, the more it acts like a "talent magnet". Even as I was mulling over and revisiting my old posts on the importance of communities, serendipity struck. I came across this post by +Abhijit Bhaduri - Talent Communities Must Go Beyond Hiring. Organizations like Google and Apple have become such talent communities attracting the best of the best in their areas of expertise. 

Today, most organizations are caught between the crossroads of traditional training (top down sessions, expert created content, L&D owned programs) and the modern workplace learning practices reflective of networked learning, collaboration and cooperation, user-generated content, ongoing conversation and debate, open feedback and transparent sharing. If we critically examine the characteristics of networked learning, it becomes evident that these are also qualities that foster and enable communities to thrive which in turn pull creative, passionate individuals to the workforce. As Bhaduri points out in his post, communities have always attracted talent. The spirit that drew writers and thinkers to the smoke filled iconic Coffee House of Kolkata is the same spirit that draws people together in communities. 

The fundamental characteristics of individuals who formed these communities were their willingness to share their thoughts, view their ideas, express half-baked opinions and begin conversations - in short, working out loud or "showing their work". This begs the question - how does one inculcate the habit of working out loud and inspire the passion so that people will want to continue doing so. I blogged about Getting Started with Working Out Loud. In this post, I want to focus on the support and environment needed to get people started. I am going to continue using the Coffee House analogy here and there.

What Makes Working Out Loud Easy


1. Safe environment - How comfortable do people feel sharing their doubts and half-baked ideas? Is there fear of ridicule? Given that the organization culture encourages sharing and transparency, it still takes some effort to create a community space that is safe. This is where a community manager can be indispensable. S/he can be a coach and mentor helping people to get started with working out loud, keep the community space free of trolls, and connect individuals to each other and to relevant content/discussions/groups. When individuals see others (especially those in positions of authority and leadership) revealing their vulnerabilities and fears, a safe place is automatically created. It encourages deep conversations, honest feedback and authentic support.

2. Inspirational role models - There are always a few early adopters and trend setters. These individuals are not scared to take a leap and start something new, no matter how silly it may seem to others. They are not afraid to seem weird. However, typically this forms a small percentage of any employee base. The majority prefer to wait and watch before jumping onto the bandwagon. They wait for approvals. The latter need strong role models whose behaviour they can emulate, whose successes and failures are out there for all to see. Each organization will need to find a handful of such people who will demonstrate the habit of working out loud fearlessly for others to follow, who will be the champions. If these happen to be from the senior management, so much the better. 

3. Meaningful conversations - Most often, organizational learning gets locked up as a conversation between 2 or 3 people in their inboxes. When these individuals leave their organizations, they walk away with their tacit knowledge. Their inbox is deleted. The exchanges are lost. The same conversation practised in the open not only invite wider participation, diverse thinking and contribution but is also of immense benefit to others. The organizational hive mind gets captured, context is built and conversation takes place. We all know that true learning takes place through dialogues. 

4. Easy entry and participation - In Coffee House, participation amounts to pulling up a chair at the table of choice, ordering chai and perhaps the ubiquitous cutlet to accompany the discussion. Some folks at the table would know you and some wouldn't. Introductions get casually made. What matters is the participation and the contribution. In the online world, this ease can be created by a community space or platform that is easy to access, like Twitter or Yammer. Some help from a community manager in the case of an enterprise community is helpful. Organizations looking to inculcate the practice of working out loud in their employees will need to provide the support, perhaps with L&D acting as facilitators

5. Beyond information sharing - "Working out loud" is not about sharing information. That can be better achieved via reports, datasheets, and meetings. It is about providing the context to the information, the exceptions to the processes, the failed attempts and successes. It's about sharing "how" one arrived at the outcome, not only the "what". When the moving parts, the complexities and the exceptions are openly discussed, conversation automatically happens. People get an opportunity to chime in with their opinions, experiences and solutions thus leading to innovation, co-creation of new knowledge and a better informed community. This kind of sharing is generative leading to improved organizational know-how. 

6. Thinking cooperation - One of the objectives of working out loud is to share our work in progress, show the "how" we do it rather than only the what, and expose the processes behind the outcome. However, we expect and seek responses to what we share. The reality is this may not always happen, and at least not instantaneously. Jeff Merrell makes a very valid point in his post Working Out Loud Lesson: Ignore the Network:
"We write with the full expectation that the network will respond. That’s supposed to be the value of the network, right? It gives us something when we give it something.But I’ve just found that the network is fickle. And I am ok with that.By definition, serendipity happens by chance. If it were predictable it would be no fun."
That is the crux. It is easy to lose motivation when no one responds. However, we never know when serendipity will take place. It is about being consistent, about showing up and sharing. Apart from anything, working out loud is a valuable self-reflection and learning tool. And cooperation is the key. 

7. WOL is a Mindset, an Attitude - Working out loud is not dependent on an individual's savviness with various social sharing platforms. It's a mindset. We can all remember classmates who willingly shared how they had worked out a math problem and those who wouldn't. WOl comes from the same attitude of sharing with the intent of helping others learn from what I know and the mistakes I've made. As Nigel Young aptly writes in his post, When Working Out Loud isn't Really WOL:
WOL…is a practice and I do this in the office, on my whiteboard, in the collaborative tools I use and even when I speak (I've been known to form new ideas, change them and take new directions whilst actively involved in conversation).  This comes partly back to my previous point that WOL is an attitude and partly down to the fact that the media for sharing and collaboratively working is less important than the action.  
Finally, here is a check-list from Austin Kleon from Show Your Work:

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