Seeking new frontiers in L&D


It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way….

The immortal lines of Charles Dickens as he opened “A Tale of Two Cities”.

Those opening lines seem so very appropriate to the state of Learning & Development in the world right now. The world is changing at a pace that can mildly be described as ‘too rapid for comfort’.

The disruption caused by technology on different cultures, the way we lead our lives, our connections with people, our aspirations and the power to express our thoughts in the mode of sharing are so fundamentally different from what we have ever seen before.

At the core of this are people and their lives. In society and in corporate settings.

So whats different in the corporate world? Several aspects!  The four that come to my mind now are these.

a. Organisations are different – Hierarchies are creaking and breaking. The paradigm of engagement is changing. Command and control is giving way to the importance of ‘discretionary effort’. Yet at another level the patience for the long term is slowly beginning to be usurped by success in the ‘next quarter’.

b. Leadership – Transparency. Sustainability. Agility. Ethical Standards. Comfort with social technologies. Comfort with flat organisations with an absolute anchor on authenticity. Suddenly there is a draft of new expectations from every leader. Current and more importantly, the future will bear unmistakable imprints of this time.

c. Technology shifts – Mobile, social technologies and cloud computing has broken down walls and has given way to innumerable ways of sharing and learning on a scale that is not only unprecedented but has also lead personal choices to prevail over collective mandates

d. Employee mindsets have moved. From a time where employees were dependent on the organisations for devices, connectivity and gateways to knowledge have had a massive change with democratisation of all the vectors.

These obviously provide enough of imperative to massive change that is required in the Learning & Development teams. Some questions include

  • How do we move from (Information Rich + interaction Poor) ways of learning to (Interaction Rich + contextual relevance + democratized many to many) modes of learning.
  • How do we move from ‘interventions’ to ‘embedding of learning in work’. How should jobs be designed for the new world?
  • What new mindsets must be embedded into the DNA of organisations in the new world, for which, what new ways of thinking must CLOs and L&D teams imbibe?

Questions of this ilk need greater discussion and the collaborative conscience and mindshare of a diverse array of minds which is precisely what we will attempt at #IndiaHRChat (better explained here)

Now #IndiaHRChat on Twitter, hosted by Dr.Tanvi Gautam has, within a short time, evolved into a wonderful medium for such discussions to flourish. Previous hosts have included Dr.Anand Pillai, Yash Mahadick, Sairee, ElangoGurprriet Siingh. The chat logs are all available for you to check out the the multifaceted views that emerge.

The discussion on titled “L&D : The Next Frontier is scheduled for 7.00 PM IST, 28th Aug 2013 and am a guest in the program. Please do join in. Wherever you are.

The conversations will be for an live for 60 minutes and hopefully will continue for sometime in your workplaces thereafter!  Thequestions that we will discuss answers about

1. How is learning & development different today than it was 5 years ago ?

2. Where does the ultimate ownership of workforce learning lie – employer/employee/both ?

3. What should be the mandate & outcomes that L&D teams should strive for ?

4. What does it take for a CLO and his/her team to become and stay successful ?

5. What is coming in the way of L&D reaching the next frontier ?

6. What is the biggest challenge in organizations adopting more ‘social’ forms of learning

7.  What is your biggest take away from today’s chat ? – 

To make the best use of our time together, it would be wonderful if you could make time to go over the stuff below to set the context for our conversation. A pre-read of sorts! 🙂

This is also available as a Internet Time Alliance Whitepaper in PDF format here. Irrespective of jumping into the chat or otherwise, I recommend you make the time to read this stuff and reflect!

This is a work of Jane Hart and the Internet Time Alliance, a set of people who have been at the bleeding edge of leading the L&D space to the new frontier. I read this piece a couple of years ago and believe most aspects of this work will continue to be relevant for some time to come.

So there, #IndiaHRChat sure looks like its going to be an interesting time. It would be wonderful to hear your views on the questions. If for some reason you aren’t going to be there, do leave a comment here or a tweet to me ( @_kavi)  and I will tweet it out to the group on your behalf.

Learning & Development has the opportunity to create meaningful difference to the future of organisations and if you extend it, to societies as well. To make that difference, every single view will count and your participation, whatever you do for a living, will be important.  Would be lovely to see you  then.

Learning and Hype cycles

‘Hype Cycle’s are an interesting read. The phases that a hype cycle mentions are particularly revealing.

‘Hype Cycle’ was a term coined by Gartner. It offers a cycle of maturity of adoption of a particular technology. Its akin to the ‘Product Life Cycle’ concept : introduction, growth, maturity and decline.

Its similarities end with the “broad concept”. The ‘hype cycle’ is rather an incisive description of a tech / concept’s evolution. Plotted against the axes of time & visibility, the cycle offers five different stages.


a. Technology Trigger: Which is the first phase of the hype cycle. There is a trigger that sets the hype on its journey. A breakthrough concept, product launch or approach automatically generates interest.

b. Peak of Inflated Expectations: The phrase sums it up. The triggers have triggered off expectations which are well beyond real. ‘Inflated expectations’.  Technologies in this stage are actually riding a wave. So to speak. And literally so. And you know what happens to any ‘wave’ ! When the energy dissipates, it leads to the next stage, which is ..

c. Trough of disillusionment: When expectations aren’t met, well, it leads to disillusionment. At the least, there is disappointment. Disappointment leads to non-use which in turn leads to abandoning and consequent fade out from the screen. There of course are some adopters who still are working on it and they lead us to the next stage.

d. Slope of enlightenment: The technology might have fallen out of favour of the mainstream, but there sure are businesses who have adopted it to meet objectives. And when they see value, they keep working on it, to utilise the practical applications of the technology.

e. Plateau of productivity: And when enlightenment happens, it sure is a way of evolving further on ! The technology becomes more widely accepted. Better demonstrated. More stable. And the final height would be a function of how broadly applicable the technology is.

Hype Cycles give an idea of relative maturity of technologies and concepts.

Looking at the hype cycle, you find that authoring suites are at the ‘peak of inflated expectations’, you know whats coming your way! And therefore plan your strategy accordingly.

While making a presentation on the Hype Cycle, the other day, I realised how closely applicable the concept was to many things in life! Romance and marriage are perfect examples: A trigger leading to ‘inflated expectations” which in turn leads to a “trough of disillusionment”, a “slope of enlightenment” and finally where things fall into a rhythm and the “plateau of productivity” arrives! ( of course, the trough of disillusionment can strike anytime later as well. We know what happens after that! )

There is usually a trigger. Best if the trigger happens to be line managers / business / leadership team. That works all the time. Even better, when the trigger is accompanied by a trigger within individuals. Usually, basic information, education, research, which provide for a basis for an evaluation of alternatives works here.

The solution worked out as a response usually sets expectations of meeting the business needs. Especially so, when the solutions are co-evolved with line leadership. It is quite normal and natural for expectations to be ‘inflated’.

In both the second and third stage, ‘managing expectations’ become crucial. To set the right expectations can stave off disappointment and to remind people of the agreed goals and committed support is key.

When the rubber meets the road, there are practical challenges that emerge. Sometimes old habits just refuse to die. Memory could be strong about erstwhile processes. Also, new skill may take a while to get deep rooted. Which is when disillusionment kicks in. Disappointments rule! With a lack of practice, forgetting kicks in!

If the ‘trough of disillusionment’ is managed well, the slope of enlightenment can begin to appear. Sharing success that happen in small pockets, intense communication, keeping a community spirit going, executive coaching, all go a long way in helping the ‘slope of enlightenment’ happen.

When that slope is climbed by many, when ‘pockets of success’ become more prevalent, there is a level of change and operationalising that is higher than where it all started out from.

Each stage is different and needs to be managed differently. It gave me wonderful compartmentalised ideas for several projects that I was working on.

Wonder what you think.

Some questions for L&D

How many times have you gone to a learning / HR conference or conclave and listened to speakers wax eloquence on any / all of the following topics ?

  • Relevance of L&D
  • L&D needs a seat at the table
  • L&D’s Alignment to business
  • How do we measure L&D / Kirkpatrick /
  • L&D’s return on investment
  • How do we work with Learning Styles

These topics have stayed on the discussion table for many many years now.

No, I have nothing against the topics per se. ( Only perhaps with this “learning styles’ stuff which is  fundamentally very wobbly ) That they are debated with passion and commitment Ad nauseam leads us to ask many questions. As a profession, the question that begs a convincing answer is this : “Have we moved the needle or are just flooring the accelerator and while holding on to the brakes!”

If there is still ‘DEBATE’ about the ‘relevance of L&D’ or for that matter “L&D needs a seat at the table”, it is but obvious that we still have a long distance to go in getting to be relevant in an organisation’s scheme of things?

Now, here is a simple question that a manager asked me many years back. “If you are making a difference to me, would you need to even have to talk about your work to me?” Ofcourse not, I thought, back then. That question needs no answer, to date!

The pace of change in the world can be mildly described as frantic and fundamental concepts and new approaches to work have emerged. L&D as a function that ‘provide’s knowledge and skills to the organisation is as dated as the dinosaur.

The coming of the Internet has forever changed the way knowledge is accessed! Knowledge is literally in the hands of employees. Peering at them through mobile devices and monitors. And an array of the best of teachers and learners are ever present on the web, to teach their craft. On you tube. On twitter. Numerous blogs and a spectrum of other sources.

The quintessential L&D professional : the ‘point-solution-provider’ who seeks to deliver programs, counts mandays and measures how satisfied learners were with the program so delivered, is dead wood! Or maybe worse than dead wood.

It is time ( long overdue infact) for L&D to relook at our roles. And do something about it. If ‘enabling the organisation to perform better / become more ready for the future’ (and their variants) are what presumably are reasons for L&D’s existence, isnt it basic expectation that we are more aware of the various ways in which that can be done. Especially in the modern technology enabled context. ( Delivering vacuous programs certainly isn’t one of them).

It is a no-brainer that the right answers are always a product of the correct questions! There are a different set of questions, in my opinion that we must be debating in conferences now.  Here are the top 5.

1. With knowledge freely available, can L&D enable the organisation to leverage knowledge, at the place of work, by the employee, his peers and his immediate manager? How can we facilitate this access and leverage of knowledge better?

2. Can employee’s experience from such leverage become new learning for the organisation at large? In essence how does learning get embedded firmly in the context of work? What role can L&D play in enabling line managers to learn, coach, teach on the job?

3. How do we move from ‘point-solution-provider’ to enabler of continuous non-intrusive learning and create a choice palette for employees to seamlessly learn ( with the accent resting on ‘choice’ for the employee)? In essence how do we redefine the way work gets done? How do we help recast jobs and job content with ample avenues for learning?

4. Conversations within an organisation are the soul of an organisation. Can L&D enable such conversations? These can become the bedrock for collaborative approaches to work and learning. The consequent relationships that conversations  foster are but a corollary benefit!

5. How do we transfer the onus of learning and development back on to every single employee and his manager? How do help the organisation to place a premium on continuous renewal and growth? How do we hold the mirror constantly for the organisation and for ourselves?

How do we make ourselves redundant, in doing what we are doing now?

We would need to evolve granular answers to these.  And perhaps unearth more such questions and seek answers. I make no claim to have it all sorted out!  But are we even thinking about these ? Could we atleast, move on ? And atleast ask new questions like these in the conferences we attend ?