Management Mistakes 101: Training Tomorrow’s Leaders

Picture this; you’re a fresh-faced leader just getting to grips with your new role. Your main bugbear? One team member who is underperforming. It doesn’t matter how many SMART goals you set and performance conversations you have, over the next few months this individual fails to pull their socks up. To an experienced leader, this is a manageable problem with an obvious solution but, to a new manager, it’s terrifying.

You have no more tricks left up your sleeve, and it feels like the only option available is to terminate. Now, it might be that termination is a valid approach – even rigorous coaching has its limits – but having the confidence to know you’ve done everything you can and are justified in pulling the trigger is far beyond the experience of most new leaders. So, how do we as experienced managers ensure that those still finding their feet have the tools they need to succeed?

Training new Leaders

The head in the sand solution

We all have a tendency to opt for the easy option, and that means avoiding confrontation or tricky situations. With an underperformer and an inexperienced manager, this approach typically leads to the invention of a ‘special project’, something to keep the lacklustre colleague occupied and limit the damage they can do to team productivity. Of course, there is one other option; do nothing – and silently resent the underperformer’s presence while you do.

Neither option is conducive to the long-term success of the team, the organisation, or a developing manager. In fact, feeling powerless to improve the situation can turn new leaders into cynical, passive-aggressive, or sarcastic managers. It should come as no surprise that all these traits have a significant impact on employee morale, engagement, and productivity¹.

The unprofessional approach

Sarcasm, cynicism, and passive-aggression are all avoidance behaviours, and they’re the go-to reaction for many of us when we become overwhelmed. Needless to say, they have no place in a manager-employee relationship. Not only are they detrimental to organisational productivity¹, but they’ve also been shown to negatively impact employee engagement and job satisfaction, and increase burnout². Hardly surprising – it’s harder to trust sarcastic, cynical, or passive-aggressive leaders, many of whom will avoid giving direct critiques of work and actionable feedback³. Put simply; employees don’t know where they stand with these types of managers.

Of course, instilling the need to avoid such behaviours in a new manager is only part of the problem. Your developing leader might be able to rise above the annoyance caused by an underachiever, but what about the rest of their team? Passive-aggression is just as detrimental in a team as a leader. At an organisational level, it can slow decision making and stall execution, at a team level it hinders communication and productivity. For individuals, it causes unnecessary stress⁴.

New managers are responsible for the entire team, and they need to have the confidence to address issues like this and the skill to foster productive conflict before their first day on the job.

From theory to practice

“There is nothing so easy to learn as experience and nothing so hard to apply.”

-Josh Billings, American Humorist

Learning management theory is easy, it’s translating all those strategies into the real world that can be tricky. Those of you who caught my article on promoting high performers will know that I’m firmly of the opinion learning to become a manager takes time and practice. I’m all for an apprenticeship approach.

Letting individuals grow into management roles and develop their skills by managing freelancers or overseeing important projects means we create fewer frustrated or overwhelmed new leaders. Without an approach like the one I’m advocating, potentially good managers can be undone by the challenges of practicing leadership.

Making a manager

An apprenticeship approach requires a serious commitment to coaching and training. Budding managers need to understand just how important their role is to the long-term success of the organisation. It’s up to them to align, motivate, and inspire their teams, and they’ll need a whole new set of skills to achieve that:

  • Communication. Gone are the days of off hand comments to colleagues. New managers need to be mindful of what they are saying and the impact their opinions can have on a team. Good communication is critical to many productivity initiatives, especially delivering employee feedback, and new leaders need to learn how to win the trust and respect of their team.
  • Delegation. One of the biggest challenges for a new manager is recognising the difference between delivering results at a team level as opposed to as an individual. New leaders no longer have complete control over an outcome, and if they don’t have the support and experience to delegate, the urge to micro-manage may become too hard to fight.
  • Critical Thinking: Not a widely used skill in junior roles, many new managers need time to learn how to think strategically and identify the most productive workflows for their team. All the theory in the world won’t help them with this one; it’s a skill only experience can teach.

To sum up…

Managers – the good ones at least – are not made overnight. As senior leaders, it’s up to us to mentor promising individuals. This means creating opportunities for potential managers to lead long before they take on an official management role, and continuing to mentor and support new managers to ensure they have the support they need to excel as leaders.

What was your experience of junior management? Did you ever wish you’d had more training and support?

References

¹Kessler et al., 2013. Leadership, interpersonal conflict and counterproductive work behaviour: An examination of stressor-strain process. [Abstract]. International Association for Conflict Management. 6 (3). pp. 180-190.
²Leary et al., 2013. The relationship among dysfunctional leadership dispositions, employee engagement, job satisfaction and burnout. [Abstract]. The Psychologist-Manager Journal. 16 (2). pp 112-130.
³Jones, 2012. 5 signs of passive-aggressive management: why it kills employee motivation and how to deal. Brazen.
⁴Davey, 2016. Reduce passive aggressive behaviour on your team. Harvard Business Review.

Talent Management Rankings: Our Kind of Olympics

With Rio in full swing and the country getting competitive, what better time to take a look at the all-stars dominating our favourite sport, Talent Management? Time to find out who won big in the categories that really matter; Onboarding, Performance Management, and Learning Management.

 

Talent Management rankings - Medalllists

Gold

Those of you who read my article on onboarding and employee success will know that well-designed onboarding practices are key to ensuring new hires integrate quickly and perform at their best. Amazon-owned retailer Zappos took the gold in this category for its focus on protecting and promoting company culture above all else.

Landing a job at Zappos isn’t easy. The retailer puts the same emphasis on personality and cultural fit as skills and experience, applicants have a 1.5% chance of receiving a job offer¹. But an offer doesn’t mean new hires can breathe easy. Whatever their level or department, everyone goes through the same four week course, receiving extensive training in customer service and company values².

At the end of the four weeks, new hires have two options; head to the office and get started, or take a $2000 payout and leave if they don’t fit the company culture. Less than 2% opt to take the money and run³, with 98% starting work on Monday engaged and committed, knowing exactly what to expect.

Silver

Facebook scooped silver for an onboarding process that is fast and engagement focused. New hires arrive to find their requested PCs, personal devices, and systems all set up and ready to go; but it’s the developers’ boot camp that really won the day for the social media goliath. Developers aren’t hired for specific teams and departments. Instead, they spend six weeks training at HQ and get to choose which department to work in when they graduate⁵, cherry picking the projects that most excite them.

Bronze

These guys are secretive, but rumour has it Apple is a find your own feet kind of employer. New hires are greeted on their first day by any specialist tools they need, a new iMac, and a t-shirt with ‘class of’ and the year of joining. They are expected to dive right in, set up their own computers and introduce themselves to co-workers⁵. It isn’t for everyone, but this ‘do-or-die’ approach certainly means employees hit the ground running.

Talent Management rankings - Medalllists

Gold

I’ve spoken before about Google’s performance management process, so it should come as no surprise that it romped home in first place. This well-deserved gold was awarded for the search giant’s extensive research and the resulting unbiased, 360-degree performance management processes.

Google’s research into employee performance identified two main factors influencing success; clearly written goals, and frequent conversations between individuals and managers⁶. These findings form the basis of a complex, 360-degree feedback cycle that begins with self-evaluation before peers review an individual’s fit with the company culture (a.k.a Googleyness), analytical abilities, execution, thought leadership, leadership, and presence. Peers grade based on strengths, weaknesses, and contributions⁷.

This feedback is used by managers to provide a draft grade, a non-numerical evaluation on a five point scale that ranges from ‘needs improvement’ to ‘superb’. All performance data then goes through a calibration stage, where heavy-handed or lenient graders are identified and employee scores adjusted⁷; giving employees an accurate, unbiased view of their performance.

Silver

Beauty subscription service Birchbox has a dedicated People & Culture team that manages the complete employee experience, with a focus on aligning individuals to organizational goals⁴.

Bi-monthly pulse checks and two yearly, quantitative studies mean they can guide managers and board members on how best to align employees and skills to developmental strategy and initiatives⁴. This integrated approach to business growth and performance management was well-deserving of a silver medal, don’t you think?

Bronze

Goldman Sachs is breaking the mould with its recently overhauled performance management system. Designed to improve staff retention, the Wall Street stalwart has swapped its traditional numerical grading system (complete with automatic layoffs for the bottom 5% of performers) for a qualitative approach almost unheard of in the financial sector⁸.

Now, the focus is on providing high-quality, continuous feedback. Reviews are conducted earlier in the year, giving individuals a chance to improve before bonus time⁸. To reduce grading bias, the new system even uses a similar calibration method to Google⁷.

Talent Management rankings - Medalllists

Gold

Global consulting firm Cognizant was streaks ahead of the competition and landed gold for its Millennial-friendly approach and focus on integrated learning.

With a predominantly Millennial workforce⁹, many who work on-site with clients, the Cognizant learning and development (L&D) strategy needed to be agile, mobile and engaging. The company rose to the challenge, producing multiple learning platforms such as blogs, customized portals, live webcasts, and discussion forums⁹. But the jewel in its L&D crown is ‘One Cognizant’ an app store boasting over 50 learning apps. From gamification to ebooks and progress planners, individuals can choose the tools best suited to their learning style⁹.

Recognising that L&D is an essential element of organisational grown, Cognizant’s ‘5D’ approach to content focuses on aligning learning with long-term objectives. The senior team establish organisational goals first, identifying potential impediments and their solutions, and provide a mix of informal, formal, and collaborative learning initiatives that enable staff to deliver on those goals⁹.

Silver

Like Cognizant, silver medal winner Hilton Worldwide delivers a suite of learning tools to a global workforce. Its L&D strategy is focused on maximising employee performance with self-guided tutorials, interactive workshops, one-to-one training and courses. Learning is typically tailored to the needs of the individual, with employees identifying their own skills gaps and receiving the training and support they need to address themⁱ⁰.

Bronze

Healthcare provider Virgin Care has recently been shortlisted for the Employee Engagement Award thanks to its ‘People Flourish’ learning management system. In a sector known for its apathy to learning and development, this revolutionary program provides staff with leadership training; delivering four modules on people, personalities, and behaviours that are designed to help individuals progress to management positions. It’s an investment that’s paying off, with the program delivering a 22% increase in employee retention¹¹.

To Sum Up…

The tech sector dominated our talent management competition, scooping gold in both the learning and onboarding categories. However, we’re already starting to see Silicon Valley’s innovations trickle into more traditional sectors, as demonstrated by both Goldman Sachs and Virgin Healthcare. These guys are rejecting the typical model of Talent Management in their industries and are already reaping the rewards. Let’s hope more employers follow suit – by 2020 this is likely to be a far more hotly contested race!

Any ideas here you could borrow? I’d love to hear your thoughts on these approaches. Would any work in your office?

References

1Michelle, J. 2011. The Zappos Experience. Inc.com
2Zappos. 2016. Onboarding Fact Sheet. Zappos
3Reynolds, 2016. 3 Companies With the Most Unique Employee Onboarding Process. TinyPulse.
4Doshi and Gregor. 2015. The secret to an ideal work culture. Time Magazine.
5Bhattacharyya, 2016. Employee Onboarding at Facebook, Google and Apple. The Qustn Cafe.
6L&D, 2016. How performance feedback is evolving. L&D.
7QCulture, 2015. Google’s Performance Management Practices. QCulture.
8Shen, 2016. Goldman Sachs is about to make life a bit less stressful for employees. Fortune.
9Meister, 2014. Cognizant Academy: Lessons from a 2020 Learning Organisation. Forbes.
10Association for Talent Development. 2014. Hilton Worldwide. ATD.
11Virgin Care, 2016. Virgin Care Shortlisted for Employee Engagement Award. Virgin Care.

My Top Takeaways of 2015

With the year drawing to a close and the festive season almost upon us, I thought now would be a good time to take stock of everything we’ve learned in 2015.

Agile Performance Management

The annual reviews and performance metrics of traditional Performance Management (PM) have been slowly giving way to an agile (APM) approach. This trend became increasingly obvious in 2015, with the publication of numerous papers and case studies all highlighting the benefits APM offers. Add to that the fact that major companies like Adobe went on record crediting this new approach (they went agile in 2012) with the rocketing share price they’ve experienced since adopting it, and it’s little wonder that APM is picking up pace.

The increasing popularity of the agile approach doesn’t surprise me. Agile Performance Management strategies are an integral part of Cognology’s solutions, and regular readers will know I’ve long been an advocate of real-time reviews and 360-degree feedback. I’m not the only one to note the accelerated change in PM this year and, while companies like Accenture announce plans to adopt it, others warn of the potential pitfalls of an accelerated change.

Tom Hakk, the founder of The HR Trend Institute, believes organisations are failing to recognise the difference between performance ratings and management. He worries that companies are so keen to jettison the traditional annual reviews and performance metrics, that they are abandoning PM altogether. I’m not sure I agree with his observation (the number of HR managers citing PM as ‘important’ or ‘very important’ rose to 75% in 2015), but I do recognise his concern. If we fail to implement this new approach properly, it could cost us more than it’s worth.

Onboarding

With poor onboarding contributing to the failure of 50% of new hires, doing it properly has the potential to save organisations thousands (and some, much more). I covered the science behind onboarding earlier this year and discovered that 35% of companies spend nothing (as in $0) on onboarding. Of the rest, 40% think their programmes are ‘less than moderately effective’.

Innovations and trends to revolutionize performance management, employee engagement, L&D, freelancing and onboarding in 2015
In October, Google gave us a lesson on how to tackle this sticking point. Their analytics team experimented with multiple approaches before hitting on the Just-in-time option. Characterised by an email to a manager the night before a new hire starts, onboarding is left entirely up to managers providing they perform five key tasks:

  1. A role and responsibilities discussion.
  2. Match new hire with peer buddy.
  3. Assist new hire to build a social network.
  4. Conduct onboarding check-ins once a month for the first six months.
  5. Encourage open dialogue.

It might not sound particularly innovative, but Google’s data suggests this approach reduced new hire time to productivity by 25%.

Imagine how technology can improve this by starting the onboarding process from contract stage through to Day 1 and the first six months. Incredible.

Learning and Development (L&D)

I’ve delved into L&D topics many times this year. By far the most important takeaway was the benefit of aligning learning with strategy, and its ability to increase ROI, enhance engagement and speed organisational progression.

Like PM, L&D has been driven by technological advancement, with gamification and social learning taking centre stage in 2015. Offering benefits across the board, a recent study by PWC suggests the technological innovations in this field will become increasingly important as more Millennials enter the workforce. Statistics published this year indicated that L&D is more important to this group than any other, with 52% stating that fast career progression is more attractive than salary.

Employee Engagement

Arguably one of the most notable takeaways of 2015 was the discovery that work engagement and employee engagement are two separate entities, often operating independently of each other. This, coupled with the finding that individuals engage differently, goes some way towards explaining why employee engagement initiatives traditionally produce poor results.

Newly published data suggests that engagement is an increasingly important issue. The average employee is 6% less satisfied with their role in 2015 compared to 2014; experiencing a reduction in enablement, autonomy and a sense of accomplishment.

Freelancing

You probably don’t need me to tell you that freelancing is the new workforce megatrend. Driven by economic pressures and an increasing focus on lifestyle over work, this trend is particularly popular with Millennials, 38% of whom work freelance.

This isn’t a number that is likely to decrease anytime soon. PJMorgan’s Chauncy Lennon is studying the rise in freelancing and flexible work initiatives. His findings suggest that this new megatrend will change the business landscape. In the future, we can expect to see operations organised around workers, instead of workers organised around companies.

To sum up…

As research continues to offer us greater insight, and technology gives us new metrics and opportunities, it seems likely that the changes we’ve seen this year in PM and L&D will be mirrored in other areas, including employee engagement and onboarding, which are currently poorly managed in a number of industries.

It’s been a year of learning and discovery, improvements and advancements in the HR field this year. At Cognology, we’re excited about what 2016 will bring. If there are topics you’d be interested in hearing from me on next year, drop me a line. In the meantime, have a wonderful Christmas and festive season.

Reference:

Up to 20% of staff turnover happens within the first 45 days of employment. Source: Urbanbound

Aligning Learning with Strategy: Why It Matters and What It Means To You

I’m sure more than a few of you read the recent MIT Sloan Management Review article. Since its publication in September, this iteration of a common-sense approach to corporate learning has grabbed a lot of attention. The piece emphasises the importance of aligning learning with corporate strategy, and calls into question those companies focusing on learning and development methods – rather than the knowledge they transfer.

At Cognology, we’ve always championed this approach. Our learning management system integrates seamlessly with our performance management system and wider performance tools for one simple reason; aligning learning and development (L&D) with corporate strategy drives organisational success.

The importance of alignment 

Corporate strategy charts the course for a company that knows what it’s there for, and what it wants to achieve. The link between learning and corporate strategy should be obvious. It’s a concept that has become increasingly relevant, at least in part due to a response to the changes in technology innovating the field of L&D (a subject I discussed recently in this post).

Now with a huge variety of cutting-edge learning approaches, linking them with corporate strategy helps ensure businesses achieve corporate outcomes, through increasing available skills and capability in areas of strategic importance.

Alignment means you can, and should, use corporate strategy to influence learning investment. Providing the team with learning designed to facilitate a specific, profitable or behavioural outcome is common sense. It validates both the time and financial investment the learning program necessitates, gives employees a sense of ownership, and shines a spotlight on your people’s importance to organisational success.

If you read my last post you will know how I feel about promoting brilliance in individuals. People drive organisational growth – providing they have the right set of skills. Aligning learning with strategy ensures that you can target learning outcomes with the potential to facilitate meaningful outcomes.

Integrate L&D KPIs

The benefits of alignment

1. Highlighting corporate strategy

‘Corporate strategy’ is far from an exact term. It can refer to long-term goals, short-term objectives, considered milestones or vague plans.

Aligning strategy with learning brings it into sharp focus. If you are going to invest time developing skills that promote one goal, that goal must be immovable. It has to offer quantifiable benefits in some form or another. And it must be identified and locked-in far enough in advance to implement learning strategies that support it.

When learning outcomes become integrated into corporate strategy, it makes it difficult to avoid scrutinising that strategy. It brings each goal to the attention of numerous individuals, requires objectives to be thoroughly researched and justified before their implementation, and commits multiple resources to achieving one clearly defined outcome.

2. Finding more useful ways to measure L&D

The ‘method versus content’ argument doesn’t mean we should lose sight of the importance of delivery. If learning forms an integral part of your corporate strategy, any weaknesses will have a negative impact on growth and profitability.

A 2014 report by Deloitte found that, when assessing learning through online courses, social, mobile or advanced media, at least 60% of executives considered their organisation’s efforts ‘weak’.

New technologies, online assessments and a move towards gamification and ranking provide metrics on individual performance, but they give us little feedback on its value to the wider organisation.

The good news is that, by aligning learning with corporate strategy, you can effectively measure the learning function. If people can contribute to strategic goals, the connection between learning and application of that learning in the workplace stands a much stronger chance of becoming clear to everyone. That’s the time to review and strengthen strategy.

3. Identify current and future challenges

Thanks to alignment, anticipating challenges and assessing current weaknesses is no longer the sole province of corporate strategy. A good learning program takes into account the capability analysis of the organisation (based on current capability and delivery) and where that capability needs to progress to, based on the needs of the corporate strategy. Knowing where you stand today and how you’re tackling current challenges is one thing, but you also need a plan for anticipating future challenges. A close look at corporate strategy and regular scanning of the wider commercial environment will give great insights into what skills and capabilities your business will need in the future.

If businesses are going to achieve their strategic targets, L&D programs need to anticipate and identify future challenges associated with hitting those targets, and to make sure staff have the resources and training to overcome them.

4. Improve ROI 

Learning represents a significant financial investment for plenty of businesses. There’s always been pressure to qualify the ROI for L&D spend but, without benchmarks, it’s difficult to calculate.

When it comes to increasing ROI, alignment is an approach that the multinational reinsurer Swiss Re has proved works. The organisation’s key talent development plan, overhauled in 2011, operates across all management levels. Participants submit a range of learning initiatives to the CEO, who chooses those with greatest strategic value for implementation. Focusing on areas of strategic importance streamlines the entire learning process. Since the implementation of this new approach, nearly three-quarters of staff make use of new skills within a week of training, and 94% cite training as a worthwhile investment for their employer.

5. Increase employee engagement

Organisations that treat learning as a box-ticking exercise rarely get any real value from it. The skills imparted are either too broad to offer a strategic benefit, or have such little relevance to individuals that they view it as a waste of time.

On the other hand, when organisations encourage employees to take on skills essential to business growth, they’ll often notice a sense of ownership over the outcome. A recent article suggested that retention and engagement is now the second biggest concern for business leaders, and I’ve blogged about this recently too. Targeted learning that’s of real use to both the business and the individual increases their engagement, and encourages long-term commitment.

To sum up…

Corporate strategy sets a vision or direction for an organisation. When learning is aligned with corporate goals, L&D programs support the organisation to deliver capabilities and skills needed for current challenges and the hurdles of the future.

When looking at L&D in the context of business strategy, you automatically target learning budgets at areas of strategic importance. As managers and leaders in business today, we’ve really got to ask ourselves “If our L&D program isn’t aligned with strategy, why not, and at what cost?”

Reference:

Organisations that integrate L&D KPIs with senior management are 13x more likely to report profit increases. HR Review

3 Key Trends in Learning & Development

Discover the emerging technologies influencing L&D, the brands already utilising them and the how these key trends can work to your benefits.

3 Key Trends In Learning & Development

The business environment is developing almost as rapidly as the technological landscape, and I’m sure you’re feeling the pace as keenly as anyone. In the L&D context, learning practitioners are working twice as hard to develop and deliver relevant content to provide tangible, bottom-line benefits.

I’m interested in exploring three trends in L&D that have been creating quite a bit of buzz lately: gamification, social learning, and how measuring the impact of workplace learning is changing.

L&D technology response

1. Gamification 

With Forbes citing 2015 as the year gamification goes mainstream, it’s little wonder that this under-utilised element in instructional design is gaining momentum. Brands such as Nike, Nissan, Coca-Cola and Walmart have all turned to gamification as a means of increasing employee engagement, productivity and development.

Advantages 

Speeds up development

In 2011, a crowd-sourcing game called Foldit allowed 40,000 HIV researchers to work together to complete a project that had been ongoing for the last 15 years. Foldit is an extreme example of how effective a collaborative environment can be at encouraging innovation. By focusing on learning and continued improvement within a team, gamification facilitates faster individual development and encourages a productive working environment.

Provides real-time feedback

Regular readers of this blog will know that I’m a big advocate of real-time feedback mechanisms. These strategies are effective in changing behaviour and have grown in popularity recently. With scoring systems, ranking boards and peer reviews, gamification utilises all of these benefits and more, giving HR managers an efficient measure to evaluate employee progress and productivity.

Increases engagement

Difficult to measure, with the potential to negatively impact your bottom line, employee engagement is a thorny subject (and one I’ve previously covered in detail). Allowing you the flexibility to integrate engagement strategies into workflow, gamification encourages an open and collaborative exchange between colleagues. Adding a competitive edge and providing an easy talking point, it can impact positively on engagement, providing a social environment that encourages productivity.

Gamification and Walmart

A widely dispersed workforce can be difficult to train and monitor, so Walmart turned to gamification for the solution. By gamifying its safety training, the company ensured that 5000 employees split across eight distribution centres adhered to safety protocols on the job.

The game was embedded into workflow (it’s delivered periodically and lasts just three minutes), enabling Walmart to use the scheme to reinforce the importance of safety protocols. The emotional connection the team developed for the game (i.e. the competitive element of who’s ranking where) helped to sustain long-term behavioural changes in employees, and is credited for a reported 54% decrease in incidents in the eight centres piloting the scheme.

Take home message Gamification is widely considered essential for engaging a new generation of learners. It provides benefits for large and small teams across multiple sectors and effectively promotes behavioural changes. By turning the learning experience into a game, you can increase collaboration, motivation and productivity.

2. Social Learning

With 1.5 billion of us tuning into social media daily, it’s hardly surprising that social media is beginning to feature in a number of corporate L&D strategies (ours included). In a 2014 article in HR Review, Al Bird said that while employees welcomed this approach with open arms, employers were more reserved about officially including social learning in their development programs.

For many, using social media tools in a corporate environment requires a shift in the way businesses think about learning. While e-learning techniques dominated the ‘90s, employees now want microlearning experiences; smaller insights delivered just in time.

L&D Importance

Advantages 

Increases learning speed

L&D must keep pace with technology and business strategy to remain effective, both of which are evolving at an incredible rate. By providing instant access to necessary information and encouraging a collaborative, open working environment, social learning makes it much easier to communicate changes in real-time.

Provides information on-demand

Social learning strategies recognise that knowing the right people, and being able to approach them with queries, is essential to an individual’s development. Employees are more likely to succeed if they can seek knowledge as they need it (instead of being granted sporadic access to closely held information).

Increases organisational performance

By its very definition, social learning requires a network, an essential component of organisational performance. It promotes improvement at both a team and individual level, without limiting the context in which information can be relayed, and promotes organisational performance by increasing team cohesion and the availability of information.

Social Learning and Virgin Media

It won’t surprise you to find that Virgin Media has relied on social learning for a few years now. Designed to do away with email overload, and duplicated and irrelevant learning materials, Virgin introduced its workforce to a suite of social and remote business tools.

The pilot scheme, preceding the full strategy roll-out in 2012, produced some impressive results. Virgin Media reported a 6% increase in its annually measured engagement-index (interesting if pulse surveys excite you), and increases in productivity and flexibility. But the biggest impact was from the creation of one communal space where information could be shared across departments: the strategy led to clearer communication and reduced misunderstandings.

Take home message Encouraging the open exchange of information, social learning allows individuals to connect and collaborate. It provides training and development in real-time, increasing productivity and performance at individual, team and organisational levels.

3. Measuring the Learning Impact

As with any activity that requires investments of time and money, there will always be a huge pressure on L&D to demonstrate an acceptable return. You need to be able to quantify ROI to establish realistic budgets for, and justify the expense of, these strategies.

Learning practitioners must design, develop and deploy solutions that align with organisational outcomes, and provide a noticeable contribution to profitability, to remain relevant. Thankfully, the new trends and technologies revolutionising L&D provide a wealth of data to help support these learning strategies.

Organisations ready for L&D

Emerging Learning Impact Metrics

Social ownership

Going hand-in-hand with social learning, social ownership is about identifying the learners who can articulate their knowledge and share it with colleagues. It demonstrates an ability to apply learning to real-world concepts and provides potential benefits that include ad hoc learning experiences and reduced learning expenses (since employees educate each other). Social learning platforms make tracking and quantifying this sharing of information possible, supplying metrics on the most competent learners and educators.

Skill assessment

Gamification provides a wealth of information that can be used for skill assessment. From current ranking boards to past performance metrics, both managers and employees can access real-time assessments of an individual’s skill set, making the assessment process open and easy to assess.

Take home message From an organisational perspective, measuring the impact of L&D strategies is the biggest challenge facing learning practitioners today. Without the ability to quantify success, you will, unfortunately, face an uphill struggle persuading your business to invest in emerging development trends.

Are you noticing the impact of these trends in your business? How are you driving change around L&D effectiveness? Let me know how you’re doing things differently in your business.

Why new managers should always start by managing freelancers

Learning how to manage is difficult. Overnight, you’re given responsibility for a bunch of people and somehow you need to deliver a result. It’s stressful, scary and can end in failure – for the manager, the project or both.

I don’t think the process needs to be this difficult. There’s only a few skills – though I admit some will want to differ – that you need to be an effective manager of people. And all of these skills can be learnt and honed very effectively through managing small-scale projects with freelancers. With more freelancers in the economy than ever before, there’s plenty of opportunity.

What is the role of a manager?

At the core of a manager’s responsibilities is helping their employees to learn.

Employee learning is critical, because fundamentally every business result happens as a consequence of employees learning and refining their behaviour over time. Happy customers, financial results and high performance are all consequences of successful managers facilitating employee learning.

Put simply, you cannot be an effective manager if you can’t help your employees learn. (Or, if you can’t facilitate learning, you will be an ineffective manager).

As a result, the critical success factor for a new manager is how quickly they can build the skills to help their team learn effectively.

How do you help others learn?

Facilitating learning doesn’t necessarily mean that you have to ‘teach’. But it does mean that you must partner with employees to foster, and even drive their learning. Doing this requires two things:

  1. Setting expectations, and
  2. Giving feedback

When you break it down, this two-part ‘expectations / feedback’ process (repeated frequently over time) sits at the heart of all employee learning.

The learning loop and process

So in terms of skills, the first two things that a new manager needs to learn are:

  1. How to set good expectations, that are easily understood and actioned; and
  2. How to give good feedback, to make sure that expectations (and relative performance) are understood

In my view, an A1, gold-medal way to learn these two skills is through managing freelancers on small projects.

Why freelancing is such an effective tool for teaching managers how to drive learning

In order to deliver a successful outcome with a freelancer, you must set clear expectations and provide frequent feedback. Because there’s no broader context, the success of the entire project is contingent on the manager’s ability to communicate expectations that can be well-understood, and feedback on the project deliverables. Put another way:

If the project manager fails to set good expectations (that are easily understood and actioned) – then the project will fail.

If the project manager fails to provides good feedback (that make clear actual performance versus set expectations) – then the project will fail.

The success or failure of the freelance project provides an immediate feedback mechanism for the new manager. In a relatively safe and quarantined learning environment, the new manager can see the consequences of feedback and expectation setting for learning and project delivery.

In conclusion

At the simplest level, to manage means you must be able to bring out the best performance in others, and drive learning in those around you to do so. In teaching someone how to manage, you must first teach them how to facilitate learning.

As I’ve mentioned in this article, teaching emerging managers how to drive learning is extremely effective when they are managing freelancers on small projects. To deliver the project, new managers must learn how to drive learning through the expectations / feedback loop. It’s an investment that you’ll see pay off for the rest of their management career.

Have you used freelance projects to teach new managers how to drive learning? I’d love to hear about your experiences. Jump into the comments below or join the conversation on Twitter (@cognology).

Jon Windust

Jon Windust is the CEO at Cognology – Talent management software for the future of work. Over 250 Australian businesses use Cognology to power cutting-edge talent strategy. You can follow Jon on Twitter or LinkedIn.