Measuring your learning culture

Image courtesy of Pixabay

L&D colleagues, we’ve all heard the drumbeat that we have to drive a learning culture in the organisation. This sounds amazing and is what anyone passionate about learning and development would aspire to. When I try to deeper into what this means with clients, it can feel frustrating. Even the most experienced practitioners are tempted to fall back on the classic measurements L&D has been trying to use for ages, because that’s all they had: happy sheets, content completions, system adoption metrics. If I ask, “what does a learning organisation mean and how do you know whether you have one,” the conversation can become rather fluffy. If we have met, you know I’m not comfortable with fluffy…

I encourage clients to define their Success Measurement strategy for this objective in stages, using a sort of classic “maturity model” in the flavour of Bersin. You shouldn’t try to do all of these at once, building a learning culture is clearly a journey. Here are some indicators you can use to express more concretely what a learning culture means in your organisation. Type in “learning organisation image” into Google and you’ll get dozens of fancy frameworks. Meh, I’m not interested. For now, this is a list, easy first, challenging last. 🙂

Some of the metrics are yes/no, some you can run reports on in an LXP or other system.

Learners engage with your systems and learning content voluntarily

This is the bare minimum and easy to measure: do users log into your systems? How often, and what are they consuming in there? Do they enjoy the experience, according to a survey or NPS available in your systems?

What is the proportion of mandatory, assigned content the learners engage with, versus content they discover and complete on their own?

Learners know where they can find resources to learn, ideally “in the flow of work”

Clients often have a question in their employee engagement survey to measure this. In Degreed, you can also look at the types of content learners are adding to their profiles and uncover whether there are preferences for certain types of bit-sized learning items. You can add these to your catalogue and curate around them.

Learners talk about what they are learning and share with each other

One of my clients said, “we don’t even talk enough with each other about what we are learning!” This doesn’t have to happen in the context of your LXP but it certainly could. Are there opportunities for people to share what they have learned lately? Is this something you could drive with contests, awareness campaigns or other programmes?

Managers model learning behaviours

The top objection our clients hear to engaging with learning platforms is, “I don’t have the time.” Yet data showed during the pandemic that online learning initiated by the learners themselves exploded! So people were doing learning somewhere… is it right that they should be expected to do this on the weekends at their own expense?

Managers are often fearful that if their teams see them learning something, their teams will think they have too much time on their hands. This means learners are reluctant to be seen “not working” by contributing to their own professional development. Are executives sharing what they have learned recently? Is there time ring-fenced throughout the organisation for learning? Do teams set mutual learning objectives or commit to focusing on a set of skills together?

You have vibrant Communities of Practice

Even 20 years ago I listened to to a global engineering organisation describing how they calculated the cost savings attributed to knowledge sharing through COPs. Your organisation likely has them living in Slack, Yammer, SharePoint, somewhere. If they exist, how can you engage with these groups of people and bring them over to the Learning Side?

You have a Learning Champions Programme

There are many flavours to how to approach this so it’s sort of a yes/no question. It’s critical that your learning champions programme has representatives from outside L&D.

Every organisation has subject matter experts who are passionate about sharing what they know and developing others Are these jewels driving discussion in your Communities of Practice? (I find the IT team is often an early adopter in many clients). In Degreed you can uncover “influencers,” people around the business who have many followers and share content frequently.

Find them and get them involved!

The business drives learning, L&D are the enablers

This is actually easy to measure if you have an LXP or LMS. You can look at the proportions of content curated or created by those OUTSIDE of L&D. If you have provided the tools, templates and governance, you can let your champions shine. Compare SME-curated materials vs. L&D and measure this ratio over time.

I recommend our clients to formally “certify” curators to train them on standards for quality, consistency and good learning design. You can track how many of these certified curators you have; perhaps this is closely related to your Champions Programme.

User data drives learning programmes

Sorry to say my dearests, but learners know better than the L&D department what they want and need to learn. If you can get your hands on what learners are doing in your platforms, you can curate learning campaigns around their interests. You can look at search, view, share, completion data to uncover that learning hunger around the business. Then curate, market your offerings and be sure to measure the results.

You offer experiential learning and mentoring

There are plenty of tools out there for incorporating gigs and mentorships into your learning platforms. Where many clients seem to struggle is to keep these programmes alive with a good pipeline of opportunities after a splashy launch. Track your opportunities engagement data, which skills are the most popular, and where interested candidates are coming from. It’s really cool to see cross-functional interest in stretch assignments, for example.

Data demonstrates engagement with the key skills strategic to your organisation

I considered whether to put this further up on the list because this is a quick win for many of our clients. If you can define the skills critical to achieving your organisation’s strategy, you can drive engagement, awareness and learning toward them. However, this is just an indicator of activity, it’s not yet a business result. However, simply having this data is a HUGE step forward for most organisations. You then can understand your supply of those skills, the depth of expertise, and how those two factors are distributed around your business.

Learning is embedded in your daily ways of working

Is it a regular part of your process to run a lessons learned after a project? We did this after every exercise when I was in the U.S. Army. I notice in the corporate life these are cathartic and encouraging, as long as everyone can see the learnings applied in the next project. I worked with one client who even ran a critique of each MEETING they had: what went well, what didn’t go well, what can we do better next time!

Data demonstrates learning has an impact on strategic and operational objectives

The “holy grail” of measuring learning transfer can require a bit of creativity and the data will be in other systems besides your learning systems. Maybe the impact will be a correlation but impossible to prove causation. It’s OK, just try to talk to your business in ways they consider important.

For example, one of my quickly-growing clients recently was able to automate their Onboarding programme and remove the manual work for trainers to run this routine work each week. The trainers were then free to work on more value-added projects. They were also able to eliminate outsourced compliance training programmes by asking their legal department to curate resources instead. There are real cost savings there that make a difference to the bottom line.

How about the learning programmes offered to your customer service representatives, project managers, software developers, engineers or sales? These folks manage discrete, measurable packages of work. Can you define the desirable business metrics when you design the learning experience?

I hope you can find something on this sliding scale of excellence to tempt your imagination into communicating and measuring what good looks like in your future Learning Organisation. Let me know if you want help defining your learning strategy and rollout plan!

Building a Learning Culture: it doesn’t have to be scary!

Here’s a little something I wrote to share my experiences with new LXP clients at Degreed.

It’s fashionable to talk about a “learning ecosystem” and “learning culture” at a high level but quite natural to wonder where to begin. (HINT: it’s not purchasing an expensive bit of technology and hoping this will do it for you… just in case you were hoping haha. I’m writing haha but I do encounter new clients who haven’t fully thought through what they want to achieve and how it will help their business.) It’s a journey, which like many starts with taking a few steps, being prepared for some wrong turns and understanding it can take some time.

Learning Strategy on One Page

Image courtesy of Harvard Business Publishing

Could you clearly and concisely explain your organisation’s learning strategy on one page? How about 5 pages? Do you have one and it’s 20 pages but no one really understands it? Here is a challenge for you: get started with the goal of framing the beginning of your strategy on one page. Later you can build this out to five (maybe six) pages that are easy to explain: WHY, WHAT, WHO, WHEN, HOW.

My experience with “learning people” (using that term in the nicest possible way because you’re my people..) is that strategy is not in their everyday wheelhouse. It seems too big and they don’t know where to start. If questioned the reactions may range from evasion, hostility, or denial that they are in the “right place” to need one yet. I politely disagree. I particularly appreciate this aphorism: “the best time to do something you’re putting off is… right now.” Forgive me if this post is overly-worded in the imperative and just roll with it 😉

Have a look here at this little nugget from HBR, for a very simple way to get started with some questions. I recommend you get a few of your most switched-on colleagues together for a few hours of honest discussion to shape some answers to these. Ideally you can work off-site somewhere and really focus. If not for this, then when? You may come up with more questions, disagree, but that’s healthy. Just start!

  1. Why do you exist? What is your root purpose? I suggest each person in the group taking a few quiet moments to think for themselves, then share the answers. The differences in answers may be really amusing and fun to reflect on. When you feel comfortable, compare all of the answers against Exhibit 1 in this article, “The 5 key areas of talent development.” Are any of these areas currently emphasised more or less than you believe they “should” be in your organisation today? Think about how you would prefer to be working. You don’t have to put any timeline around that, just what would it look like if you had a sensible, easy-to-communicate mission?
  2. What is your value proposition? I remember a senior leader at a client’s corporate university introducing himself and proudly declaring how many employees had completed certification in Project Management. My (unvoiced) reaction was, “so what?” Do business leaders actually care about learning certificates or completions? How does that knowledge transfer to business objectives? I find this to be the conversation L&D professionals struggle the most with. After you quietly brainstorm your answers, challenge each others’ answers with a requirement to complete this phrase, “Why? So that…” Try doing this up to five times for each idea and see if you can help each other get closer to business value not learning metrics. This is the story you want to be able to share with your business leadership.
  3. Who are you trying to serve/target? Your stakeholders are all over the place on this one. Talk about it. Of course we want the learners to enjoy and be engaged in our offerings. However, is that really who you are serving? Just saying…
  4. How will you know you are winning? Similar to Question 2, I hear L&D professionals get caught up in the Kirkpatrick Model but they never get past stage 2. This may be because it’s easy to measure and is under L&D’s control, or even insecurity about what appropriate success measures are from a business perspective. When you know why you exist, what is unique about your team, and who you service, true measures of success become more apparent.

I would submit that a few hours centred on discussing these four questions will not only clear a lot of cobwebs, it can be communicated on one page and is a solid foundation for a learning strategy. More on that in my next post!

Musings on “Growth Mindset”

Image courtesy of The Economist

Cross-post with my LinkedIn feed

My husband and I were recently discussing how some people just seem to have “grit” (he’s a big fan of Dave Goggins and his transformation from obese self-proclaimed “loser” to Navy Seal) and some don’t. I told him about Carol Dweck’s research into growth mindset and her assertion that some people are just born with it (about 40% as mentioned in her book Mindset) Our clients often talk about encouraging a growth mindset in the organisation and how they can use Degreed to foster it.

As part of my professional development plan I’ve set for myself (in Degreed of course!), I set aside some time for myself today to reflect on this topic and refresh my understanding. I found this short 3.5 page article worth the time. Dweck summarises her team’s and Rheinbeck’s research and I can personally relate to all of their research subject types:
Individual students: receiving coaching on growth mindset and visualising how stretching yourself creates new neuron connections in the brain can make you enhance achievement.

Typically marginalised or stereotyped students: receiving coaching on growth mindset can enhance gaps for e.g. female or minority students in mathematics. I was not naturally gifted at mathematics but I’m lucky to naturally have a growth mindset. Our high-school calculus teacher was famous for being unfriendly to females and indeed he wasn’t very helpful. This just pissed me off and through hard work I forced him to give me an A.

Students of teachers with fixed mindset: low achievers who started in these teachers’ classes left the same at the end of the term. How can we translate this to our roles as adults today, as leaders, coaches or peer colleagues?

Athletes with coaches possessing growth mindset: athletes who believe their coach values practice and hard work over pure talent will perform better. Honestly, Serena Williams, Michael Jordan or Zlatan Ibrahimovic may have been uniquely gifted in their sport but they had thousands of hours of grind behind them.

After reviewing the research on growth mindset my reflections naturally turn to how can I apply this to my roles in life. At work for the moment, I’m an individual contributor, but that doesn’t mean I can’t demonstrate leadership. I can encourage colleagues, provide resources, help and ideas and critically, embrace the opportunity for a tough conversation. Fear of having a tough conversation seems to stem from two things: dread of confrontation and/or a belief that the person is incapable of seeing what is obviously an issue and will never change. Being a good colleague in this type of situation means swallowing any dread, approaching such a conversation with compassion, and of course a growth mindset that the person can change!

When I am a leader again, I’ll dust off my old “servant-leadership” hat. When I was in the Army I always had the attitude that I was there to get my soldiers the resources they needed to accomplish the mission. It’s not too different in the civilian world, really, we just don’t walk around with our rank and medals on display all the time. In a flatter organisation, sometimes the challenge can be helping talented, experienced people discover how they can “grow” but not necessarily by being promoted.

As a parent: Dweck’s research mentions it’s really important to praise children for the effort they put into something, not just praise the result no matter the outcome. I have been doing this as a parent but am reminded to redouble my effort. My son recently studied really hard for a science test and got a great result. I said, “congratulations! I know you worked really hard on that!” I can do the same with his sports and other activities.

At Degreed in keeping with our values, we all receive an educational stipend of USD 100 a month called FlexEd. Serendipitously, my indirect manager challenged us all on Friday to share what we have been using it for. Some amazing ideas: TED Women, Masterclass, MindValley, a course in compassionate inquiry, books. I’ve used mine for courses in mushroom foraging, German, Farsi, Agile Project Management to name a few things. Today I began a journey to re-awakening my love of music and I had my first piano lesson, funded by #flexed. Playing an instrument is linked to enhanced cognition, at least for developing brains so I shall choose to believe my brain is “still developing” LOL.

I will never be the equivalent of Serena Williams, the president of a country (maybe I could be president of the local gardening club but…) or head of the IMF. I’m not thinking of immortality or much impact after I’m gone. It’s OK, I can make a small contribution while I’m here… to beauty in the world by living growth mindset in my professional and personal interactions, and in honouring the joy of learning for myself.