Learning vs Performance – The Dichotomy



The shift has happened. The focus has moved from “learning” to “performance”. “Training” as a panacea for all ills – from lack of productivity to lack of motivation, attrition, and lost profits – is losing its power. Our education system had inculcated the belief that “learning” is all about gaining information and knowledge and being able to remember that long enough to answer exam questions. The standardized tests verified everyone’s capabilities against the same parameters. The lucky few whose capabilities matched the parameters came out with flying colors. The rest of us went on to believe we were stupid or incapable. The report card with the grades in bold attested the belief. Today, Google and the Internet has eliminated the need to remember information. The basic premise of standardized schooling is (hopefully) vanishing.

This mode of rote learning carried over into the workplace along with the prerequisite for conformity. The industrial era required the completion of standardized work and obedient workers who would follow pre-defined processes. So, a loop of training followed by application of the knowledge and processes learnt became the norm. It was “learn, then work.” Through repeated application, employees gained expertise and efficiency was a direct outcome. Supervision and appraisals were centered on safeguarding conformance. Those deviating from set processes wasted valuable time – their own and others – and were speedily brought to book. Managers devised process improvement; the workers were re-trained on the new and improved processes, where applicable. There was no need for a holistic understanding since everyone had to focus on their part of the process. Everything worked beautifully like the veritable machine it was.

With the passing of the industrial era, the ground began shifting under everyone’s feet. One world was dead and the other still powerless to be born…Process optimization and re-optimization, process engineering and re-engineering – nothing seemed to be working. The premise that one could be trained first and then put on-the-job was based on the ability to transfer explicit knowledge and tried and tested processes. Training looked backward on what had worked in the past. Training didn’t teach the meta-skills of learning nor did it foster the abilities for creative thinking, innovation and pattern sensing – all necessary 21C skills. Most importantly, training couldn’t capture tacit knowledge and nor could it prepare the employees for a rapidly changing landscape. Training wasn’t necessarily leading to the desired performance outcome anymore. It’s rapidly becoming evident that training will increasingly have a tiny role to play in workplace learning and performance. Frameworks like the 70:20:10 has espoused this for many years now. So I won’t repeat any of those points. I will instead focus on few other aspects that we (L&D) miss out or don’t focus on enough when thinking of workplace performance in the Knowledge Era.

In this context, a discussion with a friend led me to the video on Knowing-Doing Gap by Bob Proctor. He brings up some interesting aspects of the conscious and the unconscious mind. What I found particularly interesting as a learning designer is his description of the conscious mind as an information gathering tool. I urge you to see the video. While he brings a coaching angle to it, the mention of paradigm shifts and the need to tap into the unconscious mind is important – more so in today’s context – where information gathering no longer yields the results it earlier did. To be successful at acquiring new skills at the speed of need, we need to be able to tap into our unconscious mind which is the seat of our paradigms. The question is, “How does this information impact us, the L&D folks”. I think this could have a huge impact. Some further research into the Knowing-Doing Gap led me to his website:http://www.coedu.usf.edu/zalaquett/kdg.html#terminology. This summarizes the various reasons behind the existence of such gaps, including explicit and tacit knowledge, subconscious paradigms, limiting beliefs, fixed vs. growth mindset, fear of failure, and so on.

We know that effective learning leads to visible behavior change. That is, it has a direct impact on performance. People should start to do things differently. However, we also know that a training program – even a well-designed one – doesn’t guarantee any behavior change. Training is an event. The effect of the Forgetting Curve sets in soon after the event is over. For visible performance outcome, we need to enable paradigm shifts. This goes beyond the realm of training or even informal and social learning. IMHO, individuals participate in social learning only when they believe that this will lead to performance improvement and professional growth. This in turn requires the fostering of agrowth mindset and a letting go of limiting beliefs – both critical paradigm shifts. One of the reasons why enterprise collaboration platforms aren’t always used effectively could be that employees don’t believe it will help them. Add to this a fear of failure and unwillingness to expose one’s ignorance, and sharing and collaboration – the pillars of social learning – fall apart. Without a shift in these important paradigms, it could be difficult to see a change in performance in spite of putting in place every possible support.

A quick summary of each of the paradigms mentioned above shows how these could probably have an impact on the overall performance of each individual, and on the organization as a whole:

  • Growth mindset – Carol Dweck, in her research, differentiated between Fixed Mindset and Growth Mindset. For someone harboring a fixed mindset, it could be difficult to see how engaging in social learning and collaborating could make them perform better. Since they believe that intelligence is static, this can become an obstacle to change in behavior. On the other hand, people with growth mindset are likely to take every opportunity to pull the resources they need to perform better. They are usually the ones to volunteer information, ask questions and try out new ways of doing things. Recognizing those with a fixed mindset and providing them with the necessary support and coaching could lead to better performance.
  • Limiting beliefs – Related to fixed mindset, limiting beliefs constrain us in many ways. While as learning designers we may well think that someone’s personal limiting beliefs are not within our purview of work, it’s a reality that limiting beliefs can often adversely impact the outcome we expect. Hence, as L&D, we need to dig deeper and check for this, and if necessary, enable employees to overcome these through coaching, mentoring, job rotation, and so on. Even a well-designed programs will fail to achieve the desired performance outcome if not supported through other means. An interesting post on limiting beliefs here. People with growth mindset typically have enabling beliefs that take them forward. Thus, the same program and similar support can elicit different performance outcomes depending on whether the employee has a fixed mindset and limiting beliefs or the other binary – growth mindset with enabling beliefs.
  • Fear of failures – This could directly stem from the organizational culture and environment. An organisation that’s intolerant of mistakes, reprimands failures and discourages risk-taking isn’t likely to see a whole lot of change. Employees will find it safer to stick to the old ways than experiment with new ones. An enterprise collaboration platform might lie unused because employees don’t wish to display their ignorance.

It is important for L&D to recognize and take into consideration some of these so that when facilitating the learning-performance loop in organizations, they can focus on enabling the required changes. By facilitating an ecosystem that goes beyond training, L&D can enable performance change. The training represents one component – the formal one – of such an ecosystem. The knowledge and skills acquired via training could be supported through other means – informal and social – which is illustrated below:

These are just some of the associated factors that can have an impact on the overall performance of an organization. While orgs strive to design effective programs, create performance support tools, facilitate enterprise-wide collaboration by putting in place social platforms, and encourage transparency and sharing, they may still encounter less-than optimal performance and resistance. Probing may reveal some of the causes to be related to what is discussed here.     


Use Technology to Learn About Technology

I read an article (online, of course) that reflected on how cumbersome it was to do research on any topic.  What library?  Inter-campus sharing of textbooks?  Snail mail?  How 2005.  Now there might be too many ways to find the information you are looking for so, essentially, you have to select your technology in a way that makes you not only efficient and effective but, also, comfortable.  Reduce the anxiety of technology overload.

For me, the answer is two-fold.  Evernote is my overall storage locker, so to speak.  Every time i find something of interest, I send it to my Evernote account.  To date, I have almost 800 “articles” from which I can sort, slice, and dice my way through to get what I need.  How long does it take to do that?  About as long as it takes to type in a Google search.

The other option is Flipboard.  This is a curation of content that I have selected (similar to my Evernote activity) but it is presented is such a more user-friendly way.  I can’t sort like Evernote but what I can do is share it with you.  Why?  Selfishly, it helps build my brand but it also gives me easy access to content.  Here is the link to my magazine “Learning 4 Tomorrow.”

So, both technologies work for me.  Both have similar yet different purposes.  What technologies are you using to integrate your learning?

Balancing between keeping up and checking out

imagesI’ve been at this blog for almost two years and looking back, it’s interesting to see the progression I’ve made from “Look at me! I’m on Twitter! I’m hip!” to “ohmygoodness what am I doing with all these apps?” to finally trying to find a balance that works between my personal life and the life that as become so interdependent (or tied to) technology.

  1. I’ve learned that I can’t do it all, and there is no app that can do it all either.
  2. I try to find what works and stick with it, while staying engaged with the evolution of your interests.
  3. There is always someone who knows more than I do or can do it better than I can.

Technology will continue to evolve, and we will always find ourselves trying to keep up, while still asking questions about what’s ahead:

What’s the newest network to belong to? How are we communicating today? Or tomorrow? How will our job descriptions change (or will they) to meet/keep up with technology? What will be the expectations the next generation of workers will have or us and what will be our expectations of them? How will technology affect learning more so than it has already?

And that’s change, along with the excitement of what lies ahead, is what keeps me going.

Risks Worth Taking

I’ve been at this social thing for about two years and, during that time, I’ve picked up on a few things.  One of them is to take some risks.  Here are a few of them:

  1. I put myself out there.  Personally on Facebook, professionally on Twitter.  LinkedIn, well, not so much but it just follows Twitter.  So far, I haven’t been sued, slandered upon, or embarrassed.  Still, I’ve only been at this for two years.
  2. I’ve found some real interesting people who know what they’re talking about.  And, even if I don’t agree with them, it opens up a discourse in the name of a shared interest.  No back and forth emails between just the two of us but, rather, a global conversation.  I like it.
  3. There are some odd folks out there.  Those with tens of thousands of tweets, following lots of people but zero followers.  You’ve got to keep your guard up.
  4. I would classify myself as an “early adopter” but, with respect to social networking, I’ve got some catching up to do.  Technology is not the issue but, rather, consistently challenging the creative person within.
  5. Finally, I am pushing the envelope with those with whom I work.  Yeah, there are risks but failure to at least try would be disadvantageous to all.

What social networking risks have you taken? Respond in the comments section!

Internet Time Alliance: Working Smarter (March 2012)

Thanks to the Internet Time Alliance for this content.

The Internet Time Alliance helps its clients understand and embrace complexity and adopt new ways of working and learning.

“When I Grow Up — Work Version”

From the Kevin Jones series of videos — which does videos to explain complex ideas more simply.  This one, however, seems pretty straightforward.

When we were young we would never have thought these things. Now, too many of us live it. When we take a step back and do a sanity check, we realize that there has to be a better way. And, of course, there is — but too often we don’t feel there is a way to make improvements. But I believe we can.

This was inspired by the Monster.com ad of 1999.

Here’s the original: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rJB0CzlzSwY

Training, social media books worth a read

Here are some good, industry-related books that have recently been published that I thought I would share.


  1. Informal Learning: Rediscovering the Natural Pathways That Inspire Innovation and Performance by Jay Cross
  2. A New Culture of Learning: Cultivating the Imagination for a World of Constant Change by John Seely Brown and Douglas Thomas
  3. The New Learning Architect by Clive Shepherd
  4. The 2020 Workplace: How Innovative Companies Attract, Develop, and Keep Tomorrow’s Employees Today by Karie Wilyard and Jeanne Meister
  5. Waiting for “Superman”: How We Can Save America’s Failing Public Schools by Carl Weber
  6. Working Smarter Fieldbook, September 2010 edition by Jay Cross

Social Media

  1. The New Social Learning: A Guide to Transforming Organizations Through Social Media by Marcia Conner and Tony Bingham
  2. Social Media for Trainers: Techniques for Enhancing and Extending Learning by Jane Bozarth
  3. Socialnomics: How Social Media Transforms the Way We Live and Do Business by Erik Qualman
  4. The Facebook Effect: The Inside Story of the Company That Is Connecting the World by David Kirkpatrick
  5. Social Learning Handbook by Jane Hart

Some thoughts on my turning 55

I need to keep it simple for 2012 and, for those within a generation of my age, some thoughts:

  1. Let technology enable you, not disable you.  However, technology cannot (and should not) do it all.
  2. Dogs get trained, people learn.  But, you can’t learn without others so collaboration is critical.  Remember the 70/20/10 balance.
  3. Read the Steve Jobs book (I did).  You’ll gain some perspective (I did).  Work on your legacy.

So, let’s meet at the crossroads of technology and learning and continue the journey.

“That’s been one of my mantras – focus and simplicity. Simple can be harder than complex: You have to work hard to get your thinking clean to make it simple. But it’s worth it in the end, because once you get there, you can move mountains.” — Steve Jobs, in an interview to BusinesWeek in 1998

Is it progress or just a process?

I’ve been blogging for a while and have accumulated several followers and follow even more.  What have I gained?  I’ve made inroads on learning who knows stuff and who doesn’t.  Most of the time, those that know stuff know more than me and, in that regard, that is progress. It’s helped me and, hopefully, those who follow me.

It would be more of a process if I simply relied on others to provide content.  In that respect, I need to do more.  Contribute, collaborate, and enter into the discourse.  That is the hill before me in 2012.

Happy holidays, everyone!

Who Should Lead a Learning Organization?

Why are organizational leaders so stuck in the notion that leading a learning organization requires no knowledge of learning?  Either the individual can’t lead and can’t be terminated (“those who can, do…those who can’t, teach” mentality) or they believe that the individual is so good that a short stint in the training department will propel them to greatness.  Then someone else comes in, then someone else…each time starting from scratch because, of course, the new guy knows better.  Look, there goes the competition passing us by as we re-do stuff.

Or, is the right strategy to place a leader in the organization who knows the business AND knows learning.  What an opportunity to separate your business from the competition!!!

So, if it’s so clear, why has this scenario not been made into reality more often?