Learn and Lead

About continual learning and leadership

Academic Results vs. Workplace performance

Is there a correlation between academic results and workplace performance? Any research or pointers to this subject?

I am faced with a situation to try and solve the talent acquisition challenge for large IT organizations in India. One of the challenges is that for hiring fresh graduates, large IT organization work with a certain cut off marks (60%) in graduation. However I believe that this cut off is hampering their ability to tap into a large pool of talent who might do the job equally well. I would interested in hearing views on this subject and get pointers any research that might exist that compares academic results with workplace performance.


Amazing video...

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Working/Learning Blog Carnival – April 2008

Dave Ferguson kicked off the first Working/Learning blog carnival (a collection of posts around one topic) on his blog. Blog carnivals are a kind of anthology-on-the-fly, a collection of posts from several blogs. For each issue of a carnival, participants post on their own blogs, and a host posts links to all the participating posts.The theme of the blog carnival is "Work at Learning/Learning at Work" primarily aimed at people who work in the training/learning area (that is, non-academics) e.g., how training/learning professionals go about their own learning, or how learning happens in the workplace. In the first carnival, there were contributions from Michele Martin, Cathy Moore, Harold Jarche, Janet Clarey, and Dave Ferguson.

The response to the second carnival edition has been, well overwhelming. A special thanks to all the contributors.

Here’s the second edition of the Blog Carnival:

  1. Rupa Rajagoplan in her post talks about how different learners learn and provides her suggestions on what companies can do to encourage learning at work.
  2. Viplav Baxi explores the challenges that we face in moving our organizations to the new 2.0 world.
  3. Dave Ferguson in his post takes one of John Medina's brain rules, "remember to repeat," and talks about how we move information into long-term memory, how we get it out again, and what impact those things can have on how we manage learning at work.
  4. Harold Jarche shares his post on Skills 2.0 for learning professionals who may want to know why it’s important to understand the Web for training and development.
  5. Geetha Krishnan talks about three informal ways in which he learns at the workplace.
  6. How often do you ask yourself the basic question “What Have I Learned at Work?” And if and when you do ask it, how satisfied are you with the answers? In this post, Jeff Cobb considers how we might get more out of workplace learning and issues a simple challenge.
  7. Sonali Malik shares her learning sources in her post on the eCube team blog.
  8. Ken Carroll in his post Constructionism works looks at learning in social networks and online communities and feel Sociology can provide insights in the way the web is creating new social structures that pertain to learning and their dynamics.
  9. Clive Shepherd in his post shares we may learn to do something, whether that's proactively, because we want to develop our knowledge and skills to meet future commitments, or reactively, because we need new knowledge and skills to carry out a current task. But a great deal of learning, probably the majority, is incidental.
  10. Cathy Moore resurrects an old post where she points out that elearning is more efficient and powerful if we focus on what learners need to do, not what they need to know.
  11. Michele Martin provides an interesting primer on Pecha Kucha presentation style for learning.
  12. Dr. Karl Kapp talks in his post about the mistake that most people make in thinking that learning should be easy, simple and straightforward when to the contrary it hard and a continuous process.
  13. Janet Clarey talks about how social learning technologies are changing the way we learn at work.
  14. And my own contribution talks about leadership impact on workplace learning.
  15. A last minute contribution by Cammy Bean just came in. It is something I really can related to and I couldn't resist updating this blog even after it's been published. She talks about how she builds learning into work -- when you just don't feel like you have the time?

The first carnival was organized via email. For the second carnival, in addition to email, I experimented with using Facebook for organizing the event hosted on the eCube Facebook group. The group is open and is my experiment to create a collaborative learning environment, a forum to Engage people by Encouraging them to Explore new Environments and Experiment with the them.

Looking forward to the next edition of the blog carnival and seeking volunteers for the next edition of carnival...

Leadership Impact on Workplace Learning

In my previous post, I wrote about why workplace learning is largely Learning 1.0. I wrote that organizations found it easier to focus on training rather than learning because training is measurable while we still struggle with measuring learning. There are also social pressures of not using Web 2.0 tools for learning in workplace while in educator’s world the social pressures force them to use the Web 2.0 tools. The post received generated an interesting discussion.
  • Michele Martin commented that if only companies realized people who learn were high performers vs. people who want to be trained.
  • Viplav Baxi in a follow up post provides his insights about what could possibly be structured construction and tracking models for teaching-learning in a Learning 2.0 world.
  • Jane Hart urges organizations to measure performance rather than training or learning.
  • Sarah Stewart asks how can we embed social networking in people's days and sell it to them as something that has value.
  • Claire Thompson provides us with the example of Google offering 20% of their time to work on what they are passionate about.
  • Bill shares his frustration with the IS departments and the extra paranoia about allowing access to anything that even might compromise integrity and safety of personal health information. He shares his attempt at using Sharepoint Portal within the firewall to work around fears of IS departments.
  • Poonam Sharma concurs with the about societal pressures at workplace and talks about management impact on training.
  • Dave Ferguson wonders if some of the "1.0" aspect of workplace learning isn't due simply to inertia, especially on the part of management. And organizations should be willing to seek out ways to expand the skills and the opportunities for its most important asset -- its employees.
  • Jeff Cobb feels that one of the core issues is that corporate training often needs to demonstrate compliance of some sort or mastery of hard skills, and 1.0 approaches are simply more reliable and proven for this. He also feels there is little notion of a continuing "liberal" education in the corporate space.

Notwithstanding the use of Web 2.0 tools, I believe the core issue is that organizations’ focus on learning at workplace vs. training. I have seen that typically smaller teams with strong leaders have a better culture of learning. While the use of Web 2.0 tools is still limited (a combination of firewall issues, inertia, societal pressures are contributing factors of not using Web 2.0 tools), there are teams within our large organization that spend a lot of time “learning” together. I have found that these teams had passionate leaders who are keen on learning. Mid-level managers have a task on their hands for building the learning culture within their teams. Mid-level managers will find that they will be more successful by encouraging their teams to experiment and share their learning with others in the team.

Why Workplace Learning Is Largely Learning 1.0

Michele Martin has been writing a string of posts about why workplace learning is largely using authoring and presenting tools – more like “Learning 1.0” types of approaches, while the educators are using more Web 2.0 tools like Wikis, blogs etc. She refers to Jane Hart’s Spring 2008 Top 100 Tools for Learning, a compilation of the top 10 tools identified by 155 elearning professionals, a list to which I also contributed. Jane and Michele make interesting observation about the differences between learning in corporate world and an educator’s world.

In the field of education, the onus of learning is on the learner. In workplace, the onus of training is on the organization and training department. If I don’t learn in university, it is my shortcoming. If I don’t learn in the workplace, it is the training department or functional head’s shortcoming.

In the corporate world, spending time on social networking sites is looked down upon (hmm... chatting with your friends?, wasting time trying to find a date, or using company resources to find a job are you...). IM, downloading/viewing videos on YouTube are considered a load on network bandwidth that can be done without. Podcasts are after all MP3 files that can’t be distinguished from music files, and MP3 downloads are restricted. In the educator’s world these tools help the teacher connect to many more students at the same time.

We still can’t measure the learning using Web 2.0 tools. The training department or functional head’s measure of success are the number of training days or number of elearning courses taken by employees. Productivity can be impacted in many ways and it is hard to measure the impact of learning on productivity. I am not sure how many training heads have productivity as a key performance measure of their role that they actually monitor. In the Educator’s world, there is no requirement to measure productivity. Learning is measured through exams.

I will also commit hara-kiri as a manager and say that there is actually lesser time available for using social networking tools and Web 2.0 tools for learning in corporate workplace. Using Web 2.0 tools and techniques requires some getting used to and requires more time. Somehow in the workplace, there just isn’t the time available required to truly realize the potential of Web 2.0 tools. So between gazillion transactions of workload, it isn’t easy to spend time on “learning”. Training is easier because it can be planned with time allocated to it. Educator’s world doesn’t seem to have the same time pressures of the corporate world.

There are also social pressures. Few of my colleagues/bosses wonder how I have so much time to blog and run a team blog, even though most of my posts are on the weekends, and running a team blog is something that a functional head should probably be doing. One my colleagues asked me, so what’s the point of all this blogging, wikis etc. Isn’t it easier to just ask someone in case you need help? And where is the time to read all the stuff... In the Educator’s world there are social pressures to use the tools. It is cool to be up to date with social networking and various other Web 2.0 tools. In corporate world you are expected to know all about them but not actually spend time on them.

With most companies struggling to find talent, struggling with attrition and shortened employment span of employees in a single organization, organizations are spending more on “training” and less on “learning”. Training is measurable; learning doesn’t quite seem to be so easily measureable. Can the organizations afford to take a chance that employees will “learn” on their own? Isn’t it easier that they just be “trained”? Sometimes I see the impact of this in employees not wanting to learn and just waiting to be trained.

While writing this post, I couldn’t help recall Geetha Krishnan’s post where he makes an interesting comparison between education and training.

What would I like to do better as a Learning Professional?

In response to the Learning Circuit's April Big Question, What would you like to do better as a Learning Professional, here's my list.

As a learning professional, I would like to see myself making a greater connect between learning and business needs, and between training and on the job productivity.

In my new role, I would like to build a better learning product that will really prepare fresh graduate for the IT industry and enable them to get a job. This will include not just technical skills, but communication skills and life skills.

I would also like to succeed in my collaborative learning environment experiment and in moving towards a culture of learning.

Tips for Running a Team Blog

Cross posted on Michele Martin's The Bamboo Project blog.

Michele asked if I was willing to share some tips for keeping my team engaged or things I am learning from starting up a team blog. She thought these would be helpful for people to get a feel of what things are like in the trenches. I have been sharing some of the progress in my own blog, but I felt this will be a good opportunity to consolidate learning from my experience.

To start with, let me share that it isn’t easy. A week or so back when I was exchanging emails with Michele, I was feeling good about the team blog. However last week there was not a single post on the blog and suddenly I wasn’t feeling as good. When I started the blog, I had mentally prepared myself for the 1% rule of Internet content creation. However one week of inactivity did sadden me. So if you are planning to start a team blog, my first tip would be that you stay motivated and not let a period of inactivity disappoint you.

When starting a team blog, identify the objectives and goals of the blog.

  • What problem you are trying to solve and for whom?
  • Who will be the content creators and who will be readers?
  • What content is important for them?
The audience is the most important part of your team blog. A team blog is not your personal rant so it is critical that you identify what will draw an audience to read and to contribute.

At the outset, identify specific people who will contribute to the team blog with their posts. I initially identified the people who I felt could contribute. A few more were suggested by this group. When anyone accepted the invitation to be a contributing author to the blog, I sent them a welcome mail with a list of topics that they could write on. And I had a few posts when I launched the blog. This gives the authors a framework to start contributing.
Many of the authors had never blogged before so providing a framework was very useful. I also spoke personally to a many authors encouraging them to start blogging about their experiences. I told them that they could start by commenting on the posts if they were more comfortable than writing their own post.

I spent a fair amount of time initially adding widgets and features that the audience could relate to. Our blog roll included blogs from the team and other people from the industry that the audience recognized. These still get the most outgoing hits on the blog. I also added features that will keep the main page of the site updated without much intervention from me.
  • A widget to display an RSS feed about industry news provided a window to what was happening in other companies.
  • In my Google Reader, I shared the posts that I felt would be relevant to the team, and then provided an RSS feed as Recommended Articles on the blog. This keeps the content on the blog updated without actually changing the blog itself.
  • I added a Recent Comments widget to display recent comments in various posts on the main page. This also helps keep site updated with new content on the main page without any my intervention.
  • I added Ratings widget by Outbrain and encouraged the readers to rate the posts. I always feel readers are more likely to rate posts than comment on them. The ratings widget also allows you to display the most popular post on the blog.
I found that labels help in categorizing the content on the blog. While the authors can add labels when they post, I manage the labels to ensure that the number of labels remain usable.

Another feature I have started is eCube Ponder, which is similar to the Big Question on the Learning Circuits blog. I have also just started a Poll on eCube.

I blatantly find opportunities to promote the team blog. I send out personal email updates about new posts and features on eCube. I have added a link to the eCube blog on the employee portal within the firewall. This has added more traffic to the blog.

I also had/have a few features that didn’t quite attract the collaboration I was expecting. The Flickr group to add common pictures seemed like a cool thing but didn’t find many takers. I have also added a free chat/guest book widget from Shoutmix but I haven’t had comments from anyone other than me and one more team member. It didn’t quite have the impact that I was hoping it would, though I still think it is a cool widget. I have also started an eCube group on Facebook. In spite of a link on the blog, I don’t yet have any members from the team that eCube was aimed at. I don’t know yet how I will actually use it. Perhaps if there are enough members, I could use it to send them updates about events.
Future plans for the eCube team blog? Well, I am looking at rotating responsibility for managing the team blog, perhaps holding virtual and physical events around the eCube banner, more widgets, more polls, more ponder questions. However as I get sucked into a new job role, it seems like a distant dream. Which is why finding someone from the team to run the blog and related events would be good. And going back to constantly motivating myself...

How to be a Popular Project Manager

Art Petty writes an interesting post about project managers not being liked by anyone. I quite agree with him. I believe that project manager's lack of popularity is their occupational hazard. Project managers have a tough job on their hands. They have the responsibility without always having full authority, whether it is the SME, or other members of the virtual team who report to their functional mangers. At the end of the day if the project fails, overruns or is delayed, it is the project manager who has to take the flak first. That is the nature of the role and the earlier project mangers realize it, lesser the heartburn they might go through.

So what how can a project manager succeed in this situation? Here are some things I have seen successful project managers do.

Respect the expert. I have seen successful project managers recognizing the expertise the experts bring to the table and giving them due credit. This also includes recognizing the gaps in their own knowledge and skills.

Lead. Don't boss around. Project managers are in charge of the project but they aren't necessarily the "boss". Successful project managers lead the project and the team without attempting to display their authority or their position.

Communicate. Share the goal of the project with everyone and keep them informed. Keep everyone informed of not just the respective assigned tasks but the progress of the overall project. Share and celebrate successes as a team. Share the concerns and risks and seek support. I have seen many managers sharing only the assigned tasks with the respective team members completely under utilizing the team's potential and not getting the required buy in and support for them when it is needed the most.

Listen. Listen to what team members are suggesting, listen to their concerns, listen to what makes them enjoy what they are doing and what turns them off. And then do something about it.

Empathize. Specially required when you have many team members who might be junior to the project manager in experience, position and designation.

Learn. Most successful project managers know the project/product they are managing. This does not mean they can do all the tasks in the project, or are experts in all skills. However they do appreciate what it takes to do the tasks and can contribute by sharing their insights and ideas. Assuming that as a project manager your only responsibility is to create a project plan / schedule and then following up with team to tick off completed tasks or updating the plan is a sure way to undermine your chances of success. Successful project managers attempt to learn about the project tasks and contribute to the end product.

Building a Performance Bank Account

A recent situation in workplace made me think about the importance of building a performance bank account on lines of emotional bank account. Or perhaps performance bank account is a subset of emotional bank account.

When you join a new organization, the organization’s evaluation of your skills is based on the few interactions had during the interview. In spite of the psychological tests, aptitude tests, and two or three rounds of interview that one goes through, it is at best a judgement to hire you based on limited interactions. Some organizations also do a reference check depending on the level you are joining the organization. It is then up to you to start building your performance bank account with the organization. You build your base by learning quickly and demonstrating execution excellence. You build your deposits by exceeding expectations, going beyond the call of duty, volunteering for challenging tasks.

Building a performance bank account helps you in getting new opportunities within the organization. It also helps when you are assigned to a new role or assigned a new manager. But more importantly, if you take longer to understand the task, or are faltering initially, the past performance bank account provides the cushion of tolerance and the much required support. You can’t bank on your performance at your previous organization. It is important to build a performance bank account at every organization you work with. And of course, like EBA, when you withdraw from your performance bank account, make sure you deposit back in it by improving your performance.

Innovation and Execution

Clark Quinn makes a great point about the fact that innovation and execution are interlinked and organizations miss the point by focusing on these separately. In Clark’s words:

I’ve been thinking quite a bit recently about how to improve organizational performance. It’s part of thinking broader about how technology can be used to support performance, but then you have to have a picture of organizational learning as a whole. As I look at organizations, many are focused on excellence in execution, and quite a few have recognized that the competitive advantage comes from continual innovation. What I’m not seeing enough of is recognizing that the two are intimately linked. They’ll focus on innovation in engineering, and execution in customer service, but not connect the two across the organization.

For example, I’m seeing organizations supporting execution with training, and supporting innovation with knowledge management or eCommunity. I’ll see training groups supporting execution, and management invoking innovation exercises, but management not worrying about training, and training not worrying about innovation.

What I have experienced is that usually if execution excellence is achieved, it is easier to focus on innovation. And innovation is required to gain competitive advantage as well as achieve execution excellence. Personally I have found hard to innovate to gain competitive advantage (let’s create a new product offerings) when my nose is to the grind attempting to achieve execution excellence (let’s get the projects out of the door successfully, meet the quarter numbers etc.). I do need to innovate and find new ways to ensure that operations are executed flawlessly.

Innovation to achieve execution excellence depends a lot on the culture of the organization. While there are many methods to provide channels for people to innovate or try out new things, ultimately the culture of encouraging new ideas, openness and trust between teams and developing base skills are critical for innovating for execution excellence.

Innovating for competitive advantage can be achieved through organizational structures. It is important to have teams focusing on incubating new ideas, products etc. And as Nicola shares in Clark’s post comments, it is a great idea to involve customers in building new products. There also needs to be method of transferring new products to production line/operations.



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Disclaimer: The opinions expressed here are my personal opinions. Content published here is not read or approved in advance by my employers and does not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of my employers.

Creative Commons License This work by Manish Mohan is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 2.5 India License.