Your Workscape is everything in your organization except the training department. It’s where work is done and where people hone the skills they need to add value. It’s the biggest frame of the big picture. It’s relationships and culture and secret sauce. It’s the organization as organism. To prosper, you need to nurture it, plant seeds, pamper the ground. It’s your job to help the system thrive.
Learning Ecosystem, Learning Ecology, and Learnscape mean the same thing as Workscape. I don’t use the word learn with executives, who inevitably think back to the awfulness of school and close their ears. “Let’s talk about performance.”
The Workscape is a systems-eye view of the workplace. Everything is connected. Rather than try to control nature, we do what it takes to keep the environment thriving.
In the same vein, I talk about Working Smarter instead of informal learning, social learning, and so forth. Some people denigrate informal learning but nobody’s against Working Smarter.
Your organization already has a workscape where people are learning to work smarter. That’s where all the informal and social learning we hear about is taking place. The problem is that the learning processes are haphazard, often a paving of the cow paths. Many employees and stakeholders miss out—and stumble. Most companies’ systems fail to get the job done. Our Workscape ecologies are entering a do-or-die phase like global warming. Management is demanding that the workforce be more effective. “What got us here will not get us there.” We must nurture the Workscape or face corporate meltdown.
Global warming signals in Workscapes
We hear that if “it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” yet most corporate learning and development is broken. 77% of the senior managers surveyed by the Corporate Leadership Council reported they were dissatisfied with L&D. 76% said L&D was not critical to business outcomes. Only 14% would recommend working with L&D. Clark Quinn’s recent book, Revolutionizing Learning and Development, slams L&D, which should be named Performance and Development, for seriously underperforming.
Time is speeding up. More happens in a day than your grandmother experienced in a week. Keeping sharp and up to date is now a continuing part of everyone’s job. Corporate learning must expand from focusing on the classroom, which provides at best 10% of learning, to the entire organization where learning while doing is the rule. Training a novice may lead to productivity gains in the future. Helping an experienced person impacts the bottom line immediately. Little wonder that the training department is underperforming: they only touch a minority of employees, most of them newcomers.
As many as four out of five large multinationals report they are undergoing a digital transformation. It goes by many names, from Enterprise 2.0 to Radical Management or simply Going Paperless. Altimeter Group defines digital transformation as: “the realignment of, or new investment in, technology and business models to more effectively engage digital customers at every touchpoint in the customer experience lifecycle.”* The digital transformation of workplace learning involves moving from the limited training department to the holistic Workscape framework view of the world.
The input may be establishing social learning networks; the output is improvement in the business overall.
Scope of the habitat
Put on your ecologist hat. Let’s examine the diversity of species among those people in your Workscape drawing paychecks:
Novices and newbies have been the main focus of training. This includes new hire on-boarding and provision of basic and technical skills (we’re all novices at something). This minority uses a disproportionate share of the training department’s resources and mindshare.
Experienced producers bring home the bacon yet training departments overlook them. Training departments have single-shot solutions: courses. Courses are rarely appropriate for experienced workers. Many old hands will not tolerate them nor learn from them if they do. They know that experience is a better teacher. Tuning the learning environment to make systemic changes for this underserved population has fantastic upside potential, perhaps enough to get CLOs a real seat at table in the C-Suite.
Top performers are the 20% of the team that generate 80% of the results. A 1% improvement at this level makes waves. This species needs special handling, sometimes including personal service.
Compliance is a red herring that people point to when discussing how deep “training” goes into the organization. However, compliance is not learning. Sure, it’s required, but no body’s expecting much performance improvement in the area, particularly in its present primitive form.
Alumni are an overlooked opportunity in many organizations. IBM invested in keeping former IBMers abreast of what was going on back at Big Blue. The alumni connected over social media and saw demos in Second Life. The result? An on-going flow of leads from true-believers and those who contract with IBM.
Subspecies. L&D has traditionally focused on the needs of employees on the payroll exclusively, disregarding the fact that partners, customers, subcontractors, temps, service agencies, outsourcers, suppliers, and others are equally part of the value chain. Take the Workscape view. Let’s go up to a balcony overlooking a model of your business. Look at the flow of business. You can see that the product is only as good as the weakest link in the chain. Think carefully about who you want to be co-learning with.
The Workscape should address the needs of learners throughout the extended enterprise.
Theoretically, your Workscape — the realm where you’ll be wielding your influence on performance and learning — could stretch way beyond your firewall to include nearly everyone the organization interacts with. Imagine how much cooperation will improve if they all read from the same page.
Reading the temperature
The climate for Workscapes is changing, forcing a re-think of how things are connected.
Decision-making is migrating from institution to individual, from training to pull learning, and shifts “power to the people.” This is how digital transformation works: digital democracy first. Digital citizens exploit connections and take power. Making the shift is an enormous change management task.
Informal, experiential work is three times more effective than formal, top-down training. Experiential earning is migrating into the workflow at a very fast rate. Spread the footprint of the Workscape to the optimal size.
Workscapes are complex and unpredictable, in perpetual beta. Experiments are cheap. Plant lots (hundreds, thousands) of Workscape experiments and nurture those that catch on. Watch out for monoculture (using only one solution) and the echo effect (making judgments from a narrow spectrum of reality).
Nurturing the Workscape requires competencies such as business problem analysis, collaboration experts, community managers, and moxie. I foresee learning process SWAT teams attacking connection gaps. You don’t have these people on board now.
Forget about the traditional way you’ve trained people. Unlearn your assumptions about courses and top-down learning. Break with the present by looking ahead five years. Start with a blank piece of paper. Take a Workscape perspective. Assess the organizational benefits of:
- embedding learning in work, covering a much larger audience
- setting up learning as a continuous activity, not an event
- leveraging self-sustaining processes instead of one-time courses
- pinpointing high-return activities such as manager coaching
- embracing social and experiential learning
- changing the learning philosophy from push to pull
- employing business metrics to gauge success
- canvasing the organization for opportunities instead of waiting for requests
- focusing on overall business outcomes
- building self-sufficient teams
- extending the Workscape to cover partners, customers, and outsourced services
- making learning a driver with business impact
The learning conservationist toolkit
L&D’s collaboration experts and SWAT teams are digital MacGyvers who weave techniques like these into Workscapes:
Make Management responsible for development
- Issue stretch assignments to grow staff
- Mentors, coaching
- Action learning
Personal Learning Network
- Collaboration and cooperation
- Friends and colleagues provide answers
- Peer learning
- Job aids, bookmarks,
- FAQs, aggregation, curation
Access to information
- Wiki, inhouse YouTube, internet
- Self-study catalog, portals
Enterprise social network
- Activity stream keeps one up to date
- Platform for conversation
- Opportunity to share knowledge
Communities of Practice
- Professional growth
- Knowledge repository
- Create knowledge
- Individual publishing (Learn out loud!)
- Follow thinking of others
- Make conversation easy
- Is it working? How can we do better?
Instead of taking requests, the traditional role of training departments, learning conservationists actively seek out opportunities where learning will have the most impact.
One group of L&D special agents posted this set of beliefs to explain how it worked to its internal clients:
- We are open and transparent.
- We narrate our work. Need to share.
- We support continuous learning, not events.
- We value conversation as a learning vehicle.
- We drink our own champagne (or mimosas).
- Business success is our bottom line.
- We are not a training organization.
- We value time for self-development and reflection.
- We establish business metrics for every engagement and report back publicly on outcomes.
Changing the physical environment can improve learning.
The staff will use any tool available to improve learning, right down to moving the furniture. A computer manufacturer discovered that its chip designers learned from overhearing conversations among their peers. They replaced a cube farm with comfortable sofas, rolling white boards, and espresso machines — and watched the production of innovative ideas skyrocket.
Environmental impact report
In a 2011 book, A New Culture of Learning, Douglas Thomas and John Seely Brown described the kind of learning necessary in this new environment as “whitewater learning”—the ability to acquire useful knowledge and skills while at the same time practicing them in an environment that is constantly evolving and presenting new challenges. They argue that our learning environments need to match the speed and degree of change happening in the world around us.**
The emancipation of both nature and the human imagination depends first on the capacity to ‘unsay’ the world and, second, on the ability to image it differently so that wonder might be brought into appearance.***
Over a hundred CLOs told us what they were currently doing was insufficient to prepare them to deal with the future needs of the business. Obviously it’s time to do something different.
One way to accelerate people’s development is to optimize learning by looking at the organization as an organic, unpredictable, complex system. It’s time to fix the big picture by working on the level of the Workscape.
*Digital transformation by any other name, Jason Bloomberg in Forbes
**Aspen Institute, The Learning Ecosystem
*** James Corner, “Ecology and Landscape as Agents of Creativity,” in Ecological design and planning, George F. Thompson and Frederick R. Steiner, editors, (New York: John Wiley, 1997), p.99. quoted in Design Education and Innovation Ecotones by Ann Pendleton-Julian
Research funded by Litmos