The Training Trap

There is a hidden trap people fall into at your organisation.   Few are aware of the trap. It is so ingrained, most are blind to its existence. We’re ignorant of the part we play in sustaining it, and unaware of the damage it causes. I call it ‘the training trap’ – the false belief that training is the best way to develop knowledge and skills at work.

This collective blind spot begins in the school room.  As children, we are pushed through standard curricula in a depersonalised way. Our experience is based more on age than individual capability, interests or needs.  Schools mould us into passivity when it comes to learning in an institutional setting. This is how the training trap is born. As the mother of a teenager, I see schools continue to be teacher-centric. Students cultivate a mindset of waiting for the teacher to decide what to learn, when to learn it and how to learn.

Most of us unknowingly bring this same passive attitude to our careers. All over Australia and the globe, especially in corporations and government departments, people are waiting to be taught. Are your people waiting to be taught instead of empowered to learn and discover? Are you stuck in the training trap?

Yes, training has a place. It’s appropriate for novice skills, safety and essential compliance requirements. I’m not arguing against all training. But I am arguing against its indiscriminate use and substitution for real learning.  Research shows 70% of all training is wastage – quickly forgotten after the training event. If that doesn’t alarm you, this might. Your attitude to training is obstructing your company’s capacity to become competitive, adaptable and agile.

Do your managers place orders for training courses to ‘fix’ a wide range of issues?  Do the Learning and Development (L&D) team meet the orders, delivering training events or online courses? If this is the sum of how your people learn, it’s inadequate. It holds back your company, failing to unleash learning as a true force in your organisation.

Consider the cost of people waiting to be developed. Consider the value of allowing them to take action and develop themselves. Imagine the impact on your whole organisation when everyone has this permission.

Some companies don’t have to imagine, they’ve already begun. Their Citibank #BeMore program was created to ‘build leadership and manager capability, drive ethical and cultural change and empower employee-led development.’ Two areas of focus were Continuous Learning and Individual Development Plans. Citibank’s L&D shifted away from their traditional training role to support staff to learn more independently using the Three E’s of Experience, Exposure and Education.

Learning is a force to be unleashed and harnessed in your organisation. It has infinite potential to support you and your staff, and your work with business partners. In my recent work with Qantas I saw the excitement build for this change amongst staff, leaders and business stakeholders, as they opened their eyes, saw beyond the training trap and realised what was possible. Westpac is supporting their staff to develop ‘skills for life’ – portable skills that will be meaningful in any job role or organisation.  Their flexible approach allows people to ‘access the learning they need, when they need it, to the level they need it.’   These are companies leading the way, building a culture where learning is a critical part of everyday work.  It’s a lever to generate performance, innovation, transformation and competitiveness.

Learning happens when people do something differently and get better at their work.  Minds open, creativity flourishes, motivation and empowerment follow. People learn in realistic situations, in the midst of real challenges as they work, in their daily interactions with others. Waiting to be taught slows progress and impedes transformation. Your organisation can guide people to use learning as an important tool in your business. Learn to learn through trying new ways, experimenting to solve problems, observing and reflecting on what happened and how it could be improved. Become bolder when meeting challenges and collaborate courageously while looking for the opportunities that stretch and engage us.

Learning is in its infancy in those organisations struggling to maintain control. They lag behind more agile organisations who have let go and now share responsibility for learning. Phrases such as learning culture, social learning and self-directed learning have rightfully created excitement in recent years. Whatever the words, give your people the opportunity to understand the meaning and impact of these important concepts, and the skills to get on with learning every day.

I help organisations who want to escape the training trap.  Yes, it’s difficult. Letting go of control always is.  But if you want to address the extraordinary challenges your business faces, indeed the threats to your survival, you’ll need to learn how to harness the creativity and optimism of your people.

Michelle Ockers works with business leaders who believe in learning. She mentors L&D managers and runs workshops to help them, their teams and stakeholders become high impact business partners. Michelle welcomes contact from senior leaders who wish to harness learning and make it a key lever to achieve business results. Her recent clients include Qantas, where she has guided strategic transformation of L&D.

Image source: Shutterstock

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Motivation to Learn in Flatter Organisations

During a discussion with the Procurement Director of a large corporate last week she was exploring the impact of flatter organisational structures on career development and learning for her team.  The elimination of layers in the organisational hierarchy has reduced her ability to offer her team members promotion through a series of more senior roles.  She asked: “How do I motivate young people to learn when I cannot offer them career progression?”

At first this seems like a tricky question to answer.  However, the question can readily be flipped around to become an answer.  A key motivator for people (young or otherwise) to be lifelong learners is the lack of predetermined career paths as a result of a range of changes including less hierarchical organisation structures.  The lack of clear career progression within a department in an organisation makes it more important than ever for people to continuously learn.

One of the key reasons for people to upskill used to be to compete for promotion in their current organisation.  However, forces such as an increasingly competitive global business environment and digital disruption have resulted not only in fewer layers in organisational hierarchies, but new structures including networks and temporary teams.

The employment relationship is also shifting, with an increasing number of people working in the ‘gig’ economy on temporary contracts or as freelancers (2016 studies in the United States, European Union and Australia estimated 20-30% of the labour force are freelancing either full time or part time.)  Both the changes to organisation structures and the gig economy mean that work is being organised more on a project or task-by-task basis rather than people having a consistent job role.

Where people continue to work in permanent job roles they change jobs more frequently – the average job tenure in Australia is now three years and four months.  This trend is not restricted to people early in their career.  Australians aged 45 and over typically stay in the same job for an average of 6 years and 8 months, compared with 10 years in 1975.

Even if someone were to remain in the same job for an extended period, advances in technology and automation mean that the nature of the work in that job will change.  A McKinsey study released in January 2017 showed that automation using current technology will change the daily activities in all jobs to varying degrees.  With ongoing technological developments this impact will grow.

The four key shifts described above are:

  • Flatter, more networked organisational structures
  • More temporary work engagements
  • More frequent changes in job role
  • Advances in technology changing daily work activities

These shifts make the career path of any individual more fluid than ever before and make it imperative to take charge of their own learning.  In this environment it’s critical for people to learn continuously to stay abreast of change, keep their knowledge and skills current, remain competitive, create new opportunities, and reinvent themselves.

The content of this post is based on my preparation for an upcoming keynote speech I am giving at a professional development conference on the theme of ‘Be Future Ready.’  Enquiries regarding event speaking can be directed to me via LinkedIn or 


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Learning and Development Benchmarking with Towards Maturity – Australasian Insights

I’ve just registered for the ‘Unlocking Potential in Australasia’ webinar hosted by Australian Institue of Training and Development on 23 October 2017. This session is effectively the launch of Toward’s Maturity’s first Learning & Development (L&D) benchmarking report focused on the Australasian region. Laura Overton from Towards Maturity will explore what the research using their global benchmarking database tells us about how the practices of Learning and Development teams in Australasia compare with top performers across the globe.

I recently wrote an article about how Qantas has used the Towards Maturity benchmark as part of an organisation-wide review of L&D.  I’ve been working with Qantas over the past year on a transformation program. To help identify strengths and opportunities across the many L&D teams at Qantas we had eight teams complete the benchmark.  Towards Maturity then analysed their input and compared results and practices with selected regional and industry sectors. This helped Qantas to identify opportunities and learn both from others across the organisation, as well as from those in relevant sectors outside of the organisation. This is now being used to help inform both strategic and tactical actions to improve the impact of L&D. The article highlighted lessons extracted from the benchmarking in three specific areas:

1. Technology-enabled learning
2. L&D capability
3. Learner context

You can read the full article on the Towards Matuirty website:

What have Qantas learnt from the TM Benchmark?

I’m looking forward to seeing the new report on how we compare in the Australasian region versus our L&D colleagues around the globe. If you haven’t already registered for the webinar, go ahead and register here.


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Why Business Needs Learning and Development

Untapped potential in Learning and Development (L&D) is a lost opportunity in most large Australian businesses. Whilst executives wonder what L&D does, L&D doesn’t get a hearing. Meanwhile, organisations and their people miss significant opportunities.

Executives look for answers in all directions – wrestling with over-regulation, meeting customer expectations, digital transformation, and improving productivity and profitability are all front of mind. Meanwhile L&D waves from the sidelines, hoping to be seen. L&D knows they can contribute to these issues, but struggle for influence and impact.

Is L&D missing from your line of sight? Do you just give them a nod of acknowledgement? They look after compliance and training courses, right?

If this old school view of learning sits in your business, you may be in trouble. Look at competitors and notice what the best are doing with learning. It’s transformed. In fact, they are embedding learning into work. The L&D function has adopted an explicit focus on performance. They are sharing responsibility for learning and performance with managers and staff. They are connecting people with each other across their organisations and beyond organisational boundaries to share knowledge and improve practices and outcomes.

Outside of work your people are learning in connected ways. They use the internet and digital tools to acquire and share information and evolve knowledge with others. These approaches have already changed your people’s lives, whether you are harnessing them or not.

I’ve participated in – and now lead – the ‘coming of age of learning’ in businesses. I was stunned to hear the former CEO of a Big 4 bank recently tell a gathering, “It felt like my L&D team worked for another organisation.” What a shame.

I’ve worked with senior leaders who expect more from learning and get it. From 2012 to 2016 I established and led the Supply Chain Academy at Coca-Cola Amatil. Our Director treated learning as a strategic tool. He expected his executive to use it as a lever for improved performance. And that’s what it became. In one instance we were tasked with addressing a business continuity risk. Critical operational processes and IT systems were reliant on a dangerously small number of experts. Delivery, quality and cost targets were being compromised given how few knew ‘how everything worked.’

We looked at the problem. Expertise was spread unevenly in operating locations across the country. Practitioners had limited connection to peers at other locations, and were busy keeping local operations running. They saw learning as separate to work, and had no time for it.

We created a network of practitioners who could share their knowledge and make it easier for them to learn and get better at their jobs. We used the many ways people learn to create individual, group and networked approaches. The Supply Chain Academy created a culture of sharing, collaboration and innovation. The Academy’s work won awards and recognition globally. It’s even been replicated in other Coca-Cola markets.

The project was well-supported and the flow-on significant. More effective problem solving and processes were created as a direct result. Operations ran more smoothly and productivity improved. Experts had more time to work on innovation and business transformation.

And this is my point. In a continuous learning environment L&D moves from creating and organising courses to building an entire culture of continuous learning. L&D prepares maps and equips people so that this culture flourishes. Importantly, L&D knows how people can learn as they work. They understand and enable knowledge sharing and learning networks. Treated with the respect and excitement it deserves, learning is not a disruption or burden. It’s all about potential. As it creates pride, connection and inspiration, people carry that spark with them every day.

Learning is an innate, deeply-human desire. Every CEO should know how to harness this for their business. I invite you to work with those who know how to activate your people. Your staff want to get better at their work, connect with others and continuously learn. I recommend you pull up a chair for your future Chief Learning Officer.

Michelle Ockers works with business leaders who believe in learning. She mentors L&D managers to help them become future CLO’s. Michelle welcomes contact from senior leaders who wish to harness learning and make it a key lever to achieve business results. Her current clients include Qantas, where she is guiding strategic transformation of L&D.

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Learning and Development Practitioners – Benchmark before 15 July to Improve Your Impact

Did you know it’s “benchmarking season” in Learning and Development?  Every year Towards Maturity take a close look at what learning organisations around the globe are doing and what is driving high performance in these organisations.  While they are constantly working with the data that they gather through their online benchmarking centre, they comprehensively re-examine it annually and issue a new benchmarking report in November. The deadline to complete this year’s benchmark are receive a free personalised report is 15 July.

If you’re ready to get started without reading more use this link to access the benchmark.


Benchmarking is about finding ways to compare your performance and practices with peers.  This allows you to identify improvements, examine how top performing organisations are achieving results and act to improve your own results.

When I was leading an Academy at Coca-Cola Amatil and in my current role helping Qantas with Learning transformation I’ve used three approaches to benchmarking.

Professional Networking

Use existing professional associations and networks to learn about what others are doing. Attend networking events and, if your budget extends to it, conferences.  Find and participate in online forums and communities, especially those where case studies are shared and people talk about how they work.

Develop your own network.  Build relationships with people by interacting with them, discovering common interests, and finding ways to contribute to them.  Ask about their work and be willing to talk about yours.

Use Research

Find relevant research published by others.  If you can’t afford the fees to subscribe to professional research organisations you may find free or low cost summaries or webinars that you can access.  Check the independence of the publishers, and read the fine print about how the research was conducted to inform how you interpret and use the research.

Complete the Towards Maturity Benchmark

Over the past few years I have found the Towards Maturity Benchmark an essential tool to reflect on the effectiveness of the L&D strategy in organisations I work with, help me demonstrate the value and benefit of investments made and to identify tactics to improve the impact of L&D.

After completing data entry in an online benchmarking centre you receive a free Personalised Benchmark Report.  The report shows how you compare with peers (over 600 participants in the 2016 data set).  It provides insights to help you improve specific practices such as defining business need, aligning learning with work context and engaging learners.  It also helps inform decisions about updating your approaches to learning.  The insights are well worth the 45 minutes that it takes to complete the benchmark.

If you have a team, I recommend you include some of them in discussion as you complete the benchmark.  It is a good group reflection activity and can generate high quality debate.  You are then better positioned to include your team in review of the results and get buy-in to improvement plans.  Allow two hours to include others in benchmark completion – a low investment compared to other methods of benchmarking, especially considering the insights provided by the personalised report.

In coming weeks I’ll post about some of the insights I’ve gained using the Towards Maturity benchmark and practical advice on using benchmarking.

2017 is particularly exciting for Australian L&D practitioners as Towards Maturity will publish an Australia specific report.  There is added incentive for us Aussies to complete the benchmark before 15 July.  I encourage you to take the time to complete this valuable exercise.

Get startedhere’s the link to the benchmark.



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Benefits of Internal Collaboration

Community logo with textEarlier this week I was interview by HR Daily in advance of my presentation at the Workplace Learning Congress (8-9 June 2017 in Sydney) on Advocating Working Out Loud in your Organisation.  The interview discussed the benefits of internal collaboration.  Full text of the HR Daily article is posted below.  Please contact me via LinkedIn or Twitter if you would like to discuss how to build collective capability in your organisation through knowledge sharing and collaboration.

Benefits of internal collaboration too great to ignore

Too many organisations are not yet recognising the benefits of fostering collaborative online employee networks, an L&D strategist says.

Many employers today have an internal social network, or use Yammer or SharePoint, but far fewer are realising the full potential of online sharing, says learning practitioner and collaboration expert Michelle Ockers.

Some fear inappropriate comments and behaviour, others are overly concerned about sharing information too widely across the organisation. But a bigger risk, she says, is the “opportunity cost” of not utilising collaborative networks.

There’s a “business continuity risk”, for example, of employees failing to pass on unique and valuable knowledge. “There’s that risk they walk out the door with it, because there haven’t been active efforts to cross-pollinate, to share it, and not everything can be written in documents and trained – there’s a lot of tacit knowledge-sharing that you risk missing,” Ockers says.

There’s also an increased risk of unnecessary rework and duplication – “if people aren’t connected and working openly, there’s a lot of waste and cost in that” – and the risk of losing employees who thrive on online collaboration and networking, particularly those from younger generations.

The benefits, on the other hand, can create a significant competitive advantage, and have a big impact on productivity. Regular status updates among members of a project team can, for example, make for shorter, more efficient meetings.

“I’ve sat on projects where we’ve transformed project team meetings from status updates more to getting straight into issues, risks and so on, because people were providing their status updates online,” says Ockers, who is currently reviewing Qantas’s L&D approach, and previously held senior L&D roles at Coca-Cola Amatil.

The key to effective online collaboration is to be clear about the purpose of the network, and structure it accordingly, she says.

“Think strategically… what is going on in your organisation and what is it in your strategy that you need to address?” If the strategy is to leverage internal expertise more effectively, the focus might be solely internal, but if the organisation needs to stay abreast of certain cutting-edge fields of knowledge and expertise outside the organisation, the approach might be to assign key people to build external networks and collaborate there, before bringing that information back to in-house networks.

HR should ask, “what are the relevant communities of practice or bodies of knowledge we want to connect people around?” and consider setting up different forums around different interests, projects and topics, Ockers says.

Differentiation is important because if employees know their knowledge is relevant to all members of a community, they’ll be more likely to share with greater detail.

One way to improve internal network participation is to get senior managers and executives to lead by example by sharing updates on their own work and thoughts, she says.

“I worked at one organisation where the CEO did a weekly blog… She wrote about what she’d been doing that week, what sort of things she’d been thinking about, who she was meeting with and the kind of conversations she was having. She put in a little bit about her family and what was going on for her personally. It made her very approachable and it gave people a sense of what was on her mind and the direction she was heading, which was very powerful.”

Some leaders will require coaching on how to increase their online presence, others will simply need encouragement. HR can also consider running regular events to increase participation, such as monthly chats where different leaders field live questions or answer questions that have been submitted beforehand.

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Demonstrating Value from Working Out Loud Circles in an Organisation

This is the second in a two-part case study on the first wave of Working Out Loud Circles at Coca-Cola Amatil.  The first post discussed how the Circles were set up and supported.  This second post  discusses the evaluation and outcomes.

Recall from the first part of this case study that this was the first wave of Working Out Loud (WOL) Circles run in the organisation, and that it was done as a grass roots initiative, with a senior manager as sponsor.  The purpose of the experiment was to understand the potential value of the Circles in the organisation in order to get management support.  We were also interested in how we could run future Circles effectively.

WOL Circle Stories

I read some statistics this week about the low number of  people who make it all the way to the end of a blog post.  So, I’m posting the bit that don’t want you to miss out on first.  (BTW – there’s some good stuff further down so be sure to at least skim through – most of it is presenting visually and easy to understand.)

As part of demonstrating the value of WOL Circles some of the participants agreed to make a video discussing the value they got from being part of a Circle.  These videos can be used in a range of ways to promote Circles in an organisation, including getting support of managers and encouraging people to join a Circle.  Thank you to Navya Chandran and Justine Jardine for agreeing to their videos being shared publicly.


Two weeks after completing their Working Out Loud Circle participants were sent a survey – 13 responded.  Topics covered in the survey were:

  • Individual goals – what type of goals did participants set, how much progress did they make on their goal, and how did the WOL Circle help them to work on their goal.
  • WOL program – program structure, duration, activities, materials, and participant time
  • Individual value – what people can do as a result of participating in a Circle
  • Organisational value – potential benefits of WOL Circles to the organisation
  • General feedback and recommendation to others – including asking participants whether they would be willing to be interviewed and have their story shared with others
  • Facilitator questions

Here is a link to the full set of survey questions.  This survey was adapted from one used internally by Bosch since 2015 and generously shared with other organisational WOL Circle practitioners such as myself.  Thank you to Cornelia Heinke and Katharina Krentz from Bosch for the support they provided me in getting started with WOL Circles inside an organisation.

I prepared a summary PowerPoint presentation and made a short screencast video.  I shared both broadly via the Enterprise Social Network (ESN) and with a number of managers who had previously expressed an interest in WOL Circles.

Individual Goals


Participants made good progress towards their goal with the support of the WOL Process and their WOL Circle peers.


Participants were positive about using WOL to make progress on a goal.


Individual Value

Participants overwhelmingly believed that Working Out Loud had improved their skills in networking, accessing information and expertise, and sharing knowledge.  They also felt more in control of their professional development and career, and more fulfilled at work.


Potential Organisational Value

Again, the feedback was overwhelmingly positive.  Participants thought that Working Out Loud could help the organsiation be become more collected and collaborative. Note that some of the statements in this section of the survey were aligned with transformation goals specific to the organisation.  If you are going to run a similar survey I recommend customising the statements to your organisation’s strategy and goals.

WOL CCA Org benefits .png

Participant Recommendation


All participants recommend Working Out Loud Circles to their colleages.  92% stated that they would participate in another Circle.

Social Proof – Participant Videos

John Stepper recommends internal social proof as one way to get management support for WOL Circles.  Short participant videos discussing their Circle experience and the benefits of Working Out Loud are one way to do this.  If you haven’t already done so, go to the top of this post to view a sample of the ‘WOL Circle Story’ videos that we made.

I was inspired to make these by the videos shared by the University of Melbourne.

What Next for WOL Circles at CCA?

The short answer is that I’m not sure.  I moved on from CCA shortly after completing the evaluation of our first wave of WOL Circles, in September 2016.  At the time of writing this post no further Circles have been run at CCA, which is in the midst of a significant change program.  The first wave of Circles seeded some Working Out Loud champions in the organisation, and demonstrated how easy and low-cost it is to run Circles.  There is also a WOL site on the SharePoint intranet where a record of the Circles can easily be found.  My hope is that between these assets and the participants that remain in the organisation that further WOL Circles will be run.




How to use Labels for Learning & Development Approaches

There are a range of labels or overarching terms in use in Learning and Development (L&D) to describe different modalities or approaches to learning e.g. eLearning, mobile learning, social learning. My recent search to understand how the L&D profession defines the term ‘blended learning’ led me to think about the pros and cons of the way we use labels in the L&D field.


An Example – Blended Learning

There a range of views on what the term ‘blended learning’ means, exemplified by Taruna Goel’s 2010 post ‘Make It Blended‘ (As an aside, it was prescient of Taruna to product that the specific blend would change over time as more possibilities became available via technology).  The situation had not changed In 2015 when Jane Hart  ran a poll on what the term means. The poll results show a range of interpretations, with 49% selecting ‘a training programme containing a mix of face-to-face and e-learning.’ This dominant view is reflected in the Wikipedia definition.

Other people have suggested that in addition to using a range of delivery formats and media the range of aspects that can be blended include:

– social contexts* – individual / one-to-one, small group/cohort, community
– learning strategies* – exposition, instruction, guided discovery, exploration
– communications media* – same-time/synchronous, own-time/asynchronous
learner opportunity to learn, do, share and teach

* source – More Than Blended Learning by Clive Shepherd, 2015

Clearly when discussing blended learning it’s important to explain what you actually mean by the term for people could have different interpretations. I like the approach taken by Chris Coladonato who told me “I don’t call it blended learning, I simply say we are creating a learning experience that is a blend or mixture of a few different media formats and delivery modes to create an experience that will achieve our desired performance outcomes….and meet your needs.” The point of sharing this explanation from Chris is not to propose that this is the correct definition of ‘blended learning’.’ Rather it’s to suggest that a plain language explanation of what you are trying to do and why in a specific context is clearer than using jargon that others might not understand, or may interpret differently to you.

Pros and Cons of Labels

What are the benefits of using labels such as blended learning, mobile learning, working out loud (add your own to this list – there are plenty)? When they first emerge these labels can alert us to emerging trends in our field – be they something that is genuinely new, or something that may have been around for a while but we have moved away from or have the opportunity to use in a new way, usually through technological advances. They can invite us to explore and have conversations. They prompt us to examine our practice both individually and collectively. They are triggers or reminders to consider a range of approaches – to be flexible in our practice, and an invitation to consider a wider range of options in designing learning experiences.

However, if we latch onto labels or get lazy in our use of them or thinking about them they can become unhelpful. It’s easy to throw a term around or focus on one aspect of an approach without taking the time to understand it or critically examine it. This leads to myths (e.g. social learning requires the use of technology) and unrealised potential. A ‘mini-industry’ can arise around an approach with people overcomplicating it and making it seem harder to implement and less accessible. Jane Bozarth’s ongoing reminders to keep ‘showing your work‘ simple and accessible is a plea against this kind of overcomplication. Different interpretations of a label can impede discussion and development of our practice rather than promote it. Confusion and rigidity can result, rather than openness, flexibility and increased effectiveness.

How Should Labels Be Used?

Labels can be useful shorthand to refer to learning approaches, however should be used with care. To help me use them effectively here are some guidelines I’m adopting:

  1. Take the time to understand a label before you start using it or applying the approach that it refers to.
  2. Identify the essential characteristics of the approach in order to avoid unnecessary over-complication.
  3. Consider whether the label is redundant. Does the approach it describes already exist under a different name?
  4. Consider whether the label is necessary. Use labels sparingly. Could you use a plain language description instead?
  5. If it’s appropriate to use the label, then clarify what you mean when you use it. Keep it as simple as possible.

What do you think of these guidelines – Agree? Disagree? Got something to add? Post a comment if you’d like to continue the discussion.

PS – My Conclusion on Blended Learning

In the case of ‘blended learning’ my view is that it’s too broad a term and has too many interpretations to be helpful. The important point is to be flexible in learning design.

My thanks to Chris Colandonato and Shannon Tipton for sharing your views on this issue with me.


Running a First Wave of Working Out Loud Circles in an Organisation

This is the first in a two-part case study on the first wave of Working Out Loud Circles at Coca-Cola Amatil.  In this post I discuss how we set up and supported these Circles.  The second post discusses how we demonstrated value from the Circles and presents key outcomes.

I had experienced the power of Working Out Loud Circles by participating in them, and had supported others outside my organisation to form and complete Circles.  I could see how Working Out Loud could benefit individuals, teams and my organisation as a whole.  Yet in early 2016 I couldn’t find a senior leader to sponsor a first wave of Circles.  Ironically, the leaders in my business unit were focussed on shaping a Transformation program and while some were curious about Working Out Loud, they couldn’t yet see where it fitted into the program.

So I took a different approach.  I set up some Circles and gathered data and stories to demonstrate the potential value and help explain how Working Out Loud aligned with the organisation’s Transformation agenda.

Attracting Circle Members

As the leader of a Learning and Development team I was in a good position to promote Working Out Loud (WOL) as an individual development opportunity.  I used our Enterprise Social Network (ESN) to promote the Circles.  I set up a Working Out Loud Circles site and posted some resources e.g.:

(Note – if you are unfamiliar with Working Out Loud Circles suggest you read the first two articles now.)

wol-5-elementsI ran an information webinar open to anyone in the organisation, which I promoted via a short video.  I made the video by screencasting a Powerpoint slide pack.  I  posted a webinar recording on the ESN.  I also presented to two groups outside my department who had expressed an interest in Working Out Loud based on my posts on the ESN over the preceding year.  People were invited to contact me if they were interested in participating in a Circle.

Forming Circles

I asked volunteers to confirm that their managers were aware of their participation and understood the time commitment (approximately 1.5 – 2 hours per week for 12 weeks).  There were 19 volunteers, who were allocated to four Circles, with diversity in job function, gender and background where possible.

Finding Facilitators

The first person I allocated to each Circle was an individual who would be a good facilitator.  I drew on my experience with Circles outside of my organisation where it can be difficult to find a volunteer for the facilitator role.  The facilitator role is fairly straightforward.  It is mostly coordination and leading each Circle meeting by following a Guide.  However, some people find the role title intimidating and have the perception that a special skill set is required to facilitate a Circle.  I now call the role ‘Circle Coordinator’ to make it seem less daunting.  Three of the people I invited to be facilitators were in my team, and comfortable with the title and responsibilities.  The fourth had previously completed a Circle, so understood what was involved.  All were enthusiastic about the opportunity, and had the support of their manager.

Circle Logistics

wol-bookThe primary material for participants are the Circle Guides which they can download themselves.  Although not essential, it’s helpful to have a copy of John Stepper’s Working Out Loud book to help bring the practices to life through stories and examples.  There are also extra activities in the book if anyone is keen to extend themselves.

Circles were asked to commence in the same week.  This was to make it efficient to support them.  It also meant that participants could discuss their experience and exchange tips between Circles in context of being at the same point through the 12-week Circle period. The actual start dates ended up being spread across two weeks, so half the group were one week ahead of the other in the program.

Note that it is not essential for different Circles to commence in the same week.  I simply felt that for our first wave it would be easier to support them this way, and to evaluate outcomes in a timely manner.

With one exception, the members of a Circle were located at the same working site.  This reduced diversity in the groups, but did mean that participants could meet face-to-face.  While Circles can readily be conducted virtually, my understanding of the CCA context suggested that the peer accountability would be stronger with face-to-face meetings.  Interestingly, the group that were meeting virtually had two people drop out early in the period, while the other groups remained intact.

Facilitators set regular meeting times with the Circle members, booked rooms and scheduled them into online calendars.  They managed ongoing coordination / logistics with their Circles.

Supporting Facilitators

 Early on I checked in weekly with facilitators on progress.  The Circle Guides are easy to follow and the facilitators were confident with their role.  They needed little support or guidance, and could readily communicate with each other for mutual support and encouragement.

We had two further touchpoints – one about mid-way through the program, and the other around Week 10.  There are some typical challenges that arise for participants as the program progresses.  These can include people struggling to make time for Working Out Loud, or to develop a system and regular habits.  The Circle Guides discuss potential challenges and include activities and tips to address them.  A group discussion with facilitators can help to generate ideas for addressing specific challenges within the Circles, and generate motivation by sharing progress stories.  We were fortunate to be able to join real-time videoconference session with John Stepper, which was very inspiring for the group.

Encouraging and Promoting Circles During the Wave

All Circle members were encouraged to follow the Working Out Loud site on the ESN where I posted a weekly update summarising the week’s focus and key activities.  For the first few weeks I also sent the same information in a weekly email before advising participants they would need to check their ESN Feed in future.  I also occasionally posted links to additional resources and relevant blog posts.  Some of the participants were active on the ESN and responded to posts.

In addition to supporting participants, posting on the ESN Feed had the benefit of building broader awareness of WOL amongst others who followed me or the participants.

Many participants also joined Twitter, so I created a Twitter list which I checked regularly and interacted with them on this platform.  One of the things people get a kick out of is when they tweet John Stepper that they are in a Circle or reading his book and he replies.


I joined a WOL Circle too

The Overheads are Low

It takes very little effort to set up and support your first round of Circles in an organisation.  There is no program development required and the materials are readily available and easy to use.  No special skills are required, just a desire to help people take more control over their own development and career.  You can start it as a grass roots initiative from anywhere within the organisation, and anyone can participate.

The next post in this series will cover the approach used to evaluate the outcomes and potential contribution of Working Out Loud to the organisation.



How we Modernised our Learning and Development Model, Mindset and Capabilities

Modernising our approach to learning in Coca-Cola Amatil’s Supply Chain over the past two years has been a gradual process. This shift has come about through parallel changes in our operating model alongside the mindset, practices and capabilities of our Learning and Development (L&D) function. (Note – We use the term ‘Capability’ to refer to the L&D function. The two terms are used interchangeably in this post.) Our Supply Chain Capability Community consists of:

  1. Technical Academy team – myself, four Capability Consultants, and a Coordinator; and
  2. State Capability Managers – seven people who plan, coordinate and support Capability development at operational sites around Australia.

In March 2014 members of our Capability Community attended an event where Charles Jennings spoke about practical approaches to workplace learning.  We also had a private discussion with Charles about the application of these approaches in our context. Our discussion continued back in the office. Performance support was a sticking point – in particular job aids that people can access as they work.   Most of the group felt that  Operations was solely responsible for developing and publishing job aids.

Fast forward to late 2015. In several States the Capability Managers were helping to implement a system to host Standard Operating Procedures – job aids that form part of our Quality Management System. Their contribution included helping to define information architecture so that content is easy for people to access as they work. In mid 2016 our Capability team helped to develop job aids alongside Operations for a new Quality Control system. The Capability Community now sees performance support as a shared responsibility with Operations.

This story illustrates how our Capability mindset, practices and capabilities have shifted. The most significant shifts are outlined below, followed by a list of key resources, people and development programs that have helped us to modernise.

Evolution of Our Capability Strategy

702010 framework


CCA Supply Chain joined the 70:20:10 Forum in late 2013. Within a few months of joining the Forum I realised that while CCA had adopted the 70:20:10 framework a number of years previously, the organisation had narrowly interpreted it.  We had developed blended learning programs that included theory (10), learning from experience (70) and others (20).  An example of this is ‘CCA’s 70:20:10 Learning Solution for Equipment Operation.’

However, we were not purposefully enabling people to learn as they worked, or building social learning capability.  As discussed in my post 70:20:10 Forum Value Creation Story, after attending a 70:20:10 Forum webinar on the changing role of the learning function I saw that the skills of our capability team needed to be updated. I also identified an opportunity to speak with key stakeholders about improving organisational performance more effectively if we adjusted our Capability strategy, mindset and practices.  I built awareness of the broader scope of 70:20:10 using resources from the 70:20:10 Forum and attendance at the Charles Jennings event described earlier in this post. By late March we had updated out strategy.

The key change to our strategy was the inclusion of ‘Continuous Workplace Learning’ as an element, as per the diagram below. Our operating model now includes a range of new approaches to enable continuous workplace learning including Communities of Practice, user generated content, guided social learning and learning transfer support.

Capability Strategy elements

Our Capability Strategy Elements

Performance Mindset

The mindset shift from ‘training’ to ‘performance’ is reflected in the change in Academy tagline from ‘Creating Technical Excellence’ to ‘Improving Supply Chain Performance.’

In early 2014 performance consulting was not seen as a practice required by L&D. By mid 2015 performance consulting was a standard element of our L&D toolkit. This shift was assisted by the dual role that many of the State Capability Managers have as they are also part of the Operational Excellence (OE) team who work on continuous improvement initiatives. Some of the OE tools can be readily used for performance consulting, and this is now seen as a natural precursor to development of a performance solution that may, or may not, include training.

Similarly the Capability Community now see development of performance support mechanisms and content as a joint responsibility with Operations, rather than something that is outside of their scope.

Social Learning

We have put substantial effort into enabling social learning in order to spread knowledge and better utilise expertise across Supply Chain. In order to support social learning our Capability Community had to experience it ourselves first. We have done this through participation in external communities, including the 70:20:10 Forum and Modern Workplace Learning community (via participation in a range of guided social learning programs and the associated ongoing community). Although participation was optional, enough people have joined in to shift mindset and practices. All Capability Community members also participated in the first rollout of our internal Work Connect and Learn program which builds digital, networking and self-directed learning skills.

online social learning.jpg

Our internal Capability Community has gradually matured, shifting our interactions from fortnightly teleconference catch-ups focussed on project status updates to a combination of:

  1. fortnightly catch-ups focussed on knowledge sharing  (run using Skype for Business);
  2. narrating our work and learning via a log maintained in OneNote; and
  3. use of online discussion forums in SharePoint for collaborative work and sharing of resources for professional development and improvement of our  practices. (Refer to  how I use social tools with my team for more on this.)

In mid 2014 the Academy voluntarily took responsibility for SharePoint governance in Supply Chain. This has allowed us to shape the Enterprise Social Network (ESN) infrastructure to support connection and discovery, enabling knowledge sharing, collaboration, and hosting of user generated content. We have built several online hubs on the ESN to support the growth of Communities of Practice. In May 2016 a Supply Chain restructure was announced, including the expansion of Communities of Practice. This decision was influenced by the work our Capability Community has done to establish, build and advocate for communities.

Our progress in social learning was recognised in November 2015 by the Australian Institute of Training and Development who awarded our Systems Certification program ‘highly commended’ in the Best Use of Social / Collaborative Learning category.

Integrating Learning with Work

Several Capability Community members have undertaken certification through the 70:20:10 Forum. We have modelled some aspects of our internal Systems Certification program on their Certification program, emphasising participants learning as they work. In addition to completing a range of competency-based assessments, evidence requirements for Systems Certification allow participants to choose their own workplace projects and activities. Evidence is heavily focussed on recognition of learning on the job via activities such as process improvements, solving your own or others’ problems, and demonstrating system use to others.

As part of the Systems Certification program the State Capability Managers took on the role of ‘Learning Coach.’ The purpose of a learning coach is to support self-directed learning by providing assistance to identify learning goals, advice on suitable learning activities and accountability via regular catch-ups with individual program participants.

Development Resources and Activities

Here is a list of some of the resources, organisations, practitioners and programs that we have used to modernise our L&D capability. The list is in no particular order. In all instances participation was encouraged, but not mandatory. New ideas and information only translate to learning through experience. The most important part of modernising L&D in our organisation was to try out new approaches, reflect individually and as a group on what happened, then adjust and repeat.

70:20:10 Forum – This forum offers 70:20:10-related resources, tools, an online community, and a 70:20:10 Practitioner Certification program.

Modern Workplace Learning (MWL), led by Jane Hart. MWL offers a range of short programs delivered via guided social learning. You get the benefit of great content, peer discussion, and the experience of being a participant in a program that uses a range of modern approaches.

Charles Jennings – Charles defines his focus as “all things related to learning, performance and organisational productivity, and to the 70:20:10 model.”   Charles has more recently founded the 70:20:10 Institute.

Helen Blunden of Activate Learning Solutions – We engaged Helen to help us establish our first Community of Practice. She helped us to analyse current state of connection, sharing, and peer-supported performance improvement in the target group; develop a Community strategy; and create the Work, Connect and Learn program. We’ve used this program in a range of formats to build networking, digital and self-directed learning skills in our organisation.

Learning Performance Institute – We used the LPI Capability Map to assess our modern learning capabilities and identify high priority development areas.

Towards Maturity – The Towards Maturity Benchmark is a useful way to gain insight on your current learning strategy compared to both other organisations and your own progress over time if you re-do the benchmark annually. Laura Overton and the Towards Maturity team publish a range of resources that provide research and evidence-based insight to help you identify how to improve your learning strategy and performance.

Working Out Loud Circles – We’ve recently run our first Working Out Loud Circles. They offer potential to build networking skills across our organisation, enabling self-directed and social learning.

Personal Learning Networks (PLN) – Everyone in our Capability Community has been encouraged to build their PLN. Having a PLN accelerates your professional development, and introduces you to new ideas and people who can support you as you learn and try new things. It also positions you to help others in your organisation to develop their PLN as a critical self-directed learning capability. Here’s one resource from Jane Bozarth on building your PLN – do an internet search to find more resources on this topic.

Conferences – I look for a mix of case studies presented by organisational practitioners and updates on industry trends and direction from thought leaders. The opportunity to network with other practitioners is also important. Some that we have attended are:

This list is not comprehensive, and there are new resources, organisations and programs becoming available on an ongoing basis that could be added.

It Won’t Happen Overnight….

Shifting your L&D mindset, practices and capabilities takes time. The L&D team needs to first become aware of the possibility of operating differently, then experience new approaches themselves in order to figure out how to adapt them in their organisation, and how best to support them. Our story provides an example of how this change can evolve over time.

What’s Worked For You (or not)?

To all the other workplace learning practitioners reading this post – what have your tried for your personal or team development? How are you going with modernising L&D practices and capability in your organisation? What has worked for you? What challenges do you have?  Let’s have a discussion and see what we can learn from each other.

Note: This post has been adapted from a post made on the 70:20:10 Forum as part of my Practitioner Certification