Use Digital Capabilities to Build Digital Capabilities

Our traditional management models die hard. 

Many organisations are starting to consider how they build new digital capabilities like agile, hypothesis-based experimentation, design thinking, analytics and collaboration. Yet when they start to plan these changes to more digital ways of working, they use management models from pre-digital management:

  • transactional approach to interventions
  • solutions defined by expertise
  • linear implementation approaches
  • waterfall project plans
  • push compliance and competency models focused on supply of new skills to employees
  • narrow delivery models using only learning and classroom learning
  • limited if any measurement of the changes

These approaches seek to make organisations ready for more digital management using the methods of traditional management.

Digital Dog Food

We can do better than this. We can start by asking projects to build digital capabilities to eat their own dog food. If nothing else, they will learn on behalf of the organisation the challenges and opportunities of new digital ways of working. 

New Digital Capability Building

Projects to build digital and responsive capabilities in organisations can be role model projects for those capabilities. Taking a leaf from the digital tool suite challenges those building capability to consider capability building that offers:

  • many paths on the learning journey as part of career paths and achievement of learner goals
  • mobile options, social learning and performance support to sustain learning in the digital work place and wherever is convenient for employees
  • offers people pull and push options across the range of 70:20:10 learning with options also for the depth of content and timing of learning experiences
  • encouraging people to seek out and share learning options from the depth of learning available in their personal networks 
  • engaging programs built from deep insights into the change and capability challenges for employees in working in new ways

New Digital Delivery

The projects to build new digital capabilities themselves can adopt digital approaches by shifting to:

  • agile delivery
  • minimum viable solutions
  • hypothesis-led test and learn iteration
  • considering needs for adaptive change and related changes on the wider organisational system
  • encouraging learners to act as a community to support successful delivery of the project goals.
  • strong analytics supporting not just the delivery of learning but also the strategic contribution of the capability building  
  • leveraging collaboration and networks in and outside the organisation to build capabilities, particularly in making smart decisions on what to build and what to buy.

More Effective

Working on transformation projects in these new ways won’t always be efficient.  It definitely won’t be easy. However, using the tools and approaches of digital management enables organisations to learn and evolve their goals through the process of transformation. This learning will be the path to step changes in effectiveness and a better match to employee and organisational needs.  At a minimum, it helps ensure that the project creates a team of highly capable change agents to help drive the next phase of the journey.

What are the Ethics of Work?

A great discussion on the ethics of working out loud broke out yesterday across my social streams prompted by a thoughtful blog post by Kandy Woodfield. The post and the many discussions it prompted have been insightful and a few key points have arisen for clarification in my strong advocacy of the benefits of working out loud:

  • While I have not been explicit on this, like other forms of social collaboration, working out loud is in my view a voluntary practice. It is not meaningful to describe an activity that involves forcing someone to work out loud as a learning experience or as social collaboration.  
  • Kandy’s call for support for learners through the vulnerability of the learning experience is critical. The objective is to better realise people’s potential and that takes a supportive culture, the right systems and the focus of leadership.

This last point for me was the clue to a broader issue that began to be discussed with many colleagues: 

What are the ethics of work?

If we are right to subject working out loud to an ethical investigation, then perhaps we should extend the same challenge to work. Many of the risks and vulnerabilities that occur in learning experiences are magnified in daily work, but occur with little consideration of the impact on the individual. Worse still work experiences are often designed by managers to exaggerate these vulnerabilities in the name of motivation or performance.

Culture creates an Environment of Support or of Risk

As young children we learn and we make mistakes freely and publicly. It is our approach to the world. As children, we mostly laugh as we learn. At times this process may be frustrating for child and parent.  Either might experience the odd temper tantrum but this learning process is expected of children. As a result, they are supported and encouraged in learning by a family and social environment. Their pace of learning is phenomenal becuse they are free to make sense, to experiment, to observe, to ask questions, to get into new environments and to try.

By the time we reach the workplace, things are not always as supportive. Mistakes are frowned on. Questions can be discouraged. Experimentation is dangerous. People have a status, a job and a place. Failure to learn adequately fast and accurately is treated a performance issue. Public sharing of shortcomings is common with leader boards, rankings, status and accreditation levels, gamification, etc. None of this has anything to do with working out loud or even learning. These practices are widely adopted as best practices from our traditional industrial management model. It is how we work.

Many of the dangers that Kandy raises for working out loud arise not because of the work is out loud, but because it is work. Traditional workplaces using industrial management thinking are often unsupportive of learning and the learner. 

To extend the argument of the blogpost, the way we work presents ethical issues. The danger comes not because of the visibility of working out loud. Mistakes will always happen. People will always be vulnerable if they are doing. The danger comes from the lack of a supportive work environment that encourages learning.

When the majority of learning is unstructured and on the job, this is a much more dangerous situation.  Everyday on the job individuals are trying to improve their performance by learning to work better.  The organisation must be hoping to see the growing benefits of an employee’s work. If we don’t support learning, all of this is at risk.  

Professional learning managers are ensuring that the 10% and the 20% of learning is managed ethically. Who is responsible for the 70% on-the-job learning? 

Leadership is the Technology of Human Potential

We need to ensure our approaches to learning and the development of the potential of people are effective and ethical wherever they occur.  Leaders at all levels in organisations need to work to create an environment that supports learning and supports learners.

We don’t need more of empty platitudes of declaring a learning organisation. The leadership hard work is considering how all the systems in the organisation support or encourage learners, learning, the sharing of knowledge and the development of personal & community potential. That is a great and highly rewarding ethical challenge for leaders in organisations everywhere.

We can start simply:

  • we can support people to learn and discuss the value of learning
  • we can coach people through the challenges of learning
  • we can encourage people to experiment with new and better ways of working
  • we create a voluntary community that shares the vulnerability of the learning experience and supports the learner with peers
  • we can support all of this with fun

A key to the rapidly changing environment of our networked economy is that organisations need to get better at learning and leveraging the potential of our people.  If we take Kandy’s query to heart in respect of on-the-job learning & the very nature of our work, organisations will be better at managing this challenge.

Our organisations will be more responsive.