September 30, 2015

Understanding the Empowered Learner

By David James |

empowered learner

This article was originally published in TrainingZone on 28th September 2015.

Workplace learning has changed dramatically in the past ten years and technology has been the primary driver of that change. However, it has not necessarily been learning solutions supplied by organisations that have been the game-changer. The way that technology has enabled workers to self-direct their learning has been the significant factor. Whether it’s been fully acknowledged or not, this has dramatically changed the learner’s relationship with L&D.

When I joined the training team at Lloyds Bank in the late 1990s, we were just getting started with CBT (computer-based training). It was during this period that we (learning / training professionals) were teaching employees a brand new way to learn at work. Fast-forward little over a decade and we find ourselves in a very different position. E-learning seems universally rated as the least preferred way to learn in the workplace and yet the majority of people will self-direct their own learning at work via web-searching and sources they discover online themselves.

The stats are plain to see:

  • More than 70% of people will web-search for resources – as a first port-of-call – to help them to do their jobs;
  • 81% of new starters will perform web-searches for answers whilst assimilating into a new role;
  • 91% of smartphone users will go to their devices for answers when completing a task;
  • And yet only 12% of people will go to HR for help, which means that even fewer people are likely to direct themselves to their company’s LMS

So what? If people are directing their own learning via Google, YouTube or other web sources then surely that’s a good thing, right?


September 15, 2015

Bringing Your Own Digital Habits to Learning

By David James |

digital learning habits

For quite some time now, we’ve been telling employees, managers and leaders (and anyone else who will listen) that the individual should own their development – and so we shouldn’t be surprised that a greater proportion of professional development is now happening outside of traditional L&D channels.

BYOL (Bring Your Own Learning) is a term being used to describe how people choose their own learning sources and (formally or informally) create a learning agenda based upon their needs, ambitions and interests. BYOL was described in a fascinating book of the same name and denotes that ‘what matters is that students learn in the ways that make sense to them and their teachers’. Whether this is in the form of books, courses, videos, mentoring, online learning platforms, or short-form mobile content, there appears to be a growing trend of employees owning more of their professional development.

In a recent webinar, Todd Tauber described one of the catalysts for individuals owning their own development as being the race to remain professionally relevant when human knowledge is doubling every 13 months. Bersin by Deloitte reference a similar statistic with the half-life of many professional skills now being somewhere between just 2.5 and 5 years.

So we did it!

It appears that a great number of employees are owning their development and finding their own channels to grow their knowledge and know-how. So our job is done, right?

Not quite.

If around 70% of people will go to a search-engine as their first port-of-call, 42% seek out a course on their own and only 12% will bother HR, then where’s the context?

If your organisation has (or aspires to have) competencies, capabilities, behaviours or other success criteria then you’ve already recognised that context is essential to professional success – and you’re likely to have incorporated (or at least referenced) these in your development programmes.

So, how do things work in your organisation? How do people get on in your company? What are the appropriate means of influence?

BYOL helps people to develop and grow in ways that they’ve envisioned but how does that compare to what the organisation has envisioned?

The opportunity for L&D is twofold: To identify where context is critical to the organisation’s (and individual’s) success and to recognise the habits, preferences and motivations of employees who are developing themselves and capitalise on these internally. Why? Because through increased employee engagement in your organisation’s learning you can develop your internal capability in the areas that your organisation demands.

This means going beyond BYOL and identifying the digital habits to capitalise on these for the benefit of organisational capability and performance.

In a recent study, Degreed found that 95% of the workforce use at least one personal device at work. If nearly three-quarters of employees will look outside of the organisation with a web-search for answers to help them with their job (and frighteningly that number increases to 81% for new starters), then how can you help to make your organisation’s proprietary knowledge as easy to access?

If we go to our smartphones up 9 times an hour (a little over every 5 minutes) and nearly all smartphone users turn to their devices for ideas while completing a task. And with searches relating to “how to” on YouTube growing by 70% each year, then these are developed habits that we can capitalise on.

When people bring their devices into their workflow, they will use them in a way that will serve them well – and that already serves them well. If we (L&D) can learn what these ways are then our opportunity to engage employees is greater.

But how do we do this, I hear you ask?

The first step is to look at your own habits. What do you do when you need to know something, or when you need to know how-to-do something? Ask your colleagues and friends too – because it’s likely to be strikingly similar.

I’ve been asking most people I speak with this very question. A former-colleague I asked very recently replied ‘Oh, I’m not up with the modern way of doing things, I’d probably just Google it’.

And you?

This post was written by David James, former-Director of Talent, Learning & OD for The Walt Disney Company EMEA and now Learning Strategist with

August 26, 2015

Why learn? When knowing is enough

By David James |

Why learn? When knowing is enough

Homer Simpson: “Is it done yet?  Is it done yet?” / Marge Simpson: “Your meatloaf will be ready in eight seconds, Homer.” / Homer: “D’oh!  Isn’t there anything faster than a microwave?”

Modern technology has increased our expectations of immediacy.

These days, we’re disappointed if we’re waiting a couple of seconds for connectivity on our smartphones, even if, and in the words of Louis CK: ‘It’s going to space! Can you give it a second to get back from space?’

That’s the age we live in and speed is a competitive advantage for business. However, in the world of Learning & Development, the time between inception and execution of an initiative can still be too long:

“You’ve got a need? Ok, well let’s start with a meeting to discuss it. I’ll do some research and go out to market to find the right external supplier, who’ll take a brief and… Oh, you don’t have budget? Ok, well I can spend some time getting up to speed and designing something inhouse. When do you need it by…? THIS YEAR!?!?”

In relation to this point, and in his fascinating blog, Nick Shackleton-Jones (Director of Learning Innovation & Technology at BP) made the point that “the most common mistakes in learning today stem from not being able to see beyond learning”.

Funnily enough, employees already know this. When they need to know something to help them with their jobs (and depending on which studies you look at) more than 70% will perform a web-search to find out what they need to ‘know’ for their jobs – and then continue with their work.

So, what if we reassessed and questioned whether ‘learning’ is really necessary and when ‘knowing’ is enough?

There’s an interesting take on this in a TEDx talk by Tom Chi where he describes knowing as the enemy of learning – because it’s impossible to be in a state of learning and a state of knowing at the same time. However, he goes onto say that ‘the time and place for knowing is in situations where you have problems that have already been solved really well’.

So, I’ll ask you: What problems have already been solved well in your organisation? What is currently packaged as ‘learning’ that could quickly and more easily be made available to employees at their moments of need?

  • How have my peers successfully sold product (x)?
  • How have people successfully navigated their careers in the organisation?
  • How do I prepare for a difficult conversation with a team member?
  • What do all budget holders need to know about fiscal year-end?
  • How should people use [insert name of internal system]?
  • What activities do people need to complete around performance review time?

These are hardly the most difficult ‘problems’ to solve – but I’ve seen each addressed with ‘training’ before now.

If you can identify where – and by whom – a problem has already been solved, then you can amplify this knowledge or know-how across your organisation, quickly and easily. This will free up time and attention for those skills that do need to be learned and honed.

Commissioning learning initiatives can be both a lengthy process and often unnecessary. Business moves fast – and people move faster – so sometimes we just need to find ways of helping people get from not-knowing to knowing in order to perform.

This post was written by David James, former-Director of Talent, Learning & OD for The Walt Disney Company EMEA and now Learning Strategist with

August 11, 2015

3 L&D Lessons from Google

By David James |

L&D lessons from google

As one of the world’s most admired companies, Google clearly get many things right. And having read Work Rules by Laszlo Bock, Google’s SVP of People Operations, I’ll put L&D into that category.

This was evident the moment I read the phrase:

“The biggest opportunities lie in your absolutely worst and best employees”

Based on Bock’s insights, I’ve identified 3 key lessons that we can all learn from Google. None of it is rocket science, some of it we already know, and much of it could easily be applied to other organisations. So, here are my top 3 L&D lessons from Google:

#1: “The people in the bottom tail [of the performance rating distribution curve] represent the biggest opportunity to improve performance in your company.”

Google, like many organisations, have deliberated and experimented with different ways (and reasons for) performance ratings. Whilst others are doing away with them altogether, Google seem to have become clearer on the reasons they rate their people and more robust in the way they do so.

Considering the lowest rated performers as “the biggest opportunity to improve performance in your company” is very different from those companies whose approach is to exit a certain percentage of them each year. The rationale Bock provides is that if performance is simply down to people not being good enough, then that’s a negative reflection on Google’s recruitment, which they pride themselves on and have invested so heavily in.

So, despite the latest performance management trend being to not rateperformance, there’s still benefit in knowing which of your people do truly perform at an optimum level and those who do not… Yet.

Lesson: Identify high performers and low performers in your organisation – with robust, consistent criteria – and understand more about what is actually happening so you too can capitalise on the biggest opportunity to improve performance in your company.

#2: “Put your best people under a microscope”

Once you’ve identified your top performers, you need to fully understand what they do and know that differentiates them.

Bock recommends that organisations “put their best people under a microscope”explaining that “every company has the seeds of its future success in its best people.”