Monday, October 11, 2010

Guilty of Learning Malpractice

Last week's #lrnchat discussion was on learning malpractice.  I love to join these Thursday night chats as often as I can. Unfortunately, I was unable to make this one.  What a pity.  From the looks of the transcript it was a lively discussion.  I definitely would have been able to contribute to this one.   After 22 years in workplace learning, I have seen just about every form of learning malpractice imaginable.  And I have to admit, that I am guilty of a few transgressions myself over the years.   Let's face it, at times Corporate America can be a tough place for a learning professional.   Business leaders often expect you to take their underperforming employees and run them through a training session as if it was a car wash. They want them to come out on the other side all squeaky clean and ready to go. In this type of environment, it is hard not to commit a few sins.

I wish I could say that after 22 years, I no longer commit learning malpractice. But the best I can do is tell you that I no longer commit felonies.  I'm still guilty of a few misdemeanors now and again.  Sometimes I do things that I know I shouldn't, just to please my internal clients.   My rationale is that if I commit a minor violation to appease a few key stakeholders, it creates some goodwill that helps us build our relationship.  This way I can get closer to them, their problems, their business issues, and their employee development needs.   I'm willing to make small trade-offs to be able to consult with them on the bigger issues where we can really help them with their business.   Some of you might be cringing as you read this.  You might be thinking, "As learning professionals we should never compromise our standards."  But others of you will relate to what I'm saying.   With the competitive pressures, pace of change, and depletion of resources through downsizings we all face, we do have to pick and choose our battles.

So here I write my latest confession:

Our flagship program is a three-month long onboarding for new sales executives that we first implemented in 2009.  I'm very proud of the work my team has done on this program. It is well designed and well-facilitated.  The metrics for program graduates have consistently been in the desired performance range.  When we first introduced this program, we did all the right things. We thoroughly analyzed the audience, work tasks, and expected outcomes.   We were thoughtful in how we set up our virtual learning environment.  We were diligent in our approach to developing and selecting learning activities.  We had lively discussion and healthy conflict among our stakeholders that helped to strengthen our decision-making.   All of this paid off as the program proved to be both effective, and cost-effective.   That is until this summer when we began rapidly transforming our organization and our workforce.   Suddenly, the number of participants enrolled in each new class began to jump through the roof.  And now we are seeing quite a variety of individuals many of them with very different skills and experiences than that of our original profile.  We had to make quite a lot of adjustments on the fly.   We've made changes to content and activities.  We've increased the maximum class size from 15 to 22 and added 25% more classes to the schedule.  Even with the additional classes we are still hitting our newly raised ceiling of 22 every time.  We've pressed new people into service to facilitate the additional classes with less preparation than we would like them to have had.

On all these counts, I'm guilty of learning malpractice.  But I throw myself on the mercy of the court.   I stayed as closely aligned to my business leaders as I could.  I wanted to stay alert and prepared to make changes as needed, but they just came too fast and too furiously this year.  Our onboarding program now resembles one of my local roads after a Connecticut winter: broken up with cracks and pot holes.  We've been filling them in as best we can, but it is still a bumpy ride for our learners right now.   In November, we are reconvening the team to discuss repaving the road for 2011.  I hope I'll be done serving my time by then.