This blog is generated from the Performance Matters Podcast episode titled Enough is Enough. In it, Bob Mosher passionately advocates for a performance-first approach to workplace learning that is grounded in the 5 Moments of Need, Workflow Learning, Digital Coaches, and Performance Support. To make his points, he expands on the bottom-line and tangible benefits of making the shift from a training-first to a performance-first approach.
Bob Mosher: I recently celebrated my 41st year in education, which seems insane! And Dr. Con Gottfredson has eclipsed 50 years in this remarkable business. I don’t regret any of it. I love what we do, and I am excited about what we can continue to do. But today I want to talk about some challenges and frustrations we see in the industry, and I’d love your feedback.
Please allow me to rant for a bit as I share some insights and pose a few challenges. I’ve been in corporate learning for 36 years. I was in public education here in the States for my first five years in the field, but then I entered corporate learning in the early 1990s. Since my first day, I’ve heard the same four complaints from L&D for the last 36 years:
1) We need a seat at the table (“we” meaning L&D).
2) ROI is really hard to do. Even though we’ve had Kirkpatrick, Phillips, and a whole host of wonderful folks that have run at measurement, we still don’t know how to do it well.
3) We hate being order takers.
4) We’re not involved strategically. Why aren’t we more involved in earlier conversations about the strategic initiatives in the companies we support?
Well, how much of all that is our own fault? The definition of insanity is doing the same thing repeatedly and expecting a different result. But that’s exactly what we do in L&D. If the above four statements resonate with you at all, what aren’t we doing that would change them?
Here’s where I think we get fooled. There are all kinds of cool technologies, initiatives, and so on. But the reality is (as my father used to say), “You can put lipstick on a pig, but it’s still a pig”—meaning, we haven’t changed the narrative. We haven’t changed the deliverable. We may have changed the modality or upgraded the technology. We may have changed some acronyms, but the reality is that we are still in the “training” business almost exclusively, even though we’ve changed and updated our approaches. If you look at our industry’s deliverables and if you know the 5 Moments of Need (Apply, Solve, Change, New, More) you can see that we have not budged outside of New and More in the 36 years I’ve been at this.
Here’s my frustration: why not? This whole piece is going to be about why we can and why we should make a change. It frustrates me that we still sit vulnerable on the P&L cut line every time things get tough, because we’re seen as an expense instead of an investment. Candidly, that is mostly our fault, because although we’ve tried to change the deliverable, we’ve not changed the narrative or truly changed the outcome.
Below, I’m going to list six statements. See how you resonate with any of them and if you think they can change the way you’re seen by those you support: the investment they make in you, the trust they have in you, the partnership they see in you, and how strategically they see you. If tomorrow you said the following six statements to those you support, what do you think their response would be?
1) “I can reduce our typical training costs by half. In any program that we’re going to do in 2023 and 2024, I can reduce typical training costs by half.”
2) “At the same time, I can also reduce the training time (time away from work/time people have to stop working to learn) by half.” Time spent away from work is a massive investment in every organization and an ROI number we don’t track well enough. If I must stop working to take a class, time and productivity are lost. But we can reduce the training time/footprint by half, which means other educational elements (e.g., cognitive load) are improved.
3) “I can reduce by at least 20% the time that people stop working in order to search for information.” Did you know that a study was done, I think by McKinsey, which showed that people spend a fifth of their time—up to one day a week—searching for information? Think about that! People spend one paid working day per week searching for information, and a lot of times they don’t find the right thing, so it’s a total waste of time and money. We can reduce that considerably.
4) “I can reduce time to competency by at least 50%.” This is why we do what we do, right? We’re not in the training business: we’re in the productivity business, and we can reduce the time it takes for someone to become competent in their job by at least 50%. I know of one organization’s onboarding program that spent 18 months making new hires competent. Competent doesn’t mean they “get it”. Competent doesn’t mean they pass the class. Competent doesn’t mean they’re compliant. Competent means they’re doing the work on their own, with no help from others. That same organization used a performance support solution to reduce that program to 9 months or less. It can be done!
5) “I can enable employees to be more self-reliant and agile as they deal with constant change—without having to come back for retraining.” We can help employees stand self-reliant beyond any training effort, so that they don’t need as much (if any) training and can improve their self-efficacy to become better, more productive employees.
6) “I can reduce information chaos throughout this organization by taming all of the repositories, websites, Google searches, knowledge bases, and content.” Let’s consider SharePoint. I’m not knocking SharePoint, but in most organizations, many SharePoint sites become total messes, leaving employees spending 20% (one day a week!) looking for what they need. They can’t find the most current information because the content management strategy on the learner/performer side is a mess. Employees can’t navigate the junk, but we can reduce and control that chaos.
So, if tomorrow you said you could do those six things—reduce costs by half, reduce training by half, reduce time to competency by half, reduce by 20% the time people spend searching for information, increase employees’ self-reliance as performers and learners to reduce training/retraining, and bring the organization’s information ecosystem under control so that it’s easy and fast to search—I don’t know any line of business owner who will say, “Nope. I want five days of training on X.” Not one. But here’s the thing. We are not brave enough to back those promises, even though it’s possible for us to make good on them. It can be done! It is being done! Workflow learning, 5 Moments of Need, and performance support have been proven to validate all six of those promises. You can do these things!
Let me give you an example related to cutting training time and lost productivity. We recently did a cost justification analysis for a retail organization doing a large rollout and opening a whole bunch of stores. Our calculations totaled $23 million in savings by reducing the footprint of training, reducing the productivity lost to time away from work, and increasing the speed of onboarding to new responsibilities and roles. That $23 million in savings pays for most L&D departments, and then some. And that’s the savings on just one project, friends.
You can tell I’m ranting here, but my frustration is that it’s like we’re moving chairs around on the deck of the Titanic and wondering why we’re still sinking. I have been screaming this right along with Guy Wallace, David James, Dr. Con Gottfredson, Chris Hoban, Alfred Remmits, and many others. These are the friends, colleagues, and respected folks in our industry who have been shouting this from the mountaintops for at least 20 years. Why don’t we as an industry listen? Honestly, why don’t we as an industry change now? I think it starts with us reframing our purpose. We’re not in the training business. We’ve said this a thousand times. We’re in the performance enabling business, right? This is behind the whole ROI issue. We must get away from being measured by consumption and instead be measured by output. But to be measured by output, we must shift our deliverables, our methodology, and our approach to something that’s different. If we want to stop being seen as order takers and an expense on the ledger, then we must be seen as a function that delivers products/services that return an investment.
If you look at yours as a performance enabling organization, and then step back and take a hard look at your tools (as I have done in the past), you’ll see that they are not performance enabling tools. Something we must start communicating with those we serve and something we must understand within our own teams, within our own design, technologies, and development, is that training alone has never been enough and will never be enough. I’ll say that again: training alone is not enough. And don’t be fooled by technologies like LXPs, LMSs, eLearning, virtual instruction, handheld/mobile, etc. Don’t be fooled by the deliverable’s look and feel. You must look at the content and design. Most of those things I just mentioned are New and More training deliverables. And yes, they are cool, they’re efficient, and they may provide cost savings. I understand all that. But what we’ve been tricked into thinking is that they do more than just train—and they don’t. They’re training modalities that help mix things up differently and change the economics, which I understand. But the reality is they have not moved the dial, changed how we’re seen, or improved our impact any more than the days when learners walked into a classroom where a teacher used a blackboard and chalk. They are still training deliverables, which are sometimes okay (I will get back to that). It’s training alone that is insufficient.
Sometimes I am seen as attacking and devaluing the classroom, saying the classroom is wrong or bad. It’s not! It’s spectacular. For what it needs to do and what it does best, it is spectacular. But if we step back as an industry, I think we can all agree that there is a price problem. And the elephant in the room is that the classroom carries too much burden; therefore, we over-teach. Every designer and every trainer know this. It’s the thing we say in dark corners when we’re alone and no one else is listening. We over-teach and put way too much in the classroom, so it carries an excessive content burden. Five days of leadership training? Are you kidding me? And here’s the problem. If we only or primarily make training deliverables, we will never get any other outcomes than training. That’s where this whole movement has been going for me for 15 years. It’s not about never creating training; it’s about using training appropriately. It’s about putting it in the context of all the tools we can and should have and using it correctly so that it does what it does best.
You’ve probably heard me use the carpentry metaphor before. The classroom, eLearning, virtual instruction: these are all tools in a toolkit, like a hammer, saw, and drill. The problem is if you look inside many of our toolkits, that’s all we’ve got. But if you embrace workflow learning and digital coaches, if you embrace performance support, and if you embrace the 5 Moments of Need, you will be forced and allowed to move beyond the classroom to a brand-new deliverable. You will be able to make a different promise to those you serve to deliver a different outcome. And you will be seen differently. We’ve seen this happen over and over again to multiple organizations—across the globe, in almost every vertical for L&D teams with leaders who are courageous enough to try this.
I’m not saying it’s easy, but a lot of what’s worth doing in life is not easy. It was a challenge for me to make this pivot. It’s a challenge for any professional to adopt a new approach, and that’s not limited to L&D. Think about doctors using new technologies, accountants with new approaches, customer service people with new systems to better automate processes…I can go on and on! But here’s the reality. Most of those industries have changed and adapted and are probably more productive than we are. We have remained mired-mired-mired in a training-first mindset for almost our entire existence. When someone walks into our office and says, “I’d like five days of training,” all too often our answer is, “Sure, I can do that.” That has to stop. What keeps us from changing? Let’s be brave enough to have a frank conversation amongst our peers as to why we’re not making this performance-first pivot. Is it fear? Is it price? Do we lack the skills? Are we blind to the value? I hope I’ve made a pretty strong case for why the value is there, but maybe I haven’t. Maybe we don’t see it.
Obviously, training alone feels safe. It’s what people ask for all the time, so it doesn’t appear to put us at risk. But think about this: for the entire 36 years I’ve been at it (since my first day), L&D has been at risk. We’ve been fighting for our values. We’ve been trying to prove ROI for as long as I can remember. And when times get tough (and for many of you they are tough right now), we are one of the first functions to get cut. What does that say about our value? Organizations don’t want training: they want results. They think training gets them those results, but honestly, if you ask most of our clients, they’ll tell you, “Training is okay. I mean, what else is there?” There’s the rub! We must stand up and be courageous enough to support a different narrative, to deliver a different product, to do a different type of analysis, and to explore new technologies instead of revamping the old ones and calling them something different. We have seen this work. This can be done. We have proven methodologies, sophisticated technologies, ROI proof, and instructional research to support the fact that this approach does work. It also makes training work, but first we must see ourselves differently.
Let’s go back to how we started. If you are sick of feeling like you want a seat at the table and like you can’t prove true ROI for performance and impact, if you hate being an order taker and being downstream in the whole process, if you hate being the last person the business comes to and being told what to make (e.g., “I want five days of training”) before you have any conversations with anybody, and if you know that you over-teach to the point that your students are overwhelmed and can’t remember or apply more than half of what you just put them through—DO SOMETHING DIFFERENT. ENOUGH IS ENOUGH.
I have a lot of heroes in this business. One of them is a gentleman named Doug Holt. I’ve interviewed him before and he’s written a number of blogs. There’s a great one that I’m going to paraphrase here. He basically said that once you’ve seen this approach and its impact, you can’t look away—and if you do, it’s almost negligent. How’s that for a strong word? Friends, there is a proven better mousetrap. We don’t have to keep doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result. We can do something quite different that will put us in a different position, but more importantly, help support performance at the moment of Apply and enable our learners to stand self-reliant while building their self-efficacy to own their professional development. These are lofty goals that I think we’ve always had, but now we can absolutely do them.
Friends, I’d love to hear what you think. I really would. Honestly, I’m open to anything. What am I missing? What am I saying that doesn’t make sense or seems wrong? I’d love to hear it! Let’s be brave enough to have this very important conversation about what we do, the value we bring and the impact we have on those we serve. Thank you for your patience and time. I hope the information was a little challenging and helpful, and let’s continue the dialogue.
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