The Strategic Side of Workflow Learning

This blog is generated from the Performance Matters Podcast episode titled The Strategic Side of Workflow Learning. In it, Bob Mosher is joined by APPLY Synergies Senior Consultant and Strategist Carol Stroud. Together, they explore the strategic capabilities of workflow learning, which include business partnership/governance, measurement, and change leadership/management.

Bob Mosher (BM): Today, I’m joined by a dear friend and hero of mine in the business. She is one of the more devoted people to the principles of the 5 Moments of Need (5 MoN) and has been seriously instrumental in advancing this approach in her great work. We are honored to have her on our team as one of our senior consultants and strategists. Carol Stroud, welcome!

Carol Stroud (CS): Hi, Bob. Good to be here today.

BM: Today, we’re taking a deep dive into strategy, which I know is a passion of yours. Would you mind sharing your journey and why you find the 5 MoN so powerful? Give us a little bit of your pedigree and why the 5 MoN has been transformational for you.

CS: I am an “old school” instructional designer. I studied eLearning back in the day but found that it didn’t go far enough. I wanted a greater impact in the workflow. eLearning, academics, etc. were alright, but they didn’t transfer well, as far as I was concerned, into corporate learning and what people need at work.

Once I learned about the 5 MoN, that’s what made sense to me. When I was thinking about someone who was in the workflow, I would think, “What do they need and how do we set them up for success in the workflow vs. take them out of the workflow to do academically based training? How do we help them with what is essentially a ‘new eLearning’ and being self-sufficient in the workflow?” I learned a whole design from Con Gottfredson around how to make that happen—a methodology—because the design of the materials is really important when you’re working with somebody who’s in that chaotic day-to-day workflow environment and that cognitive overload.

Really, for me, this became about the best way to design for cognitive overload, which includes the 5 MoN and the EnABLE methodology. This approach got me into implementation at a very tactical level, and that’s how this all started. As a tactical implementer, I was doing battle at those sprint stages of trying to put out something that was more effective for people in the flow of work. Once we started implementing change and seeing good results at that tactical level, then this ripple happened. The 5 MoN methodology was the pebble in the pond. Once we threw that pebble in, all sorts of things started to flow out. I’ve been doing this now for 15-16 years, and it’s the study of that outflow that has grown more for me. The methodology is a great way to change the way people do business, and real results come from it. The development of our implementation framework came about as a way to capture that: what it looks like and what we need to pay attention to in order to ensure success in our organizations. That’s how it all kind of came together.

BM: We’ve matured together in this journey. I met you early in those days and I have been on this journey with you. It’s not happenstance. It’s definitely not falling back on old ways and just doing a little nip and tuck. There’s a transformation here. We use that word a lot in our business, but this has been transformational for me. I think it’s transformational for those listening to understand that there are intentional elements or capabilities that you have to pay attention to, or you will fall back on old habits, old ways, and old tools that will win the day. Often, that’s all people know. That’s what they’ve been taught to ask for.

So, there are a lot of things involved in this journey, and we group them into three sets of capabilities: strategic, tactical, and technical. You’ve helped us define them. Chris King did a brilliant job in a prior podcast episode explaining the technology lift. There’s clearly the tactical side, which Sue Reber will join us for on the podcast as well, because we must reengineer our team and tactically make this work. But I think the most powerful thing for me as an L&D person is the strategy side. We really are change agents in this and strategic thinking is required. You’ve helped us break that down. Help us now in this context, Carol. What do we mean when we say the strategic capability of this and its relationship to technical and tactical capabilities?

CS: Tactical is the great idea, right? It’s what we want to do. In some cases, technical is what we need to do to support that. How are we going to support it via technology? And strategic really makes you look at your organization differently. I think it’s about identifying your partners, who you need, and your “friendlies”. Also, who are your not-so-friendlies and how do you make them friendlies? And how do you work together to remove barriers that get in the way of tactical and technical implementations?

BM: It’s funny, because I think so often in L&D, we fall short in this strategic capability. We’ve become viewed too tactically. So many times we hear, “I wish they’d walked in my office way earlier than this.” That’s not being seen as a strategic partner. That’s being seen as a tactical partner, because now I’m down in the weeds of the doing. “Make me a course,” right? This is a real fundamental shift in how we’re seen in the conversations we host.

CS: Yes, and it requires strong leadership. It also requires a tactical implementer (the person who brings this great idea to the organization) to, in some cases, kind of lead from behind and bring that idea up to their leaders who then can get the champions and C-suite champions on board, because it’s got to go up and across. The topic can’t just stay in your channel or your line of business because you have to play nicely with technology, and you have to play nicely with the finance guys. We all must have those necessary conversations with the people who have the decision-making power to ensure that things can move smoothly.

BM: I think we also have to be seen creating impact across the organization, and not be seen as a one-hit-wonder or get siloed by the thing we create. Because we’ve seen before in our work that when a champion leaves or a project comes to a close, it doesn’t have the reach or the impact or become a learning approach or a learning culture (if I might go that broad) in impacting the organization.

CS: It sort of remains a product when in actual fact you need a whole mind shift change, which depends on three key strategic capabilities.

One is business partnership and governance. That sort of speaks to playing nicely together and collaboration. Governance gets us into asking about the right structures. Are they in place and are you at the right table? The way in which the methodology articulates all the workflows—because it’s based on the workflow—ties directly into continuous improvement at the strategic level, which has never really been available. The opportunity to get continuous improvement at that workflow level has not been previously articulated. So, that’s something else that comes to the table. And the business partnership/governance structure is about money. One of those governance decisions is about what money is going to be invested where. You have to be at the table to have that capability and to bring the pieces of the puzzle together at that business partnership and governance level.

The other pieces of strategy are measurement and change leadership.

Measurement falls into two categories. One is the effectiveness of your team and whether they are working well. In tactical, we have the methodology, but we also have project management and change management. Well, project management helps your team be more effective so you can measure how well you’re doing at that strategic level. The other measurement is around the impact of your solutions. How are you helping the organization meet its vision, mission goals, and objectives? To make that happen, you need change management. So that’s how it ties down into change management at the tactical level. Measurement, of course, is reliant on technology to gather the right data and turn it into information so that decisions can be made. That’s how technical capabilities tie into all of this.

The last piece is the change. Everybody’s heard that you have to change to survive. So, we make sure that we’ve got the right change capabilities. What does that look like in our leadership? What are those characteristics? What are they looking at to ensure that they’re staying ahead of their needs and being proactive instead of reactive? Those change leaders are really important, because they’re the ones who are out there building the support. They’re communicating not only in their language and the things they’re saying, but in their behaviors and what they’re doing. So, between business partnership, measurement, and change leadership, those capabilities move an organization into a better position to implement the change recommended by putting learning into the workflow.

BM: Let me pivot on some nuggets here. The workflow: when I saw my first Rapid Workflow Analysis (RWA), I was aghast. This was at least 20 years into my career, and I’d done ADDIE to death. I’d built eLearning and was part of one of the first companies that did it. I was a decent stand-up trainer and wrote a lot of curriculums. So, during that first RWA, I was in the back of the room thinking, “Where are we going with this? We’ve got these SMEs in here, so why aren’t we filling whiteboards with stuff? Why aren’t we talking about all the things people need to know?” You know, the classic stuff. And where I’m going with this, Carol, is that I think the pivot on the workflow changes the business partnership relationship in a way that’s unbelievable. In the old days, people almost felt like they were doing me a favor by staying in the room with me long enough so that I could get an outline to build. Then, they kind of washed their hands of it. When we begin with this workflow discussion, the partnership forged with the business and way we’re seen as a partner to the business, I think it’s very different and unique. Have you seen that, or do you see that as a significant pivot?

CS: Yes, and it is THE pivot as far as I’m concerned. If you’re not articulating a workflow and working to support that workflow, then I’m not sure what you’re doing. It’s the workflow that provides value back to the organization. The organization is in business for a reason and the way it achieves success is through effective completion of workflows. When we think, “Oh yeah, I did eLearning,” it was eLearning to do what? What performance was it meant to support? You said it before, Bob: “They need to know a lot of stuff.” But was knowing stuff good enough? I don’t think any organization pays people to just know stuff without an expectation that they can do something that’s good for the organization with that knowledge. For me, the articulation of the workflow is everything, because that is also how the organization measures its success. So, if you’re able to create an impact in that workflow and measure that impact, then I think you’re making a difference. Putting a Digital Coach or Targeted Training in place, for example, is all about supporting a workflow. Now, you’re creating impact, but if you haven’t got it tied to a workflow, I’m not sure how you measure impact.

BM: It’s amazing how many RWA’s I’ve sat through for existing curriculums or new iterations of software, and looking back on what was taught prior to this approach, there’s a lot of waste. Without that workflow context, it seems that “everything” should be taught. Well, maybe not. It also amazes me how many businesses don’t have visibility into their actual workflows. I’m not even talking about the deliverable of a Digital Coach. I’ve seen many RWA’s where the line of business is like, “Holy cow. We had processes. We did all this mapping. We assumed that was the workflow and it was not.”

CS: Correct. And it’s a very different conversation through RWA’s about the output of a process. What actually gets created out of one process feeds into the next process, and then we start getting really crunchy with it because you can still be in a lot of “understand” or “review” without being very concrete about what actually gets produced. As soon as you start tying it back to what value it’s providing the organization and asking those questions, that’s when you start clearing out some of that mud and start getting very specific. It’s a wonderful process. I love the RWA.

BM: It’s the crux. Everything flows downstream from it, doesn’t it?

So, let’s roll down into measurement a bit deeper. I chased ROI for my entire professional career. I knew Phillips. I knew Kirkpatrick. I understood them conceptually, and I tried to “square peg/round hole” a class or an eLearning in the worst possible way. Finally, someone came to me and said, “Look, you can infer or you can ask why, but you can’t determine cause and effect.” How does this strategically change how we’re seen from an impact or measurement perspective when it comes to what we do and deliver?

CS: I think it’s all about context. Because our context is the workflow, any of the measurement is within that context. Like I said, if it’s not about what people are doing that provides value to the organization, then what did Gloria Gery say? You can just weigh them, right? Because for me, it has to be tied back into a business value stream. The only way you can do that is by actually saying, “These are the things you need to do to perform your job; therefore, we can measure against those.” The other thing is that when we work, we’re not in single silos, right? The more you do an RWA, the more you’re mapping each piece of DNA of an organization, and each one connects and ties into the next. The more we get them mapped, the more organizations can see. It’s kind of fun doing an RWA, because you hit on something and realize another part of the business also does a piece related to it. So now we’re able to map a fully integrated picture of how the organization does business. It’s that integrated picture that feeds the strategic side of the implementation framework, because you’re not just looking at silos of the business. You’re seeing how it all comes together to achieve the overall objective for the organization. It’s the multiples—not the singles—that create the impact that can be measured.

BM: You always do such a remarkable job of hosting the governance conversation, and I poke fun at it with you sometimes. But the reality is that it’s the foundation of this thing that holds it all together, right? It gets down and dirty quick. When you’re in the workflow, it’s mucky and there’s a lot to it, including managing the assets that come from the analysis and the orchestration of the Digital Coach and the true blend of experience that leads to impact. So, you’ve got to have some controls and guard rails. How do you host the governance conversation, Carol? It’s such a new word for a lot of L&D folks, but how do you help them dip their toe in it?

CS: I think we see governance differently, Bob. I see it at that strategic level: who’s got the ability to make decisions about things? And maybe this is where we can follow this down to where it does tie into asset maintenance, which is what you are asking about.

Governance in this context would be if an L&D department is creating a Digital Coach and all the assets that go into it, a conversation needs to happen about who’s going to maintain it. Will it be the line of business? If the line of business is going to own it, here comes the ripple effect. What technology skill sets does the line of business have to keep content up to date? If you’re using a system to build a Digital Coach that the line of business can’t use, or the line of business doesn’t have the right people or skill sets, then you’ve got an ownership issue for the ongoing lifecycle of the Digital Coach that must be resolved. That’s where governance comes to the table to say, “What is the right technology?” You have to have a much bigger mindset about how the different pieces of the puzzle fit together, from content generation to content maintenance, because an L&D team should be implementing a Digital Coach as a project that gets handed over to operations. That’s where that ownership of content conversation has to happen, which is why you get into the governance conversation. It hits on technology, methodology, measurement, and continuous improvement. So, I think you’re correct in asking about where maintenance fits in all of this. The Digital Coach has to be maintained and has to survive, so the end goal is maintaining current content. How do we make that happen?

BM: To your earlier point, that’s an element, right? And it bleeds into content management.

I love where you’re going from a strategic perspective around governance in an enterprise. There’s governance of authority, there’s governance of decision making, and so on. Again, I don’t know if we’ve wandered into this area much when we get mired in a training deliverable. What’s your thinking around governance at the organizational level, which I think is foreign to us in many ways?

CS: As order takers, it was pretty cut and dried. You just created eLearning, which some organizations don’t revisit and/or maintain. But workflow learning doesn’t work if it’s not current. That’s why the governance structures at the strategic level are so important. If you’re going to be working with an operational line of business, you must have agreement across the board about who is going to take this on and own it, because there is a cost to it. They need to invest the resources to maintain it, but once a Digital Coach is up and running, it is way more cost effective than continuing to build and deliver traditional training. Because the cost of training is high, but its value and stickiness is pretty limited. However, if you are training workers to look up answers in a Digital Coach that is kept current, you recoup costs from not developing more and more eLearning. You’re creating a self-serve situation in which somebody can go in and find what they need when they need it. But you must have an agreement across that C suite about the approach. We talk to some folks who think workflow learning is a great idea at the L&D team level, but they’ll say, “Well, our VP isn’t paying any attention. They’re not interested and just see us as a training shop.” If that’s the case, I think you’ve got a problem, because if that’s the thinking, you’re really going to have some barriers to break down.

BM: We have learning leaders listening to this podcast who oversee teams and are CLO’s. I love the concept of change leadership, but I’ll be honest that I hadn’t heard that term a lot. Change management, sure, but change leadership—how do you define that? What are its key components?

CS: For change leadership, there are two parts: respond to adaptive challenges and challenge the status quo. The first thing is to challenge the status quo, right? If you don’t have a leader who’s willing to challenge that status quo, then you’re not going anywhere. To be able to challenge the status quo, they must have their head up and be looking out. That’s the “respond to adaptive challenges” part. In the context of making and adding value at the value stream level of the organization—as opposed to “we just deliver training”—your change leader is looking at external and internal opportunities for the organization to be better. How are they going to get ahead of their competitors or fix some issues? You have to have those change leaders who are out there, willing to look and see where the problems and opportunities are, knowing that they can function and make a difference at that workflow level.

You know, that’s a tool we’re giving them in their 5 MoN toolbox. Because we can articulate how your organization does business, when you see a performance problem, we can dig down to help resolve it. So, we’re really relying on those change leaders to say, “The status quo is not working” or “Look at this opportunity around the corner—AI is wagging its head there. What can we do to bring this into our organization and how is this going to affect us?”

I’ve spoken to leaders who feel that their job is to stop change, to manage change and not let it happen (i.e., to keep equilibrium). But for a change leader, you need someone who’s willing to upset that equilibrium for the better of the organization: not just to upset it, but to help meet those organizational goals and objectives. If not, you’re getting behind the power curve pretty fast. With the rate of change in organizations now, you need somebody who’s running, staying ahead, and bringing it back to you saying, “Okay, here’s what we’re seeing and how can we use this to our advantage?” Usually, we can turn that around quite easily by saying, “Well, what is it we want people to be able to do?” As soon as they bring that to the table and we ask those questions, we can articulate it and know how to solve it. So, it’s a really critical piece.

Within our implementation framework, we have our maturity model with levels one through four. Level one is where people leaders aren’t even looking for something different. They don’t even realize they need to do things differently. “Training has always worked. We don’t need to do anything differently.” Yet, I think the pandemic really showed us that we need to be a bit more agile and able to respond more quickly to opportunities that are coming our way—or maybe not opportunities, but things we still have to be able to survive.

BM: To survive in a state of change and see the change coming, knowing that change will beget more change, rather than solve for change and have none. A plateau is not successful in the current or longer state.

CS: It can’t be—not at the current rate of change. And it’s been this way for a long time. Nobody says, “Oh no, we don’t have any change going on in our organization.”

BM: One of my favorite quotes from a senior pharma leader during the pandemic was, “We finally realized we can’t train our way out of this anymore, if we ever could.” That’s a brilliant insight, and that’s really how a change leader leads through change. They lead through seeking out change and through bringing on change when it needs to upset the status quo. That’s real change leadership, right?

CS: Change management is about the implementation of those new ideas. Change leadership gets us to those new ideas, and it’s a very active approach to what’s happening in an organization’s environment.

BM: And being really comfortable there and a stable leader in the midst of change.

So, when someone listens to this podcast episode about business partnership/governance, measurement, and change leadership—huge parts of this strategic capability—where do they start? Where would you recommend people dip their toe in having heard us go across these areas? Is there a crawl-walk-run approach to this that they should consider?

CS: Initially, I would be looking for that change leadership piece, particularly in your line of leadership. Because if you haven’t got it there, you’re really challenged. Having worked in a situation where I had very strong change leaders, I understood when we were raising this that they thought implementing eLearning was a good way to go. When I asked what the real problem was and they said, “Well, we don’t see what people are being trained on being applied in the workflow,” I said, “Well, we’ve got a very different conversation.” And it was from there that the nuggets started to grow. This leader really took off and sustained for probably five years until she retired.

We got into governance impact because another internal group felt they were the internal learning organization, so there was a lot of duking things out in terms of different stakeholders, perceptions, and who they thought had the governance power in the organization. But it was that change leader who was able to start chipping away and across the C suite. There is also Kotter’s change leadership model in which he talks about getting 75% of the C suite on board. So, you want that change leader to be up there working across that C suite to get 75% of those players to buy in and that’s how you start to get a change truly implemented in an organization.

So, I think the pivot is that change leader, and then the other things come along. You need that change leader support to help you plow through the governance, the measurement, and the funding, but you’ve got to have that active player in the C suite level. I think somebody at a tactical level is also a change leader if they’re the one who’s brought this to the organization. They’ve done this adaptive response, challenging the status quo. I don’t think change leadership stops or stays at the strategic level. I think it happens all the way through, but it is a different way of thinking about change, as opposed to standard change management.

BM: Everyone has the possibility and responsibility to help in this journey. Carol, as always this was spectacular. I so appreciate your insights and there is so much to be done in this area.

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