In a recent article, Bill Brandon speculates that we’ve hit a tipping point in the workplace. Learning demands placed on workers have exceed workers’ capacity to meet them. In other words, we are inundating today’s workers with training and asking them to complete all of it while still maintaining high levels of productivity. This really struck a chord with me… because I see it happening again and again in our clients’ organizations.
I liked Brandon’s article and tweeted it out, saying it was a nice piece… and it was. However, I found myself going back to it and feeling like Brandon neglected a very important point. He advocated for us to think about three elements that all contribute to our accomplishments and performance in the workplace:
- Our skills and knowledge
- Our shared experience (things gleaned from others, informal learning we do via social networks, interactions with peers, etc.)
- Our individual experience (things we learn by doing)
Brandon felt that if L&D professionals thought less in terms of “courses” and used the 70-20-10 “rule of thumb” to consider how to help someone build competence, then we’d be better off. (Caution flag here: 70-20-10 is NOT a proven model; it is described by the person who originally coined it as “folklore.” See page 5 of this journal article written by the originator of 70-20-10, Morgan McCall.) Brandon advocated that we embrace social learning and learning pathways as the means of reducing the stress and burnout so many are experiencing.
The Elephant in the Room
While I do not disagree that avenues other than courses can be hugely valuable in helping build people’s proficiencies, I realized that the article failed to mention the elephant in the stress/burnout room. The elephant is time, or rather lack thereof. Learning takes time, whether we do it informally or formally. In today’s workplaces, we’re pushing people to do more and more. We are failing to acknowledge what this “more and more” often means: we are asking people to go way beyond 40 hours in their work week to do the learning required to build and maintain proficiency and to do the work that contributes to company profits.
Harold Jarche had it right when he said that in today’s economy, work is learning and learning is the work. THAT is the model employers and employees have to get into our heads…that learning on the job is simply part of doing our jobs.
To manage stress and minimize burnout, we have to incorporate “learning curve” into the work people do. We have to factor this learning curve into the time things will take to complete and the amount someone will accomplish in a day or a week. And because people are constantly figuring out how to do something while they are working on their projects, we have to build in this constant “learning curve” into our expectations of what people will accomplish and how fast they will accomplish it.
In My Experience
I run a business and our formula for billable time is not 40 hours a week. Depending on the team member’s role, we estimate that 80% of their time can be devoted to billable tasks. The remainder is allocated to learning and administrative tasks. Giving people time to learn on the job is essential in an industry where we need to stay on the leading edge of what’s possible re: learning solutions. We have communities of practice that people are part of, we have weekly link-sharing and discussions, we have periodic all-company “demo-fests” where we share out projects with each other. On top of all that, we have periodic formal courses that people will attend to build skills in niche areas. All these things take time…in addition to the constant learning someone does in the course of executing projects.
So Bill Brandon, I most definitely agree that we can and should think beyond formal courses in helping people build proficiency. But we cannot do so – even via informal means – if we fail to acknowledge that we have to build the time in for people to learn. Even looking something up requires time.