Switching Hands: The Future of Organizational Learning

Switching Hands: The Future of Organizational Learning

A while back, I interviewed renowned guitarist Billy McLaughlin for a TV show. A solo performer, Billy used both hands to “hammer” the neck of the guitar without strumming. It was mesmerizing to see live.

But as his career progressed, two fingers on his dominant right hand began to curl and seize. It only got worse with time.

When he finally sought medical help, years later, he was told that he had focal dystonia: an incurable neuromuscular disease that causes uncontrollable muscle contractions and abnormal postures. Billy recalled the doctor frankly stating, “I believe it’s time to find another profession.”

Instead of giving up, Billy focused on what he could control: his non-dominant left hand. For years, he closed himself in a room and practiced in a desperate attempt to revive his career. He didn’t stop until he was ready to perform again at his previous level of skill.

Astounded by his story, I asked what he learned from this experience.

“I learned how to be comfortable being really bad,” he said.

This is exactly the message I tell people in the corporate realm who resist change. When you’re jolted by new processes or evolving industry standards, you must accept the messy teething period of adaptation. Simply focus your mind on what you can control, and you’ll create the change you desire.

Out with the Old

The organizational training industry is at the very same place that Billy was when he realized two fingers on his dominant hand had seized up: a critical juncture with a decision to make.

Technology is changing faster than ever, and thanks to that, generations of workers across the board—not just millennials—are operating in entirely new ways.

Yet, training remains at a standstill. It’s an industry that doesn’t even realize the fingers on its dominant hand are stiffening. They continue to play, not hearing the drastic dip in quality.

Here’s the reality: Organizational training is ineffective and funnels cash down the drain. Period. Don’t believe me? Harvard Business Review recently published “The Great Training Robbery” in which the authors describe how more than $150 billion dollars was spent on training in 2012. Their findings showed that organizations were unable to translate that money into measurable change within individuals and organizations.

These findings were reinforced by learning and research firm Axonify, which found that only 43% of employees found training to be effective. The study revealed that this was largely due to to inefficient, traditional approaches such as “lengthy, ‘one and done’ training events.”

And these outdated methods barely fit in the modern employee’s schedule, considering that an individual can only spare 1% of their workweek to training and development, according to Deloitte’s HR-driven research sector, Bersin.

This all amounts to an entire industry that is not only severely lagging, but is also producing a product that fails to create measurable changes in behavior.

So what’s the answer? Like Billy, we need to focus on what we can change, and what can be changed are the methods by which we deliver training.

One method that I’ve found to be especially effective is cinematic microlearning.

A New Way to Train

If you’ve worked with or amongst organizational training programs during the past 10 years, you may have heard of microlearning, which delivers standalone content in short, concentrated nuggets of information. It typically focuses on a very specific learning outcome and can be easily melded with an individual’s workflow. As a multimedia tool, microlearning lends itself well to our growing dependence on technology. Need to engage in a quick session on your phone? No problem. Looking to get some time in on your laptop before the morning meeting? Totally possible.

The idea entered the mainstream in 2005, thanks to a microlearning conference held in Innsbruck, Austria.

Professionals in different disciplines of learning and training highlighted—through their own research—how microlearning saved time, condensed large amounts of information, and allowed learners to proceed at their own pace. This new method resulted in greater retention, money saved on training, and unparalleled convenience.

Microlearning has retained that same level of effectiveness. Consider a recent study conducted by research firm Software Advice. Their findings showed that nearly 50% of employees preferred microlearning in their company’s learning management system.

Software Advice interviewed Mark Clarke, a professor of cognitive design at Northwestern University, for further insight. He was quoted as saying that “microlearning is a necessary step in the cognitive process of learning from experience or making behavior changes.”

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Microlearning 2.0

Microlearning on its own is powerful, but when a narrative creates an even deeper connection, engagement is strengthened and reinforced.

At GWT Next, my Emmy award winning business partner and I wanted to implement microlearning, but felt that the method could be improved. We decided to apply the visual narratives of filmmaking, thus creating cinematic microlearning.

Why blend filmmaking with microlearning?

A white paper published by MindGym cited research and case studies to demonstrate the effectiveness of microlearning. They reiterated that it was cheaper and more favorable to retention, but also added that “relevant stories with engaging punchlines increase engagement,” due to the “emotional connection” that is created.

Consider the story of Billy McLaughlin. We transformed that narrative into a discussion piece that prefaced a microlearning module on changing workplace behavior. It’s a poignant example that participants can refer back to during their struggles with change.

Another crucial aspect of cinematic microlearning is that learners are prompted to continually discuss the material they’re absorbing. In addition, we follow a coaching philosophy when guiding learners through the program: don’t tell people how to act; ask them what they think and urge them to develop their own viewpoints.

These strategies amount to a program that’s light years beyond traditional methods of training.

New and Improved

Let’s think about how microlearning compares to traditional training. Picture this: You’re a high-level member at your company and much of your day is nonstop. However, a new cybersecurity policy at work requires all employees to complete a full- or half-day training program on the policy.

By contrast, cinematic microlearning is accessible on all your devices, allowing freedom and flexibility to accommodate your schedule. During lunch, you bring up the program on your phone and watch a video about a company that was burned by a cybersecurity scandal. The clip is short, but replete with interviews and powerful storytelling. You can’t help but be engaged.

After the video, you answer a brief question that allows you to form your own thoughts on the matter and head to that post-lunch meeting discussing the policy. You find yourself much more proactive than normal and even reference the module you just watched. All because that story sparked emotional interest and, as a result, you were more engaged in the material.

If we think about traditional methods, the impact is nowhere near the same. Online learning modules that last for weeks, lengthy training seminars, and boring PowerPoints on new policies constitute the old philosophy behind workplace learning. They’re all likened to a firehose of stale information that’s easily lost on the user once they return to work.

The modern workplace is constantly evolving; it’s faster and more streamlined. There’s simply no time for this outdated, and ineffective, mode of learning.

Cinematic Microlearning in Action

When implemented in the workplace, cinematic microlearning has the power to change a single person or an entire department.

I recently worked with a woman—let’s call her Mara—who worked at a multinational chemical company. The industry was incredibly dynamic: new products were a constant reality, and due to government regulation on these products, change was always happening. From Mara’s vantage point, the company wasn’t keeping up. There was no dedication to learning, no change management strategy, and therefore no attempts at planting the seeds of innovation.

Mara had heard about our cinematic microlearning program and wanted to implement it at the customer service department within the organization. She secured approval from senior management, and we got to work.

Over the course of several weeks, we implemented several different modules, which targeted employee behavior, practices and policies, and sparked conversations regarding change and innovation. These sessions were often prefaced with powerful anecdotes, and employees were asked, not told, how to act.

When Mara and I reconnected weeks later to discuss program results, changes throughout the department had begun to reveal themselves. Specifically, employees were much more focused on improving the quality of their calls and interactions with customers. They had even created weekly discussions dedicated to improving individual and collective customer-service goals.

Communication in the department vastly improved, and meetings—often canceled in the past—became regular. Teams became more cohesive, and everyone seemed more receptive to new ideas.

Based on the program’s success, Mara planned on pitching it to other departments.

But this isn’t the end of the story.

Once the program was done and feedback was given, we came across some strong criticisms from one individual. Let’s call this person the “curmudgeon.”

The curmudgeon disliked the program and thought the company was cheap for using it. The individual felt that the microlearning format was low-impact. They desired a longer and more in-depth program and hated watching the cinematic portions of the modules.

But Mara kept note of this individual and often engaged in casual conversation with them to gauge any changes in work attitude or performance. There was no question about it, she said. The curmudgeon had changed. The person often referenced content from the program and had even found a new spark in daily work. Much later, the curmudgeon even admitted to recognizing these personal changes.

Full Speed Ahead

Cinematic microlearning combines human interest stories and strong, emotional narratives with content that is short, sweet, and distributed throughout the workweek. Wrap that all up in a coaching approach and a methodology that encourages learners to share with each other, and you have the formula for effective, retention-rich training.

As an organization, you must seek change and innovation at all costs. But at face value, those are nebulous, abstract goals. How do you get there? Start with something concrete. Transform training, and you transform the way your company learns. Transform the way your company learns, and you’re in a position to accelerate growth and to embrace the future with open arms.

Like Billy, the fingers we’ve been using to orchestrate our organizational training programs are going stiff. It’s time to relearn and adopt new ways, to embrace new methods like cinematic microlearning and narrative-driven programs. It’s time to change.

About Laura Goodrich

An internationally recognized change expert, Laura Goodrich has spent more than 20 years as an innovator, speaker, coach and advisor. She is a co-founder of GWT Next and the award-winning author of Seeing Red Cars: Driving Yourself, Your Team and Your Organization to a Positive Future. Contact: @lauragoodrich @GWTNext LinkedIn

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