There are few best practices for the network era workplace, but many next practices yet to be developed. A good place to start is with an integrative performance framework that puts formal training and education where they belong: focused on the appropriate 5%.
Jay Cross calls the new performance environment a workscape:
Workscape: A metaphorical construct where learning is embedded in the work and emerges in “pull” mode. It is a fluid, holistic, process. Learning emerges as a result of working smarter. In this environment learning is natural, social, spontaneous, informal, unbounded, adaptive and fun. It involves conversation as the main ingredient.
Workscapes are not new structures but rather holistic ways of looking at and reformulating existing business infrastructure. They use the same networks and social media as the business itself, but technology is never the most important part. Foremost are people, their motivations, emotions, attitudes, roles, their enthusiasm or lack thereof, and their innate desire to excel.
Technology connects people.
Workscapes go far beyond traditional training and instructional services. Jane Hart has developed a comprehensive framework for the support of workplace learning and performance. Note in the centre that “learning needs to be embedded in the workflow“. This is the premise from which all organizational support must flow.
Another perspective, from Charles Jennings, uses the 70-20-10 framework to prioritize performance support. “If you keep people in the workflow, and provide them with facilities and support for learning, the learning is more effective, faster and efficient.”
A workscape perspective can help management, HR and L&D professionals get away from the trees to see the forest, because business is a complex, interconnected ecosystem today.
One way to look at workscapes is along a continuum of structured work/learning and the informal and opportunity-driven. Loose external networks are necessary to have access to diverse opinions, while work teams need to share complex knowledge and therefore have to build strong, collaborative relationships. I explained this in more detail in Bridging the Gap; Working Smarter.
What becomes evident is that communities of practice are the bridges between the work being done and diverse social networks, fostering cooperation with minimal hierarchical structure.
Basically, collaboration is necessary to do complicated, but manageable, project tasks; while a looser form of cooperation helps to understand more complex and not yet manageable problems. In the network era, cooperation is moving from a soft skill to a required hard skill.
From this perspective, the best way to develop internal workforce support structures (what used to be called learning & development) would be from the outside in.
One can start with what is being constantly learned in professional social networks and harvest it for insights. Then discuss these ideas cooperatively in communities of practice and further test out ways to enhance collaboration (Probe-Sense-Respond).
Through collaborative work, one can get feedback on where performance support may be required and if training is needed. In this way, the externally focused social business, and everyone in it, drives the development tools and methods to support the work being done. Everyone is involved in what used to be the instructional design process, but now there is a focus on collaboration first, performance support when needed, and training as the last choice.
Another way to look at workscapes would be from a maturity perspective, similar to the community maturity model. In The Learning Workplace, Anne Marie McEwan described “four profiles of learning workplaces according to structure, global reach, knowledge type, workstyle and social complexity”: Traditional, Emergent, Networked & Hyper-networked.
Many, if not most, companies today face the challenge of moving from a Traditional profile to what could be called a “more networked” profile, or somewhere between profiles 2, 3 & 4. This “shift to the right” includes:
Developing work structures that are less hierarchical, allow for more individual autonomy and some level of networked responsibility.
Expanding reach to be more global, as the Internet seeps into all aspects of business.
Incorporating ways of sharing increasingly complex knowledge.
Shifting away from a focus on place of work and number of hours worked toward more virtual and mobile connections with workers.
Enabling complex social interactions to develop trusted relationships across distances.
These shifts are corroborated by much of the current literature on social business. The big question though, is: How do we get there? While an even more pressing question might be: How do we get started?
On inspection, one factor is common across all of these shifts – control.
Recently, I was chatting with a friend who works for a large multinational corporation. His main frustration is the level of control throughout the company. Many days he spends most of his time dealing with one support department or another, which has control across the company. Each time an exception occurs, the control measures are inadequate to deal with it and the central authority lacks any local contextual knowledge. My friend gets frustrated, as this is often at the expense of the client. He also says that these exceptions are steadily becoming the norm.
Here is a potential starting point to move to a more networked profile. An initial audit of control measures that no longer make sense would be a good place to start the voyage from a traditional to a networked workplace.
Step 1: Just ask those who do the work where less control would help get the job done.
What authorizations (budget, vacation, time off, travel, etc.) require more time than they are worth?
How can we make it easier to connect with co-workers who are not at your workplace?
How can we make it easier to share and access know-how?
When and where would you prefer to work to be more productive?
Who do you need to get to know better to enhance your work? (customer, supplier, co-worker, etc.).
Step 2: Now take that information and start doing something about it.
Audits make good snapshots that can drive better conversations and approaches on what needs to change.