May 2014


Is this what your to-do list looks like?  Mine does.  My responsibilities are largely in support of other teams or persons.  As a result my to-do list is determined by the priorities of others.  I doubt this is unique to me.  The “stuff” I want to do is much lower on the priority list.

When I start my day I prioritize one thing that I really want to get done.  I don’t mean getting a latte or talking with colleagues about fantasy baseball.  I’m talking about a side project or project that means a lot to me.  Often it is a project that I have neglected and need to focus on and get it off my list.  I make it a priority to get something done on that project.

On days where most of my time is devoted to serving others’ needs and priorities this is a nice way to break up my day.  I also use this time to address issues that are not getting attention.  Since they don’t have deadlines there are no expectations, timelines, or deliverables.  I can allocate 30 minutes out of my day on such a project without disrupting or delaying my other responsibilities.  This is where innovation comes from.  I’m not saying any of my priorities represent innovation, but the freedom to work at my own pace enables me to be more objective.

Spending time of a side project also helps my morale.  I’m a self-starter who enjoys identifying and resolving problems.  Finding and resolving an issue makes my day more satisfying and improves my performance on the to-do items that are in service to others.


Allen Toussaint is an American treasure.  You may not have known he wrote the song in the video above. You probably recognize this version though.

He also wrote Working in a Coalmine, Fortune Teller, Whipped Cream, and Java.  His songs have been performed by a wide range of artists including Patti LaBelle, The Rolling Stones, Ringo Starr, Robert Plant and Allison Krauss, Bo Diddley, The Who, and The Pointer Sisters.

You may be asking yourself, “What does this have to do with learning and performance?”  It all comes down to a comment he made in an interview I listened to recently.  He attributes his success to the variety of music he listened to and tried to “mimic.”  He thought that the piano players all knew something he didn’t so he felt like he needed to learn what they “knew” regardless of the genre.  It was this “innocent, naive attitude” that caused him ” to have a very large scope and with equal respect.”

Consequently he “naturally evolved from being a session piano player to a composer, songwriter, and producer.”  This commitment to learning gave us songs like this.

Thank you Mr. Toussaint.

Josh Bersin makes a surprisingly bold statement in this article.

Not only should your organization understand the basics of training and development, but you must integrate it with the company’s talent practices (career progression and leadership) and also create a “culture of learning.” As Peter Senge and many others have uncovered, learning culture is perhaps the most important asset a company can build. (emphasis mine)

Think of all the other assets that could have been listed.  Patents, authors or musicians, physical holdings, even its brand.  But a learning culture was ranked higher than all of these.  Why?  There is a direct link between learning and innovation.  Patents are a result of innovation.  A brand is developed and established through innovation.  Knowing what talent or physical asset to pursue is influenced by innovation.  The one thing listed above that cannot be acquired is innovation.  It must be developed and a structured learning program that provides formal learning opportunities and supports informal collaboration is a necessity to support innovation.

Think about the history of companies like Nokia who lost their market to new competitors like Apple, or the many search companies who lost the search market to Google. These companies don’t fail to innovate. They simply fail to learn.

Bersin’s company created a hierarchy for corporate learning.  The model provides a model for companies looking to improve their corporate learning program.  Of course, Bersin would love to send in a team to help you, for a fee.

I want to highlight a few more points from his article.

[W]hen there is no formal training at all, managers and staff tend to coach each other to try to do their jobs more effectively. This form of organizational learning can be effective, but it doesn’t scale well and is dependent on the skills of the senior people.

This is the case even when there is a training program in place.  Nevertheless, this approach is dependent on the skills of supervisors and other management staff.  Even the most conscientious supervisor struggles to balance employee development with his or her regular responsibilities.

Today companies tend to have a lot of level 1 training taking place, even if they have a well run corporate university (Level 2). There is never enough money or resources to take on every training problem, so incidental, manager-led training is going on all the time.

Not only is there never enough money, but there is also a limit to what can be accomplished through formal “training.”  It has to be supported by upline management and tied to organizational goals.


At Level 4, which few organizations have achieved today, companies bring together these formal and informal tools with a laser focus on direct job capabilities. Here the organization should turn itself inside out: rather than thinking about skills and job needs, they look at “audiences” and “audience profiles.”

What, for example, does it take to turn a good sales person into a leading sales person?  What does it take to develop a good engineer into a great engineer? The answer is not some form of “training” – it is a combination of training, coaching, performance support, and employee assessment. And the answer is likely unique to your organization.

The focus of this level of talent development is capability development.  An example Bersin provides for this level is ” is the US Military. As one General put it to me, ‘We have only two missions:  to train and to fight. When we aren’t fighting, we are training. And when we are fighting, we are learning.'”

This is the mindset required to be successful.  It takes the highest level of organizational leadership to make it happen.  Everyone in the organization has to value learning and look beyond their job duties.

I believe most organizations have a vast amount of capacity and capability that is untapped.  Putting the proper learning program in place and supporting it with the right mindset is a key to the getting the most of an organization’s talent.

This is the final entry on morale killing behaviors and how to avoid them.  Click here for part 1 of this series. Part 2 Part 3 Part 4 Part 5 Part 6

7. “Employees need to know what is expected of them and need to be given the training, tools and resources to accomplish their goals.”

I work in a Training department so naturally I would gravitate toward the training aspect of this quote.  I have to point out that training is not the answer.  We crank out a lot of training.  If that is all that was required we should be successful, right?  But we’re not.  Why is that?  Is it quality?  In some cases, yes.  Is it because the training is not linked to a clear organizational goal?  Sometimes. Definitely.  There is another problem that often goes overlooked.  The mindset of the organization.

Why was it decided that there would be a Training Department?  Training has such a passive quality about  it.  It implies that all one has to do is attend the seminar or read the handout and you will know what you need to know and be able to do what is required to do your job.

I prefer “learning” over “training.”  There is shared responsibility with learning.  The instructor is responsible for providing learning with clearly stated goals, objectives that will achieve the goal, and learning activities that ensure the focus is correct, the objectives have been met, and remediation is provided as necessary.  A learner is expected to be an active co-participant in this process.  The learner is responsible for being fully engaged in the learning and making sure they acquire the knowledge and skills being taught.  The instructor holds each learner accountable and models engagement.  When this is done right it creates a dynamic environment where all participants, instructor and learners, are equally engaged.

If a learner walks out of a class and cannot clearly articulate what they learned and the ability to apply that knowledge or skill then it was a waste of time.  They also need to know how the learning links to their responsibilities and what they are expected to do with their new learning.  If this isn’t true, somebody failed and it wasn’t the learner.  The materials may not have been adequate or appropriate for the content.  Maybe the instructor wasn’t right for the subject matter.  The learner may have needed a higher level course or more challenge.

The bottom line is that effective learning requires planning.  Its an active process.  This kind of learning is a morale booster not a killer.  It shows a commitment to provide support and a desire to equip employees for success.  Subjecting employees to bland training with no link to their job duties or concern for their unique needs or preferences does the opposite.