This is the content from a recent User Group presentation in Melbourne, Australia. I referenced some key research and factors impacting employee experience that I can also share in blog form.
The session focused on some key observations from organisations I engage with, some changes I am seeing, the results from those work practices or organisation decisions, and factors to consider for a path forward.
The Rate of Change
The first key observation in what is happening across organisations is relating to the rate of change.
It is no surprise that we have experienced a lot of change with technology, and in particular Microsoft 365, not only in the past 1-2 years but the last 5 years also.
People are just getting by and trying to keep up with technology. There is more and more ongoing change, and it isn’t slowing down. Each month we see updates and new features. While it is great to seeing the innovation, it is coupled with exhaustion.
While the term change fatigue is common, I also consider communication fatigue impacting employees, and with regards to the rate of change, I love a term I came across a few years ago – change whiplash.
- How many Microsoft Teams and channels you are a member of
- The number of Microsoft Teams meeting features that have been launched over the last 18 months
- The variation or inconsistent ways of working across your organisation – some people stick to email, others try to be ‘all in’ with Teams
Also, think about how you were working 5 years ago (potentially ‘pre’ Microsoft teams), 2 years ago, compared to now.
Microsoft Roadmap Example
A few months ago I reviewed some of the data in the Microsoft Roadmap, running a report and export of data from 1 July 2020 to 1 July 2021. I specifically selected the tools I felt most people use every day, across their working day: Outlook, the Office Suite, and Microsoft Teams.
While I am aware there were many changes in the few months prior to this period (March – July 2020 was a period of rapid change to help the mass move to remote working), I chose to focus on a 12 month window.
The result: 478 rows of data!
Now, some may be repeat updates such as an upcoming feature or change and the ‘in development’ update vs ‘launched’, but even so this is so much detail. This averages 30-40 change per month.
This detail allow shows us how fast things have been changing – reinforcing that term ‘change whiplash’.
To review data in the Microsoft Roadmap, visit here: www.microsoft.com/en-AU/microsoft-365/roadmap.
Lean Learning Programs
Some observations for decisions around organisation learning are:
- Lean learning programs
- Increase in self-paced learning
- Generic learning content
- Less budget for learning programs
- Less decisions based on research and evidence
Organisations are reducing the amount of face-to-face sessions and support for staff, driving autonomous learning. Staff are expected to access online content, absorb, and apply to their job.
In some cases, there is reliance on free content, such as Microsoft Teams videos on YouTube, being generic and not taking into account organisation specific configuration and governance. Now while I understand there have been challenges with budget and the move to remote working, are we really considering how adults learn best and the optimal learning strategy for employees?
Some common themes and outcomes from the patterns mentioned above:
I am sure many consultants, or businesses, are seeing similar results.
Personally, I think we are putting unrealistic expectations on employees.
In this particular presentation at this point I asked for a raise of hands for who is wearing a smart watch. The point? Well, we setup alerts in so many areas of our life – when to exercise, sleep, drink water etc. Yet in the workplace, we expect people to be in charge of their learning and just work the technology out.
How can we expect people to find their way, learn, and change, in amongst their working week?
Who reminds us to use the technology and features in specific ways across our day? Just some food for thought.
It is difficult for many organisations to keep up. To be honest, I bet many changes to unnoticed, or are handled in a reactive manner.
How can we deeply embed habits when our learning is shallow, lean, generic and once-off?
And especially due to the pandemic, people are low on motivation, frustrated, dissatisfied and burnt out. They are not in an optimal state to learn yet be expected to own that journey and just get it done, applying behaviours and adopting new features and changes.
So now what?
What do we know about learning?
Let’s consider some findings from research in learning over the years.
Firstly, research by McKenna (et al, 2019) found Blended Learning improves adult learning outcomes. We learn best from a blended, multifaceted approach.
In additional to this, Kirschner & van Merrienboer (2013) found that individuals are not the best owners of their learning journey. These points alone are crucial in development of organisation learning.
Hager (2011) explored the idea that traditional training is not enough for job readiness, and found there needs to be a combination of more applied content that is relevant to the workplace, also commenting that on-the-job learning is stronger than reading content.
Marsick and Watkins (2021) introduced the notion of ‘informal learning’ and also ‘incidental learning’. Core to this is the experience and reflection of the learner.
Another researcher, Boud (2016), felt that for learning to occur and be effective, people need to have engaged in a considerable weight of meaningful tasks. Key factors like a feedback loop, meaning and context, informal discussion, the space to explore, test, discuss and grow, are all crucial for successful learning.
Think back now to the one-off demo/ training session, or a generic YouTube video.
If we go a bit deeper and more theory, crucial to learning programs are elements of socio- cultural theory as described by Hager (2011), where it is important to cover both elements of the individual and group learning. The collective learning will help drive the organisation goals while also supporting further growth in each individual’s learning.
Think about in the workplace and how we are each learning skills, but they are impacted by the group or department behaviour. One person can learn modern productivity tips, but the value is lost when colleagues are not growing their own skills. Our learning impacts each other and is relevant at both the individual and group level.
More successful learning programs involve creating a learning approach that has a broader context – with activities that provide general skills, along with group activities allowing learners to apply to their job and test with role play and feedback.
Those in HR or Learning & Development roles in particular may have heard of Thornburg – the spaces and places model. This brings into play the ideas of formal learning vs incidental learning (how we discuss around the water cooler, in ad hoc chat, and learn from each other compared to webinars and training sessions).
With this model, the campfire was the place to listen to leaders, a 1 to many approach. We can compare that to a presentation, a webinar, or conference sessions.
The Watering Hole is many to many, and ad hoc. This could be conversations at your desk, in the open plan office, on a casual call, or even an online discussion thread.
The cave – learning solo. Watching videos, reading, accessing a User Guide.
The above image shows a comparison of that and Seven spaces model. With both of these models we know employees learn in many ways and it’s important to revisit this when building organisational learning.
When it comes to technology used as a learning platform, you can review Bates’ Sections model – this is used to assess technology for suitability, working through the key areas in relation to the participant group and key factors for that situation, people and organisation
Not only is the content import but the platform delivering it.
With all that in mind – how do people know what to learn, have clear goals and context, and be in an optimal state with a journey to help them?
A LinkedIn Learning account doesn’t provide this. And who drives it?
Who talks- the- talk and role models the autonomous learning and new workplace skills?
Organisational goals and strong leadership with the behaviour you want to drive are crucial.
What do we know about human habits?
Another area to dive deeper into which doesn’t get the deep focus required for lasting change, is breaking down habits.
- The more you repeat something, the more it becomes automatic.
- The more you repeat, the more the structure of the brain changes helping you become efficient in that activity.
- To build a habit, you need to practise it.
Remember, it is human nature to follow ‘The Law of Least Effort’. People naturally gravitate towards the option that required the lease amount of work. It’s physics.
There is a lot of research and great information on how we create good habits – it is key to make it obvious, make it easy or satisfying. This will make people more likely to repeat the behaviour. Alternatively, if we want to break a bad habit, it needs to be invisible, unattractive, difficult or unsatisfying. Key to this can be accountability – humans have a strong desire to fit in, gain approval, respect, praise. We can use this in the workplace with ways of working.
Want a behaviour to stop? Block it.
Consider what needs to change across the organisation. You can review desired ways of working and drill down into individual habits.
The way I see it, your ways of working are the sum of its parts – the individual habits.
Some examples of automatic behaviours, whether good or bad:
- Attach to email
- Send a link
- Use a USB
- File shares
- Cloud library
- Or even shadow IT
- Lack of agenda
- No structure
- Not considering accessibility needs
- Using poor quality devices
- All the bad meeting etiquette
- Back and forth email discussions
How do you create good habits in employees and drive long-lasting change?
And, how do you manage this and innovate ongoing?
Employees cannot just attend training, or watch a video, and understand the context or have their behaviour changed going forward. They need motivation and support to drive new habits.
For a deeper understanding of this area, try reading some of the following:
- James Clear – Atomic Habits
- Charles Duhigg – The Power of Habit
I have also learnt a lot relating to work, focus and setting up your day for successful habits from:
- Cal Newport – Deep Work
- Robin Sharma – The 5am Club
The final thing to consider for a stronger path forward with employee behaviour and ways of working is the ‘R’ in ADKAR.
Many are aware of this popular approach, but I commonly see project close, consultants move on and things fizzle.
Not enough time or budget is put into the ongoing journey and reinforcing the goals and behaviour.
I strongly recommend there is more focus on the ongoing reinforcement of the desired skills and behaviour for workplace programs.
Hopefully some of the information and observations above spark your thinking and help you consider gaps or decisions that could be different.
While I understand it isn’t a perfect world – there are obstacles for the perfect change or learning program – there are ways and methods to try and drive further success with workplace learning and behaviour change.
Below is a list of the researchers I referred to above:
- Bates, A.W. (2019) Choosing and using media in education: the SECTIONS model (Ch. 9). In A.W. Bates, Teaching in a digital age: Guidelines for developing teaching and learning (2nd ed). Tony Bates and Associates Inc.
- Boud, D & S. (2016). Sustainable assessment revisited. Assessment and Evaluation in Higher Education. 41(3):400-413.
- Hager, P. (2011) Theories of Workplace Learning. In: Margaret Malloch, Len Cairns, Karen Evans, Bridget O’Connor, eds. The SAGE Handbook of Workplace Learning. SAGE Publications Ltd.
- Kirschner, P.A., & van Merriënboer, J.J. (2013) Do Learners Really Know Best? Urban Legends in Education. Educational psychologist. 48(3):169-183.
- McKenna, K., Gupta, K., Kaiser, L., Lopes, T., & Zarestky J. (2019) Blended Learning: Balancing the Best of Both Worlds for Adult Learners. Adult Learning. (In Print):1-11.
- Thornburg, D. (2004) Campfires in cyberspace: primordial metaphors for learning in the twenty-first century. International Journal of Instructional Technology and Distance Learning, 1(10), 3-10.
- Watkins K.E, Marsick V.J. (2021) Informal and Incidental Learning in the time of COVID-19. Advances in developing human resources;23(1):88-96.