Designing Learning for Accountability and Commitment

Written by Lee Kang Yam
Organizations spend over US$130 Billion worldwide on training (Corporate Learning Factbook, 2014). We focus on finding a dynamic facilitator who engages the audience with bells and whistles. We pay top dollars for a branded training provider. We measure to prove success.

However, the transfer of learning from the classroom to the workplace remains dismal with 90% of new skills lost within a year, according to Wall Street Journal. Despite this heavy investment in training, we are not doing a good job in delivering the training benefits or helping people learn. Why?

Learning is not something we can install, like a program onto the computer hardware. The learner needs to accept the invitation for learning, reimagine himself with new skills, have the opportunity to articulate his doubts or reservations about it, before he can take ownership and be committed in the learning.

How do we do this? Drawing on the work of Peter Block’s on Commitment and Accountability, we have picked six considerations that influence the way we designed our interventions and training workshops.

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Possibility
The first consideration is Possibilities. Most organisations develop their learning and development interventions in a top-down fashion with pre-determined learning objectives and outcomes. Employees are expected to understand concepts, apply a few skills and acquire a specific way of thinking.

What if we start our design by asking learners these questions, “What is the possibility at work you see for yourself at this moment?” and “What crossroads in your work are you at right now and what would help you contribute more?” While predetermined learning objectives and outcomes allow designers to scope the learning content and activities, the missed opportunity is harnessing the individual creativity and potential of staff to envision an exciting future beyond just learning a skill or a tool.

Invitation
The second consideration is Invitation. Learning and development professionals determine the content and skills, and employees are often mandated or sent for training. The underlying assumption is, “We know best what you need”. This is often lose-lose. The employee often feels that the training is either too late, early or irrelevant. They lose precious time to do their work. Other than losing productivity, we also lose money and the opportunity to engage the staff. Invitation without an exciting possibility for the learner is empty. The learner must feel energized to sign on to a new strategy, direction and a future that is different from the past.

Contrary to conventional thinking in many learning and development departments, the success of any learning and development interventions does not solely lie on the content, activities or even a “dynamic facilitator”. Instead it is whether the learner sees the importance or usefulness of this learning to their future. How will this learning help them to create the future they want in their professional role or manager?

Strengths
The third consideration is Strengths. A dominant thinking in learning and development design is to fix weaknesses. I suggest that the key question is not, “What weaknesses are we here to fix?” but “What strengths or gifts can we contribute to this possibility we have envisioned?”

We need to work with the learner’s strengths and build on them so that they see and feel successful. Design “moments of success” in learning interventions so that the learner can harness and build on their strengths. This will elicit a better learning outcome than just fixing a skill deficiency. This strengths based approach avoids resistance from ‘being fixed’. It also avoids learners’ rejection of the tool and skills simulated in the classroom environment as “artificial”.

Doubts and Reservations
The fourth consideration is addressing their Doubts. Often, the lack of skills or knowledge is not the key barrier, it is the doubts and reservations they have with others and more importantly within themselves. Eliciting doubts come in the form of asking question such as, “What doubts or reservations do we have in this possibility we have envisioned?” or “What is holding us back from the using this new learning?”

Create space for learners to express their doubts about the learning, others or themselves creates a powerful avenue for them to be honest. This removes the suspicion that the intention is to plaster over fault lines and assume everything is a bed of roses. However, it is also important that the surfacing of doubt does not degenerate into a complain session without any concrete actions.

Ownership
The fifth consideration is creating Ownership. Being proud of something or having pride in our work is essential to create ownership. Without pride, we do not feel a sense of belonging or ownership. Without pride, we do not truly have ownership for our workplace, work and even ourselves. The key question to tackle in the learning intervention is, “What aspects of my work and strengths can I be proud of?” and “How far do I want to go to develop a sense of pride in what I do?”

Commitment
The sixth consideration is building Commitment. Without ownership, there cannot be commitment. Without commitment, there can be no action. Thus, eliciting commitment in the learning intervention is an important part of ensuring learning sticks. Ask learners, “What are one or two things you will do differently as a result of the learning intervention?”

The best way to make learning stick is for learners to use it and teach it. Learning and teaching are both sides of the same coin. When we teach others, we become better ourselves. Addressing these six key considerations in our learning design helps us move towards being better learners and teachers.

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