Corporate U from scratch

I had a fun conversation with someone yesterday about what it would be like to build a business’ learning function (for lack of a better term not alread loaded with connotations) from scratch. 

Suppose you had a successful startup company that was starting to feel it’s growth from a couple dozen to now a couple hundred people and feels that it’s time to support a learning infrastructure for everyone.  What is your strategy?  What skills/skill areas do you go after at the start?  How would you structure what you offer?  What initiatives would you be sure to implement?  Do you care about the “informal” learning (see also: Cross, Jay) or just let it go on as it has since it’s already happening and always will anyway?

 Here’s what I was thinking – in what has become my typical “brain dump” fashion.  <sidebar>It takes so darn much work to organize my thoughts and I feel like the blogging format has become the greatest enabler of this vice since email 😦 .  Feel free to leave a comment/complaint if you’d like, otherwise I’ll continue to assume only, like, 2 people are reading this (Hi Mom and Dad!). </sidebar>

First, the mission of the learning function (LF) has to be to align all of the organization’s “learning” efforts to the company’s culture and the results they want.  Here, from the very start, the LF plays a vital role in questioning what the leaders of the organization really (I mean REALLY) want to accomplish.  Bake that in to everything you go after from there…  “How will the design of this course reinforce our company’s culture?  How does this experience make our people more able to get the results we’re after? (see also: The Oz Principle (with which I’ve become particularly enamoured))”

Before I get to Second, the LF will certainly play its traditional role of course-roller-outer to support those where needed, but, and I think more importantly, 

Second, what you build is an infrastructure/environment in which learning happens -but not always because The Fearless Training Leader (TFTL) put it out there – a [virtual?] common area where people come together and exchage ideas and things they know (yes, you definitely try to capture – but not formalize – the “informal” learning).  I have come to absolutely hate, haTE, HATE the idea of someone thinking “X is going wrong, call the training department and have them write us up a course”.  Great job security, terrible job. 

What the LF needs is the ability (and reputation) for offering a solution to X – definitely NOT by always writing up courses – and also to already have the infrastructure in place where X is being worked on way before it is even recognized as “a problem”.  I guarantee that by the time someone calls out X as a problem it has been bugging the people that it impacts for a long time (and if the environment is right, they’ve been working on solutions(!)).  A good LF (IMO) supports learners in ways that enable them to grow and learn on their own (outside of The Classroom) which is exactly what I believe the vast majority of employees want to do (and are doing).  Part of that is breaking the mind set of employees as well; from “I better sign up for that course so I can learn X” to “what resources do I have besides a course to learn about X?”  Again, the LF gets ahead of the curve by being in the environment as that strategic resource, not just a tactical reacter to the company’s needs.

Third, I think TFTL has to be in people’s faces spaces (Haha, I used the emotional connection of “in people’s faces” to solicit your attention but didn’t mean anything like that at all – nice literary device, Paul! – let me explain).  Let them know you are there to enable them.  Let them know that you are there to support them in any way – not just by forcing them to sit through another training session.  People love (need?) to put a face/warm body (here in UT we settle for ‘mostly warm’ this time of year) with the training.  That’s why Level 1 evals rock when the “training” stinks.  Let the LF’s face/warm body be TFTL’s – but not in the classroom.  If the only time people have contact with TFTL is when they’re sitting in a classroom, there is definitely something wrong.  As a matter of fact, I’d like to see TFTLs sponsoring playtime at lunch (or another “off” time – maybe it’s just a room; break room/lunch room becomes Play Room with games and puzzles strewn about) where everyone gets to learn something cool and [most likely] completely unrelated to “work”.  That would be fun!  That could be Learning!  And talk about a “cultural” impact!  Wow…  I just thought of this right while I was typing.  I’m gonna simmer on this one for a while….

 What would your Corporate U from scratch look like?

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1 Response to “Corporate U from scratch”


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