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A Better Way to Prepare Your Workforce for Change and Transformation

Written by Alex Khurgin

I recently attended and spoke at the Change and Transformation conference in NYC, a fantastic event in which practitioners from leading companies like IBM, Cisco, and GE shared their best practices on how to tackle a variety of challenging transformation efforts. These efforts are being driven by a handful of change factors:

Digital transformation, increasingly competitive markets, a fluid workforce, millennial managers and leaders, knowledge loss, and globalization are all driving organizational change and transformation

In my presentation, I tried to reframe the conversation.

What if all of these drivers of change are actually learning challenges, and that by thinking about them as learning challenges, they become easier to manage?

A new lens for change and transformation

In this way, something as broad and challenging as digital transformation or globalization can be addressed via skills and behaviors that can actually be taught.

But that doesn’t mean that they’re easy to teach.

According to Deloitte, “nearly every CEO and CHRO reports that their companies are not developing skills fast enough.” And the reason is that the the way we traditionally think about learning doesn’t work in the global, digital, constantly changing workplace we now find ourselves in.

And, why is that?

Meet the modern learner

Hold on one second, I just have to check a notification on my phone.

And I’m ba–wait, I have an alert I should take care of. One second.

Ok, and I’m back!

The modern learner has 1% of their time for learning, roughly 24 minutes a week, checks their phone 150 times a day, and switches tabs every minute.

Try capturing and keeping the attention of someone like that.

But of course that’s all of us—we all have these humming, dinging, beeping devices we’re carrying around, full of apps perfectly calibrated to get our attention with notifications and click-worthy headlines.

We live in the golden age of distraction, and there’s a war on for the attention of your employees.

This wouldn’t be so bad if human beings weren’t already wired with significant limitations on our attention and memory. For example, we can keep only a limited number of items in our working memory at any one time. The problem with typical learning experiences like lectures or long elearning videos is that they overload working memory, precluding people from connecting what they’re learning to what they already know.

The result is similar to the conveyer belt of chocolate in the classic I Love Lucy episode.

The pieces come streaming at you too fast and too frequently to end up in the right place.

A new learning approach for an era of constant change

To keep up with the pace of change in today’s workforce, learning programs must adhere to a new set of principles. Programs should be:

Fast. Not developed for months and months with a waterfall process, but rather created and rolled out quickly, via an iterative process

Digestible. Roughly 5 minute bursts of learning that capture and keep people’s attention, rather than mass instruction formats like lectures or other long events that cognitively overload learners

Point-of-need. Timed to some specific project or performance or other moment when people are especially motivated, not rolled out months or weeks before or after someone might need it

Practical. Based on behaviors and actions, real things people should be doing, not just based on things you want people to know

Continuous. Moving from reactionary training (one-off, manual, hard to repeat) to automated and continuous learning

When you combine all of these principles, what you get is a method we call microlearning: learning in short, focused bursts timed to organizational points of need.

Microlearning at the moment of change

Speaking of points of need, what kinds of learning experiences do you provide around the following moments of organizational change? And how soon before or after these moments are the experiences actually delivered?

Moments of organizational change
Adopting new technology
Wave of new employees or managers
Departure of senior leaders
Mergers and acquisitions
Global expansion
Entering a new market
Releasing a new product

With a microlearning approach, you can launch learning “campaigns” timed to each of these moments so that employees are prepared for the change.

In deciding when to launch a microlearning program related, consider this:

Training time and motivation in relation to the point of need

The closer someone is to the moment of need—e.g. the day a product is being released, or a new office is opening—the more motivated they are to learn. But get too close to the point of need and there’s no time to learn.

So, you should aim to deploy microlearning a few weeks to a few days prior to the change to hit the sweet spot of motivation and feasibility.

Change is inevitable. Transformation is optional.

You can’t insulate your organization from all of the things that are changing how your people work. And while you’re busy adapting, if your rate of learning doesn’t equal the pace of change, you will fall behind and lose your competitive advantage.

If instead you commit to fast, point-of-need, continuous learning, you’ll create a thriving, agile organization that uses every change as an opportunity to surge ahead.

If you’re interested in hearing this presentation in its entirety, I will be presenting it as a webinar on July 27th. You can sign up for it here. Hope to see you there!

Looking to create a culture of continuous learning in your organization? Download our book on microlearning to learn how.

Microlearning: The Art & Science of Learning That Sticks

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