Saturday, 31 March 2012

Problems with platforms

A few days ago I was chatting to a client who had problems with platforms. Her new learning platform was taking time to bed in (to put it politely) and there were all sorts of compatibility issues with her enterprise-wide platform. To make matters worse, the (so-called) learning platform had virtually no learning evaluation capability.

While welcoming applications of digital technology to address her learning evaluation needs, this client definitely didn’t want to go down the route of installing yet another platform, creating a scenario where there could be a series of at least four: enterprise-wide – HR – learning – evaluation. I don’t blame her.

Why spend tens of thousands of pounds on yet another “bespoke solution” that is really just a generic platform with a bit of branding and limited interoperability? Unless the object is to give employees new challenges in coping with unfamiliar software systems!

Alasdair Rutherford and I addressed this question recently in our latest learning evaluation paper, recommending – among other things – genuinely bespoke solutions rather than generic (and expensive) software systems. Read Digital Technology Applications.

Has anyone else had similar problems?

Monday, 26 March 2012

Why Airthrey launched LEAD

According to Richard Rumelt, “strategy’s strategist” (McKinsey Quarterly), an effective business strategy has three components: a diagnosis, a guiding policy, and a set of coherent actions. Rumelt rails, in Good Strategy/Bad Strategy, against ‘visionary’ approaches to strategy, which are all about setting aspirational goals and pursuing them vigourously. If everyone is doing this, how meaningful is it? And in any case, desire alone is a poor substitute for strategy.

Airthrey Ltd was established to provide learning evaluation solutions to corporate clients. The principal means for this ought to be consultancy, but the core concept also embraces other possible services, including research, information, training, software development, publications and more.

One of Airthrey’s early lessons, having now been in business for just six months, was that not everyone is keen to commit to consultancy. This isn’t just about recessionary pressures, although one of their most problematic effects is that many public bodies currently ban contracts with almost all consultants. Some organisations are just wary of committing to relatively expensive services, especially from an untried supplier. Airthrey’s response has been to apply Rumelt’s formula.

The diagnosis is that many organisations, for a variety of reasons, are unable to commit, at least at present, to consultancy. This is a good starting point for a strategy, as it doesn’t merely set an aspiration – “we want to deliver more consultancy” – but recognises a problem to be overcome – “many prospects aren’t ready or willing to buy consultancy”. Airthrey’s diagnosis is that some of their clients and prospects need services other than consultancy.

The guiding policy is to offer a range of services with the same goal – to provide learning evaluation solutions. Consultancy remains a key offer, but Airthrey listened to their customers and resolved to develop a range of alternative services that would be attractive to them and still meet their needs.

I’m not going to describe everything Airthrey offers, or intends to offer, but the first of a set of actions was to devise a high value training and development programme, which would enable organisations to carry out their own learning evaluations, with the support of Airthrey’s principal consultants. This is LEAD, Learning Evaluation Action Development, the subject of my previous post, and this is how Airthrey came to offer it. Further actions will continue to address the Airthrey diagnosis, and consistently follow the same guiding policy.

I’ll let you know whether it works.

Wednesday, 21 March 2012

New approach to learning evaluation

Until now, managers wanting to evaluate their learning and development initiatives have had three choices:

1. Use their staff resources. This is problematic, as often staff don’t have the necessary knowledge and skill sets (e.g., in research techniques) to conduct thorough evaluation. Some organisations, such as the Scottish Government and British Sky Broadcasting, resolve this by having a dedicated learning evaluation specialist on staff, but this isn’t an option everyone – even many large organisations – can afford.

2. Buy in consultants. This is potentially expensive, and fraught with difficulties, as few consultants actually specialise in evaluation, and those that do tend to have an agenda. Dogma is rife in the world of learning evaluation, with consultants frequently championing one particular approach or method (which is fair enough) and denigrating every other approach and tool (which is not). Only yesterday, I saw a blog post that advocated ROE (oddly, Return on Experience, not Return on Expectation), but spoiled its case by headlining “forget about ROI”!

3. Use digital technology. This isn’t really a stand-alone option, although some disingenuous software vendors will claim it is. Technology helps, but anyone who spends tens of thousands of pounds on licences for the likes of Knowledge Advisors, and expects that to solve their evaluation problems, is in for a rude awakening.

An alternative to these three options is now available. Airthrey Ltd offers LEAD – Learning Evaluation Action Development – an individual development programme that yields practical benefits for the organisation. LEAD is not a simulation, but an opportunity for managers to conduct their own evaluation of real, live learning initiatives, with support from Airthrey specialists, their peers in an action learning set, and their own organisation. Effectively it’s a blend of training and in-house consultancy, which enables and empowers organisations to implement meaningful evaluation.

In my next blog post, I’ll explain how Airthrey arrived at the LEAD solution.