July 18, 2024

Let’s change our focus on always adding more

Author: Ashley St. John
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It takes courage to be a leader willing to say “stop” or “end” in the learning field. Our field is always excited about the new or shiny object, emerging technology or hot leadership theory book.

I’m personally exhausted by the endless chant of “start, add, extend, supplement” to make learning strategies more effective, and I know I’m not alone. Learners and learning professionals are often overwhelmed by the continual addition of new programs, technologies and resources. While we may think learners will be excited about the 30 new modules or videos that have been added to the leadership program, look at your data and you might be surprised.

The learning ecosystem cannot be focused on adding. Our employees already live in a world of increased change and shifting roles and business models. Their mental buffers for handling more are close to full.

But what if we started the learning innovation conversation with a focus on stopping or ending elements of our approaches? What if, for example, you focused on stopping or ending a learning element each quarter?

For instance, take a look at your onboarding or orientation meetings and pick one or two elements that you could just drop. What if you stopped doing the talk about “Topic X”? Would the compliance people go berserk? Would the employees not adapt to the culture without it? Try it and find out.

The jungle beat of the learning marketplace is almost always about adding more. Yet, the most powerful innovations I have seen in the world of learning have often come from stopping something. For instance, one large consumer-facing organization decided to phase out its e-learning efforts in its stores after 12 years. The organization decided to end e-learning because it was not really impacting employee behavior or readiness. The learning leader had the courage to hit the “end” button.

Dissect the history and growth of your leadership programs. Many of them have likely added elements every two years, stretched in length, and put more and more on the learning plate of your rising leaders.

So, why the focus on stopping versus adding? Every time we add an element, an organizational change moment is triggered in our learning ecosystems. The learner needs to build trust in the new approach. Systems need to track the new element. Peers of learners, who supply context and recommendations, need to adjust their view and conversation. Yet, we often look at the addition of a new approach as a “gift” to the learning community.

The researcher in me loves the idea of doing an A/B test around the choice to delete. Remove an element of the learning design for 10 percent of new learners while continuing the current approach with the other 90 percent. Look at how all of those learners behave during and after the learning process and compare the differences between the A and B groups. Learning data analytics could radically enhance our willingness to test the delete function in our strategies.

Deleting will often be difficult due to both tradition and budgeting. If you suggest deleting a leadership program, you will probably hear from alumni who feel that the program, while flawed, was something they “survived” — and so should the new candidates. Budgeting is often wrapped around the instinct to add, as well: It is easier to get more resources when adding an attractive element or system.

The agile learning organization should approach innovation as a continual process of adjusting learning resources to optimize outcomes for learners and the business. Have the courage to recognize the power of stopping. Our learners will get there before us. They will curate and assess those resources that are no longer impactful. As designers, facilitators and performance support leaders, let’s consider the delete, end or stop functions as powerful friends!

Ironically, one of the most powerful things a CLO can do is to bravely and authentically say, “stop.” Amazing outcomes happen when we use the learning strategy brake pedal.

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