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Those darned organizational walls – June #LCBQ

June 27, 2011

I can’t believe June is almost over and I haven’t written my response to the Learning Circuits Big Question.  And it was mainly my question (although not a ton of responses, maybe it wasn’t as good of a question as I thought).

Anyway, here’s the reason that I thought of the question in the first place.  There has been an interesting trend away from traditional employee learning and development requests in my work lately, and I am really enjoying it.  I am developing strategies and courses for organizations that want to use learning in other ways.

Two of my current clients are “training” organizations that sell training to individuals and are moving from classroom based only to blended and are not sure where to start.  These clients are trying to figure out how to connect their instructors (often contract staff), current participants, coaches/mentors, staff ,etc.  I guess I’m drawn to them because the flexibility is greater.

Another client is doing very interesting work (makes me wish I had a strong background in science), called Knowledge Translation – now this is a performance consultant’s dream – how to get medical research translated in to practice. If they discover that there are a few things that could make a big difference in survival rates, secondary afflictions, life expectancy, etc, sometimes no one finds out about it. So, my client wants to teach doctors about their research and help them put it into practice. They also want to figure out how to build a community of not just doctors, but all relevant health care stakeholders: rehabilitation, nurses, specialists, and patients. Also, government and other reserachers.  They want to blow up walls completely, but have to be very careful about privacy, efficacy, ethics, and being aware of the dark side of connecting: things like the “cure” for MS, which I understand is not a cure at all and distracts from actual research and siphons health service time/resources as patients lobby for the silver bullet.  Or the simplistic notion that there is A cure for things which likely have multiple “cures” or treatments.

These may be great candidates for community building and perhaps are an even easier case to make for blending “internal” with “external”. Which leads me to my “internal” clients – those that train employees on stuff.  How to inject the flexibility that I’m finding in these external type clients to the internal?

One thing I’ve thought about is the organization themselves.  There is no single methodology to figuring out how to deal with those organizational walls.  You need to consider what’s important to your organization.  Is your organization product centric? Process centric? Service centric? Marketing centric? If you can identify the heart of your organization, you can focus energies there.

Here’s some metaphorical ways to deal with the walls:

Go over the walls – this is the method where you build a pilot in a small part of the organization that’s willing to “jail break” with you. It’s not a secret project, but small. It could be a very visible part of the organization, or a small pocket of “safe” people. Maybe a leadership development cohort or special project team. You are looking for a small win.  It’s important that you have insight into this project-class of your organization.

Go under the walls – find a friend in IT who is willing to help you go “underground” and conduct a secret test pilot that you reveal once you’ve done it and shown that no one really got hurt and the fears are unfounded. This is black ops type of stuff.

Go through the walls – the “ask for forgiveness not permission” approach. While this one is not for the feint 0f heart, it is one where you set out to go through the walls and don’t ask first. Select a high profile area of the organization and something that can really show impact. Building a strong cr0ss-functional coalition at the operational level of the organization is really important. A supportive boss is also pretty critical. You may find that as you go through the steps, you pick up supporters along the way.

Go around the walls – this requires you to think about the fringes of your organization. Where might that present you with opportunities. Is it a little-known activity/process that you could work with.  For example, once I worked at a financial institution and there was a very small team who was in charge of scanning items and coding them for storage.  Very few people even knew they existed. That might be an example of a group that is so far out of the spotlight that you could work with them to figure out how to get around the walls.

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