Dearly beloved…

It is with sadness that today, we mourn the loss a learning program that died before it even had a chance of breathing new life into an organisation. Let’s take a moment now to reflect, in the hope we can stop these unnecessary deaths from happening again.

The program grew from an embryonic idea, into something of substance; a program with the potential to bring about real behaviour change and to embed a new way of learning into the organisation. It was shaped through consultation with key stakeholders, who defined the skills, knowledge and attitudes they wanted and how they wished to see them developed. With a different approach to how workplace learning could be embraced and well supported, why did this program never get to grow?

Was it a lack of stakeholder engagement?

During program design, we seek to involve stakeholders who will be our advocates for change and help assure the program’s success. We could ask whether the right stakeholders were involved, and in this case, they were. They were all on board from conception, however at critical points in the project there were significant changes in the stakeholders who had power. Those who had interest were steady throughout the duration of the project and helped it maintain its course. When it came to the final stages of acceptance, the shifts in stakeholders with power ended up resistant to the major changes.

Was it the program design?

This program aligned to the 70:20:10 methodology with supported workplace activities for learners. It enabled localised delivery to really contextualise the learning to need; yet ensured consistent knowledge would be gained, regardless of where learners lived.

The program was flexible; it was different to anything trainers would have delivered before but they were to be supported with good change management activities and resources. Implementation would be guided and staged to ensure trainers were comfortable with content, program structure and activities. The program was trialled with learners and their feedback was positive; they found the program engaging and helped equip them with the skills and knowledge they would need on the job.

Was it the material?

No. A full suite of material was available. There was everything from an introductory guide for learners, to reference material, workbook, trainer session plans, mentoring guide and assessment. There was an evaluation plan with defined metrics to know whether the program was going to be successful. This was new territory for the organisation – knowing what success would look like and points along the journey to take a moment and identify whether the program was tracking well. There was an implementation plan with key change management activities and stakeholder mapping to understand how the program would be successfully transitioned into the organisation. End to end – the material to enable its success was all there.

What contributed to the program’s death?

After analysis of these three critical areas, the post mortem shows there are two other factors that contributed to the program’s death: organisational readiness and individual opinion.

A learning program that will introduce a significant change in how the organisation conducts learning and assessment, needs to be introduced into an organisation that’s stable. Stable leadership. Stable structure. Stable systems. With too much instability, there’s no good time to implement programs that change how people will engage with their learning. As we often see, changes in senior leaders can result in re-prioritisation of organisational priorities. For success in large organisations, ensure stability exists and that it’s not introduced with other large scale change.

We’re familiar with the expression “everybody has an opinion” and in this case, it’s true.  Despite the analysis, design and development phases all having strong representation from broad stakeholder groups, those not involved had an opinion and chose to express it. Rather than acknowledge and support the work their peers had put into the new methodology, some chose to rebel and undermine their work. This left many key stakeholders frustrated and led to them walking away just as implementation was progressing.

The critical lesson here – don’t allow your broader stakeholders to undermine your project. If your organisational leadership or executives have signed off on a program, broader stakeholders must jump on board. In this case some activities were done to support this, however at a critical point broader consultation occurred outside of the program design team. Those leading this consultation phase weren’t given the knowledge to support the program staying on the journey to implementation.

Have you had an experience with a learning program that didn’t get to live its best life?

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