Developing Performance Culture

The three speakers and the chair
The three speakers and the chair

Charles Jennings chaired a session titled “Developing Performance Culture” introduced as:

Over the past 2-3 years, there has been a clear shift from ‘learning’ as the key focus of corporate L&D departments to ‘performance’ as the ultimate goal. Furthermore, it is now widely accepted that most learning occurs in the workplace, not in classrooms. Linked with this is an increasing understanding that the development of a culture to support continuous learning is essential to drive performance. This means fresh thinking and new practices, often utilising technology, are needed for the effective development of a performance culture.

Martin Moehrle

Martin Moehrle, the ex Chief Learning Officer of Deutsche Bank AG titled his talk “The Learning Function as a Performance Improvement Business”. He started by rehashing the traditional way the the learning function proved its value to the business. The old arguments work pretty well in the “industrial” age. In these times of crisis, we have to again discuss the causal chain from learning to performance and we might need some new arguments.

Three things need to change:

  1. The learning function as we it today is a product of the industrial age, however as we move into the knowledge age the performance logic is changing. The modern enterprise is a mix between industrial and knowledge-based contexts. In the industrial context you can manage workforce mastery through prescribed work procedures. In the knowledge-based context you manage via connectivity, commitment and inspiration. The workflow is not predetermined, it is at the discretion of the individual. The ownership of the means of production moves from the organisation to the individual. The traditional way that learning works is much less relevant on this knowledge-based side. The learning function currently has multiple roles like: helping to create a learning culture that is trustful and based on shared perspective, an enterprise change agent, business development and innovation, governace of the enterprise learning space. This is all very much formal learning with high control from the learning function. The informal part of learning where there is a low control is a space that the learning function doesn’t like to go. Moehrle thinks that the learning function does need to take some responsibility there, else it will become irrelevant.
  2. The learning function needs to have both a macro-view on performance along the value chain as well as a micro-view that focuses on the individual and the team. If you do not have the macro-view you will not be able to get the most out of the performance improvement potential.
  3. The performance management process needs to center much more on performance improvement than on assessment of past performance. We need different metrics for the learning function to be able to do this. We cannot focus on the throughput measures and the happy sheets.

Monika Weber-Fahr

Monika Weber-Fahr from the International Finance Corporation (IFC) gave a talk titled: “Where the Rubber Hits the Road: Building Performance Cultures for Delivery”. She is an economist and strategist working for a finance organisation. Her organisation operates in around 90 different countries, mostly in emerging markets. They do private development sector finance with a mission to provide opportunities for people to escape poverty and improve their lives. They not only invest, but also advise and consult. Her talk was quite far removed from the standard scope of the learning function and was therefore sometimes hard to contextualise for me.

She shared three stories from three different companies in these emerging markets. One characteristic is that these markets grow very fast and so are these companies. In these markets there are big disparities in energy access, education and technology (she India as an example: normal Internet access is still not very dispersed, but mobile subscription is now very high). For education these emerging markts are now about 20 years behind where the leading markets are.

Some things are working for emerging markets: cost advantages, well managed quality and profitable in their own right. But certain things are still hard: access to finance, still unclear and non-transparent managed. The IFC’s focus is moving away from a single company to disaggregated global networks of companies.

They have identified a couple of success factors in this space:

  • Balance standardization and customization. One interesting example was the SME toolkit that they developed. This is highly standardised content (developed together with IBM) but at the same time highly localisable.
  • Connect operations and training
  • Build partnerships for reach

Fabrizio Cardinali

Fabrizio Cardinali is the chair of the European Learning Industry Group (ELIG). His talked was about what he now named “The Sputnik Effect” and titled “The Learning Industry Sputnik Challenge: How Can We Get Europe’s Learning Industry (First) to the Moon and Back in the Next Decade?”. He started his talk by showing how scared people in the US were in the late fifties during the cold war, followed by Kennedy talking about putting a man on the moon. Kennedy said: “Do it right and do it first before the decade is over.”.

To Fabrizio this can also be a wake-up call for our industry. We have a couple of big issues facing us and we need to reduce our “missile gap”. According to him we need to understand creativity and genius. He showed us a book written by Frans Johansson, The Medici Effect and Gelb’s book How To Think Like Leonardo da Vinci. Two of terms from that second book that are very relevant in our current situation are “Sfumato” which is managing ambiguity and change and “Connessione” which is systems thinking.

He talks about a renaisssance 2.0 where there are dichotomies like local diversity versus global normalisation, intersectional creativity versus monosectorial innovation, public leadership versus public debate, new Entrepreneurship trust & risk versus old bank bailouts and open co-opetition versus blind competition. His main point seems to be that you need to be fully adaptable to change to be able to survive global competition.

One thought on “Developing Performance Culture

  1. Hi Hans,
    Thanks for another post that “hits the nail on its head”.
    Although the post is mostly the summary of what other leading people said about learning in the workplace, you highlight the direction in which we should (and are?) be heading.
    I have heard you speak of performance support for quite a while now, and apply it when you can.
    I also believe that learning in the workplace must change its course towards performance support. This is actually the value I am highlighting in a lecture I am giving next week on “Blue Oceans in HR” at the Israeli HR Conference.

    Keep sharing the interesting insights you collect.

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