The Entire World Has Become Our Conference Room: Ways Technology Has Improved Performance and Productivity

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    Paul Smith has worked in the fields of Education and Workplace Learning & Performance for over 18 years. He has designed, implemented, evaluated, and delivered instruction to almost every age group, career level, and learning style. He has achieved professional success in the fields of sales, journalism, and education.  In addition, he has lead change initiatives in civic, corporate, and political arenas. Currently, Paul is a Senior Training Analyst with the Principal Financial Group, where he also serves on the corporate-level Development Council. He is the author of a chapter on Needs Analysis in the recently released “Sales Training Basics” from ASTD Press. Additional information, including how to contact him, may be found on LinkedIn.

    Q. In what ways have 21st technologies help to improve performance and boost productivity?

    Electronic and virtual communications afford us the most exciting platforms for collaboration that we’ve ever had. It was once necessary to schedule for everyone involved with a project or task to meet in one room at the exact same time in order to brainstorm and hammer out details.  In contrast, we can now accomplish the same things with contributors offering input and feedback from literally anywhere and at nearly any time.  The entire world has become our ‘conference room.  The result is a far more robust exchange of ideas compared to when everyone had to contribute all of their thoughts in a set space of time and without the opportunity to research and prep.

    Our Individual Life Administration Employee Development team has made considerable use of everything from server-based, collaborative shared documents to Microsoft Live Meeting for peer reviews of training presentation prior to full release.  This allows those from remote sites to participate in the discussions fully in real-time.

    Q. Technology has its benefits, but are there any downfalls?

    It’s easy to get distracted. It was bad enough when we were dealing with “manage your e-mail, don’t let it manage you.” Now the average career professional has multiple e-mail accounts, text messaging, accounts on Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, and maybe even a MySpace page. While these tools do dramatically increase our abilities to communicate as they decrease the size of the world around us, it can sometimes make you feel like Indiana Jones running to stay ahead of the large, rolling, stone ball. For myself, e-mail continues to be my personal weakness. I can do social networking for a bit and then close it; but there’s something about e-mail that I struggle with the need to answer an e-mail just because it’s come in.

    Q. I think e-mail will always be with us, but do you think the way organizational learning looks will change 5-10 years from now?

    There two things that I am absolutely convinced workplace learning needs to adapt to in order to be taken seriously in the next decade:

    1) Being experts in organizational development, performance improvement, workplace learning or any other such skill set is not going to be enough. We MUST know the business of the business. Not only do we need to fully understand (from a fiscal and management standpoint) where we fit in the bigger corporate picture, we also need to be structuring our learning solutions in ways that acknowledge the business’ realities and needs. No longer can we try to guilt them in to doing things our way because we are the ‘experts.’ We need to be able to make the case for our solutions using their lingo instead of ours.

    2) As Millennials enter the workforce, replacing exiting Boomers and joining Gen Xers, learning solutions are going to need to become more and more individualized. There will continue to be a need for ‘mass training’ in structured classroom environments, but true knowledge transfer is going to be increasingly measurable when the instruction offered to an employee is custom tailored to their learning style and their unique needs based upon their job function, experience level, and career development plans.

    Q. How do you feel about companies creating their own learning communities?

    I think it’s great! We’ve been working for the past couple of years to lay the foundation and truly build a Learning & Development Community here at The Principal. The intent is basically two-fold: help those who are a training department of one in their work area keep from feeling isolated; and the proverbial “raise all boats” philosophy that fostering a collaborative environment across the company benefits everyone, either by having an outlet to share their expertise or by not having to waste time and energy doing what someone else has already done. Because our company is large, diverse, and geographically spread out the only way to truly accomplish this is by having a virtual collaboration methodology at the heart of the Community; which is exactly what we’ve done and the results have been tremendous already.

    Q. Paul, you are a great resource.  Thank you for your time.  Is there any information you would like to pass on to our readers?

    A great many of the resources I look to come from the American Society for Training & Development (ASTD). I have found the “Basics” book series from ASTD Press to be extremely helpful in providing meaty resources to draw upon. I have titles on everything from “Organizational Development Basics” to “Time Management Training” to “Sales Training Basics”. But another tremendous resource for us has been the monthly “InfoLine” publication, also from ASTD. While not every monthly topic directly applies to our efforts, we have been surprised how often a topic arrives right about the time that we are beginning to address it. I gain a lot of my online information from the LinkedIn groups that I belong to. But I do like to read what the folks at “The Workplace Learning Blog” have to say and I also check in on “The Learning Circuits Blog(who just did their own ‘what will training look like in 10-years’ blog post). Additionally, I receive a monthly e-mail from Vital Smarts which shares many practical “Crucial Conversations” related topics; and I’ve pulled a lot of material from them as well.

    But my favorite place to connect with what’s going on in the industry is still the good “old-fashioned” in person gatherings of local ASTD chapter meetings or national ASTD gatherings such as their upcoming International Conference & Expo. (And then those who I connect with there will join my virtual colleagues network, and the circle continues.)

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