Magazine article Talent Development

Show Your Work: Rather Than Telling Employees How to Do Something, Show Them

Magazine article Talent Development

Show Your Work: Rather Than Telling Employees How to Do Something, Show Them

Article excerpt

We spend a great deal of time in this business talking about learning--how other people learn, and how to help other people learn so organizations can perform better. When you ask, "What does learning look like?" the answer is rarely: "Someone talking in front of a room."

We learn by doing, telling what we're doing, watching others do things, and showing others how we did something. Sharing what we're doing is an important part of workplace learning and makes up a big part of what we call "informal learning." And helping workers talk about what they're doing--by narrating their work, and capturing that--is a critical (and enjoyable) role for 21st century training and development (T&D) practitioners.

Benefits

Sharing and showing what we're doing and learning can ease several pain points for organizations. First there's the capture of tacit knowledge: it helps to fill the gap that so often occurs when someone leaves a job but those remaining don't know how to pick up where the former worker left off.

It also helps others learn about executing work not easily captured as a step-by-step process. Then there's the matter of connecting talent pools, branching across organizational silos, and surfacing expertise. How many times have you finished a project, researched an idea, or hunted down a resource only to find someone else had already done the same thing?

For T&D, a willingness to learn from what workers share can help to reveal where training issues exist, provide artifacts that can be repurposed as training content, and help make workplace training more relevant and real-world based.

And showing what we're doing--narrating our work in a public way--helps make learning more explicit. It surfaces informal and social learning to help make it visible to the organization and management, whereas often now it is only opaque.

Background

The idea of narrating work is not new, but those offering guidance about it often suggest processes that are too complicated or too conceptual. This can seem imposing, or too formal, to the busy knowledge worker or the guy who fixes the washing machines.

It's a problem, too, for organizations married to the hierarchical view of knowledge management, in which knowledge is viewed as something that can be captured as discrete items in a database. Often useless information fills weekly reports that go to one senior manager, who may or may not ever look at them.

People in different work areas don't know what others do, or how their work connects or overlaps with what others are doing, which brings enormous possibilities for communication difficulties. In addition, what people really know and are good at isn't evident to management.

We know that working, problem solving, and learning are often chaotic, and serendipitous, and rarely happen in a neat straight line. Companies that try to document work activities via formal or complicated means are likely to capture what people do, but not necessarily how they get things done.

What to narrate

So what does narration look like? What kinds of things constitute "showing your work"?

Some narrate work as a learning journey. Retired art teacher Gloria Melton Mercer, needing to exercise her hand following surgery, chose to learn about creating elaborate bakery-style decorated cookies. She began talking about this on Facebook, then started sharing pictures of what she was learning along with comments about what she found difficult or what technique she wanted to try next. Others joined in, and within eight months the project had spawned the successful www.coastlinecookies.com, whose owner now posts what she is learning and how.

Such learning out loud can happen intentionally. For example, new hires at Aspen Dental in Syracuse, New York, are asked to offer quick, informal blog-based recaps of how they spend their days, and how what they are doing ties to the larger work and goals of the business. …

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