asking questions

12 02 2007

the topic for the february big question at learning circuits blog is probably the biggest question we can ask of ourselves as learning professionals – what questions should we be asking?  i even had the advantage of knowing what question we were asking a few days ahead of time and i still find myself struggling with where to begin.

some of the large-in-scope questions i believe we need to be asking include:

  • what does it mean to be a learning professional?
  • how do we earn the respect of our colleagues so that we can be professionals?
  • how do we get out ahead of the practical day-to-day challenges so that we can be more strategic (and I believe more valuable to our organizations)?
  • how do we gain support for exciting informal learning learnscapes in our organizations?
  • how should we evaluate our efforts to assure that we are credited with having impact (assuming we truly do)?
  • in the end, if we are successful, what will we have done to change our organizations?

i could go on, and i will in the future, but i’ve decided to try to drill down on one of these questions because it’s been on my mind recently.  it’s the third point above.  rephrased in the spirit of the big question, i’ll put it it this way:

what questions should we be asking to put ourselves in a more strategic posture?
and who should we be asking?

  • i’d like to learn more about your business, could I spend a day or two shadowing you or some of your key people?  (to my line of business partners)
  • my goal is to help you achieve your goals, how could i be doing that better than i have been in the past? (to any of my stakeholders)
  • what’s your biggest concern regarding your team being ready to meet your strategic goals a year from now?  two years from now?  (to any of my stakeholders)
  • are you willing to participate in our organization’s learning by developing the skills it takes to facilitate your employee’s and others’ learning both in the classroom and day-to-day in meetings and casual encounters?  (to every manager in the organization beginning with the ceo)
  • are we willing to accept that unless there is a clear business imperative for learning, then no matter how good what we create "on paper" is, it’s a waste of resources for the organization? (to myself and everyone involved in  the learning group)
  • will you support new  methods designed to leverage the latest in  technology and human resources to deliver learning to more employees faster at the same cost or cheaper than traditional classroom learning? (to key stakeholders, especially my executive sponsors)

i’m not being naive here.  i’m fully aware that these are tough questions to ask.  they require political saavy and organizational standing.  but these are the questions, or questions like them, that we should be asking.  if we don’t have the skill or position to ask them, then that’s our learning gap that needs to be filled.




2 responses

14 02 2007
Anil Mammen

Lot of sharp, sensible questions here, Dave. These are not only tough questions to ask but are much tougher to answer. A majority of the current learning programs are built today without answers to many of these questions. However, it is quite possible that in organizations that encourage self-directed learning and where critical knowledge and strategic directions are not restricted to a select few, the answers might automatically emerge and might be visible for all those who wish to learn.

15 02 2007
dave lee

Thanks Anil: I agree that most programs haven’t taken the time to answer these questions. I also agree that the answers often aren’t easy provide. I’d suggest that these two statements are very often related. We have a hard time asking questions when we know that the person we are asking the question of will have a difficult time answering.

Where does this hesitation come from? People who ask questions that other people can’t readily answer are often labeled boat rockers, trouble makers and insubordinates. That’s why I mention that some of these question require us to work on our political standing before we can ask them. Otherwise, we can risk our jobs or our promotability if we ask the wrong person.

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