what’s first? mentor or mentee?

9 03 2009

so you’ve decided that you want to create a mentoring program to enhance organizational learning and leadership development across the organization.  you know that social learning is the real driver to creating a culture that values learning and change.  social networking tools are being implemented so teams can communicate more readily.  you have employees contributing to a knowledge base to capture organizational knowledge.  now you feel a mentoring program where leaders help new employees and prospective leaders to expand their knowledge of the organization and their leadership skills.

But where do you start?  How do you matchmake mentors to mentees?  or mentees to mentors?

chick-eggwhich comes first?  the chicken or the egg?

do you first identify the employees who the organization wishes to groom for advancement?  Once you know who you wish to involve as mentees you could then determine the needs these people have and then search through your executive and management ranks for people who have what the mentees need.  you could then recruit them to match the needs of the mentees.

Or do you determine who amongst your leaders best exemplify the needs of the organization and establish them as mentors?  you could then either determine the employees who you wish to be mentored and match them to your team of mentors or you could let employees self-select by marketing the mentoring program and letting them apply to the program or to individual mentors.

How much control around participation in the program should you maintain?  How many mentees per mentor?  Should all managers at or above a certain level be required to be mentors?  Should all employees have a mentor?

What do you think?  Who comes first, the mentor or the mentee?

learning is risky business

25 06 2007

stephen lahanas’s comment to my post what is a good example got me thinking about a particular area of learning that i find fascinating – risk taking. if we push ourselves to try new things, read new blogs or books, go new places, we usually will learn a great deal. however, this new knowledge comes with a certain amount of risk. how much i learn will be highly affected by how much risk i’m willing to endure to gain the knowledge, skills, or attitude change i desire.



  • A possible, usually negative, outcome, e.g., a danger.
  • The likelihood of a negative outcome.
  • (Formal use in business, engineering, etc.) The potential (conventionally negative) impact of an event, determined by combining the likelihood of the event occurring with the impact should it occur


  • to incur risk

factors that increase/decrease risk

risk is a complex concept. there are numerous factors which affect a person’s or an organization’s estimation of risk in any given situation. some of these factors include:
knowledge – the more information available the better chance you have of understanding the risks of the options you have
uncertainty vs. risk – from the definition above, risk is not an unknowable factor. uncertainty is generated by a lack of information about what outcomes are potential. risk is a calculation of the potential outcomes.
perception of risk – similarly, do we really understand the risk involved or are our emotions, prejudices, expectations, or other information clouding our ability to understand the extent of the risk involved in our behaviors.
social norms – almost all human behavior is affected by social norms and pressures that can increase or decrease the risk or the perception of risk of an undertaking. if we follow the crowd or follow procedures, we are likely to lessen the level of risk we need to cope with. similarly if we go against the company’s dress code or conduct a project outside of the prescribed fashion, we will be at greater risk. if we follow regulations, we have limited risk. if we don’t we are increasing our risk to the extreme.
what is the payoff – is the reward for high-risk behavior worth the risk? and to whom? a person will be much more likely to attempt a high-risk action if the reward upon success will benefit them personally and is of significant value to them. as many a ceo has found out through experience, if employees don’t perceive that a requested (or even required) behavior will have little or no reward directly to them, there is a strong chance that there will be little or no behavior change achieved. no matter the potential gain to the company.
goal-based alignment – this is currently a predominant factor in business today. if your actions are inline with the strategic goals of the organization, you can take higher risk actions than if you are working on project that doesn’t tie directly to the strategic plan. data also shows that a major factor in employees leaving a company is they don’t understand how their work fits with the company goals. In other words, there was too much risk that what they were doing wouldn’t be valued by the company.

learning is risky business

These factors create interesting points of risk in learning situations. how each learner estimates the risk involved versus the direct benefit to them will ultimately determine whether they will perform differently in light of the learning intervention they have participated in.

umm, i don’t know – one of the biggest risks any learner struggles with is accepting that they have a need to learn something. at first, this seems silly. if you don’t know something, learn it. but in the workplace, where relationships and power gambits are vital to both your current work and your professional future, admitting you need to learn something can be very risky. image and reputation can go down in flames if you don’t know something that others assumed you knew – or worse yet, you pretended to know. while it may be changing in some workplaces, lack of knowledge is generally still perceived as a weakness – whether the knowledge is core to your job or peripheral. solutions designers need to understand the target learners, the company’s goals, and the environment in which both the learning event and then the applications of the learning will take place. management can promote an active learning culture where learning is rewarded – both intrinsically and extrinsically. they can share what they are trying to learn and why. when performance is praised, what was learned to insure that performance was successful can be included.

why should i trust you? – it’s likely that you’ve seen circumstances where learners dismiss the content of a training course because the facilitator didn’t meet their expectations of what the facilitator should be either in knowledge, presentation, or position. “what am i going to learn from her, she’s not a programmer?” “he doesn’t work here, how does he know what’s expected of me?” the learner judges that there is a risk that what they spend their time learning may not be applicable to their work. solutions learning programs can be certified. the desired outcome for the company can be stated. executive sponsorship can be explicit. managers can participate before, during, and/or after the learning event. previous learners’ experiences can be incorporated in the content.

i’m not going to look like a fool – during the learning process, it’s important for the learner to rehearse and practice. learners need to be given opportunities to try-on their new knowledge. but such practice has the same risks as exposing a lack of knowledge. if a safe environment is not created, learners will suddenly need to use the bathroom or have an important conference call they suddenly need to participate in. solutions instructional designers can assure that activities involve both new knowledge and baseline knowledge the learner brings with them. role playing in which everyone takes risks and everyone supports risk-taking at different times can help lessen this risk. managers can assure that mistakes aren’t punished, but rather studied for future situations. after action reviews are one effective tool to promote this type of examination.

but what if it doesn’t work – from the new employee trying to fit in by using corporate slang to a commercial airline pilot making his first live landing in a 747 loaded with passengers we all fear the consequences of failure when implementing new knowledge and skills. this fear can be paralyzing to some. in learning lingo we talk about transfer to the job. will the learner implement what they have learned. our kirkpatrick level 2 analysis says they definitely learned it. but our level 3 analysis says they never used it. solutions the instructional design can incorporate follow-up activities and reminders. managers can be made aware of what their employees are learning and how they might support their efforts to implement it. learning can be aligned with the learner’s work to allow for adjustments based upon real application.

this all leads to some overarching characteristics of organizational learning that can help reduce employees’ estimation of risk involved in learning.

  • a learning organization that is actively involved in understanding what the company needs from its employees to execute to the strategic goals.
  • learning professionals that are attuned to the corporate culture, specific work environments, and current employee knowledge, skills and attitudes and how they will impact upon each particular learning challenge.
  • a corporate learning culture that is ambient and continual in nature. design should not be a one-off creation every time. learning should not be something employees are “sent off to.”
  • learning is a part of the strategic plan for the organization. it should be a part of every employee’s performance expectations. managers are held accountable for their employees’ learning
    the “why” of learning should be explained. often..

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good leadership can be criminal

2 06 2007

i ran across an interesting article while surfing hr.com for some ideas regarding leadership. david langdon, who served the london (uk) police department as a detective for 12 years and then moved to organization psychology, points out that there are leaders who may not be on the right side of the law, but are successful leaders in the world they operate in. in search of leadership excellence: considering criminal leadership explores the business characteristics that enable a drug dealer to conduct his “business” successfully.

langdon is careful to point out that he’s not endorsing the illicit behaviors of such leadership. if you can suspend judgment for a few minutes, his article has much to share about dealing with volatile markets, fickle consumers, erratic supply chains, and employees who may not share your motivations.

he identifies twelve characteristics that not only help criminals succeed, but good leaders should also understand and make their own. a few examples:

be brave
Show little to no fear to your people, (unless you want to create impact and shock)…. high self-awareness and self-control over what you say and do, don´t jump too soon. And right now in this recovering market being brave is essential.

Keep up with the market – and move with the times
When cell phones first came out, criminals were amongst the first users. They used them for communication, used them to facilitate ´spotting´ the Police, …keep close to the market, be first (or second) in there and then shape the market too, don´t replicate the obvious. Move with the pack, but do not become a pack member.

keep tight lipped about new ventures:
in all areas of criminal activity, less is more. leadership depends on keeping potential activities close to the chest. you never know ´who´ you are talking to when you share information, or, who they might share that with…. create a bond within the team that knows what silence means, and knows the implications if information is shared. if you don´t want information shared, then don´t share it with anyone, then you´ve not lost control.

he also points to the drive and motivation criminals have for success. success in their world can pay huge dividends and failure has dire consequences.

langdon’s insights into leadership are powerful, regardless of the fact that he’s referring to drug dealers and other criminals. ignoring the strengths of your opponents can only lead to defeat. while criminals may not be behaving in accordance with socially acceptable norms, to assume that there are not good leaders and capable business men and women among their ranks is not only ignorant, it’s straight up dangerous. suntzu, the ancient chinese philosopher wrote in his art of war:

carefully compare the opposing army with your own,
so that you may know where strength is superabundant and where it is deficient.

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managerial axioms

21 03 2007

i couldn’t resist. the other day when i was writing my big question post, various axioms keptThe Big Question Logo popping into my head. you know those annoying phrases that people put on posters, plaques, post-its, pens, and other promotion prizes? so here’s a whole list of axioms to clutter up your next powerpoint presentation.

(some of these are original to me – i think.  some come from the leaders i mentioned in my previous post – and may or may not be original to them.  others i’ve heard somewhere, bit don’t remember the source.  if you own the rights to any of these slogans, please be kind and don’t sue me!)

  • you’ll always have too much on your plate, so learn to delegate.
  • micro-manage at your own peril. your employees will hate you and you’ll be exhausted.
  • never punish honesty.
  • the company grapevine is for listening. make sure you can hear it.
  • learn. in every moment. in every crisis. in every victory. learn.

  • everyone learns from failure.
  • learning when to let someone fail is one of the hardest lessons you’ll learn.
  • remember everyone’s birthday.
  • be consistent in what you say, make sure your actions follow your words and your employees will go to the ends of the earth for you.
  • be inconsistent in word and deed and you’ll learn how quickly employees have survival instincts that don’t include you.
  • praise others when they succeed.
  • always take the time to find out what your employees are laughing about.
  • the grass on your side of the fence doesn’t get greener by pointing out your neighbor’s lawn care deficiencies.
  • if you already know the answer, don’t ask the question.
  • keep your eyes on the horizon. looking down at the mess at your feet will paralyze you.
  • are you having fun?

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learning to manage

18 03 2007

this month’s, big question on learning circuits blog is about how to support new managers. while we haven’t had a lot of responses thus far, the contributions have been great. rather than repeat what others have already said (because I agree with almost everything I’ve read so far), let me take a more personal approach.

whenever i get thinking about good management, i immediately think of the fortune i’ve had to have had more than my share of awesome managers. some times i’ve had great personal connection with my manager and other times personally we were like oil and water. i’m grateful to all of them, whether mentioned below or not, for their patience and willingness to teach me.

ed henson was my first boss out of college and he shared a practice with me i’ve continued over the past 24 years. ed had a “happy file.” when ever he received something that praised his work or him, he stuffed it in his happy file. as he explained to me, as a leader you will have moments of doubt. are you any good? can you pull off another miracle and meet this deadline? in those moments, you pull out your happy file and sift through those accolades to remind yourself how good you are.

jim poe was my first district sales manager. jim knew how to close a sale as well as anyone, but what he taught me was to relax, keep moving, and have fun. no matter what else we needed to discuss in our weekly, or more frequent, phone calls i could always count on jim asking, “hey buddy. are you having fun?” learning new things, interacting with customers and colleagues, and helping customers solve problems have been activities of joy and play for me ever since i worked for jim.

not surprisingly, i learned to pick my fights from a tough little irishman named jack macgarrie. jack was my regional sales manager when i moved to boston. a sage piece of advice i’ll never forget was “dave, we have 14% of the market and

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my love-hate relationship with change

12 01 2007

i love change.
i hate change.
over the years i’ve found that me and change have a sometimes delightful, sometimes frustrating relationship. 
change is an opportunity for renewal.  it is a time for deep reflection on what i am doing, where i want to be, and reconsideration my methods for getting there.  in the end, it has been my ability to manage and cope with change that has led to some of my greatest achievements.  when i’ve had the chance to lead others through change i’ve loved the experience and from all reports, i’ve made it easier for those i was leading.
but man, change isn’t fun. whether i have a vision of where the change is leading or i’m trying to cope with the ambiguity that results from unplanned change.  No matter how well you manage it or anticipate it, it still causes distress. neurobiologist in fact have found that change actually causes pain in our brains.  that pain in turn causes the amygdala to fire the flight or fight response to threats. even as experienced as I am with change,  i still struggle with sleepless nights, questions of am i doing the right thing, am i missing something, why me, why now?  change shakes us to the core. it confuses us.  it scares us.

i’ve accepted heraclitus’ belief change is all there is.  to cope with it, i know i have to check in with those around me who care about me to make sure i’m in touch with what’s going on and what I want to stay focused on, and most importantly watch myself to see what I can learn about myself in the process.

"In times of profound change, the learners inherit the earth, while the
learned find themselves beautifully equipped to deal with a world that
no longer exists." ~ Eric Hoffer

knowing knowledge

23 10 2006

i’ve been waiting for chance to talk about george siemens’ new, self-published book, knowing knowledge.  this is the cornerstone theory of george’s new theory of learning which he calls connectivism.  i had the great fortune a few months ago to edit george’s manuscript of the book for him.  having spent a great part of my career in the pubimage of knowing knowledge coverlishing industry, i have alway enjoyed the excitement  that I feel when I’ve had the priviledge to  preview a book that is going to have impact.  knowing knowledge I think is such a book.

in part 1, george takes on the traditional challenge in books on knowledge and learning of trying to define these term. he posits a theory that many will blast as relativistic, but he avoids the cartesian trap by placing knowledge in the connections between people and objects.  connectivism allows for a priori knowledge without falling into fatalism and  a posteri  knowledge without the atomistic, self-centered world view of many followers of descartes. learning then becomes a matter of pattern recognition and personalizing our experiences.  we are continuously assessing and hypothesizing what we have learned vis a vis the new data being presented to us now.

this is powerful stuff in that it not only explains common everyday knowledge and experience, but explains how breakthrough knowledge and innovative thought appear next to the mundane.  michael jordan talks about "just knowing where the ball is going to be."  football quarterbacks sense the openings in the patterns.  evidently individually we all have different abilities to decypher different patterns with varying degrees of ease.  thus you find someone like albert einstein saying to the reporters who were constantly hounding him, "why are you following me, i’m just a scientist."  quantum physics is just a set of patterns, no different to einstein than the patterns that make up the concept "breakfast."

in part two of knowing knowleimage of change process chartdge, george turns to the question of "what does this mean in the real world?  if your journey to understanding elearning has involved frequent visits to elearnspace.org then this section will feel very much like home to you.  it’s "siemens-ism" at its best.  george runs through a host of issues around the social nature of learning and knowledge, the interaction of learning and organizations, what this all means for education – both personal and societal.  clearly, these are the patterns decyphers with jordan-esche ease.

he concludes the book with a 5-domain implementation model which outlines how connectivism can be implemented system-wide in an organization.  while it may seem daunting, that is only a reflection of the complexity of the organization, not connectivism itself.   one concern i do have is that george states that the implementation model is triggered by an organizational change having occurred.  it seems odd to me that the model wouldn’t either be involved in the change process, or perhaps even precede it  – participating in the creation of the need for change.

despite the amount of information covers, knowing knowledge is an accessible presentation of a complex set of concepts.  his use of a non-linear writing style makes reading through sections of the book easier, encourages reflection, and invites the reader to  "dip in" to refresh your memory on any particular section.


knowing knowledge is available through george’s new site knowing knowledge.   you can download pdf files of the book for free!   the links are found on the blog in the entry entitled knowing knowledge – pdf files.  The various charts in the book are in black and white in the pdf’s.  to link to the full color charts, you can find them on george’s flickr site under the group knowing knowledge.  finally, true to his theory, george has posted the manuscript to a wiki where he’s invited everyone to come and help make knowing knowledge better.

eventually, printed copies will be available for purchase through amazon.com.