In life and at work, in every role, there are people who have achieved a level of expertise and mastery such that their performance is largely predictable across a wide range of unpredictable circumstances and situations. From a learning perspective, how can we impact this sort of outcomes? How can we support individuals in the pursuit of excellence so they actually do achieve excellence?
In my mind, the starting point for this support has to be behavior where we need to enable conscious choice by supporting the acquisition of knowledge to inform decisions and the development of skills to act effectively.
What do I mean by Behaviour?
My focus on behaviour is on conscious choice and attitude. Making a conscious choice to invest necessary effort to achieve excellence. For employees, this applies to choice to exert discretionary effort in role. For employees, there is another variable and this is alignment between personal goals and organizational goals so an element of choice here relates to choosing excellence in role after being armed with as much clarity as possible about what impact they are expected to have on organizational performance and how they need to conduct themselves in pursuit of that impact. Attitude and conscious choice are more about the idea of bias and assumptions- how aware the individual is to the choices they are making across different situations and whether or not they are capable of challenging their own assumptions before acting on them. I see 2 learning goals or objectives:
- Flexibility in Situational Framing: How well can you read / interpret a situation i.e. when you are live in a situation, you are able to use your knowledge (conceptual understanding) to interpret everything you are hearing, seeing, feeling etc. in that situation and able to come up with multiple justifiable definitions of what is happening especially in relation to how you want the situation to evolve (results). This is related to the ability to challenge own assumptions like in double-loop learning.
- Bias-Conscious Decision/Judgment & Action-Choice: How effectively do you make decisions or can you adjust them (enabled by the various interpretations and meanings from the framing of situations) i.e. Based on the different Interpretations of the situation, you are able to make appropriate decisions / judgement then using your knowledge (conceptual application) to choose an appropriate action you believe will achieve the desired result. This process I see happening in real-time (reflection-in-action) as well as post experience (reflection-on-action) and pre-experience (reflection-for-action).
What do I mean by knowledge?
I have chosen to view knowledge at 3 levels:
- Conceptual Awareness: How much information do you have about something? How many different ‘representations’ (e.g. words) do you know are used to refer to, or describe this thing? When you hear the words do you recognize them? Are they familiar?
- Conceptual Understanding: How well do you know it (sensory recognitions i.e. sound, sight, smell, etc.), how many different representations, words, images or descriptions can you accurately associate with it? Can you define or describe it?
- Conceptual Application: How clear are you on how to use the knowledge in the world? For example, when situations are described to you, can you use your knowledge to interpret the situations, recognize cues and know when ‘what knowledge’ is applicable?
Related to behavior, I believe knowledge is the critical element in flexibility of situational framing. The more knowledge a person has, the more data the person will be able to make sense of in a situation and also the more possible interpretations the person will be able to draw from the data. For example, if your conceptual understanding of colors can only differentiate between red, blue and green, then your interpretation of a sensory perception of pink will be red and whatever unique actions were required to act on pink will never come to mind instead only the action related to red will.
What are skills?
I have also chosen to view skills as action execution with 2 levels as described below:
Action Execution: How effectively can you execute the actions chosen? Awareness and knowledge of possible actions and confidence in own ability to execute those actions go a long away to determine if an action is selected as a way to act within a situation.
- Can you do it
- Can you do it well enough to achieve results (proficiency & expertise)
Related to behavior, I believe expanding the range of actions a person is confident to execute and the range of complex situations within which they are confident to execute the actions in should result in them being more comfortable to consider those actions and choose them when they find themselves in appropriate situations.
Below is a table summarizing these ideas:
Bringing it all together – Learning objectives and capabilities
To address these objectives through training programmes, one would map some of our typical training types to these objectives as below: