The War for Talent in China (Part 6)

Part 6 of a presentation on The War for Talent in China.

Effective adult learning

I say “effective adult learning” because it is my experience that far too many organizations use techniques, such as in-class instruction, that are often ineffective.

There are many theories about adult learning. I am not a learning expert but I do care about results and what works to achieve company objectives.

The first observation is that we have all seen how young children are not afraid to make mistakes and therefore how they learn and how we teach them is quite different from with adults who have learned embarrassment and other hang-ups.

Secondly, changes in technology have changed what is economical in just 3 or 4 years. Online courses that were very costly to produce just 5 years ago are now simpler to create.

One only needs to look at the remarkable success of the Khan Academy to see the potential for low-cost but effective methods outside of classrooms.

Third, although the validity of various theories of learning styles is debated, as a practical matter it is safe to say that each of us learns differently.

What I have observed that works well is:

Using a mixture of methods such as self-paced approaches such as the Khan Academy, real-time web-based sessions led by an instructor, classroom sessions, and, most importantly, on-the-job coaching and apprenticeship by one’s direct manager;

Focusing the teaching, coaching and learning on specific skills and results rather than big topics;

The use of tools such as the Dreyfus Model (see my previous post The Dreyfus Model) or Bloom’s Taxonomy (see the post Bloom’s taxonomy) to help employees and managers more precisely set learning expectations.

Processes to tie pay to competencies to results

Throughout this presentation I hope you can begin to see a pattern or chain forming:

An organization can attract, develop and keep its talent by ensuring that a sound Management Accountability Hierarchy is established,

With the right people at each Stratum,

With clearly defined pay, skill, and results expectations at each band,

Using a variety of methods to help people learn more effectively and at lower costs,

And with tools such as the Dreyfus Model or Bloom’s Taxonomy to help define expectations,

Reinforcing the desired behaviors using positive reinforcement that are relatively near-term and certain,

And making use of meaningful symbols to mark significant progressions.

I do not pretend that this is easy work. But when these elements are combined it creates a structure and vision that is

Easier for employees to understand,

that is seen and felt as fair and transparent,

and that creates excitement and engagement with the organization, especially among your top performers.

Employees see a pathway to advancement, there are tools for those willing to work, and the employee is not as vulnerable to the biases of a weak manager.

Managers who coach, not just supervise

Perhaps the most challenging requirement is to help managers coach as well as supervise. The best-known example is the Situational Leadership Theory developed by Paul Hersey and Ken Blanchard.















In the organizations for which I have experience, it has been a useful tool. There are many other frameworks and again, I am not focused on which one is “better” than another; I think many are useful, none are perfect.

These models get at a very big point: for many managers it is frightening to delegate and to give up control. Sometimes this is due to their fears of losing power. Sometimes it is due to bad experiences delegating. Whatever the case, your top employees will not develop and will leave if they are just supervised and directed. Progression to the next Stratum is possible only when people can move from unsure novice to confident expert to whom much is delegated. But to get managers to delegate requires coaching from someone they trust and not just classroom training.

2 Comments on “The War for Talent in China (Part 6)”

  1. Andrew Webster says:

    Great thoughts on a tired paradigm – the assumption that real learning always happens in a classroom. Another great one: the best classroom learning consists of someone speaking, supported by PowerPoint slides. Actually, nobody believes either of these things anymore, but strangely, this is where most organizations still place much of their learning dollars.

    In support of your first observation (children not afraid to make mistakes), there is a TED video with Tom Wujec describing an exercise that demonstrates this effectively:

    It is framed as a collaboration exercise, but offers a microcosm for how our resistance to making mistakes is impeding our ability to learn.

  2. brucem says:

    Hi Andrew – thanks for the link to the great TED video. I’ve also used this exercise in various training courses and have seen first-hand the dysfunction of MBA teams versus other groups!

    One of the challenges not only in China but in general is getting managers to train and coach on the job, which is where the best learning occurs. But this requires:

    * that managers are actually competent in the skills and tasks of the roles they manage (this is a major point: how often are managers totally clueless about what their staff should be able to do)

    * that managers can articulate what is often a tacit and inate skill that they may not have thought about how to describe to someone else

    It’s a challenge, but there really isn’t an alternative. Otherwise you get managers who don’t know what good looks like in terms of competencies of their subordinates and that only leads to mediocrity as the good people get discouraged and leave and the incompetent stick around by muddling through or kissing ass.

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