March 26, 2015

Waxing Lyrical On Leadership, Engagement, Purpose & Innovation

Learnnovators_Dan-Pontefract_04The fine folks at Learnnovators conducted an interview with me recently, where I spouted off on aspects of leadership, engagement, purpose and innovation. The results can be found below:

1. Learnnovators: It is so inspiring to hear you speak of leveraging the metaphor of Canada Geese, which rotate leadership, thus ensuring that each member of the team contributes to the end result. You say “We are not allowing our employees to be engaged… we are not enabling ‘workplace actualization.” What would be your position on the transformation required in workplace learning in today’s organizations? What are the challenges ahead? What are your recommendations to prepare organizations for the 21st century?

Dan: Although I’m not an ornithologist, I like to think of myself as a ‘bird scientist’ on occasion. Canada Geese – indeed any flock of birds – are an interesting and inspiring metaphor to consider, as it pertains to the organization and its health. Canada Geese in their flocks still exhibit some form of hierarchy, but as they travel from point A to point B, they do in fact rotate leadership of the V-formation (the skein) that propels them to their destination. The journey is non-hierarchical, but there remains an order inside the flock itself. In today’s organizations, we often use the hierarchy of the organization (e.g. C-Suite, to VP’s, to Directors, to Managers, to employees) to maintain order, and to drive the organization to its destination. While this has worked in the past through command and control behaviours, today’s organization needs to be more like the Canada Geese and involve employees in the journey itself. I don’t believe in Holacracy or other foolish organizational models that want to rid the organization of hierarchical structure, but the behavior of leadership itself must change. There can still exist a hierarchy in the organization, but it must act in more open, collaborative and trusting manners with the employees of the organization it serves. For organizations to fuel their own growth and innovation (and survival), leadership must be willing to offer a new model of interaction – a new leadership model of collaboration – if they want to exist in the future.

2. Learnnovators: You’ve always challenged conventional wisdom around how we look at workplace engagement. You are, in fact, concerned about ‘workplace disengagement’, and have been on the lookout for solutions to rid organizations of this malady. What are your thoughts on leveraging the power of new or emerging technologies such as gamification to boost employee engagement levels and thereby improve performance? What are your experiences?

Dan: I’ve always stated that for an organization to mature and adopt a more open and collaborative ethos, it must put behavior before tool, and form before function. There is a popular movie – Field of Dreams – starring Kevin Costner, who is called by the ghosts of yesteryear to build a baseball diamond, with the popular quote being, “If you build it, they will come.” Well, this is a horrible strategy for an organization. One can’t simply implement a series of collaboration or social technologies in the organization and hope that employees will start magically collaborating. This is fool’s gold. But, I am a huge fan of collaborative technologies and platforms. Gamification is very powerful. Wikis, blogs, microblogging, video-sharing are all very important aspects of an organization’s culture. But, if you were to simply dump these types of tools and technologies on the organization – and the leadership hadn’t done anything about the culture, disengagement or lack of collaborative behaviours – those tools will remain empty ghost-towns, as no one would use them due to the fear factor of either being fired for something they might say, or having no understanding why it’s important in the first place.

3. Learnnovators: One of the main things you work to change in organizations is their tendency to treat employees like mere numbers (or as you say, ’gladiators’ in a Roman army). However, it is exciting to note that leadership style has started to change as you had envisioned, from ‘command and control’ to ‘cultivate and coordinate’. On a similar note, organizations treat their employees as mere ‘learners’ who need constant support to learn (as if they do not know how to learn) and perform. However, we know that continuous learning is the key to maintaining an ongoing competitive advantage, both for individuals and organizations. How would you like to change this scenario in today’s connected world of self-organized workers? What would be your message to L&D leaders to empower employees to take charge of their own learning (and thereby their professional development)?

Dan: Every building that is erected first starts with a team of architects. Once the architects have their drawings and plans approved, it’s up to the builders to actually mix the concrete, and surface the building to the skies. From there, the interior designers get involved to ensure the accoutrements in the building are fun, funky and usable. Finally, people (or employees) inhabit the building. This is somewhat akin to what should be happening in the ‘learning world.’ The learning leaders and professionals are the architects. They have the responsibility to draw up the building of what I call ‘Pervasive Learning’ for their organization. They possess the requirement to define what it means to have a formal, informal and social learning model. They are the architects of learning. From there, leaders and employees alike can build their learning paths, learning needs, and learning opportunities. They become the builders, designers and users. Sure, learning leaders can assist the creation of those learning opportunities – no different than an architect being onsite to help the builders or the designers – but it’s the model that they’ve created that assists others with their learning outputs.

4. Learnnovators: We know you are busy writing your next book – the Flat Army sequel, scheduled for release in late 2015 / early 2016. We understand that it is an investigation as it relates to mindsets in the organization, and discusses how the employee, leader and the organization itself are responsible for the differences between job, career and purpose. Could you allow us a brief preview of this work for our readers please?

Dan: The book is called “DUAL PURPOSE: Redefining the Meaning of Work” and it breaks down the true purpose of ‘purpose’ in the workplace. It suggests that there are two parts to purposeful organizational impact. The central arc of the book: every leader has a responsibility to redefine the purpose of an organization and they have a responsibility to assist employees to reach a sense of purpose in their roles. Thus, DUAL PURPOSE is aimed to redefine purpose for the organization and employees. The mission for this book is to act as a fundamental implementation tool to help leaders put purpose into action. As a sequel to FLAT ARMY, it’s complimentary to engagement, connectedness and collaboration – important aspects of an organization’s culture. For DUAL PURPOSE, it extends the argument but focused on the important aspect of purpose, something I hope all organizations and employees achieve.

5. Learnnovators: Future forward organizations are allowing their employees to be ‘Entre-ployees’ (employees who are also entrepreneurs) thereby offering them the freedom to work on their own ideas during work hours using their own business resources. What would be your reflections on this? There are many who feel that entrepreneurship is one of the best settings for children to learn. Do you advocate making entrepreneurship part of the school curriculum?

Dan: I have always advocated that the term ‘recess’ at school should be replaced with ‘play’. I find we do not allow students or employees, by extension, to play enough with one another. When students or employees are permitted to play, wonderful aspects of innovation and creativity manifest, arguably defining the culture (and people) as entrepreneurial.

6. Learnnovators: To quote Clark Quinn, “Survival requires continual innovation, and at the core is learning faster than everyone else”. You always have been passionate about trying out new things and preparing yourself for the innovations that are yet to come. How significant, according to you, is innovation for businesses to succeed? What role does innovation play in L&D? How can a leader (HR or L&D) drive everyday innovation? How significant is continual experimentation to innovations in learning?

Dan: To innovate is to learn. To learn is to collaborate. To collaborate is to engage. To engage is to include. To include is to participate. To participate is to share. To share is to grow. To grow is to innovate. (repeat)


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