In the news – Great Learning Starts With Communities


A very interesting article from CLO-Mag on how one can combine the strengths of each generation to create a stronger workforce more engaged in (and positive about) learning programs…

By: Frank Kalman – Chief Learning Officer Magazine – 10/21/11

Creating a sense of organizational community helps increase employee
engagement and retention in a multigenerational workforce.

With today’s multigenerational workforce, ranging from traditionalists
to the baby boomers to Generations X and Y, learning leaders face the challenge
of building continuity along with individual development amid a divide in
workplace values.

Each generation holds a unique set of values. Traditionalists, those
born before 1946, value core skills and hard-nosed standards; the baby boomers,
born just after ’46, value hard work and multi-tasking; and Generations X and Y
embrace the development of technology. Each is tasked with coming together for
a common purpose: to work toward the success of a business.

Add in a perilous economic climate, where workers are consistently
worried amid job cuts and corporate restructuring, and learning leaders feel
pressure to bridge these differences toward continued development, greater
training and success.

“Those are all realities in today’s marketplace that organizations have
to struggle with,” said Susan Cain, a partner at the Corporate Learning
Institute, a Chicago-area learning and development training consultancy. “What
we’re talking about is not only building community and communities of people
that can practice and collaborate together, but also developing the concept of
individual job enrichment.”

Building greater job enrichment will grow more important as baby boomers
begin to retire and younger generations take over, Cain said. Because
Generations X and Y require greater meaning and engagement in their work, Cain
said learning leaders will have to put more emphasis on development that builds
continuity within organizational ranks.

Building more effective corporate communities, whereby these divergent
groups learn to come together on a deeper level, offers a plausible solution
for learning leaders. Effective community building unites a workforce,
increases employee engagement and enhances the opportunity for continued
learning and leadership development, Cain said.

The Corporate Learning Institute is one of many companies that work to
help organizations develop a greater sense of community. The institute
champions a work environment where employees connect on a more personal level,
developing a sense of openness, belonging and honesty.

To train organizations, it leads
learning sessions akin to a town hall meeting, where employees gather to unite,
share and build a sense of belonging. This is the starting point for
organizations looking to build community. “What we’re suggesting is you have to
see community building as an investment, as you would see an investment in a
new product,” said Tim Buividas, also a partner at the Corporate Learning
Institute and one of the authors, along with Cain, of a recently published
white paper, “Building Effective Communities: Defining Community and How to
Build It Within Your Organization.”

The town hall-style session
allows organizations to gather vital members to converse about the current
needs and concerns — both individually and organizationally. The idea, Cain
said, is for the group to present those concerns and needs, understand the
diversity of opinions without judgment and consider new options for group
cohesion and communication.

“To me, community is a symptom of
effective leadership,” Cain said.

The notion of community building
in this sense is initiated by Peter Block, author of several books on the
subject. Most recently, he co-wrote The Abundant Community: Awakening the
Power of Families and Neighborhoods
. He also wrote Community: The
Structure of Belonging
, which Cain said the Corporate Learning Institute
uses as a basis for its community training. The book proposes six elements of
conversation that are used in the town hall meeting:

Invitation: According to the Corporate Learning
Institute’s white paper, invitation is a call to create an “alternative future
start.” Essentially, this step is reaching out and allowing members of the
organization to choose if they would like to be part of the community.

Possibility: This step requires
small group members in the town hall to converse to evaluate the current
mission of the organization or department and ask what could be changed. It is
where the group comes together to envision a common goal or purpose.

Ownership: As Cain and Buividas put it, this stage
is about getting people’s “butts on the line.” In other words, it means asking
people to take responsibility of the change effort.

Dissent: This conversation is about giving people
the opportunity to say no. The point of this step, Cain said, is that leaders
need to gain an understanding of what people do not want in order to create a
shared vision.

Commitment: Once a community vision is created,
Block’s framework asks members to take accountability for the organization’s

Gifts: This final portion of the meeting asks
the group to share each other’s personal strengths and to envision how those
strengths can be put into action.

“One of the interesting things
about the town hall meeting is you stand and make a series of declarative
statements using ‘I,’ not ‘me,’” Cain said. “So you’re not hiding behind
anybody else. You’re just who you are.”

“I thought it was a very powerful
session,” said Mark Becker, partner at C/D/H, a Grand Rapids, Mich.-based
technology-consulting firm. C/D/H typically holds what it calls “Thriving
Through Chaos” training meetings quarterly, but in 2009, amid financial
hardship, it decided to use the town hall-style community training session to
build a greater sense of community among its employees.

C/D/H took a day off to hold the
meeting, and as they went through each of the conversations, the company’s
30-some employees broke off into groups, which made facilitating the process
easier, Becker said.

“There was a real openness and
honestly in the group,” Becker said. “You get people looking at their

Participating in the session,
Becker said, helped the company emerge from its financial rut. The development
created a greater understanding and cohesiveness among all employees in the
firm. “By the end of the year, we were starting to pick up financially,” he
said. “So in 2010, we were off to the races.”

But larger organizations may find
it more difficult to initiate this sort of training in its learning
environments. Because the session asks for smaller groupings, conducting a town
hall-style training session to create this sense of community might be better
served on a department or small group level.

Efforts to create community and
meet the demands of a workforce seeking more meaning will require learning
leaders to be more intentional in their community building efforts, which will
provide for a greater avenue for increased learning and individual development.

“It’s intentional; it isn’t left
to the whim of fate or chance,” Cain said. “If you’re going to consciously
build tighter community, increased innovation among groups in an organization,
there’s no leaving it to chance.”

Becker expressed a similar
urgency. “Instead of getting smacked around by the economy and being reactive,
are we going to get into the driver’s seat and be proactive and turn ourselves
around and make a change?”

Kalman is an associate editor of Chief Learning Officer magazine. He can be
reached at

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