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”At least nobody died”: putting L&D blunders on a scale

Modern learning platforms automate a lot of things. However, there is always still the human factor. Sometimes your brain just fails to make the logical decision, you click the wrong button or you don’t click the right button. As part of Learning Technologies Summer Forum, I attended a session that addressed the failures of L&D professionals and the tough lessons they learned from them. See the StoryTagger videos that were used as inspiration for the session. As someone who has made her share of mistakes (duh!), I jotted down my own L&D blunders and put them on a scale. On the scale, the first item is always the one to be avoided, whereas the second item should be my goal. If I have missed the goal, there is surely a lesson to be learned.

People die
Versus
People don’t die

When you make a mistake, you go through lots of emotions. Like in the case where I had just edited the rule configuration of a user group in the system and 300 people disappeared from induction courses. Yay.

Intalked this incident through with the client, who also shared her experiences of similar mishaps, which was comforting. At the end, we both laughed and agreed that even though these things sting for a while, at least NOBODY DIED.

My lesson learned was that these are just bytes and digits. You can usually find a way to get things back to how they were. In the Learning Technologies conference, someone pointed out that “There is no such thing as an L&D emergency.” Ditto!

I contribute to a workday hassle
Versus
I contribute to a great workday experience

Even without casualties, I do feel bad if some of my L&D blunders (or things I have not predicted) make life hard for someone. The systems should work so that they help people at the right time. They should communicate clearly what is expected and why.

An automatic reminder message had gone to people whose recurring courses had expired. I have little or no control over the context in which the users are when they receive these messages, so sometimes they can be experienced in negative ways.

Things get worse if the platform has a technical glitch. Like, ”I got this reminder to complete this course and so I stopped what I was doing and tried it and it didn’t work and everything is stuck and I don’t have time for this!”

My lesson learned from this is that even though I cannot predict the context, I can still show empathy. For a person reporting something like this, the most important thing is getting them out of the hassle and back to work.

The series of new, automated messages like above had to be scheduled because earlier messages had been missed by many people. There was nothing wrong technically. After asking around, I realized that people had received the earlier notifications – but had simply forgot to react on time. A human thing to do.

This got me thinking how little I actually knew about human nature. A good, positive nudge at the right time could have made a difference here. My lesson learned is to help people have enough lead-time before the window of opportunity closes, which then helps organizations reach their goals better.

How do organizations deal with mistakes and blunders?

One question has been troubling me about L&D blunders. Is an L&D subcontractor or a freelancer allowed to make mistakes? Any mistakes? More mistakes or less mistakes compared to an inhouse staff member?

Don’t companies hire freelancers as help because these people have some skills and knowledge that the organization would not have otherwise? Does that mean the external person should be perfect? (Nobody is.)

I asked the panelists’ ideas on this in the Learning Technologies conference session #T4S1.

One comment pointed at the culture of the organization you are working with. If there is no tolerance for mistakes or chances to learn from them, it doesn’t matter who makes the mistake. But if mistakes are allowed and seen as a chance for growth, there is a lot that the consult can learn too.

Another panelist said that the external consultant can’t always be right but their experiences across business domains and different organizations is definitely an asset: “In this context this worked, in another it didn’t”.

I’ll try to take these take-aways with me and try to make sure nobody dies!