You can have the most inspiring vision in the world, a powerful mission, and a great strategy, but if you don’t have the capacity for executing, none of those things really matters very much.
In this episode, Jeff and Celisa discuss why understanding capacity, and more importantly, how to build capacity, is one of the most critical activities an organization can pursue.
They also offer seven recommendations any learning business can embrace for building capacity (none of which involve hiring more people).
Listen to the Show
Read the Show Notes
[00:18] – A preview of what will be covered in this podcast where Celisa and Jeff offer seven recommendations to help you build capacity for your learning business.
[00:40] – Thank you to Blue Sky eLearn, sponsor of the Leading Learning podcast for the first quarter of 2018. Blue Sky is the maker of the Path learning management system, an award-winning, cloud-based learning solution that empowers your organization to maximize its message.
Blue Sky also provides a range of virtual event and instructional services to help you maximize your content and create deeper engagement with your audience. To find out more about Blue Sky eLearn and everything it offers, visit http://www.blueskyelearn.com.
What is capacity?
[01:44] – We think of capacity as the resources necessary to implement your strategy, pursue your mission, and achieve your vision. You can have the most inspiring vision in the world, a powerful mission, and a great strategy, but if you don’t have the capacity for executing, none of those things really matters very much. So, we think that understanding capacity, and more importantly, how to build capacity, is one of the most critical activities an organization can pursue.
It’s also one of the five domains in our Learning Business Maturity Model™ — see our previous podcast episode about it to learn more. The maturity model identifies five domains on which organizations need to focus in order to build a mature, high performing learning business. We pose key questions about each of these domains, and the question for building capacity is: Does the organization have sufficient capacity, in terms of human resources and technology, to pursue the vision and strategy effectively?
The model also lays out the four stages of maturity that organizations progress through and, with respect to capacity, a mature, Stage 4 organization’s learning business has the necessary resources (human and technological) to address current needs, as well as resources to support ongoing innovation and growth. Processes are well defined and continuously evaluated and improved. The business consistently invests in staff and volunteer development.
Challenges with capacity
[05:19] – Capacity is an area with which most organizations struggle and below are some of the challenges they often face:
- Often under staffed – In the online survey of membership organizations that is the backbone of our Association Learning + Technology 2017 we asked respondents about overall staff size as well as about the number of staff who devote more than half their time to education or professional development.
Respondents’ organizations average 489.9 paid staff overall, with 9.2 paid staff members who spend more than half their time working in education or professional development. The medians are more modest: 24 paid staff with 3 spending more than half their time on education or professional development.
So, based on the averages, about 1.9 percent dedicated to education and professional development; based on the medians, about 12.5 percent. Given that education is nearly always a major part of the mission of these organizations, these numbers are quite low – definitely not reflecting an effort to build capacity.
- Key processes are not in place – About two-thirds of respondents whose organizations use technology for learning don’t have a formal, documented product development process that includes technology-enabled and technology-enhanced education products, and over half lack a formal, documented process for setting prices that includes their technology-enabled and technology-enhanced education products.
- Technology not being used to full effect – In the survey for the 2017 Association Learning + Technology report, we asked organizations currently using technology for learning if they use it to repeat, reinforce, or sustain learning after participants complete an educational product or service. Not quite a third say they do use technology for sustaining learning – missing an opportunity for using technology to achieve much greater impact, an idea very much in line with capacity building.
We also found that only 14.9 percent of respondents that have one or more learning technology platforms in place reported always using the data they collect in their learning technology platforms to make decisions about the current and future educational products and services they offer. Again, technology can greatly enhance capacity, but it is not being used for this purpose to the extent it could be.
7 recommendations to help build capacity
[12:57] – In many instances organizations simply need to increase staff and since that isn’t always possible, below are some recommendations that do not require hiring—and most of them don’t even require spending money:
- Understand where you are – This is why we provide the Learning Business Maturity Model assessment – you have to know where you are is you want to build capacity in the right way to get to where you want to be. Use the assessment, but also make sure that you considering capacity carefully as you review and refine your strategy each year. What are the new opportunities and challenges arising for which you will need additional or different capacity? Where do you need less capacity than in the past? Are there opportunities for shifting resources?
- Adopt a growth mindset – We have Carol Dweck in mind when saying this—she is focused mainly on individuals – and that is important – but we have realized over the years that there is also an organizational mindset. What’s yours? Do you believe you are capable of growth and improvement? To the extent that you aren’t seeing a growth mindset, take steps to promote it—just making people aware of a fixed vs. growth mindset makes them much more likely to embrace the growth mindset.
See our related episode, Maximizing Learning with Mindset.
- Invest in training for your human resources – This is the low hanging fruit, but is often overlooked or not invested in sufficiently. If you want organizational capacity to grow, you have to invest in the individuals that comprise the organization. We have found that one of the ironies of our work in the learning business is that often the people who are responsible for developing and delivering education for others do not have enough opportunities to develop themselves.
The beginning of the year is a good time to make a plan to change that. Identify relevant events and get them on the calendar for the relevant people. One we highly recommend, of course, is our own Learning · Technology · Design event (LTD), an extended virtual conference, held throughout the month of February, entirely online designed specifically for professionals in the business of continuing education and professional development. The program really focuses in on topical areas that are likely to help improve capacity and the event will be complemented with a learning community that will go on before, during, and after to help cement the learning and make it stick.
- Make knowledge development and sharing an ongoing practice – we frequently advocate coming together as a group to engage collectively and build and share knowledge— attending an event like LTD is one way to do that.
We also advocate that you work together utilizing the various tools we provide – for example, the Value Ramp (below)– to elicit knowledge and discussion. Prioritize this and schedule it.
- Flesh out and document key processes – As already noted, many organizations do not have clear, well-documented processes in place for key areas of their learning business. We mentioned product development and pricing specifically, but there are many others.
Take a close look at the processes that are most important to your organizations, and commit to making sure these are fully fleshed out and documented. Not only will this support your current capacity, it supports longer term sustainability as staff and volunteers move on.
- Set clear goals and track metrics for the use of technology – what will it get you and how will you know it has done its job? As part of this process, consider whether you have the right tech in place.
For additional resources related to this, see our blog posts, How to Select the Right Learning Technologies for Your Association, Part I and Part II. Also, if selecting a new LMS is part of what you’re considering, check out our new ReviewMyLMS site.
- Connect with other organizations – make a commitment to connect with and learn from peers at other organizations. And don’t just make this a “nice to do” item. As part of your internal knowledge sharing and development, brainstorm a list of issues and challenges on which you would like to be able to learn from others and start actively seeking out organizations that have done what you want to do. You can find them on list serves and online communities hosted by organizations like the Association for Talent Development, the eLearning Guild, or the American Society of Association Executives.
You can bring your issues to events – like to our upcoming Learning · Technology · Design event which will include significant support fort peer sharing and learning. Or, we even encourage you to reach out to us directly for contacts – because of our experience and our network, we very often have contacts we can offer—just e-mail us at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also comment or share questions on the bottom of this post (or any other podcast episode post).
[29:30] – Wrap Up
If you are getting value from the Leading Learning podcast, be sure to subscribe by RSS or on iTunes. We’d also appreciate if you give us a rating on iTunes by going to http://www.leadinglearning.com/itunes.
We’d also be grateful if you would take a minute to visit our sponsor for this quarter, Blue Sky eLearn. In addition to finding out about their services, you will also find a variety of great resources that they offer for free.
Also, consider telling others about the podcast. Go to http://www.leadinglearning.com/share to share information about the podcast via Twitter, or send out a message on another channel of your choosing with a link to http://www.leadinglearning.com/podcast.