Interview with Peter Casebow, CEO of GoodPractice

Another week, another great interview I have the privilege to share with you.

I recently had the opportunity to interview Peter Casebow, CEO and Co-Founder of GoodPractice, a provider of online learning materials for leadership and management.  Peter was very gracicious with his time and I’d like to thank him for the interview, which I think is very insightful and contains a lot of valuable information.  Among the topis discussed are performance support, mobile learning, and the shift from looking at learning as a separate event outside of the context of work to one of continuous learning and performance, while employees continue to perform their critical tasks.

The full interview is below.  Please feel free to leave your comments at the end.

Training Station: Please provide us with a brief overview about GoodPractice and also a bit about your professional background as well.

peter casebowPeter Casebow: My professional background really started with about 23 years in the Royal Bank of Scotland up until 2000. I did a bit of everything there, from being a traditional banker for about 10 or 11 years. I ended up spending a bit of time in HR and a bit of time in learning. I also did some strategy work for the bank as well and I ended up serving as Head of Communication Strategy, which included looking at the bank’s Internet, intranet, we created some business television networks and some virtual classrooms.  So it’s quite mixed, but over the last 10 – 15 years in the bank, I was looking at how to help people to perform better through communications and through training.

In 2008, I decided I was going to leave the bank and joined Margaret Ford in co-founding GoodPractice. What GoodPractice does is we specialize in development of online leadership and management learning materials. That market has changed remarkably in the 13 years because when we started out, a lot of the common terminology used these days wasn’t really there – like ‘performance support,’ ‘70/20/10,’ or informal learning.

As a company, we work with large corporations like Rolls Royce, Barclays Bank, government departments and a whole range of universities including the Open University in the UK. So it’s a very mixed bag, but everything we do it’s all delivered online. It could be performance support toolkit, it could be a piece of e-learning, video, audio, it could be mobile, and we’ve got an interesting app that works very well. So our specialist subject focuses on leadership management material, and how you get people to engage and use that.

TS: Very interesting. You mentioned that some of the terms like performance management and informal learning didn’t exist when you first started. It seems like the idea of training as a single event – and then people are released to actually do work – that idea is kind of going away. For some businesses, it has totally gone away. For others, it’s still in the process of transforming into more of continuous learning outlook where the initial training event is just that. It’s only initial and then more of a focus is placed on performance support and informal learning as the employee continues to work. It’s shifted to a more long-term way of looking at learning.

PC: I think people are getting more conscious of that. I think the recession has helped focus minds because budgets haven’t been there, so people had to look at alternatives. Yet I think there’s still a long way to go. There are still some places in the UK where the tendency exists to look at learning inputs rather than what is the business outcome or the organizational outcome we’re trying to achieve. But it’s definitely moving and changing.

TS: Do you think the proper balance is there? Let’s take, for example, the basic case of a new employee coming in and has to go through training to operate let’s say Salesforce or a certain company’s software. Do you think that the organizational focus on average is on the right place? Should there be more focus on the pre-work training stage? Or should there be more of a focus on the post-training, performance support stage?

PC: I think there should be a very clear process when you’re looking at what is the performance gap in the organization that we’re trying to close and what’s needed to close that gap. So much of that would then be situational. When you’re looking at something like a sales team. The performance gap we may be trying to close is to create more sales. That’s a very clear business outcome. Part of the learning professional’s tasks is to help people understand what is the outcome they’re trying to get to.

I love Julie Dirksen’s stuff when you’re looking at performance gaps. What is the performance gap and why does it exist? Is it about knowledge? Is it about skills? Is it about the organization? When you look at it, the reason we’re not making as many sales, when you begin to dig deeper, is partly because the way we’ve incentivized people and where they spend their time. So, it’s not always a training issue. Is it about motivation? Is it about communication in the organization?

So I’d say, break down the problem and thinking about what will help you achieve the business outcomes.  Then think about where you’ll need to spend your energy and your inputs, and how you’re going hold people accountable in using those inputs, but I don’t think there’s a one-size-fits-all answer. I think what’s clear though is that in the past, what we’ve done in training is we’ve probably spent a lot of time trying to teach people everything. And we’ve tried to cram it all in.

Further, related to that, what’s the minimum, from a subject matter expert point of view, what’s the minimum we need to teach them to do the job? Do we need to teach them to answer that random question that comes out maybe once every three months that now they’re never going to remember? If we take Excel and Pivot Tables, a lot of Excel training spends time teaching people how to do Pivot Tables. I use Pivot Tables maybe once or twice a year. I never quite remember how to do it, but there’s very good stuff online. So teaching me how to do a Pivot Table at the start is a waste of time. Teaching me the way to find the best support so when I need it, I can go and find it, that the most effective way. 

TS: Within the flow of work. That seems to be very important.

PC: Within the flow of work, yes. A lot of what we do is in performance support, and about ten years ago, we launched two performance support tool kits with banks at always the same time. One was getting a much higher usage rate than the other. We did some work there and since we’ve been able to substantiate this with other clients. Essentially, where the performance support tool kit is positioned to help people to do their job as opposed to being part of formal learning, the usage is four- five times higher. So the same tool kit, the same quality of resources, and the same ease of access. The one differentiator is people’s perception of what it is there to do. If it’s there to do help me do my job, I’ll use it much more than if tell me it’s about learning. Learning is something, unfortunately, people still see as something to do outside of work, or outside of the flow of work. 

TS: Let’s talk about online learning. With more of adoption of web-based learning programs, do you think that lends itself to learning being more collaborative or do you think it will go towards a more individual learning path?

PC: It’s an interesting question. I think the tools are there that change the timing of the collaboration. If you think traditionally, you would collaborate in a classroom, you would collaborate perhaps in a learning area outside of an event. And you certainly would collaborate in the bar after the event. But I think with the web and with the social tools built in nowadays that you have the ability to collaborate on a much wider scale with the whole range of experts. Take Jane Hart, for example. I first came across Jane on Twitter. Then, I’ve met with her. I was on a panel with her a couple of weeks ago. But I follow Jane’s blog and tweets as a way of keeping me up-to-date professionally and developing me on professional basis. I follow a whole range of people across the United States and elsewhere and then occasionally we can communicate with each other on Skype. So actually what the web has done is enabled me to reach out and widen my network quite considerably in a way that I just couldn’t have done in the past, or at least as easily.

From that point of view, I think it allows me to reach out and develop. I think that as long as we don’t get too narrow when defining learning, then I think you can say, well actually learning is about work and performing better. So all those things fit into that. And you can create those internal networks for people to find the right subject matter expert. Asking somebody else who you don’t even know or never met about a particular issue — what do you know about this? So I think it can be used in both ways. The web alone can always allow you to draw in and find a lot of stuff and a lot of detail very quickly. Google is probably the biggest learning platform in the world but then you can use that tool individually or collectively. It’s up to you.

TS: Let’s move to mobile technology. There’s been a lot written in the last few years on mobile learning with an explosion over the last five years in general but especially over the last two-three years with tabloid computers and obviously with smartphones. The ability to access learning materials on your phone outside of the workplace, from any device, etc. What do you think is the impact of mobile technology on learning strategy, and how do you think managers can leverage mobile learning most effectively?

PC: I think it’s sort of interesting paradox that’s going on around mobile from a traditional learning department’s point of view. On one level, you’ve got lots of people professionally wandering around with their smartphone, using apps to get all sorts of information when they need it. So it creates an expectation. And of course the quality of an employee’s personal smartphone may well be higher than the quality of whatever device and mobile they’re given by their organization, just as often nowadays, their own computer may have higher functionality than their computer at work. So this expectation being created around people about what’s possible and how you can work is very persuasive.

At the same time, technically, for people to use their own mobile device (BYOD), it’s actually quite hard because of things like the number of people working on difference sorts of Android platforms and Blackberries are just a nightmare when it comes to trying to integrate all that. So ‘Bring Your Own Device’ is actually a harder thing for organizations in terms of managing security than you might initially think.

Where we have had direct experience with mobile technology is that we put an app where about a hundred and fifty top tips for managers and we have a lot of customers using It including people at Barclays. Really, this is a performance support tool. Where we find the highest usage is first thing in the morning when people are commuting to work, and right around 9:00 at night. And we get really heavy traffic there from people who would come back. 60% would come back at least once a month, and they would spend some time at an average twenty odd minutes in the morning. What we find is that people use it on the way to work, when they figure ‘how am I going to deal with some issues?’ and at night, for shorter periods of time but the  volume is higher. People will be thinking, ‘the kids have gone to bed, I’ve had my dinner, sitting down over a cup of tea, and my mind is thinking about tomorrow. What have I got to do tomorrow?’ or ‘Oh, I’ve got that difficult meeting. I just need to remind myself what I’m going to do. I’ve got a budget to create. What are ten things I need to remember?’

So I think mobile is an ideal way and apps and mobile websites are an ideal way of providing some performance support from people.

We did an exit survey at a large UK learning technology show. You could imagine, being a technology show, one of the biggest in Europe, there is a lot of talk about mobile. These are people who are interested in technology attending the conference. We asked them on the way out what their plans were to implement a mobile learning strategy in the next six months, and almost 70% of them said there are no immediate plans. So there’s a real split between where the market says mobile usage is going and what learning professionals are actually planning to do.

TS: OK! final questions for now. Firstly, if somebody is starting out in the L&D profession nowadays, what kind of advice would you give them? What are the most important things to embrace in your career?

PC: If you are starting out, I’d be saying to you, try not to think of yourself as a learning specialist per se. Firstly, learn about the business that you’re in. Learn about how it works. Learn about the financials. If it’s a profit organization, what drives the share price? What makes your organization tick? Because that’s absolutely fundamental to everything else that you’re going to do going through your life if you want to be in that work, in that profession.

Learn a lot about change because actually learning is often about changing people, so learn about why people change and are sometimes resistant to change – that would be the second thing I would look at. And the third thing is to think about outcomes. Always try and work out, not the learning inputs, but what the business outcomes are. What the performance outcomes are. Teach yourself to start with that mindset.

If I was going to point a young L&D professional in the direction of what to read, I would certainly recommend they start with Julie Dirksen’s book Design for How People Learn. I think that’s a fabulous route to get a really good insight into the learning design piece. You might want to look at Cathy Moore’s “Action Mapping” and I would recommend Robert Brinkerhoff as well. Things like ‘5 Moments of Learning Needs’ and Success Case Method for evaluation. If you have that in your tool kit, you’ll be very successful I think as a learning professional. You’ll start to change performance in an organization and that’s what it’s about.

Jason Silberman
Jason is the former Lead Author & Editor of TrainingStation Blog
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