Building while flying

When they hired me for my new job, they told me that they needed to develop a competency-based framework for their organization, including new apprenticeships, connections with post-secondary institutions, and a strategy to more effectively integrating blended learning.

I am now just over three months in and things are a little different than I was led to believe. Instead of developmental training, I am almost exclusively focused on a back log of compliance training and I am writing process documents related to basic coordination of training: Who should enter what, where, and when, and who should communicate what with whom and how.

My elearning designer is developing instructor-led content to be taught by folks outside the training department partly because we do not have enough instructors and partly because the vendor building our new LMS is having issues launching their new interface. Yesterday, I deleted a series of courses from the training calendar I developed just weeks earlier because we are still working on getting job descriptions approved for the positions planned to teach those classes.

I have a temp manually entering the last 2 years of training data into a spreadsheet I developed to track the training of a single department of 25 people, but now is being used to track the training completion of almost 1000, meaning it is certainly not the right tool for the job. And I have a vendor coming in to start a training needs analysis next week to develop a series of curriculum maps for departments that have, up until now, had no clear documented training procedures, though I’m not sure they know what a curriculum map is nor how to complete one.

All the while, senior leadership is losing patience: Wasn’t this all supposed to be done last year? Where are our numbers? How are we performing against the plan? (Plan? What plan? Oh… the plan I’m still writing? Ah, well it’s hard to say…)

I am now regularly using an analogy: We are building this plane while flying it. It is probably not the best way to build a plane, but well, we are well off the ground so our first goal should be to keep it in the air, and our second goal should be to complete the construction of the most critical components to keep us in the air. Please do not ask me for regular detailed status reports as to our altitude or exact location as we are building the altimeter, and GPS as fast as we can, but they are not really the most critical component at the current time.

This all might sound complaining, but it’s really not.  I like this work and I think I’d forgotten how much I missed it. It is interesting however how common it is for organizations big and small to over-estimate their readiness for organizational change and under-estimate the complexity of actually achieving it, particularly where it comes to people. We do a phenomenal amount of planning when it comes to capital projects and technology, but people stuff is treated differently. Where no one would confuse deciding we need an airplane wheel with being ready to land an airplane (one would need to purchase it, install it and maybe even test it), with people we seem think “deciding what they need to know” (or not) is enough. I’m not fully sure yet what it says about us (the collective all of us) that we tend to treat mechanical parts with more care than we do people, but we do. Similarly, we undervalue the work trainers, instructors and teachers do to keep our half-built “learning planes” in the air, not to mention their ideas about how we might want to proceed with the building of them. Over and over again.

So looking back on the week, the status update is a simple one. We started the week with the nose pointed towards the ground, but given some hard work and creative ideas from the instructors, we did not crash, though I did promise them that I fix the plane so that they would not need to deal with this particular tail spin again. So next week’s plans will involve fixing a few more bits that keep the wings intact – because we’re “here now. “The altimeter and detailed flight plan might just need to wait until we get “there,” wherever exactly that turns out to be.


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