Home schooling, home college, company college

Peabody Institute Chair Hollis Robbins at Johns Hopkins University just wrote a provocative piece in The Chronicle Of Higher Education on an idea so simple and so intuitively right that it feels like it should already be in wide use. Dr. Robbins looks at the broad skill sets of multi-discipline PhDs and asks why one or some of them banded together couldn’t offer the equivalent of at least the first year of a liberal arts university education on a home schooling basis — and do so with better outcomes (and at lower cost) than the students would likely get at a good private liberal arts college or university; the idea being for the students to earn home college credits and transfer in to “formal” programs after they’ve done the first year or two with the private providers.

As you would expect from a humanities professor, the piece is balanced, subtle and eminently reasonable.

You can read the article here.

It got me thinking. The home college idea begs the question — Why couldn’t companies do the same thing? What a perk it would be for employees to be able to get, on a part-time basis, a top-flight liberal arts education through work. For companies of a certain size, hiring three or four full-time PhDs is a small cost. The professors might easily handle up to 100 company students a year. Smaller companies could band together to share costs.

Though such a program could easily be run by a corporate university, this idea is nothing like traditional corporate universities, which are generally driven by line-of-business needs and are vocational in purpose rather than about explicitly building employees’ personal capabilities.

It’s a radical and I think powerful idea. It’s kind of an anti-MOOC (though there’s nothing stopping any such program from incorporating MOOCs into the curriculum). It could also turn out to be cheaper (and a lot better) than sending an equivalent number of staff to community college.

The benefits to the business of setting up a company college might include:

  • An increase in employee engagement (and thus higher employee retention rates)
  • A reputation boost for the company in its industry and communities
  • A smarter workforce (hat tip to IBM) — let’s be honest, though humanities training does not easily translate into job-specific skill-set libraries, the general truth is clear — over the long run, better people means better business

On that last point, one of the downsides of doing what everybody else is doing is that there’s no strategic competitive advantage to be had in the process: your best outcome is to not fall behind your peers. The upside of doing something different, something like Dr. Robbins’ suggests for example, is that, if it works, you’re in blue water.

Your employer is watching

And listening, and applying predictive analytics at the same time.

Excellent shout-out in Marginal Revolution (a blog by a couple of award-winning economists, not rebel types) on an FT piece (gated for most of us, unfortunately) on how some employers are improving productivity by measuring employee interactions with each other (interestingly not with clients) and noting employee tone of voice in the process.

It seems talking things through with your peers really does make things better. It also turns out that a sustained spike in dulcet tones while mixing it up on break is in fact highly correlated with productivity improvement.

Employers take note: this kind of experiment is the tip of the iceberg and only goes to prove the old saw, “What get measured gets improved.”

Read it here.

Take no prisoners HR

The Harvard Business Review just published an article on human resource practices at Netflix.

You can find the article here.

It’s not for the faint of heart. The key question? Which members of your team, if they got offers somewhere else, would you fight to keep? Okay now, let’s talk about everybody else on your team — if you wouldn’t fight to keep them, why are they still here?

The article includes a slideshare presentation. It’s worth reading.

Improving Performance Locally in a Global Market

stacey-harrisGuest post by Stacey Harris, VP of Research and Advisory Services at Brandon Hall Group. Stacey Harris oversees Brandon Hall Group’s research strategy and agenda, solution provider relations, and advisory services.

More than 83% of organizations with a skilled labor workforce state that it’s difficult to find employees capable of addressing their organizations’ hiring needs. By 2020, global workforce shortages are predicted for critical skilled roles in healthcare, high-tech, and manufacturing.

Yet unemployment in 2012 increased by more than 4.2 million people, according to the International Labour Organization (ILO), jumping to 197 million people globally. “Many of the new jobs require skills that jobseekers do not have,” said ILO Director-General Guy Ryder. That is especially true for 74 million next-generation workers between the ages of 15- to 24-years-old who are currently unemployed.

Businesses and governments alike are quickly realizing that long-term strategies for performance improvement, growth, innovation, and market share must include a workforce strategy focused on developing critical skills inside their organizations.

On  Oct. 23, at NetDimensions Next Steps 2013 in London, I’m looking forward to addressing these topics and sharing global data from Brandon Hall Group on:

  • Managing global talent scarcity
  • Embracing our changing world: getting on board
  • Creating strategic connections between performance and learning
  • Developing a learning environment to build the workforce of tomorrow

The Skills Gap concerns may very well be global issues – with real business impact:

  • More than 55% of manufacturing organizations say a lack of skilled labor impacts their ability to grow the business.
  • More than 35% of high-tech organizations say a lack of skilled labor impacts their ability manage costs and grow the business.
  • 33% of healthcare organizations say that a lack of skilled labor impacts their ability to comply with external quality standards and regulations.

But the answer to these challenges is more likely a local answer. Those organizations that ranked themselves as first-rate in managing community and educational relationships were 50% more likely to have all of their Key Performance Indicators moving in a positive direction.

Organizations that hired employees expecting to provide continuous development were correlated with the highest levels of ongoing business performance compared to those that hired people with the expectation of providing just onboarding development.

We’ll be holding several discussions throughout the day Oct. 23 about the role of learning, talent, and HR leaders in preparing their organizations to compete in a new world where performance and talent are tightly connected.

Next Steps London
Keynote: Improving Performance Locally in a Global Market

Stacey Harris will share hot-off-the-press global research on how organizations are addressing talent scarcity issues while developing the next generation workforce. 

Click here for more information on Next Steps 2013.