working smarter case study

In 2010/2011 Jay Cross and I worked with a corporate university of a large US company with the objective to cultivate a fully engaged, high performing workforce through rapid, collaborative, informal, self-directed learning. The aim was for employees to learn fast enough to keep up with the demands of their jobs and grow into experts in their field.

The university transitioned from designing processes for formal learning to increasing support for informal learning by:

  1. Establishing a learning & performance innovation team.
  2. Developing low-cost methodologies (Do It Yourself).
  3. Integrating informal learning support into work.
  4. Phasing out approaches, tools & methods that were no longer providing value.

This is how we, and our colleagues at the Internet Time AllianceJane Hart, Charles Jennings, Clark Quinn — helped  our client:

  • Development of a learning & performance strategy.
  • Articulating Working Smarter practices.
  • Establishing and modelling the Innovation Team work practices.
  • Supporting the Innovation Team.
  • Monitoring activities.
  • Developing an internal marketing plan.
  • Evaluating progress.

These are some of the major shifts in approaches to learning and performance we helped to develop:

  • From learning apart from work, to learning embedded in work.
  • From pushing training and courses, to workers pulling learning as required.
  • From creating training programs, to building platforms for learning.
  • From a focus on events, to supporting processes.

Together we helped the client support learning while working.

  • Provide tools, technology and frameworks to help each employee become a better self-directed learner.
  • Enable people in work teams and communities of practice to narrate their work, using existing tools such as Sharepoint, blogs, wikis, and discussion forums. The team narrated the continuing development work being done.
  • Improve transparency by posting all communication and resource materials on the intranet.
  • Encourage engagement in external learning networks (outside the company).

An important part of the work in the early stages of the project was to co-create a credo & beliefs statement, to which we all adhered.

  • We are open and transparent
  • We narrate our work.
  • We value the need to share.
  • We are focused on continuous learning, not events.
  • We value conversation as a learning vehicle.
  • We make our work accessible.
  • We are a vanguard of change within the company.
  • Business success is our bottom line.
  • Work is learning and learning is the work.
  • Our target is performance.
  • We are not a training organization.
  • We value time for self-development and reflection.
  • We recognize that reflection is a key to learning.
  • We will establish business metrics for every engagement and report back publicly on outcomes.

Deliverables during the year-long involvement:

  • Developed and documented an Engagement Model to explain how the Innovation Team works and defined the tools they needed on every step.
  • Established an Online Resource Repository (Decision Support Tools, Case Studies, Tools, Job Aids, & additional information sources).
  • Defined the role of Performance Specialist.
  • Conducted professional development activities to prepare the Innovation Team to support customers as innovation consultants (Performance Specialists) within thirty days.
  • Created a framework for an ongoing community of practice on working smarter.
  • Advice on emerging practices for new hires (onboarding).


Some lessons learned:

  • Changing work practices takes time, appropriate feedback, and coaching.
  • Regular informal meetings, we called them ‘virtual coffee breaks’ (daily then weekly) were critical in the early stages of transition to working smarter.
  • Co-creating an explicit Credo & Beliefs statement payed off in the long term with more cohesive group norms and a yardstick to measure progress.
  • Not all trainers were prepared to become performance specialists.
  • Technology selection should be undertaken as late as possible.
  • Good new hire practices can be summed up with three key lessons:
    • Connect People.
    • Connect with Social Media (less hierarchical than other forms of communication).
    • Start the process as early as possible.

Here is the note that our client sent me afterwards:

“What the Internet Time Alliance brought to the table in our engagement, in the person of Harold Jarche, was not only their extensive experience but also the expertise of their networks as well. While we in our organization have networks of our own, the quality and extensiveness of the Alliance network added a value that we would not have been able to tap alone, and led us to a superior solution that will better serve our customers.”

A decade later — Working Smarter Case Study 2020

2 Responses to “working smarter case study”

    • Harold Jarche

      I think you had something to do with that, Tim.
      And you know where the bodies are buried 😉


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