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Dr. Kotter Embraces Learning Technology
David Creelman

Harvard’s John Kotter gained fame for his work on leadership and change management (see his books Leading Change and The Heart of Change). Kotter has reached many people through his books and lectures, but these two methods are not always the most effective ways to share knowledge. What you really want is Dr. Kotter sitting beside you as you work through a real change issue. Since having Dr. Kotter as your personal assistant is rarely practical, he has created a combination of e-learning and a workshop to help leaders manage change. Kotter is not the first to use this kind of blended approach, but he is a big name so his efforts will help bring these tools into the mainstream of HR practice. I suspect this approach will become the standard way to train or guide people.

You’ll notice I used the rather awkward phrase “train or guide” people, rather than just saying “a way to train.” The reason is that e-learning changes the nature of the learning experience. Kotter’s work could be used just for training (“this is how to manage change”), but actually it makes more sense to use it to guide people through a real change project. The value of e-learning is that it can be delivered directly to individuals in the workplace when they need to tackle their own change issues.

Kotter’s workshop/e-learning is a based on Our Iceberg is Melting, which he co-authored with Holger Rathgeber.The workshop is what you would expect: ideas and exercises to teach leaders about managing change. What is new is the e-learning component that uses video, text and exercises to walk the manager through the process of diagnosing what they need to do in their own change management project.Thanks to the e-learning, leaders come to the workshop well prepared to ask relevant questions and seek help on areas they have had difficulty with.

One can think of the e-learning as preparation for the workshop, but I find the workshop of secondary importance. If I were a corporation I would want to have the e-learning component always available on my intranet. Whenever a manager faced the challenge of leading change they could go through the e-learning module to guide them through the thinking and steps they need to be successful. Sure, if a manager wanted a copy of the book that would be great, and if we had a workshop scheduled I’m sure they’d want to go. But they key is having the learning available when it is needed and to be used as it is needed.

One can imagine a future where a great deal of help is delivered to managers by having the wisdom of experts carefully packaged on-line in a way that guides the manager through the issue they face.

Kotter was initially sceptical of this approach since he had seen too much training that makes too little difference. But he wanted to reach millions of leaders and you can’t do that in person. He worked hard on the e-learning component, his team went through many iterations, but in the end he was convinced.

What should you do now? Take a look at the Kotter program to get a sense of how these things work and be on the look out for other well-designed on-line programs. HR professionals need to keep up-to-date on the new learning tools that are available and ensure their organization gains experience in using these tools.

David Creelman is CEO of Creelman Research, providing writing, research and commentary on human-capital management. He is investing much of his time in helping HR VPs report to the Board about human capital. He works with a variety of academics, think tanks, consultancies and HR vendors in the U.S., Japan, Canada and China.


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