As part of Learnovate’s Meet the Patrons series, we speak to Bob Mosher who is CEO and Chief Learning Evangelist at APPLY Synergies which helps learning professionals design, develop and measure effective learning and performance support through its 5 Moments of Need design methodology.
The company has a 15 person staff and is currently developing an academy programme to help instruction designers learn its methodology. APPLY Synergies has an academy in the Netherlands and is expanding in the next 12 months into Germany and the UK.
Based out of Utah, APPLY Synergies is a completely virtual company and all employees and contractors are based around the world from Hawaii to Greece. Bob works out of Charlotte North Carolina and while, as CEO, he runs the company, he also plays a significant role in the marketing and high-end strategic consulting with clients.
Bob is a Founding Partner of the company, which he established with Dr. Conrad Gottfredson in 2014. But Bob has been working in L&D for 38 years and is renowned worldwide for his pioneering role in new approaches to learning. He started out his career as a public school teacher but has since been part of a number of organisations including one of the first computer training companies in the US. He held the role of Senior Director of Learning Strategy and Evangelism at Microsoft before becoming a learning director at an IT training vendor and left that role to set up APPLY Synergies.
Bob has received two lifetime achievement awards – the ITTA’s Eddy Award for Excellence awarded to individuals who exemplify excellence in the IT education industry and the Institute for IT Training’s Colin Conder award for a person who has made a significant and lasting contribution to the IT training industry. He is the co-author of two books: ‘Training for Results and Innovative Performance Support’ and ‘Tools and Strategies for Learning in the Workflow.’
What are the biggest lessons you learned in your career?
The big pivot for me, and which resulted in the birth of my company, was when I learnt that just designing training is not enough to get a learner all the way through to performing. To help a learner across the 5 Moments of Need, you have to expand learning offerings into deliverables and solutions that also exist in the workflow. That was a major pivot for me and it changed the whole trajectory of what I focus my work on. I oversaw an advisory counsel to the industry leading team at Microsoft and there were a number of industry-leading learning companies, and their directors, on the board. One of them, Alfred Remmitts, introduced me to something called performance support, which has been around in our industry since 1991. But I had not even considered it as an important tool for my toolkit or gave any thought to it in my design. But when Alfred showed me a full working example of that discipline, it solved many of the frustrations and problems I had at the time. He and I have remained partners and friends since.
What was the best advice you ever received?
“Don’t boil the ocean!” This is one of my favourite expressions in work. Performance support can do so much in this industry; it can help build out a fairly robust learning strategy. But you have to be careful to take it incrementally; one step at a time. So, ‘don’t boil the ocean’ means that although there is an ocean that you could possibly impact, if you take that on as your objective, it will take forever and you will never get there. I give this advice to my clients all the time as they see so much potential and want to go for such big things right away that their first efforts almost never works.
How would you define your work style and how has this changed over your career?
I think the best word to describe my work style is agile. My team has adopted agile methodology in our work; agile principles like scrums and daily stand-ups. In the world we live in today, the operative word in agile discipline is iterative and if you don’t approach the work in iterations and bite off too much, you might end up going down a path that you shouldn’t be on and that can derail your efforts. Operationally, the team is located from Hawaii to Greece so the thought of us working 9 to 5 or having meetings every day does not work for us. We are agile in our approach, our mindset and with our clients and this has been the success of our company. But this wasn’t always the approach as, in our industry, we used to have a waterfall approach – driving towards large goals and milestones – but those days are long gone. The rate of change in any organisation is beyond a waterfall approach.
What have you learned about managing teams and individuals?
My dad, who I admire greatly, always used to say: “Hire people better than you and then get out of their way”. You should spend your time as a manager removing obstacles from your employees’ way, so they can do their job well. I take great pride in my company and hire great people to do the job better than I ever could. That makes for a very strong team that feel empowered and own a lot of what they are responsible for. We have checks and balances, but we can’t micromanage all employees.
What are your favourite tools and resources in work?
We use a number of virtual Zoom-like technologies for meetings and client work. We use a virtual collaborative whiteboard which has been ground-breaking for engagement. Instrumental to our work is a tool called Electronic Performance Support System (EPSS) which is the essence of performance support. And of course, our methodology – the 5 Moments of Need – which is the framework we follow to do our work.
Why is R&D important in the learning technology industry?
The rate of change in the software and learning technology business is at a rate of clip that I have never seen in my 38 years. There is UI and UX, learner preference, the constructs of technology, bandwidth, mobile and lots of other things and, without R&D, it all becomes fairly chaotic. R&D brings a stability and a structure and a defendability to learning technologies to keep the advances in check so it plays such a critical role. I want an industry body or organisation like Learnovate that can stand independent of all the noise and show me the independent proof.
From your experience, what are the current trends in learning?
Learning can go into people’s workflow for life in ways we never could before. We used to have to wait for people to come to us; to leave their work so we can put them in a room and then they have to go back to work and try and make sense of what they had learned. Now we can bring information, learning, support, people, collaboration and resources to people’s laptop in ways that are remarkable. As an L&D professional who started out with a chalkboard, it is a brave new world for us right now. As horrific as the pandemic has been on so many levels, the remarkable gift that will come out of it has been the adoption of virtual technology.
How should we prepare for the future of work?
I talk to business leaders who are struggling with lots of items for when we return to the workplace – simple items like real estate; they have all these buildings and what do they do with them? They are looking at the dynamic of a team and are asking: Do you have to put them in a physical space? What does a work day look like? What does a team look like? At the moment, there is no border between work and home so what does work/life balance mean in the future? All these things that are now being discussed will spark spectacular innovation, but it will also challenge us all.
What impact has Covid-19 had on your organisation and on your customers?
It has accelerated our business beyond our capacity. We were a niche company when it was the norm for people to go into a classroom for training. But, then when they could not go into classrooms, the idea of moving the learning into the workflow without people having to stop work or go into a classroom was no longer niche. It has changed the whole dynamic of our work.
What have you/your organisation learned from your experience of Covid-19?
We learned that workers can take a lot more responsibility than we used to give them. A lot of people have stepped up in remarkable ways after being thrown into the fire. In L&D, I have learned that people can own their professional development more than we gave them credit for and I think when we go back, people will want to be part of that more dynamic, self-empowered, productive workforce.
What book would you recommend on learning, technology, business or understanding people?
I’ve written a book with Dr Conrad Gottfredson which is in this space, called ‘Training for Results and Innovative Performance Support’. ‘Epic Change’ by Timothy Clarke is a fantastic change management book and The E Myth by Michael Gerber, which is a short read but is a really remarkable book for any entrepreneur.
Why is membership of Learnovate important to your company?
Learnovate is one of the few organisations that represents the lifecycle of learning. I’ve been impressed in my meetings in the Thought Leaders’ Circle that we have conversations around primary school through to higher education and onto corporate learning. I don’t know any other organisation that has representation and is doing R&D in those areas. Too many see them as separate, but they are so dependent, especially between higher ed and corporate but there is such a break down between those two.
Why do companies need the support of a centre like Learnovate?
I have found Learnovate to be very open to the most recent trends. They look at what I need in my business to do my business better. They want to build their research methods around that rather than trying to fit a company into an academic model that has already been built.
They are highly flexible, highly receptive and very open. When you have meetings, they are never parading their achievements in front of you, it’s been deep dives and brainstorming into trends and business needs and how can Learnovate be supportive of that with their work and research. That’s a big deal; I should know as I’ve been around long enough and been a member of many other organisations. I find that very refreshing and unique.
What does Learnovate do well?
I am invigorated and impressed with Learnovate’s ability to remain current and not overly academic. Other organisations take a very academic bent, but I don’t find Learnovate to be that way at all. It is very open and responsive to the lifecycle of a learner and they find all aspects of that journey important and realise there is a dependency. That is important to my work and the organisations I work with.