The number of businesses using and accepting Bitcoin continues to grow. This increased utilization brings with it a need for businesses to train their employees on the use, management and security of Bitcoin-based processes and workflows. Employers and managers can’t afford to assume basic literacy among their staff when it comes to understanding the basics of this new technology.
Just as previous disruptive technologies such as email, social media and the Internet itself have brought new training needs to organizations, Bitcoin also requires that we train staff on how to maximize the advantages of the technology while minimizing the risks that attend a poorly implemented Bitcoin strategy.
Beyond Knowledge Transfer
When considering organizational training as it relates to a Bitcoin integration strategy, the first thing many leaders might focus on are Bitcoin’s technical aspects. While technical details and factual background are certainly of high value and need to be carefully considered, often the most substantial result obtained from formal training initiatives is not technical but cultural and psychological.
That’s because effective training programs do more than just transfer knowledge. Strategic training initiatives can also instill confidence, enhance buy-in and develop enthusiastic champions in an organization, turning skepticism or resistance into support and cooperation. The result can be a long-term competitive advantage in an environment of rapid change. As the pace of massive change increases, organizations that are more effective at learning are better able to adapt and thrive. Achieving this goal requires looking at the training objective from more than a content-delivery perspective.
The Charismatic/Structured Divide
Let’s compare two hypothetical organizations as they prepare to introduce Bitcoin literacy training into their workplaces. Both organizations’ leaders are enthusiastic about Bitcoin, are personally invested and have confidence the technology will provide substantial benefit to both their organizations and the larger community.
The first leader approaches accomplishing this objective in an unstructured way, primarily relying on his natural leadership talents, his organizational role and the power and respect that comes with that position. He uses his personal charisma and reputation in the industry to promote and encourage employees and colleagues to learn more about Bitcoin. He is enthusiastic and frequently talks about Bitcoin in company meetings. If anyone asks him questions about Bitcoin, he is quick to explain how confident he is that it will bring value, and why he is a proponent. He encourages his associates and employees to explore the technology on their own, and he even makes a practice of helping his team members open wallets by giving them a small amount of bitcoin to play with.
The second leader takes a more structured approach. She thinks through what she is trying to accomplish and comes up with a written executive summary statement that clearly encapsulates her mission. In her case, she defines her objective as:
“Develop both technical fluency and cultural enthusiasm in our organization around Bitcoin technology so the team is capable of both implementing Bitcoin-related pilot projects and capitalizing on opportunities as they arise.”
Rather than overtly promoting the technology using her personal charisma, she decides to work closely with a subordinate who is respected in the organization as a conservative, careful planner who is relatively risk-averse. She meets with that subordinate one-on-one and appoints that person as project leader rather than spearheading it herself. She asks the person to help her plan a structured training initiative to accomplish her written objective.
The two of them work together to both develop the list of tasks that need to be accomplished, and then schedule these items on the calendar with specific milestones and deadlines. Because she selected someone who tends to keep her grounded and has the managerial courage to ask tough questions, the interaction between the two of them sharpens the leader’s ability to predict areas of skepticism and resistance in the organization, and to prepare potential responses to objections or roadblocks that may arise.
Shaping the Pace of Change
Over time, both organizations make progress on their Bitcoin initiatives, but each organization evolves a bit differently. The first organization starts off with a lot of excitement. The leader is effective at getting a high level of buy-in, especially among his closest circle. Several team members open wallets, and a few even invest some of their own money into Bitcoin.
Besides the intellectual fun of team members simply learning about this inherently interesting new protocol, they get an additional boost when they see a rapid 20 percent rise in value in the first couple of weeks after they invest. Alas, disappointment follows when the dollar value of their bitcoin eventually drops 25 percent. This has the effect of momentarily dampening their enthusiasm, but may actually serve the purpose of simply adding to their learning about the reality of Bitcoin price variations as they tackle the multiple initiatives and projects they are responsible for implementing in their job.
Under an unstructured charismatic leader, though, emotional energy can ebb and flow, and Bitcoin can become just another project on a worker’s to-do list. The initial burst of enthusiasm and excitement fades—along with a small amount of the trust and confidence workers had in their leader. While they still respect and admire him, they may come to feel that Bitcoin is hardly as transformative as the leader led them to believe.
The second organization starts off slower. From the beginning, everyone involved knows this is a long-term initiative that is unlikely to achieve instant results. Team members view the Bitcoin training initiative as preparing for the future, as opposed to hopping on a fast-moving train today. The plan has a year-long timetable with specific events such as attendance at a conference, scheduled participation in webinars and a series of formal classroom training initiatives.
As time elapses and the plan is executed, the build-up of enthusiasm is much more gradual than in the first organization. Every once in a while a lower level team member catches a bit of Bitcoin fever and it becomes a good-natured positive joke around the water-cooler, but organizationally the team has its mind set on a longer-term goal.
After a year of structured training, the leader is able to look back at a substantial increase in both the general support of Bitcoin technology and the deep level of understanding that begins to percolate through the organization as concepts such as “distributed ledgers,” “smart contracts” and the “Internet protocol for money, trust and value” become part of the organization’s internal dialogue and lexicon.
Most would agree that the second leader took the wiser approach.
A Four Step Plan
I see four basic steps in the organizational training process for Bitcoin fluency:
Create a shared vision.
Consider your options and set a budget.
Develop a structured plan and schedule.
Execute your plan.
The shared vision may be the most important step. Long-term success in an organization requires more than just leadership carrying the torch. While that’s critically important, it’s only a first step.
The fire needs to spread from that torch—and that means organizational buy-in. It’s not just the leader’s vision that sustains and enhances successful teams. It’s what the individual team members and performers think and believe that shapes the innumerable little interactions that ultimately lead to success or failure. That’s true whether it’s a minor project or a major organizational change initiative such as developing your organization’s Bitcoin fluency and skill base.
It’s important to keep in mind that the shared vision should not be fixed, but must evolve and develop its own momentum as the plan unfolds. It’s critical to start with the shared vision as a primary objective, though, because any training program’s effectiveness is closely tied to the level of motivation and enthusiasm among the participants. People rarely learn much in a training class they don’t want in the first place, and purchasing self-study training resources that remain unused is a sad waste of time and money.
There are plenty of options for various components of the training plan. It helps to have some basic categories, though.
Self-Study or Formal Class?
One useful approach is to consider options on the scale of self-study vs. formal structured study programs. These exist on a continuum rather than separate poles, because good self-study programs have formal structure and good formal study programs have self-study components as well, e.g. in preparatory work or self-directed exercises. The best trainers adopt the perspective of a coach who is focused on supporting your people’s efforts at taking charge of their own learning as opposed to viewing themselves as experts downloading their knowledge for the benefit of your team members. Therefore, a great plan typically includes both self-study and formal training elements.
Some options to consider when it comes to Bitcoin training:
• Free self-study resources such as those available at www.bitcoin.org and various webinars.
• Paid self-study courses such as those offered by lynda.com.
• Assembly of a corporate book and resource library.
• Conferences and trade shows.
• Formal training classes, either publicly scheduled or custom-delivered for your organization.
There are pros and cons to these alternatives, and selection should be made based upon the circumstances and priorities in your organization. The chart below addresses an appropriate budget for several options, as well as how each one tends to rate in several categories as compared to the other alternatives.
“Certainty” refers to the level of certainty that the resource will actually be utilized. How confident can management be that the investment will not be wasted and that the purchase will result in measurable change?
“Motivational value” refers to how much that training alternative moves the needle when it comes to cultural buy-in and enthusiasm, in addition to the technical skills transfer objective that workplaces sometimes overemphasize.
“Adaptability” refers to the ease with which that resource can be customized and directed toward incorporating organization-specific content and strategic objectives.
Once the specific alternatives are chosen and budgeted, the difference between success and failure can often come down to the diligence applied to the scheduling of the resource on a calendar. This is of particular importance when organizations attempt to accomplish their objectives internally using less formal methods.
Things that get scheduled onto a calendar tend to get done. Things that don’t get scheduled, don’t get done. It’s as simple as that.
While it’s very rare that someone won’t attend a scheduled formal class, the utilization of self-study resources is typically abysmal. That means it is critical—if you want to make sure your organization gets its money’s worth from an investment in self-study resources—that you take the step of assigning a scheduled date and time for the people in your class to spend going through that resource.
Ultimately, the return on any project or initiative is about how well the people in the organization execute on the plan. Training projects are no different than any other project when it comes to this truth. Good project management means execution is observed and measured. Formal or informal evaluations on the effectiveness of the training initiative on accomplishing the original objectives are an important part of the management process.
With the thoughtful application of the principles and tactics discussed in this article, your organization should be able to make substantial progress on its Bitcoin-related organizational development objectives.