Monday, December 22, 2008

2009: The YEAR for Performance Support!

With the year winding down, it's time for the classic 2009 predictions. Clearly Con and I are biased about this, but we firmly believe 2009 will be THE year that Performance Support(PS) finds its rightful place in our industry. One common question we are often asked is, "Why didn't Performance Support take off back when Gloria Gery first talked about it in the early 90's?". We both feel that it's a classic case of the right idea being discussed at the wrong time.

For a new learning modality to get traction the stars have to align just right. If we've learned anything in our years in this industry it's that change comes slowly! We really are a conservative industry even though we talk about new and innovative ideas such as social networking, mobile learning, and performance support. We do a lot of "kicking the tires", BUT are often very slow to adopt. Here are a few things we've been watching in the past year which look to finally position PS into its rightful place as an influential learning modality in 2009:

  1. Productivity is KEY to many businesses being able to survive our current economic downturn: There was an interesting article published in the Baltimore Business Journal around productivity and the current rash of mass layoffs. Here are a few compelling data points shared in that article which all organizations and learning departments need to keep in mind in the coming year:
    - 74% of employees who survived a corporate layoff say their own productivity has dipped since the cuts occurred.
    - 69 % say the quality of their company’s product or service has dropped since the layoffs.
    - 64 % say the productivity of their co-workers has also declined.
    - 81 % say the service that customers receive has dropped.
    - 77 % see more errors and mistakes being made

    Organizations are going to be looking for strategies and tools to help keep the remaining workforce productive, and HOPEFULLY begin to on-board others as the economy starts to turn around. We are already seeing traditional training budgets being cut and approaches such as classroom training not being seen as a viable option in today's economic climate. Organizations need an economical and reliable approach that helps the remaining workforce understand the information coming at them, helps them assume new responsibilities for those who have been let go, and keeps them current on the many changes going on around them. This information needs to be immediate, contextual, and integrated with their current work flow. This is a PERFECT opportunity for introducing PS into an organization! Traditional training approaches will NOT keep up with this type of demand, and quite frankly aren't designed for this type of support in the first place.
  2. E-Learning has found it's place in the learning landscape and it's NOT performance support: For years we've unfairly associated the JIT (Just in Time) acronym with e-learning and it has not served it well. We've misinterpreted availability with relevancy. E-Learning will continue to be a dominant training tool, especially in the times we live in, BUT it's not designed to be PS. As the next year plays out and the workforce is needing more that just knowledge gain, but are also looking to be supported in the context of their work and the changes described above, PS can be perfectly positioned to sit alongside E-Learning creating a cost effective and formidable total learning solution.
  3. The Tools have finally arrived that can make PS a reality: Many of us who've been around this industry a while remember the many failed efforts that came with the "Reusable Learning Object" promises of the 1990's. Now, I'm not saying that the idea wasn't a good one. The frustrations often came from the tools and design models available at the time. Those days are a thing of the past. The new single-source rapid authoring tools now available make creating not only PS tools easier and more cost effective, but also other modalities, such as print, e-Learning, and even mobile. It is now possible to get rid of many of the disparate tools we've collected in our learning departments in favor of ONE tool which will meet the needs of many of our current learning outputs, AND do it in less time, with less effort, and for less money! More on this topic in our coming blogs posting in 2009!
  4. Blended learning works so much more effectively with PS in the mix: Con and I have been involved in numerous "Blended Learning Initiatives" over the course of our professional journey. Often the intended outcome was to reduce training time and cost while increasing productivity at the desktop. Many have struggled because the blend was fundamentally flawed from the beginning. Simply put, we were using the wrong tools. We were not looking at all 5 moments of need as we've often outlined in this blog, but were only focusing on the first 2. Adding PS throughout the process can have a profound effect on your blended learning models. Conrad and I have seen 2 week classes reduced to 2 days. The irony of this approach is that not only does it present a compelling cost model, something which is incredibly important to all of us these days, BUT it ends up being an even more effective approach because we are finally supporting a learner throughout the learning process not just during certain parts.
  5. We're FINALLY letting go of the "binder" mentality: I've been waiting for this opportunity for years and it look like our current economic climate is going to push it over the top. With technologies and approaches such as EPSS (Electronic Performance Support Systems) so readily available we can finally stop killing trees and printing an insane number of binders which often sit on shelves or become out of date within days after being printed. A combination of the economic world we live in, the need to keep up with a staggering amount of information, and the rate at which things change can no longer be sustained by static print binders. We're often asked how one justifies the cost of a PS solution. Let's start with the printing and distribution costs for information within your organization!! Imagine no longer printing cost sheets, competitive information, technical manuals, training materials, on-boarding manuals, and standard operating procedures (SOP's)? Most PS initiatives could be justified with this cost alone. The most exciting side of this argument is that we haven't even begun to consider the productivity and revenue gains realized once this information is finally kept up to date and distributed effectively.

2009 will be the year of PS! It's time has finally come as a dominant player on the learning landscape. All it needs now is for each of us to understand the benefits outlined above. It's up to us to champion this powerful discipline when we're asked to solve the training needs laid given to us. If we fall back on traditional means, we will have done a disservice to our organizations and our ability to truly impact its success. We may impacting our own fate when we become viewed as too costly and removed from the things that are truly effecting the bottom-line.

Those whom we support will NOT come to us looking for PS. They will come to us asking to be creative and effective with our budgets and approaches. PS can be a major part of that solution. It's up to us to help make that a realty!

Conrad and I wish you all the JOY and HAPPINESS this holiday season can bring and thank you for a tremendous year of discussion and community around PS. We look forward with great optimism to the coming year and hope you will continue to join us on this very exciting journey!!

Friday, December 5, 2008

Communicating, Collaborating, Innovating

Building Virtual Communities that Thrive

I’ve been tracking virtual communities for a long time now for many reasons including the potential they offer to performer support. I’ve wanted to understand why some communities flourish, others falter, and so many fail. Here’s what I have found

Virtual communities thrive when:
  • Members of that community have compelling needs and wants that the community can satisfy.
  • There is a technology infrastructure in place that facilitates the satisfaction of those needs and wants.
  • The community is unbounded and self regulating.

Virtual communities falter and eventually fail when

  • Needs and/or wants are ignored in the design of a virtual community.
  • The technology infrastructure requires too much effort to connect and accomplish those needs and/or wants (as they evolve.)
  • The community is hampered by over-regulation.
With this said, here are three fundamental principles for designing a virtual community:
  1. Satisfy compelling needs and wants
  2. Make it easy
  3. Set realistic parameters for self-regulation
Satisfy Compelling Needs and Wants
Needs are tied to survival. Wants are tied to aspirations. Both are vital; they are interconnected. For example, people generally feel a need to perform successfully in their work. Their survival in the workplace generally requires that. But this need is only compelling to them to the degree that fundamental intrinsic drivers (wants) are adequately addressed.

In the Wednesday, November 5, 2008 blog entry (The Role of Engagement in Performer Support), I described the five fundamental drivers of engagement (1. Connecting, 2. Learning, 3. Envisioning, 4. Earning, and 5. Contributing.) Based on a worldwide survey of 90,000 workers in 18 countries, only one in five employees (21 percent) is engaged in the work and willing to go the extra mile to help their companies succeed. (Towers Perrin Global Workforce Study, 2007)

The 21 percent who are fully engaged are prime initial candidates for communities of practice. They are driven by the need to perform successfully. They are motivated sufficiently to plow through the difficulties to achieve what they set out to do. The remaining 79% will become part of a virtual community to the degree that their specific levels of engagement “wants” are satisfied by that community.

We recently held a virtual meeting with 100 leaders of a major pharmaceutical company to discuss these five drivers of engagement. During the meeting we asked these leaders to indicate on a scale of 1 to 7 their current engagement level in each of these five areas. This exercise revealed that the area of envisioning was extremely important to these leaders but that there was a fundamental disconnect with the top leadership. And with economic times being what they are, there was great passion in their comments. This reality suggests that “envisioning” would be a “compelling” candidate for an ongoing virtual community focused upon unifying the company’s short-term and long-term vision and aligning it with the personal visions of not only the corporate leadership but down through the organization.

Bob and I were privileged to participate in a rapid benchmarking discussion following Learning 2008 with members of our performance support community. It was hosted by Jan-Jan Lam at Disney. One of the fundamental points coming out of that discussion was that in the early stages of transitioning to virtual communities, organizations need to tie those communities to compelling initiatives. The second recommendation was that the virtual communities that were succeeding were doing so because there were groups within their organization who were separated but had a compelling need to associate and communicate. Both recommendations support fundamental needs and wants.

Any organization wishing to tap the strategic power of virtual communities to achieve greater communication, collaboration, and innovation must understand that the survival and business impact of virtual communities is determined by the degree individual and collective wants and needs are met. And wants and needs are fueled by these drivers of engagement.

Make it Easy
It isn’t enough to offer a solution to a community that only satisfy’s their compelling needs or wants. Although this is absolutely vital, human nature dictates that solutions must also be “easy” for virtual communities to survive and ultimately flourish. Easy includes:
  • Focused in functionality
  • Immediate
  • Adaptive
  • Intuitive over time
  • Proactive
  • Multi-channeled
Focused in Functionality
A generic virtual community environment that doesn’t take into consideration the core functional needs of the community that wishes to gather will always have a tough go. I’m not suggesting that the community avoid generic “community of practice” capabilities. But especially in the early stages of VC adoption, participants need to find the table set specifically for their core functional needs.

For example, I designed a virtual community for high school aged students who were competing academically as teams at regional, state, and national levels. We knew that there were critical functional needs that would rapidly entice these students from high schools into this community and would also encourage the help and support of teachers and school administrators. These functional offerings were beyond what the students could get in any other way without great effort – effort that would be difficult to sustain.

It is this kind of focused functionality we need to provide to jumpstart and then keep alive virtual communities that will ultimately thrive.

This guideline is a “no brainer” isn’t it? Yet, in practice virtual communities often require too many steps to get to the doing part of communicating, collaborating, and innovating. The more doorways you can create into the virtual community the better. These doorways need to be as close to a single step as possible.

Although a virtual community should generally be preloaded with core functionality that addresses fundamental “needs and wants,” community members also need the capacity to add functionality and adapt the way they work together online. They also need to be able to turn off functionality they don’t want and alter the ways they communicate and collaborate with others.

Intuitive Over time
I’m not suggesting that the first steps into a virtual community need to be brainless. Obviously, there is learning and adjusting that needs to take place anytime people take on a new way of working together. But the journey to competency needs to be as short as possible. It’s helpful to piggy-back on known functionality where possible. Just know that the honeymoon is very short when it comes to virtual communities. The more intuitive the journey the better.

Most public virtual communities have learned how to be proactive in facilitating community building. This is smart business. Today I stepped into my Facebook account to find that I have five friends who have common friends that I might like to know as well. This capacity for a system to monitor and match common patterns and make recommendations because of them, can be very helpful in keeping virtual communities moving forward.

If the objective of virtual communities includes collaboration and innovation, then the outcomes of that work needs to be readily transformed into useful forms and pushed out of the immediate community environment into other environments where that work can deliver value. This is where content management practices and associated tools can provide great value. It is within a virtual community where content can not only be created, but also enriched with metadata, added to, verified, challenged, validated, and pushed to wherever it is needed in the form it is needed, when it is needed. The potential for this in our world of performance support is significant.

Set Realistic Parameters for Self-Regulation
Wikipedia has clearly demonstrated that virtual communities can self-regulate in a global collaboration effort on a scale that is unprecedented. If they can do it – and they did - then others can do it as well. In their words, here is what they have accomplished so far:
“Wikipedia is written collaboratively by volunteers from all around the world; anyone can edit it. Since its creation in 2001, Wikipedia has grown rapidly into one of the largest reference Web sites, attracting at least 684 million visitors yearly by 2008. There are more than 75,000 active contributors working on more than 10,000,000 articles in more than 260 languages. As of today, there are 2,646,657 articles in English. Every day, hundreds of thousands of visitors from around the world collectively make tens of thousands of edits and create thousands of new articles to augment the knowledge held by the Wikipedia encyclopedia.” ( )

The Wikipedia model merits study and emulation. Ground rules were set; processes put in place. Here is the link to their policies and guidelines. Take some time and study them. It provides a profound lesson on how to set realistic parameters for self regulation. ( )

Where to From Here?
I’ve been listening to some remarkable insights regarding communities of practice. As you have some time, consider listening to the following. I found them insightful. I believe you will too.

Charles Leadbeater: The rise of the amateur professional

About this talk
In this deceptively casual talk, Charles Leadbeater weaves a tight argument that innovation isn't just for professionals anymore. Passionate amateurs, using new tools, are creating products and paradigms that companies can't.

About Charles Leadbeater
A researcher at the London think tank Demos, Charles Leadbeater was early to notice the rise of "amateur innovation" -- great ideas from outside the traditional walls, from people who suddenly… Full bio and more links

Howard Rheingold: Way-new collaboration

About this talk
Howard Rheingold talks about the coming world of collaboration, participatory media and collective action -- and how Wikipedia is really an outgrowth of our natural human instinct to work as a group.

About Howard Rheingold
Writer, artist and designer, theorist and community builder, Howard Rheingold is one of the driving minds behind our net-enabled, open, collaborative life. Full bio and more links

Clay Shirky: Institutions vs. collaboration

About this talk
In this prescient 2005 talk, Clay Shirky shows how
closed groups and companies will give way to looser networks where small
contributors have big roles and fluid cooperation replaces rigid

About Clay Shirky
Shirky, a prescient voice on the Internet’s
effects, argues that emerging technologies enabling loose collaboration will
change the way our society works. Full
bio and more links

Monday, November 24, 2008

Performance Support is No Longer a “Nice to Have”

PS is KEY to the succes of any Learning Organization:

Clearly we live in challenging times. Throughout the coming months budgets in every area of an organization are going to be tight and tested like never before. Learning organizations will be asked to do their part to both watch its spending and increase its impact. We can no longer afford, if we ever could, to spend money on learning assets that do not give an organization the highest return on its investment and maximize performance. This is the perfect time to reevaluate PS as a key player in that strategy.

As Conrad and I have talked with organizations about PS over the past several years it has always amazed us how PS has taken a backseat to traditional training programs. It is often viewed as an add-on or “nice to have”. At the same time, training classes and e-Learning dominated the learning landscape. In today’s economic climate I would challenge that view and suggest that it’s time to reverse these priorities.

Traditional training offerings are heavily burdened and costly, often having limited impact on true performance within an organization. In many ways the old training model is broken in today’s learning climate. Training is designed to help a learner internalize information, but with the rate at which that information changes and the sheer amount of information, it is no longer realistic to expect these programs to keep up or to be nearly enough to meet the demands of today’s workforce. Employees need to have access to the latest information in the context of doing their job, not attempting to memorize it in class or searching for it behind a Learning Management Systems (LMS). Performance support should take the lead as the major driver of performance and productivity.

The biggest stumbling blocks to PS taking a more prominent role in most learning strategies are twofold:

  1. A fear that PS is something “new and untried” while training is something we already know and are accustomed to.

  2. A belief that PS is expensive to begin designing for and using.

Let’s address both of these:

PS has been around since the early 90’s when Glory Gery ( first coined the acronym EPSS (Electronic Performance Support Systems). It’s actually been around a lot longer than that! The irony is that PS has actually been around longer then e-Learning which many believe distracted its early efforts, and has been incorrectly labeled PS in many organizations. In reality there are a number of PS tools, design models, and consultants, LearningGuide being one of them, who have been successfully implementing PS for years at a fraction of the cost of e-Learning and with at least twice the impact. Here are some impressive numbers to consider:

  • Instructor-led class time reduced by as much as 75% when blended with PS.

  • Development costs 70% less than those needed to produce the “equivalent” amount of e-Learning.

  • Rapid design models and tools reducing development time by as much as 50% over standard e-Learning.

  • Standard training and support solutions for as little as $2 per user.

  • Print cost eliminated for training manuals and standard operating procedure documents.

  • Level 1 helpdesk calls reduced by 30% or more.

  • Call duration with helpdesks reduced by over 50%.

Gone are the days when developing a performance support framework was costly and delivered too limiting of a focus or impact. Today’s performance support authoring tools use the latest advances in XML single-source publishing allowing learning departments to rapidly create content while producing multiple deliverables at the same time. For example, a learning group can author a single set of content for a sales program or desktop application, which can then be used to produce training manuals for the classroom, an embedded moment of need PS system for the desktop, mobile learning assets to be accessed via mobile phone or PDA, AND a support tool for the helpdesk to use to decrease backend helpdesk call volumes. Not only does this cut down on development time and expense, but it also creates a robust learning solution which supports an employee throughout the entire learning journey. This content is also easily maintained and redistributed in real time, guaranteeing that the learner has access to the latest information. This is far more then training or e-Learning alone could ever attempt to accomplish. The greatest benefit of all is that the learners are more productive and spending less time searching for information while trying to do their job.

My intent is not to imply that training is no longer needed or valued. In fact training can be more impactful then ever when PS is designed and implemented as the key driver in a learning solution. Training no longer carries the burden of instilling every bit of knowledge needed to follow a process or master a system. Training time can be reduced and more effective as it focuses only on the fundamental skills and effective support strategies which are enabled by the PS framework available at the desktop. Training now concentrates on how and where to find information rather than being THE end-all for information which is rarely remembered, poorly applied once back on the job, and constantly changing.

An effective performance support strategy, design tool, and methodology are more important to the success of today’s businesses than ever before. It is the one learning discipline which can keep up with the rapidly changing demands of business empowering today’s workforce to a level of productivity and effectiveness training alone has rarely achieved.

I was recently at a conference and a colleague candidly told me. “Bob, I realize that my training programs aren’t getting the return we need, but I’m just not going to change right now because it’s just too scary out there to do something different.” I couldn’t disagree more!! If we take that approach we are destined to fail and be labeled as dated and ineffective. This attitude reminds me of quote a colleague of mine sent recently by Aldus Huxley; I see the better, but it is the worse I pursue”.

Con and I would welcome an opportunity to talk to each of you more about how PS could have a profound impact on your overall organization at a time when learning departments are being held accountable at unprecedented levels. This is NOT a time for us as an industry to fall back and not innovate. This is an opportunity to lead and support our learners as never before.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Delivering Strategic Value

The Role of Engagement in Performer Support

The above video demonstrates a fundamental challenge of leadeship -- "engagement". With times being what they are, organizations are turning even greater attention to this issue. Those of us in the world of performer support would be wise to also focus on the fundamental drivers of employee engagement. After all, a minimally engaged employee will most likely be reluctant to use the performer-support solutions we create and put in place. If you haven’t spent time reviewing what’s been written about engagement it would be a worthwhile effort. If you Google it, you’ll get at least 5,140,000 hits. Assuming you don’t want to sift through all that, here’s a jumpstart.

“Engaged employees are builders. They want to know the desired expectations for their role so they can meet and exceed them. They're naturally curious about their company and their place in it. They perform at consistently high levels. They want to use their talents and strengths at work every day. They work with passion, and they have a visceral connection to their company. And they drive innovation and move their organization forward.” (A Gallup Management Journal Q & A with Curt Coffman, Building a highly engaged workforce: How great managers inspire virtuoso performances, )

Certainly sounds like “engaged employees” are what every organization needs doesn’t it? But, how engaged are the people you support? According to Wikipedia ( ), “only 29% of employees are actively engaged in their jobs.” Yet, these engaged employees “are more productive, more profitable, more customer-focused, safer, and less likely to leave their employer.” So since “employee productivity is clearly connected with employee engagement,” and since performer-support is all about helping employees perform productively at their moments of need, we not only need to understand employee engagement but we need to know how to measure it, strengthen it, and employ it in all that we do. We can’t afford to be so narrow in our view of our work that we fail to address this issue of employee engagement.

What then, are the direct implications of engagement for the specific practices surrounding performer support? Here are a couple:

  1. If you want to succeed in the early stages of performance support adoption, find a project where engagement is highest. This, of course, requires you to be able to make that determination. There are tools that can help but you can also make a rough call by simply identifying the “more productive, more profitable, more customer-focused, safer, and less likely to leave” groups in your organization.
  2. If you want to help the overall organization become “more productive, more profitable, more customer-focused, safer, and less likely to [lose valuable employees,]” then building highly effective performance support solutions requires you to focus your attention beyond the tools you build to accommodate principles that drive employee engagement.

Dr. Timothy R. Clark, has introduced five factors that drive engagement (Engaging the Disengaged—In times of change five basis Forces help retain and engage employees, HR Magazine, April 2008 pp 109-112. Here they are:

1. Connecting —“Find an engaged employee and you are sure to find connections between that employee and the organization. … Leaders are primarily responsible for creating a sense of community to satisfy the basic human need for connection. Where there is no connection, people disengage and withhold discretionary effort. Creating experiences that allow employees to build relationships is mostly about the two-way sharing of ideas, facts and feelings.”

Self actualizing people have a deep feeling of identification, sympathy, and affection for human beings in general. They feel kinship and connection, as if all people were members of a single family. ~ Abraham Maslow
In a recent focus group meeting Bob and I discussed virtual communities with members of our performer support community who were attending Learning 2008. Part of that discussion focused upon the business drivers for this promising capability. One of the fundamental benefits mentioned was its capacity to strengthen and extend the boundaries of personal relationships. Beyond that, of course, there were performer support opportunities tied to specific projects where virtual communities provided compelling benefit. Here is a wonderful opportunity to blend what we do with a key driver of engagement.

2. Learning —“When employees are learning, they are much more likely to be engaged. It’s your job to create learning DNA in the organization. A culture of learning needs to permeate formal and informal learning systems. This happens most effectively when you embed learning into daily workflow. Help your people understand that an employee who doesn’t learn depreciates in value based on the speed of skills obsolescence.”

Real learning gets to the heart of what it means to be human. Through learning we re-create ourselves. Through learning we become able to do something we never were able to do. Through learning we repercieve the world and our relationship to it. Through learning we extend our capacity to create, to be part of the generative process of life. There is within each of us a deep hunger for this type of learning. ~Peter Senge
Obviously, this is where we can provide core contribution to engagement. Performer support engages employees in their learning at all five moments of need. Historically our profession’s view of our role has been too narrow and focused solely on delivering formal learning events. We’re growing beyond that, thank goodness. Today we belong to a profession that can finally deliver the what Peter Senge envisioned when he wrote The Fifth Discipline: The Art and Practice of the Learning Organization. This agile learning organization can’t happen unless its members are fully engaged. Learning may be our sweet spot, but there is room in this work to wield influence across all five of these factors. And we need to do it!

3. Envisioning —“Envisioning represents the third engagement force. Motivation draws strength from vision. The most highly engaged employees have two visions: a personal vision that creates a portrait of who and what they will become, and an organizational vision that outlines a compelling picture of where the organization tries to go. Both are important and interconnected.”

“Senior managers don’t have an exclusive preserve on envisioning. Envisioning capacity is a competency that can be developed. The skill lies at the root of creativity and innovation. It is a strategic asset to organizations and a vital engagement force. … Employees should be the primary visionaries of their own careers and joint visionaries in the enterprise.”

If one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams, and endeavors to live the life which he has imagined, he will meet with success unexpected in common hours." ~ Henry David Thoreau
Where better can we help people understand the vision of the organization and facilitate personal envisioning than in the context of the work we do. We have always understood the need to align what we do with the cause and calling of the organization. We would serve our learners well if we will also help align what we do with their personal cause and calling. Lance Secretan provides wonderful insight to this need in his book Inspire! What Great Leaders Do (see .)

4. Earning —“Compensation and benefits create an economic bond between employees and organizations. It may be strong or weak, depending on the quality of the compensation system and the priorities of the employee. For some, earning is the strongest engagement force. For others, it’s lower on the list?

Probably the very best thing my earnings have given me is absence of worry. I have not forgotten what it feels like to worry whether you'll have enough to pay the bills. Not to have to think about that any more is the biggest luxury in the world. ~ J. K. Rowling
It is vital to understand that people vary in the degree each of these factors drive their engagement. Certainly increased skill development can increase compensation capacity. Organization differ in how they use compensation and benefits to incent their people. Where these incentives are tied to individual and group productivity, we can help—a lot. Performer support can deliver what employees need to perform in the most effective manner possible at every moment of need.

5. Contributing —“The fifth engagement force—and the heart of the engagement model—is based on the fundamental human need to contribute. To make a meaningful contribution and see evidence of accomplishment motivates most people to apply effort over time. It also deepens the relationship with the organization.”

What do we live for, if not to make life less difficult for each other? ~ George Elliot
In the world of performer support, we build solutions that walk with performers as they do their job. We can, if we pursue it, build into those solutions reinforcement of contribution. How we go about doing this can and should be answered via the collective genius of our community. We need to take this one on.

I’ve blogged previously about the need for us to deliver strategic value to the organizations we serve. That need is increasing as economic waters increase their churn. Unrelenting change threatens the survival of organizations. Their workforces must be engaged and agile. No one is better prepared to help organizations address these core needs than this community. This is where we can contribute. We need to connect as a community and envision how to use learning (especially performer support) as the catalyst for accelerating employee engagement. The economic future of the learning community depends upon it.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Closing General Session at Learning 2008

We were introduced to the final version of the "telework" game created by the students form Chamberlin College! The game will be available on-line and is opensource so any compoany can use it. They named it "Teletrust" because trust was identified as a HUGE part of teleworkers being successful and managing their time. It was an incredible game. Almost everyone in the conference said they'd use the game when we got back to our organizations. Definitely check out the Masie website ( or down the road to find out when it will become available.

We had two great keynote speakers today to close out the event:

Charles Fadel from Cisco - Multi-Modal Learning - Myths and realities of multimodel learning. One of the myths refuted was the old "we learn 10% of what we learn... to 90% of what we do". These statistics basically are not true. Muliti modal leanring is better then single modal, BUT... mastering basic skill is hurt by high degrees of interactivity at the same time. Students reach congnative overload. Teaching higher-level skills is the complete opposite. (See a picture of the slide - sorry about the tilt!)

The concept of telepresence was also discussed. This is a technology where you don't "see" the room as in teleconferencing. Instead, you see a representation of the individual and can see expressions and reactions better then the "old" video conference technology. The point was that we waste congnative energy trying to see the "room" and reactions in the video conference domain. With the telepresence tool we see these important communication cues more seamlessly. This has tremendous impact on learning and the teleworker/remote worker.
Steven M.R. Covey - Author of "The Speed of Trust" - Trust in Difficult Times - Steven has traveled to 20 countries in the last year since writing his book and has found Trust to be a universal issue. Trust is the currency of today's world and can be learned. Transparency is vital for trust. The foundation of trust is intellectual, but there is an emotional side. We need to learn to hire for BOTH character and competence. Workers trust peers more then their CEO's and managers. Social networks can use techology and ratings to help "see" this trust dimension.
Competences of trust - A combination of crediblity and behavior. Only 13% of organizations at the conference are systematically measuring trust (we used audiance response voting tools throughout the conference to take random surveys like this). 22% measure trust exteranlly with shareholders and customers. Organizations focus more on building trust and brand externally then they do buiding it internally with employees. We need to make an economic case for trust. It will have more staying power.
  • Make the creation of trust a defendable objective like other business objectives.
  • Start measuring trust.
  • Start modeling it from the inside out and top down.

Trust can't be faked over the long term. Motive matters and will manifest itself. This is a long run play. The first job of a leader is to INSPIRE trust. When we give it we can receive it.

That's it for now!! Time to head home, collect our thoughts, AND get some REST!! We hope more of you can attend with us next year... Let us know if you have any questions!!

Day 2 from Learning 2008

Great 2nd day!! We had a number of exciting things going on. This will be an overview for now, BUT Conrad and I will do a deeper dive on all these issues in future blogs:

  • We delivered our 2 final sessions today (PS Expert Panel, Paper-based Job Aids). Both went very well! We'd like to thank our 4 panel of experts (Jan-Jan Lam - Disney, Stacey Jewesak - Bank of America, Gary Wise - Cincinnati Children’s Hospital, Dave Fogleman - Sprint) for doing a tremendous job! The room was packed and there was a tremendous amount of information shared. Questions ranged from introducing PS into an organization to dollars and time saved when blending PS with formal training. Disney has seen some amazing returns taking a 20 hour course down to 3 hours with PS as a compliment! The final question was to share one "gotta know" insight for anyone doing PS. The answers were: "Build examples so your organization see it as they're trying to get it". "Don't do this alone. Find experts to help and others who have done this.", "Make sure the design and delivery is all about business context!", "We should call this Performer Support not Performance Support. Performer Support is more about what we're actually doing here and gets a much better response from key stakeholders"

  • Paper-based breakout- We were PLEASANTLY surprised at both the attendance and volunteers around the Paper-based workshop. Elliott asked attendees to bring samples from their organizations and we had 15 diverse and powerful examples to show. We have those scanned into a PPT which we're working on getting permission to post. We discussed 7 key principles for designing effective Job Aids which we'll post as a dedicated blog entry soon.

We had two PS community "reunions" while on site - Dinner at the Boardwalk (see picture) and a lunch round table sharing our current projects and challenges since our time together in Saratoga. We had 3 of the 4 workshop alumni groups represented. It was great to hear how everyone was doing. There were some amazing projects shared as well as issues around getting things started. The group felt that we should try starting two follow-up webinar series. One for a "Show and Tell" around projects being done, and one focused on issues of integrating and "selling" PS back into the organization. We'll be sending more details out soon in our weekly email blast.

Well, it's almost time for the final general session to start. This one is featuring Steven M.R. Covey, author of "The Speed of Trust". Should be a great final session. THEN we head over to Disney University for a special focus group session on PS, Mobile Learning, and Social Networking. We'll blog out the results!!

Monday, October 27, 2008

Greetings from Learning 2008!!

Conrad and I are literally sitting in Orlando listening to the closing general session for Day 1 of the Learning 2008 conference. It's been a great day with some amazing dialogue AND great talk around PS! More on that in a minute...

I've included a picture from today's General Session. Elliott has been doing a lot of talk around Next Gen - how to work with them, what's their make-up and learning preferences. We've also done some talk around gaming. This picture is BOTH! This group of students from a local College are developing a game for teleworkers. It's been great to watch them create the game and to interact with them through out.

Con and I have already done 2 of our four sessions on PS - (PS 101, and PS vs. Training). Great discussions. There is a tremendous interest in moving beyond training and truly having an impact on performance in the workplace. It's amazing how many organizations are considering changes to their learning strategy to blend and integrate this effectively. A few topics that came up:
  • ROI - How does PS impact training?
  • Maintenance - How does a learning organization reorganize itself to meet the tremendous demand and the immediacy of PS?
  • Blending -What's the right mix? Can training stand along, OR can PS stand alone.

There were some very powerful discussions around all this. Conrad and I will be blogging throughout the event and writing some for detailed observations after! We'd love to hear from each of you and ALSO hear from any of you who are attending or attended the event! Any comments or additions would be great!

Thursday, September 25, 2008

A Challenge Worth Pursuing

Surviving Unrelenting Change
During the past few weeks we have seen a financial tsunami hit our country. It’s impact is reverberating throughout the world because of today's globalization of markets. This interconnected world-wide economy presents to us a competitive environment unparalleled in intensity. Ultimately to survive organizations must be prepared to continuously undergo new knowledge cycles to prepare for new competitive cycles—constantly re-tooling in order to maintain competitiveness.
So, how prepared is your organization to meet this challenge. Is it sufficiently agile to survive the ravages of unrelenting change including at times seismic shifts in the marketplace?
Most companies are not. Their organization and technology infrastructure, work processes, and a lethargic learning culture constrain them to slow and clumsy responses to adaptive challenge. There may not be any greater organizational challenge of our time than transforming organizations to a state of ever readiness with the ability to immediately respond to opportunities, threats, or crisis.
This state of competitive agility can only be achieved if at the heart of the organization there is a culture of continuous learning—with a fully-loaded performance support infrastructure that facilitates rapid collaborative learning. Only then can any organization approach the capacity it needs to grow, change, or innovate at or above the speed of its own market.
What are you doing to help your organization cultivate this state of learning agility? The charter naturally belongs to the learning field but we need to pick it up and run with it. Here are some suggestions to help you do this.

Note: Much of what is in these suggestions has been adapted from our Research Report: In Search of Learning Agility in an effort to address your specific role. I encourage you to read the entire article. You can obtain a free copy at

One: Align all Learning Inputs with Organizational Outputs
My father was a dairy farmer. His was a small business forever struggling to survive. As such, he simply couldn’t afford to invest in anything that didn’t deliver to the bottom line – which for him was producing milk. This was the fundamental output for his business. One of the inputs for that production was hay. We had a hundred acres of alfalfa and did all we could to grow as much as possible and ensure it had maximum nutrient power. We had to keep the soil rich, protect the hay from insects, cut it at the right time, dry it properly, bail it with the dew on so the leaves wouldn’t fall off, and then haul it to a place where we could ultimately feed it to the cows at the best times possible.
The hauling of hay was my least favorite part of our work. My dad had a worn out 1948 Ford flat-bed dump truck that he used every hay season to load thousands of 100 pound bales of hay and then haul and stack them in the barnyard. My brother and I had the job of lifting those bales onto the truck. It was miserable work. My Great Uncle Rex had a machine that would automatically haul hay. I tried to talk dad into buying one. It would have made life so much easier for me. But dad couldn’t justify it because it wouldn't contribute any added benefit to our “output” of milk. It wasn’t until my brother and I left the farm that dad retired the ’48 Ford. He had to get hay to the barn and his help was gone.
In every business decision Dad made, he never lost sight of what we were about in the Dairy business. All his inputs were aligned with three core business outputs—increasing milk production. increasing the price he received for that milk, and containing costs. All our inputs were aligned with these outputs.
In the training world we, all too often, fail to judge our inputs in the way my dad judged his. We get caught up in the things we do and produce for the organization without checking them against core business outputs—what the business must do to succeed. And too often, whenever we speak with corporate leaders, we tend to speak about inputs (e.g., courseware and technologies) rather than organizational outputs. We must continually make sure that all we do links to the fundamental outputs and associated business initiatives of the companies we serve.

Two: Assume the Mantle of an Always-learning Leader
Real leadership isn’t defined merely by a position on an org chart. Rather, it is much more about influence and effect. You have knowledge and a perspective that puts you in position to exert great influence upon the future success and even survival of your company. As such, you need to be an always-learning leader. Your personal learning quest must include keeping abreast of all that is going on in the training profession, but mustn’t stop there. You need to understand business and leadership. And, most importantly, you need to understand what is taking place in the specific markets where your business resides.
You also need to cultivate the ability to engage people. This is especially vital in unforgiving market environments. “Solutions to adaptive challenges,” Ronald Heifetz and Donald Laurie argue, “reside not in the executive suite but in the collective intelligence of employees at all levels, who need to use one another as resources, often across boundaries, and learn their way to those solutions.”[i] Leaders in these circumstances won’t have many answers; but they must have the capacity to draw out those answers by tapping the creative potential of the organization. No one is in a better position to help do this than you because of your place in the organizational learning channel.

Three: Help your Organization Move Forward with Initiatives that Cultivate Organizational Learning Agility
Here are some initiatives that merit your doing all you can to bring them to fruition. No other part of your organization is in a better position to operationalize these initiatives. And, if you don’t take them on – at some point someone else will. Don’t abdicate this opportunity to lead out in your organization’s pursuit of learning agility.

1. Unify learning, and other support functions to cultivate learning agility. Performance Support can serve as a common catalyst for unifying and aligning the efforts of training and other performance support groups such as help desks and technical publications. These groups have been fragmented long enough. Maximum learning agility requires these silos to disappear. This doesn’t require any real organizational boundary changes. Rather, it requires the establishment of common practices under a common charter. That charter needs to be driven by a commitment to delivering strategic value by cultivating learning agility. Ultimately, if what these groups do doesn’t unitedly contribute to people’s ability to grow, respond, change, and innovate at or above the speed of the market, they will fail their companies.

2. Integrate learning and performance support practices to address formal and informal learning at all five moments of need. The widespread recognition that most learning is informal is turning attention to developing performance support capabilities for informal learning. But the solutions identified must be implemented with formal learning still in mind. It is in the formal learning environment that self-directed learning and self-support are either initiated and reinforced or undermined. Self-directed learning, self-support, and learning collaboration must become primary instructional objectives in formal training. Employees should be trained to use performance support solutions that will be available to them when they’re “on their own.” Many need to learn how to become independent learners for the first time using those tools. They also need to learn how to collaborate in problem solving and ad hoc learning situations when necessary.
Historically, informal learning has been neglected in most organizations. For the most part, individuals have been on their own. Formal learning has done little to prepare them for their ongoing learning journey. Even today, when an employee steps out of the formal classroom, chances are that he or she will not be given any survival gear in the form of post-training support. For those who are given support, there is an even greater chance that the individual won’t know how to use it and ask the right questions.
An integrated learning infrastructure is comprised of the tools, information, and survival skills employees need to contribute at a high performance level. In addition, the infrastructure must free-up people to focus on higher value efforts. Instead of spending time trying to remember something or perform a routine task, employees need to be free to focus on application, resolution, collaboration, prioritization, innovation, and creation. With the right infrastructure in place, people should learn quickly from their mistakes and then, with the right performance support infrastructure in place, contribute new knowledge to fill the gaps.
This blending of formal and informal learning requires a fresh look at the unique skills trainers bring to the organization. No other learning modality can diagnose problems, prescribe solutions, or give personalized feedback better than the skilled trainer. These capabilities define the unique and critical contribution trainers can bring to the learning table. The search for learning agility provides an opportunity to redirect the trainer’s role from being the “sage on the stage” to a more enabling and coaching resource that helps learners grow in their capacity to be agile learners.
Ultimately, formal and informal learning practices must become inseparable. Organizations must address informal learning directly and use informal learning solutions to improve formal learning practices, including helping learners learn how to learn in their informal environments. This ultimately allows formal learning and trainers to become more integrated into the entire learning process as they help learners cultivate self-directed learning habits.

3. Cultivate evaluation as an individual and organizational competency. High agility organizations today are different from those who are not based on their evaluation capacity. They cultivate it as an individual and organizational core competency. Evaluation is the analysis and interpretation of performance. It is the study of relationships and causation. It is also the dispassionate and non-politicized consideration of contribution. Most individuals and organizations are profoundly poor at evaluation precisely because they were acculturated under a learning tradition and mindset that emphasized “one-time learning for permanent qualification.” This mindset has conditioned individuals to evaluate both people and situations based on a slow-moving industrial context. As a consequence, many employees are dependent learners with old tools, old frameworks, and old criteria. Further, many employees are highly unskilled in their ability to evaluate themselves and their peers. Yet the skills of self and peer evaluation are vital when individuals and organizations are confronted with turbulent change. Evaluation capacity is a vital precondition to learning agility. It is the taproot of adaptive response and innovation.

4. Cultivate an organizational culture and leadership behavior that supports learning agility. Culture is about patterns. It’s about what most people in an organization think and do most of the time. Whenever people come together to form a collective, a culture is born— not immediately, but gradually. It’s the natural result of social forces exerted through every-day interaction. With time, patterns of thinking and behavior develop and calcify within the organization.
When any organization begins the pursuit of agility, culture will inevitably get in the way. For this reason, leaders need to identify cultural liabilities and work to turn them into cultural assets. Through deliberate means, organizations have the opportunity to design and cultivate the culture they need rather than live with culture that blocks learning agility.
Culture change is a matter of finding the points of leverage that shape culture in the first place. Fortunately, those levers are the same regardless of the nature, composition, and purpose of the organization. There are of course differences based on industry and market, but the same basic set of levers shapes culture in every context. The most important levers of culture have to do with what is:

  • Modeled

  • Communicated

  • Taught

  • Measured

  • Recognized

  • Rewarded

Of all of the levers that shape organizational culture, the single most important one is the factor of leadership behavior. Leaders shape culture through “modeling” or demonstrated behavior. Organizational cultures don’t change unless leadership behavior is manifestly different and reflects the desired culture. But there is a caveat: Of all the categories of organizational change, changing culture is the most difficult because it is rooted in human behavior. You should expect a culture change effort to take longer and require more effort than other types of organizational change, such as changes to structure, process, systems, technology, capital assets, cost-cutting, and the like. Culture tends to preserve and protect itself against change. Over time, culture becomes hard and encrusted as thought and behavioral patterns become entrenched.

5. Continuously grow and manage unrestrained content capital. Content becomes capital when it’s captured and made useful to the organization. Content becomes unrestrained when it’s free from proprietary formats or delivery forms. Learning agility requires that organizations continually capture content and make it available in many different forms that are tailored to the individual and role requirements of different people. And it all needs to be up to date. All of these content management requirements can be met with current technologies such as multi-channel publishing and user-generated content. Yet the movement toward content capital management has been slow because organizations have seldom been able to make the business case for the investment. What’s changing this is the growing number of organizations who have been caught flat-footed when their markets are besieged with new entrants, disruptive technologies, or other unforeseen threats.
A growing number of organizations are able to cost-justify content capital management on the basis of multi-channel publishing alone. This is where content is developed and stored as a single-source and then transformed into other forms at any time. For example, a single-sourced procedure could be transformed into an online help file, a web-based learning course, an online reference job aid, and a PDF case-based practice guide. And since the content isn’t locked into any proprietary format, the case-based practice guide could also be published out as a Word file in addition to the PDF file. This same procedure can also be pushed as data into a virtual lab where the lab scenarios would automatically incorporate the procedure into a practice scenario.
Contrary to popular thought, the challenge of content asset management is not with the technology; it is with the practices associated with how content has historically been created, managed, and produced into its various forms. Within most organizations there is significant duplication of effort. The elimination of that duplication, alone, often justifies the investment. There are significant efficiencies that can be brought to bear as well. A second, less quantifiable benefit is the ability to capture performer-generated content, which is becoming a crucial component of successful strategy execution.

6. Drive collaboration within and beyond the organization. When organizations begin addressing the formal and informal learning needs of people, the strategic value of collaborative learning becomes clear. Ad hoc collaboration within and beyond the organization is crucial to organizational agility. Historically, this collaboration was limited to those within earshot of the individual employee. This so-called “sneakernet” support where peers helped one another based on geographic proximity has been shallow, random, and costly. Collaboration tools have dramatically changed the rules of the game. But the adoption of new collaborative technologies has been slow across the board. The primary reasons are limited demand and ineffective implementation. Organizations simply haven’t found the value proposition to engage most employees.
Part of the solution is to make collaboration readily accessible, intuitive, and helpful. Helpfulness is determined by an upfront assessment of collaboration needs at every level of the organization. The technology solution should be fitted to meet those exact needs. Virtual communities can become an effective way to drive collaboration within and beyond the organization. Certainly, Generation X, and to a greater extent, Generation Y have been weaned on these types of collaborative environments. But much of the current workforce is unfamiliar and uncomfortable with new forms of collaboration. Leaders have to be willing to make a significant training investment to help them adopt these new technologies.

7. Push ownership of learning to the front line and to the learners themselves. Front line supervisors have the ability to see the immediate cause and effect of learning in the work place. They witness the application of new knowledge and skills and see the consequences. Not surprisingly, when front line managers believe that certain learning solutions will help their people be more successful in their work, they commit themselves to provide those solutions wherever possible. Because of this personal commitment and the unique line-of-sight vantage point of the front line manager, learning outcomes are usually stronger when managed at this level. A second point is that when employees are committed and independent learners, learning outcomes increase again.

There has never been a time when we have been in such a perfect position to link what we do to the strategic needs of our various organizations. No other group within those organizations can do what needs to be done as effectively. Our charter naturally places us at the heart of organizational learning agility. Let’s step into it and make it happen.

[i] Ronald A. Heifetz and Donald L. Laurie, “The Work of Leadership,” Harvard Buisness Review January-February 1997, p. 124.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Owning a Hammer Doesn't Make One a Carpenter

The training industry can become overly obsessed with learning tools. Both Conrad and I have been in this industry for over 50 years combined (no age jokes please - BUT we do miss the printing press! J) and have seen many a tool come and go. The danger of tools is that simply buying, owning, or designing with them does not guarantee a successful learning outcome. One doesn’t' need to look very far back in our history to see examples of this. I know in my journey I experienced this with my attempts at e-learning and LMS's.

An effective PS solution clearly needs a well designed tool or application upon which to build the solution, but it does not guarantee success, in fact it can get in the way. We've seen organization obsess on tools and their deployment to the degree that it blinded them to more important factors which should have been considered. The situation became one that having “the tool” was going to, in and of itself, outweigh and override any possibility of failure. The irony is that taking this approach ultimately guaranteed failure. One of my grandfather’s favorite sayings was “Just because someone owns a hammer, does not make them a carpenter”. There’s an art form to moving from a weekend handy-man to a professional cabinet builder. Buying the finest and most expensive tools in the world will not bridge that gap.

We need to look at PS in the same way. When we have walked organizations through the complete journey of successfully delivering a PS solution we often pivot on 5 key steps: Analysis, Design, Development, Implementation, and Measurement. The tools to build PS play a key role in the development phase, but kept separate from the other 4 stages just tools can cause the overall outcome to fall short.

Two stages which are typically overlooked are the two which bookend the process: analysis and measurement. We have found that the stages in the middle are much easier to execute and maintain if these two are given the right amount of attention. Analysis and Measurement walk hand in hand throughout the journey with each feeding off the other. Analysis paves the way while measurement prepares us for the next step. Typically this means continually repeat the 5 stages for the full lifecycle of the PS solution. This involves thinking well beyond the initial implementation and not seeing the lifecycle as linear or limited, but rather as cyclical and evolutionary.

Keeping one’s eye on these two critical stages, allowing them to work in harmony with each other, can make any PS tool that much better and effective. A weak tool taken through an effective and comprehensive PS lifecycle will usually out perform a “stronger” tool used in a silo or vacuum.

One area of caution – don’t OVER analyze or measure. These stages are meant to enable not paralyze. We’ve all heard of, or even participated in, the infamous “analysis paralysis” design process. Get in there and get your feet wet! There is fine line between being a responsible steward to these stages, and ineffectively letting them dominate to where they crush the process under their own weight.

Keeping tools in perspective and valuing the overall PS lifecycle can help guarantee a powerful and sustained PS solution!

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Negotiating the Churning Waters of Change

Organizational Learning Agility and Performance Support

This week we delivered to our community a draft research report titled In Search of Learning Agility, Assessing Progress from 1957 to 2008. “This report is written to address the market upheaval, technological explosion, demographic churning, and political instability that threaten organizations today. In the new context of the global age, organizations must respond to the constant buffetings of disruptive forces. These forces present themselves in combinations of speed and complexity that we simply haven’t seen before. The central premise of this report is that enduring competitive advantage must be built on organizational learning agility—meaning an organization’s ability to respond to adaptive challenge--be it an opportunity, threat, or crisis--through the acquisition and application of knowledge and skills.” In other words, organizations unable to adapt the collective performance of its people in anticipation and/or response to the ever changing world in which their people live and work, will certainly fail to prosper and most likely fail to survive. And, learning agility is the key to avoiding this.

Learning agility is becoming the defining quality of high performance organizations. It is fast becoming a core leadership competency. And it currently provides the learning industry a singular opportunity to contribute in a way and at a level we have not heretofore been privileged to do.

Learning agility is unattainable without performance support. Clearly, as you read the report, you will find there are other issues that require attention, but the heart of sustainable agility is the work of supporting performers at all five moments of need.

Throughout Bob’s and my professional careers, our industry, for the most part, has struggled to demonstrate legitimate bottom-line strategic value to their respective organizations. As such, most learning leaders simply haven’t earned the right to legitimately sit at the corporate leadership table. But today, more than ever before, we are needed at that table and we need to step into the room prepared to help lead our respective organizations into organizational learning agility.

However, to successfully walk into that room and begin the process of agility transformation, we must be absolutely prepared. Here are some suggestions to help you negotiate the whitewater rapids that lie ahead:

1. Make sure you have internalized the value proposition of organizational learning agility. The report is written to help you accomplish this. But you must take the time to authentically own this journey.

2. You need to cultivate a broader organizational leadership view. For example, you need to understand market movements and trends so you can spot the earliest signs and movements of market challenge. You need to be able to rival the strategic planning function in its ability to collect external information and signals from the outside environment. You need to be business savvy and able to go toe-to-toe with any other leader in business acumen.

3. You must be ready to lead your organization into a realistic performance support strategy that will, overtime, deliver learning agility. As you review the trends, threats, and recommendations in the research report, you will find that there is a great deal that must be done. This report can become a high-level blueprint to help you develop and rollout, over time, a sustainable strategy.

4. Don’t go this alone. We need to network as a community to help each other succeed in this journey.We need to be benchmarking our successes and sharing them with each other. The stakes are high on this one. There has never been a greater opportunity for our industry to finally deliver the value it has always been capable of providing.

5. Don’t attempt to boil the ocean. As I mentioned, there is more to this than performance support, but PS is at the heart of it all. Start there and deliver value. Know what you need to accomplish overtime and then run at it with resolve.

The path forward is exciting and challenging. It most likely won’t be easy. Rather, it will be a lot like kayaking a turbulent rapid infested river. You need to be competent and agile. Our experience with this community is you have the character and capacity to rise to this challenge. Who knows the degree to which your organization can become completely agile. Total agility may be unattainable. But a lethargic organization entrenched in views and practices that run counter to agility will, at some point, fail.

I remember watching the movie Jumanji with Robin Williams. I hated the movie – especially the part where a horde of maniac monkeys wreaked havoc in the lives of the children who were caught in this magical game where each step of the way catastrophic events were unleashed to threaten their safety and sanity. I have sometimes thought that life is a lot like the game of Jumanji. When faced with challenge, we have no alternative but to play the game through and succeed. Any other option leaves us in a state that simply isn’t acceptable. This is certainly the case with learning agility. Your organization’s survival at some point will depend upon its readiness to respond adeptly with speed. Most likely you have enormous amounts of low-hanging fruit to pick in your efforts to increase learning agility. Go for that and then don’t give up! Remember, at the heart of it all is performance support. You know how to begin this part of organizational agility transformation. As you read the research report, let us know if you have any questions or if there are specific issues you face that the report fails to take into consideration or address clearly.

Good luck! Work hard! Ask questions! Be agile!

Friday, July 18, 2008

The Importance of Process

The Importance of Process in PS Design

Many Instructional designers we've work with struggle when going from designing for formal instruction to designing for Performance Support (PS). Many of the skills and design techniques currently useed need to be adapted to create effective PS solutions.

Task analysis, for instance, is still an importart part of any design, but additional circumstances need to be considered. First I'd recommend reading the principles covered in Conrad's earlier post on Rapid Task Analysis (RTA). (Post from March 17th - "Rapid Task Analysis for Performance Support")

In addition to identifiying tasks, PS is also about adding a layer of process. Why is process so important? Because that's the way in which your learners will encounter the NEED for PS when they're back at on the job. PS is not meant to be consumed in the same manner we've designed and consumed training. Training is a linear experience. The learners is guided throughout the process. We assume they will consume a certain section before they begin the next. We design from simple to complex. We group tasks by topics or disciplines. Much of this structure is missing in the world of PS.

When a learner moves from formal instruction to PS, they need information in the context of their work where the last three moments of need (Apply/Remember, Change, Break/fix - ) are encountered. (Post from Nov. 1, 2007 - "What is Performance Support?") These moments are not linear. They aren't conveniently grouped by tasks or chapters. They are encountered, and need to be addressed, in the context of the work PROCESS being experienced at the time. They need a type of "filter" which allows the learner to find the information in the context of the problem they are trying to solve.

These "filters", or content structures, typically come in one of three forms:

  1. Job role context enables a learner to filter content and other related PS assets based on their job role and responsibilities. This navigational technique is most effective when you have well-defined and understood job roles or functions within an organization.

    For example, below are sample roles within a service center.

    As identified in this graphic, a person could quickly identify their role, which then would either display the process(es) in which they are involved, or list the tasks they are required to complete. Roles or functions could also be embedded in organizations, departments, or other ‘who am I’ identifiers that would facilitate effective and efficient access to the required information.

  2. Workflow context in the PS architecture allows the learner to access help based on a particular stage within a workflow. Process flows or workflow diagrams are one of the best tools to help in this area. For example, a sales representative may need to complete the following sales process in order to better sell to a customer.

    They may be familiar with individual steps within the process, but struggle because they do not understand or know how to navigate through the overarching workflow. If the process is provided within the PS architecture, the learner can better support themselves by identifying a task within a workflow, the step(s) that preceded it and those that follow it. This will help them better comprehend how and why it is necessary to complete the current step and to facilitate the successful completion of the next step(s).

  3. Unique Identifier context is based on the specific nature of your organization, and immediately recognizable by the target audience. For example, an organization may categorize information by products they sell, services the render, or systems they use across a number of workflows. The goal is to provide unique identifiers in addition to the other typical identifiers (role, workflow, and task) as another option to assist in the efficient navigation of the PS offering. It is imperative that the PS designer understand what, if any, unique identifiers exist and how the user will identify with them at the point of need. For example, some unique identifiers we have seen used in the past are product types, services offered, or sales programs which would be found within or across certain roles in the organization. These unique identifiers may span multiple roles, workflows, and tasks, which would be found in the layer beneath.

To effectively design for the different perspectives, you need to modify your current task analysis and resulting design tasks. The current focus is on the tasks that need to be completed and the sequence in which it makes sense to teach them. This is based on categorical grouping of like tasks, prerequisite knowledge, building in complexity, and to some degree, the preference of the designer. Your PS Solution will need to initially consider all four of the content structures outlined below each time a new learning initiative is started.

The reasoning for this is that users will not always access PS in a sequential manner, nor will they have the prerequisite knowledge to perform. Another way to look at it is that PS should be created not on how someone would learn something, but how they identify their work context at the moment of need. This leads to a greater need for modular design that is accessible based on the user’s need and orientation.

These process layer helps filter the task content that follows and makes PS design more realistic and consumable when a learner migrates from formal instruction into the difficult world of application on the job.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Achieving a High Performance Workforce in “Times of Radical Change”

A colleague recently pointed me to a December 2007 article in HR Magazine that purported to make a business case for “creating a High Performance Workforce.” Since performance support is all about optimum (or high) performance the topic captured my full attention.

My problem with the article and others like it is they are to often shortsighted in their definitions as well as their proposed solutions. For example, it most certainly isn’t enough to create a “High Performance Workforce” The real challenge lies in maintaining one--especially in today’s market reality of constant turmoil. Now, you might say that if you create a high performance workforce, the nature of these high performers will inherently ensure proper maintenance and adaptation of knowledge and skills. Not so. If you look under the hood of most discussions around “high performance” you will find the faulty prevailing view that:

“A high performance workforce is comprised of engaged employees that have the necessary skills and motivation to contribute to the growth of the business.” (see the December 2007 HR article.)

The word “have” shows the problem. It suggests that there is a point of arrival. Today, there is no such place – competency is a continual journey. With all that performers need to know and do today, tomorrow, and next week, who can master it all and remain competent? Actually, why should organizations even attempt this?

In 1932 Eric Hoffer described a reality of our global age:

"In times of radical change, the learners inherit the earth while the learned find themselves perfectly equipped for a world that no longer exists..."

Clearly Hoffer understood that learning isn’t about achieving anything, it’s about growing and adapting through continuous learning. Simply gaining mastery of “the necessary skills” may have been sufficient in a stable slow moving economy, but this view ignores realities today. Clayton Christensen’s book The Innovator’s Dilemma describes a deadly path organizations often take. They become lulled into a state of unfounded security because of remarkable “ongoing growth.” They ultimately awaken one day to the reality that the market in which they have been constantly successful has changed and they’re unprepared and unable to adapt to remain competitive. The result is catastrophic failure. Today it is simply unrealistic to assume that employees will ever “have” all the necessary skills and attendant knowledge called for at any given moment. The market place is too dynamic to allow it.

A high performing workforce must have the disposition to be ever learning and ever changing. And a high performing organization must have in place the capacity to support that disposition and business need.

Performance Support is fundamental to this capacity. Performance Support is everything an organization does to provide intuitive, tailored aid to its workforce at their moments of need to ensure the most effective performance (collectively and individually.) These moments of need include when they are:

  • Learning something for the first time
  • Expanding their understanding and/or capacity to perform
  • Applying or attempting to remember what they have learned
  • Faced with something that has gone wrong, and
  • Required to learn a new way of doing something because of change.

This fifth need—to learn a new way of doing something because of change has been the least understood and most ignored need in the area of performance support. Organizations will never achieve an agile workforce without addressing this need head on.

Years ago I was doing some work in Atlanta and one of the people with whom I was working offered to drive me to the airport. The offer provided us time to continue our discussion so I accepted. After sufficient travel time had passed, I began looking for signs of the airport. There were none. I casually asked, “How long before we reach the airport.” My driver hit the brakes and said, “I’m almost home.”

There is a principle of automaticity associated with performance. Certain things that we do over and over again become so ingrained within our skill set that they become automated—we do it with little to no conscious thought. When organizations invest in embedding skills into the workforce, and then solidify those skills via on-the-job application over time, those skills become deeply embedded. In such cases, changing to a new way of performing can be beyond tough. Little wonder why the track record of enterprise wide efforts to change behavior has a 75% failure rate (see: Peter Cheese, “Disturbing the System.” Accenture: Outlook Journal, June 2004, p. 34. See also: Mark J. Dawson and Mark L. Jones, “Herding Cats: Human Change Management,” PriceWaterhouseCoopers Publication

I recently upgraded my operating system to Vista. It has been a painful journey. Although I love the functional changes when I finally find them, I am continually searching for things that aren’t where they used to be. I especially become frustrated when there is a time crunch and I’ve got to get something done right now. And, guess what, my life is just like yours—a continuous time crunch. And may I just say, without intending to offend anyone, the Vista performance support tools stink. I have no disposition to even try to use them again. I’m not sure where they are anyway. So far, my experience with Vista performance support was like a night parachute jump into the middle of a vast jungle of stuff. I’m certainly a long way from being high performing with Vista. Maybe I’ll take a class—when I get the time. Let’s see, checking my calendar that will be when I have my next knee replacement – mid December of this year.