November 2010


The fourth of ISPI’s performance improvement standards is partnerships.  Simply stated this means, “do your work collaboratively.”  At a minimum every project needs a stakeholder and content expert.  ISPI also includes specialists as necessary participants in the development of any performance intervention.  Specialists can be anyone who has a unique skill required to complete the project.  In the past I have worked on projects with data analysts who created data collection instruments and used data analysis software to draw conclusions from our data.  I have also worked with multimedia developers who were experts in creating engaging e-learning.  Identifying the right specialist and clearly defining their role is a significant challenge but can determine the success project.

ISPI identifies three milestones for collaboration: setting goals, deciding what steps to take, and implementing the solution.  These milestones represent the bare minimum for effective collaboration.  Ongoing communication is often the deciding factor that determines the success or failure of a project.  You can have rock solid executive sponsorship, world-class experts, and award-winning specialists and still fail if you do not communicate regularly and effectively.

There is no formula for selecting the right frequency, mode, and depth of communication.  According to ISPI, it is the role of the performance technologist facilitate communication between all the parties involved in the project.  This should not be seen as a power grab.  If the performance technologist is complying with ISPI’s standards they should understand the project better than anyone and be prepared to raise issues that need to be discussed, facilitate solutions to problems, and ensure the final outcome meets the needs of the organization and expectations of the sponsor.

What are the benefits of working in partnerships?  I can’t possibly come up with all of them (and I wouldn’t expect you to read them all if I could).  Below is a short list.

  • Strong sponsorship ensures the team will have access to essential information, data and assistance
  • Utilizing the right specialists builds trust in the capabilities of the team
  • Frequent communication establishes confidence in decisions and progress
  • Views of all vested parties are sought and addressed

What has your experience been working in partnerships?  What benefits have you experienced?  What horror stories have you dealt with?

Technology has enabled us to personalize our surroundings.  Our cars “recognize” us and adjust according to our preferences.  We can watch television programs when it is convenient for us and skip the commercials if we want.  Web sites provide custom views based on our browsing history.  Some frozen pizza actually tastes pretty good.  With all the personalization technology provides why is learning always exempt from personalization?

In recent years there has been a recognition in learning circles that every organization has artifacts that would make useful learning tools.  These artifacts are referred to as reusable learning objects (RLOs).  Organizations interested in leveraging their existing knowledge base and the expertise of their employees would benefit from developing a learning strategy that draws utilizes RLOs.  The benefits include standardization/improvement of processes and procedures, constructive dialogue on value-added topics, reduced dependence on formal/structured training, development of a learning culture, and cost savings in training through greater efficiency.

Here is a white paper on RLOs(One caveat, it was written for learning professionals so it reflects a bias toward formal learning development.) It defines a learning object as “an independent collection of content and media elements, a learning approach (interactivity, learning architecture, context), and metadata (used for storage and
searching).”  Examples include documents, e-learning, formal lesson plans or content outlines and video or audio clips.  Below are recommendations the author provides for selecting learning objects:

  • They should be objective-based. They should accomplish a single learning objective by combining a series of elements including content, media, and interactivity.
  • They should be context-free. Content, media, and interactivity are combined to form a meaningful structure so that the learning object can stand alone from the rest of its associated hierarchy, making it portable, reusable, and relevant as an independent learning experience.
  • They should be interactive. Although this is not always required, engaging learners, making them active participants in the learning experience, is key to having them meet the learning objective.
  • They should be self-descriptive. Search data (or metadata) associate with each element and learning object to be used by the system, authors, and learners.
  • They should be self-contained. Each learning object is capable of either standing alone or standing in unison with other learning objects to create any number of training programs or technical manuals.
  • They should be single-sourced. A learning object is written so that multiple authors, in multiple learning environments, and in multiple delivery formats ranging from print to e-learning, can use it. This requires writing and reuse guidelines and processes that will be discussed later in this book.
  • They should be format-free. To be reused in multiple delivery media, learning objects should be created free of look-and-feel formatting. The formatting happens during the delivery of the learning objects to the learner.

The growth of social media enables organizations to extend the reach of RLOs beyond formal learning events.  Wikis and other forms of social networking provide excellent platforms for informal (personalized) learning.  A learning strategy that incorporates RLOs and social network is a cost effective way to promote learning and increase performance at a greatly reduced cost.  It also enables training teams to focus on broader outcomes instead of getting bogged down in the minutiae of individualized training.

Harvard Business Review has a series of posts on leadership lessons from the military.  I have long admired the approach our military takes in developing its personnel.  The practice of using every operation as a chance to learn and improve would serve every organization well to emulate.  I also believe organizations that develop leadership capabilities at all levels are better positioned for success.

I encourage you to go to the site linked above and the posts.  Not all of the entries will translate to your context but I think you will find them thought provoking.

This is part 3 of my overview of ISPI’s performance standards for human performance technology.  Here are the links to part 1 and part 2.

The third standard is adding value.  This standard is not about working for the lowest price.  The point of this standard is to ensure the performance consultant makes a measurable difference in the work they do and how they do it.  Simply stated the consultant should do more than show up, do what their told, and collect a paycheck.  A lot more.  Through the years I have worked with many so-called learning professionals who do just what the client tells them to do and nothing more.  One of the reasons I pursued my certification in human performance technology was to show that I do things differently.  I add value.

For me to add value I have to follow a process that helps my client understand the implications of any choice they make regarding a performance need.  This standard is a continuation of the work done in the previous two standards, focus on results and performance context.  The better we have defined the opportunity and environment in which performance occurs the better the chance we have for creating the right intervention.  The role of the performance consultant is to help the client understand their need or opportunity, facilitate the investigation into that need or opportunity and recommend an intervention that will successfully yield the desired results.

According to ISPI, the investigative process I referenced above includes “offering your clients a process that will help them fully understand the implications of their choices, setting appropriate measures, identifying barriers and trade-offs, and taking control.”  The last item in this list could be confusing.  By taking control, they mean providing leadership.   If a client has entrusted me with a performance issue it is my responsibility to invest the time and energy required to understand the issue and offer my perspective.

Let me provide an example of a project where I took control.  The project was to develop materials for an instructor-led course.  The subject matter was delicate and the development team was passionate.  When I joined the project a lot of effort had already gone into compiling the content.  In reviewing the work it became clear that a significant portion of the content was redundant.  It was my conclusion that the learners would be confused if the course was developed based on this content.  It was also likely that the development team would struggle to create effective instructional materials.  This would result in wasted time, missed deadlines, and cost overruns.

In this case, taking control meant clarifying the work that had been done already and making sure the development team was unified in supporting the changes.  My first contribution to the project was to reorganize the content to reduce or eliminate the redundancy.  Working with my sponsor we developed a plan to get the development team to support the changes.  In my first meeting with the team they approved my revisions and we were quickly able to move on to developing the instructional methodology.

Another way a performance consultant can add value is by presenting alternatives.  Anyone who has worked on training projects knows there is more than one way to address a performance need.  Usually there are trade-offs with each option.  When exploring the best way to resolve a performance issue, it is the responsibility of the performance consultant to provide multiple approaches for the client to consider and to help the client make the decision that best suits their needs.  When evaluating the options, the consultant should include information that will help the client select the best approach.  ISPI provides a few factors to consider when evaluating the options:

  • Cost to design, develop, implement, and maintain each approach.
  • Likelihood of adoption or use by the target audience.
  • Probability of each solution achieving the desired goals.
  • Implication or possible impact on the target audience, other employees, consumers, the community, etc.
  • Ability of the organization to support each solution (reward the appropriate behaviors and results, provide the appropriate communication/information systems and tools and equipment, maintain sponsorship, etc.).
  • Risks associated with the success or failure of each solution in terms of threats to safety, health, financial return, customer satisfaction, etc.

For each alternative the performance consultant should be able to explain how each approach accounts for the factors above, describe the potential value added for each and how that value will be measured.

If you have been reading each entry in this series it should be clear that there is rarely one solution to a performance problem.  Human performance technology does not solve the problem by itself.  However, it provides an effective framework for understanding a problem and developing the best way to achieve the desired result.  According to ISPI if the consultant is adding value, his or her client will be able to:

  • Identify what will be used as evidence of success, accomplishment, or worth and communicate that to all vested parties (stakeholders) at the start of the project.
  • Determine that a mechanism exists to determine whether the gain was realized and to track early indicators of success so corrections are made.
  • Determine if the assumptive base and the argument for or against a course of action is documented and communicated.
  • State what trade-offs were made and what value was gained, and conclude that the value outweighed the cost.
  • State that what the consultant does adds value and how he or she goes about his or her work adds value.

This is a standard I take very seriously.  If I am working with you and you do not think I am meeting the criteria listed above tell me.

Coming up next, partnerships.

The title of this post is not the conclusion that Michael Hyatt’s guest blogger wants you to come to after reading his post on lifelong learning.  As a person who loves reading but has a hard time finishing a book, I appreciated the strategies he gives at the end (and a justification for buying an iPad).  He also shares some good insights along the way.

Example:

a love of reading can easily lead to a love of learning—a gift that will well serve both leaders and those who simply aspire to leadership.