March 2011

According to David Ballard, head of APA’s Psychologically Healthy Workplace Program, having opportunities for growth and development in an organization can build employees’ knowledge, skills and abilities. In turn, this can be applied to new situations that can increase motivation, job satisfaction and the ability to manage job stress, because employees have the necessary resources to do their jobs.

“All this can translate again for the organization as well. It improves organizational effectiveness [and] work quality, and the organization also can be positioned as an employer of choice,” Ballard said. “It can attract and retain the best employees and that’s what it takes to have a competitive advantage today.”

I am encouraged by two things in this article from Chief Learning Officer magazine.  First, it focuses on learning instead of training.  Organizations do not get the most of their “training” team if their responsibilities are limited to training.
Training is reactive.
Training is compliance-focused.
Training meets the minimum requirements.

Learning is proactive.
Learning is empowering.
Learning is growth oriented.

The second point I find encouraging is the link between learning and business results.  This is an extension of the first point.  Employees who are given opportunities to grow professionally (learn new things) are more likely to enjoy their work, are more motivated, and have a higher level of engagement.  That sounds happy doesn’t it?  Happy employees want to improve their business results.  Unhappy employees are apathetic.  Unhappy employees aren’t excited about their work.  Unhappy employees are looking for a new job.  How can you grow your business with this kind of employee?

The article provides four best practices for providing a healthy work environment: good assessment, tailoring, strategic implementation, and evaluation.  Interestingly, they reflect at a high level the phases of performance improvement.  Coincidence?

There is one point in the quote above I want to touch on.  Mr. Ballard references “knowledge, skills, and abilities.”  Skills are abilities.  This is a common error made in learning circles so I am not surprised to see this perpetuated by someone who is not a learning professional.  There are three aspects to learning: knowledge, skills, and attitudes.  This is interesting because the whole point of this article is the positive impact learning has on employee attitudes.


Thinking about getting an iPad?  Maybe this article might cause you to reconsider.

Here is the author’s conclusion:

It has encouraged me to be more like a hummingbird than a woodpecker, as it fuels every inclination I have towards impatience and skimming. The Allison with a history for digging into books and topics is distracted daily by fleeting matters. With the iPad in my life, I am more engaged in consumption than production.

That is a sobering thought.  Frankly, I think the iPad is only the latest device fueling this phenomenon.  Television has been accused of shortening our attention span for years.  Don’t get me started on video games or social networking.


I “attended” a webinar titled “Trust in the Modern Workplace” delivered by Stephen Covey the other day.  He was promoting his new book The SPEED of Trust.

In the He presented three big ideas:

  1. Trust is an economic driver, not merely a social virtue.
  2. Trust is the #1 leadership competency of the new global economy.
  3. Trust is a learnable competency.

It is on the last point that I want to focus.  Covey splits trust into two categories, credibility and behavior.  He presents credibility as a matter of character comprised of integrity, intent, capabilities, and results.  A person builds trust by being consistent in word an deed and by presenting an agenda based on mutual benefit.

Intent is an area where I have seen people seemingly sabotage their efforts.  In one case I attended several (long) meetings where the outcome seemed clear and the solution feasible.  I did not agree with this apparent outcome but could have lived with the decision to go against my recommendation.  It wasn’t the first time and it won’t be the last.  The meeting organizer failed to recognize is that he was undermining his credibility and trust by drawing out the process, especially when the outcome was clear to everyone involved.  I have great respect for this person and am confident of his integrity.  I believe in this case he was unaware of the impact his handling of the situation had on trust.

So how do you learn to create and sustain trust?  First you must make a deliberate effort to operate with mutual respect and focus on continually improving your capabilities.  Covey points out, and I agree with him, that people who are trusted extend it to others.  It becomes part of an organization’s culture.  Second, be transparent.  To say you’re transparent has almost become a cliche.   Real transparency admits that you don’t have all the answers.  Real transparency admits errors.  Real transparency seeks forgiveness.  Real transparency welcomes opinions.  Covey provides some additional ideas for creating and sustaining trust in this executive summary of his book.

Did Covey present any truly new ideas?  No.  Was he thought-provoking?  Definitely.  Was it worth 30 minutes of my time?  Yes.

USA Today has an article comparing the iPad to other tablets.  I accept that each company named in the article has a business plan and tablet computers are only part of this plan.  However, one unmistakable point in the article is that the iPad is winning on almost every front in the tablet wars.  This article reminds me that Apple’s success is due to a culture that considers every contact customers have with them.

Groundbreaking devices 

Customer-focused stores

Industry-standard online store

Relentlessly catchy advertising


The quotes below provide more evidence of how the culture at Apple is framing the marketplace on mobile devices.

The report points out that Samsung‘s Galaxy tablet originally priced at $600 without a mobile contract and Motorola‘s Xoom goes for $800 untethered. Those compare with $499 for an iPad.

“If you go into a Verizon store, the Galaxy tablets are in the back of the store collecting dust,” says Rotman Epps. If you go into an Apple store the tablets are front and center, and it’s an exciting environment.”

Another blow to tablet makers: They will have a tough sell in differentiating their brands at stores such as Best Buy, where devices will sit on shelves next to many similar models, she says.

It is generally accepted in training circles that training programs are rarely, if ever, evaluated to determine if they achieved what they were intended to achieve.  When times are good no one asks if we are getting enough bang for our buck.  Meeting the minimum training requirements when times are tight its hard, let alone evaluating their effectiveness.

Training evaluation (ISPI Performance Standard #10) is a fundamental aspect of a healthy training program.  It helps you determine if the initial training was effective and reveals needs for follow-up interventions.  It also builds accountability for the developer and participant.  As I mentioned at the beginning, this is an area of training development that is often overlooked or minimized.  Including evaluation in all aspects of your training programs can transform your training programs from static and ineffective presentations to vibrant and dynamic engagement.

For more than 50 years Donald Kirkpatrick has been regarded as the authority on  training evaluation (a title he is not comfortable having).  He established four levels of training evaluation: reaction, learning, behavior, and results.  This is in no way the only way to evaluate training, but its staying power verifies its value.

Reaction focuses on the participants’ response to the actual event or program.  Learning measures the change in knowledge or skill.  Behavior determines whether the participants are applying their new knowledge or skill.  Results measures the effect of the training.  The last level could include a cost analysis (ROI).

Success at any level does automatically translate to success at the next.  For example, reaction (level 1) may be positive.  But a positive reaction could mean the chairs were comfortable and the food was good or the participants enjoyed the presenter’s jokes.  You want participants to have a good experience but a favorable reaction does not mean they learned anything.

Success at level two (learning) could mean the participants passed a test or were able to demonstrate competency at a particular skill.  This is good because a person can’t use what they don’t know or can’t do.  Which leads to the question, will they use it when the return to their job?

I believe asking a person to incorporate new knowledge or skills into their daily routine is frequently taken for granted.  Training types would like to believe that our training made such an impact on our audience that they immediately saw the benefit and developed an action plan for incorporating the new skills and/or knowledge into their work.  Managers and supervisors expect employees to be so dedicated to their work that they appreciate the organization’s investment, recognize the value it will bring and are eager to put it into practice.

I hope I don’t burst anyone’s bubble when I say it doesn’t always work that way.

There is no best way to determine what changes have occurred as a result of training.  Ideally the development team discussed how they will know if the training “stuck” when they were designing the training intervention.  It is much easier to evaluate behavior change when specific evidence of that change is identified in the planning stage.  Objective evidence is the best indicator of behavior change.  But what if you can’t quantify the change or data doesn’t exist?  Observation is another effective method.  A short period of observation will usually reveal if a person is applying what they learned.  However, observation can be costly and impractical if employees are spread over a wide region.

Surveys provide another useful tool for determining behavior change.  Asking the participants about their confidence applying the new skills and knowledge can be revealing.  One should always be careful putting to much weight into subjective responses.  It is human nature for respondents to want to say the right thing, even if its not completely true.  It is a challenge to convince respondents that we are evaluating the program and not the respondents.  If they are not using what they were taught we want to know that and why.

Accountability can be viewed as a four letter word, but it doesn’t have to be.  Applying structure and discipline to verbal and written communication will ensure everyone on a project are held accountable (including the project lead) and contribute to a successful outcome.  When it comes to verbal communication I have one rule that trumps all others: err on the side of over-communication.  I am not advocating communication for communication sake (see point #4). Below are some guidelines for effective project communication.

  • Schedule regular status updates
  • State your understanding of an issue or its status clearly and succinctly
  • Accept questions and comments on an issue-by-issue basis
  • Resist the temptation to over explain
  • Ask clarifying questions as needed
  • Reach closure before taking up a new issue
  • Reschedule meetings if too few stakeholders can attend

The guidelines above can establish a framework for effective face-to-face communication.  It holds the meeting facilitator accountable and gives the attendees an opportunity to understand the issues and share their thoughts.  When facilitating a meeting make it your goal to establish and maintain an open and patient atmosphere where everyone feels comfortable contributing.  Initially this will take more time.  It is better to have long discussions early in the project when you still have time to make changes.  If issues are not raised early in a project they may never get the attention they deserve or may be raised too late to act on.

Written communication may be more important than verbal communication.  Confusion is a likely result if the only record of a meeting is in a person’s memory or notebook.  True accountability only occurs when a record of meetings is kept and made available to all participants.  Failure to document questions, comments, and decisions invites problems.  I recommend creating a project plan or charter summarizing the intent of the project, its goals, process, and performance measures.  Another tool for effective communication is an action item log.  This log can be used to track a project’s status on an issue-by-issue basis, establish priorities, and record decisions.

Does this approach require discipline?  Yes.

Does it require planning? Yes, but what’s wrong with that?

Does this take more time?  Initially.

Will this instill confidence in participants? No doubt.

Will this increase the likelihood of a successful outcome?  Absolutely.

Is this guaranteed to work?  There are no guarantees.

Is the time investment worth it? My experience is yes!