January 2013

This article on workforce innovation has worthwhile reminders for identifying opportunities and creating new products and services.  I have posted or shared a lot of the ideas that in the article so I will focus on examples and recommendations that offer a fresh perspective.

What are the prerequisites?

Lay a base of trust. Mix risk-taking with job security. Subtract strict chains-of command and barriers that impede ideas from rising. Add professional development. Separate rewards into two units: excellence in routine activities and efforts to find breakthroughs. Don’t forget a dash of fun. And when trials result in errors? Openly discuss failure to learn from it.

What are the raw ingredients? (emphasis mine)

“Great innovative companies have created the right environment, attracted the right employees who constantly want to learn, and they’ve figured out how to get people highly engaged in innovative processes without fear and without the dominance of quarterly earnings,” says Edward Hess, professor of business administration at the University of Virginia Darden School of Business.

How do you know if its working?

One metric: track how much of a company’s revenue comes from products introduced within the past five years.

What role does learning (not training) play in this?

“Learning is part of the culture,” says Laurie Gilbert, vice president of restaurant innovation at McDonald’s. “Candidly, fun is a big part of the culture.”

Once a quarter, the center has its own version of the Food Network TV show Iron Chef. Upon arrival, a group of employees is given a theme and told to create a lunch for everyone else inspired by the theme, using only ingredients available in a McDonald’s kitchen.

What can you do to promote innovation? (emphasis mine)

Zebra Technologies Corp. has a special banquet for employees who have earned patents in a particular year. The company also offers cash awards, and honorees receive certificates or plaques and are recognized at quarterly meetings broadcast globally. “We do a variety of things to encourage people to take some shots at the basket,” says Michael Terzich, senior vice president of global sales and marketing at Illinois-based Zebra.  Bally Technologies Inc. offers rewards such as iPads to the top-rated inventions posted online and voted on by employees. The slot-machine-maker also honors “inventor of the year” and “inventor of the quarter.”



Sensei Graphic

I just learned about a new WordPress plug-in called Sensei (H/T Edudemic via LinkedIn).  For an introductory price of $79 (regularly $99) you can use WordPress tools to present content and track your learners’ progress.

I don’t have time to do a thorough review of the system but I did some poking around.  My initial reactions are below.

  • It is only an LMS.
  • Content is published using existing WordPress tools.  It does offer templates that utilize these tools.  This could simplify the formatting and presentation of your content.
  • Assessment tools are limited to multiple choice and true false questions.  I did not see examples of longer form responses.  This limits what can be presented to lower order content (knowledge and comprehension).
  • I did not see an example of the administration screens so I don’t know how student information is presented and managed.
  • It appears another plug-in must be purchased to handle registration.  I assume this means the student list cannot be imported or independently managed.
  • It is not SCORM compliant though they are planning to support SCORM in later releases.
  • It is not clear if it has tools for communicating with students.

If you are in the market for a low-cost LMS, Sensei is worth looking into.  For the price, it appears to be worth researching to see if it meets your needs.  Leveraging existing WordPress tools provides a lot of flexibility.  I think this “platform” is best suited for small-scale learning.  I expect that additional costs would be required to launch a large learning initiative.

I would caution anyone to do research on learning management systems and SCORM before doing any research on a specific product.  Like any software investment it is best to know your needs first before looking for a solution.  Throughout the selection process you may reassess your situation but you don’t want to do both at the same time.

I use this space many ways.  Primarily I use it to share my perspective on trends in learning and performance.  Occasionally I use this space to archive information that I may want or need later.  That is the case today with this post on communication basics.

Graphic: American Research Institute

Graphic: American Research Institute

Anyone who reads this blog knows I am am big supporter of just-in-time learning.  The popularity of mobile devices (e.g., smart phones and tablet computers) has provided a platform for delivering learning at the point of need.  This morning I received a link to an article that provides tips for designing mobile learning.  The article is authored by the co-founder of Allen Interactions.  Based on work I’ve done with them in the past, I can vouch for their technical expertise and the high instructional design standards they have (which are unavoidably evident in the article).  Not all of it is relevant or even worth reading if you are not ready to make the leap into mobile learning.

With that in mind, I have selected some excerpts and given my thoughts on each.

“If you are developing mobile learning that must be taken prior to actual job performance, then the learning moment is different from the performance moment.  Therefore, retention and application should be the goal.”
My thoughtsThis point helps to differentiate between learning and information.  The author correctly points out that the design must account for retention.   Retention also implies practice and assessment is involved in the design.

“[I]f the learning moment can be taken during the performance moment, then the mobile learning should be designed as a performance support tool.  This means designing an intuitive and efficient interface with well indexed, searchable content that allows the learner to access snippets of information specifically targeted for unique situations.”
My thoughts: I believe much value can be realized within an organization if it had a strategy for cataloging and making its institutional knowledge widely available to its employees.  Social media enables people to share knowledge in ways that could not have been anticipated or dreamed of in the not-so-distant past.  Additionally, the same tools used to access mobile learning can be used to create it.

He goes on to provide practical advice for developers.  I don’t expect a non-learning professional to care much about that, especially if you aren’t currently considering mobile learning.  There are other implications with mobile learning that I won’t take time to discuss now.  I hope this helps stimulate some thought on the subject.

This post by Angela Ashenden makes some worthwhile points about using social networks (i.e., Facebook) for business collaboration.  I appreciate that she points out the obvious, and not so obvious, reasons that social networks can be a productivity drain and their use should be discouraged.  However, toward the end of the post, Ms. Ashenden concludes that,

“[w]hen it comes down to it, the biggest issue is trust, and trusting your employees to behave in an appropriate way. The reality is that if people want to waste their time they will, whether or not you deploy social collaboration tools in your business (after all, they can access their public Facebook and Twitter accounts from their personal smartphones, even if your organisation blocks access on work devices). In practice, few organisations find that governance is an issue on internal social collaboration platforms – once everyone understands how things work, initial concerns fade away.”

I completely agree with this conclusion, but it seems to me that trust is the lowest threshold for adoption.  Most often trust is the issue cited by leadership for not embracing social collaboration.  This is becoming less of an issue for the rank and file, as noted in the quote above.

The obstacle I have not figured out how to overcome is drawing people to an internal social network.  People are drawn to Facebook by news about family and friends, games, pictures, video clips, etc.  You don’t want your business information to compete with baby pictures so there has to be a compelling reason for a team to use a social network for collaboration.

In my organization I believe there are two overriding factors that influence collaboration, deadlines and budget.  Assuming I am right, the biggest obstacle to adopting a social network is the impact it has on processes and accountability.  A model that is based on social collaboration forces an organization to rethink how it views these factors; However, I would argue that social collaboration spreads the responsibility in a healthy way and can instill a greater sense of unity in an organization.

  • What would it look like if everyone is jointly accountable for meeting a deadline?
  • How would people behave if they had a voice in deciding the theme for a catalog?
  • What if everyone knew what the top performing products were?
  • How could we collectively improve collaboration and communication with remote locations?

This is challenging to the culture of an organization.  It forces people to rethink their assumptions.  That is not easy and is predicated on trust.  In the long run I believe the benefits can far outweigh the consequences.

Gamification takes the essence of games — attributes such as fun, play, transparency, design and competition — and applies these to a range of real-world processes inside an organization, including learning & development.

Gamification may be a new term to you but no doubt you have seen it or even experienced it.  In short, gamification is the use of incentives to stimulate desired behavior.  In this example, a technology company uses a point system to encourage their employees to exercise.  Khan Academy uses badges to reward learning.  The more you read on Google News the higher level badge you earn.

But does it work?  According to this post, Deloitte Consulting applied gamification principles to its Deloitte Leadership Academy and saw participation increase by 37%.

What can you do to incorporate gamification into your training program?  This post identifies five principles.

  1. Challenge
  2. Recognition
  3. Tracking
  4. Competition
  5. Cooperation

Each of these has to be tied to an incentive, such as points or badges, that reward and recognize desired behavior and motivate continued participation.

Searching for gamification will yield more information than you can possibly process. Below are some links to get you started.

How to Use Gamification for Better Business Results
The Principles of Gamification





Yesterday I became aware of two instances where information that could have saved a lot of aggravation and time was not shared.  I’m not going to condemn or criticize anyone here or anywhere.  I bring this up to emphasize the importance of sharing information.

Its easy to overlook a detail like case-sensitivity of a password or shipping delays.  In the throes of a project we make assumptions.  We assume certain things will be self-evident people or people will be able to figure it out.  However, when somebody realizes there is a problem don’t keep it a secret.  Even if you are working on a solution, tell people about it.  You never know where the solution might come from.  Making a problem known is not about admitting a mistake.  In many cases you’re probably stating the obvious. Which leads me to another reason for sharing information.

By revealing a problem you gain credibility rather than losing it.  There are plenty of people who don’t share information because they are afraid it will make them appear incompetent.  We appreciate humility in others but I find it is an undervalued characteristic in ourselves.  We naturally want to protect our reputations because we think our reputation is built on our ability to not make mistakes.

News flash: Unexpected things happen.  Everybody makes mistakes.  You can’t catch everything.

What makes a person unique is how they respond when a mistake is made or something unexpected happens.  The natural response is to protect yourself and try to save face.  That seems natural but its the wrong thing to do.  Instead you should acknowledge the problem and focus on your response.  You will gain people’s respect and you will likely come to a solution faster as a result.

This leads me to my last point.  To effectively interpret and share information you will need to re-engineer your day and get disciplined.  You are busy.  The constant flow of information is overwhelming.  Its difficult to take the time to analyze each piece of information that comes your way.  But you have to.  Other people need you to filter the information and pass along what is important in a timely manner with additional information you have that will help them.

Be intentional about your work.  Start keeping a log of your time.  What are your redundant tasks?  Where can you save time in your routine?  Where is your time wasted in the day?  By wasted I don’t mean time spent on productive tasks.  I mean where can your work environment be made more productive.  Share your findings with your supervisor.  Engaging in a conversation about this will yield results and free you to be more responsive and proactive with the information that passes through your inbox every day.

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