August 2013

An article recently published by Chief Learning Officer offers two reasons why long-term learning or change initiatives are not successful.

First, “solutions may be disconnected from business outcomes and results.” As I described in a recent post, ISPI’s first performance standard is focusing on results.  Employing a certified performance technologist will help ensure you achieve the results you desire.

The second reason is programs that are compliance focused.  “In [these] cases, attendees comply with programs, yet they yield little to no effect on the bottom line.”  Unfortunately corporate training is full of these programs.  Much of it is driven by risk management and a one-size-fits-all approach.

We’ve all seen it, harassment training, conducting performance reviews, time management, the list goes on.  The big picture of this approach is passing responsibility to the participant.  If something goes wrong or a person does not perform as expected or desired all you have to do is look at their training record to see if they have completed the required programs.  If the training didn’t take, have them repeat it.  After all, the problem couldn’t be the training, right?

I want to offer another reason.  In my experience training does not achieve the desired results because it focuses on the content and not on the individual.  I often describe this as the difference between training and learning.

Training is a strategy.  It is a means to an end.  But what is the end?  Learning.  But what is learning?  How do you know when learning takes place?

Simply stated, learning is a change in behavior, knowledge, or attitude.  Notice the emphasis here.  A person’s behavior can change.  A person’s can acquire knowledge. A person’s attitude can change. But the key to creating learning interventions that lead to the changes listed above you must know what evidence the learner will demonstrate to show they really changed.  Like choosing fruit over a donut.

As a Certified Performance Technologist, I often find it hard to explain exactly what I do. Consequently I’m always looking for examples of performance improvement in practice.  In the past week I’ve been working on a project that brings together many of the core elements of performance improvement.

Let me first summarize the project.  The company I work for is looking to expand its business into a new area.  We have pilot tested the approach to fine-tune our process and learn the best way to engage the market and carry out our plan.  The pilot team included representatives from our marketing, merchandising, and store operations departments.  I was added to the team after several pilot tests had been conducted (this happens in most projects I work on even though I tell my colleagues they would get more value from my participation if I were included earlier).  After the pilot period was over we began to craft the policy that would govern our new endeavor.

Through the end of the pilot period I created a training guide on our internal website to help our pilot stores plan and conduct their events.  The guide was considered a draft and was being pilot tested along with the processes.  When the pilot period ended work began on the final policy that would govern and guide the new initiative.  A key stakeholder on the project, who also initiated the effort, drafted the initial policy and gave it to me to review.

I took the draft and reviewed it with a colleague with experience in the area of the new initiative.  As we reviewed the draft we documented areas of concern and noted issues that needed clarification.  With this information I set out to resolve the issues with the members of the team who either owned or had insight into the subject.  This is a key difference between training development and performance improvement.  The first three standards of ISPI‘s performance standards are focusing on results, taking a systemic view, and adding value.  Training development fundamentally is transferring content from one form to another without regard for results, which departments are involved, or the contribution made by the developer.  I do not mean to cast aspersions on training developers.  I am simply drawing contrasts between training development and performance improvement.

As I worked through the issues we reduced the number of people who needed to be notified of events, we eliminated unnecessary or redundant reports, confirmed the involvement of part-time employees with HR, reviewed how products are handled and tracked, and addressed how to handle exceptions that are likely to arise (such as special requests).

Embedded in this process were the remaining performance improvement standards, determining (or anticipating) the cause of potential performance issues, ensuring the process is feasible and can be easily implemented, and that there are mechanisms to monitor the success of the process and policy.

We are still working to finalize the policy and I am considering how best to communicate the procedure to the chain.  This will follow a the more familiar steps of instructional design, (Analysis, Design, Development, Implementation, Evaluation).  However, I am confident the training we create will be more effective due to my early involvement.

What are the benefits of having a CPT on this project?  I don’t know what everyone else thinks but here is my take.  First, I was able to work with all the stakeholders to identify and address conflicts or confusion.  Second, I could take an objective approach to the process (I often refer to myself as Switzerland).  Third, performance improvement focuses on results (ISPI standard #1).  So often the training and policy for a new initiative focuses on the activity involved and the actual reason for the effort is lost.

I have tried over the last several years to convince people to change the way they view and treat others.   Below are a couple of examples that come to mind (I could think of more if I had more time but I think these will make my point).

A person consistently expects quick responses to their questions.  Yes, its annoying because you aren’t the person who can answer the question; regardless, you are the point of contact for this person so they keep asking you for an update.

You receive an email from a person who has a history of not reading updates and does not always adhere to the policies and best practices of the organization.  They could be considered high maintenance.  Just seeing their name on a message in your inbox makes you roll your eyes.

It is easy to get self-righteous or irritated by the situations above.  In his book, To Sell Is Human, Dan Pink provides a couple of helpful insights that I think are relevant to these situations.

First, in his chapter on improvisation Mr. Pink points out that the first rule of improvisation is hearing offers.  I touched on this in a recent post.  When a person reaches out to you, for better or worse, they are making an offer.  In the case of the person expecting a quick answer it would be easy to blow them off or give them an impatient response.  But the person contacted you.  They reached out to a person who they thought could help them.  They don’t know you’ve got a million things to do and precious little time to get it done.  The truth of the matter is, the reason they are calling is because they are in the same boat you are and want to cross this off their to-do list.  Change the way you view the situation.  When a person reaches out to you, regardless of the reason, use it as an opportunity to build trust and establish a positive relationship.  In the long run the person is not likely to remember the answer you gave but they will remember how you treated them.

The second point is from his chapter titled Serve.  In this chapter he has a section titled, “Make it personal” where he discusses a study conducted on radiologists.  If you’ve ever had an X-ray, MRI, or CT scan you know that the image has to be examined by a radiologist.  These highly trained doctors often work in isolation and rarely, if ever, see the patient whose image they are viewing.  The study found that including a picture of the patient with the image significantly improved the quality of their assessment.  Apparently the presence of a picture of the patient personalized the evaluation and caused the doctor to be more thorough.

We should take a cue from this study.  We have to view that high-maintenance person who never seems to “get it” as a person with needs not as a problem.  As in the first example, this person has made an offer.  They are reaching out to someone they think can help.  If you view this contact as a disruption to your busy day from a person who should know better if they would just read what you’ve already given them your response will reflect this.

Is it a disruption? Yes.
Have you already addressed the issue?  Probably yes.
Do you have a chance to improve the person’s performance? Yes.
Do you have a chance to build trust with this person? Yes.

If you stop at the first question you are focusing on the problem and your response will reflect that.  Continue through the questions above.  Recognize there is a person submitting this request.  It will change your view and your response.

As I noted in yesterday’s post we have to listen and process what the other person is offering.  I’m bad about that.  In conversation my attention is drawn to phrases or words.   I attempt to process what the person is saying while they are saying it.  They haven’t finished their thought and I am already formulating my response.  How wrong is that!?

At this point I want to apologize to my family and co-workers. I’m not perfect but I’m working on it.

I have to consciously slow my mind down.  At any given point in the day my brain is distracted by deadlines, recent conversations, upcoming conversations, tasks that I don’t want to forget, information that will help my team perform better, and the list goes on.  I’m pretty sure this is not unique to me.

Today I will slow down.  I will make notes do I don’t forget things.  I will add items to my task list immediately so I don’t forget them or obsess over them until I get them added.  I will keep a running list of all the information that passes in front of me throughout the day and share it will my team so they can have it and use it as needed.  Hopefully this will help me concentrate better when I am in conversations today.  Maybe with you.


Chapter 8 of Daniel Pink’s latest book, To Sell is Human, covers improvisation.  He states, “[t]he first principle of improvisation – hearing others- hinges on attunement, leaving our own perspective to inhabit the perspective of another.”

Attunement means to be in harmony with another person. In the video above you have the blending of two diverse instruments into a unique composition.  To  accomplish this each performer must pay close attention to what the other is doing.  While one is improvising the other is playing a complementary role.

Pink notes that “few of us, in fact, do listen well. For many of us, the opposite of talking isn’t listening.  Its waiting.”  Ouch.  That’s me.

In the book, Pink describes describes an improvisation activity called “amazing silence.”  In it one person reveals something very important to another person.  The second person must make eye contact the entire time but must wait 15 seconds before responding verbally.

If you’ve never tried this give it a try.  Use the comments section to tell me how it goes.