HPT-Partnerships


resolver

This article is a great example of the need to include all levels of employees.  It shows that you get better results when include frontliners in the process of identifying and resolving performance issues.  I want to emphasize the role of the supervisor in this process.  Notice the process begins when “a supervisor facilitates the team to define a performance issue that is under the team’s control.”

Its not the Training department or the performance specialist who initiates the effort.  Its the supervisor.  This is evidence of an organization that is committed to performance improvement. The days of centralized training and performance improvement are long gone.  Markets and workplaces move too quickly to rely on a separate department to identify and address performance issues.

In other words, performance improvement is a mindset.  It’s either in an organization’s DNA or it isn’t. I’ve been doing this long enough to know that all the collaboration and development from the Training department (which is where the performance improvement specialist is often assigned) cannot change an organization’s culture all alone.  Supervisors and their upline have to make it a priority and look for opportunities to improve.

How do you instill this mindset?  First, performance improvement has to be a part of the everyday conversation.  Below are some questions you can ask regularly to get the conversation started.

  • What can we do better?
  • What are we missing?
  • Who else can we ask about this?
  • Where are your pain points?

The second thing to do is let down your guard.  Humility and a willingness to accept feedback takes practice.  Supervisors have to demonstrate this on a regular basis.  The best feedback hurts a little.  Sometimes it hurts a lot.  A little short-term pain is worth it if you really want to perform at a higher level.

Third, learn.  There is a direct link between learning and growth.  When a person stops learning or loses the desire to learn personal growth stagnates.  The same thing happens to an organization.  There is no shortage of things to learn in an organization.  There is a risk that you might be focused on the wrong thing to learn about.  It won’t take long to find out what is worth learning about and what isn’t.

Finally, maximize the resources you have.  Expertise is everywhere.  You just have to look for it.  Despite their day-to-day responsibilities, most people have skills that are un-utilized or under-utilized.  Tap those resources.  Many times you will find skills and perspectives you never would have known about.  A hidden benefit to this is increasing the satisfaction of the employee.  We all toil away at our job doing work we have to do to keep the operation running.  Giving someone a break to do something different feels like a reward.  For a few hours or days they get to do something they really love and are good at doing.  At the end, make sure to recognize their efforts.  That will motivate others and motivate others to share ideas to improve.

As you can see from the description above, performance improvement can become self-sustaining.  Employees have to feel that the people they report to are interested in their perspective and willing to act.  Once this gathers momentum the culture of an organization will change.  This sounds scary but it doesn’t have to be.  The change I am talking about is the atmosphere in the workplace.  Organization-wide performance improvement is empowering.  It puts a spring in people’s step.  It breeds confidence. It make people happy at home and at work.  Who doesn’t want that?

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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.

Helping the Medicine Go Down

I am constantly amazed at the amount of inconvenience and under performance people are willing to put up with.  At any given time in an organization there are performance issues being neglected or ignored.  I’m not referring to issues that are temporary.  I’m referring to significant systemic issues that will persist and eventually become unavoidable.

One example of this is temporary vacancies.  Every organization had a vacancy, has a vacant position, or will have vacancy.  Its a fact of life in a large organization.  People come and people go.  It often seems that supervisors would rather act like the vacancy does not exist or let other people pick up the extra workload rather than develop a coverage plan until the position is filled.  I can’t explain why this phenomenon exists because it goes against my nature to let this kind of issue go unaddressed (which is why I’m writing this post).

These types of issues performance issues persist because the perceived consequences of ignoring the problem are less than the benefits of resolving the problem.  However, there are hidden consequences to these types of issues.  Ignoring a problem undermines morale.  It creates conflict.  It causes people to question their upline supervisor.

My job title is Organizational Performance Specialist.  My background and training is in performance improvement.  I have a master’s degree in instructional design.  My employer hired me to identify and address issues like this.  My job is not to intervene and fix the problem.  My job is to come along side the stakeholders and work out a solution.  The first step is for the stakeholders to realize something is not working and must be addressed.  My advice is to stop and take your medicine.  Its not always pleasant.  It might even make the problem seem worse but in the long run its the right thing to do.

ISPI publishes a weekly digest of news and information for performance improvement consultants.  Last week they published their top stories for 2011.  Over the next few days I will feature my thoughts on those I feel are particularly noteworthy.
Click here for my first entry.

One of the ironies of being an expert is that you often lose touch with what it is like to be a novice.

In October Harvard Business Review posted an article titled “The Best Approach to Training.”  With a title like that its bound to get a lot of hits.   While the article has value, its title is a little misleading.  Rather than focus on the latter I will focus on its virtues.
NOTE: I quote liberally from this article.  I am not trying to take credit for the author’s work.  Sometimes it is difficult to maintain a flow and quote the author fully.  This is more obvious in some places that others.

The setup: “Experts often are unable to articulate the many “obvious” (to them) things they do when carrying out a procedure or solving a problem.”  When tasked with training a new employee an expert tends to gloss over important information or steps because it has become second nature to them.  This actually makes the “trainee” more dependent on the expert/trainer, the exact opposite of what they set out to do.   As a result, the organization is not getting maximum productivity of either employee.

The diagnosis: According to the author, the common approach is to adopt an academically developed and tested technique to improve training and instruction that likely involves a resource-intensive task analysis.  This makes sense if you are documenting the minimum qualifications for a job, establishing performance criteria, and creating a training program. However, if you are simply training a new employee I believe you can accomplish more by getting him or her into the flow of the organization first.  After a short period of assimilation you can shift focus to mastering the individual tasks of their job.

The solution: “The best way to identify what experts do is to have them solve the problems or carry out the tasks in question and to require the expert to justify the steps he is taking as he takes them.”  This approach takes a macro-level view and enables the expert to consider the work holistically.  As a result, the resulting training bears a greater resemblance to the reality of day-to-day responsibilities.

An example:  The author asked experienced college physics instructors to create a set of problems — representing a part of the course — that a student in introductory physics should be able to solve if he or she “understood” that part of the course.

He then asked them to solve the problems and narrate their steps.  While they were talking he was “furiously” capturing their thoughts. In his words, “the instructors [often] had to stop and scratch their heads as they tried to provide a justification for their steps. The justifications in this case were rooted in laws of physics, but the relevant features or implications of the laws were things that the instructors had internalized or automated and they struggled to make them explicit to me.

The resulting solutions were of course quite lengthy and verbose, but they ultimately provide the raw material for guiding the construction of better worked examples and lecture materials for learners. I use the notes to then solve new problems with the expert available to help me when I don’t know what to do. Each time I reach an “impasse” I revise the notes. Ultimately, I reach a point where I can solve all problems the expert gives me.”

My thoughts: I have used this method and found it to be useful.  In fact, my most successful projects occur when I can think like the expert.  No one will confuse me for being an expert, but going through this process enables me to apply my skills to the subject matter and create relevant learning opportunities.  The challenge is coming up with the problems in a work setting.  In the end I don’t think this is approach is less cumbersome or resource intensive but the outcome is better.

Throughout its nearly 90 years of history, Hasbro has grown its business with iconic toys like Mr. Potato Head and acquisitions of well-known companies like Parker Brothers and Tonka.

In the 2000s, Hasbro “needed to refocus, shifting from acquisitions to nurturing the cadre of more than 1,000 brands in its portfolio with the goal of total brand immersion, including games, toys, entertainment and housewares.”

How did they do it?  By developing on internal talent.  In this article, we learn how this change in focus enabled Hasbro to identify and capitalize on new markets and strategies.  The approach they took could be right out of the ISPI handbook (if there was one).  Below are some highlights and my thoughts.

In 2003, the company, in partnership with the executive education program at Dartmouth’s Tuck School of Business, created the Hasbro Global Leadership Program to bolster the talent pipeline and provide opportunity for high potentials to expand their leadership roles. (ISPI standard #4)

To set the initial curriculum, Tuck professor Vijay Govindarajan, faculty director for the Hasbro program, worked closely with Hasbro’s leadership to identify skill gaps and plot where the company needed to go and the skills needed to get there.

Three things jump out at me here.  First, they had a vision for what they wanted to accomplish (ISPI standard #1 Focus on results).  It appears this was used to stay focused (plot where they needed to go).  Second, they identified skill gaps (ISPI standard #5).  This is huge.  I am sure most of the stakeholders had opinions about how to achieve the goal.  Taking a systematic and systemic approach is a much wiser course.  I hope they didn’t end there.  Identifying gaps in knowledge and attitudes is just as important.  Finally, they prioritized they skill gaps.  Focusing on skills that will achieve their goals will maintain momentum and reduce the likelihood of burnout.

So, what did they come up with?

Modules were mapped out to address global strategy, personal leadership, brand building, emerging markets and ethics. Specific modules included “Changing the Rules of the Global Game: Creating the Future,” “Developing Transcultural Competence,” “Emerging Markets: Challenges and Opportunities,” “What Got You Here Won’t Get You There” and “Building the Global Organization of the Future.”

To execute this plan they created “action learning teams.”  These teams would talk “about ways to stimulate out-of-season sales, such as promoting the games business at Easter, leveraging Kids Day in Latin America or Canada’s summer cottage season, or the cultural particulars of emerging markets. In some countries with low per-capita income, it is essential for parents to understand the educational benefits of play.”

Is this approach only good from a corporate perspective?

Of the more than 200 participants since the program started, nearly 20 percent have been promoted or taken on greater responsibilities.

HR will love this approach too because the retention rate of participants is around 90%.

Read the whole thing.  It will only take a few minutes.

A key word in this series is “design.”  It would be understandable for a person to ask “when is he going to get around to discussing design?”  I’m almost there.  Before I do, I want to review where we have been in previous posts.

Whenever an organization is dealing with a performance problem, the focus must be on results (ISPI standard #1).    You may think training is required.  You may discuss who is or is not doing what they’re supposed to do.  Some may suggest investing in new software or systems.  Resist these temptations.   Focusing your efforts on results will put your discussions into the right context.  This will enable you to collect the right information, understand the true cause of the problem, and come up with a solution that will achieve the desired results.

Focusing on improved results sets the tone for the entire effort.  You must also consider the situation or context (ISPI standard #2) and decide what resources are required to effectively achieve the desired results.  With a clear understanding of the context and the right people on the project (ISPI standard #4), it is time to do a detailed analysis of the problem (ISPI standard #5).  Your preliminary research and partnerships will help.  Throughout all of this, resist the temptation to draw conclusions too soon.  Patterns will emerge.  Solutions will seem appropriate and attractive.  Wait until you have all the data and have analyzed it before you draw conclusions.  Let the data reveal the true nature of the problem and what is causing it (ISPI standard #6).

I can’t tell you the number of times I have seen an organization decide training will solve a problem without any idea what results they are trying to achieve.  They see that something is going wrong so they automatically assume training will fix it.  What do you train on?  Who decides what the training should be about?  How will you know the participants got what they’re supposed to get?  To find the right answer you have to ask the right questions.  Here are some ideas to get started.

  • What are your expectations (be specific)?
  • What does “wrong” look like?
  • What does “right” look like?
  • Who is doing it “right?”
  • Why is this person doing it “right?”
  • Why can they do it “right” and others can’t?
  • How will we know we have achieved our goal?

This process does not have to take months to complete.  Depending on the scope of the situation, performance improvement can be achieved in weeks or possibly even days.  Do not automatically assume that this process will consume a lot of time and resources.  It is not unusual for this process to save money.

This is a time-tested approach to achieve a successful outcome.  It isn’t always glamorous, but it works.  With the review behind us, lets get on with the discussion of ISPI standard #7, design.

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?

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