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 was reflecting on how I measure success this morning as I was reviewing an announcement for a new promotion.  In the announcement we wanted to provide background information, build enthusiasm, and remind recipients of a new process.  With such a variety of information success could be measured many ways.  From a training standpoint there is only one measure that matters, execution.

My part in ensuring successful execution was making sure the message was communicated clearly.  Other people put the promotional elements together but I took responsibility for compiling the right information and assembling it in a succinct message.

I firmly believe in brevity.  Some would say I am too brief.  I can live with that.  However, if the recipients do not understand what is expected of them your plan will not achieve its expectations.  Nothing will undermine enthusiasm faster than poor execution and nothing is more frustrating finding out you did not communicate the right information.  I can tell you from experience.

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.

Chief Learning Officer magazine profiled Susan Burnett, Yahoo’s senior vice president of talent and organization development.  In it Barnett tells of when she asked herself “how learning becomes an engine for business growth, business transformation, not a transactional process.”  Apparently she did not get an answer overnight.

  • At Deloitte she created “a new talent development strategy for the firm, one with an integrated learning and development process to be delivered at Deloitte University.”
  • At Gap, Inc. she “she built the company’s first succession and career development system and refined the leadership pipeline by defining competencies and experiences needed to produce business and personal success at each level in the organization.”
  • “In her last role at HP as chief learning officer, Burnett was responsible for organization effectiveness and pulled together more than 75 training and organization development groups globally from pre-merger Compaq to create a loose federation of employees committed to developing a competitive workforce.”

What is she doing at Yahoo!?

The first plan Burnett put in place at Yahoo! was an internal development program, Leading Yahoos, an organization development and learning initiative for all leaders — a targeted 2,000 employees. The goal is to engage leadership teams in a development experience that increases effectiveness at setting measurable goals and metrics for results, creating a personal leadership brand and a development plan based on feedback, coaching for accountability, leading the new beliefs that will enable breakthroughs and leading alignment up, down and across the organization.

The two things I emphasized in the paragraph above are noteworthy because they align with two of ISPI’s performance standards.  First, because the focus is on results (ISPI’s first performance improvement standard).  Second, the goals are measurable.  ISPI’s tenth performance standard is evaluation of the results.  You can’t evaluate the results if you don’t have a mechanism for measurement.

David Windley, chief human resources officer at Yahoo!, says “The most powerful parts of this program are how we’ve developed team beliefs and an alignment of objectives on how to change the culture and behavior of teams to execute against goals, goals we didn’t have in place before, as a team.”

So, is it working?

Leading Yahoos participants have higher employee engagement scores on career development by 9 percent compared to their peers who have yet to complete the program, by 6 percent for performance and accountability and 5 percent for decision making and manager effectiveness.

The results listed above are an investment in future growth.  To realize the growth potential people must buy into the program.  This requires trust in leadership and in each other.  Apparently Yahoo! stakeholders believe in what Barnett is doing.

Blake Irving, head of products, is using Leading Yahoos to drive the product changes he wants to drive as he develops the vision and design of Yahoo!’s global consumer and advertiser portfolio. The collaboration this brings to his team is imperative to Yahoo!’s success. You drive transformational change through human beings interacting with each other and building trust and confidence in the strategy and new direction.

In chapter 6 of his book Designing Successful E-learning, Michael Allen describes 4 elements that contribute to effective instructional design.

Meaningful learning experiences

If the content is not meaningful to the individual, the learning will not be able to assist in the learning process.

Notice his perspective here.  Dr. Allen views the learner as a partner in learning not merely a consumer of content.

The learning will have trouble maintaining focus, practicing sufficiently, and being able to apply learning outcomes if any occur.

Does anyone set out to create learning that is so boring that it can’t keep their audience’s attention?  Of course not.  But if you can’t keep their attention how can you expect them to attain the learning goals?  My advice, don’t take your learner’s attention for granted.  Consider what aspect of the content is important to them and use that to gain their attention.  Once you have earned their attention you can focus on other aspects they may not be as interested in or aware of.

Memorable learning experiences

Learning activities must make a lasting imprint on the learner if behavior subsequent to instruction and posttests is to be improved.  Is there sufficient impact, perhaps through imagery, surprise, amazement, practice, or other devices to help learners retain what they’ve learned?

That sets the bar pretty high from what I have seen in e-learning.  Have you thought of surprising or amazing learners with e-learning?  What would that look like?  Dr. Allen points out that this “isn’t just about novelty.”  Surprising someone may be memorable but it doesn’t translate to learning.

Motivational learning experiences

Learners must have motivation to learn, or they won’t, and learners must have motivation to transfer their learning to actual performance, or they won’t.

How often do we ask if our participants are motivated to learn?  We assume they are, but are they?  What will motivate a person to apply what they’ve learned?  They’ve completed the lessons.  They’ve passed the test.  They’ve earned their continuing education credits.  But will they change how they do their work?  Will they think differently?

Measurable results

Although the 3 Ms provide design direction, they are just the means to the Big M; what we really want is measurably improved performance that begets needed results.  We’re not talking just about posttest scores here, but an authentic ability to perform more effectively after training.

Dr. Allen is making a big assumption when he writes that everyone reading his book wants measurably improved performance.  If you adhere to ISPI’s performance standards then you understand the importance of measurable performance.  If this is a new concept for you, read here.

…many well-educated instructional designers who have not worked with interactive technologies attempt to apply designs that don’t translate well from the classroom or text book to e-learning.  The medium really does demand different design decisions, and there are important skills to be mastered if one is to become a successful e-learning designer.

The quote above is from Michael Allen’s second book in his e-learning library.  These books are must-reads for anyone planning to create their own own e-learning, regardless of background, education, or experience.

The book provides a thoughtful overview of instructional design, complete with recommended reading and resources, a design methodology to focus on measurable results (ISPI standard #1), and a systematic approach that accounts for factors beyond learning outcomes and content, such as prior learning and expectations.

I guarantee this book will have a positive impact on your e-learning and traditional learning development.

There is so much I agree with packed into this post by Seth Godin.

The space matters

It might be a garage or a sunlit atrium, but the place you choose to do what you do has an impact on you.

More people get engaged in Paris in the springtime than on the 7 train in Queens. They just do. Something in the air, I guess.

Pay attention to where you have your brainstorming meetings. Don’t have them in the same conference room where you chew people out over missed quarterly earnings.

Pay attention to the noise and the smell and the crowd in the place where you’re trying to overcome being stuck. And as Paco Underhill has written, make the aisles of your store wide enough that shoppers can browse without getting their butts brushed by other shoppers.

Most of all, I think we can train ourselves to associate certain places with certain outcomes. There’s a reason they built those cathedrals. Pick your place, on purpose.

The first standard in human performance technology is “focus on results.”  Based on that standard the first question you should always ask yourself is, “What am I trying to accomplish?”  The second question should be, “How do I go about accomplishing it?”

Too many of us view our days as a series of items on our to-do list, measuring our success by the number of items we get crossed off the list.  Don’t go through your day blindly going from meeting to meeting, task to task, email to email.  Approach everything you with intentionality.  Be fully present.

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