Posts Categorized: Performance Improvement

Learning through Blogging

When you write a blog, your thoughts and comments, right or wrong, stay online for a long time. In reviewing what I have been jabbing about for the past year, I’ve pieced together some of my previous conclusions – warts & all:

Starting with learning in general:

It seems pretty clear; the basic unit of learning is the person. This person is indivisible. All learning activities, products and strategies must be centered around the person. We can then go on to develop environments for many people, but the individual is the building block – not the learning object, the course, the programme, or the institution. All of these are temporary organisations that the individual may use, or be part of.

And moving on to learning at work:

My conclusion for a while has been that knowledge cannot be managed, and neither can knowledge workers. It will take a new social contract between workers and organisations in order to create an optimally functioning enterprise. Adding management and technology won’t help either. This is the crux of everything in the new "right-sized, lean, innovative, creative" economy – getting the right balance between the organisational structure and the knowledge workers.


Training without clear performance objectives, that are relevant to each learner, is useless.

And on the positive side:

What’s exciting about workflow learning is that the technology has caught up to some of the theory, and the globalized economy is making workflow learning (or something resembling it) a necessity.

Not only possible, but cheap:

An organisation’s entire KM effort could start with simple technologies. It could provide a blog to everyone, letting workers blog as they wanted. RSS aggregators could keep an eye on blogs of interest, and maybe even a blog rating system could be included in the performance management system. Yes, the better writers would get better rankings, but so would those who solve problems. A bottom-up approach to KM, at a minimal cost, makes a lot more sense than betting that some centralized system, with a huge training bill, will solve all of our problems.


What I like best about open source is that the development process is a real meritocracy, much like being an entrepreneur. In small business, if you don’t deliver, you can’t make an honest living.

And finally:

Informal learning, facilitated by the likes of blogs & wikis, works well for general education, and for continued learning outside of the "classroom". Informal learning (education in the broadest sense) is messy by its very nature. Training, such as how to drive a car, can use a more scientific method to
optimize training time, achieve the desired performance and reduce the risk of accidents. Training and education can even use the same tools, like simulations, but not the same approach. Education and training are complementary, but distinct.

Still a work in progress 😉

The Relevance of Grades

Are you a teacher, educator or trainer? What kind of evaluation method does your organisation use? Which one makes more sense to you?

Behavior-based grades = grades based on irrelevant behavior-related criteria.

Outcomes-based grades = grades based on knowledge competencies and what one has learned.

From Nine Shift, are a number of critical posts on the state of Western education.

Performance Technology – the missing piece

This week at the LearnNB quarterly meeting the key area of focus was gaming, especially Serious Gaming. The interest in gaming reminds me of the interest in online learning around 1997. I think that e-learning, however you define it, and serious gaming, however you define that too, each have their place – as possible interventions for improved performance.

However, there is still a lack of pertinent discussion around the essential component in this whole business – analysis, or figuring out what solution is best. We have to better understand how we get from perceived problem to viable solution when dealing with human performance. How do we go from, "Our sales staff aren’t producing" to "let’s use the sales simulation game". ISPI provides a venue for those discussions, but sometimes it’s a voice in the wilderness.

Another source of information is Jay Cross, with workflow learning, based on some of the principals and theories of HPT. Jay recently highlighted some excellent presentations from Training 2005, and Harold Stolovitch’s handout is a great aide-memoire for any HPT practitioner. You have to have some background in the field to decipher these notes, as the detailed explanation is lacking, but just the section on feedback is well worth reading. Feedback is often misunderstood, and frequently misused. Jay also refers to a Rummler-Brache white paper on business defragmentation (neat term), in this post. As anyone in the field knows, Geary Rummler has advanced much of our praxis.

Until we extend performance analysis into the everyday business workplace, we will continue to chase after each new performance tool. Every tool has its place, but good diagnostics, based on validated theory & practice, will help to make real progress in improving performance.

CSTD Learning Innovations Symposium

For the first time, the Canadian Society for Training & Development (CSTD) will be holding its Symposium outside of Ontario. The 2005 Learning Innovations Symposium will be held in Fredericton on 16 & 17 May. We expect an intimate gathering of about 200 attendees and another 200 or so for the live webcasts. The event will be digitally archived. The host agency is LearnNB, of which I’m a member and I will be presenting, with my colleague Albert Lejeune, two sessions, one French & one English, on a case study of a healthcare project that we did with my partner company, Mancomm Performance.

Apprentissage et communautique en services de sant?ɬ�

En 2003-2004, l?��Ǩ�Ѣ?ɬ�quipe Mancomm Performance a collabor?ɬ�, avec le Centre hospitalier Pierre-Le Gardeur (Lachenaie, QC), ?ɬ� la mise en place d?��Ǩ�Ѣun cours en ligne pour les infirmi?ɬ�res portant sur l?��Ǩ�Ѣapproche McGill, ainsi qu?��Ǩ�Ѣ?ɬ� la cr?ɬ�ation de communaut?ɬ�s de praticiens. Depuis l?��Ǩ�Ѣanalyse de la performance au travail jusqu?��Ǩ�Ѣ?ɬ� la livraison sur des plateformes MOODLE et MAMBO (logiciels libres), l?��Ǩ�Ѣ?ɬ�quipe a travaill?ɬ� ?ɬ�troitement avec le personnel hospitalier au moyen d?��Ǩ�Ѣontologies de domaine. Dans cette s?ɬ�ance, vous allez :

  • Apprendre comment faire une analyse de performance avant de recommander l?��Ǩ�Ѣapprentissage en ligne
  • Comprendre l?��Ǩ�Ѣimportance des ontologies dans la cr?ɬ�ation des bases de connaissances.
  • Comprendre les b?ɬ�n?ɬ�fices des logiciels libres pour le support ?ɬ� la performance.
  • Comprendre la m?ɬ�thodologie, DECLICK, utilis?ɬ�e par l?��Ǩ�Ѣ?ɬ�quipe.

eLearning and Communities of Practice in Healthcare

During 2003 ?��Ǩ��� 2004, Mancomm Performance Inc worked with the Pierre LeGardeur Hospital in the Montreal area to implement online learning for nurses as they adopted the new McGill nursing care methodology, as well as the creation of virtual communities of practice for social workers. From the initial performance analyses conducted on the hospital wards, to the implementation of the open source Moodle and Mambo technology systems, the consultants worked closely with the hospital staff in the development of their knowledge base, using domain ontologies.

  • Learn about the need to conduct a performance analysis prior to recommending any e-learning intervention
  • Learn how ontologies can help with the creation of shared professional knowledge bases
  • Learn about the benefits of using open source software for workplace performance support
  • Learn about the DECLICK methodology developed by the Mancomm team

Other guests include Clark Aldrich, Jay Cross and Stephen Downes. The price is very reasonable [as low as $(CA) 299 or $(US)247] and you can get a discount on CSTD membership as well. Hope to see you there.

Architecture for a better future

Dave Pollard produces more thought-provoking articles than almost anyone else on the Web. I have used his Natural Enterprise model to inform my own work in developing better business models for small businesses, and now Dave has started to put many of his ideas together in his latest post, Creating a Post-Civilization Culture. His framework consists of four components – Principles, Learning, Enablers & Infrastructure. The premise is that,

With the right principles that can guide our decisions, the learnings to build the new culture properly, and the enabling building blocks, we can create the infrastructure that embodies the new culture.

This framework, coupled with Robert Paterson‘s narrative on the next Reformation, could sow the seeds for some grassroots action. It may be just what we need at the local level to address our own community’s sustainabilty issues.

Jay on Workflow

Jay Cross has posted his recent article, co-authored with Tony O’Driscoll, in Training MagazineWorkflow Learning Gets Real. Workflow learning is the next step in the transition from apprenticeship to instructor-led training and now to workflow learning, which incorporates many of the principles of performance-centred design, but now within a networked environment. If you’re in the business of training, consider this:

If the training organization in every company evaporated into thin air or disappeared through a wormhole to teaching heaven, individuals would continue to learn.

Incorporating the current reality, where anyone can be connected with almost everyone, at any time, Jay says:

As we enter an age of informal and workflow learning, authority is less centralized than ever before. "Learning is best understood as an interaction among practitioners, rather than a process in which a producer provides knowledge to a consumer," says Etienne Wenger, a social researcher and champion of communities of practice.

So if you’re still in the "training" business, you had better get focused on the "performance" business very quickly. The workflow approach incorporates learning directly into work, not as a separate activity. I see this as the intersection of process & system design, cognition and especially social behaviour. In other words, how people work, learn and interact – all at the same time and in a messy and very human way.


Analysing Performance at Work

I listened to a report on the radio this morning about presenteeism, defined as "the practice of always being present at the workplace, often working longer hours even when there is nothing to do." Once again, there seemed to be a focus on how to deal with the individual who has a problem, or the manager who cannot manage his or her workers. Little was said about systemic issues, such as the hierarchy that exists in most workplaces that forces many people to comply and park their brains at the door.
I previously quoted a fellow performance improvement practitoner, Klaus Wittkuhn, on the importance of initial work system design:

It is not an intelligent strategy to train people to overcome system deficiencies. Instead, we should design the system properly to make sure that the performers can leverage all their capabilities.

One of the models that I use is based on Mager & Pipe’s classic reference book, Analysing Performance Problems, which provides a step by step approach to finding out what the real work performance issue is, and how to deal with it. Based on this book, I have developed my own graphic, which shows some of the basic steps that you can take before jumping to conclusions on how to deal with problems like presenteeism.

For the Toolbox

As a new Training Development Officer (TDO) in the Canadian military, I was told by the more experienced officers to build my own "TDO Toolkit". This was to be a selection of templates and job aids to help me with my future employment. TDO’s were mostly responsible for ensuring quality control of training programs, and many of us worked as the lone training specialist in an organisation.

Much of my work involved the development of new job specifications, followed by the creation of training standards for personnel who worked on some aspect of our newly purchased helicopter.

One of the tools that we used was DIF (difficulty, importance, frequency) analysis in determining if we needed to develop training on a specific task. In my first year on the helicopter project, I had to examine several hundred tasks for training suitability. The diagram below shows you a quick & dirty way that this can be done. This is the simple diagram, and there is also a more detailed version that we used, which I can post if there is any interest.

This diagram surfaced as I was preparing a proposal and I thought that someone else might want it for their toolkit. I’ll post some more as I get some time to create digital graphics in SmartDraw.

Practice & Feedback

Albert Ip makes a point that practice does not make perfect.

My daughter’s swimming coach puts it very well: "Practice makes your stroke permanent. If you practise bad technique, you just become a more efficient bad swimmer with the bad stroke. It is even more difficult to unlearn the bad strokes."

At an HPT workshop given by ISPI, one of the facilitators told a story about his daughter, who was a gymnastics instructor. This is the story as I remember it. Her main method of teaching was to provide only positive encouragement after each attempt, without criticism. Just before the next attempt, she would give some corrective advice, like "keep your elbows tucked in this time". This method seemed to work quite well.

She took leave from this role, and was replaced by another instructor who believed in immediate feedback. Most other aspects of the program remained the same. After a year of receiving immediate feedback, the gymnasts’ performance was much worse, and some left the program.

The program went into decline.

Many of us in the training and education profession have been told about the merits of immediate feedback, but this one example has stuck with me over the past two years, and I even try to use it with my children. Don’t give criticism, or ways to improve, until the person has the chance to try it again. If you received negative feedback, without being able to show that you could do it better, you would only feel bad about your performance. This makes sense to me anyway.

I still believe that the only way to develop a skill is through practice and feedback, however when and how the feedback is given is extremely important.

The Talent Myth

In a recent ChangeThis manifesto, Malcolm Gladwell, author of The Tipping Point, states that "The talent myth assumes that people make organizations smart. More often than

not, it’s the other way around." He cites Enron and WorldCom has examples of the continuing quest for the best individual talent gone awry; while Southwest Airlines and Wal*Mart are companies

with inclusive, and more effective business cultures. This search for individuals with star potential, at the expense of the organisation, is what Gladwell calls the "Talent Myth".

They were there looking for people who had the talent to think outside the box. It never occurred to them that, if everyone had to think outside the box, maybe it was the box that needed fixing.

To me, this is just another example of businesses grabbing on to the latest management gimmick to solve all of their problems. It also shows how human performance technology would have been a better approach for these companies in managing their workforce. HPT looks at the alignment between the culture and business operations, as well as the role of individuals within the system. As James Hite describes HPT, " …human performance is placed in context along with other subsystems that constitute the presence of the organization." It’s the relationship between individual performers (especially the "stars") and all of the other components that has to be examined and understood. Or as Earl Mardle says, "Effective Executives are not a product that we can make, but an emergent property of correctly functioning organisations."

Gladwell’s stories of narcissistic star candidates, many being paid more than they were worth, are interesting to view from a performance analysis perspective. A cursory look would show that this misalignment of rewards and consequences could cause systemic problems. HPT may not be glamorous, but it works.