Posts Categorized: Performance Improvement

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.

Building Alternatives

Robert Paterson said it a while back, and Brian Alger just mentioned it. I’m referring to this statement made by Rob:

I am beginning to think that this may be the great work – to build the alternatives rather than to try and reform the existing system.

I think that this is a wonderful mission statement – To build alternatives rather than to try and reform existing systems. I know that we have systemic problems in politics, academia and health care, to name a few. Instead of trying to tweak these systems, it may be more fruitful to build alternatives that can serve as examples. This does not mean destroying the existing system (as some may argue that managerial capitalist systems can do this all on their own) but creating prototypes for experimentation and learning. It’s kind of like early American democracy that showed many other people how it could work.

Performance Improvement Resources

I’ve re-posted this as a reference for the audience of the session on Human Performance Technology that I presented to NBCC. You can also follow the Performance Improvement taxonomy links for my comments on this field of practice.

If you’re in the training business, and want to broaden your horizons, take a look at performance improvement. Here are two good resources for short articles on performance improvement. PI helps you link business needs with the appropriate learning or training solution. It also provides you with tools to ensure that training does not become the "one size fits all" solution for any human performance issue.

PerformanceExpress is published monthly by ISPI. On the bottom of the navigation bar is a link to back issues.

Harold Stolovitch publishes HSA Express and Performance. I like the April 2003 article on 10 low cost performance improvement solutions, for example:

  • Clean up performance expectations.
  • Develop feedback systems.
  • Create performance support systems.
  • Design simple and effective job aids.
  • Eliminate tasks that interfere with job performance.

Typology Maps for Learning

I have referred to Don Clark’s site many times over the years, as it’s a great resource for instructional design and educational theories. I recently noticed that he has updated it with typology maps, some under construction, so you can watch them evolve. Check out Big Dog and Little Dog’s Bowl of Biscuits and see for yourself. I like the Performance Typology Map.

Now wouldn’t it be nice to have a wikipedia of typology maps that could be collaboratively developed?

Training Basics

From the T&D Blog, here is a review of some basic principles of training from a performance technology perspective:

Dr. Seth Leibler, CEO of the
CEP, says organizations should evaluate their training based on these criteria:

  1. Training is viewed as the right solution only if the cause of a problem is a lack of skill or knowledge. Training is not automatically developed as the solution for every performance problem.
  2. All training requests are analyzed to ensure the right solutions are developed and implemented. In addition to training, all the potential causes for underperformance are addressed: skill, motivational, and environmental resource and supports.
  3. Practice situations in training match the actual on-the-job conditions as closely as possible (It?��Ǩ�Ѣs why off-the-shelf training generally is ineffective.)
  4. Learners receive immediate feedback after each practice to reinforce what is done correctly and coaching on what to do differently.
  5. Skill checks ensure that learners master all essential skills needed to perform to job expectations before leaving training.
  6. On-the-job reference tools (job aids) are developed to provide essential information to performers who only need a reminder of how to do a task.

I slightly disagree with #4, as some research shows that it’s better to provide feedback just before the next practice attempt, as opposed to after the previous one. This way the learner can put into practice the correct behaviour/skill immediately after the feedback is provided.

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Strategic Planning for Educational Organisations

I like to use system models when analysing an organisation, especially for strategic planning purposes. This  system model is based on models by Geary Rummler and Roger Kaufman.

I developed this model as a means of communicating with educational institutions. It’s not comprehensive but it gets the conversation flowing. I’m always interested in finding graphical metaphors for the way we work and learn.