Posts Categorized: Performance Improvement

Keep It Simple

Jay Cross talks about focusing performance improvement efforts on "worker effectiveness improvement, not KM" [knowledge management]. More and more people are disillusioned with large-scale KM, document management and ERP efforts, that force workers to comply with an imposed structure. I remember delaying the use of Goldmine in my last job, because I had my own system, and really did not want to realign my processes with an imposed one.

Perhaps the reason that blogs are popular, in spite of their limitations, is that they are easy to use, and there is no imposed structure. Many of us believe that our way is the best way, and need proof that doing otherwise would be beneficial. I find that blogging is becoming more and more about building my personal knowledge repository, while staying connected to wide-ranging conversation. As Jay states in his post:

KM should leverage natural processes, not try to change the basic ways things are accomplished.

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 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.

More on ASTD 2004

The best coverage so far on ASTD 2004 is from e-Clippings. These posts include an overview of Harold Stolovitch’s session, quoting Harold on the definition of "technology":

Technology is the application of organized and scientific knowledge to solve practical problems.

This is the correct definition of technology when applied to Human Performance Technology [my field] – which is NOT about information technology, but solving problems in an applied way.

Performance versus Learning

Sometimes learning professionals (trainers, educators, instructional designers) get caught up in their own world. Here’s another reminder about what’s really important – performance. From e-clipping’s interview on collaborative technologies with Jay Cross:

I made up the word elearning because I wanted to highlight learning, but I don’t think learning is at the head of the train.
It is performance that is at the head of the train and only a fool would expect to get results from the technology alone.
It is the technology in support of key organizational goals that is key, and that involves incentives, leadership, innovation, esprit de corps….and this is all mixed in together.
As a matter of fact I’d be somewhat sceptical of any company that would highlight their intense [use] of collaboration technologies if they left out "What is important to us is to serve our customers and this is how we go about it".

Lean, Six Sigma & HPT

Mark Lauer explains in May’s PerformanceXpress how human performance technology (HPT) is closely linked to Lean Manufacturing methodology. He shows the direct connections between Lean’s six elements, and the performance standards for HPT professionals.

We are all fellow travelers on the performance improvement road. We bring to the table a long dedication to human performance improvement and expertise that is not at conflict with theirs but is a perfect complement to it. We are all comrades in arms.

Whether it be Lean Manufacturing, Six Sigma or HPT; there are enough similarities in methodologies that we can easily work together. Another comparison, between HPT and Six Sigma, was recently published by Darlene Van Tiem, of the University of Michigan.

Six Sigma can benefit from HPT?��Ǩ�Ѣs broader approaches incorporating theory and practice from a wider variety of fields. HPT, on the other hand, can benefit from Six Sigma?��Ǩ�Ѣs commitment to decisions based on evidence and its involvement with senior management.

It’s not how we help to improve organizational performance that’s important, it’s about making lasting changes that are important to our clients. A multidisciplinary approach makes more sense, and I will continue to learn from other methodologies.

Managing Projects

In The Problem, the Balloon, and the Four Bedroom House, the author discusses the critical component of project management – clearly understanding the problem and the expected results with everyone involved.

75% of the work of every successful project is completed in the initial stage. In other words, every project has a balloon phase. And if it doesn?��Ǩ�Ѣt happen at the beginning of the project, then you may get into some serious trouble.
The ?��Ǩ?�understanding?��Ǩ�� phase needs to provide you with the framework for the project. It should be assembled with all major stakeholders. And its purpose is to define the problem so you can design the solution. The 4 bedroom house.
On 13 March, 1999, Habitat for Humanity in New Zealand made the Guinness Book of Records. They constructed a four-bedroom house from scratch. It took a mere 3 hours, 44 minutes and 59 seconds. (I?��Ǩ�Ѣm sure there?��Ǩ�Ѣs a reality TV show in there somewhere, but I don?��Ǩ�Ѣt believe we need another one of those.) An incredible feat. The significant fact is that it took 14 months of planning to achieve.
The balloon was inflated at the correct end

I often refer to the "first rule of project management", which is – choose the right project. The balloon analogy is similar. If you don’t address all of the issues at the front end, then your project may balloon out of scope (and budget) in the middle, which is probably after you’ve negotiated the price. This is a great little article to remind us of many things that we probably already know about project management, but are worth reconfirming. The discussions are interesting, too.

Analysing Human Performance

Klaus Wittkuhn has written an excellent article on the systemic approach required in human performance analysis. This article appears in the March 2004 edition of "Performance Improvement" published by ISPI. The wealth of practical advice in PI is one more reason to become a member of ISPI (unabashed promotion here).

Wittkuhn discusses an aspect of performance analysis that has been bothering me for a while – how can you take a systemic approach when there are overlapping systems as well as multiple sub-systems in any organisation? Where do you start and where do you finish?

Wittkuhn discusses the idea of emerging properties (e.g. the whole is more than the sum of the parts) but also provides a template for intervention, that is practical but considerate of the fact that you cannot engineer human performance. Human performance is an emergent property of an organisation, and is affected by multiple variables.

Witthuhn’s approach for improving performance is to first address what he calls the "Steering Elements". These "ensure that the right product is delivered at the right time to the right place", and include – Management, Customer Feedback, Consequences, Expectations and Feedback.

Once the steering elements have been addressed, then look at the "Enabling Elements" – Management (again), Design, Resources and Support.

Only after the steering and enabling elements (the non-human factors) have been aligned, should you look at work performance. The rationale here is that it is only within an optimized system that we can expect optimal human performance. As Wittkuhn states:

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.

This is the most succinct operationalization of performance technology that I have yet read, and I hope that it also makes sense to you. If not, please comment.

Learning in Healthcare

One of my performance improvement projects last year was with a Montreal area hospital. We looked at the performance requirements around the adoption of a new nursing methodology. This methodology focuses on learning as the primary function of nursing care – learning for the patient, the family and the community. Health care organisations should be the epitome of learning organisations, but many are stuck in their disciplinary "silos", as well as command and control training programs. Kim Vicente’s book, The Human Factor, highlights some of these issues in healthcare.

The need for continuous learning is reflected in a recent report on a nonprofit community medical centre in the US. As the director of education, Dr. Anne-Marie Sawyer, states:

Beyond new technology and learning methods, changes have come in the philosophy of education, Sawyer says.
"We’re really encouraging people to think about not just their everyday work life but their life as lifelong learning. It never ends."
A willingness to learn is "what’s going to get people through the 21st century," she says.
That extends to the patient.
Accurate knowledge "allows people to act on their own behalf when they need to enter a health care system. It enables them to ask intelligent questions, to know where to go for information, to evaluate if they’re in the right place and satisfied with (the treatment that’s) been given to them," Sawyer says.

Via Online Learning Update

Performance Improvement Certificate

There is finally some formal training/education in the field of performance improvement available in Canada. From CSTD news feed is this article on a program being offered by Fanshawe College and Seneca College, both in Ontario. From the joint course description:

Training can be the most expensive of performance improvement options. It is also among the most frequently and inappropriately used, and without performance support in the workplace, is a highly perishable investment.
The number one workplace complaint compromising job satisfaction is poor systems and processes: 94% of employees flagged this issue in studies conducted by W. Edwards Deming, father of Total Quality Management. By contrast, training and professional development solutions address skill and knowledge gaps almost exclusively.

All I can say is that it’s about time, but what about Atlantic Canada? Is anyone willing to get a program going on the East coast?

Better than Bloom?

A recent Google search for "Bloom’s taxonomy" reveals over 50,000 hits.
After almost 50 years, Bloom’s taxonomy is still being used by educators and trainers as a pedagogical tool for the analysis of learning objectives. Originally designed as a method for the development of test questions, the six levels of the cognitive domain (knowledge, comprehension, application, analysis, synthesis, and evaluation) have become almost standard in the "learning business".

I used Bloom’s taxonomy about ten years ago, while developing an estimate for the cost of CBT development.
We assumed that the higher the level, the higher would be the cost. With hundreds of performance objectives, we quickly reduced the six levels to three, but I now realise that there could have been many other ways to address the problem.

For instance, in Problems With Bloom?��Ǩ�Ѣs Taxonomy, Brenda Sugrue states that Bloom’s taxonomy is invalid, unreliable and impractical. According to Sugrue, the six levels of Bloom?��Ǩ�Ѣs taxonomy for the cognitive domain " … are not supported by any research on learning." Basically the taxonomy was a "best guess" by some knowledgeable educators of the time. The six levels make for nice matrices and provide a simple tool for analysis and evaluation, but Sugrue shows an even more effective way to create a Content-Performance matrix. Sugrue is not the only person who considers Bloom’s taxonomy pass?ɬ�. Another critic of the taxonomy is Robert Lewis, Professor of Knowledge Technology at Lancaster University.

Unfortunately, old chestnuts like Bloom’s taxonomy stay around longer than they should, because after a while we take them for granted. Every once in a while, it’s good to take a long, hard look at our practices, and make sure that we are using proven methods, and not second-rate tools.