Posts Categorized: Performance Improvement


Worthwhile’s Anita Sharpe mentioned productivity measures and how the US Government measures output instead of real productivity. Anita quotes Kevin Kelly (10 Rules for the New Economy) :

"Any job that can be measured for productivity probably should be eliminated from the list of jobs that people do. . .Where humans are most actively engaged with their imaginations, we don’t see productivity gains — and why should we? Is a Hollywood movie company that produces longer movies per dollar more productive that one that produces shorter movies?" 

A similar question came up at Nine Shift on whether "productivity is no longer a valid measurement".  Dan Pink sees the world moving from an Industrial/Information economy towards a Creative Economy. These new economic conditions, created by Asia, Automation and Abundance will require "right-brain" skills in design, synthesis and empathy. If you agree with Pink, which I do, then it becomes obvious that industrial era measurements will be useless in the next economy.
Unfortunately, most measures of creativity are not as clear-cut as those for more technical and physical skills. In the interim, we will have a mismatch between what is measured and what really matters.

Solving Tough Problems

Solving Tough Problems by Adam Kahane is a short book with a powerful message. It is a series of stories about Kahane’s progress from an analytical researcher with a degree in physics to an internationally-recognized facilitator of participatory problem solving. I picked up this book in Montreal last week and later noticed that Kahane is originally from Montreal. He tells the story of his early work with Shell and the likes of Peter Senge and then the eye-opening Mont Fleur sessions in South Africa just prior to the end of apartheid. A major theme in the book is how to overcome "apartheid" thinking:

My analysis also allowed me to recognize a widespread "apartheid syndrome". By this I mean trying to solve a highly complex problem using a piecemeal, backward-looking, and authoritarian process that is suitable only for solving simple problems. In this syndrome, people at the top of a complex system try to manage its development through a divide-and-conquer strategy: through compartmentalization – the Africaans word apartheid means "apartness" – and command and control. Because the people at the bottom resist these commands, the syndrome either becomes stuck, or ends up becoming unstuck by force.

At just under 150 pages, this is a short book but one that I will read many times over. The main lesson for me so far is that it is necessary to focus on listening, and that many answers are already there; we just have to relax and let them come to us. I see learning in the same way – when the learner is ready, the teacher will appear. As Kahane says, "If we want to help resolve complex situations, we have to get out of the way of situations that are resolving themselves".

This way of approaching complex problems has worked, but requires a shift in approach, much like Dan Pink’s A Whole New Mind. This is where we don’t actually let go of our left brain analytical processes, but park them in order to open up our right brain conceptualization and feeling abilities. Here is some advice from Kahane’s colleague at Shell, Alain Wouters:

There is not "a" problem out there that we can react to and fix. There is a "problem situation" of which each of us is a part, the way an organ is part of a body. We can’t see the situation objectively: we can just appreciate it subjectively. We affect the situation and it affects us. The best we can do is to engage with it from multiple persectives, and try, in action-learning mode, to improve it. It’s more like unfolding a marriage than it is like fixing a car."

I strongly recommend this book for anyone working in groups, meetings, committees or any other form of social organisation.

Seeing What’s Next

I had previously written about Clayton Christensen, author of The Innovator’s Dilemma and The Innovator’s Solution, and more recently Seeing What’s Next. This last book gives new business entrants (upstarts) and incumbents a theory-based set of tools to understand and use disruptive innovations. One of the strategies for upstarts is to target non-core customers of the incumbents. These come in three categories (overshot, undershot and non-customers) and by targeting these customers entrants can avoid direct confrontation, while developing skills and expertise in areas outside the core business of the incumbents. Once the entrants have grown "under the radar", they can grow to directly confront the incumbents.

Roger Kaufman has reviewed the book from the perspective of a human performance technologist (HPT) in April’s Performance Quarterly. Kaufman states:

This book, which is not written by HPT professionals, brings powerful illustrative value to our field. I highly recommend it, as it will stimulate your thoughts – and likely your actions. Seeing What’s Next is about one way for organizations and individuals to cope with the future.

I have been stimulated to take some of this book’s ideas and create the following graphical representation of how an upstart company should look at the "Signals of Change", especially from non-market conditions. Upstarts should use their asymetrical sword & shield and focus on non-consumers and overshot customers, such as those paying too much for what they really need (think bloated word processing applications where customers use only 20% of the features). By avoiding the cash cows (Undershot Customers) of the incumbents, upstart companies can develop asymetrical skills in new fields before the incumbents know what hits them (think Voice over IP and traditional telcos).

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.