The move towards performance in the workplace

performance

The word performance has many connotations but I think we can all agree that it indicates that you need to do something. To perform is an action word. In our daily lives, we have a number of ways in which we perform – if you’re an actor/actress you’re on stage in front of a crowd hopefully an adoring one. For those of us who are not physically on a literal stage, the “stage” is our lives. Many of us play a number of roles in our personal lives – wife, husband, father, mother, sister, brother, friend etc. Each role requires a different performance. We are expected to do something pertaining to that role and do it well by producing a favourable result.

Let’s apply this same concept to the workplace. At work, you have a title, belong to a department or business unit, have a job description which reflects your title and outline your duties and responsibilities for that role. In short, you are expected to perform and produce results for your department and company.

Consider this scenario:

Simone works in the sales department for Would Rather Play Merchandise Company as a sales representative. She uses a Customer Relationship Management system (CRM) called Salesforce. This is the main tool she uses as part of her daily duties. Although Simone is very familiar with Salesforce, at times she misses some key steps in the system whenever she completes a sale. The end result produces a transaction that is not complete. Simone has performance issues but how do we course correct? Is additional instruction the right solution for Simone?

Let’s analyze this situation a bit more. Salesforce is not a new technology for Simone as she’s been using it for some time. The problem is that she is not using it well. Additional instruction on the technology would be a waste of time. Another remedy would be more effective and efficient in this instance. A performance improvement remedy could be to provide a job aid for Simone for example a step-by-step procedure on how to use the technology. The guide is an easy point of reference that Simone can use to complete a transaction from start to finish. She can then fill in the gaps in her knowledge. Another remedy could be observation. A manager or a colleague could shadow Simone during a transaction to see what she’s doing wrong and provide guidance in real time.

Training is only one intervention in the performance improvement ecosystem. Depending on the problem, training may not be the best solution. It is the job of the Learning/Training & Development professional to analyze the situation and provide the most effective solution. At times the solution may call for a task redesign, more documentation or additional tools or equipment.

Organizations are moving away from throwing training at every issue and hoping for a quick fix. Continuous performance improvement allows the people resources of an organization to do things in a productive fashion using current knowledge, skills and abilities. Although instruction can be an effective intervention, it is only one of many tools available. Performance is encompassing and serves the purpose of continuous maintenance rather than having to do a complete makeover.

Learning and development in the age of disruptive technology

VR

The taxi industry was left reeling with the advent of Uber and similarly, AirBnB wreaked havoc on the hotel industry. Welcome to the age of disruptive technologies! I attended a webinar recently on Blended Learning 2.0 – Media and Methods. This webinar focused on the next generation of blended learning which included media and methods such as mobile learning, interactive PDF’s, gamification and social media. This got me thinking, what’s the next disruptive thing in the world of learning and development? What will the “Uber” be in learning and development?

Technology changes at a rapid pace and we keep pushing the envelope on the next great thing that will supposedly improve our lives and that we will not be able to do without. Think augmented reality, virtual reality or artificial intelligence or the rising of the various “BOTS” – not just your mere robots. Industries that question the status quo, take giant leaps in innovation and development and push the boundaries continue to lead and be at the forefront of change.

As learning and development professionals, we are always on the hunt for new and fresh ideas that will motivate, engage and delight our learners. Although the idea or the tool may be cutting edge, it is important that it fits the needs of the learner and the desired outcome. Simply put, the application must be right for you i.e. the organization, the budget, the learner, the right solution.

I don’t know if we’ve reached the threshold of innovation and disruptive technologies within L&D. We’ve come a long way from using transparencies and flipcharts with markers.  We’ve now evolved to m-learning, e-learning, asynchronous and synchronous methods within e-learning, blended learning, social media and numerous applications within new forms of media. Whatever that new “thing” is going to be, one thing is certain, there is no one size fits all within L&D.

 

Why you learn the way you do

 

learning style

We all have our own sense of style – fashion, décor, hairstyles. Our sense of style sets us apart from the masses – makes us unique in our own way. For the avant-garde, the sense of style is even more heightened and dramatic.

When it comes to how we learn, it is no different in terms of our style. Your learning style is the method by which you take in and retain knowledge.  There are many variations of learning styles but for purposes of this blog, I’ll use the acronym VARK – Visual, Auditory, Read/Write, Kinesthetic.

learning styles

 

As Training/Learning and Development Specialists, when we design and deliver programs, we have to appeal to a broad range within our audience base. We need to take the various learning styles into account.

Visual (V): Do you find that you remember information if presented as a graphic e.g. maps, graphs, flow charts? You are a visual learner.

Aural/Auditory (A): Do you have a preference for information that is spoken or heard e.g. podcasts, webchat, lectures? You are an auditory learner.

Read/Write (R): Do you prefer information that is displayed as words e.g. text-based materials, dictionaries? If you prefer reading and writing in all forms, you are a read/write learner.

Kinesthetic (K): Do you have a preference for doing things e.g. demonstrations, simulations, practicing, applications? You are a kinesthetic learner.

Of course, many of us, have multiple intelligences and we do not fall neatly in any one category. Personally, I am a visual and kinesthetic learner – I retain knowledge by pictures and hands on exercises.

What kind of learner are you?

Learning retention

I hear and I forget

                I see and I remember

                                I do and I understand

-Confucius

 

We retain:

10% of what we read  reading

20% of what we hear hear

30% of what we see see

50% of what we hear and seeeareye

70% of what we say say

90% of what we say and do mouthhands

Robert Kornikau and Frank McElroy

 

Objectives: A roadmap to training success

images

Remember the days of the Perly’s map? Maybe, maybe not depending on your generation. This was way back in the day. Way before Google Maps or any sophisticated GPS device. I remember before we set out in the car, my grandfather would fish out his Perly’s from the glove compartment. He would spend a couple of minutes mapping out where he needed to go to ensure he arrived at his destination. There is nothing unusual about that. This is the step that any logical person would take. It defies reason that one would set out on a journey, having no idea how to get there and no plan.

Objectives play an important part in many facets of our lives – careers, life decisions etc. In the training world, objectives are equally necessary and important. They answer the question, what do you intend for the learner to achieve? A training program needs to have a set destination with checkpoints along the way. Objectives not only ensure that you arrive at your destination but also provides markers to assure you that you are on the right path.

There are generally two types of learning objectives: terminal and enabling. Terminal objectives describe the expected level of performance by the end of the training. Enabling objectives define the skills, knowledge or behaviours learners must reach in order to complete the training successfully. Both learner and facilitator benefit greatly from these guidelines. For the facilitator, objectives provide a framework for delivery. For the learner, he/she can readily identify the specific points they need to master.

Okay, so we have established that we need objectives in line with the intended outcomes.  Before you set pen to paper or in the digital world, fingers to keyboard, consider these three things:

  1. What should the learners be able to do?
  2. Under what conditions do you want the learners to perform?
  3. How well must the learners perform?

We can break these three questions further into three words: performance (behaviour), condition, criteria. One of the negative things about training programs is that they are ineffective and learners do not see value. The value begins with defining the goals and objectives. Equally, the effectiveness is achieved when the objectives are realized.

We all know the acronym SMART:

SPECIFIC
MEASUREABLE
ACHIEVABLE
REALISTIC
TIMELY

Objectives should be all of these things.

This is a good mnemonic to use as an aid. So, while charting the destination, ensure you are SMART about the journey.

 

 

Facilitating learning

facilitating

There are fundamental differences in how adults learn and how children learn. For one, we facilitate learning for adults rather than teach adults. When dealing with children, the “sage on the stage” approach is common. What does it mean to facilitate learning? Facilitating learning entails supporting, assisting or guiding the process with techniques and strategies. To facilitate means to make something easy.

Malcolm Knowles, a twentieth century leader in adult education, states that adults learn best when:

  • Their background and previous learning experience are taken into account
  • They can actively participate in the process
  • They feel comfortable – can ask questions and express feelings
  • There is context that is interesting and relatable – important to the individual
  • Clear goals and objectives are identified
  • They can apply what they learn immediately

The role of a facilitator is a powerful one. A facilitator is an agent of change. In order to be effective, a facilitator must begin the job long before walking through the door. Once the meeting begins there are a host of variables which come into play.

Be prepared. Gather the materials and become familiar with the content. It is often the case that the facilitator does not design the program and may not be an expert in the subject. In preparing, it is also beneficial to have background on the audience. Who is in the room? Why are they present? What is the business pain that need to be addressed?   Still in preparation mode, you need to become familiar with the room – the size, the equipment available and the room configuration. Although the room setup seems inconsequential, it becomes important for engagement, interaction and connection with the audience.

Connect with the audience. It’s all about the delivery. We all know that there are two ways to communicate – verbal and non-verbal. Even when our lips are not moving we continue to send messages based on our body language, facial expressions and our attire. If the facilitator is energetic, passionate, bored or tired this will be translated to the audience. Easy ways to connect are: use humour or anecdotes, walk around the room, make eye contact, use your hands to help with making a point, vary tone of voice, and choose words that evoke feelings.

Manage the session. Things can spiral out of control very quickly especially when discussing topics with strong opinions. Although it is important to have robust discussions, the facilitator need to be in control of the room. He/she need to know when to step in, diffuse conflicts, wrap up a segment or change the “temperature” of a room. Then we have those difficult personalities to manage especially if there is a captive audience. Difficult people can be very disruptive. Address the issue immediately and address the individual(s) to let them know you are aware. Ask questions to get to the root of the problem.  Establish a pact and make it clear that you are there to help them improve skills and knowledge.

Facilitation is a skill and an art with a big responsibility. It is so much more than reading slides from the front of a room. Actually, if you are consistently reading slides then you are failing at being an effective facilitator. Practice makes perfect.

It is said that learning occurs when there is a change in behaviour. This is the essence of facilitation – helping to guide the learner to experience that change.

The magic of good instructional design

ID

There’s an app for that! This exclamation is so common these days because there is an app for everything under the sun. Yes, apps certainly make our lives easier – efficient, accessible, handy and so on. However, there are instances when you just have to do the work and rely on your knowledge, skills and abilities the good old fashioned way.

Have you ever attended a training session or a workshop where you were inspired, you felt attuned with the content and most importantly the WIIFM question (what’s in it for me) was answered? I have. It’s a beautiful thing. What you may not have spent the time to consider is: who was responsible for that experience? There is a process that occurs before a facilitator actually delivers the content. There is the needs assessment, the audience and organization analysis, defining the objectives, assembling the content then designing the program.  Yes, there is a model.

Professionals who design training programs are instructional designers. They have the responsibility to align relevant content with objectives in line with the audience and the training need. The designer may be a subject matter expert (SME) or in many cases, not. The marriage of the instructional designer and the SME is a match that must be made in heaven. Although the SME knows the subject inside-out, he/she may not be knowledgeable about adult learning principles and instructional design techniques. Adults do learn differently than children and the design must reflect that.

When designing a program, there are many variables to consider. Let’s start with the different learning styles. There must be elements across the learning styles spectrum embedded into the design to appeal to the wider audience. This makes a difference when you have a room of 20 people but only 3 are engaged. We have visual, auditory, kinesthetic learning styles to name a few.

Designers also need to make the content relatable, consider the four-stage learning cycle and the learning domains when matching activities and content. For example, the learner need to be motivated, need to understand what’s required, need opportunities to practice the concept and then need to apply the new knowledge. Some learners respond to mental stimulation so things like statistics and figures, others respond to emotional stimulation – things that evoke feelings and others to activities that promote doing – manual/physical tasks.

Think of a 500-piece jig saw puzzle that illustrates a captivating picture of the Canadian Rockies. Before you can see and appreciate the picture, you need to assemble all 500 pieces then integrate them correctly piece-by-piece to form the picture. This is the job of an instructional designer.

Instructional designers can make or break a captivating versus a hum drum session. Now, a dynamic facilitator can work wonders in engaging and motivating an audience, even if the design is not up to par. But, that’s a topic for another blog post.

So, the next time you attend a training session and you leave feeling as if you could conquer the world, give two thumbs up to the instructional designer.  Time was well spent to ensure a great design by assembling all the pieces then integrating them precisely into a stunning, stimulating and memorable picture.

Is training always necessary?

training

To train or not to train. That is the question. Training programs can be very beneficial in either creating new knowledge and skills for the workforce or improving upon existing knowledge and skills. This in turn can make an organization nimbler and can increase the bottom line.

I have certainly been on the receiving end of training that I would consider a yawn fest. It was delivered poorly, the content was uninteresting and the worst point being that I was forced to go. All these negative emotions translated into being a hostile, captive audience. Very counterproductive.

So, how does a training specialist determine that training is the answer? Two words – needs assessment. The needs assessment determines the problem that needs solving which in turn leads to defining objectives for the program.  Imagine this scenario for a moment: the vice president of sales drops a huge, multi-page, cerlox report on your desk and tells you to create a training program.  You skim quickly and determine that sales are down and there is an absenteeism problem with the sales representatives. What’s next? Do you obey the powers that be and hastily draft a training program? After all, there is a problem that needs to be solved. Right?

But, there could be a myriad of reasons for the drop in sales and the absentee sales reps. The training specialist needs to get to the core of those reasons. The right antidote is needed to cure the specific ailment. When I have a headache, I certainly don’t put heavy metal music on blast. I take an aspirin and find a quiet place to recover. The right remedy for the specific problem.

Let’s go back to the scenario. As the training specialist, you conduct a survey with specific questions, conduct some focus group sessions to gain some insight and then you conduct some interviews to gather even more information.  Based on this analysis, you discover that the drop in sales and absenteeism is a result of poor morale rather than poor knowledge and skills. Instead of a training program, you recommend some engagement activities over a period of time. Sales and attendance improve gradually.

Training does not solve every issue in the workplace. Conducting a thorough needs analysis will provide insight into what plan to take to solve the problem. In the scenario: unnecessary time, effort, manpower and costs were averted because the time was taken to assess the situation and apply the right remedy to the problem. Needs assessment is key.

Is orientation a waste of time?

 

orientation

 

Picture this. It is the first day of your new job. You are all excited to get started and showcase your talents. You arrive at work bright and early and check in at the security desk as a new employee. The security guard prevents you from entering without an access card. You wait and wait but no one comes to greet you for at least one hour. Then you arrive at your desk only to discover that your manager is on vacation and there is no direction on what to do. This was my experience a few years ago on day one of my new job at a media company. I languished alone in the atrium of this building – a cavernous structure – watching people come and go. No one was prepared for my arrival, there was no one to greet me and show me around and worst of all, no orientation program which would have solved the first-day angst experienced by most new employees.

Needless to say, I could have walked out and not look back. Reason prevailed. I persevered and ended up working for this organization for five years. That whole experience tainted my view of the organization but created a development opportunity for me.  I saw an area that was lacking and made gains in introducing improvements. Also, I was able to calm the nagging voice in my head that kept telling me that a career in training and development was my next move.

Fast forward seven years later. I am now working at a financial services company that values being the employer of choice. It provides training and career development plus numerous learning opportunities. I was very pleased to have a two-hour orientation session on day one. This session gave me the tools and knowledge to navigate the campus, the corporate systems, get an overview of the strategy and structure and to know who to call for what and when. Armed with these nuggets of information, I felt I could just jump right in and start making my contribution to the company without wasting time. Now, orientation did not cover every little thing. I still had to do some research into my specific area –   for example, discovering my team; getting acquainted with the content etc.

Some people may argue that orientation is a waste of time. As you can tell, I disagree. If done right, it is a very useful and effective way to begin tenure at any organization. After all, the intent of a company is to retain its talent. The journey does not stop at receiving an offer letter – the audition process continues well after the three or six-month probationary period.

So yes, the orientation session is not only an effective tool for the company but also for employees. Use it to start the relationship off on the right track.

Empower yourself

“Knowledge is power”. Now I don’t know exactly who first coined this famous quote. There are varying opinions from Sir Francis Bacon in the 1500’s to Thomas Jefferson, but one thing is certain, it is a true statement.

I have utilized this quote both in my personal and professional life. In my personal sphere, I use the 5 W’s – who, what, where, why, when and for extra good measure – how. I am conscious about who I share my personal information with, what kinds of information I share, where I am when I’m sharing, why I am sharing, when do I choose to share and how I do the sharing. Remember, knowledge is power.

In my professional sphere, I am always looking for opportunities to learn and grow and I encourage others to do the same. I am so passionate about training and learning that I pursued training and development as a career choice. It is a fulfilling experience when you can impart knowledge and witness the transformation. In the corporate world, I use training and learning as an empowerment strategy. The more you know, the more training you have, the more knowledge and experience you have – the more control you have over your path which leads to being empowered.

empower

 

In this age of social media, it seems prolific sharing and oversharing of our personal lives has become the norm. But, I believe on that front, there is such a thing as too much information (TMI). However, when it comes to professional development, you can never have enough knowledge.

I was introduced to Daniel Pink’s book, Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us. In the book, Daniel outlines the three elements of true motivation – autonomy, mastery and purpose. I will take this concept a step further and say that when you have autonomy over your path, when you can master your work and when you have a set course of action – a purpose – then the overarching behaviour is empowerment.

How does one have autonomy, mastery and purpose? First you need to be motivated to pursue new ideas, new concepts and different ways of thinking and doing.  There is no reward without work. One sure way to take control and ownership of your development is to increase your knowledge, skills and abilities. Remember, knowledge is power.