Organization Horsepower

Thinking Like a Motorcycle Racing Team

Tag: engagement

Book Preview on SlideShare

I put up this teaser on SlideShare, if you’d like to learn a little more about the book:

Key Learning from the Gartner Portal, Content, and Collaboration Summit

Having just returned from the Gartner Summit, I thought a quick recap was in order. Besides I need a break from my measurement series (Part I, Part II, Part III)

Things got started with Gartner VP and Analyst Whit Andrews taking the stage carrying a shovel. My first thoughts were he we go with another speech about breaking new ground, but I should have known better. His comment was “A Gartner guy with a shovel, never a good thing.” But it turns out, it was a prop for talking about Minecraft, an online game both he and his son play on a regular basis. Here’s a YouTube of him previewing the shovel theme. It set the tone to talk about gamification, but the rest of the conference was decidedly higher level and talked about building and maintaining higher orders and evolutions of portals and content management.

Side note: While researching Whit Andrews I found this hilarious text-speech YouTube diatribe.

Day 1: Portals & UXP

All of the sessions I attended were geared more towards the portal end of the spectrum. Within the realm of portals, the major focus areas were User Experience (UX) and mobile. Of course there is a ton subtlety and secondary topics. I won’t cover every session, key sessions, and perspectives here.

My first session was Gene Phifer talking about User Experience Platforms or UXP. Any reader of the Media 1 blog knows this is a huge focus for us right now. The UXP definitely has a place in the corporate landscape and is a critical piece for creating alignment between people, process, and technology. Gene’s original article on UXP is a great overview of the session. For more of Media 1’s vision for how UXP can drive performance, see Chris Willis’s blog post “Social, Mobile, Integrated…UXP and Your Future Workforce.”

“Using Generation 7 Portals to Attract and Engage Customers” with Jim Murphy was up next. While this session was geared somewhat towards customer facing portals, the same principles apply to employee or internally-focused portals. With a lot people I talk to, “portal” has become a bad word. In a lot folks’ experience, portal technology has been purchased, implemented, and subsequently fallen short of expectations. What we have to realize is that portals have evolved and continue to evolve. The biggest shift I see in portals is that they are moving away from being company, department, or role specific and they are getting personal. When you put the individual at the center of the design and you surround that person with filtered and specific options, portals get a lot more compelling—and that’s the root of why Media 1 is bullish on UXP.

Jim Murphy describes the characteristics of Generation 7 portals as featuring:

  • Analytics
  • Portal-less Portals
  • Context aware
  • Portal ubiquity
  • Emerging UXP
  • Widgets dominate
  • Mobile dominates

Jim and Gene teamed up on another session later that afternoon called “Employee Portals: The Revenge of the Intranet” to address the employee-specific side of the portal equation and aptly drew the connection that the employee portal is the heart of the new intranet. The changing ways that we work have driven the corporate intranet from being information portal to knowledge portal, then to process portal, and now to the latest generation of intranet portal that includes social functionality, mash-ups and combined applications, and has a mobile enabled interface. Social is the connective tissue that ties people to process and information—or people, process and technology in the Media 1 vernacular. More than social, the new portal-based intranet (SharePoint portals included) also enables information management and process management driving alignment to corporate goals. Gartner defines the must have characteristics of the next-generation intranet as:


  • Social
  • Business process enabled
  • Analytics and optimization

Near future

  • Mobile
  • Context aware
  • Gamified

Wish list

  • Enable user content contribution
  • “App store” model

Day 2: Gamification & More

Day 2 of the conference started out with Jane McGonigal’s  compelling presentation “Reality is Broken” on the role of game play on our society and consequently how we can use those principles when addressing the needs of our organizations. Jane’s presentation was based on her book is Reality Is Broken: Why Games Make Us Better and How They Can Change the World. While I’m not always a fan of gamified approaches to development, I must admit to having some changing perspectives based on this presentation. One of the key advantages to gaming is the resiliency gained from repeated trial and error—and sometimes subsequent failure. I think that’s why a lot of people find golf compelling and certainly the incredible volume of Angry Birds play would also seem to reinforce that supposition. Seems to me that many corporate gamified approaches take a “failure is not an option” position and with the absence of failure or the possibility of failure, you miss out on the resiliency benefit and ultimately engagement that the “game” was intended to create. I’m going to do a future blog post on this topic alone. There are some very compelling distinctions between playing, competing, achievement, failure, and losing that deserve to be explored.

I spent the afternoon of Day 2 exploring sessions on UI/UX, people-centered strategy, Yammer and Mobile. Not that these sessions weren’t valuable or intriguing, but I have to assume you have something else planned for your day other than reading my blog.

I finished up the conference with a case a study from GlaxoSmithKline where they talked about their cloud-based employee portal solution, which happened to be a SharePoint 2007 site. While many of their experiences and concerns aligned with my other clients’ SharePoint installations, the fact that the SharePoint farm existed in cloud space created very few if any new concerns. Instead, it appeared to show considerable value to GlaxoSmithKline along the lines of the value proposition of other cloud services.

The final keynote of the conference was from Seth Godin. It was engaging and inspirational to say the least. While many of the examples used where on how to create compelling messaging, or “purple cows” as he calls them, it’s not much of a stretch to see how that relates to how we market performance improvement to our own organizations. It’s more than position; it’s the stories we tell.

In summary, the conference served as an excellent confirmation that I’m talking about the right things with my clients and in the right priorities. It also has taught me that I have a different perspective to bring to gamification and a new understanding of what it takes to make these games compelling. And finally, not that I needed any more convincing, we need to find ways of engaging employees on mobile platforms in meaningful ways. Our obstacles are just that, but mobility is critical to the new work environment.

Harrison’s Application for TEDx Grand Rapids

I hate being late.

I am the first guy at a party because when something starts at a certain time, I just can’t reconcile in my head this concept of being fashionably late. I also suffer from anxiety when other people don’t show up on time. I have no idea where this great sense of punctuality comes from. My brother certainly doesn’t share my views on punctuality, so I’m not sure I can blame my parents.

However I got here, I’m kind of upset that I’m late to the TED party. I guess I got a little bitter and little bent from other groundswell business talk “trends” over the years, and I mistook TED for something it wasn’t (a platform for an agenda) instead of what it is (a platform for ideas).

When you get that many ideas in one place and you leave the conclusions and actions up to the viewer, it seems to me that what you have is most likely the purest source for informal learning we have ever known.

But now I’m on the outside looking in. It’s that Labor Day party your friend invites you to every year, but you never seem to have time to make. This evidently is the year you don’t automatically get an invitation. The Grand Rapids TEDx event is happening on May 10th, and since I didn’t attend years past, I’ve got to fill out an application to explain why I’m worthy of getting an invite.

When you think about it, this is incredibly smart. Even if there was no judgment placed on the merits of the application (which evidently there is), the act of applying shows a level of commitment and engagement. By denying general admission, you ensure that people really WANT to be there. That’s something worth thinking about when it comes to development activities and even the communities of practice we build for our organizations.

At any rate, I thought I would share some of my application in this blog, if for no other reason than to put a little more of myself out there.

How will you contribute and what unique perspectives and characteristics will you bring to TEDxGrandRapids?

I am constantly seeking new inspiration—and I know I inspire others—but it takes real work, real thought, and real attention.

I live my life as an open book. My business life and my personal life are one in the same and give each other real value. The things we care about personally are therefore inseparable from the things that our businesses care about.

I will contribute to the TEDx conversation through my writing—not only as a reporter of what I see, hear and feel, but also as an interpreter of how I can apply what I have learned and how others may do so too.

I will use the inspiration I gather to help formulate my own ideas, and I will share those ideas for the greater good.

What inspires you? Tell us about yourself.

I get charged up about very small details—a riff in a song, the way the grain converges in a chunk of curly maple, the rusty piece of junk in a photograph—and I want to take those little details and think of how I can reapply them, use them differently, put my own stamp on it.

I run a company. There are plenty of places to apply those details, but I am just as proud of the music I play, the guitars that I build, the last run I took in the skate park, the puck I stopped as a goalie.

The trick is to take one of those little things and grow it into something that combines some of those passions in life into something greater than the sum of its parts. The combination guitar/skateboard didn’t stay in tune so well, but I’m sure the next big idea is just around the corner.

Now what if you take those two simple questions and apply them to your job? Would you answer the same way?

How do we get there?

I, for one, am shopping for a few ideas and hope I find them at my local TEDx event. That is, if I get invited to the party.

Mapping Engagement Models to the Development / Talent Life Cycle

My last blog post talked about engagement and maintaining engagement throughout the talent life cycle. In this entry, I want to focus on learning framework models that target engagement at key points in the talent life cycle.

The idea is that if you match a learning framework to the needs of the learner at a specific point in their development, you greatly increase the likelihood of engagement with the learning experience. This is more than learner preference or style; it is about tailoring presentation or context to performance factors.

Consider this: when employees first start with your organization or change roles, it can be easier to engage them, but harder to get real performance. They are excited, typically self-motivated, but may lack the skills that make up the competencies needed to perform. To effectively develop these employees, a high degree of direction is needed.

As the employee begins to acquire knowledge and skill and some level of job competency, it’s easier for disillusionment to set in. Skill has increased but engagement may drop. With the honeymoon phase over, they just aren’t as naturally excited as they used to be. The employee still needs direction, but also has an increased need for support behavior to continue to be engaged. A great way to accomplish this at this point in the development cycle is to use coaching or mentoring, and perhaps a stretch assignment to break up the routine.

When employees start to achieve mastery of knowledge, they need less direction but continue to need higher support behavior, and engagement can vary. Only when both knowledge and engagement align at a high level do you get optimum performance. When engagement is high and competency is achieved, that employee needs less directive and supportive development efforts. Best practices and sharing amongst peers can have a dramatic effect on your business when people get to this point.

So how does this map into frameworks for delivering engagement?

Curriculums and frameworks to address low competency are highly directive or task-based like the models we have developed and use for Onboarding. The objective here is to present a logical progression of digestible knowledge over time—the right knowledge at the right time, immediately applicable on-the-job.

As job competency is achieved, it’s critical to add social and coaching elements more like what is found in a comprehensive cohort curriculum. Cohorts to support moderate levels of competency should contain directive assignments and coaching and/or mentoring components. These should be your “highest touch” training curriculums.

As more competencies are achieved, less task-based direction is needed. Cohorts focused on audiences with higher function can be more about applied exercises and less about knowledge-based learning, but until competencies are achieved, employees will continue to need a high touch from mentors or coaches.

People who have achieved a high level of competency are either at the top of their role or the top of your organization and will tolerate very little in terms of task-based formal learning activities or coaching, but will engage with and learn from each other. This is where Communities of Practice can really work and be self-sustaining. Best practices and sharing about practical applications of knowledge can be acted upon to drive the organization to new heights.

While this is a general guideline to the engagement approach for different levels of your organization, you also have to realize that this cycle repeats itself constantly for employees as they move through your talent management cycle. For example, let’s take a look at a new manager who has been with your organization for two years. At the enterprise or curriculum level, we expect them to be best served by a cohort or task-based cohort model. From a functional or content level they have high engagement, they are going to need more direction in the beginning, and their needs are going to be more in line with a task-based system.

It’s also important to note that engagement is hardest to achieve in the middle of a development cycle where commitment levels are variable. If onboarding fails to engage when an employee starts, engagement will be extremely difficult to re-establish as they develop. It’s here that you run the greatest risk of costly turnover and talent drain.

While developing competency is critical to the performance of your company, achieving engagement is just as critical to growth, innovation, and your ability to attract and maintain a high level of talent. Targeted delivery frameworks give context and level-appropriate structure to curriculums to help you achieve both, which we all know is vital to the long-term success of our companies.

Overheard at Strategies 2011: Employee Engagement

Media 1 is pushing hard into the Human Capital Improvement space with SharePoint-based offerings for cohort learning (leadership and sales) and Onboarding. To learn more about the concerns and needs of people involved in talent management and development, we decided to attend MediaTec’s Strategies 2011 conference in Half Moon Bay, CA.

What a fantastic location and a great conference filled with key learning around diversity, inclusion, and techniques for managing and developing the workforce. However, the concept that I want to focus in on is that of employee engagement. Engagement isn’t a term that I have used a lot before now, but it’s one ingrained in the talent management lexicon.

It’s a great term because it encompasses and describes a level of involvement and commitment regardless of the development level or stage that an employee is in. While consulting on Onboarding systems, one of our primary goals is to increase time-to-productivity, but if we want higher levels of productivity, we have to get engagement first. A new hire can be modestly productive without engagement, but that hire won’t reach an optimum level of performance unless that person is truly engaged with their position and your company.

Beyond the Onboarding development phase, engagement is just as important. As we move through our careers, our level of engagement is variable; it waxes and wanes over time. Again we may have employees that are productive, but not engaged. Development opportunities in the form of corporate learning are one tool that talent managers have to re-establish, increase, or maintain engagement throughout the talent life cycle.

Looking back at the conference, it occurs to me that I saw a lot of curriculums designed to address engagement, but the really impressive ones paid as much attention to how the curriculum was delivered as they did to the curriculums themselves. In all cases, engagement programs were not single learning events or courses, but included a series of different kinds of learning opportunities delivered over a period of time. None stated it as such, but the net effect of the approach is the creation of a robust “learning experience.”

The more advanced engagement models also took into account where the employee was in their development within the organization. New employees have very different development needs than top executives, and their motivation and engagement levels will also vary widely. While that is the common-sense practical application of different engagement models for different types of learners and content, it also aligns with commonly accepted theories of employee development stages and talent management cycles.

I’m thinking deeply on how SharePoint-based curriculum frameworks can be targeted and mapped to specific phases in career development and how that can translate into better engagement and better performance. Stay tuned.