Organization Horsepower

Thinking Like a Motorcycle Racing Team

Tag: instructional design

My New Gig – TiER1 Performance

I know a bunch of folks caught my new job title on LinkedIn week before last. I very much appreciate the well wishes and congratulations I received. In case you missed it, I am now a Senior Solutions Consultant at TiER1 Performance. The company is based out of Covington, KY. (Cincinnati), but I will be out of the Chicago office. This involves a relocation for my wife and I, and while I will greatly miss the Lake Michigan shores of my West Michigan location, Chicago is a vibrant city full of excitement and opportunity.

My new role is client facing, and I am really excited to get to know a whole new group of companies. In this position I will be concentrating on solution architecture and engagement management, and will be very hands-on. One of the advantage s of being with a bit larger of an organization, is fewer operational responsibilities allowing me to focus on what I enjoy more and do best.

At the risk of sounding a bit commercial, TiER1 has a cool planning and organization tool called xMap that I am really enjoying. It lets you drag and drop learning or communication events and/or assets into time based buckets so you can take a wide view the experiences you are building for various audiences. Individuals can use it for free at and there is an enterprise version available.

If you are in the Chicago area, give me an excuse to come visit you, I need to figure out where I’m going and it will be good practice.

chicago skyline

Five Attributes Your Mobile Sales App Must Demonstrate

It’s been a little while since I’ve written about mobile, but I committed this week to do a talk at the eLearning Guild mLearnCon, June 19-21 in San Jose; so it’s top-of-mind. My talk is going to be about the design process we used in an actual development scenario for a client of ours. That particular application never saw the light of day, but it got me thinking about the components of that application and why we were so passionate about including them.

Specific to the sales audience, we believe the following five attributes are critical to the successful adoption of a sales-focused mobile app. Your sales app must be:

  1. Relevant everyday – On the surface, this means the content must be kept up-to-date. While that is critical, when you dig a little deeper, it also means the content must also be applicable every day. It has to be more than learning about the future, tomorrow’s product, or the sale they might someday have. It has to help them do their job today.
  2. Improve some aspect of the sales process – Sales has always been and always will be about more and faster. If your mobile sales app doesn’t help them increase or accelerate the sale by letting them access more information faster from different places, or work with other people in your company more efficiently, sales people just plain won’t use it. In fact they will find some other mobile app that will help them, or they will spend that time doing some other activity even if that’s Angry Birds.
  3. Integrated across sites and systems – In most companies, there is no lack of systems or internal sites designed to support the sales team. If mobile devices can even access behind your firewall, chances are those systems and sites aren’t very useable on a mobile device, and you can’t expect your team to ferret out and adapt while they are on the go. Your mobile app needs to be a combined interface to the sites and systems that are most critical to the sale.
  4. Socially connected – Mobile technology at its core is about real-time communication. If your app doesn’t take advantage of this, you are missing something really important. Imagine situations where your app can help sales people get answers in seconds, when it used to take hours.
  5. Intuitive – The reason Apple’s products are so pervasive is because they always put the user experience first, even if that means it doesn’t do everything that you imagined. This isn’t a ringing endorsement of Apple by any stretch, especially for the enterprise, but the point is that it has to be better than easy. It has to be intuitive to the point where it feels automatic to the end user. Mobile apps do not have, nor should they need, training programs. They just work. You are better off not including a piece of functionality rather than including one that needs to be explained.

This isn’t intended to be a comprehensive design guide; just five things you need to consider. Of course, there are big differences between organizations and the processes that they use. Device strategy, even if it’s “Bring Your Own Device” or BYOD, also factors into design. However, if your app does these five things successfully, it will make a difference in the performance of your sales team.

Branding and User Acceptance of SharePoint Sites

In my last post, Pizza and SharePoint™—Branding and Design, I drew an analogy between presenting your best work to your customers without presenting your best selves to your employees in terms of the systems and sites developed for internal use. But why is it so hard to gain user acceptance and what sorts of things can we do to make it easier on ourselves? Why do we even care if your employees “accept” sites we build for them?

It’s easy enough to operate from the perspective that there is certain information that employees “need” to do their job, and there is certain information that is “nice to have.” In corporate structures, critical information or the “need to have” information is often presented in the most expedient way possible. Very often expediency in design results in the employee having to jump through hoops to get the information. “It’s the best we could do, in the time we had.”

While we may have accomplished our basic goals for a site, it doesn’t mean we did a good job. In fact, if we aren’t careful, we may actually create new issues in the process. If we didn’t gain acceptance of the platform we used for the initiative, chances are we’ve:

  • Poisoned the platform for future use by leaving a negative first impression.
  • Used too much time ($) to achieve too little tangible results.
  • Sent a message that we don’t value our users.

While it is sometimes necessary to compromise good design for expediency, we pay a heavy price for failing to gain acceptance. When we do gain acceptance, we achieve our goals faster, cheaper, and we create repeat visits that give us a viable way to expand our goals and create something sustainable over time. AND, we send a message that we care enough to think things through and value our team.

So why, when it comes to SharePoint sites, is it so hard to design for acceptance?

When building informational or community sites, SharePoint acts as a content management system, or CMS, and allows us to present the data separately and in different contexts. This means the data or information is contained in a different technical structure than the look and feel, or branding of the site. This is wonderful when it comes to keeping the content up-to-date, but requires a little extra planning when designing page layouts that support content that is meant to be changed independent of the layout. That seems to be where many implementations fall short.

I.T. departments are typically charged with implementing systems, such as SharePoint, and while your mileage may vary, they generally do a very good job of implementing the functionality or data layer… and tend to pay very little attention to the presentation layer. The typical result is a perfectly functional data infrastructure with a bone-stock, straight from the vanilla Microsoft set of page templates. Since SharePoint wasn’t designed to fulfill a specific need from a specific audience, not much care was taken with these stock templates. Frankly, I find them ugly and filled with usability issues, and I am not alone. Nonetheless, as SharePoint is rolled out, content owners are very often forced to use these templates either expressly or because they aren’t informed that they have any control over the presentation and don’t have the knowledge of how to change it.

In many organizations, a user’s first exposure to SharePoint is an ugly, usability-challenged site, a “crew pie” to reference my previous post. They may need the information that the site contains, but they are often left frustrated and unimpressed. For organizations that recognize this failing, this typically results in a subsequent project to improve either:

  • Look and feel (branding)
  • Usability

The truth is you need to do both. If you fix the content organization and improve the usability, it’s hard for the user to get past the ugly and truly engage with the site. If you fix the ugly but leave the usability out, you may get your users back briefly, but they will inevitably get frustrated again. User acceptance of a site means they accept both the way a site looks AND the way it works.

Usability is a topic for another article, but for organizations that have already fallen into the bad- or no-design trap, a good design can help them crawl out of the user acceptance hole. It sends a message that this site is worthwhile and important enough to warrant thoughtful design, and likewise the users of the site are important and valued enough to warrant the time and money spent on design. For those organizations that haven’t rolled out their first sites, let this serve as a tip:

Whether you call it branding, look and feel, or design, it’s a critical piece of user acceptance.

In the next entry, we’ll focus on usability some more, starting with setting realistic objectives and how to map those objectives to the functionality you design into your sites.

Pizza and SharePoint™—Branding and Design

Once upon a time, in a galaxy far, far away… I used to work for one of the giant pizza chains. As a learning professional, I took it upon myself to understand what it was like to work in a pizza store. You don’t have to be in a store for too long before a mistake happens. Wrong toppings, giant bubbles, or just plain ugly pizzas. Most operators had enough sense not to send these pizzas to the customer and would make a new pizza, but instead of wasting $3 in food cost and throwing out the mistake, these pizzas would become “crew pies” and would often sit boxed on top of the oven until someone had time for a break and would grab a slice or two.

Well, on one store trip, I noticed a sign on the wall that said “no crew pies.” My first reaction was that the store operator was sending a message about mistakes, and not making them, but the company had all sorts of slogans and signs about making quality product and “no crew pies” was not one of them, so I had to ask.

Turns out the operator had much different reasons, and it wasn’t a slogan; it was a rule. He explained to me that he was in a war for good employees with the other restaurants in town. It was hard to find and keep people, and he felt that it sent the wrong message to serve the people that worked for him the worst product his store turned out. Besides, if his team thought that bad pizza was good enough for them, how far of a stretch is it for them to expect his customers to live with bad pizza?

Fast forward to today. I am in the privileged position of consulting with some of the world’s largest companies. Companies that are selling customers some of the most advanced systems, services, and technology available. However, all too often the internal sites these companies use to support their own employees are the internet equivalent of “crew pies.” Barely branded and poorly organized. This is especially true when it comes to SharePoint™ sites.

It’s not enough to just have the information out there. The person has to first want to use the site (acceptance) and then be able to use the site (usability). Newsflash: The default SharePoint™ page templates are not attractive and are not intuitively usable. Even if you are lucky enough to have an IT department that branded the default templates, it most likely is still not good enough. Chances are if you already have an existing SharePoint™ implementation, you’ve seen these default templates in action, as have your users. They have already formed a negative impression of what SharePoint™ is and have little or no vision of what its potential is.

I’m not suggesting that all of your internal sites become graphical Flash sites with splash pages, but I am saying that at a cursory glance, your internal sites need to:

  1. Not look like SharePoint™ default templates
  2. Reflect the importance of the people, business line, product or service it is intended to support

In SharePoint™ development circles, efforts towards user acceptance are often referred to as branding, but it’s more than that; it’s part of the overall design. The goal of design should be a positive or at least transparent user experience. There are two components of user experience, acceptance and usability. Acceptance is typically the result of good positioning and good visual design whereas usability stems from information design.

If we go back to our “crew pie” example, mistake pizzas may in fact taste good, but the user experience is disrupted because admittedly user acceptance is compromised: the pizza is ugly or its usability is challenged—it has the wrong stuff. That’s not to say the crew won’t eat it, but they may not like it.

The intangible message here is that our internal sites and systems set the tone for what our employees deliver to our customers or users, and it’s imperative that our customer’s user experience be flawless. Besides, in a war for talent, our valued employees deserve better than a “crew pie.”

In my next blog post, we’ll dive more into the user acceptance side of the equation and explore some strategies for designing and validating user acceptance as part of a branding, positioning, or graphic design effort.

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.