Organization Horsepower

Thinking Like a Motorcycle Racing Team

Tag: learning

Organization Horsepower Author Movie

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.

Thoughts from Learning 2011

It’s been a week since I returned from Learning 2011, so I really needed to sit down and get some of my thoughts down before they were lost forever. But as I sat down to write this, I noticed a major shift in how I’m referencing my experience at the event.

I didn’t reach for my notebook, I launched my twitter account.

I’m finding that the things I tweeted were the things that struck me the most and the things that other people re-tweeted of mine where the things that resonated with them the most, so this would seem to be a solid strategy. Let me know how it worked out by leaving me a comment and following me on twitter @harrisonwithers.

Overall, the major themes of the conference were the importance of storytelling, and the implementation of social and mobile learning. But there were also great sessions from Dean Kamen on innovation, and I did attend a number sessions about onboarding. The opening keynote took the traditional approach of presenting a “state of the industry” look at where we are at, and there were no surprises here. The stand-alone, disconnected LMS by itself does not help us create competence, performance, and really doesn’t provide a service to our learners.

Think about that; what do learners get out of the LMS experience?

Searching? There are better ways to search.

Tracking? Is that really for them or for you?

At any rate, the LMS conversations led to a great quote on twitter from Dave Halverson from Target (@halvorsd):

“ah, LMS. Like the worst girlfriend I ever had. Testy, hard to understand, and rarely delivered on promises…”

Having sufficiently bagged on the LMS, we moved on to how social-based computing can add relevance and context to the learning experience. I was about to shout “Amen,” but in the next breath Elliott Masie (@emasie) decried SharePoint™ by saying it “sucked” as a social platform. Elliott, we’ve known each other for a long time—and I love you—but saying SharePoint sucks as a social platform is saying that a jump rope sucks because I failed to hop when it got to my feet.

I don’t want to come off as a SharePoint fan boy here. It certainly has its problems and Microsoft could be a lot more helpful in making it better suited as a social platform. But in many cases, it’s what we have; it’s already installed, and it represents an opportunity to align our organizations from a technical perspective—which goes part and parcel to aligning on people and process. I too have seen implementations that suck, but give me 20 minutes of your time and I’ll show you a couple that don’t. You don’t have to take my word for it, talk to some people who aren’t my clients like Telus, United Healthcare, Diebold, or Xerox. All of those companies have social-enabled SharePoint implementations that don’t suck.

Moving on to mobile, there wasn’t a lot of new talk here and I’ve done plenty of writing on the topic in the past. However, I will reinforce a couple of long-held beliefs:

  1. Tablets are a much better platform than phones for almost every type of content.
  2. Mobile content does not mean a course in the traditional sense, think performance support.

It’s also really interesting that the term tablet is almost becoming synonymous with the Apple iPad. Everyone was talking about content for the iPad and how to sell the cost of iPads to management. I love iPads; my wife has one, but mark my words, the availability of sub-$200 Android devices (like the Amazon Kindle Fire I received yesterday), will open the door to real and affordable tablet-based mobile applications. In fact, we’re already working on different ways to leverage and integrate tablet-based applications with social-based cohorts. Stay tuned!

In the several sessions that I attended about onboarding, I was pleased to see a real recognition and connection between the onboarding experience and long-term retention of employees. There are a few companies that are recognizing the needs of their newest employees, but there are still far too many people who treat onboarding like an event that is completed in short order. Orientation is an event that is part of the learning experience that is onboarding.

Part of the problem with onboarding as practiced now is in how it is measured. In a lot of cases, onboarding is being measured as a compliance issue—as in, we achieved 100% compliance and everyone has been through onboarding. The problem lies in the fact that it’s really easy (LMS) to track compliance—i.e. whether a person sat in chair or watched a computer-based piece of content—but it’s exceptionally difficult to track whether they engaged in an experience. In response to this, many companies turn to a survey, so they can ask employees how they “felt” about their onboarding experience. The problem here is that a feeling doesn’t translate into knowledge, practice, or behavior; and it certainly doesn’t address on-the-job performance.

In order to measure true effectiveness of an onboarding experience, you have to measure whether or not the participant is actually performing at the level you expected. And,  that the realization of that performance has had a tangible effect on the business. Assuming you have an effective workforce and are profitable (and that may be a big assumption), then you can move on to measurements that relate to degrees of better, faster, and my least favorite, cost avoidance. I’m going to save more musings on measurement for a future blog post, but there is another reason to ask how you can justify designing an integrated onboarding experience. In the words of keynote speaker President Bill Clinton, “if you already have the truth, the evidence doesn’t matter.” Good luck selling that up your management chain.

Bill ClintonNo matter where you sit on the political spectrum, I couldn’t possibly recap the Learning 2011 experience without mentioning the keynote by President Bill Clinton. Articulate and comfortable, he spoke for over an hour with no teleprompter and no stumbles. He had notes and wore his reading glasses, but I don’t think he looked at them a single time. Amazing orator, with the intention of this blog being non-political, I’ll leave it at that.

Which leaves us with the concept of storytelling, I could do another blog post on this topic alone, and I think I will. There were at least three exceptional story tellers at this conference, and long after the details of learning theory collapse and fade from my memory, I will remember the stories.

The story of Dean Kamen sending his parents on a trip so he could add on to their basement without permission to have more room for his machine shop. The story of the military leaders who asked him to invent a prosthetic that could do three simple things we take for granted: pick up a raisin or grape off a table, put it in their own mouth without smashing it, and be able to know the difference without looking at it. And, there was Bill Clinton, telling a story about growing up poor and deciding whether he wanted to be a politician or a musician. Not to go unmentioned, John Lithgow’s story of reading to his ailing father and recognizing the moment when his father turned for the better.

It’s the stories that we remember. And what is a story but a container for learning? It’s a package we can use to bring real sustainable change in our lives and at our companies.

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.

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.

More Thoughts on Mobile Learning

Here at Media 1, we’ve been looking at mobile for quite a few years now, and my personal experience experimenting with mobile goes back to the Palm® Pilot days. The trick with mobile has always been overcoming the hurdles associated with varying platforms, sufficient bandwidth, LMS connectivity, and being able to produce compelling content. While all of those challenges to mobile are still present, the general sense is that mobile is truly becoming more accessible.

Several viable authoring systems are now available that allow you to develop once and deliver to the vast majority of platforms, while the mobile devices themselves have larger screens and better connectivity. Many LMS now have mobile-specific connectivity, leading us to the remaining challenge of creating compelling content. Having Adobe® Flash available on almost every platform (with the exception of the iPhone) certainly helps, but much of the content I’ve seen still lacks an engagement factor. The mobile content that appears to be most successful is different in two ways:

  1. It is framed as performance support, not training.
  2. It is focused on messaging, not use of media.

When it comes to performance support, one of the best applications I’ve seen was a product-related reference guide from Sephora and JC Penney. Delivered via iPad, the content provided both product fact and application techniques for beauty products in a manner that was both educational for the consultant and shareable with the customer. While it wasn’t executed on a phone-based mobile device, I think it’s indicative of the types of mobile content that can be deployed successfully.

Absent the larger format of the iPad or Flash-based content, other successful mobile performance applications display an awareness of good writing and storytelling. People read books all the time. Books don’t have animations and rarely have pictures, yet publishing remains a multibillion dollar industry. Text is easily displayed across almost all devices. It’s logical that we re-frame our concept of what engaging mobile content is to include writing that is compelling and not just a collection of fragmented bullet points from a slide deck. Think back to the text-based discovery games of the early 90’s and how maybe some of those principles could be applied to writing for mobile.

There is also huge upside to performance support delivered via e-reader devices. Both Kindle and Nook now have educational text branches of their business focused on the education market. But for corporate practitioners, what’s not to like? Big Screens, non-fatiguing text, wireless connectivity, and falling prices for hardware make this segment one to watch.

While good writing for text-based content is critical, the untapped potential for all mobile devices is in how they can be leveraged for around-the-clock access to Social Learning communities behind the corporate firewall. Take a look at how much activity on Facebook and Twitter is now originating from mobile devices. Now imagine how much more use your corporate community could get if it was accessible from phone-based mobile devices.

I believe that eventually we will see compelling content on phone-based devices, but I also believe that tablets and e-readers represent a significant opportunity. They serve as an excellent stepping stone that can help us define and produce good mobile content without some of the constraints of the smartphone. As mobile moves forward, we also have to figure out realistic ways to allow mobile devices access to content behind the corporate firewall.

For more perspectives on mobile, check out Chris Willis’ prior post “Mobile Learning – Are You Ready?”