Organization Horsepower

Thinking Like a Motorcycle Racing Team

Tag: performance

Book Preview on SlideShare

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

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.