Performance is more than support – final thoughts on strategy

Thank you to everyone for your feedback and shares from this series, we really appreciate it and more importantly, it appears to be striking a chord for those devising their learning strategy. So to make this happen, we can no longer use the excuse that learning and development take care of the learning round here.  Even if that is a prevailing culture in your organisation and even in the most controlled environments where learning is served by a structured LMS and access to external sites, social media etc are restricted (and believe me, this still exists probably more than you would expect!), things have already changed whether the organisational strategy has led that change or not. On most of the desks or in the pockets of your people, they will have devices that will connect them to whatever they need and whoever they need.  So is all this talk of learning and performance necessary at all? Well I believe it does, because as well as being more empowered than ever before to access knowledge and insights we need, there’s more of it and we all have more to do!  So learning and development as a key business enabler are not redundant, but they do need to reposition and in some cases re-skill to be relevant in this new work age.  They have the potential to be the ‘catalyst’ for performance, making learning more relevant, flexible and deliver closer alignment to what’s really needed.  As well as embarking on this evolution themselves, they are taking many people with them – this is truly a team effort. It will challenge the role of leaders, the way technology is managed and procured, how content is delivered, it will shape talent strategy, demand more rigorous and business aligned measurement.  It sounds complex, but starting with real business issues and designing learning scaffolds to support it is what we have always done and continue to do.  The flavour of each of those scaffolds is different; e-learning can still be entirely relevant but for other contexts, the creation and facilitation of communities may be the answer.  You’ll know what to do through taking a performance focussed consultancy approach and its an approach that can handle a changing world. Picture1

Performance is more than support – Performance Catalysts

So our final instalment of our series, we look at performance in the context of innovation and how performance catalysts (people who help build new connections, bring together different factors and create supporting environments) are key.  Inspired by my conversations and reading the work of Tom Spiglanin, the role of performance catalysts could be a useful way to support learning and development ensure they align with the heart of business performance.

Performance catalysts

Performance catalysts making connections, curating great content and insights, facilitating communities and more…

Example: new product development, breaking a new market


This is where the organisation as a whole needs to align behind a performance culture that encourages experimentation and analysis, investment in appropriate technology, understanding of how to engage through communications and content.  But perhaps more important than this, that each individual in an organisation can positively contribute to the performance of others when given the tools and appropriate support (which is where the learning team come in!).  Innovation and breakthroughs don’t just arise from an organised brainstorming sessions and generating ideas at the veracious rate of James Dyson and Jonny Ives is not an everyday occurrence.  But may small improvements can amount to significant business value and of course encourage conditions where those breakthroughs are more likely to happen.  This takes a level engagement much deeper than an ‘idea of the month’ competition – Amy Brann in her book ‘Engaged’ is a great starter in developing the conditions for performance in organisations, informed by research into neuroscience as it relates to work.  It’s a significant topic on its own, but Brann’s books are a great place to start.

Goal setting

This is where assertive and focussed learning team that can talk the language of the business comes into its own.  There may not be a stated performance gap but exploring current practices and current performance levels, learning teams working as performance consultants can help identify opportunities for improvement or where talents and knowledge are being under utilised.  Tangible goal setting with targets then become a two way street, not just delivered from the board but also suggested by the business themselves.


Leading on from goal setting, communities are fertile ground for identifying performance improvements, challenging the status quo, sharing ideas from outside the business and sharing ways in which they have found efficiencies, better tools, great suppliers etc.  The challenge here is to give these communities clear purpose.  Its clear how much benefit can be derived through improving knowledge sharing and collaboration so it’s a common frustration when communities just don’t stick.  Most often that’s because they are imposed upon an organisation as a ‘new initiative’ – low participation rates and a quick decline into obscurity follow.  Communities thrive when they are addressing real points of pain experienced right now and have appropriate facilitation and technology support to make it easy to contribute and access.  Once established and trust built between community participants, innovation communities can then be established.  Organisations need to be realistic – multi million dollar ideas are not going to generated on a weekly basis but the opportunity to take part in this type of activity can be highly motivating and rewarding.  Those organisations will to accommodate some risk taking are more likely to find that USP and have happier employees! 

Tools and Tech

Collaboration platforms that enable the quick sharing of content, links and research as well as upload of user created content sits at the heart of online communities.  Many organisations will already have platforms such as Salesforce Chatter, Honey, Yammer and Ning – each have their own strengths and weaknesses and adoption is often patchy.  This is a great example of tech as the enabler, not the solution.  If you have well supported communities orientated around a clear purpose for its participants, this should drive what it needs. Dig a little deeper and you’ll find communities organically emerging and using tools with which they are comfortable.  Making good choices in providing opportunities for collaboration come down to making it quick to search, quick to create and upload and content fresh.  This is where you’ll see more organisations taking the portal approach that many of our customers adopt – aggregating tools into a single portal that pulls in relevant content, enables intelligent sharing, content feeds and upload.  With improved and easier integration, it is becoming easier to create the right solution for your particular organisation and swap out elements as needed. There are other ways to support a learning culture through supporting learner generated content – tools like for creating your own portfolio, Adobe Voice for quick animated stories, Microsoft Snip for walkthroughs, iMovies and Adobe Premiere Clip for quick video editing – all free tools and all support development of quick, disposable content.


Catalysts: This is the culmination of the new learning professional’s role – it is a multi faceted role that is truly performance focussed.  If the learning team are fulfilling the role of performance consultant, they are well connected throughout the business and able to recognise and capitalise on opportunities for individuals and teams to work together to deliver something new. Leaders are also hugely influential here through their active support of time participating in communities, space of experimentation and a measured degree of risk taking.  Of course, organisations must keep focus on delivery but to truly breakthrough in your given sector, Einstein’s very well worn quote is worth repeat just one more time ‘ Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.’ So we are almost at the end of this series – in our final instalment we’ll give you a quick take away summary to help inform your strategy.

Performance is more than support – performance in context:

Performance Analysisthecatalystlookingnewways-low Example: looking at an existing practice or KPI and identifying areas for improvement.  A practical example here would be increasing existing market share – this could be even more specific, such as targeting a segment, geography, product set etc Conditions: Performance analysis requires an environment that welcomes collaboration, commentary and openness to adapt.  It sounds obvious, but it requires an acceptance of imperfection and experimentation.  Its worth stopping for a moment and thinking about your leadership culture here – is room made for this in the delivery cycle? Organisations that invest in big capital projects such as oil and gas companies build in opportunities for performance analysis, peer review and lessons learnt into their project management methodologies.  This is because they recognise the value of that insight – learning a lesson from a similar challenge can save many millions of dollars.  So there’s no contest, it’s a given that performance analysis and transferring the lessons from it makes sense.  But organisations whose budgets aren’t nearly as big could still reap huge benefits from this type of culture.  The outcome of this type of work is often unpredictable by nature (which is why it can go by the wayside) but this is where breakthrough thinking, new products, efficiencies and competitive advantage can arise. Goal setting: Establishing effective measures is a key step here – know what the lead indicators are requires a performance consultancy approach.  It is also important to establish the hypothesis you are trying to prove.  So for example in this case it could does improved performance support content for our CRM improve outcomes? Does easier access to business development case studies improve conversion rate in related markets? Over a 6-month period, what effect does intensive sales coaching have on a defined cohort?  Tools such as the value chain will help to create this for you and make the link to business outcome.  Going back to the oil and gas context, because a value is put against a project, the impact of performance analysis at key project gates can be compared against previous work of a similar nature and the improvements tracked. Community: When looking at something like market share, its likely that throughout the business, there will be examples of practice or market insight, that would serve another team well.  Some years ago, we worked with France Telecom to improve collaboration and transfer of practice between global product managers, through the establishment and participation in a practice community where they are able to share recent developments, recommended suppliers, increases or decreases of uptake on new services in particular markets etc.  These lessons learnt are readily transferable and yield fast results, where others have the advantage of learning from the successes and challenges of those who have been there before.  Below are the figures from one of the founding communities at France Telecom which inspired the adoption of the model across the business in the following decade. Slide1 Tools and Tech: There’s certainly no shortage of data that could be captured from a whole variety of sources and there’s no doubt that senior leaders want to know if things are delivering value.  The link between learning activities, collaborative behaviours and business outcomes can be measured through a combination of qualitative and quantitative measures.  In the short term, putting in the effort to gather business stories help drive adoption and encourage participation in analysis.  However, for a deeper analysis and more robust data driven approach to identifying patterns of effective learning activities and outcome, xAPI can be effective.  Here, we can gather data based on real learner interaction with content, from consuming content (from a whole variety of sources) and contributing (through interaction with others, contributions of user generated content and participation in communities and discussions).  Because xAPI uses the ‘actor verb object’ format, it enables organisations to create more reliable links to performance supporting activities and business outcome.  So if we look at a high performing team and see through the data what activities they regularly participate or the route to performance improvement they take that can tell us what activities are yielding business results. People:  The role learning professionals play in this arena is a highly consultative role – as objective facilitator of activities to conduct workflow analysis and after action reviews, as evaluation developers who understand what data indicates an improvement in performance and look for patterns in behaviour that lead to better business results (using data provided by the xAPI protocol.  Marketing has become a more data driven professional and the learning profession is too.  It may be that learning teams in organisations would benefit from some expert support in this area to get started. So in our final instalment, we’ll explore how performance catalysts, i.e. those individuals who facilitate dialogue, collaboration, knowledge sharing and curation throughout the business are key for product and service innovation.

Helping virtual teams thrive – our 10 minute video guide

IMG_5929 Last week, I spent 7 glorious days introducing my daughter to the area where my father was raised in County Cork, Ireland. I hadn’t visited for 15 years but even in that first visit when my father gave me the full family tour, there was significant investment in connectivity and sustainable building. This was driving an increase in migration to southern Ireland for those looking to enjoy the the stunning scenery and legendary welcome! The improvements in supporting communication technology, early days of the cloud and rise in virtual working made this more practical than ever before. A few years later, I met a communities expert from Oracle, responsible for the facilitation of a global knowledge community and virtual team of ERP consultants. Originally from Sweden, he now lived with his family on Vancouver Island, in a beautiful coastal lodge. Myself and Debbie Lawley provided consultancy to him, his team and other community facilitators to help develop a framework for virtual working at Oracle. Despite this dispersed workforce being the norm at a company such as Oracle, they recognised early on that the needs of a virtual teams are different and didn’t fit the typical leadership and team development models employed by existing leadership programmes. Returning back to Ireland now in 2016 and with lightening broadband speeds in our rural cottage (as well as a proliferation of outstanding coffee shops in cycling distance!), the options for setting up home wherever you are drawn are more practical than ever before. Yet there are still many organisations who haven’t yet invested in ensuring their people thrive when working remotely. It inspired me to record a 10 minute guide to managing virtual teams, filmed on location in Ballinglanna, near Clonakilty, Country Cork, Ireland and at WillowDNAHQ in Bristol, UK.

If you want to find out more or are interested in developing a virtual team programme for your organisation, please get in touch, we’d love to help.

Performance is more than support – performance in context

  What this performance model means for the provision of learning support in organisationstheperformance-medium So taking the performance lens to typical learning challenges, let’s finish with looking at performance in context.  To do this, I have broken down performance in a more contextual way and applied our model to each situation of the following contexts: Performance rehearsal, performance analysis, performance catalyst Today, we’ll take a look at performance rehearsal. Examples: This could range from preparing someone for their first managerial role through to highly complex skills, such as designing major structural engineering projects, conducting medical procedures, flight training etc Conditions: This requires clear communication about expectations for a given role, understanding of core work activities (i.e. the processes, tools, inputs and outputs), transfer of knowledge, mentoring, practice opportunities aligned to typical work challenges and scenarios to develop a realistic and fully aligned view of what levels of performance are needed. Where these skills are complex, rare or safety critical, investment in creating the right conditions is a much easier case to make (think flight training) but there are other areas where a safe place to explore skills acquisition can benefit, such as first time management challenges. From an organisational culture perspective, leaders need to endorse time for people to invest in development, recognise and value contributions to supporting rehearsal (though capturing and sharing case studies, volunteering as a mentor or peer reviewer, contribute as a subject matter expert into formal content development). Goal setting: For those with clear outcomes (such as engineering projects, flight deck, medical etc) it is likely that well defined measurement is in place already and that number of incidents, speed of project delivery, budget, errors, quality etc can be tracked.  This can be integrated into your performance dashboard and over time, you can track these numbers.  However for topics such as leadership, the measures can be quite subjective and a great outcome can mean different things is different contexts.  That’s where a value chain can be very useful; its a worthwhile exercise in which to engage, not only for the purposes of defining measures but its also a great tool for senior team buy in. valuechain-medium Community: Mentoring is relevant here, but there are other community activities that can be beneficial.  Peer assists are a great way for teams of people to test hypothesis, present ideas and explore options, with the support of ‘critical friends’ who, in a facilitated environment, will encourage the team to scenario plan, work through alternatives and refine their plans.  Communities are also a fertile ground for gathering business stories that can be used to build realistic and credible scenarios. Tools and Tech: For complex, highly specialist settings, investment in VR could be a viable option.  Creating physical simulations of some of these tasks has been the only way to create a realistic environment but advances in VR technology are bridging that gap.  It may never replace it entirely, but speed to competency and high performance could be accelerated. Collaborative platforms with effective search capabilities help Responsive content can enable scenario base content to be delivered across platforms but its worth considering the screen real estate of each device and how detailed an interaction you can achieve.  However, there is a great role here for mobile in the continuum of performance rehearsal into application, through reinforcing learning with refreshers, quick exercises and top tips at the point of need. People: Facilitators to support and nurture communities are key roles here – connecting experts to novices, gathering insights to build realistic scenarios, orchestrate and facilitate peer reviews are just some of the key activities they can support.  Experts in content development with specialism in interactive scenarios, video storyboarding and production can be useful here.  VR simulation development houses are growing all the time (we at WillowDNA work with virtual environment and VR specialists, Immerse Learning).  Learning professionals need to ensure they are aware of progress in these areas and most major conferences will provide demonstrations and examples of new tools.  It goes without saying the leaders and budget holders will need to be supportive here but getting buy in requires well informed learning professionals who can tap into good case studies and examples from other organisations. Next, we’ll take a look at performance analysis.

Performance Is More Than Support – People that drive learning strategy

people-lowPeople The changing nature of roles, skills and knowledge required for those in learning based professions has been apparent for a number of years.  There have been those that accuse L&D of sleepwalking into extinction at its most dramatic and a distinct gulf between what Towards Maturity regard as the ‘top deck’ and other learning development departments at a more even tempered tone. However, its should be acknowledged that learning and development can have a very tough time elevating the conversation above the catalogue and truly drive learning strategy. Current discussion has focussed much more on the part L&D themselves play in perpetuating traditional expectations of the learning function. Yet it is much more nuanced than that and the perception of learning can be quite engrained in a business, making it tough for learning and development to get the airtime they need to sell in the importance of supporting the learning journey. Whether that journey is formal or informal, there are significant and meaningful roles learning and development taking in assuring excellent performance (and by meaningful, we mean impacting the real business metrics of the business).  Learning as part of the workflow is critical to achieving business performance and should be at the heart of learning strategy.   It has perhaps never been more important in the information and imagination age.   This is where the performance lens really comes into its own and its why we’ve recently published content on learning and development as the performance catalysts. The definition of a catalyst helps contextualise the dynamics of performance and how we can go about making great decisions in improving it. It is not shackled by a particular approach, technology or model, it needs to understand the elements at play, their interactions and the barriers that may be preventing achieving the desired outcomes. It’s a term you can use as a way to frame the role learning play and help recognise how critical it is and can be. The role is multi faceted; it is a performance consultant who conducts deep analysis of a desired business outcome, the inputs that determine success, the learning needs associated with making that happen and evaluating whether the solutions have been effective.  It’s finding the right suppliers, tools and technology to provide the most appropriate mediums that best fit the context of your organisation’s performance improvement needs, as well as know what’s on the horizon that could yield further benefit.  Its understanding what you already have and whether you are maximising its value – are opportunities for mentoring, performance champions, communities and user generated content going untapped?  Are managers, leaders, recruitment strategy, talent strategy and reward aligned to supporting and perpetuating a performance culture?  Where’s the low hanging fruit?  Is it really a learning need or a hole in process, a case study unshared? In our final instalment next week, we’ll take this performance approach and explore some typical learning challenges.        

Performance Is More Than Support – Learning Technology

toolsandtechnology-mediumSo in our last post we started our journey through learning technology with learning management systems so let’s turn our attention to content, including mobile, wearables, virtual environments and virtual reality (VR). Content  The definition of what e-learning content is a fluid and varied one, but often interpreted by our previous experience of point and click content.  Today, improved authoring tools, design quality, interactions, games engines, responsive design and user generated content all play their part.  Authoring tools will continue to improve and provide better experiences across devices, novice user focused tools (such as iMovie for video, for online portfolio creation, adobe voice for short animations, Microsoft Snip for quick walkthroughs and Piktochart for infographic creation to name a few) will continue to push the quality of user generated content forward.  It is raising the bar of what is expected and what will engage users. More and more, content is drawing on the skills of talented animators, video and media production houses and graphic designs to make an emotional connection with learners and make the link to performance outcomes more immediate and memorable.  Relevance, impact, shareability and reuse are important factors here and understanding when to invest and when to create for disposability as things change is important.  Again, if the learning needs is routed in performance, the choices you need to make here become much more apparent and grounded.  In our learning design methodology, there has always been a blend before blended learning was part of the mainstream vernacular because there is never a one size fits all.  The starting point of each organisation is different, it terms of its base level of knowledge, technical infrastructure, existing content, capability to create or curate more content and on.  Therefore, in a performance led approach,  awareness of existing and emerging mediums, a curiosity for new approaches an tools and creative spirit will help ensure your content is fit for the need.  What is arguably the most important factor here is knowing whether the content is having the desired effect –impacting business performance and encouraging innovation.  This is where the breathing space surrounding content for learners to experiment, contribute, critique, apply, refine, reapply and evolve is vital.  That’s what a real blend represents – the content is the springboard to performance not the single solution. Mobile and wearables Having mobile as a stand alone statement is in itself outdated and the distinction between mobile and desktop/laptop is becoming increasingly more irrelevant.  Understanding what type of performance support people need will lead us to the right intervention or solution delivered to the right supporting technology.  Form factor is certainly a consideration in terms of design and delivery methods but again, if you look at the workflow and where and when people will require support for what outcome, this naturally indicates what will be relevant.  Its then obvious what should be available and will be useful on mobile and what approach won’t work.  Detailed interactions on a smartphone form factor are unlikely to be a great experience, but quick refresher content, short scenarios, videos and discussions will do just fine.  The opportunity to learn on the go and whilst offline, using apps (as we have done with Pathway for iOS and Android) provide the flexibility and choice learners don’t just value, they expect it. Another important consideration is recognising what is becoming the more seamless handoff between technology.  Consider a day in the like of something like an Apple Watch – now there is certainly argument as to whether it has yet to prove a success but having lived with one for a year now, its interesting to reflect on the subtle but quite significant changes its made in the way I interact with other technology and the world around me.  On a daily basis, it has resulted in a realignment of personal fitness goals due to the wealth of data it provides and a renewed motivation.  I reach for my phone less and find my phone less intrusive as a result.  It provides concise summary information, providing me with choice as to whether I then go and explore this further (such as twitter updates, texts, skype, news feeds etc.)  It also provides the opportunity to gather more contextual information on the world around me when coupled with appropriate location based apps.  Although in its current version it still relies on an iPhone, the location based updates, simplified navigation and activity feeds have application for context sensitive performance support. Learning content does not need to be consumed on a wearable (in fact in a recent interview I conducted with David Kelly, Head of the e-Learning Guild and avid Apple Watch wearer, he suggested whoever starts to build the first e-learning module for the Apple Watch should be stopped!) But being pointed in the direction of support, content or events that I may digest or participate via another medium has great potential. We are currently working with clients to do just this, pushing short messages and comms around learning via iBeacons.  As an employee pops down to the café for a coffee break, an iBeacon located nearby can provide updates on new content, events or groups that may be of interest. Augmented reality is also an area that hasn’t yet been used to its full potential and even been the focus of some derision, with commentators claiming technologies like Google Glass are a failed experiment.  Don’t be too quick to dismiss this, its time may yet come.  It may not be relevant to all and I certainly would not advocate adopting any technology like this just because there’s plenty of press attention!  However, we have worked with a high end medical equipment provider where this type of technology can have significant benefits.  The equipment they deal with comes in at the multi-million dollar end of the market, so the effective use and maintenance of this complex machinery is vitally important.  Technology such as Google glass or even something more simple like Layar, which enables you to bring objects to life, using your phone to view the object and access context relevant content provides immediate access to guidance, how to’s and more.  Using AR, accessing the support you need to maintain specialist equipment can be done in situ and at point of need.  Again, its all about need – not all organisations will have use of this, but its important to know its there and understand its potential. Virtual reality and virtual worlds Virtual worlds are an arena that many learning technologists in organisations have been experimenting with for many years.  On the face of it, they have significant application, particular where hands on experience of a scenario may be challenging, dangerous or costly to achieve.  Its for exactly these reasons a number of large organisations used to invest heavily in research into Second Life and its successors.  However, they’ve not really gained any traction, largely because they are by definition removed from the real world.  Overcoming that barrier has been challenging and stories of people concentrating more on the outfit for their avatar or struggling to control the avatar in the first place have led to something of a mothballing of virtual worlds in most organisational learning contexts.  However, virtual reality and hardware such as Oculus Rift have the potential to change this, providing a more immersive, kinaesthetic experience. Conrad Tucker, assistant professor of engineering design and industrial engineering at Penn State University describes why he is leading a research group into its potential in higher education learning design:

“Online courses also limit you in some ways—there’s little immersive or tactile interaction, and sometimes it’s hard for students to engage with the material. IVR systems are a potential solution to that problem.”

The retention of learning and ability for students to accurately replicate tasks in the real world is significantly improved when using VR as opposed to completing the same activity in a non-immersive environment.  This is primarily because the environment is one where you learn through doing, rather than observing, reading or watching.   Although it would be useful to see more detailed research in this area with wider contexts and larger cohorts, early indicators suggest it needs to be on any learning professional’s radar.  At WillowDNA, we have developed a partnership with a local Oculus Rift application developer to provide options for immersive onboarding, simulations in high risk or complex environments and where assessment needs to be practical and provide accurate feedback are very exciting.

Our quick video overview of Performance Is More Than Support

Intrigued by our latest series on Performance Is More Than Support? Lisa Minogue-White, Director Of Learning Solutions at WillowDNA gives us a quick 3 minute overview of the 5 key components of building a performance focussed environment. It’s a great way to get into the subject and will help you understand how you can use this approach to develop your learning strategy.

Performance Is More Than Support – Learning Technology

  blendformalandinformal-low Now as a learning technology company, perhaps you might have expected us to lead with this, but effective technology is an enabler and as such, should never be the main show.  Understanding how to make the right choices in software and hardware, as well as being curious about new technology are the foundation skillset for learning professionals today.  For many this is a shift and not something that perhaps was expected when they joined the profession, however for newer entrants into the field, the context in which they will have completed formal education means this is much more familiar territory. If you are not from a technical background, this can feel quite intimidating.  This is why taking a performance focused approach to evaluating tools and technology can give huge confidence in engaging suppliers and making technology investments.  The suppliers that will rise to the top are those that join you in a performance focussed view of your requirement and look beyond the immediate content or system need into the environment in which it will be deployed.

Learning Technology is all about context

I reached out to one of our customers, Transitions Optical and asked the EVP of Education and Professional Development why after our initial engagement with them, they decided to partner with us.  His answer gives a clue into the job suppliers need to fulfil to ensure they are truly impacting performance

“you delivered more than we asked for and added more value.  You asked us not just what needed to be done in terms of content, but the role other supporting systems like our CRM could play, how to establish champions networks, how we could get them better connected and supported by technology and build ownership of performance out in the field, shared then across EMEA.  You gave us insights into things we hadn’t thought of.”

Now of course this is great feedback, shamelessly shared, but it demonstrates where the bar is set.  Making important decisions about technology demand real insight into the setting. Once we understand the performance drivers, we can more effectively decide when to be the early adopters and when to invest in improving use of what we already have.  So let’s touch on some of the most popular solutions and some of the emerging technology and explore its relevance to different performance challenges.  In this instalment, we’ll get started with the LMS.

Learning Management Systems

Probably the most significant change over the last few years, is a greater adoption of Cloud based LMS implementations, as cost of ownership, flexibility and the drive for a more pick and mix approach to creating the most appropriate technology suite grows.  Change and pace of new technology releases has demanded a more agile approach and even the traditional enterprise LMS systems have need to provide cloud offerings. One area that leaners still find challenging is the user interface – still borne out of a desire to manage the learning experience, its this emphasis on the M and S of the LMS that has dominated.  However, well designed LMS systems with the learner experience at the core still have an important role to play, even in a more self serve, self curated world.  When we look at this through the performance lens, the scene setting core skills development can benefit from a formal learning path or scaffold.  It provides the basis for self led research, collaboration and innovation because we understand the context. Take project management for example.  Creating a formal learning path on project management in your LMS, comprised a combination of well researched and effectively design content provides confidence in core skills and a common ground for exploring how the project management process could continue to evolve, refine and change.  It makes the process of innovation more efficient, by eliminating the blank sheet of paper syndrome.  Sure, there is always the risk that having a formal learning path sets out an approach that may determine the road we take, but here is where the balance of formal and informal is so important.  Setting context enables people to more quickly enter into the conversation about current and future performance, it gives us a starter for 10 from which refinements and improvements can be made.  This is where an LMS can play an important role, as long as the user experience is simple, intuitive and doesn’t get in the way of learning! Another key theme we’ve seen emerge over the past few years is data – what can our systems tell us about the nature of learning behaviours and how they link to performance.  This was the promise and the opportunity laid out for xAPI, the e-learning software specification to enable tracking of learning experience.  There are still very limited case studies of xAPI in action (the major case study being Amazon and its adoption of xAPI on its strategic roadmap).  But this as yet limited pockets of xAPI impact is not a fault in the standard but more a symptom of the lack of alignment of a performance based mind-set.  xAPI itself is only a standard and only useful if we know what performance looks like and can create the links between learning behaviour and business outcome. xAPI isn’t just a standard you adopt, its not a case that being xAPI compliant is the end game.   Aaron Silvers from MakingBetter and co-founder of Up to All of Us, the community that is shaping the xAPI standards, explained to Learning Solutions magazine back in 2013 how xAPI compliance is not the point; “It’s not a cure-all by itself, but the xAPI presents an opportunity to tackle the fuzzy area between what’s “learning” and what’s “performance” in a way that can provide feedback that helps you design better, as well as provide feedback to learners to help them perform better” To deliver on this promise requires the type of performance approach we’ve been exploring and xAPI is just one of the ways you can gather more insightful data about how your learning content, tools and technology are playing their part in performance.  But at the end of the day, it is just data, it’s what you do with it that counts.  That is why you need to do your homework, through performance consulting and using methods such as value chain so you know what you are looking at and can draw sensible conclusions and relationships to business outcome. Of course a fully rounded view of performance is not just what people take away but what they contribute and effective LMS solutions have collaboration built in.  For us, this raises an interesting opportunity for what we call professional gamification.  Whilst game dynamics have been used to incentive people to complete and return to content, this has a short shelf life.  It could even be argued that if you have to heavily gamify your content, does that say something about its perceived relevance?  Game dynamics are useful when exploring subjects that demand decision making skills and exploration of consequence (many authoring tools are very capable of developing effective and engaging scenario based content when in the hands of a talented designer). Gamification of the LMS however is an interesting topic and sometimes only applied at a surface level.  Leaderboards highlighting users that have the highest completion, scores on assessments or uploaded most content to social learning platforms are common.  However, when we look at this in terms of performance, the value of the interaction in terms of overall business outcome is something that really should be recognised.  Therefore, with some analysis and planning, progressive L&D teams are looking at rewarding valuable contribution, recognising those learners that are contributing to the overall body of knowledge, sharing case studies, offering mentoring, are effective curators of relevant content.  To do this takes a combination of effective learning design, the right LMS that supports collaboration and committed learning professionals looking to make those connects between learning behaviour and performance. In the next post, we’ll take a look at content.  

More than performance support – eye on the goal

IMG_4804Effortless – that’s how it looked as I took a quick break wandering along the Hudson Greenway to watch the skateboarders refine their moves.  As an accident prone teenager, this type of skill utterly alluded me and my one attempt having ended in a trip to accident and emergency was enough to end that particular career.  But of course, like all skills, talent may be a component but practice based on a clear performance goal is essential. These skaters will have spent more time than most on the trial and error cycle to get this looking so easy.  What they share is a motivating, well defined goal, feedback from peers and further refinement to keep pushing for better.  Malcolm Gladwell’s premise of 10,000 hours of practice or Matthew Syed’s argument that purposeful practice is what sets sports professionals apart from others reinforces this.  Performance practice is important, but its objective and goal must be clear.  So let’s explore what this means in organisations. Goal setting The rate of technological progress is rapid and worldwide economic shifts continue.  This all results in an increased reliance on networks to leverage knowledge to adapt, change and innovate, so it is even more important for the strategic goals set by the board to be rapidly disseminated into tangible action. This means learning must be part of that senior leadership level discussion.  However, often learning is interpreted as training which in turn become what Paul Matthews in his book ‘Capability at Work’ describes as ‘The knee-jerk reaction’.  He cites the 2015 Towards Maturity report which highlights that from their survey cohort ‘only 36% of organisations are working with business leaders to identify the business metrics that need to be improved through learning’.  If we are to create the conditions for performance excellence, this alignment is key to ensuring we know what change we are trying to affect and what we need to do about it. General consensus is that successful organisations are those that communicate their strategy well and have clear objectives – everyone in the workflow knows what they need to do.  But knowing what I have to do as set out in my objectives is not the same as knowing how I’m going to do it.  It is here that the learning team have an important part of play.  Creating learning paths that provide a framework for key skills development, needed to achieve business objectives, helps to put strategy into practical context.  High quality learning suppliers can devise the right blend of content to do this, advising and leaving room for curated content, user generated content and dialogue to build in the flexibility and space for adaption as needed.  This is particular important because of course, objectives do not exist in a vacuum; once set, the world does not set itself around them. Understanding what skills are required to deliver on the company’s goals demands a more meaty approach to learning needs analysis. One of the neatest ways of achieving this at a strategic level is to use value chain analysis, ensuing the learning interventions that are deployed at each stage of a programme of learning are correctly targeted at the company objectives. The simple example below uses the sales team objective of increasing the win ratio. Each intervention then will be aiming for a specific outcome, for which there will be assumptions. Interventions then must be measured against the intended outcome. The tighter this can be, the more effective the intervention. We are finding more and more that our content development projects with clients feature as much an emphasis on setting out the strategic direction that provides the context for the learning programme, as it is practice and action based.  More than ever, information, media and content competes for attention and space in our day to day lives.  This means that emotional engagement is key to making learning stick and driving performance change.  It requires an understanding of each learner’s role in delivering strategy at a meaningful and practicable level. This is driving the rise of the internal consultant, to translate strategy into meaningful performance measures and as such, understand the performance gaps and fill them appropriately.  Bodies such as the Learning and Performance Institute offer qualifications in Performance Consultancy and highlight what typifies this relationship:

  • Build rapport and trust.
  • Listen to your client.
  • Think analytically and follow a process.
  • Challenge and ask questions to find the root causes of problems.
  • Focus on realistic action.
  • Silence your own personal demons
  • Be brave and authentic

It’s based on Nigel Harrison’s Performance Consulting model, a process I have applied in previous knowledge and collaboration roles.  It provides a structure to conversations with stakeholders that works in harmony with a value chain approach. What this ultimately delivers is confidence:

  • confidence that the organisation can deliver on its strategic objectives and deliver results to its shareholders or stakeholders (or if not ready now, what performance gaps we need to fill)
  • confidence in the investments organisations make in new content and supporting technology
  • confidence in the choices learning designers make in the content mix
  • confidence that our evaluation of the effectiveness of the learning environment is measuring the things that matter
  • confidence that we have insight into the real delivery of strategic objectives through informal learning activities and sharing of experience

Now that the scene has been set, we can turn our attention to the enablers, so in our next instalment, we’ll be exploring supporting tools and technology.