Effortless – 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.