Sunday, March 16, 2008

The Problem With Experts

In an exchange with Sushil Mehrotra through I was reminded that there are two key challenges when leveraging subject matter experts (SME).
  1. As Sushil pointed out, you can learn to copy the behaviors and skills of a recognized expert, but you may not find a way to take those competencies to the next level. The goal should always be to move the standard distribution of your team to the right (increase the number of top performers and raise the top performance bar). So mimicry may help you get better quickly, but just as benchmarking only allows a company to become as good as a competitor, you must apply creativity to take that skill to the next level. The goal is always to create space and differentiate oneself from others.
  2. When you have a SME teach others the 'students' will learn the SME's best habits, but they will also likely learn some of the worst. Everyone falls into patterns of taking shortcuts to be more efficient and some of those may not be fully aligned with the desired way to achieve results (i.e. they may bend the rules a bit). More detrimentally, it is highly likely that a SME has a few bad habits and that those are not differentiated from the best ones by the students. I have come to prefer video as a behavior modeling tool for that exact reason. You can sterilize the model and eliminate the bad habits. These may be as innocuous as taking six steps to complete a task in Excel that should only take two or as grand as not using automation at all to complete a significant task.
So there is a place for subject matter experts in the training and development of others, but it is not a panacea or the most effective quick-fix in most situations. Create some structure and challenge the students to identify ways to take the skill(s) to the next level.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Training vs. Performance Support

Having recently taken on the CLO role (in addition to my role as the Director, Customer Experience) at my company, I was faced once again with the need to accelerate the potential of the training team. I inherited a group of instructor-led classroom training professionals that provided three types of 'training'. They provided technical instruction that covered the primary areas of Operations and the programs that we sell. They delivered 'soft skills' training to customer-facing employees (and a few internal-only people). They delivered motivational presentations. They put a curriculum together for every position and measured success by the percentage of the curriculum that was completed by each employee and by the number of employees that attended each class. Of course, these were very complimentary goals because forcing someone to take all of the assigned classes ensured positive 'butts in seats' numbers as well. But what happened when an employee needed to enhance some knowledge or skill immediately and that class was not scheduled? This team was sharp enough to realize that they also needed to be available to sit with employees to provide that just-in-time assistance.

I needed to do two things very quickly:
  1. This team was full of wonderful people and we needed to fully take advantage of their skills and knowledge across all areas within our parent company. This meant that we needed to organize the existing 42 classes and fully flesh them out so that these 11 trainers could advertise their offer and become fully leveraged.
  2. We needed to identify methods by which we could quickly put answers in the hands of our employees without making them wait for a training class or for a trainer to become available and sit with them.
It took three weeks to accomplish number 1. and the results of that effort will be shared with the leaders of the training organizations at our sister companies this coming week. The trainers created pre tests so that employees who did not need the training could place out of it and stay productive (keep on working). They created post tests so that we could measure an increase of knowledge 30-45 days after training (based on an increase between the pre-test and post-test scores, if any). They created job aids for the students' bosses so that the bosses would know the learning and performance objectives of each class and could hold the students accountable for using what was learned on the job. (The company has also recently beefed up our performance measurement with a more robust set of KPIs that I will monitor pre and post training to reach a Kirkpatrick level three measure of the team's effectiveness.) All of the class materials have been stored in a folder on a shared drive along with an overview so that anyone can pick up and deliver the course with only a little homework to prepare. This also cut down on all travel as there are trainers in each of the three main cities in which we have Operations and Sales groups.

The second objective has taken more work to realize and we must also get IT's approval, which is always interesting. Because people learn different ways we must provided a blended approach to increasing knowledge and improving skills (training ONLY improves gaps in knowledge and skill - see my blog on Gilbert's Model). Not every knowledge gap is also best filled by attending an instructor-led course. Some information should be at the employees' fingertips at all times. Some employees know what to do, but not how to effectively do it. They simply need to see it done right a few times until they master the skill themselves. Employees also need access to experts, and no trainer can be an expert on everything. Finally, we need to expand the offering beyond the line employees and help the leaders effectively do their job. Many people are sent to training to be 'fixed', but training does not fix 'broken' people. Leaders must learn how to identify the root cause of performance problems, and leaders must take ownership of developing their employees. The training team is a support team and our customers are the team leaders and executives. We should not do their job for them.

I am presently working with the trainers to develop skills in the following areas (which will help us realize the second goal):
  • Subject Matter Expert Created Content
    • Enterprise Wiki - a searchable database of information that is updated in real time by the employees (and confirmed for accuracy weekly by assigned experts who have the final say)
    • Behavior Model Video - the video shows an expert executing the skill well (e.g. pre-positioning to prevent a common sales objection) and the attached job aid outlines the steps that were viewed
    • Screencasts - Flash-based software tutorials that demonstrate 'how to' use key functionality in 30 to 60 second clips
    • Facilitated Case Study - the 'students' review a deal prior to the session and identify issues; they share, discuss, and debate the issues during the session; the facilitator types up the documented agreements and sends them to the students and the students' bosses (collectively the group knows more than the trainer/facilitator)
  • Trainer Created Content
    • Self-Paced Training - whether a workbook or a web-based module, the trainer bases the content of the self-directed materials on job analyses (only facts and decisions are taught this way)
    • Job Aid - a quick how-to reference guide (not an FAQ) for common skills that employees should post on the walls of their cubicles
    • Instructor-Led Class - some topics require the opportunity to interact with others, practice the new skill in a safe environment, and to get feedback on that performance
  • Special Learning Activities
    • Assessment - valid and reliable test of soft skills, aptitude, and/or capacity that might be a self-assessment, boss-assessment, or 360 degree-assessment followed by an interpretive feedback session
    • Individual Development Plan or Performance Improvement Plan - specific improvements are defined and documented along with the steps that the employee agrees to take to execute the plan (and improve)
    • Coach - based upon a specific interpersonal skill gap a weaker employee (protégé) is partnered up with a stronger employee (mentor) and their interactions are guided by a plan such as the IDP above
    • Developmental Assignment - most learning comes from doing and evaluating the results of our decisions and actions (both successes and mistakes) so employees are put into roles on projects, etc. where they are forced to excel in the area that needs to be developed

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

The High Cost of Super Stars

I was reminded by today's HBR Management Tip of the Day of the high price of bringing super stars into your organization. First, you have the premium that you have to pay in order to lure them away from their present job (and enough to keep someone else from luring them away from you in the near future). Then, you have the internal cost of envy and frustration (from incumbents who think they are as good or better than the new guy, but being paid a fraction of the salary). However, today's Harvard Business Review tip reminded me of the statistics on super star failure. When they join your company they no longer have the network that they had at their old job (their formal and informal go-to team). They no longer have the same software, processes, policies, and culture that they learned to optimize.

Individual performance drops by 20%, which frustrates the super star and your company.

The actual losses mount as morale declines, roadblocks are intentionally placed in front of the super star, Wall Street punishes you for a highly visible bad hire, and the super star eventually leaves in very public fashion.

Monday, March 10, 2008

How to Build a Success Profile

Establishing Job Profile Context

1. Define the mission of the job.
a. What is the ultimate product or service produced?
b. How does this product or service contribute to the organization's strategy?
c. How would one know whether the mission was being accomplished successfully?
2. Describe the major outcomes/accomplishments required to achieve the mission.
a. Which outcomes does the organization NEED to have?
b. Which outcomes are NICE to have?
3. Define performance standards for each outcome NEEDED.
a. What does someone in this position need to know to achieve the outcomes?
b. What technical skills would be required to achieve the outcomes?
c. What experiences would someone need to have to successfully achieve the outcomes?
d. Which of these knowledge, skills, and experiences are possessed by the best performers, but not by the rest?
4. Identify barriers to achieving the mission and outcomes.
a. What has prevented people from succeeding in the past?
b. Which barriers are caused by knowledge, skill, or experience deficiencies?

Capturing Knowledge, Skill, Experience Requirements

NOTE: Save all knowledge, skill, and experience components for use as a master list of components. These will be used to validate the success profile.

5. Isolate knowledge components.
a. Circle points of knowledge identified as NEED to know, not nice to know (i.e. those that help the best performers in this position succeed beyond the rest of the performers in this same position).
b. To what degree must this knowledge be entrenched to be a best performer? (basic, intermediate, or expert)
6. Isolate skill components.
a. Circle skills that were identified as NEED to have, not nice to have (i.e. those that help the best performers in this position succeed beyond the rest of the performers in this same position).
b. To what degree must each skill be mastered to be a best performer? (basic, intermediate, or expert)
7. Isolate experience components.
a. Circle those experiences that truly differentiated the best from the rest in this position.
b. Which of these experiences would a person have for at least a year before becoming a top performer?

Capturing Leadership Competencies

8. Leverage research. (In this example we will use Lominger's Leadership Architect, which includes 67 research-based leadership competencies.)
a. Mark competencies that are critical by level according to Lominger's research, add the Price of Admission and Competitive Edge unique to that level to the poster.
9. Modify based on incumbents.
a. Identify top three people in the position.
b. Sort through Lominger cards to find the top ten competencies that differentiate those three from the rest (i.e. the top three have more of this than anyone else).
c. Mark top ten on poster with colored dots or 'X' marks.
d. Discuss to reach consensus.
10. Narrow selected competencies down by presence in the general population.
a. Select 8-10 Price of Admission competencies for the Success Profile.
b. Select 5-9 Competitive Edge competencies for the Success Profile.

Validate the Profile

11. Assess all incumbents against all 67 competencies.
12. Identify highest performers and select competencies that they have more of than the other performers.

The Case for Blended Learning

Think back on the training classes that you have attended during your career.  Of those that provided a great deal of theory instead of focusing on the work that you did at the time, did you do anything differently or better as a result of attending that course?  It is highly unlikely that anything changed for better or worse.

Theory can establish a deep understanding, but must be followed by a focus on observable and measurable work-related activities.  For example, learning about effective listening can begin with compelling reasons to become a better listener and theory on how listening works, but improvement won't happen without providing a concrete, easy-to-remember model and plenty of practice time during the class (with immediate feedback).  The learner should also identify critical times to practice effective listening on the job and create a plan for using the model during those times.  Sharing that action plan for listening with your boss is the most powerful anchor because you now have to meet her/his expectations as well.  Had the class stopped with just a theory on listening, real improvements at work would not occur, especially during critical times.

Some Competencies are too Complex to Teach

Some competencies should only be leveraged during selection. Requiring development in a competency that is innate or nearly impossible to improve or to notice improvement has resulted in legal actions by employees against their employers. It is also prudent to ensure that all employee development processes and systems set the learner up for success and not for failure. (If a competency is extremely hard to improve or change then it is not likely to provide significant ROI to provide training on that topic.)

Developmental difficulty is based on several factors:
• How complex the skills are that are needed to execute the competency well
• How much experience is required to master the competency
• How much the attitude, values, opinions, and beliefs of the learner impact the desire to be competent
• How the competency involves, engages, or triggers the learner's emotions
• How much intellectual and cognitive complexity is required for mastery
• How much hard-wiring is required to use the competency
It is also important to note how frequently the competency shows up in normal distributions. The rarest competencies may be the hardest to develop simply based on its rarity.

Keys to Successfully Creating a Competency-Based Training Curriculum

To build a competency-based training and development system or to map existing courses to a competency model, you must be mindful of the four keys to success:
• Training should only include competencies that can be effectively developed (i.e. hard-wired traits that don't significantly change over time won't change as a result of some fabulous training class)
• Students must be able to apply the lessons learned while on the job in observable or measurable ways (if the benefits of training cannot be measured then training will not be valued)
• Courses should teach more than one competency (competencies do not live in isolation so teach clusters of common skills together, e.g. planning, prioritizing, and decision making)
• Courses should be followed by on-the-job application and feedback and bring the manager into the developmental cycle (create job aids for the bosses of the students so that the bosses can hold the students accountable for what was learned)

Communication is the Key to Competency Success

Training, staffing, HR, and line managers often speak different languages. For example, when a manager asks his/her HR representative for permission to seek a new direct report the manager is given a job description following approval. Staffing is told about the opening and screens for 'planning skills' based on the request from the manager. Once the top candidates have been identified and screened the manager selects one based on fit with the rest of the team. Soon the manager realizes that what staffing screened for was different than what the manager understood 'planning' to mean. The HR generalist who had produced the job description disagreed with the manager on the meaning of 'planning skills' and then found that what HR meant per the job description and what the staffing person interpreted were also different. To bring the new employee up to speed as quickly as possible it was decided that the new person should be sent to a training class. Looking through the available classes, two were found that referenced 'planning' in the learning objectives. The manager sent the new employee to the first available class. Upon returning from the class the new employee attempted to show the manager the newly-learned skills only to find that what was being taught was still not what the manager needed the employee to do.

What a painful, yet common, story from a real organization that has a competency model. The real problem is that only the titles of the competencies are in common use instead of the descriptions. The real power of competency-based models lies in the common language that results from the clear and unambiguous definitions of the competencies. This language should be applied to all HR systems so that job descriptions and success profiles lead to consistent interview questions, employees are consistently represented on workforce planning maps, performance appraisal feedback means the same thing to both manager and direct report, and classes teach the competencies as they are commonly understood.

How Trainers Should View Work

There are the worker bees (Implementation/Evaluation), the managers (Translation/Communication), and the top dogs (Creation/Re-Creation). The top dogs are those folks that create initiatives and objectives for ABC COMPANY as a whole and the business units. The job of the managers is to put those initiatives and objectives into words that can be understood and utilized by the worker bees. The worker bees are accountable for both the implementation of the plans crafted by the managers and for evaluating the results to ensure that we are going where we think we are going.

The skills that must be taught fall into three distinct categories: Strategic, Intra/Interpersonal, and Technical. As you move up the organization you will find that there are fewer technical job skills but more strategic skills required. Therefore, a training curriculum should be weighted accordingly with line employees focusing more on technical knowledge and skills, some interpersonal skills related to working with customers and/or team members, and only a presentation on the company's strategy and how the line employees fit into that equation. Mid-management would get a mixture of those same classes with the emphasis being on understanding (not doing) the technical work, managing people (not work), and executing the strategy. Senior leaders will not need to know the technical work, but should have a high-level overview of the company's employee activities; senior leaders need to know how to manage cross-functional processes (and teams of leaders); and senior leaders must know how to craft and cascade strategic plans.