Saturday, August 22, 2009

Coachable vs. Scorable

Some very excitable HR newbies would like to drill down during the creation of performance management systems and make everything scorable on an employee's annual review. Then two things go wrong. First, managers don't want to spend a lot of time on each review so they push back on the shear volume of items to score. Second, employees cry "foul" when any items are subjective, which makes them ripe for abuse and favoritism. What is equally problematic, but rarely considered is the ad on TV by lawyers that specialize in helping employees exact revenge on bad bosses and bad HR processes. (Not that those lawyers are in any way evil. On the contrary - they truly protect wronged employees.)

Effective performance management systems are simple, valid, and reliable. Those traits ensure that they will be effectively used, will measure the attributes that matter, and will be objective.

So, what can you do with all of the subjective issues that impact performance? If you had taken the time to analyze the job (objectives, activities, and competencies), then you would know how to turn most of the "soft metrics" into measurable or observable ones. However, not everything turns out to be completely objective so you have to deal with those performance characteristics in another way. You must coach employees on those factors.

For example, how can you consistently and reliably measure tone and pitch on phone calls with customers? You could try to calibrate all company leaders who are responsible for measuring those attributes, but calibration never really gets everyone on the same page. Instead, you can either turn it into an objective metric by calling customers and asking them for their opinions (that is the only opinion that really matters anyway), or you can capture calls with questionable voice attributes and have coaching sessions with the employee. If you document the agreements and next steps/changes that were commited to after each coaching session then you start to create evidence of a pattern (either of improvement or a continued problem). As a coach you must help the employee identify how the problematic tone and/or pitch of his/her voice can hurt his/her ability to be successful. Once you get their buy-in you can almost always get them to hear on thier own calls how their voice may be preventing them from reaching their goals with each call.

So, if a metric is one of the seven most critical - in that it truly differentiates peak performance - and it is both valid and reliable, then it should be on the annual appraisal. Everything else should be part of regular employee coaching and development. If the negative behaviors are ongoing and a pattern can be documented, then it can be addressed as a performance issue.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Biology of the Brain: are all competencies biological?

Outside of the skeletal-muscular abilities that enable performance on the job, every other competency that support our ability to perform our job may well be based on a biological function. Pheremones have been shown to elicit hormonal responses (colloquially known as arousal). We are most agreeable with people who remind us of our parents, suggesting that we might be trying unconsciously to sustain favorable genetic traits (though this also results in perpetuating cycles of abuse). Oxytocin is released in the brain when we are with the one we love, resulting in a calming effect (an emotion described as love). We also now know that memories are created by the formation of proteins, and memory is key to learning.

Anyone who really wants to excel in the application of competency-based human capital management must take the time to learn more about the function of the brain and how it affects human emotions, learning, personalities, and behaviors.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

The Competency Categories

Has the term "competency", as it refers to personal factors that enable individual performance, become too broad? Let's begin by asking the question, "What factors are NOT competencies?"

First, we can eliminate the external factors. Those are "facilitators" of performance. (The opposite would be "barriers" to performance just as the opposite of competencies would be "weaknesses".) External factors (e.g. resources, processes, information, rewards, etc.) can have a clear impact on the ability and/or willingness of an individual to perform, but the term "competency" includes only the factors that are elements of an individual person's make-up. External facilitators of performance are not competencies.

So what is a person made of? And which of those elements affects the capacity to perform? Through my research and experience I have identified the following categories:

Physical (body or brain) traits that enable performance are called abilities. If a task requires one to lift a certain weight without aid of an external resource then the "performer" must have the capacity to lift weight. This ability is comprised of the muscle strength required, as well as the appendages required, to lift. The brain must also be able to interpret the instructions. Therefore, intelligence sufficient to grasp and act on the instructions is also an ability. However, intelligence, as a physical function of the brain, is not the only mental trait that is critical. For example, judgment is a competency that is based on knowledge rather than intelligence. Data storage is different from intellectual horsepower, but they are interdependent on one another when we need to leverage them.

The brain stores facts and generalizations about the world around us. For example, some of the information that we store allows us to understand and speak a language. Information comes from our personal interpretation of each event that unfolds in our life. Experience itself is not a competency so much as the knowledge we have gained from each experience is. This is most clear when we find that someone has learned a lesson from an experience that is contrary to what we expected. Do you know anyone that has graduated from college or passed a specific certification test, but who is not as good at a job as someone who learned from the "school of hard knocks" (general life experience on the streets)? Performance requires us to collect data and convert it into usable information so knowledge is a competency.

Skills are techniques that an individual has learned and intentionally applies to a given situation. The three most common academic skills are reading, writing, and arithmetic (computation). However, there are also gross motor skills such as riding a bicycle. An example of a combination of both skills would be using a specific software application (reading and typing). Many interpersonal traits are also learned skills (e.g. listening is a skill, hearing is an ability). Once a person becomes fluent at a skill they no longer consciously practice it. They just do it. When someone does not know how to do something that they never even knew was possible, they are unconsciously incompetent. After they learn of the skill's existence they are consciously incompetent. As they learn the skill they pass from being a novice to being proficient to being an expert. At some point they may just begin to use the skill without even thinking about it. That level of unconscious competence may be called a habit, but habits are also things that we unconsciously do in response to some stimulus as part of a regular routine. For example, Pavlov's dogs salivated when he rang the bell because they associated the bell ringing with being fed. Skills rely on knowledge and ability because you must have memory of prior experiences, if any, with the skill and the ability to execute the skill in order to use or improve the skill.

Instincts are things that we never learned, but that we innately know how to do. Pavlov's dogs were not born salivating when a bell rang. However, they did know how to mate once they reached a certain point of maturity (without anyone teaching them). Unlike skills, you cannot increase your levels of expertise in a given instinct. Reflexes are not instincts, they are reactions of the nervous system, which makes a reflex an ability. Instincts are independent of memory, experience, and all other competency categories. Physically, learning is required to strengthen connections between synapses when abilities are developed, but instinctual behavior does not improve neurological wiring. Examples of human instincts include the facial expression associated with the person's emotional state (e.g. smiling when happy), staring at the threat when becoming aggressive, eyebrows flinching when recognizing someone or something, and how someone's posture changes when they are mentally preparing to leave. Instincts are responses to stimuli that we cannot control or unlearn so they are not useful when we are analyzing performance, but they are related to many performance situations (e.g. body language when delivering sales pitches).

Urges that are present at birth or develop over time, but that can be overridden by logic are called drives. Drives are genetically influenced behaviors (e.g. fight or flight). People are influenced by drives much more than by instincts because we have eliminated many of the instincts that lower animals possess. Genes can be influenced by external stimuli over multiple generations and we have simply bred out the lack of control. We now choose to succumb (as opposed to not having a choice) to urges that are instinctual in most animals (e.g. maternal - we give up children for adoption, territorial - we sell our houses, imprinting - we get divorced). Drives can be critical to performance because half of any performance equation is the "willingness" to perform.

Willingness to perform is also based on our values (e.g. there are certain products that some people simply refuse to sell). Values are deeply held beliefs that are manifested as preferences or susceptibilities. Values generally fall into the following categories: moral, ideological, social, and aesthetic. Values influence the development of other competencies, but are separate from the other categories. While many values are collectively shared by common groups (e.g. religious ideologies), they are also modified based on personal experience (e.g. materialism is most prevalent in people who did not actively participate in groups in their youth). Values are often manifested as norms that are reinforced by one's cultural upbringing (e.g. the value of respect during mourning is expressed by the norm of wearing black).

Attitude is another category that impacts a performer's willingness. Attitude is the liking, dislikeing, or conflicted combination of liking and disliking something. Attitudes are reactions to our beliefs, which have predominantly developed over time based on our experiences. Attitudes are more susceptible to change than personality and other people can persuade us to change an attitude through communication. Attitude is an important competency category because not only is it physical (just like long-term memory, attitude resides in the affective and cognitive nodes in the brain), it is a critical element of decision-making - commonly referred to as intuition or "gut reaction". The more important the performance is to you, the greater the impact of attitude has on your performance.

Everyone has a past. Even within the same family we have unique experiences that shape our perception of the world and the preferences that are manifested as our personality. Like several of the other categories, personality can and does change over time. Personality is not fully understood, and thus, there are a variety of theories about the causal factors behind someone's personality, what elements constitute the description of a personality, and how one can measure a personality. The Big Five is the closest that psychologists seem to have come thus far in creating a model that identifies how personality affects our ability to perform (and even then, only one of the five factors - conscientiousness - seems to be strongly correlated to performance). Though it is extremely complex and not well understood, it is generally accepted that performance requires certain preferences or personality traits.

Skills and intelligence are often enhanced by the performer's mental state. This has given rise to the popularity of such concepts as emotional intelligence. Mental health includes competencies that are both personality traits and emotional states. However, these are clearly unique constructs. Hunger and sadness are not points along a continuum. Hunger is an ability because it is physical in nature. Sadness is an emotional state (which certainly may have been induced by a physical state) that probably resides within the limbic system and/or prefrontal cortex. Emotions can trigger physical traits, such as sadness leading to tears, but they are separate attributes because tears can be released when the dominant emotion is joy. There has been recent research into specific chemicals in the brain that are described as the root of romantic love. Though that research may help clarify some of the root causes of emotions, it does not mean that emotions are simply abilities because they are far too complex to be described as such.

Monday, May 11, 2009

ASTD releases research on Talent Management

The American Society for Training and Development released the results of a survey on talent management. Given that a majority of the membership represents only one aspect of the spectrum that they defined as talent management (development), it is interesting an interesting read.

ASTD recognized in the late 1990's that the International Society for Performance Improvement was onto something when they starting converting ASTD members to Gilbert's Behavioral Engineering Model. Many trainers intuitively realized that they were being called in to fix problems that were not caused by gaps in skill or knowledge. ISPI's take on Gilbert's model helped trainers start to identify causal factors through performance analysis that freed the training team from very frustrating and often fruitless work. (ASTD eventually adopted ISPI's CPT certification and now offer it to their own members.) Now it seems that ASTD is embarking on an even broader view of its members' potential roles in organizations. ASTD is researching a scope of work that traditionally belonged to organizational development teams.

The ASTD study defined talent management as,
"A holistic approach to optimizing human capital, which enables an organization to drive short- and long-term results by building culture, engagement, capability, and capacity through integrated talent acquisition, development, and deployment processes that are aligned to business goals."

If you are interested, read the entire article here. Why do you think ASTD is looking into the entire spectrum of talent managment?

Wednesday, March 18, 2009


As the job market has slid over the past 15 months, I have had a lot of newly unemployed friends contact me for referrals to great recruiters. At first, my response was, "A recruiter will only want to hear from you if s/he is actively working on an assignment for which you may be a perfect fit." Then the market worsened and my recruiter friends started asking me for referrals to companies that had open positions. So my advice to both groups became, "Great hunters always know how to think like their prey, which allows them to accurately predict where they will be and what will draw them in." This may be an odd metaphor, but it has been working so I decided to share it with everyone via my blog.

First, what drives a recruiter's behaviors? External recruiters live and die by their individual placements. They must find a great candidate, sell both the candidate and the employer on the match and then convince them to stay together for at least six to twelve months (recruiters rarely get paid if the person does not stay for a pre-determined length of time). Internal recruiters live and die by the quality and speed of placements because they must deal with the "customer" every day (i.e. they both work for the same company). Depending on how clever they are, they may rely on global job boards (not very clever) or they may reach out to a network of well-connected contacts in that industry (very clever). Greed-driven external recruiters will often spam a company with a ton of applicants hoping something will stick (aka spray and pray). Thoughtful ones will do a thorough job sourcing candidates via channels not usually used by internal recruiters and will do a nice pre-screen on the front end to make sure they are only sending a small number of highly-qualified and strong-fit candidates. Internal recruiters may spend a great deal of time only filling entry-level positions, which means they will be found at college job fairs. More valuable internal recruiters will spend that time at industry events, talking up the benefits of working for the company (to employees of competitor companies) and identifying fresh thinkers who may be delivering cutting-edge presentations.

Recruiters can also be found online. This is a great way to play "fly on the wall" and start to learn about the current recruiting market and techniques that recruiters use. (It is better to be easily found by a recruiter than to look desperate by sending your resume to hundreds of them directly - remember, unsolicited resumes from people who cannot be immediately beneficial will be tossed in the garbage.) Some of the places where recruiters are lurking include:
  • - as advertised, this is a warehouse of blogs and comments by both internal and external recruiters (you can quickly learn about fee splits, search basics, and other hot topics by poking around this site)
  • - this site is run by a media company and I believe that they cull the membership in order to promote the Journal of Corporate Recruiting Leadership (for leaders of internal recruiting teams) and various conferences that they sponsor, but the members post great information and they have local groups that you can join
  • - look for a group like this in your neighborhood because this is where the recruiters literally meet!
For the most part, you will find that good recruiters prefer someone who is a top performer and so they are looking for people who are still employed and who are a challenge to steal away from their company. They find those types of people by using creative Boolean searches on Google, LinkedIn, Facebook, and other social networking sites. They look for evidence that the candidate is an expert and is valued by others (e.g. popular speaker or writer or referred by more than one person). They want to see some longevity on the candidate's resume (no job hoppers), which shows dedication to the employer and stability. Then, once the recruiter has found you, you had better be on top of your game and honest in all that you claim to have accomplished because the interviews have just begun...

Monday, March 9, 2009

IDP: Future State

The second step in documenting an effective individual development plan is to define the end of your journey. What will you look like when you have made all of the changes that you hope to make as a result of this plan (or the final plan if this is just a preliminary step)? This is the goal that you are trying to achieve. Questions that will help you document and define that future state:
  1. "The new habits that I will have include..."
  2. "Around the water cooler people will say I am..."
  3. "When my boss gets called for a character reference she will say..."
  4. If you are basing your IDP on an assessment you might ask, "What are the opposites of the negatives that are documented on my assessment results?"
  5. "The things that I do well today that I want to continue to do well include..."
The end state should read as a confirmation that the things you do well will not go away, just as it should read as the opposite of the problematic behaviors that you listed when documenting your current state. As much as is possible, define your end state in terms of measurable and/or observable behaviors. This will give you a much clearer objective to shoot for.

IDP: Current State

When documenting an Individual Development Plan it is best to start with a clear understanding of your current state. This is the starting point on your personal improvement map. Whether you are focusing on a single competency or a combination of personal factors, you should begin by answering the following questions:
  1. If you are working from some sort of assessment, ask yourself, "How would the people who rated me low in this area describe me?"
  2. "What are my habits?"
  3. "How do I see the world today?"
  4. "I am concerned that I might be..."
  5. "This issue concerns me because people are critical of me when I..."
  6. "The most overt symptoms that people have observed include..."
  7. "The underlying cause of this behavior is..."
  8. "The things that I do well and do not want to lose sight of include..."
It is important that you internalize the assessment of your present state by taking the time to document it. You should be clear about the positives and the negatives. It is probably not all bad news because no one is completely incompetent. There are things that you do well in this area that you don't want to lose as you change.

The most important thing to do is to be brutally honest with yourself.

Friday, February 27, 2009

Planning Your Career Adventure

There are several factors that contribute to an enjoyable and successful career adventure. Matching your preferences and abilities to the jobs available in this economy is no small feat, but it is a challenge that you may be facing. Finding the perfect job involves exploring several issues, including:

• Your interest in the things that make up the job’s responsibilities and tasks
  • Do you know what the job really entails?
  • Do you like to do the things that someone must do to be successful in this job?
  • Will your interest translate into skills that will make you good at this job?
• The temperament required for success in the job
  • Do you have the stomach for the conflict management skills required?
  • Do you want to manage people and their problems?
  • Are you excited and happy when you come to work?
• Your aptitude for doing the type of work required by the job
  • Can you develop the required skills and knowledge? How long will it take for you to get up to speed and be productive in the job?
  • Are you naturally inclined to making the types of decisions that would make you successful in the job?
  • Do you have inherent abilities that would benefit you in the job?
• Personal goals and limitations
  • Are you willing and able to relocate? To where?
  • Are you willing and able to travel? How often?
  • What is best for your family?
The more accurate and honest the information is that you share with the recruiter or hiring manager the more likely you are to realize the type of career adventure that would truly benefit both the hiring company and you. To aid you in determining what information should be helpful the following websites and books have been collected. You may utilize none, one, or all of these tools. The choice is yours to make. My goal is to help you identify the most accurate information that would truly benefit both you and the company in planning your career adventure.

One of the best texts on job content is the “Occupational Outlook Handbook”, published by the US Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics. It is not light reading. It would literally take you days to read through all of the job descriptions. Of course, most people simply read the descriptions of the jobs that they think that they want. That leaves them with only half of the answer. The deeper, and more effective question to ask is, “Would I be good at this job?” Do you prefer to do the types of things that are required by the job? Can I turn my interests into real skills and be successful?

The classic text on determining job preferences is “What color is my parachute?” by Richard Nelson "Dick" Bolles. This year's edition has been completely revised and rewritten and is designed to work in conjunction with the book's website. At the heart of Bolles's formula for finding the right job are two questions: What do you want to do? Where do you want to do it?

Capitalizing on the popularity of self-help career reference manuals, several websites have taken the initiative to regurgitate much of the same advice online. Of these the most comprehensive and useful are those put together by colleges for their recent graduates and alumni. At you will find the University of Waterloo’s Career Development Manual. In its second edition it is one of the most-visited career assistance sites on the Internet. It guides the browser through a series of explorations and decisions leading to an overall life and career map.

Clearly, the challenge begins with knowing what your interests are and whether you can translate those interests into career success in a given job. If you have taken the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator® or another profile that measures interest or preferences then you can look up the types of jobs that are usually associated with that type of individual. For example, an INFP in MBTI® terms is “particularly interested in being a counselor, editor, education consultant, English teacher, fine arts teacher, journalist, psychologist, religious educator, social scientist, social worker, teacher, writer, and other occupations that engage their values” according to

Another website that links your preferences directly to the jobs found in the Occupational Outlook Handbook is You take a free 71-item questionnaire and get a brief synopsis of your motivations and top ten career matches. You can even look up five of those matches for free. offers a free tool called MAPP that is comprehensive in its scope and job matching capabilities. MAPP is a fully integrated, computer-aided vocational assessment system that:
• Measures your potential and motivation for given areas of work.
• Describes your temperament, aptitude and vocational interests.
• Formats information in three ways:
  1. Narrative
  2. Numeric
  3. Graphical
I also highly recommend O*NET OnLine. O*NET helps you narrow down the potential careers by searching your primary skills.

Play, Play, Play - one of my first books

A few people have written me emails about my books. Here is the original introduction to one of the most popular books, Play, Play, Play: Games You Never Played Before Because I Just Made Them Up. The original title for this book (when self-published) was Facilitating Success. Companies were just starting to warm up to the use of outdoor experiential activities to help them improve communication and collaboration. I helped the traditional outdoor (ropes course) facilitators move indoors with portable games, which was more interesting to corporate clients.

If you are interested in Play, Play, Play then you can order it online here or through any bookseller.

This book was written from the materials presented at the 1994 Annual Texas Experiential Ropes Association Conference and the 22nd Annual International Association for Experiential Education Conference by the author. It is intended to be used by persons with some previous understanding of experiential education. Please take all necessary emotional and physical safety precautions when facilitating these activities. The facilitator of these activities assumes all risk and liability for any loss or damage which may occur as a result of the use of these activities or their variations.

Playing games and conquering initiatives should always have a purpose (i.e. meet a goal) for your experiential clients. Successful experiential leaders will always have these goals in mind when instructing a group, and the group will always expect to learn while they have fun. Knowing why you are using a particular game or initiative is always the first step in successfully using it.

Always modify the game or story line to be the most relevant and stimulating for your group when presenting the guidelines. Allow the group as much flexibility in interpreting your words as possible while still challenging them to meet their goals. The more enthusiastic you are in your presentation the more fun they have. The name of the game/initiative and the labels for the elements of the game are always more meaningful to the participants when they are specific to the group you are working with. For example, "Put Out the Fire" might be called "Math Mashers" and the balloons represent whole numbers 0 through 9. The first grade student must smash the balloons with a bag that has the sum written on it of the balloons thrown at them by the teacher within 15 seconds. Or a corporate executive may have to stamp on balloon colors representing poor management skills while avoiding good skills in "An Exercise in Efficiency".

Make mental notes and observations while watching the challenge participants. You must resist the urge to give hints or solutions to your group. Your role is to find and recognize issues that would be beneficial to the group in processing the game or initiative while keeping the members physically and emotionally safe. Now is the time to formulate your processing questions and observations that will help your students/clients meet their goals.

Processing is the most important element of any experiential exercise. Questions should be open-ended and not leading. Participants should use their own discovery during processing to gain the maximum benefit. Guiding a resistant individual may be best done by other participants. You will probably find processing time most efficient if you have developed appropriate expectations in the group members prior to bringing them into your group.

Frequently successful questions:
What did you notice during the activity?
How did you feel during the activity?
What did you learn?
How can you apply this new knowledge to your life?

Always make time for closure for your group. You may discover that the group feels best about their experience if the closure focused on their strengths, success, or growth.

Feedback: accountability that drives change

Which weightloss program is more effective?
A. You purchase pills or food over the Internet or phone and stick to the diet because you don't want to waste the money that you have spent.
B. Every week you meet with two dozen people who are also trying to lose weight and you must stand on a scale in front of all of them and announce your weight.

The answer depends on how much integrity you have. If you are one of those extremely rare people that never cheats or lies to yourself (most of us forgive ourselves immediately and craft very clever personal excuses), then you might find A. to be more effective. However, most people won't make the kind of wholesale personal changes that are required to both diet and lifestyle without significant external motivation. It might be a doctor's warning, but more often the changes are only made once we have a group of people that we care about holding us accountable. The same can be said about office environments where individual performance results are kept private vs. publicly posted on the bulletin board. You probably already know which technique drives the most performance from employees...

That is one of the two main reasons that feedback is such an integral part of personal and professional development. Someone is there to whom you have given explicit permission to give you feedback on how you are doing. In the example above, there is an entire group of people who you have grown close to because of a shared challenge. In the office it is someone whose advice you value and who you genuinely care about and trust. (The other reason that feedback is so critical is because you may be headed down the wrong path and need to make a course correction. You think that you are exhibiting the new skill correctly, but you are not getting the results that you hoped for.)

Once you have chosen some resources and started learning foundational information and skill, you must apply them. Once you start to apply them, you need someone to observe your behaviors or performance and tell you how you are doing. You must chose someone who is in a position to observe you using the skill that you are trying to improve. Then you must ask them to be your accountability coach. Thirdly, you must share your individual development plan with that person so that s/he knows exactly what you are doing and what you hope to accomplish. Finally, you must schedule regular meetings to solicit and get that feedback.

Your accountability coach's greatest challenge will be to help you accurately evaluate your performance. Delivering the type of developmental feedback that promotes an effective assessment of your paradigms is difficult to master and requires strong communication and assessment skills. One of the most effective tools that your accountability coach can use for exploring assumptions, beliefs, and values was created by Chris Argyris and popularly referenced from Peter Senge’s book, The Fifth Discipline. The concept called ladders of inference helps your coach get past the "what" and understand the "why" behind actions. Often, the ladders of inference concept is used to point out how faulty assumptions are created. However, effective inquiry can lead someone who is effective at giving feedback backwards from what was observed to what your intentions were. The goal of feedback is to help you identify and break down your own assumptions and open up to the facts that were previously filtered out.

Example (think about your opinion of the series of events that led to a recent election):
1. Something happened
2. You selectively noticed certain aspects of the situation
3. You tuned into that subset of the facts because they have meaning to you
4. That meaning was created because you are predisposed to your own assumptions
5. Those assumptions are based on your personal beliefs
6. You take action on that subset of the facts
Thus, your ladder of inference created a self-fulfilling prophecy by reinforcing what you already believed to be true. If you could break out of this cycle by preventing your beliefs from undermining your observations then you could really learn from your experiences!

Look for future posts on other models that can help an accountability coach move beyond the observable symptoms to the root cause of performance.

Assignmentology: learning from experience by design

The goal of a developmental assignment is not merely to gather knowledge or skills; the goal is to extend new knowledge or skills into personal actions that result in improved performance. The most common model for understanding this type of learning application is Kolb’s experiential learning cycle. The cycle refers to the process by which individuals, teams, and organizations attend to and understand their experiences, and consequently modify their behaviors. It can be a powerful guide for managers who wish to fully realize the return on investment for employee developmental assignments. Using this model promotes accelerated results.

The failure of many developmental efforts results from making repeated mistakes or the inability to learn from experience. Left to chance, learning by trial and error can result in performance that is extremely off target. The learning cycle is based on the idea that the more often we reflect on a task, the more often we have the opportunity to modify and refine our actions. The learning cycle contains the following four stages:

1. Experiencing or immersing oneself in the "doing" of a task is the first stage in which the individual, team or organization simply carries out the task assigned. The engaged person is usually not reflecting on the task as this time, but carrying it out with intention.
The manager’s role: Learning initially occurs when a person encounters a new concrete experience and deals with it in terms of observations, feelings, and reactions. The most profound way to promote Stage 1 learning on the job is by providing the learner with exploratory tools (e.g. concrete experiences and manipulative materials). This would look like the manager reviewing the objectives of a training course or the content of a book that the learner attended or read and then assigning work that required effective application of the knowledge and skills contained in the learning material. This should be done with honest reference to why the assignment is being given and what the manager expects from the application of what was learned.

2. Reflection involves stepping back from task involvement and reviewing what has been done and experienced. The skills of attending, noticing differences, and applying terms help identify subtle events and communicate them clearly to others. One's paradigm (values, attitudes, values, beliefs) influences whether one can differentiate certain events. One's vocabulary is also influential, since without words, it is difficult to verbalize and discuss ones perceptions.
The manager’s role: As the learner observes the Stage 1 experience, the learner adds to or adjusts his or her perceptions based on previous learning. This process compels the learner to reflect on past experiences and to think about the current experience as either fitting into previous patterns or not. The manager should provide feedback to add another perspective. Feedback should cover both what was done and how it was done as observed by the manager. The ideal learning opportunity would come in the form of feedback from the person or team who was the supplier or customer of the Stage 1 experience in addition to the manager’s view. Perception is reality and a balanced reality is better than a self-determined view.

3. Conceptualization involves interpreting the events that have been noticed and understanding the relationships among them. It is at this stage that theory may be particularly helpful as a template for framing and explaining events. One's paradigm again influences the interpretive range a person is willing to entertain.
The manager’s role: If the experience fits a pattern, then the learner can form a generalization and a set of concepts to define the situation. As the learner develops these concepts and generalizations, the learner's thinking includes imagining other discrete concrete experiences that invariably raise new questions. The answers to these questions require further learning experimentation and the accompanying development of new concepts. The most profound way to promote Stage 3 learning on the job is by introducing the learner to key concepts (e.g. subject matter vocabulary and relationship diagrams). The key is to ensure that the learning is framed in the way that the lessons were intended and that faulty personal paradigms are minimized.

4. Planning enables the learner to translate the new understanding into predictions about what is likely to happen next or what actions should be taken to refine the way the task is handled.
The manager’s role: When the learner realizes that the answers constructed in Stage 3 are not necessarily complete, further testing is required. Further testing may also be required when the desired results are achieved so that performance habits are cemented in the learner. The learner proposes new concrete experiments and begins the learning cycle anew. The most effective way to promote Phase 4 learning on the job is by assisting the learner in the formulation of new situations to be tested. Additional assignments should be given that challenge the learner’s ability to apply and use the lessons effectively.

The timing of the learning cycle is particularly important. If one waits until after a task is completed, there is no opportunity to refine it until a similar task arises. For example, if you only had a single sales call with a potentially large account, there would have been no opportunity to modify how you prepared for that meeting after the fact. However, continual reflection leaves the learner spending more time on thinking than getting the task done so these must be balanced. In general, the learning cycle should be used during initial framing of a problem to see whether past experience may offer an approach; during natural breaks in tasking such as the end of meetings or workdays; when progress is noticeably going well or poorly; or when a crisis occurs that disrupts a process. Each of these situations is a viable assignment for the learner to apply their new knowledge or skills.

The logic of the learning cycle is to make many small and incremental improvements, which when done by many people, constitute major improvements over time. For example, if each day after work you reflected on your efforts and identified just one small thing to do differently, by the end of the year you would have 240 improvements in your performance. Consider the implications for an entire team or business unit! When this procedure is implemented as a habit or norm, continual improvement results.

The advantage of the learning cycle is that it enables an individual, team or organization to learn from experience and thereby improve performance. This, however, may not be sufficient when the assumptions and beliefs on which the learning is based is outdated. It is possible for one to complete all the stages of the learning cycle, while still perceiving, interpreting and acting in a biased way. Periodically, one should question the model itself; look for exceptions to the rule; and challenge the dominant paradigm to determine whether it still holds.

ASTD 1998

After reading my prior post on the Red Shirts, a couple of former Red Shirts asked me if I still had copies of the reports that I posted on the listserv while at the ASTD International Conference and Exposition in San Francisco's Moscone Center in 1998. I finally found them on my old computer...

Day One and Two

After an hour delay in the airport in Houston due to weather from the day before in San Francisco (can you believe that weather can affect flights over 24 hours after it is bad?), I arrived in San Francisco with my buddy, Brook Bickford (also from Performa Solutions). My luggage was the first off of the plane since I arrived at the airport ten minutes before the scheduled time for the flight. Brook's was the second luggage off. Thank goodness for bad weather- I have clean underwear on today. At least we did a quality job with the group we facilitated yesterday before running out in a panic like chickens with our heads cut off! That is what was important.

We found a nice van to take us to our hotel in Fisherman's Wharf. This hotel makes our business manager, Cliff, very happy because it was relatively inexpensive. We are planning to tape tonight's performance for Cliff so he can appreciate it just as much as we did last night. Just as we were falling asleep... the music began... You see, San Francisco is two hours earlier than Houston in the time-zone thing. We had been up since 5:30 a.m. on our biological clock, facilitated a high (climbing tower)challenge course group, taken a harried three and a half hour flight, and it was midnight as far as we were concerned. Our personal serenade-dude was just starting to get some decent business at 10:00 p.m. his time. He was not that bad, but not many people were putting coins in his hat. Fortunately, the concert ended within 30 minutes. We think Cliff will like this tape played real loud in his front yard at midnight some day... But hey, the price was relatively good for this street-level corner room!

Today is our first day. Brook is in a pre-conference workshop on measuring return on investment. We ate lunch with several people from his workshop and they agreed that they had better get $150.00 worth of training after lunch. They expect to of course, but they are definitely looking at things in a different light already. They asked the waitress at Willow Street Pizza about the value of each item on the menu and ended up giving her feedback on four different levels after our meal, how they liked the pizza, what they learned from the pizza, how they utilized the pizza, and how the pizza will impact their stay in San Francisco overall. I told them that they needed to review Kirkpatrick's Level 4 Evaluation before returning to class. That last piece of feedback was slightly off the mark.

I have been pre-selecting the workshops that I plan to attend. I have been reading my program guide thoroughly. I am on page 66, the Sunrise Sessions (7:30 a.m. to 8:30 a.m.) for Tuesday. Only 140 pages to go! There are a ton of quality listings so the picking is difficult. I am going to have to network pretty hard to find people who attended every other workshop here so I can get a copy of their notes. So far I have met five people and I have two business cards/prospects. Only 6,493 more people to go according to the lady at the information booth. I think I need more of my own business cards...

I have met one lady from Quaker Oats/Gatorade and it seems like a certain sell. She really wants to find out the value and application of experience-based training and development for her company. Now that Peforma has a commission structure these contacts are extremely exciting. During lunch we talked about how many different models there are in my industry and which one I use and who I have worked with before, all of those pressing, pre-qualification questions that potential clients always ask. Then she told me about the companies she has contacted so far. One of them was Performa Solutions. I asked her about that particular company and how well they were received by her. Our sales dude will be happy to hear she likes us so far. I wonder how many other prime prospects I will meet that he has already talked to! So much for commission sales...

I hope everything is going well for you while you slave away at work. I am enjoying this tough assignment, learning in San Francisco. Until I get access to a computer in the Cyber Cafe again, this is Darin, signing off.

Brook and I stayed out too late for the harmonica man last night so no tape for Cliff yet, tonight we will turn in early for Cliff's special surprise...

So.... The conference is progressing nicely. I attended the orientation yesterday and was thoroughly educated and entertained. Eduardo Ramirez from the Sacramento Chapter was a hoot! He modeled the volunteer clothes with perfect runway precision and made the best of a phone ringing in the room during his piece. The icebreaker afterward was also very good. I wish they had someone different for tonight's session unless we get to see something different, but the politically incorrect and brash style of the Maven of Mingle eventually entertained me when I realized she was only joking. The International Reception last night was also a big hit with the Moscone Center turning off the lights several times before they could get the several hundred participants to leave.

Some key learnings from Saturday's opening day:
Susan Roane, the Maven of Mingle, is not shy.
Michele Nieman of Synopsis is going to take off and rule the world of CBT in the next five years with her spunk and determination (and an engaging smile doesn't hurt either).
Most of the American delegation attended the International Reception while I have not met any other Americans when networking since that reception.
There are an estimated 15,000 attendees over the course of the conference. (9,000 more than I heard yesterday)
You have to leave really quick to get lunch before the next workshop because there are so many people doing the same thing.
So far, ASTD has made sure that there was enough room to accommodate everyone.
Abalone is $60.00 a plate at Aliotta's. Don't worry Cliff, I did not order it for dinner last night.

Day two, Sunday the 31st---

The day began with Jim Collins' plenary session on the successful habits of visionary companies. The prime lesson from the last 45 minutes of the session really hit home with me because I seem to be involved in a lot of culture blending/merger and acquisition programs right now: No matter what changes your company is facing, stay true to the core values that brought you into the world and drive your organization.

There was also an annual meeting, but I was networking like a big dog. I can not report the results of that meeting, but my filters would have greatly affected what they want to publish anyway.

I attended a super workshop by Lois Webster and Phillip Hoffman who are both expatriates for their companies, Motorola University, China and General Motors China. It was great at bringing those subtle differences back to the forefront of a trainer's mind when considering the concept of training across cultures. The salient points to consider would include: translations must be done locally with content being confirmed by the home office, surround yourself with trusted advisers/consultants who will make you aware of when you have made a gaff or how you might wish to properly approach a particular subject, and do not offer green hats to your male Chinese employees to wear on a retreat. Their presentation validated for me the level of quality and value that the presenters that have been chosen bring to the ASTD conference.

Tomorrow I shall report on any of tonight's key learning's as we eat in China Town (I am determined to find a restaurant void of Anglos), attend the Networking Session (I am committed to deepening my contacts in Japan, China and South America where they hunger for my industry's programming), and check out the first set of Forums.

Until I find a computer free in the Cyber Cafe,

Day Two and Three

Sunday ended exceptionally well with a super networking event! The two poor speakers were drowned out by a largely inattentive group because we were intent on meeting and greeting our peers, but that was a minor learning moment for the association. The speakers finally gave up and we stopped talking really, really loud to each other. I did discover some interesting things: Earthlink, the Internet Service Provider, has grown from 2 to 1,000 employees in three years. They sent three staff; Tami, Margaret and Kristin; to find the latest technologies to help a Fast Company that is also in a fast-changing technology market. The stories were excellent reminders that training is not always the solution though traditional managers continue to ask for it.

Leaving the Moscone Center is always a treat since the Catbert of my world, Cliff the Penny Pincher, has Brook and I rooming next to Alcatraz. We get to ride the cable cars daily! A week-long pass is only $15.00 which will win Brook and I plenty of bonus points with Cliff. We have been applying our new knowledge to the cable car industry as a result and have the following recommendations to the supervisor of the gripmen and conductors: create an organization and a system that encourages and expects customers to be treated with dignity and respect. I did not take names to protect the innocent, but there are several 'heroes' in the industry that we have met, but there is also an element of evil that made us believe that 'The Boys from Brazil’ might have been based on a true story and that there are survivors. One evil gripman made incessant fun of several tourists from other countries, entertaining only himself in the process. He went so far as to stop the car altogether to yell at someone who failed to understand what he was asking them to do because of a language barrier. This is not purely a training issue, it is an organizational performance issue due to its lack of isolation. He was just an extreme example. We will submit our proposal to the city if we find time tomorrow...

We did get one extreme adventure last night because we went into Chinatown. We ate at Chung King because there were no other Anglos inside but it was very crowded. If you get the chance, try 'The Ants on the Trees'. It was excellent! I had attended a workshop on China and was able to say thank you in Chinese several times. The waiter was able to say thank you in English as well. Those were the only words we were able to say in each other's indigent languages and he could not speak Spanish so I can't tell you what was in 'The Ants on the Trees', but I can tell you that I have no ill effects 19 hours later. We also wandered aimlessly about after leaving the restaurant before finding the cable car tracks again. When we found them we even got to push the cable car up hill to help get it started. That was pretty cool. Apparently it stopped in the one place where the grip can not reach the cable so we got to be 'official engineers' for almost two minutes. I think I can add it to my business card now. I will certainly be a hero to my nine year old son.

By the way Cliff, the Abalone had Sea Cucumbers in it (an invertebrate that looks like a large intestine) so Brook would not eat it, saving us almost $20.00! (anything to make Cliff happy...)


I missed the Sunrise Sessions and breakfast, but I made it to a program on remote teambuilding. Gerhard Buzek uses portable challenge course events for three days to help virtual teams connect effectively down the road. His model was informative and relied on phone, fax, video and e-mail to continue the collaborative work environment. It was obviously a test case and it proved to have some merit. Cultural differences are clearly the big barrier still in distance teaming and none of these technologies were said to clearly overcome those obstacles. I look forward to other people's attempts and experiences.

I also saw Deltapoint's Rapid Performance Improvement model as it impacted PageNet of Orange County (a huge paging service provider). The results were amazing and Joal Wellman is my hero only because her organization did not make PageNet dependent on their services. They trained people in-house to implement RPI so that future issues could be tackled. The best idea I took away from that presentation actually came out of the Q&A at the end: Deltapoint has an annual conference for the in-house trainers once/year. They share best practices, discuss issues and learn updated information! Cool.

I also attended Geary Rummler's workshop. I am familiar with his Performance Improvement work and had seen it before so this was an update. The best piece was his connection between the material and his anecdotal, real-world applications. I want to check three huge bags when I leave San Francisco just to see how the ticket agent handles the situation! You can check his website in the near future to get the notes, you will have to e-mail him for the anecdotal stories.

I am presently nine minutes late to the meeting of the Red Shirts so I must sign off... Until tomorrow, HA HA HA HA YOU ARE AT WORK AND I AM NOT!!!

Learning and growing,

Day Three and Day Four

Monday Evening...

The Red Shirts met at the top of the Marriott and we were all excited to meet several of the faces behind the text. Scott Simmerman caused quite a stir as did the sleep-deprived Marcia Conner. Scott was actually in the elevator with me on my way up to the meeting and read my nametag first. He thrust out his hand (covering his nametag) and I was appalled. How did this homeless person make it all the way into the elevator? There was no way I was going to give him money as we raced toward the View Lounge!!! I am not sure what my facial expression was, but he put his hand down quickly and I finally realized who he was. Bob Pike was also in attendance though I did not have any quality time with him. Three people who play for a living in one room at the same time. Yes, it was that type of defiant and loud group. For people who are on the computer a lot there were no real shy or introverted personalities. It was like finally being among friends instead of potential clients. Interestingly enough, I got back to my room last night and realized that I think I met the star of Fast Company's article on teaching the company culture through stories. I met the Chief Storyteller himself! He was extremely gregarious as would be expected, but I did not hear any stories. I also can not report on dinner because I was being polite in talking to someone at the end of the meeting and the dinner party left without me. At least Cliff will be happy to hear that I only went to Burger King ($2.99 value meal Cliff).

I spent the rest of my evening going through the 2,345,870,342 pieces of mail that I received in the three weeks prior to ASTD advertising that I should visit the 'best' booth around. I shuffled them numerically so as I walk through the 2,600 exhibits, I can enter all of the contests. The Expo is really quite amazing. I suppose I will miss at least one workshop just walking through half of the Expo. There are more workshops at the Expo (marketing ploys) than there are outside of it. Some look really, really good! There are also great deals on products during ASTD only. I need to ask Cliff Catbert if I can spend a couple of dollars...

So, on to Tuesday's kernels of wisdom:

I attended the Financial Services Forum and found that the 25 people I have already met are in all of the workshops that I am in. This may be stalking behavior, but we may share the same interests. The FSF was excellent. I finally got to meet Thiagi, a fellow game master. He did a forty-five minute workshop on icebreakers to get things rolling. At least 100 non-FSF people attended just for that piece and they got their time's worth. We began with an activity in which Thiagi used the pillars in the middle of the room. Everyone had to have their entire palm against one pillar and know at least eight other people's names around that pillar. The pillar with the most people (and with a randomly-chosen person who could say eight names) wins! Next we wrote on a sheet of paper the one trait that was most important for any icebreaker. We marched around reading each other's sheets and when he said, "Stop!" we partnered with the person who was reading our sheet. We then decided on which trait of our two was the best one and would have moved on to making a foursome if there had been time. It is like cumulative musical chairs or blob tag. He was also incredibly funny. Catch his workshops whenever you can!

I also liked the case study approach to many of the other workshops. Examples of what other people are really doing is always so helpful. My favorite was First Union's presentation because they shared openly about the mistakes that they made so that others might avoid them also as they turn to computer-based training for rote skills. I even learned about a few things I had not considered that could be applied to what I am doing. The best hints were: have the instructions for how to turn on the computer and start the program on videotape right next to the computer, put a phone next to the computer with the technical help phone number on it, make the work area a model of the area that they are learning about, and TELL THE STUDENTS TO TAKE BREAKS! They will just keep on going and going, losing track of time.

So far I have given away about 120 of the 200 copies of my book on disk. I have been using the signature line about asking me for a copy for the last four weeks. This tells me that I am running into a decent number of people who follow the listservs. We are out there somewhere and we keep finding that we are relatively normal people. But hey, it's still only Tuesday, this could change.

Until someone walks away from their terminal tomorrow,

Day Four and Day Five

I missed my Performance Consultant Competencies workshop in the afternoon because I lost track of time when writing to all of you so there is nothing to report. However, I do have a CD with all of the workshop handouts (except the Forums) so I can read them later. The CD is just one of the many innovations that are making this trip extremely efficient and effective for everyone involved. Of course, before the Expo opened yesterday many workshops were full and had to turn people away. Now the crowd is more evenly distributed. Hopefully ASTD tries to learn from this year's format and finds some way to spread out the crowd during the first few days as well. The time left between sessions in different buildings also causes many people to eat on the fly after standing in line for up to 45 minutes just to get a sandwich for lunch. I have experienced little sleep, missed meals, and sore calves with the frantic pace, but I would not miss the opportunity for the world! (Sorry Cliff, I did find time to eat breakfast today.)

So, on to the Expo! I spent two hours in the Expo yesterday and another hour between sessions today. I got from the 200 row to halfway through the 800 row so far. The rows go up to 2700. I will certainly not have time to see all of the exhibitors before they close tomorrow. This story is being repeated by everyone that wants to see the exhibits. Those who just wanted to get free stuff are finishing the rounds in about 55 minutes. The booths are so crowded that any company with fewer than two representatives has a small line and anyone with only one space has several people waiting in the aisles blocking traffic. If you plan on having a decent booth in Atlanta for ASTD '99 I highly recommend three knowledgeable staff at all times (trainers and the like, not sales people, because of the informed audience and level of questioning) and at least two spaces. There is little time for people to use the interactive video pieces so have several computers if you have a sample for consumers to try. Use outrageous colors/cartoons and give away something cool, if it is food, make it bananas or something tangible and nutritious since no one has time to eat. Also have enough handouts, running out too soon limits your efficacy reallllll quick.

The evening was my first Meet-To-Eat. The principle is to have people sign up for a meal at a local restaurant and all go together. Next year I hope they go ahead and have cabs lined up too. We had sixteen people headed to a restaurant and one cab was ready. We found a limo and had them call for enough vehicle space to move the lot of us to The Stinking Rose, a vampire-free restaurant. The food was really good if you like garlic (hence the vampire theme), and I love garlic. It was okay to have garlic breath amongst our crowd who turned out to be outrageously fun and loud. 'The Stinking Rose Gang' included several of the same people that I am finding myself surrounded by over and over: Mean Jean the Fly Fishing Queen of Orvis, Lora Wasson of, and the three Earthlink women. Of course Brook and I were there, but we also met Bruce and Bruce, Karen Shaffer Penny of Comsat, and Kathleen Stanley of Small's Tuxedos. I suspect they will all subscribe to the TRDEV-L now that they fear what I might say about them. Needless to say, they can really put away the Ben and Jerry's! I will post a picture of everyone on my website later to help tie this whole story together... One of the coolest things was the initiative we faced in reaching the restaurant. Brook and I both facilitate experiential learning so we each rode in separate vehicles. We challenged the group and they were able to get six trainers in one Lincoln (plus one driver) and ten trainers in one limo (plus one driver). Just like any team building activity that is worth any money at all, we experienced each other in an intimate way and will be forever changed because of it. If anyone's spouse reads this, the change may be more detrimental than beneficial. I still think we could have all fit into one new VW bug.


After the six hours of sleep that is becoming the norm, I rushed out and hit the cable car. Today's lessons come from three very informative and well-planned workshops.

Sheila Paxton can kick your butt. That is just a fact, I am sorry if it offends you, but she is one dynamo that I will never tangle with. She also did one of the coolest things in her workshop to encourage participation: when someone took the risk to acknowledge the issue they were thinking about, Sheila had them come to the front of the room, speak into the mike, beat their soul... and then she gave this lady a big pile of videos and a 3 inch binder of material! There were several volunteers after that though only the first person got 'Sheila in a Box'. The poignant lessons that will forever change how I do my performance improvement and training interventions: I will add an informational piece to the coaching manuals that I already use so that people can list resources that will help them maintain their action plans/commitments AND I will add a pre-learning piece to my work for the participants to research the vocabulary and articles surrounding the type of training or commitment that they are going to seek prior to the workshop/training session. Make them take some prior ownership in their learning! Duh! Why didn't I think of that before? I can't wait to read her PhD dissertation on self directed learning. Ask her for it in about one year at .

One of those kind-of-technical-you-got-to-really-want-to-learn-this-stuff-to-keep-up-with-the-presentation workshops was actually put together in an effective format by Phil Landsberg and Joe Willmore. The subject matter was on putting Royal Dutch/Shell's Scenario Planning model into a Deming and Performance Improvement program in order to use Strategic Planning in deciding what actions to take or to be prepared for as certain events/signs emerge. Have I lost you yet? Email Joe for copies of the handouts that were eaten up in the feeding frenzy that immediately preceded the end of the workshop at . I did not get one so I have to ask as well. It was really neat, but this is not the place to discuss such matters, my wrists are killing me as I stand here typing!

I am saving the creme de la creme for last: the marriage of experiential learning and cyberspace. Yes, it is beginning. Finally, after years of my own search for code heads and ex-gamers to help me put my talents in creating experiential metaphors for work and facilitating learning through activities, someone has gotten a grant to create a soft-skills training platform on the computer. It is not ready yet, but the results thus far seem promising for high-context societies that speak English and need diversity-valuation training. The military has supplied the Franklin Institute with a grant to develop a program that will teach adults through a virtual environment. The Consortium for Advanced Education and Training Technologies (CADETT), which includes Univ. of Pennsylvania and HRDQ among others, has created Cadett Interactive Multi-user Business Learning Environment (CIMBLE). CIMBLE allows for a multi-user 3-D environment controlled by a mouse and including actual voices of the distant participants (up to 6 plus one facilitator). You can manipulate objects in the environment by point-and-click, see avatar representations (like 3-D cartoon characters) of the other participants, view real time video, enter text as needed from the keyboard, and complete a project in about four hours if you use good team skills. There is still no accounting for tactile stimulus or actual participant faces on the avatars so that you can read expressions such as sarcasm (thus no application for low-context cultures such as the Chinese that use a lot of expression and subtle inflection to convey meaning) and the team always succeeds which tells me that the ownership of success belongs entirely to the facilitator, but overall this is a quantum leap in technology merging with training. The consortium also started from scratch so this is not a Doom-ripoff or multi-player game based on someone's existing code or engine. It will also become available to the public I suspect because of the government financing. If nothing else it will spur copycats. The project still has a year left so don't get hungry yet. However, if you are extremely interested in investing in a competing project, I can be bought to advise and play with the next generation of training.... Does this mean all trainers will soon be designers only? No way, the real heart of training has to start with real interaction, not a simulation in a virtual world. Star Trek is still a few hundred years away for the general consumption of the public.

Well, I must find some rest before the big Exploratorium Cosmic Bash tonight! Catch you tomorrow,


Day Four and Day Five

Wednesday Night

I hit the Moscone Center at 8:20 pm with my room mate Brook only to find that the buses left between 7:30 and 8:00 ONLY. Three other lost souls were also standing there. Then to disprove the theory of natural consequences a limo pulled up and offered the five of us a ride to the Exploratorium for $5.00 each! This was my first time in a limo. We got to catch the end of the NBA Finals Game One on the way to the Social Event. HA HA HA HA HA HA HA... This is directed at all of those poor souls that fought for space on the crowded buses to get there on time.

The food was excellent, the drinks were plentiful, the karaoke was unbearable (which is just what karaoke is supposed to be) and the 'real' band had some serious staying power. They did not even take a break that I noticed from 8:40 pm to 11:00 pm! And they were awesome. People were dancing, carrying on, laughing incessantly. Even the reclusive souls like myself found tons of mind-expanding toys to play with in the museum. Everyone left with a new friend or two, but that is another story... and not mine to tell.

True to form, the final day came hard and fast with little time to sleep once again.

DAY FIVE, the end

Man, did 7:00 a.m. come early. I think I got six and a half hours of sleep one night, but that was on accident. This was the most jam-packed conference I have ever been to and I have been to dozens over the past five years. I don't know how this was pulled off with so few mistakes, but I commend those who made it possible! It was extremely difficult to make the early workshops and I found myself more interested in visiting and learning from more of the Expo vendors. I only made it to row 1200 out of 2700 overall and that was my biggest disappointment of the entire event. I erred on the side of attending the maximum amount of workshops and neglected the Expo. The Expo was itself an event of epic proportions with tons to learn if one took the time to ask. The booths with real trainers and facilitators were exceptional (at least in the first 11 rows). Everyone was extremely willing to discuss best practices and to share their products. Of course, those with the best products will get calls from me in the future as partnership opportunities arise, but everyone was helpful and informative. There are far too many people to list here but some of the key ideas I heard:

* Have everyone stand when they are done with a task to keep their blood flowing (Bob Pike).

* Many companies are narrowing their practice to helping the client only with one very, very specific issue, facilitating the client through to its resolution. This helps prove ROI, but no one I met promises results or full refund. I also did not find anyone with a program or video/book/game on dealing with women who hate men, most blatantly denied that it was an issue. I did hear that someone had it, but they must have been on row 1300 or later...

* Human Performance Technology seemed to be the keyword that attracted in-house trainers to potential outsource consultants and trainers (a non-scientific and informal survey done after overhearing some sales conversations). The trend toward solving problems, not training to instill knowledge and skills is growing and you had better be prepared for it.

* People are willing to ask for up to $3500.00 for individual activities that are available for free if you dare to ask on the listserv... of course, you have to buy your own Legos or cards or dice, etc.

* There are a ton of new personality inventories again. I am not going to go into the arguments for or against, but I was tremendously impressed with The Big Five by CentACS out of Charlotte, NC. They had great information and a great printout for the respondents that took the test.

* Louis Allen had their model of training areas broken down into the most pieces of the circle models that I found (20 on the outside, 5 on the inside). The circle was the most-used model of a company's methods or systems in rows 200 through 1200.

* The best handouts (another informal survey to help me determine what to do if Performa Solutions has a booth next year) were articles by company principals that taught the reader a skill or idea.

* The best 'goodies' were T-shirts. Those were few and far between so I only got one, but I gave a few out to really good leads.

* The most heavily-attended booths were full of games, toys and fun.

* Most AMA members get to use their new intranet-based training software as a benefit of membership. That was really cool.

* Several of the people who mailed me a 'get yours free at ASTD' post card were not present. I will not use them for sure!

I hope these tips serve to educate those who might have a booth in the future.

The closing remarks were fairly well attended with many people leaving late Wednesday or early Thursday to report back to their jobs ASAP. I was fortunate in that I was allowed to stay (at my own expense) until Saturday. I hung out with my old college room mate and his bride for the remainder of my week, which would probably not interest you except for the Comemanga. Brook and I did finally get to see some of San Francisco before he left late Thursday night, and we visited Alcatraz with our buddies from Space Camp, Christy and Tracy. See? Contacts do last beyond the conference! If you are interested I will attach the one last piece of non-conference adventures to another posting, but for now suffice it to say- never go to a town like San Francisco for a great conference without allowing some time on the front end or back end to see the town. ASTD '98 was an unwavering success, no doubt about it. The time was solidly filled with quality programming and attractions. There could have been five more days and I still would not have seen or done it all. Leave time to enjoy the host city because you must take the time to maximize your investment in ASTD. It is well worth it!

The previous two postings lack the typical wit associated with most of my writings due to exhaustion. If this takes away from the essence of the posting for you, too bad. I don't care about anything but sleep right now.

good night,

Planning for Talent Management in Your Organization

Organizations should acknowledge that their greatest assets are the people (human capital) that make them work. Whether these are the stakeholders, employees, customers, suppliers, or partners, the business does not exist without their active participation. Creating a successful business involves capitalizing on your people. To take it a step further, successful human capital management can be defined as effectively sourcing, attracting, selecting, onboarding, training, developing, assigning, steering, promoting, and retaining people in your organization.

The primary problem with doing this effectively lies in the disconnected solutions currently being deployed by most organizations. The human resources department hires recruiters or headhunters to add to the human capital pool. The training department identifies knowledge and/or skills gaps and sets up one-time classes to fix the employees. Supervisors, Managers, and Directors manage the performance of individuals through assignments and feedback. Human Resources then posts vacancies that ambitious employees apply for (even though the boss’ buddy may get the promotion). Of course, nowhere have we mentioned the critical competencies needed by the organization for employees at different levels. Hopefully, those just happen to be present in the people who move up the organization.

The solution begins with an accurately defined vision, strategic initiatives, and organizational values. If an organization knows where it wants to go, the other pieces more easily fall into place. From the goals, the executive team can derive the major tasks and the critical competencies (i.e. knowledge, skills, aptitude, experiences, personality traits, abilities, and attitude) of the leaders required to achieve those tasks. The leaders then cascade the same process down through their organizations. This creates a road map for management to identify up and coming stars and for employees to identify areas for development that could present them with lateral move or promotion opportunities inside the organization. This also creates measurable performance metrics and facilitates the creation of hiring qualifications. Finally, it unifies the language of the organization so that, for example, the definition of "active listening" is consistent during hiring, training, and performance appraisal documentation.

The other side of the solution involves the organization's culture. The culture must be quantified as accurately as possible. The necessary organizational values to realize the vision must be drawn up and cross-referenced to the current situation. From this document a list of attitudes, beliefs and behaviors can be extrapolated that define the type of person that is most likely to ensure the success of the organization. Of course, an organization's culture matures and cycles occur, so significant diversity should be promoted when these attributes are applied to selection. This process must be repeated over time to keep up with changes.

If the organization is young or reinventing itself this process can be implemented without too much resistance. If the company is established or extremely stable this process should be introduced as part of a change initiative. In either situation this process must be thoughtfully planned and organized. Driving and restraining forces must be identified. Action plans must be devised and implemented to tackle each restraining force and to reinforce each driving force. These plans must include:

· Methods for creating a need in the eyes of the current employees

· Methods for communicating the objective to current employees

· Methods for securing commitment from current employees

· Process steps that create necessary change through elimination of anticipated restraining forces and how the elimination steps will be specifically implemented

· Process steps that create necessary change through modification of existing restraining forces and how those steps will be specifically implemented

· Process steps that create necessary change through reinforcement of existing beneficial driving forces and how those steps will be specifically implemented

· Process steps that create necessary change through creation of missing beneficial driving forces and how those steps will be specifically implemented

· Observable milestones to measure the levels of success that describe what will occur along the way

· Timelines that target deadlines for each milestone

· The format for reporting milestones and to whom

· Resources required to implement each process step (people with their roles and responsibilities, capital, tools)

· Contingency planning meetings to evaluate progress and make course corrections if the organization is dysfunctional (moving against the changes) or nonfunctional (moving away from the changes)

· Next steps meeting after the process steps have been implemented

· Create incentive by planning how success will be celebrated and rewarded

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Pop Culture Personality Inventories

At least as far back as the stories that are attributed to Shakespeare, storytellers recognized that there were several unique personality types that would create entertaining situations when faced with various types of life situations (e.g. the seven recurring themes). Fast forward to today's exploitation of polar opposites through television shows that swap wives and put people in highly stressful situations (e.g. on a barren island or in a singing competition), and we see that pop psychology continues to deliver results. However, it is rare for anyone to effectively cross-reference the archetypes used for entertainment and those used for professional psychological classification. That is why I am very excited to have found an online version of an article that led to a great discussion at the 1998 ASTD international conference and exposition.

In San Francisco at least 6,000 people gathered (4,500 were vendors I think) to swap, borrow, or buy ideas about corporate training and development. At that time a very active listserv group used the international ASTD conference as a chance to meet face-to-face anually. This group was known as the "red shirts". We had an affinity for debate and for freely sharing best practices. In San Francisco several of us lingered long after the other red shirts had retired to thier hotel rooms. The topic that drove our passion that evening was the creation of a pop culture personality inventory that would become fabulously popular with corporations (assuming that we would be granted licensing rights to the show that we leveraged). Many of us were in favor of using the personalities from Gilligan's Island. Others wanted to use a more progressive and popular show such as Friends. The entire conversation was sparked by a 1996 article by Lise Mendel that was intended for use in the creation of role playing games. You can once again read that article because it was posted online here.

Has anyone created or used a team personality or individual personality assessment that is based on a popular book, movie, television show, etc? If so, please comment on this post so that we can all benefit from your experience and insight.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

New Talent Management Network Survey

Marc Effron just released the 2nd Annual State of Talent Management survey results. It indicates that 75% of the companies involved planned to increase spending on TM in 2009 and only 10% plan to decrease spending despite a significant number of TM professionals not being satisfied with the results that they or their team delivers to the business. Though there are more candidates to fill senior TM roles, companies still find it very challenging to source and attract those candidates. And larger companies are more likely to have formal TM groups and those groups are serving senior executives, while smaller companies have HR groups with TM functions that serve middle management. I encourage you to check out the full report and to check out the conference call that Marc will do in partnership with DDI on February 18, 2009.

Go to to download the results.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Creating a Talent Management Approach Requires Planning

Organizations should recognize that their greatest assets are the people that make them work. Whether these are the stakeholders, employees, customers, suppliers, or partners, the business does not exist without their active participation. Creating a successful business involves capitalizing on your people. To take it a step further, successful asset management can be defined as effectively selecting, developing, assigning, and retaining people in your organization.

The primary problem with doing this effectively lies in the disconnected solutions currently being deployed by most organizations. The human resources department hires recruiters or headhunters to add to the human capital pool. The training department identifies knowledge and/or skills gaps and sets up one-time classes to fix the employees. Supervisors, Managers, and Directors manage the performance of individuals through assignments and feedback. Human Resources then posts vacancies for individuals to take the initiative to locate and apply for or the buddy system leads to a promotion. Of course, nowhere have we mentioned the critical competencies needed by the organization for employees at different levels. Hopefully those just happen to be present in the people who move up the organization.

The solution begins in accurately defined vision, strategic initiatives, and organizational values. If an organization knows where it wants to go the other pieces more easily fall into place. From the goals, the executive team can derive the critical knowledge, skills and abilities of the leaders required to direct the company. These can be broken down into their core competencies. The leaders then complete the same process for their direct reports down through the organization. This creates a road map for management to identify up and coming stars and for employees to identify areas for development that could allow them growth opportunities inside the organization. This also creates measurable performance metrics and facilitates the creation of hiring qualifications.

The other side of the solution involves the organization's culture. The culture must be quantified as accurately as possible. The necessary organizational values to realize the vision must be drawn up and cross-referenced to the current situation. From this document a list of attitudes, beliefs and behaviors can be extrapolated that define the most likely people to ensure the success of the organization. Of course, an organization's culture matures and cycles so significant diversity should be promoted. This process must be repeated over time to keep up with changes.

If the organization is young or reinventing itself this process can be implemented without too much resistance. If the company is established or extremely stable this process must be introduced as part of a change initiative. In either situation this process must be thoughtfully planned and organized. Driving and restraining forces must be identified. Action plans must be devised and implemented to tackle each restraining force and to reinforce each driving force.

These plans must include:
  • Methods for creating a need in the eyes of the current employees
  • Methods for communicating the objective to current employees
  • Methods for securing commitment from current employees
  • Process steps that create necessary change through elimination of anticipated restraining forces and how the elimination steps will be specifically implemented
  • Process steps that create necessary change through modification of existing restraining forces and how those steps will be specifically implemented
  • Process steps that create necessary change through reinforcement of existing driving forces and how those steps will be specifically implemented
  • Process steps that create necessary change through creation of driving forces and how those steps will be specifically implemented
  • Observable milestones to measure the levels of success that describe what will occur along the way
  • Timelines that target deadlines for each milestone
  • The format for reporting against milestones and to whom
  • Resources required to implement each process step (people with their roles and responsibilities, capital, tools)
  • Contingency planning meetings to evaluate progress and make course corrections if the organization is dysfunctional (moving against the changes) or nonfunctional (moving away from the changes)
  • ‘Next Steps Meeting’ after the process steps have been implemented
  • Create incentive by planning how success will be celebrated and rewarded

Performance Management: Both 'What' & 'How'

I was asked to comment on performance management by a friend who is trying to help her boss understand that performance is not just the number of units sold at the end of the quarter. My friend is absolutely right, it is not just what you do, it is also how you do it that counts.

In fact, my friend's company has a perfect example. They hired a new salesperson in October 2007. This person was extremely quick to pick up on all of the technical attributes of their product and was very tenacious on the phone. He was held out as an example by the middle of the year because he was setting goals for number of calls per day and meeting or exceeding those goals every day. This initially translated into a lot of new business with previously untapped customers. Late last year they asked this salesperson to help them earn repeat business from those new customers, but the salesperson could not deliver. He explained that he is a "hunter not a farmer". So the company paired him up with a terrific relationship-building "farmer" that had been with them for years. After a couple of months the company still did not have a single repeat sale to any of the top gun salesperson's original customers - not a single one. On top of that, the "farmer" had asked to be reassigned back to his old position three times over a two month period. What was going on?

To quickly summarize what had happened:
  • The salesperson had a very solid understanding of features and benefits and could quickly and effectively overcome objections related to those factors
  • The salesperson set goals specific to individual clients and followed up with them tenaciously
  • Many customers eventually were worn down into submission and made an initial purchase
  • Those clients were not completely satisfied and did not want to deal with the salesperson's personality any longer (the value of the product was not worth the perceived abuse they were subjected to during the sales process)
  • The company had a quick spike in sales, but had lost any hope of doing repeat business with those customers in the future
Sales management held this "hunter" out as an example to all of what they wanted and expected from their salesforce. That pride in his accomplishments was based solely on the fact that new doors were opened and sales jumped. When they looked at their metrics the "hunter" was a fabulous performer! Unfortunately, they only had metrics that focused on what was done. They had completely ignored how the work was done to their long term detriment. If this was a B2C company that was selling a product that would last a lifetime (hence, only one sale per life is expected) then they might expect long-term success following this role model. However, even then, the company's reputation would eventually be tarnished and sales would slump. Customers simply have too much access to comments on a company's performance for any company to allow a singular focus on what in their performance management system.

So why do companies rely so heavily, if not completely, on what gets done? Because it is objective and easy. Technology allows us to measure and manage tangible results without having to think. The numbers are there on a spreadsheet and those numbers are accurate. Employees either did or did not reach the minimum acceptable standard. They either did or did not hit the top 5% when everyone's results were compared. Management understands that what results in a clear impact on the bottom line. The relationship is almost always easy to prove.

However, don't results suffer over time when how is ignored? In my friend's company the impact was noticed much faster than in most companies. Often, reputation takes a while to disintegrate to the point where new customers cannot be found and harvested. A classic example is car sales. Many dealerships only expected to sell one car every five or more years to a customer and they hoped that memories would fade. Therefore, they went for the kill on every single sale. As consumers started to buy more than one car per family and more often than every 5+ years, car dealerships had to make a significant change in their sales processes. However, simply changing the process did not fix the problem. That is because how you sell is just as much a factor of what type of person you are as it is the process that you are supposed to follow.

How people perform is perceived as very difficult to measure. I have often heard managers say, "It is too ambiguous to measure. I don't want to get sued for using subjective data." On the other hand, I have also seen managers embrace subjective evaluations and get themselves and their company into a lot of trouble. So, how can it be done?

First, a company must understand that the process of managing how begins with the strategies that they employ for sourcing, attracting, and selecting talent. A large number of performance problems can be avoided by making sure that only the right people get hired. And, it is not enough to simply put a nice behavioral interview guide together and expect to hire the best fit for the job. You must know where the best fit people are. You must market to them and create interest and demand for the jobs in your company. Then you must have an effective screening process that evaluates the competencies that make up how. Those attributes typically include attitudes and beliefs, aptitude, and interpersonal skills. The best methodologies for measuring these seemingly subjective traits focus on the behaviors that are manifested as a result of having the trait.

As an example, when measuring 'listening skills', create and validate a rubric for what it looks like if someone is not listening (e.g. they interrupt the customer), what it looks like if they are an average listener (e.g. they use the customer's name), and what it looks like if they are an active listener (e.g. they repeat back what they understood the customer was saying). Create a simulation based on a very typical customer scenario and have a trained rater listen to or observe the candidates going through the exact same scenario (always use the same script and employees as both the customer and the rater in these scenarios to avoid variance in results). The rater will check off the actual behaviors exhibited by the candidates and the results can be compared to narrow the field of applicants. Multiple attributes can be rated during the same simulation to give a more robust view of the candidates. There are also vendors who have created validated instruments that measure aptitude and other how factors.

Once the rubrics have been created for selection purposes, they can also be used for measuring the performance of current employees. However, this is where most managers give the greatest push-back. They must observe their direct reports' performance. The typically objection is, "I don't have time. I have too many direct reports and I am already too busy." If their job is to manage a team, what are they doing that takes precedent over this primary responsibility? I am going to guess that they are either doing the work for their direct reports or they are fighting fires (which may have been created by their direct reports). Again, prevention is the key to freeing up time for the process that most effectively measures how. The process is as follows:
  1. Observe performance (e.g. a complete interaction with a customer from start to finish)
  2. Rate the how attributes using the validated rubrics
  3. If the performance that was rated was recorded, have the employee watch and rate their own performance using the same rubrics
  4. Have the employee share his/her self-rating first
  5. Compare and contrast any differences between employee and boss rating results
  6. Identify why behaviors and actions were taken by the employee (the manager may identify a systemic problem that would prevent future problems if it was successfully addressed)
  7. Document a final rating (some scores may change based on what was discussed) and enter it into the company's performance management system
  8. Repeat no less than once per month
  9. Aggregate the annual results (minimum of 12 observations) and apply to the annual review
Of course, if there are any actions or behaviors on the job that are in direct conflict with company policies or external regulations or laws then the incident must be immediately documented and action taken. What I am focusing on in this article in a long-term, sustainable, and effective process by which companies can manage how work gets done. If my friend can convince her company to allow her to analyze performance, create the tools, and validate them, then she will be able to prevent the slow, corrosive impact that the previous 'top performer' had on their long-term repeat sales. She can start softly by using them in the selection process, but once the new hires are identified as top performers, she should be asked to build performance management tools out of the same content. Only then will her company truly optimize performance by focusing on both halves of the equation: what gets done and how it gets done.