Performance Consulting, Change- and Talent Management at ICBE

Today I attended the [Irish Center of Business Excellence] (ICBE) 2012 conference in Dublin, Ireland. I will blog about the following three talks:

Peter de Jager on Change

Peter de Jager talk was titled “Reducing Change to Seven Questions”.

According to de Jager everybody believes that “people resist change”. He then gave us many examples of how we all make big changes in our lives (getting married, bearing children, moving cities, changing jobs). Something like having kids is much bigger than implementing SAP. We embrace the former and we resist the latter. What is the fundamental difference between the one and the other? It is: choice. We don’t resist change, we resist being changed. We resist the most trivial thing if we don’t have control.

This means that the first question around change management will always be: “Why?”. The best thing to get people to accept change is to get them involved.

De Jager likes to reduce change to a set of seven questions:

  1. Why? Why is it necessary to do this? Don’t just tell me “because”. Why-questions seem to be taboo in organisations currently. We need to change this mentality and make sure that a real dialogue
  2. What’s in it for me? The problem with this is that it is not about you, because it is about the organisation. This is unfortunate because with any change it is top of mind of any employee. It requires some honesty from a corporation to address this question. If as a corporation you don’t know the answer, then at least communicate that.
  3. What might go wrong? We fool ourselves if we downplay the risk of change: there is always the change that something might go wrong.
  4. What will go wrong? There will be problems, guaranteed. Make sure you are prepared.
  5. What are your solutions?
  6. What will change?
  7. What will stay the same?

Peter de Jager has all the marks of an incessant self-promoter (I do realize I am on that journey too, but do hope I won’t get where he is). He presented without slides and clearly had told this exact story many times before. Unfortunately he still managed to lose me during his seven questions story. I am not even sure I captured them all correctly to be honest.

Nigel Harrison on How to be a True Business Partner through Performance Consulting

Nigel Harrison helps people adopt a consulting approach where they ask their clients what the problems is before they jump to solutions (what he calls solutioneering).

In traditional problem analysis we very often jump to solutions. The majority of the problems in our organizations is from previous solutions. Training is often one of these premature solutions. Harrison mentioned the conspiracy of convenience where everybody knows that it doesn’t deliver business value but it is in the interest of the learner, the trainer and the manager to act like the training is great.

His process for problem analysis works like this. Start by asking a few questions:

  • Who is involved in this problem?
  • What is happening now? This is about the current state.
  • What do we want to see? This is about the desired state.

If you do this you can start asking: What is the value to the business if we close this gap? (Don’t forget to ask: What is the cost of doing nothing?)

He has a very nice image of his seven step process for performance consulting (find some more downloads here):

7 Steps of Performance Consulting
7 Steps of Performance Consulting

This is a simple process, but it does need skillful application to be effective:

  • Building trust and support
  • Really get into your business goals outside of L&D
  • Drawing a systemic model with your client
  • Supportive challenge to quantify the problem
  • Creativity to develop integrated solutions

Common difficulties with the approach are:

  • Dealing with the pressure for solutioneering
  • The positioning of L&D
  • Own power and credibility

He closed his session by showing how easy it then is to connect learning investment to business value. If you can’t define the business value then Nigel suggest to stop spending the money on the learning intervention.

Yvonne Earley on Talent Management

Yvonne Earley talked about talent management one of the five strategic objectives from her employer Abbott. They have truly integrated talent into their business planning.

The three fundamental things about the program are:

  • Visibility of talent across the functions and across the divisions is really key.
  • How do we assess our talent and how accurate is our assessment?
  • How do we differentiate our talent? Our top talent should be in our strategic business critical positions so that they can have high impact experiences.

Everybody has a talent profile which serves as an internal resume/CV. The manager makes the assessment decisions around career trajectory, their potential (consists of aspiration, ability and commitment), performance, potential next moves, etc. (Leadership) Potential and Performance are rated in a 9 box two dimensional grid:

9 Box Grid: Potential and Performance
9 Box Grid: Potential and Performance

Their onboarding process is as follows:

  • Getting prepared (pre-hire)
  • Getting started (30 days)
  • Getting productive (60 days)
  • Broadening perspective (90 days)
  • Maintaining alignment (the first year)

Earley had an amazing amount of other slides with frameworks and diagrams. Abbott seems to be a very process heavy organisation!

9 Questions for All Learning Professionals in 2011

This week I needed to create a small presentation which could help learning professionals do some forward thinking. I decided to repurpose an earlier keynote given to the Dommel Valley group (you can find that presentation here), strip out many of the slides and record a voice-over including cheesy sound effects.

Please find below 9 non-exhaustive things I see happening in corporate learning in the near future and 9 questions that every Learning Professional in 2011 should ask themselves based on these points. I realise that the presentation might feel rushed (it had to fit in 15 minutes) and that many of the points need more explanation to be sensible to the average reader of this blog. However, I do hope that these questions could prod at least a few learning professionals into action.

[slideshare id=10056684&doc=111026sociallearning-111107071819-phpapp01]

If the embed doesn’t work, find the slidecast on slideshare or download the PDF (2.6 MB).

Informal Learning “Broadening the Spectrum of Corporate Learning”

On November 8th 2010 I delivered a keynote at the second Symposium of the Dommel Valley Group in Eindhoven. The theme of the day was “Informal Learning”. My presentation touched on the “Learning DNA” of the company I work for, looked at some of our efforts in the informal learning space and brought up nine (non-exhaustive) things that I see coming up in the near future.

Please check out my slides (or download a 4.3MB PDF copy of them):

[slideshare id=5622083&doc=101107dommelvalleykeynote-101031084917-phpapp01]

The nine points led me to ask the audience nine questions:

  1. Have you shared something explicitly in the last week?
  2. Do you feel you are an expert on what makes a human brain tick and where motivation comes from?
  3. Do you have the capability/capacity to capture and deliver video?
  4. Are you creating multiple learning strategies (i.e. are you diversifying)?
  5. Do you own an Android/iOS/Windows 7 smartphone?
  6. Have you ever started with the best performers to see how something should be done?
  7. Have you been the steward of an online community of practice?
  8. Does your organisation have a meta-layer on top of its content/information?
  9. Is your first instinct to find the great learning materials that exist before you create your own?

I personally cannot answer “yes” to all of these questions, but I am committed to work towards a “yes” on all of them in the next couple of months. To how many of these questions can you answer “yes”?

Finally, this is the first time I used the the concept of Social Contextualization of Content in a presentation. I look forward to exploring the concept further in a future post.

Performance Consulting: Moving Beyond Training, a Review

Performance Consulting
Performance Consulting

A little while back I used my company‘s global learning community of practice to ask its members who their learning gurus were. It was an interesting exercise because it gave me some insight into which people and ideas have influenced the current learning practice in the company. I was expecting names like Stephen Downes, George Siemens or Jay Cross to come up, instead we had an interesting discussion about the word “guru” and people mentioned names like Robert F. Mager (famous for the question: could they do it if their life depended on it?), Betty Collis and Peter Senge.

One of the books that was mentioned in the discussion was Performance Consulting: Moving Beyond Training by the Robinson couple. This 1995 book (hello CD-ROMS!) seems to be a bit of a classic in the field. The blurb on the cover says: “The world is changing and HRD must change with it. Every HRD and training professional who wants to have a job past the year 2000 should read this book.” Reading the book it struck me how many of its lessons were still not in regular practice in many businesses today (i.e. the blurb was wrong!).

The book tries to explain how the traditional role of the trainer (focus on what people need to learn) can be progressed to the role of a performance consultant (focusing on what people need to do to perform well). A trainer (and the learning function as a whole) describes and solves training needs. A performance consultant looks at business, performance, training and work environment needs. The idea is to have the learning department be part of the business conversation. By breaking out of the conspiracy of convenience (see barrier 3 in this Charles Jennings post) learning professionals would be able to create a “Performance Relationship Map” to really impact business results:

From page 55 of the book
From page 55 of the book

Using this map you can see that what the operational results should be, drive what the on-the-job performance should be. These can then be compared to how they currently are and internal and external causes (the environmental factors) can be identified. This very simple model is probably in the tool kit of any organizational effectiveness consultant, but is still not something many people in the learning space would explicitly use.

The book then describes how to get the information to fill in this map. What I really liked is how they decided to use the people who excel at their work, the best performers, to find out what performance should be like and define the benchmark to measure the current performance against. This is a simple trick that learning designers could start doing right now: don’t go and find the Subject Matter Experts to ask them what people should know about a particular topic, instead ask people who are great performers what it is they actually do and ask their managers why they are such great performers. That is a much better starting point for designing a learning intervention.

The majority of the book is devoted to building the performance relationship map. What really surprised me that once you have identified the gaps, the proposed solutions for closing the gap are still so traditional. Even though the authors quote Geary Rummler saying “Pit a good employee against a bad system and the system will win most every time” and even though they come up with the equation Learning Experience x Work Environment = Performance Results, they fall way short in their solutions for closing the performance gap and don’t actually look at changing the system.

They don’t talk about new models for training and learning. How the work environment could be changed receives half a page in the book (find it at the bottom half of page 269). It is a bit odd that you would spend a whole book explaining how to do a needs analysis and then write in chapter 11 (of 13): “If all we did was obtain data, Performance Consultants would be of limited value. The ultimate test of a consulting project is how the information is actually used to make desirable changes.” This means they have left the most interesting questions open. Could I maybe get your recommendation for literature that would give me more information about the next step: how to close a performance gap? I would prefer books that have taken the rise of educational technology and the Internet truly on board.

Bonus: One nice reference that I came across in the book was to The Consultant’s Calling by Geoffrey M. Bellman. The Robinsons quoted the following passage (in the context of defining what a contract might mean):

I attempt to create a contracting process with my clients that is alive and adaptable, not one that is fixed in ink. I encourage trust between client and consultant. I see anything that smacks of mistrust – as defensive legal contracts can do – as damaging to the partnership I want to establish. I favor written communication that records what we decided so we don’t forget our responsibilities. I keep files tracking the work the client and I are doing together, but I balk at anything written that suggest we need to protect ourselves from each other.


BTW, this was post number 100 on this blog! I seem to have finally found some persistence…