- “How can we get our people to talk/collaborate/work with each other?”
- “How do we get our people to share knowledge?”
- “How can we ensure our people will use the social networking platform (insert name of system here) we’ve implemented?”
- “How can we incorporate social learning into the current training programs we have now?”
- “No one is accessing our online courses anymore, how can we make them more social?”
- “We have a social networking platform (insert name of system here) but our leaders don’t use it and only some people in our organisation are on it – and it’s usually the same people.”
As a consultant, it’s part of my service to help my clients explore how to analyse performance problems they have and then develop a strategy that will help close that gap. Social learning may be part of the solution, or it may not be part of it at all. Alternatively, it may be a blend of different factors that need to be considered when developing the strategy or the solution.
To jump on to the latest trend without doing a proper analysis into defining your performance problem first will usually end up in disaster. Social learning should not be seen as a “quick fix” – if anything, consider it more a cultural process and change because it will take a lot more than just a 90 minute webinar or a workshop to inspire change.
In this post, I will outline my questioning process with my clients to analyse their performance problems when they ask me for social learning solutions. The questions I ask come about from many years of using the Mager and Pipe model of Performance Analysis. I have found the questions to be applicable to any part of business. In fact, I use it for all my clients regardless of what part of the business or industry they have come from. I have used the same questions for large, medium and small business. The questions are still the same.
Maybe you can start to use them in your own team as you come across some workplace problems that need to be solved?
In these series of posts, I will outline an example of each of the five stages of Analysing Performance Problems. This first blog post focusses on Describing the Performance Problem and subsequent posts will follow the other phases.
Describe The Problem
The first step is to always Describe the Problem and then make an assessment if it’s worth pursuing.
What’s the Actual Problem?
Here I ask them to define the actual performance discrepancy. What is it that they are seeing or observing versus what they should be doing. Conversation can go something like this:
Me: Why do you say you need social learning program?
Client: We have implemented a social learning platform (let’s say, Yammer) but no one is using it.
Me: So you want more people to use Yammer? What makes you to say that?
Client: It seems to be the same people on it. Besides, our Learning and Development team roll out different training programs across the business and we need to understand what social learning means and how we can integrate Yammer into our programs. The team needs to be taught about all things social so then we can pass it onto our business to make them use Yammer.
It is important to spend time to define the actual performance problem. I allow my client to talk through at this point and usually find that different people have different perspectives. Already, this particular client has made some assumptions about the tool and words like “we want to make them use…” ring alarm bells in my head that require further questioning. (You can’t make anyone or force anyone to learn socially).
In all cases, I encourage my client to allow me to speak to as many different people in their business to get these perspectives. As an external consultant, this is one of my biggest challenges. Often the client does not see the value of me speaking outside their department to gather data. However, if you are an internal consultant who would like to use the same process, it’s critical that you go outside your own department and get different perspectives.
One of the biggest dangers is only focussing on the perspective of one person or one department. In my experience, the answer to the problem is already out there in the business and it’s usually within peoples heads but for whatever reason, they are unable to voice these (or not allowed to voice), may not have time (or have the time but not motivated to solve) nor may they believe that it is their problem to fix. Sometimes, they may not even think it’s a problem. What is one problem to one department may not necessarily be a problem to another.
If you want to have further clarification of how departments see things differently, just look to a Business Project and see the different personalities and perspectives playing out. The Analyst has one view; Learning and Development another; the Project Manager one view; the Change Manager another; Marketing has another view; Stakeholders different. To get a true understanding of the problem, you need to see how that problem is described by different parties involved.
Whose Performance Are We Talking About?
Me: So let me clarify, who’s “the team” specifically?
Client: Initially, it’s just the Learning and Development team, maybe one or two people from our HR or Organisation Development team too – a couple of the senior HR leaders who are asking questions about it too. All up, it’s a team of about 15 people. Down the track, it might be the whole organisation. For now though, it’s just our group.
This question clarifies the audience to which there is a problem. You need to be specific about the person, team or departments that they are talking about. Once again, by speaking to different people, you may get different perspectives. For me, this question helps me understand who else I need to speak to.
Why Do You Think It’s a Problem?
Me: Why do you say that it’s a problem for your group? What behaviours or performance have you seen specifically that leads you to believe that they don’t know about social learning?
Client: *Shoulder shrug* Umm. It’s not something that we actually talk about. I don’t think I’ve seen them use Yammer. I mean, I don’t use Yammer myself – so I’m included here too. We don’t know what we don’t know about Yammer.
Me: When you say they don’t know social learning? What specifically do you mean?
Client: You know, using the actual tool or for that matter social media as well. Maybe SharePoint? Is that known as social media? I don’t know what other tool is out there but I guess we can focus on Yammer for now.
I ask this problem to get different perspectives from the relevant people I’m interviewing. What one person thinks of a problem does not necessarily mean that someone else thinks the same way. If I was to ask the same question to a few Learning and Development team members, they may not believe that their not using Yammer is a problem. After all, they are meeting the requirements of their job in providing training solutions to their clients.
What is the Actual Performance Issue?
It is important to define the actual performance issue and be as specific as possible. When I ask this question, I am listening for demonstrable performance and behaviours that are happening in the workplace – not based on attitudes. For example, you can pick up the clues such as not using a tool, not following processes or procedures, spending money, wasting resources, costing time or money, reducing budget and many other performance issues. The reason this is important is because down the track, you can use these performance issues to set actual performance objectives (in their own language) that you can measure and evaluate.
Me: Let’s go back to that question. What actual performance have you seen in the workplace from your team that leads you to believe that they don’t know or even learn socially?
Client: They’re not incorporating Yammer into their programs. They don’t know how to. I think we need to know how to use Yammer and put it into our training courses. Maybe down the track it would be good to get some SharePoint training too? Also, we’re not offering solutions to our clients that are things other than creating online courses or facilitator led workshops which are resource intensive and take long development times.
Me: So one of the things that you’re seeing is that your members are offering solutions to your clients that are resource intensive. What else other than use of specific tools like Yammer, SharePoint or using any social tools, have you seen them do or perform that tells you that they need guidance around social learning?
Client: I don’t understand what you mean.
Me: Social learning is much more than the tool or platform or technology. It’s not just about Yammer or SharePoint. It’s the behaviour of how people learn with each other and through each other. Yammer is simply one of the media by which people across the organisation can collaborate and learn from each other. What performance have you seen specifically from your Learning and Development team that they are not sharing, or learning from each other and with each other that makes you believe they’re not learning socially?
Client: Sorry, no, that’s not the case at all. We do share openly! At each of our team meetings, we share what we are working on; we have social activities; we have a regular weekly Lunch and Learn and twice a year we have Capability Team days where we get together and plan the next six months ahead. We also email each other interesting links and references we come across on the internet. Many of our team members actively help and coach each other on any questions people have. I guess that’s social learning right?
Me: That’s right. So what I’m hearing is that your team is quite open to learning with each other, in fact, they seem to enjoy it but they may not know what to offer your business clients solutions that are less resource intensive to help them solve their performance problems.
Client: Yes that’s right.
Me: So following on from that question, how does your Learning and Development make what they’re learning visible to others outside of their own team, to their business clients?
Client: Never. No need to. We show what we’re learning to our own team members – for our own learning. Sometimes my own senior manager may want a report on what we did on Team Days and some such but that’s about it. Why would us showing how and what we’re learning relevant to our business clients? That may show them that we really don’t know our stuff…
Me: It can be very relevant. That’s the beauty of people learning from each other and extracting learning from their own work so that they can apply it to their own contexts. When someone from your team shares how they found a certain piece of information openly, it may help someone else out in your business who may have had that same question. Your team members are also role modelling how they are helping each other and what they are using to find information. If this was finding an answer to a customer enquiry or finding a subject matter expert in the business quickly which would have otherwise taken you days to respond or find that person, you can immediately see the value of open sharing to the organisation. You saved your time which translates to money and it means a happy customer. Your team members can show others on how to find information to solve their problems quickly.
In the end I would summarise in their own words, what is the actual performance issue and in this case, it’s not that the team is new to social learning – in fact, it’s how they can help their business find information themselves to solve their business problems that would minimise the need for more resources, free up capacity in their team and provide their business with solutions. It’s now time to ask them about what they’d like to see happening…
What is the Desired Performance?
Me: So when all is said and done, what would you like to see your team actually do, demonstrate or perform in the workplace around social learning?
Client: I’d like to see our Learning and Development team members provide advice and guide our business clients to find information themselves and that we don’t always jump to creating courses. We are swamped with requests for training by the business and we’re under pressure to deliver these. We’re spending more time creating courses and I just don’t have the resources anymore. In fact, we are all working to capacity. We need better ways to service our internal clients that always don’t involve creating courses.
Me: So you would like to know how to best serve your internal clients that don’t add extra capacity or resources to your team; manage the incoming requests and also enable your business to help themselves when it comes to solving their performance problems.
Client: That’s correct. Not a big ask is it?
Asking this question is necessary because once again, this gives you a picture of the “future state” and you can create some measurable performance objectives. The answer to this question will enable me to write up objectives related to a reduction in current capacity or workload of course development; an increase in speed of response to incoming business requests and possibly a reduction in development of courses. These objectives can then be measured before, during and after the solution or strategy developed to assess performance improvement. It’s also the type of measures that business would be more interested in (as opposed to how many Yammer licences they have; how many people respond to posts; how many ‘likes’ or ‘Follows’; how many people use Yammer).
Is it Worth Pursuing?
In this next phase, sometimes I feel frivolous for asking these questions but they still need to be asked. In the majority of cases, there is a justification for pursuing a solution to a problem but it may not be the problem they initially thought they had.
Here are some questions I ask.
What Would Happen If You Ignored It?
Me: So tell me. If you did nothing. If you ignored this problem, what would happen?
Client: No option. We’re too way down the track. We need to do something. And quick. We recently were restructured and our workload has increased. If we ignored the problem, I see the situation getting a lot worse. Our budget continues to reduce every year; my staff are working to capacity so there will be pressure to continue working at this level which is unsustainable. I see we may have more sick leave and workplace stress. If we ignored it, we may also lose face and reputation with our business because they’re not coming to us anymore but seeking external vendors to support them in their capability and development needs. I don’t want us to be made redundant.
In all of the cases in my work life, I have never had a shoulder shrug with a ‘Nothing’. There’s always some sense of urgency for the problem to be fixed. For all intents and purposes, this is ringing alarm bells for me and common sense is telling me that we cannot ignore this.
What Would Happen If You Succeeded?
Me: What would happen if you succeeded?
Client: I’d have a happy team not swamped with work or on stress leave. I see a team that can service business requests quickly and not have to waste time in development mode. There’s a part of me that all wants some kudos for our Learning and Development team by the business.
I like to ask this question because it gives me, again, an idea for setting performance objectives. From their responses, you can then create SMART performance objectives that can be measured and evaluated before, during and after the solution. For example in this case, a performance objective that is shaping up can be the following:
- Increase capacity in the L&D team members so that they can spend time on more value work
- Reduce the number of formal courses developed so that time and money spent on enabling business to find information faster
- Solve business problems faster by knowledge sharing across the business
Are your Expectations Reasonable?
This question is really a double checking that if they ignored the problem it wouldn’t be an issue.
Me: Would you say that your expectations of this problem is reasonable under the circumstances?
Client: Of course, there’s no option. Why do you even ask?! What a stupid question. (*exasperated* by this stage – just as much as I am writing this very long blog post)
What are the Consequences?
This next question is to gauge what the consequences caused by the actual performance discrepancy. This is a good question to ask if you want to find out how their behaviours and performance impact other members, their clients, customers or the organisation as a whole. It also gives you an idea about whether the problem is truly a problem and not just an opinion. From the responses, you can confirm your performance objectives.
Me: So what are the consequences caused by your team who are working to capacity and unable to support the business requests coming in?
Client: If I could list them in order, it would have to be time primarily followed soon after by not being able to service our internal clients quickly enough. In many cases, they bypass us completely and go to external vendors because they can’t wait for us. The more of my team spending the bulk of their time on developing courses, the less I can allocate them to other projects or business requests. Also, I’ve noticed that the requests from business are usually similar and we seem to duplicate, redo and go over the same things. There has to be a way to enable the business to find out what has been done by others so that they can share the learning without coming through to L&D for every request. So it’s a bit of mix of everything but lack of time and a decrease in the level of servicing which is then impacting our reputation and encouraging them to seek assistance externally.
Is the Cost Enough to Justify Going On?
This question is usually a difficult one to assess because from the above consequences, the next question is about the cost of these consquences to them. In my experience, many clients don’t have hard tangible figures but they do know roughly that it is a sticking point.
Me: What are the costs of these to your department and to the business?
Client: We don’t have hard data about it but I can provide an example. Yesterday a business client wanted our L&D team to create an induction course. We explored their needs and advised that another team within their same business unit had created another induction course a couple of months ago and there would be value in exploring what can be reused however, they weren’t interested. They wanted something new innovative, something game-based and now will be using a vendor solution. We did our best to connect the two businesses to see what can be reused to save some money but there’s only so much you can do. Even though they’ll get their solution, it’s likely that they will come to us to help them in the implementation, or technical issues or working with the vendor. It increases the amount of work we have to do; and puts pressure on my team to service client requests that are becoming too different, specific, creative. Sure, I’d love to help them and see these things for myself but once again…time! I also have spreadsheets on the time it takes for us to service a client from initial enquiry through to project completion. I’d like to see this time reduce which will save money for the organisation. I can provide these to you if you need them.
So they are the questions I ask when describing the problem. There’s a lot there but you can see from the questions and answers that the problem begins to get defined. Of course, as mentioned, you may need to repeat this process with different stakeholders, their internal customers or team members to get different perspectives. From the conversations, you are then able to put together some clear, measurable performance objectives or goals to achieve and measure before, during and after the implementation of your solution.
In the next post, I will explore the second phase of Analysing Performance Problems by Exploring Fast Fixes.
- Reference: https://www.flickr.com/photos/38174668@N05/5331018722/