Preparing Leaders to Support Post-Training is Treating Symptoms and Ignoring the Disease

I came a cross this article from 2016 as it was shared recently in my network, One Minute, One Question: How Well Does L&D Prepare Leaders to Support Staff Post-Training?

I had a few questions initially about this piece such as who were the 159 survey respondents? And how come two questions appear to ask the same thing; “we do a poor job” and “we don’t prepare” (our leaders). I mean, isn’t “we don’t prepare leaders” doing a poor job in this context? Also, it is focused only on new hires, leaving out training on new skills or systems of current employees. How’s that going?

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It’s All Training Until It Isn’t

The course is a seductive solution. I’ve written and spoken about this before as I believe it’s due in part to years of formal learning dominating our lives, better known as learning learned helplessness. And because employees can’t always wait for L&D to develop a solution they will take matters into their own hands. Sometimes this is good as they find the resource (human or material) to solve their own problem or it can be troublesome in that sometimes they create a PowerPoint presentation for others. It’s enough to raise the hair on a learning professional’s neck… but I say don’t fight it. Appreciate their moxie and shift your focus to consultant and help people rethink the decision.

 It’s about  an opportunity not ownership.

So what does Consultative L&D look like? Here are 5 short examples of actual engagement with some of our stakeholders that has not only worked to pragmatically solve a business issue, but helped enlighten those we worked with to stop thinking training only. Again, each of these began with something along the lines of “we need a course on…

1. People Don’t Argue with There Own Data 
A senior divisional leader requested training.  Donning Performance Consultant we stepped in to see if there was a skill gap and if it warranted training as a solution.  This is how the conversation went: 
Me:  “How are new employees learning the methodology and approaches today?”
Him: “Our programs that employ it learn on the job. Seasoned developers already know the general methodologies and our rendition is not that much different than industry best practices. The new individuals who are less aware will have a mentor who will sit with them to bring them up to speed.
Me: “What are the biggest gaps in execution today?”
Him: “Nothing that stands out. Each team/project does it slightly different to accommodate their project, environment, customer, etc.”
Me: “Since our methodology is very much based on industry methodology how/where is it different?”
Him: “It’s different in just a few ways: it accommodates customer processes, documents, and tools.”
Me: The objectives speak to having employees “Understand.” How will we know they understand? i.e. how will success be determined regardless of solution chosen? Are their project executables/deliverables that can be identified that would show knowledge/skill advancement?”
Him: “We are talking about very tightly knitted teams, they “self-organize” and are accountable for what they sign-up for. It’ll become immediately apparent if someone is not keeping up or they just don’t get it.” 
As we dialoged it became apparent to him that a training course was inappropriate, too heavy and unnecessary. Today we are working on small modules loosely connected, some may be podcasts, SME video demonstrations, job aids and checklists that people can pull on as needed to supplement time with knowledgeable team members.
2. When a job aid will do, do a job aid.
After a SME crafted a highly visual step-by-step on generating financial reports in a PowerPoint presentation meant for a live session, I aimed to understand the need and overall objectives after the fact. Not one to throw the baby out with the bath water, we determined that simply following each screen could produce the desired results, no direct instruction needed. The next step was to fine tune through some actual user testing, then reproduce as performance support for use when generating the reports.
3. Need a presentation? Flip it.
Sometimes content is so new or the workforce is so new to the process that a more formal solution is warranted. It’s important to strive to “do no harm” to the work flow and keep learning opportunities as pull vs. push for our employees. Recently I was approach again to help develop a live presentation. Ultimately it was determined, after a bit of dialog about attention and attendance, to release the session as prerecord and then tag it in our ESN. We’d give the audience a week to view and review as needed and then ask them to post in the ESN their additional questions for the SME to address along with peers.
4. Don’t Reinvent the Wheel
In a desire to reaffirm the commitment we have to our client and ensure consistency of execution, the idea of creating a course for a segment of our workforce to complete on a client methodology and tools was promoted. In our analysis we though this would be redundant as much of the material was readily available. Our solution was to curate vs. create. Tapping into the already available formal materials we proposed an internal certification program which modeled similar certifications recognized by our folks. This two level certification not only recognizes employee completion of identified materials but will also acknowledges their successful application in using the materials in the authentic situations. Additionally, they are credited for sharing their knowledge and contributing to the growth of their more novice peers.
5. Pull not Push
Choosing a performance support solution over a course is not always the correct option. People need formal especially when they are new to the content or safety or security is on the line. However when people are more experienced they need less formal and more informal or social opportunities. This was the case with one of my first efforts. Initially a Project Manager’s boot camp was proposed but this made little sense for our experience Project Managers just needing to understand the nuances of our organization’s project management approach; which for the most part was very similar to what most Project Managers knew from their certification through the Project Management Institute. So instead we leveraged numerous SMEs to co-create job aids, templates and short recorded sessions to orient and reinforce our unique ways of executing project tasks. Each of these could be pulled on in the time of need.

Each of these efforts in and of themselves is small. They grew out of small conversations via email or phone call. In each one we have reinforced the approach I think L&D needs to take; small, embedded, impactful, and integrated with the workforce solutions focused not on just on learning but performing. For L&D to reinvent itself it must not only meet the business need but reframe the thinking throughout the organization one problem, one person, one conversation at a time.

ConTextured Performance Support

This morning disaster struck at work. Productivity will suffer as frustrations rise. Why?  Because last night, before leaving the office, someone opened the dishwasher mid-cycle resulting in the dishwasher stopping.  This action resulted in all coffee cups failing to be cleaned! No coffee cups = no coffee!

Our office manager, who arrives as early as I do, (and before anyone else) alerted me to the travesty. She pointed out that instructions, clearly written on a bright sticky note, were adhered to the dishwasher and completely ignored.  See Exhibit A below

Exhibit A

Upon further investigation I made the observation that the note, though simple in it’s directive; “Running, Please Don’t Open” was in smaller print and in cursive.  However I don’t think those two points were the cause of the failure.  The problem was that the note was stuck to the indented front panel – far below the the sightline of the average employee who would likely, unconsciously, reach for the handle.  Raising the visual aid to eye level is an option but that would then take it out of context and only serve as white noise after sometime. So that’s not a good solution. Finally, it’s probably important to note that many dishwashers, like mine, do in fact resume there cycle after being opened and closed. So people come to the situation with prior knowledge and therefore maybe a brief orientation is warranted during on boarding? However thats likely to be forgotten amid more important things like where to find the coffee cups!

Independent performance support is often limited in belief and practice to things like this; text-based job aids, checklists, images, video demos, etc. Many times this can suffice of course but sometimes we can modify the environment in such a manner that causes one a physical not just mental reaction… behold, Exhibit B.

Exhibit B
 The slight adjustment I made makes the sticky note serve as a speed bump.  The potential offender is stopped cold in their tracks when their fingertips are jarred by a foreign sensation; the unexpected feeling and crinkling sound gives them pause. Reaching to investigate, they are clearly informed and avoid an incorrect action.  Organizational disaster averted… well, time will tell.

How many times have you heard, “well, we posted a job aid and they didn’t bother to use it!” We continue to blame the person, which could be due to a lack of motivation (care). Or we forget to focus on the doer and the doing when possible.  However the reality is that our performance support may actually just be missing the mark

It’s the little things

Hey! What are you doing?!”

That was my reaction after seeing my kids and their cousins poking at a spider web.
The children, all under age 8, were intrigued by a very large and fierce looking spider on a web among flower garden daisies. The gut reaction by one of the kids on this oddly humid fall evening was of course to squash it. All the kids, creeped out or in awe, were in silent agreement until I said let’s look it up.
In a matter of seconds I pulled out my smartphone, snapped pic, studied it (as the spider itself was getting a bit antsy by the continual poking). As the desire to smash it grew, I quickly “Googled” it’s general description and VIOLA!

If there is one thing these kids hated more than ugly bugs it was stinging and biting ones.  This Common Garden spider was quickly determined to be our friend. A steady diet of wasps, mosquitoes and bees made him an ugly ally in the war on those who ruin outdoor fun.  The spider had a stay of execution! Furthermore the “eeews” turned to “ahhs” when it was noted that each night the spider eats its web and builds a new one! How efficient.

I couldn’t help but think of all the big campaigns, films, and curriculum aimed today at educating our youth on helping slow the destruction of ecosystems. Frankly I’m not sure how successful it all has been but I do know a lot of time, money and resources has been spent on all of these efforts. 
But this is the real power of our technology today. In a matter of seconds a small group learned something valuable about their world while in their world. A myth dispelled, an answer know, maybe a broader lesson learned for future application of this new knowledge. A smartphone, a camera, a browser (and a level head). All combined, these increasingly common tools just might make a difference for a world at risk.
In my last post I touched on how social tools have the ability to make the big smaller. It’s hard to really to measure the impact of these small spontaneous events, rife with emotion. But if little actions like these (Trojan mice) are released frequently, everywhere maybe a real difference will be seen in our ecosystems.

“Unleash Trojan Mice. Don’t do big things or spend loads of money. Set small, nimble things running and see where they head.” – Euan Semple (see full post here)


If this spider lives and reproduces > thousands of offspring are born > the mosquito population in check > pesticide spraying is reduced, etc, etc. Hard to trace back to 5 kids in a Syracuse, New York flower garden but who knows.

In our organizations we have the same social and informal learning opportunities on an equally small scale.  In the littler moments, not in the classroom or through a curriculum, we can reach for performance support within our peers and in our tools. We no longer have the excuse “I didn’t know” for most information. At our fingertips we have what can help us make better decisions and our reactive nature can put in check. 
And yet even with all the tools available to connect us and our knowledge, someone still needs to ask…

 “Hey what are you doing!?”

Think of the Doer and doing, not the Learner and learning

I’m sure you’ve heard the cliche that is the self-described non-techie confessing that “My VCR still blinks 12:00.” (OK I know…VCR? What’s that? Humor me here).  I think this statement however speaks more to who we all are rather than just a segment of the not-so-tech-savvy among us. Furthermore I believe the statement transcends technology and to who we are as human-beings.

With that example as a point of reference about human nature lets look at why your VCR likely still blinks 12:00.

  • It blinks 12:00 because you didn’t bother to read the instructions. 
  • You didn’t bother to read the instructions because quite frankly your goal was to watch a movie not have yet another timepiece in the room. 
  • You didn’t bother to read the instructions because the user guide was enormous and thus appeared as another layer of work just adding to your time on task. 
  • You didn’t bother to read the instructions because the first thing you instinctively do IS “do.”

Maybe it’s an all to common human failing or maybe it’s just part of how we are wired to learn. I prefer the latter. I mean isn’t it our first instinct to just try? To play around and make a go of it? It’s not typical for anyone to immediately reach for assistance. We don’t want help until we want help. And when we want help we want just the right amount of help for our very specific need.

We are not stupid creatures in that we would ever take this approach if in a bomb detonation, surgery, or flying an aircraft situation. We turn towards “do” first when we believe there is a pretty good chance we will be successful (past experience?). It’s in this doing; the struggle and ultimate success, that we gain confidence and make long-term connections for future application. We are mostly practical creatures too. The VCR blinks 12:00 because we don’t let perfect be the enemy of good, i.e. an inaccurate clock doesn’t bring us to our knees. So when, and only when, we need/want to go a bit further along we’ll seek assistance.

What’s the lesson here for L&D?  I think it’s playing a bit more to human nature and not confounding it with more than is required to get the job done. L&D should work first to help improve the environment for better performance rather than create stuff to augment learning for better performance. Maybe that’s enabling more time and places for reflection, maybe its pushing for better system/tool interface design, maybe its making searching for information easier or access to expertise seamless. But it should not first be creating another layer of work.