Is This a Training Problem?

by Patti Shank, PhD

I was very lucky when I was a young training manager and had the opportunity to learn with Geary Rummler ( I truly believe that this training greatly helped my performance over the lifetime of my career. It provided a certain way of doing my work. The resource I will share with you will provide a brief synopsis of some of the thinking involved that I hope will intrigue you.

Why Care About This?

Training is an expensive intervention. We only need to provide training for one reason: People need skills they don’t have (or need to upgrade or re-establish their skills) and it makes sense to provide it in a formalized way.

When there are problems, such as people unable to do their jobs because of inadequate tools or not enough feedback about whether they are performing as needed (no performance standards), those problems must be fixed and training won’t solve the problem.

Example: A manager asks for team training for her staff because they are don’t work well together. In reality, she causes problems among them by how she treats them. She favors some over others. She provides more work and overtime to people she doesn’t like as much. Training might help this but she is the one that needs it. And before that, she needs coaching about the problems she is causing so the training might be valuable to her.

When we get requests (or demands) for training and we don’t determine if training has a good chance of solving the problem (or being part of the solution), we are creating a problem, not solving it.  Why?

We are using resources that could be better put elsewhere.

We are removing people’s time (when they are stuck in training) that they could be using towards better purposes. They could be using that time to get work done.
The problem doesn’t get fixed. (Think of all the resources used to not solve the problem!)
We look foolish and are unprofessional, and frankly, this happens too often. Who would hire a carpenter who couldn’t measure or build the right solution?

How Training Doesn’t Work

Example: When someone asks for customer service training but they have insufficient tools to answer customer questions or their process requires multiple workarounds, adding customer service training is a misplaced and expensive intervention.  They may need some training (or not) but they DO need better tools and an improved process so customers aren’t angry about being put on indefinite hold or sent to the wrong department.

Carl Binder’s discussion of Gilbert’s Six Boxes is a great introduction to thinking about what we need to do to have the type of performance organizations need and what influences these performance outcomes in the workplace. Read it and think about what part each part plays in your work. If you don’t think it fits in L&D’s world, we’ll have to disagree.

The Six Boxes:

Intra-transparency & Openness: Guest Post by Mark Britz

We are delighted to have Mark Britz as our guest blogger this week to prompt our discussion about Intra-transparency & openness.  Think about how transparency and openness, or the lack, might affect your organization, and bring your thinking caps to our chat this Thursday!

Welcome Mark!

Intra-Transparency and Openness

To begin let’s find common ground. Transparency and Openness are two quite popular terms today that often are used interchangeably and, although similar in relationship, are not identical. Here may be one way to think about it.

Transparency is not necessarily permeable. There is a membrane that separates the visible activities from those viewing them (ever see a mitochondria under a microscope?). Transparency should not be confused with invisibility either. With transparency, the membrane surrounding the activities is visible; a structure is clearly in place so the activities do not interact with those outside the membrane. Zoos then are transparent; Observers are free to observe but not to touch, or physically interfere. In organizations, similar membranes can exist, such as hierarchies.

Openness, however, allows a more free association between actions. A more permeable layer exists. With openness, interaction is not only welcome, it’s encouraged. Openness, to continue the zoo analogy, is more like a petting zoo; observers are free to observe but also to touch, stroke, feed and play. Through these interactions, the observers are co-creating the experience for all involved. Openness in organizations means that involvement between different groups takes place.

As noted, transparency and openness are typically discussed in terms of business, politics and government. But these two ideas are ultimately about people and their conscious decision to be transparent and open, as well as their actions and decisions within each action that encourages or defeats transparency and openness.

Most attention today is on transparency and openness at public, or “inter”, levels. And more and more are learning the importance of these ideas for themselves as they individually build Personal Learning Networks outside of the organization. It’s critical that the “intra” exists to invite innovation, flatten inhibiting hierarchies and create thinking, feeling organizations.

Can an organization be transparent and open externally, yet not so internally? Or is the lack of internal openness in the face of external openness unsustainable, as the hypocrisy will ultimately cause the organization to implode? And can the opposite ever be true? Can an organization with a transparent system maintain a closed public-facing persona, or is the membrane between intra in internets too thin?

It would seem, then, that there would need to be a mirroring of sorts as an organization is ultimately an organization of people, and people, being inherently social, are now endowed with tools to amplify, expand and connect their ideas and actions.

Clive Thompson, Wired Magazine stated:

“… The reputation economy creates an incentive to be more open, not less. Since Internet commentary is inescapable, the only way to influence it is to be part of it. Being transparent, opening up, posting interesting material frequently and often is the only way to amass positive links to yourself and thus to directly influence your Googleable reputation.”

-Thompson, Clive (March 2007). “The See-Through CEO”. Wired.

Being truly transparent and open as individuals in an organization is much more than simply posting “interesting material”, a link, or narrating our work using social media tools. Although these tools do make it easier to communicate, that communication is hollow if it is devoid of opinions, challenge and even dissent. Transparency is a good and noble goal, but membranes that only reveal the interworking, allowing flaws to be seen but not corrected, fall short.

Openness is a major progression and, on an individual level, is scary, especially in uncertain economic times. But without openness, trust cannot exist (look at any good marriage). Openness must be welcomed within and across levels. It should not only be encouraged, but modeled and acknowledged. Workers locked in industrial era ideas about work, hierarchies and jobs need to know that it’s safe to reveal their own strengths, weaknesses and opinions to truly move the organization.

Former CEO Margaret Heffernan in a recent TED Talk titled Dare to Disagree stated:

“Most of the biggest catastrophes that we’ve witnessed rarely come from info that is secret or hidden. It comes from info that is freely available – we can’t, don’t want to handle the conflict it provokes. When we create conflict we enable the people around us to do their very best thinking.”

On April 14th, 1912 The SS Titanic, led by Captain E.J. Smith, moving at a reported 22 knots, raced to New York City. Ignoring warnings, foregoing lifeboat drills and maintaining a dangerous (record breaking) pace, she struck an iceberg in the north Atlantic. Hours later, she lay at the bottom of the ocean with over 1,500 tragically lost lives. In hindsight, the information was widely available, yet no one, it seems, challenged the decisions that had been made.

What prevented the crew from influencing decisions? What if transparency, and especially openness, had existed amongst the White Star Line’s layers of leadership?

Today the economy is strained; workers and organizations have an equal stake in the survival game. Never has the ability to connect been easier. Never before has the ability to have conversations become more available; to extend and expand ideas over time and space. Sharing information is not enough, processing ideas is not enough, filtering out the noise is not enough. Transparency and openness are needed, yet can they truly rise above and avoid the fate of becoming nebulous buzz words like engagement or synergy?

“Open information is fantastic, open networks are essential – but the truth won’t set us free until we develop the skills, the habit and the talent and the moral courage to use it.”
“Openness is not the end, it’s the beginning.”

– Margaret Heffernan

Please join us on Thursday 16 August at 16.00 BST/11.00EDT/08.00PDT to discuss intra-transparency & openness in our organizations.  Share your thoughts about how much you agree with Mark, the implications for your organization, and what, if anything, we can do about it.

Looking forward to seeing you there! 

Mark Britz

Mark Britz

Mark describes himself as Manager of Learning Solutions, Social & Informal learning aficionado, eLearning Designer, ISD, Intapreneur, CNY ASTD President and #lrnchat -er. You can find Mark on Twitter at and read his blog at

Success – Building Legitimate Confidence

After our very interesting and insightful chat about Failure, we look at the other side of the coin this week – Success – what it can do to help us and our work……..

There is always something to learn from failure – always true, but what do we actually learn from it? How can “failure” be used to help learning? That was the subject of the last vibrant #chat2lrn – if like me, you missed it, the transcript is worth a few minutes study. It is also true that there is much learning involved in recovery from failure. But for me, that is a hard road and I have always been more excited by learning from success – it is just easier and more motivating. I need to explain why!

Confidence and energy are two of the words that go together to make up motivation – and most of us in the right environment are motivated to succeed. Is it not true that knowing what to do and how to do it, with confidence that one has the skills, is likely to get us into flow ( – or more colloquially, into the “zone”? The evidence suggests that when we are in “flow we feel good about ourselves and are therefore prepared to be innovative and put more enrgy and effort into our work.” Positive psychology has been exploited in many ways but there is one fundamental truth. Faced with a difficult task to perform, most people will fall back on tried and tested methods born out of successful past experience in order to attempt to accomplish it. In the absence of specific skills for a situation, we are most likely to align ourselves to it with the skills in which we have confidence.

So what has this got to do with success? Knowing exactly how a success is achieved provides a base for replicating it confidently and at will. It builds confidence and motivation. It involves getting beyond generalities (this was good work, the team worked well) and into understanding the specifics that lead to a success – either one’s own or that observed in others. What exactly was said and done that led to progress? How was cooperation obtained in achieving things with others? These are the kind of questions that, if answered properly, lead to a databank of experience that can be turned into generic practices which can be called upon at any time to tackle a similar task.

The contrast is in the analysis of failure. Analysing failure will certainly tell a person what not to do next time – pitfalls to avoid, wrong paths to step past etc, but in the end it only tells one what not to do next time in a similar circumstance. That does not build confidence and energy to tackle future tasks. The emotions are negative and are substantially about inability and lack of achievement. It takes a real effort to step back from that, extract the lessons and try to move forward again. Failure analysis is an ever-tightening spiral about what does not work. Ultimately it leads to paralysis.

How do we apply the principles of success analysis to our work in technology enabled learning?

• As ID’s, being able to create and repeat successful design strategies saves time, reduces negative emotional energy and gives confidence in our professionalism to the SME’s with whom we work
• Design that builds upon success in learning is likely to motivate learners to engage more deeply and to pursue learning further – hence the current interest in games-based learning and the spectacular results that can be achieved through it
• Enabling students to iterate their learning experiments from a point where they last experienced success speeds up learning
• Understanding what we have done that has helped our enterprises forward is powerful in building our self-esteem as adding value. Compare that with viewing ourselves as a cost to the business.

The more confident we are, and the more solid the bank of success we can draw upon, the more likely we are to be adventurous, courageous and innovative in our use of learning to help our enterprises. We will be able, with heads held high, to take our places alongside business leaders to offer solutions from our expertise in learning.

Please join us on Thursday 7 June at 16.00 BST/11.00EDT/08.00PDT to see how we can make Success Analysis a powerful theme in our work.

Looking forward to seeing you there!

Failure as a Learning Tool: 0/10

This week we are delighted to have a guest post from Fiona Quigley (@FionaQuigs).

Thomas Edison, famously said:

“I have not failed 1,000 times.  I have successfully discovered 1,000 ways to NOT make a light bulb.”

Abraham Lincoln, Louis Pasteur, Thomas Edison, Walt Disney and JK Rowling, to name but a few, are as famous for their failures as their successes.

If you talk to successful people, most will tell you that they “failed” many times.  History is laden with spectacular failures, stories of triumph over adversity and succeeding against the odds.  Human nature draws us to these stories.  Seeing others’ vulnerabilities and the hurdles they have overcome somehow helps to inspire us.

But what of the 21st century education and business environment – does failure still play an important role in our learning?  Does our perception of failure and its value need a re-think?  If failure is such an important part of achieving success, how can we use it better to learn?

One of the challenges with using failure as a learning tool is the meritocracy that we live in;  we are judged on our individual achievements.  From an early age, we are taught that grades matter.  Being top of the class, getting into the best schools and graduating with honours drives how we learn through the formal school system.

A recent French research study discovered that, by telling 11-year-olds that the puzzles they were working on were difficult and that they needed to practise, this improved their success rate.  The intervention of telling the students that learning is difficult, mistakes are common and practice is important, was found to improve their working memory.

Harold Jarche, in a blog entitled “Three Principles for Net Work”, speaks of the changing nature of work and our increasingly complex business environment.  Harold states that, due to the complex nature of business, “failure needs to be tolerated”.  Harold’s tagline for his blog “Life in perpetual Beta” makes a lot of sense.

The changing nature of business is also reflected in organisational structure changes.  Over the last few years, many organisations have adopted a matrix or network organisation structure, where ambiguous roles and uncertainty is part of everyday life.  In these types of environments, people may have two or more managers; work in physical teams and virtual teams and often have to redefine their roles on an on-going basis.

The skills of the 21st century worker are about negotiation, influence, collaboration and, often, compromise.  We don’t live in the black and white world that many of us were educated in as school children.

The idea of looking at failures and learning from them is worth exploring.  Conferences such as TED ( and TheFailCon ( encourage people to be open and honest about their ideas, struggles and successes.  Shinning light on failure actually changes it into a feedback process.

It is also worth looking at the definition of failure.  We all make mistakes, but when does making a mistake result in failure?  Is it when we make the same mistake over and over without learning from it?

Human psychology is complex and there are many reasons why we might repeat a pattern of behaviour that is less than positive.  Paradoxically, perfectionism is a trait that can lead to a fear of failure which, in turn, can result in poor performance.  People can get so stressed by the thought of getting it wrong, that they may never start, procrastinate, or do the task half-heartedly because they “know” they will get it wrong.

Failure is tied up with judgement.  When you call yourself a failure, you are essentially judging yourself.  The word failure closes down thinking and leaves little room for overcoming problems and learning from them.  If you add our increasingly complex and ambiguous business environment to the mix, then perhaps the world we operate in may not be as ready to tolerate and benefit from failure as much as we need.

So it seems that our ability to learn can be significantly impacted by both our attitude to success and failure.  How can we embrace failure and integrate it into our learning processes?

To read more about failure as a learning tool:

Reducing Academic Pressure May Help Children to Succeed

Strategies for Learning From Failure – Harvard Business Review

Interpreting Successes and Failures: The Influence of Perfectionism on Perspective

Harold Jarche – Three Principles for Net Work Blog

Festival of Errors

Famous Failures

Fiona is a Freelance Instructional Designer and Trainer based in Belfast, Northern Ireland who has been working in the learning and development area for 15 years.  You can contact Fiona via her blog  or through following her on Twitter @FionaQuigs where she is an active contributor.

Lost in Translation: Working with SMEs

I think we’ve all experienced some difficulty in getting the information and support we need from subject matter experts – it comes with the territory in the learning industry. Our guest blogger this week, Kevin Thorn (@LearnNuggets), has shared 3 useful tips when working with SMEs to help you get to your ultimate goal: effective learning interventions.

Kevin’s Guest Blog Post:

All the layers in designing and developing elearning can be quite overwhelming at times. In those times that deadlines loom and stakeholders demanding faster speed to market, it’s common to skip a few steps. Sometimes an executive will say, “we need some elearning…” which pretty much rules out any needs analysis. Any analysis that you try to do will just be overruled so it’s common to bypass this ‘layer.’ Often I see linear click-n-read courses that could have been a much better learning experience if designed as a scenario, some branching choices, or even a story. Again, it’s usually due to lack of time to really design out the instruction that could and should be more meaningful.
So, knowing what you “want” to do while at the same time knowing your own reality, how to you stay efficient and produce great courses even though some steps may have to be overlooked? Answer: Storyboards. Storyboarding your course will help you see all the things that may potentially be bottlenecks or obstacles in the development phase. You already know that. But what about the email you just got from the primary SME with an attachment they are calling a ‘storyboard’ yet when you open it you can’t decipher it? The language is off, the instructional flow is non-existent, the suggested interactions are just eye candy with no meaning, and 60 minutes later, when the learner is supposed to take a quiz, they can’t remember enough of the content to answer 10 simple memory-dump T/F questions.

Here are 3 tips that I find useful:

1. Go barefoot

Going barefoot frees up the spirit don’t you think?! Your feet are free to breathe and to feel the texture of the surface beneath them. Seriously, going barefoot has zero to do with deciphering SME content into a usable storyboards. Yet, I use this analogy as a way to remind me to let go. Early on I tried to massage, twist, stretch, tweak, and do everything I could to get the SME’s content into a flow that would be instructionally better and an easier storyboard for me to develop from. Each time I would dread this step. I’d rather wear wool socks in the South during July!
First, study their content hard, far, and wide. Learn every bit of what their intent is for the course. Remember, you may not have had an opportunity to do a full needs analysis and this may be all that you get to work from. Next, start chunking it out into relevant sections. No order yet, just pull out the meaningful pieces which may be one screen in the end or multiple screens – don’t worry about that right now. Once you get the content pulled out into chunks; re-organize them. You may find they fit logically the way they are or you may find (more often than not) that an adjustment here and there makes a world of difference. Finally, sharpen your pencil and write a sound instructional design using the rearranged content. And don’t forget to wash your feet before you go to bed!

2. SME speak – the forgotten language.

Just this year, I’ve worked on projects that SMEs have called or named each screen a Cell, Slide, Stage, or Screen. Additionally, Quizzes, Tests, or Knowledge Checks may all refer to the same thing. A tip here is not to teach a SME your language, learn theirs. They don’t care about your lingo and industry jargon. Besides, they are most likely communicating within their department or organization using their standard language. You trying to insert elearning buzz words just deters the focus.
If they call it a Cell instead of a Slide, let them. However, have a clear definition as to what each term means. If they refer to a button being Selected when they mean Click, let them. If a mouseover of an image reveals a tip and they call it a Hover-Comment, let them. If they want to call a Menu a Table of Contents or a Topics List, then let them. The point here is the semantics of the choice of terminology has zero bearing on the end learner. Your task is to decipher the content and turn it into a meaningful experience for the learner, even if that means you learn a new language along the way.

3. Undoing the animated lecture

Ever read this in SME-provided content?

“Have a background image of [this] for two seconds and then start the audio narration. Then fade out that background and fade in [this] background. When the narrator says, ‘this, this, and this,’ show onscreen text in bullet form. While the narrator says each bullet, layer in a supporting image on top of the background image. After the narrator says [that], fade out everything and then show the 5:29 video. Make sure users can’t skip ahead in the video, but once it ends, auto advance to the next screen.”

What just happened there?
Or, have you ever read something like this in SME-provided content?

“When the narrator says, ‘You need to click on each of the thumbnail images to learn more,’ fade out everything on the screen and have [these] 9 thumbnail images. When the user clicks a thumbnail, show [this] paragraph. Make sure the user can only click on one at a time, and don’t let them advance until they click on all of them.”

Those two examples are what I like to call ‘I Wannabe an ID SME.’ With all honest intentions, sometimes SMEs want to play a role in the instructional design process. I think that’s great! Especially if it’s a SME you work with regularly, it helps build the relationship. But… they are a SME because of the years of experience they have in their respective field. You, on the other hand are just as much a SME at what you do. You know the difference, but often they don’t.
How do you delicately and respectfully help a SME refocus their efforts on meaningful content and let you focus on the instructional design? I don’t know the secret sauce just yet and inevitably there will be some friction.
The point is to avoid the friction. Of the two above examples there is a script, some on-screen text suggested, a video, a suggested click-n-reveal interaction with some additional content, and a controlled navigational path. How that instructionally all fits together is your job. Reassure the SME that you will work hard to ensure their content is presented in a way that the learner can absorb it in a logical way without insulting them on their attempt to help map it for you.

In closing:

Will you ever get clean, well-mapped out content from a SME? Probably not. Will you get more content than the learner needs in the context of the performance outcomes? Probably. Remember, SMEs have just as much passion for sharing their knowledge as you do helping them communicate it. Developing a good relationship, learning their language, and reassuring them you will take care of their content as if it were your own child will help smooth the development phases.
Now be careful out there! Keep your feet clean, learn a new language, and avoid friction.

Kevin Thorn
Chief NuggetHead
NuggetHead Studioz
Twitter: @LearnNuggets
B: &

Somehow, we need to balance the strategic need for SMEs to provide content and context, and our struggle to get the day-to-day work done translating that content & context into effective training or performance support. How do we make sure to provide value as a learning professional, especially when there is such a push for SMEs to create training themselves? How do you do it?

Please join us for Lost in Translation #chat2lrn Thursday, May 10 at 4pm BST/11am EDT/8am PDT

For more about working with SMEs, please see the following very helpful posts – some of which are from our own crew & regular #chat3lrn participants, thanks tweeps!

Hope to “see” you Thursday!


Reference Posts:

Beginning Instructional Authoring: Getting the Content You Need from SMEs, Part 1
By Patti Shank March 15, 2012

Beginning Instructional Authoring: Getting Good Scenario Content from SMEs
By Patti Shank April 12, 2012

Working with Subject Matter Experts (SME)
March 30, 2012 by Fiona Quigley

How To Brain Sync With A Subject Matter Expert
Connie Malamed

Nuts and Bolts: Working With Subject Matter Experts (SMEs)
By Jane Bozarth March 1, 2011

What Everyone Should Know About Working with Subject Matter Experts
Tom Kuhlman

Learning Socially Taps Into More Knowledge   – Tom Spiglanin

A Real Ratio To Pay Attention To: 70:30 – Guy W Wallace