!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD XHTML 1.0 Strict//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/xhtml1/DTD/xhtml1-strict.dtd"> Streamline Training & Documentation: November 2006

Thursday, November 30, 2006

Clues on How to Tag

Another helpful webpage I found via the ItrainOnline portal explains in easy-to-understand terms how to use tagging to organize webpages you want to keep track of.

Tagging is an important step beyond simply flagging a webpage as a "favorite." By using tags, you are able to characterize the content of a page with one or more labels that are meaningful to you. For example, you might give the NASA Image Exchange site the tag of "publicdomainimages" or "space" or "astronauts" or whatever else identifies what about the site makes it significant for you.

Furthermore, by using a service like del.icio.us, you can share your collection of tagged pages with others who may benefit from the categorizing you've done. By the same token, you can browse at del.icio.us to see what other people have tagged that may be of interest to you.

All of this is explained with admirable clarity by Andy Carvin, in his blog at the PBS website. The specific blog entry is here.



Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Examples of Intranet Use of Wikis and Blogs

For some practical ideas concerning internal use of blogs and wikis, you can have a look at a January 2005 presentation (38 slides) put together by Nick Finck and Mary Hodder, information architects, and Biz Stone, who works on Google's Blogger product. (I came upon their presentation while trolling through the ItrainOnline portal mentioned in a previous post.)

Finck, Hodder and Stone address the ways in which blogs and wikis can enhance an organization's internal communications and knowledge management. They discuss:
  • The benefits each tool provides (including some ideas concerning external participation on a company wiki)

  • Illustrated firsthand examples of how organizations use blogs and wikis

  • How self-organizing communities can benefit an organization
Seeing is believing. If you aren't yet persuaded of the possibilities blogs and wikis offer for facilitating teamwork and keeping employees informed and engaged, concrete examples like those Finck, Hodder and Stone provide can help demonstrate that these are real tools, not toys.


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Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Why does the quality of management vary so widely?

In a working paper (pdf) published earlier this year, Nick Bloom of Stanford and John Van Reenen of the London School of Economics look at the question of why the quality of management differs markedly across firms and countries. They find support for two explanations:
  • Some firms are under more competitive pressure than others.

  • Family-owned firms run by the oldest son lag in performance compared to family-owned firms that choose a relatively capable family member to be in charge, or that use professional managers.
When Bloom and Van Reenen look at variation in the quality of management across the four countries they studied — the US, Germany, France, and the UK — they find that the ranking, on average, is in the order just listed, i.e., the US at the top and the UK bringing up the rear. They also hasten to add that there is even more variation within countries. More specifically, they find a long tail of poorly managed companies in all four countries.

Bloom and Van Reenen obtained their data by surveying plant managers at 732 medium-sized manufacturing firms. The survey covered 18 management practices drawn from practices identified as significant by McKinsey & Company, where Bloom worked as a management consultant prior to joining the Stanford faculty.

The details the paper provides of these 18 management practices are of particular interest. You are able to see how "good" and "bad" are operationally defined for each practice. For example, Item 7 is "consequence management." The plant managers were asked:
  • What happens if there is a part of the business (or a manager) who isn't achieving agreed upon results? Can you give me a recent example?

  • What kind of consequences would follow such an action?

  • Are there any parts of the business (or managers) that seem to repeatedly fail to carry out agreed actions?
Based on how an interviewee answered these questions, his/her firm was rated on a scale of 1 (low) to 5 (high) on the quality of its consequence management. To guide the interviewers in scoring, descriptions were provided for scores of 1, 3 and 5:

1Failure to achieve agreed objectives does not carry any consequences.

Example: At a French firm, no action is taken when objectives are not achieved. The President personally intervenes to warn employees but no stricter action is taken. Cutting payroll or making people redundant because of a lack of performance is very rarely done.

3Failure to achieve agreed results is tolerated for a period before action is taken.

Example: Management of a US firm reviews performance quarterly. That is the earliest they can react to any underperformance. They increase pressure on the employees if targets are not met.

5A failure to achieve agreed targets drives retraining in identified areas of weakness or moving individuals to where their skills are appropriate.

Example: A German firm takes action as soon as a weakness is identified. They have even employed a psychologist to improve behavior within a difficult group. People receive ongoing training to improve performance. If this doesn't help, they move them into other departments or even fire individuals if they repeatedly fail to meet agreed targets.



Monday, November 27, 2006

Learning in the Classroom

Electronic delivery of (well-designed) training has certainly been a boon to employees who want to be able to schedule their sessions flexibly. For companies, e-learning has been a big help with cost control. What e-learning hasn't done is make training in the classroom obsolete.

This thought went through my mind most recently as I was reading an article about language study. Writing in the New York Times, Jane L. Levere reviewed the growing number of options language learners have for electronically assisted study. After describing an array of possibilities, Levere notes:
For those who have the time, a traditional classroom setting, with a teacher who can provide individual attention, is often the best way to learn a language.
Levere goes on to cite advice from Mike Ledgerwood, director of the language learning and research center at the State University of New York at Stony Brook:
Classroom courses are preferable for beginners who are serious about learning a language... "CD-ROM and technology-based courses work better if someone has had exposure" to languages previously ... [Ledgerwood said].
I take these comments as useful reminders of the importance of keeping training effectiveness — not simply convenience and cost — in mind when deciding on the best setting for a particular training effort. If you really want your training to meet its objectives — which often include ancillary team-building and networking among employees — bringing participants together in the classroom may be the best way of getting maximum ROI. As with any other business decision, realistic assessment of all benefits and costs is the only way to reach a sound decision.


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Sunday, November 26, 2006

The ItrainOnline Portal

ItrainOnline is a well-maintained portal of resources for people looking for help in better utilizing information and communications technologies. Though specifically targeted to development organizations and civil society groups, the resources offer much of value to anyone in need of technical help.

Here's an outline of what the site includes:

Basic skills
Computer basics
Office productivity software
Internet and e-mail basics
Finding information on the Internet

Strategic use of information
and communication technologies

Strategic use of the Internet
Building online communities
Multilingual computing
Open source and open content

Web development
Web design
Web site management
Web site usability and accessibility
Web programming

Audio online
Video online

Technical issues
Online security
Computer networking
Wireless networking
Web programming

Resources for trainers
Effective training
Topic-specific resources
ItrainOnline Multimedia Training Kit




Saturday, November 25, 2006

Hallmarks of High-Performing Teams

If you want to assess your organization's teams, you can evaluate them against this checklist of the characteristics that high-performing teams exhibit:

          ✓ Leadership

          ✓ Clear mission

          ✓ Clear roles

          ✓ Goals and milestones

          ✓ Clear process and plan for achieving goals

          ✓ Communication process and effectiveness

          ✓ Input and ideas from everyone

          ✓ Listening

          ✓ Customer relationship-building

          ✓ Clarity of task

          ✓ Clear measurement

          ✓ Agreed behaviors clear and adhered to

          ✓ Team energy

          ✓ Empowering behaviors

          ✓ Feedback

          ✓ Continuous improvement and innovation

          ✓ Speed

Your evaluation can serve as a diagnostic process for determining any areas in which particular teams would benefit from supportive intervention.



Friday, November 24, 2006

Influencing a Senior Manager

Generally, the best way to increase your odds of persuading your boss to see something your way is to present your case in a way that matches the boss's preferred approach to decision-making.

In a May 2002 article in the Harvard Business Review, Gary A. Williams and Robert B. Miller (CEO and Chairman, respectively, of Miller-Williams, Inc., a customer research firm) report on research that led them to differentiate five styles of decision-making, based on such factors as how long a person takes to reach a decision, willingness to make a risky choice, and desire to have others educate them about the issues involved.

Each decison-making style corresponds to a particular type of executive, and each type of executive is most open to a corresponding approach to persuasion. The five executive types are:
  • Charismatics — "... easily intrigued and enthralled by new ideas, but experience has taught them to make final decisions based on balanced information, not just emotions."

  • To persuade: "... fight the urge to join in [the charismatic's] excitement. Focus the discussion on results. Make simple and straightforward arguments, and use visual aids to stress the features and benefits of your proposal."

  • Thinkers — "... impressed with arguments that are supported by data. They tend to have a strong aversion to risk and can be slow to make a decision." This type of person is generally the most difficult to persuade because they tend to look at things from a range of points of view, which makes it hard to discern and cater to their own personal point of view.

    To persuade: "Have lots of data ready [and be ready to explain your methodology]. Thinkers ... want to understand all perspectives of a given situation."

  • Skeptics — "... tend to be highly suspicious of every data point presented, especially any information that challenges their worldview. They often have an aggressive, almost combative style and are usually described as take-charge people."

    To persuade: "If you haven't established enough clout [credibility] with a skeptic, you need to find a way to have it transferred to you prior to or during the meeting — for example, by gaining an endorsement from someone the skeptic trusts."

  • Followers — "... make decisions based on how they've made similar choices in the past or on how other trusted executives have made them. They tend to be risk-averse." Because they are often quite free in challenging things they're told, followers may be mistaken for skeptics. Followers can be the easiest type of decision-maker to persuade because they respond positively if you present credible precedents for what you are proposing.

    To persuade: "... references and testimonials are big persuading factors. [Followers] need to feel certain that they are making the right decision — specifically, that others have succeeded in similar initiatives."

  • Controllers — "... abhor uncertainty and ambiguity, and they will focus on the pure facts and analytics of an argument. They are both constrained and driven by their own fears and insecurities [which they don't admit having]."

    To persuade: "Your argument needs to be structured and credible. The controller wants details, but only if presented by an expert. Don't be too aggressive in pushing your proposal. Often, your best bet is to simply give him the information he needs and hope that he will convince himself."
In my own experience, planning my argument to match the decision-making style of the person with whom I'm speaking has given me a welcome confidence boost as I go about making my points as persuasively as possible.


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Thursday, November 23, 2006

Thanksgiving 2006



Wednesday, November 22, 2006

12 Dimensions of Innovation

What really matters when you're bent on raising your company's innovation quotient? In an article in the Spring 2006 issue of the MIT Sloan Management Review, Mohanbir Sawhney, Robert C. Wolcott, and Inigo Arroniz1 argue for taking a broad view of what qualifies as innovation, i.e., not thinking solely in terms of new products and technological advances.

The authors define business innovation as
the creation of substantial new value for customers and the firm by creatively changing one or more dimensions of the business system (emphasis added)
The authors then go on to identify twelve dimensions along which a company can conceivably find innovation opportunities if they explore their entire business system. It is important to take a holistic view of the possibilities in order to maximize a company's scope for strategically differentiating itself from its competitors.

Four of the innovation dimensions are what the authors call the "business anchors":
  • Offerings — Develop innovative new products or services.

  • Customers — Discover unmet customer needs or identify underserved customer segments.

  • Processes — Redesign core operating processes to improve efficiency and effectiveness.

  • Presence — Create new distribution channels or innovative points of presence, or use existing channels and points of presence in a new way.
The remaining eight dimensions fall between the anchor dimensions.

Between Offerings and Customers:
  • Platform — Use common components, assembly methods, or technologies to create derivative offerings more quickly and cheaply than standalone offerings can be created.

  • Solutions — Create integrated and customized offerings that solve customer problems (e.g., UPS's use of its logistics capabilities to address customers' supply chain needs).
Between Customers and Processes:
  • Customer experience — Redesign customer interactions across all touch points and moments of contact.

  • Value capture — Redefine how the company gets paid (e.g., through a new pricing system), or create innovative new revenue streams.
Between Processes and Presence:
  • Organization — Change how the company structures itself, its partnerships, and its employees' roles and responsibilities. This often involves adjusting the company's scope of activities.

  • Supply chain — Streamline the flow of information through the supply chain, change the supply chain's structure, or enhance the collaboration of the participants in the supply chain.
Between Presence and Offerings:
  • Networking — Create network-centric intelligent and integrated offerings (e.g., to enable just-in-time deliveries of materials to factories).

  • Brand — Leverage a brand into new domains.
Sawhney, Wolcott and Arroniz identified these particular twelve dimensions through a literature review and by interviewing "managers responsible for innovation-related activities at several large companies across a range of industries." The authors validated the dimensions through a testing process they describe in their article.

To visualize a given company's innovation efforts, Sawhney, Wolcott, and Arroniz use a tool they call the "innovation radar" that depicts the degree of innovation effort along each of the 12 business system dimensions listed above. The idea is to profile the company and its competitors as a step toward:
  • analyzing each company's strengths and weaknesses

  • identifying innovation opportunities, preferably in areas relatively neglected in the industry as a whole
In the article, you can see an example of the innovation radar that depicts the innovation profiles of four competing banks.

1 Mohanbir Sawhney is a professor of technology at Northwestern University's Kellogg School of Management and the director of Kellogg's Center for Research in Technology & Innovation. Robert C. Wolcott is a research fellow at the Center. Inigo Arroniz was a postdoctoral fellow at the Center at the time that the article was written.


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Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Laughter is the Best Medicine IV

This Wall Street Journal article about corporate karaoke and similar displays of company spirit had me laughing out loud more than once. I can't guarantee that it will have the same effect on you, but if you have a moment, take a look. Even if you don't laugh, you can note the moral: You too can be immortalized on YouTube.


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Monday, November 20, 2006

Show Your Computer Who's Boss

Thanks to the December issue of Wired magazine — page 064 to be specific — I am now aware of an excellent series of podcasts that can help you learn the basics of computer science, if that's your inclination.

The podcasts are created by David J. Malan, a graduate student in Harvard's Division of Engineering and Applied Science. For a list of the podcasts Malan has produced so far, you can click here.

By the way, another series of podcast lectures Wired recommends is "Human Emotion," taught by Dacher Keltner, a professor of psychology at Berkeley. A description is here.



Sunday, November 19, 2006

Hospitals Scout for Best Practices

In the space of two weeks, the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal have published articles on the efforts a number of hospitals are making to improve patient care by tapping ideas from outside the health care industry.

The NYT article, published on October 31, describes how airline practices for maintaining passenger safety have translated to the hospital emergency room and operating room settings. As Kate Murphy, the article's author, notes:
It is well established that, like airplane crashes, the majority of adverse events in health care are the result of human error, particularly failures in communication, leadership and decision-making.
To reinforce the proposition that there are strong parallels between what needs to happen aboard an aircraft and what needs to happen in an OR, Murphy quotes Dr. Stephen B. Smith, chief medical officer at the Nebraska Medical Center in Omaha:
The culture of the operating room has always been the surgeon as the captain at the controls with a crew of anesthesiologists, nurses and techs hinting at problems and hoping they will be addressed. We need to change the culture so communication is more organized, regimented and collaborative, like what you find now in the cockpit of an airplane.
The training pilots receive teaches them:
... to recognize human limitations and the impact of fatigue, to identify and effectively communicate problems, to support and listen to team members, resolve conflicts, develop contingency plans and use all available resources to make decisions.
Other borrowed techniques recommended for hospital training include "pre- and post-operative briefings, simulator training, checklists, annual competency reviews and incident reporting systems."

The WSJ article, published on November 14, looks at what useful practices auto racing pit crews can offer hospital teams, who have a comparable need to move fast while avoiding dangerous mistakes.

Great Ormond Street Hospital for Children in London has borrowed techniques from the Italian Formula One Ferrari racing team. Specifically, the hospital has introduced safeguards, based on Ferrari pit crew techniques, to minimize errors that occur when a patient is handed off from one team of caregivers to another (e.g., from the ER team to the recovery room team, or from one shift of doctors and nurses to the next).

Gautam Naik, the author of the WSJ article, reports what happened when a Great Ormond Street Hospital delegation visited Ferrari headquarters in Maranello, Italy:
In that meeting, Mr. Stepney [the Ferrari team's technical director] described how each member of the Ferrari crew is required to do a specific job, in a specific sequence, and usually in silence. By contrast, he noted, the hospital handover was often chaotic. Several conversations between nurses and doctors went on at once. Meanwhile, different members of the team disconnected or reconnected equipment to a patient, but in no particular order.
A key piece of learning from the pit crew was the importance of paying conscious attention to small errors that, if overlooked, can cumulatively lead to a seriously compromised outcome for the patient.

The hospital team returned to London and drew up a detailed protocol for handoffs, based both on what they had learned from Ferrari and from talking to two jumbo-jet pilots. After two years, the hospital's data showed that the average number of technical errors per handoff had fallen 42%, and "information handover omissions" had fallen 49%.

In these two best-practice examples, we have the converse of the caution concerning "casual benchmarking" discussed in an earlier post. If practices working well in another industry appear to be genuinely relevant to your own organization, it is worth your while to investigate in some depth whether adopting them is likely to significantly improve your organization's performance.


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Saturday, November 18, 2006

David Gergen on Persuasion

One of my favorite readings for leadership workshops is a short interview with David Gergen that appeared in the January 2003 issue of the Harvard Business Review. Gergen's comments concerning "How Presidents Persuade" have been on my mind recently as I notice how much of today's political pronouncements from official sources are hopelessly unpersuasive.

In the interview, Gergen, a professor of public service at Harvard's Kennedy School of Government and director of their Center for Public Leadership, starts by talking about how leaders gain trust. Personal integrity is essential but not enough. "To have faith in a leader, people must also believe in his or her competence and steadiness," Gergen says. He goes on to argue that "you must give voice to [people's] own deep desires ... The leader and followers must unite around a shared vision."

Gergen readily endorses use of stagecraft to enhance one's persuasiveness. However, he hastens to note that a stagey gesture, such as the President reading letters from ordinary people during a speech, can only be effective if listeners trust that the gesture comes "from an authentic core." Conversely, Gergen cautions that "phony stagecraft, which isn't tied to truth or to an uplifting vision, will nearly always backfire, especially in today's media-savvy world."

The final point Gergen makes is that leaders certainly need self-confidence, but that sliding from self-confidence to arrogance and to a conviction that rules are for "the little people" (I can't resist borrowing the immortal words of Leona Helmsley) is to move onto a path toward losing followers' trust. Citing Eisenhower as an example, Gergen says, "Humility like Ike's, which conveys absolute assurance but at the same time acknowledges a leader's equality with followers, can be truly inspiring."


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Friday, November 17, 2006

Training While at Sea

Every organization serious about fielding skilled employees takes steps to ensure that skills are kept fresh. The US Navy has recently instituted a new type of training that aims to maintain combat readiness while officers and sailors are deployed — generally for six months at a stretch. The program is described in an article by Lt. Cdrs. Mark Hendrickson and Seth Walthers, USN, in the November 2006 issue of the Proceedings of the US Naval Institute.

As a Navy brat, I'm always interested in reports of how the Navy handles training — previous posts on the subject are here and here — and this latest story is no exception. Not only do we have a case study of how to handle on-the-job training, but we are also provided with a rich example of how to use realistic scenarios as the basis for such training.

The scenarios are designed in a way that ensures they address three primary training objectives:
  • Resource allocation — E.g., how to use an aircraft carrier's jet fighters and helicopters in a scenario involving several simultaneous threats.

  • Warfare commander integration — The officers in charge of the various tactical operations centers in a strike group need to coordinate effectively.

  • Decision-making — Emphasis is on making sound decisions under pressure concerning use of resources and correct application of the rules of engagement.
There are five criteria for evaluating how well each objective is met:
  • situational awareness

  • warfare commander coordination

  • prioritization

  • decision/action

  • follow up
Officers are involved in a number of aspects of the training, not least intervening as needed to make appropriate inputs to the current exercise's scenario as it is unfolding. Officers also keep the exercise going when something unexpected happens, help participants recover from failure in a way that lets the exercise continue, and take notes for use in the debrief after the exercise.

Hendrickson and Walthers cite four keys to success:
  • A well-developed script for the exercise.

  • Giving staff and Tactical Action Officers — the people most familiar with details of the scenarios relevant for training — primacy in setting specific training objectives and in developing the scenarios

  • Active involvement by officers in managing the exercise while it is unfolding.

  • A comprehensive debrief. Ideally, a new exercise is held in about two weeks in order to build on lessons learned while they are still fresh.


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Thursday, November 16, 2006

RIP Milton Friedman 1912 - 2006

"Economic arrangements play a dual role in the promotion of a free society. On the one hand, freedom in economic arrangements is itself a component of freedom broadly understood, so economic freedom is an end in itself. In the second place, economic freedom is also an indispensable means toward the achievement of political freedom."


"In summary, the organization of economic activity through voluntary exchange presumes that we have provided, through government, for the maintenance of law and order to prevent coercion of one individual by another, the enforcement of contracts voluntarily entered into, the definition of the meaning of property rights, the interpretation and enforcement of such rights, and the provision of a monetary framework."


"Our basic structure of values and the interwoven network of free institutions will withstand much. I believe that we shall be able to preserve and extend freedom despite the size of the military programs and despite the economic powers already concentrated in Washington. But we shall be able to do so only if we awake to the threat that we face, only if we persuade our fellow men that free institutions offer a surer, if perhaps at times a slower, route to the ends they seek than the coercive power of the state."



Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Respect as an Antidote to Burnout

"Can the values of the company — including whether you treat employees with respect or with disrespect — influence how people do their work and whether or not they will feel burned out?"

This is the question Lakshmi Ramarajan decided to investigate after observing burnout problems firsthand at a nonprofit organization where she worked for a while. As reported today at Knowledge@Wharton, the answer to the question appears to be yes.

Ramarajan, now a graduate student at Wharton, has collaborated with Wharton professor Sigal Barsade on research that looks specifically at the job of Certified Nursing Assistants (CNAs) at long-term care facilities. The goal of their study was to measure the degree to which organizational respect influences job burnout.

In the study, respect was measured by asking CNAs to indicate how characteristic these five statements were of their organization:
  • Staff members respect each other.

  • Staff members are treated with dignity.

  • Cultural diversity of the staff is valued.

  • Supervisors pay attention to staff members' ideas.

  • Staff members are encouraged to be creative when solving problems.
The above items were chosen in consultation with senior managers and employees as representing "how organizational respect would be demonstrated in their organization."

CNAs were also asked about autonomy — "the discretion that one has to determine the processes and schedules involved in completing a task." Employees answered three questions:
  • In general, how much say or influence do you feel you have in what goes on in your unit?

  • Do you feel that you can influence decision-making ... regarding things about which you are concerned?

  • Does your supervisor ask your opinion when a problem comes up which involves your work?
To gauge individual CNAs' "negative affectivity" ("propensity to be high energy in their negative emotions, such as anger, irritability, anxiety or frustration"), the CNAs rated themselves on "their general tendency to feel irritable, upset, nervous, afraid and guilty."

Finally, burnout was measured by CNAs' strength of agreement or disagreement with four statements:
  • I feel emotionally drained from my work.

  • I feel used up at the end of the workday.

  • I feel fatigued when I get up in the morning and have to face another day on the job.

  • I feel burned out from my work.
Key findings from the research include:
  • Burnout is not just a function of the employee's personality (degree of "negative affectivity"), or of how pleasant or unpleasant job duties are (e.g., having to clean up after incontinent patients).

    An organization's culture and, specifically, the presence or absence of respect for employees, is also an important determining factor.

  • Autonomy helps stave off burnout.

  • For CNAs there is a positive correlation between job tenure and burnout.

    An implication is that longer-term employees may stay on the job (perhaps because of a lack of other employment opportunities), but not be engaged in their work.
In light of their research findings, Ramarajan and Barsade recommend that organizations make a point of demonstrating respect for employees and the work the employees are doing. They should also acknowledge the difficulty of the work and compliment good performance. If higher wages are not feasible, non-monetary rewards, such as recognition dinners, certainly are.

These recommendations seem like common sense, but we all know that common sense is less common than it should be.

Note: For previous posts on the importance of respect in maintaining a healthy work environment, you can click here, here and here.


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Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Leadership Training at VF Corp.

You can read a first-hand report of the concentrated leadership training that VF Corp. (the company that brings us Wrangler and Lee jeans) provides its high-potential executives here. The report was written by self-proclaimed skeptic Nanette Byrnes and published in the November 20 issue of Business Week.

VFC's Leadership Institute uses a "boot camp" (i.e., intensive) style. It draws each session's 20-odd participants from a varying selection of the 40 countries in which VFC operates.

In her report, Byrnes has space to describe only a couple of the major components of the whole Leadership Institute experience. For myself, the most compelling conclusion she draws is that such a training program, when carefully planned, is a powerful way not only of honing modern leadership skills, but also of helping participants "bond with far-flung colleagues in a setting that affords more meaningful interaction than, say, a divisional cocktail party."


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Monday, November 13, 2006

The College Learning Assessment

In an earlier post, I talked about techniques for eliciting critical thinking.1 In following recent discussions of whether, and with what methodology, to measure colleges' success in contributing to student learning, I've now come upon work done by the Council for Aid to Education (CAE) that offers additional practical ideas for assessing critical thinking skills.

CAE has developed a performance-based assessment model for three central elements of learning that most people believe should be outcomes of a college education:
  • critical thinking

  • analytic reasoning

  • written communication
To apply its model, CAE has created a tool — the Collegiate Learning Assessment (CLA) — that measures performance in the three targeted skill areas.

The CLA uses two types of test items:
  • Performance tasks — Test-takers complete a real-life activity such as preparing a policy recommendation. Assessment focuses on the degree to which a person's response demonstrates an ability to "interpret, analyze and synthesize information."

  • Writing prompts — Test-takers put together an argument concerning an issue (e.g., how much privacy a celebrity can reasonably expect), or they critique someone else's argument. Assessment focuses on the degree to which a person's response demonstrates ability to "articulate complex ideas, examine claims and evidence, support ideas with relevant reasons and examples, sustain a coherent discussion, and use standard written English."
You can see examples of these test items here, and you can read a crisp explanation the CLA's skills definitions and scoring criteria here (pdf).

1 Two other previous posts provide additional comment on how to cultivate critical thinking skills.


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Sunday, November 12, 2006

Setting up a Wiki

Wiki: a type of Web site that allows the visitors themselves to easily add, remove, and otherwise edit and change some available content ... [definition from Wikipedia]

As a documentation specialist, I am naturally interested in tools for facilitating practical documentation of everything from computer applications to customer relationships. In a community of trusted participants, such as a work team, the wiki can be an excellent tool that allows everyone to contribute expertise to getting a documentation job done as expeditiously and accurately as possible.

For example, I am currently working on a training project for a solar energy company. During interviews with company employees, the issue of documenting operation of their newest equipment came up several times. They are making only halting progress with the documentation, even though it is essential to keep everyone using the equipment apprised of the latest changes to operating parameters in order to minimize costly errors. Though I didn't venture to bring the wiki approach up, I believe it could help them get this job done quite efficiently.

The November 9 edition of the New York Times offered a couple of suggestions for obtaining free wiki software to install on your own Web site or server — Twiki.org and www.MediaWiki.org. Given the software's ease of use and minimal out-of-pocket cost, it seems well worth the time for an organization with an ongoing need to create and update documents to give the wiki approach a try.


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Saturday, November 11, 2006

Veterans Day 2006



Friday, November 10, 2006

Gaining and Losing Trust

In 1997 Development Dimensions International (DDI) published results of a survey (pdf) concerning trust in the workplace that are still being cited in discussions of the factors that affect the level of trust positively and negatively. (For example, see this article in the June 2006 issue of CFO magazine.)

The survey results indicated that the top five trust-building behaviors are:
  1. Communicating openly and honestly, without distorting any information.

  2. Showing confidence in employees' abilities by treating them as skilled, competent associates.

  3. Keeping promises and commitments.

  4. Listening to and valuing what others say, even though you might not agree.

  5. Cooperating with employees and looking for ways in which you and your associates can help each other.
The rankings varied, depending on whether the survey respondents were referring to leaders, peers, or direct reports.
  • For leaders, it is especially important for building trust to make sure one's words match one's actions and to demonstrate confidence in one's direct reports.

  • Relative to leaders, for peers to build trust it is especially important to cooperate. Relative to direct reports, it is especially important for peers to listen to and value what people say.

  • Relative to leaders and peers, for direct reports to build trust it is especially important to share one's thoughts and feelings, to keep one's promises, and to cooperate with one's leaders.
The top five trust-reducing behaviors, according to the survey, were:
  1. Acting more concerned about your own welfare than anything else.

  2. Sending mixed messages so employees never know where they stand.

  3. Avoiding taking responsibility for your actions.

  4. Jumping to conclusions without checking the facts first.

  5. Making excuses or blaming others when things do not work out.
Looking at the results for leaders, peers, and direct reports separately reveals:
  • For leaders, it is especially damaging to be concerned mostly about one's own welfare and to send mixed messages.

  • Relative to direct reports, for peers it is especially damaging to be concerned mostly about one's own welfare and to go behind other people's backs.

  • Relative to leaders and peers, for direct reports it is especially damaging to avoid responsibility and to make excuses or blame others. Also, though not among the top five trust reducers, two additional factors especially damaging for direct reports are to break promises and to see things in black and white.


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Thursday, November 09, 2006

How the Election Prediction Markets Fared

Now that the election is over, we can take a quick look at how various trading sites did in predicting the outcome. A sampling:
  • As the Wall Street Journal reports today, TradeSports on Friday was giving the Democrats only a 30% chance of winning the Senate. As Tuesday approached, the odds in favor of the Democrats increased, though not in steady fashion.

  • To get an idea of the volatility of the betting on the outcome of the fight for control of the Senate, you can look at the graph of daily midnight closing prices provided by the Iowa Electronic Markets site.

  • US News & World Report gives a compact rundown of what TradeSports and Washington Stock Exchange were predicting as 5:40 p.m. on Tuesday.

  • CasualObserver.net touts its success in predicting the election results more accurately than the Rasmussen Reports poll. CasualObserver made its comparison as of Tuesday morning, i.e., in advance of release of any exit poll data and actual vote counts.



Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Gary Hamel Analyzes Google

Google's stock closed at 475.00 yesterday (11/8), up 21.8% from 389.90 a year ago, and very near the 52-week high of 491.26 reached two weeks ago (10/26). (The 52-week low of 331.55 occurred on 3/10.)

Most people would agree that we're looking at a success story. This past April, Gary Hamel, famously co-author with C.K. Prahalad of Competing for the Future, wrote an article for the Wall Street Journal offering his analysis of what Google is doing right. His conclusions provide food for thought for other organizations aiming to achieve sustained growth.

Hamel's basic message is that companies need
... a capacity for rapid strategic adaptation. ... what matters most is not a company's competitive advantage at a point in time, but its evolutionary advantage over time. Google gets this.
Hamel cites four risk factors that Google is managing more effectively than most companies:
  • Taking too narrow or too orthodox a view of the company's business scope. Hamel argues that Google "is driven by an open-ended mission to organize the world's knowledge," which means continually scanning for opportunities and being willing to adjust its business model in order to take advantage of such opportunities.

  • Setting up a hierarchical organization "that over-weights the views of those who have a stake in perpetuating the status quo."

    Google is notoriously non-hierarchical, and they have "invested heavily in building a highly transparent organization that makes it easy to share ideas, poll peers, recruit volunteers, and build natural constituencies for change."

  • Overinvesting in current projects and, therefore, underinvesting in exploratory experiments. Google fights this tendency by allowing its developers to devote a fifth of their time to whatever projects interest them.

  • Creeping mediocrity. Google is also notorious for picky hiring. Then, to retain its top-notch talent, the company makes a point of rewarding "teams who've made outsize contributions to Google's growth."
Training professionals can assist companies in their quest for sustainable growth by providing guidance on risk management, an area still widely neglected, especially below the ranks of top management.


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Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Predicting the Outcome of Today's Elections

As a follow-on to my previous posts concerning prediction markets, here's a link to Tradesports, a trading site that is currently featuring collective predictions concerning the outcome of today's elections. Or, if you prefer the Iowa Electronic Markets, click here. Or you can visit the Intrade site. Enjoy.



Monday, November 06, 2006

Collaborative Web Training

Practically from my first exposure to computer-based training, the "learn all on your lonesome" aspect has seemed problematic. Lots of others feel the same way, with the result that it is becoming routine for those who design e-training to incorporate mechanisms that encourage learners to interact with each other.

As just one example, William Horton's excellent guide, Designing Web-Based Training, devotes a chapter to promoting collaboration. As in the rest of the book (all 600+ pages), this chapter presents the issues to be considered in a thorough and accessible fashion. I particularly like his recommendation that you ...
Start simply, using just e-mail and discussion groups. Adopt the more advanced collaboration mechanisms, like videoconferencing and screen sharing, only after learners have mastered the simpler ones.
Horton goes on to note, "Learners, designers, and instructors continually cite the discussion group as the best thing about a [Web-based] course."

Among the benefits of incorporating a discussion group in e-training:
  • Enhanced learning — more coherent thinking and writing, more careful thought and reflection about the course content and about "test your understanding" questions.

  • Learners feel connected to the instructor. This is important for facilitating exchanges that tap the instructor's experience and expertise.

  • Learners feel closer to other learners, to the point that they often choose to continue the discussion group after the course has ended. This is important for promoting continuous learning and, in the case of a pre-existing team, for strengthening team cohesion.
In today's Web 2.0 environment, new tools to support discussion groups are available, notably wikis and blogs. Such tools should certainly be considered when designing a Web-based training experience.


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Sunday, November 05, 2006

Readiness for a New Assignment

An individual's readiness to take on a particular assignment depends on its degree of difficulty. The degree of difficulty can be thought of as the "stretch level."

A straightforward readiness assessment involves rating an employee you're considering for the assignment on seven items. Using a scale of 1 (not at all) to 4 (very), ask yourself how confident you are that the person has:
  1. the required technical skills

  2. the required interpersonal skills

  3. related experience

  4. sufficient knowledge of the organization

  5. the required degree of self-confidence and motivation

  6. enough time available

  7. access to the right resources and information
The modal rating — the rating you've given most frequently — is the stretch level for the particular individual for the particular task. For instance, if you gave one 1, one 2, three 3s, and two 4s, the stretch level is 3.

If there is a tie, choose the higher number. For example, if your ratings were three 1s, three 2s, and one 3, the stretch level is 2.

Once you have assessed how much of a stretch an assignment will be for the person to whom you are thinking of delegating it, ask yourself whether, all things considered, the person is suitable for the task. If your answer is yes, then plan your coaching to match the degree of difficulty the task presents to the person. You can use the four approaches defined for situational leadership as a guide.


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Saturday, November 04, 2006

The Competencies that Matter

For some time now, Training magazine has seemed to be a shadow of its former self — fewer pages and less rigorous articles than in the '90s, with a good deal of borrowing from training organizations' press releases. I'm glad that I've saved a considerable number of articles from the magazine's more substantive past, articles to which I refer regularly.

Recently, I was researching competency models and in my files came upon "Making Competencies Pay Off," by Timm J. Esque and Thomas F. Gilbert, from the January 1995 issue of Training.

The whole article, which unfortunately does not seem to be available online, is valuable, but I'd particularly cite (in slightly adapted form) the authors' summary of "a process for identifying competencies that really matter." They lay out six steps, and the questions to ask in carrying out each step:
  1. Define the mission of the job. What is the ultimate product or service that results from this job? Is this the product or service that best describes how this job contributes to the goals of the organization? How would I know if the mission has been achieved, i.e., what are the success criteria for achieving the mission?

  2. Describe the major outcomes required to achieve the mission. What outcomes are essential?

  3. Define performance standards for each essential outcome. What are the requirements of success for this outcome? How can each requirement be measured? How well do the best performers stack up against these measures today?

  4. Identify barriers to achieving the performance standards. What has prevented people from achieving the standards in the past? Which barriers, if overcome, will provide the greatest performance improvements?

  5. Determine how best to lower each barrier. Would the barrier best be addressed by clarifying performance expectations? by providing performance feedback? by providing better tools and job aids? by teaching the employee skills that will help overcome the barrier?

  6. Develop and implement a plan for lowering the barriers. What are the specific tasks that must be completed? Who is responsible for each? What are the due dates?
As with any initiative aimed at improving performance, a competency-based process must be both practical and strategically aligned. This is where the Esque-Gilbert process shines.


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Friday, November 03, 2006

Laughter is the Best Medicine III

My personal favorites from AdVerbatims:

"I don't think that's the colour of synergy."
(Agency senior strategy VP to designer)

"What does the Red Cross logo look like?"
(Client to designer for health services logo)

"I don't like the colors, plum and black don't work together." - "But you're wearing them."
(Agency designer to client marketing director)

"What we give you is what you get."
(Manager of agency graphic department to a client)

"I like it, but I just don't think a multinational company should be doing ads in felt tip."
(Client, on presentation of preliminary line drawing of a concept)

"Can we do this but in a round browser?"
(Agency creative director to his online team)

What’s going on? I do a search in the Family category images and I got a picture of two guys and a kid!”
(Agency production head)

“Before negotiating something, I practice in the shower.“
(Client marketing assistant)

“Can you change the word ‘exquisite’ on the ad? Words including the letter X are way too complicated.”
(Client marketing manager)

“Can’t you make that dog smile? Don’t you have a smile filter on this expensive machine?”
(Agency owner)

“How can you solve a major mess in 3 days? With promises, not with facts.”
(Agency account director)

“I’m sending you a 100 kilowatts photograph. Is it good for printing?”
(Client IT manager)

“Thinking in vain, that’s our business.”
(Agency account director)

“Guys! Good news! We have HIV!”
(Agency account director, announcing that a spot would be filmed in HD)

“What if we use those ´pop arts´ or banners from that guy…?”
(Agency content manager, confusing pop-up ads with Andy Warhol)

“It lacks branding but we can solve that with a voice over saying the name of the brand.”
(Agency account director, commenting on a jingle whose lyrics consist entirely of the name of the brand, sung 7 times, and the word “grapefruit” sung 4 times)

“No, we’ll save the cost of hosting by putting the website in my laptop. It’s not that heavy after all.”
(Client manager, refusing to pay for hosting)

“So we meet at the Photoshop at 3 pm, OK?”
(Client product manager)

“Problem: The bank is losing many of its retired clients. The main reason for this is their death. Objective: get those clients back.”
(extract from an ad brief)



Thursday, November 02, 2006

Smart Meetings

As far as I can tell, a tool for evaluating meetings that I came upon in Presentations magazine ten years ago, is no longer readily available. The tool is a quiz developed by Bernie DeKoven, founder of the now-defunct Institute for Better Meetings. This quiz deserves to live, so I'll summarize it in adapted form here.

The quiz asks you to evaluate your approach to meetings, using the following criteria:
  1. Access to your organization's networks — Do you enable online retrieval of information during your meetings?

  2. Reference to outcomes of previous meetings — Does everyone have access to previous meeting minutes, action items, status reports, etc., several days in advance?

  3. Computer-aided logistics — Do you use calendar software and electronic communication to set the time and place for the meeting?

  4. Agenda and handouts — Are the agenda, and at least a summary version of presentation charts, available several days in advance? Is the agenda developed with input from all concerned parties?

  5. Presentation cost — Is electronic storage and delivery used as fully as possible to avoid the expense of producing paper materials?

  6. Meeting date — Is the date set to ensure timely decisions, with anyone who can't attend in-person participating via some kind of teleconferencing?

  7. Action items — Are action items evaluated, synthesized, organized, approved, and kept visible throughout the meeting? Doing this enables adding ideas, challenging items, and agreeing on priorities. Before the meeting is over, are action items assigned and recorded?

  8. Use of the agenda — Are the agenda items addressed according to their priority, with high-priority items getting more attention than low-priority items?

  9. Consensus — Is care taken to consider contributions from everyone? Is consensus sought by identifying areas of agreement and exploring the reasons behind areas of disagreement?

  10. Decisions — Do participants model complex decisions using a spreadsheet or other planning tool, generate alternate solutions using what-if analysis, and then determine a final solution at the meeting?

  11. Leadership — Does the meeting leader act as a facilitator, encouraging collaboration, participation, and productivity?

  12. Meeting minutes — Are the minutes approved as they are developed? Are they distributed immediately after the meeting? Are all minutes retrievable from your organization's intranet?

  13. Participation — Does the leader poll participants at the close of the discussion of each agenda item to ensure all views have surfaced?

  14. Productivity — Does each meeting end with a summary report of action items and consensus decisions? Are the reports completed and distributed within a day?

  15. Questions and comments — Are questions and comments recorded? Are they stored with the presentation data? Are they cross-indexed by project? Do the action items that come out of the meeting include responding to any questions and comments that require immediate attention?

  16. Timeliness of information — Are presentations updated, as needed, so participants are seeing the most recent information?

  17. Verifiability — Can presenters retrieve online background data to support their conclusions and respond to questions? Can the group use online access to information to do on-the-fly research and combine it with their collective expertise to verify facts and confidence levels?

  18. Accountability — Do all action items have a person assigned to oversee follow-through? Are action items stated clearly, with completion dates set and specification of how the responsible person is to report back to the group?

  19. Alignment — Is everyone in agreement that the meeting minutes are accurate, so that there are no divergences in interpreting the decisions reached at the meeting?

  20. Follow-up — Does the meeting facilitator follow up with participants until action steps are completed?

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Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Michael Porter on Strategy

As a follow-on to my post on "Goals, Strategies, Tactics," I'd like to call attention to what strategy guru Michael Porter has said recently on where managers go wrong in their efforts to "be strategic."

As reported today in a Knowledge@Wharton article, one problem is misunderstanding what exactly strategy is. As I suggested in my earlier post, all too often managers conflate goals and strategy. "We're going to achieve X" is not a strategy. As Porter points out, it's an aspiration, whereas "strategy has to do with what makes you unique."

Porter cites four key principles that underlie success in establishing and maintaining a unique postioning for your business:Another distinction that Porter emphasizes is between economic performance — the long-run value creation a company achieves — and shareholder value — a noisy measure that picks up all the transitory influences that cause a company's stock price to fluctuate. As Porter puts it,
We have had this horrendous decade where people thought the goal of a company is shareholder value. Shareholder value is a result. Shareholder value comes from creating superior econmic performance.
There is much else of interest in the Wharton article, so I recommend reading the whole thing. In closing, I'd just highlight the article's final note on Porter's thinking:
Years ago, corporate strategy was considered a secret known only by top executives for fear competitors might use the information to their advantage ... Now it is important for everyone in the organization to understand the strategy and align everything they do with that strategy every day. Openness and clarity even help when coping with competition. [Porter says,] "It's good for a competitor to know what the strategy is. The chances are better that the competitor will find something else to be unique at, instead of creating a zero-sum competition."
Trainers should take the initiative in suggesting to management the best ways to communicate a company's strategy and to guide employee activities so they are aligned with the strategy.