The Consistency of Disruptive Innovation

One of my favorite movies of all time is “Little Big Man” starring a very young Dustin Hoffman who was abducted as a toddler by Indians…yes, I know, Native Americans. He grew up through childhood to become a young adult brave, and had an adopted grandfather who was also the tribal medicine man. Whenever he was confronted with a challenge growing up the old man would always say…sweeping his arm wide, “Endeavor to persevere!”. When confronted with people who seemed bent on destroying him, the advice given by the old man was, “Tie ‘em up…shoot ‘em full of arrows…and drag ‘em all around!”…once again with the sweeping arm motion. For some reason, those words of wisdom have always stuck with me…sometimes to my detriment.

Now I must confess to doing more persevering than shooting people full of arrows, but I’d be lying if a quiver or two had been handy…I may have done a little shooting. Persevering at “what” you may be asking. If you’re a regular reader of my blog, you already know, if not, here it is…full adoption of a Performance Paradigm…a powerful discipline that I’ve been hawking for the last twelve years of my thirty plus in the L&D profession.

The primary challenge, as I’ve experienced it, seems to be the fact that adopting this paradigm is disruptive to L&D status quo, and the degree of innovation smacks of Change…and in many cases, the Change is transformational in nature. What is at “risk” of changing? There are a few things, none of which threaten the sacred halls of the L&D Training mission. Consider these:

Discovery – adopting principles of a performance assessment that is more holistic and business performance focused than a limited training needs assessment. The focus is on identifying performance gaps,  drivers, and restrainers, not simply knowledge and skill requirements. (See Skills)

Skills – an ID or learning consultant needs to evolve and adopt performance consulting skills necessary to uncover root causes related to performance challenges across a learning and performance continuum from “point-of-entry” to the post-training “point-of-work” and prioritize them based on business impact. (See Discovery)

Design – a shift beyond simple “agile design” concepts to “intentional design” methods where assets are designed for application in any of Gottfredson’s Five Moments of Need…with emphasis on Moment #3 – APPLY – which, by the way,  is found at the Point-of-Work. (See Skills & Development)

Development – enable “8-Right Things” including the right learning & performance assets…accessible by the right learner and/or performer…from the right access technology…in the right amount for application at the Point-of-Work…at the right time (Moment of Need)…in the right format for effective, timely, and business-relevant application…to/from the right device(s)…to drive the right evidence of business impact. (See Discovery, Skills, Design, Delivery & Chasing Sustained Workforce Capability)

Delivery – endeavor to bring the Point-of-Work directly into the Learning process – a.k.a – Do the “70” during the “10” and the “20” – with task-centric, role-specific, experiential exercises that use actual performance support assets…and…accessed from the exact same technology expected to be used post-training…and anticipate that this approach can often be accomplished with 50% or so less formal training time. (See Design & Development)

Execution – if you are focused on performance, you are committed to being at the Point-of-Work and at the Moment of Need…and this means making the right assets available on-the-job to whatever devices are being used…within 3-clicks or less. (See Technology)

Technology – execution happens at the Point-of-Work…and that “ain’t the LMS” getting it done; instead, it is Performance Support Technology that typically has an investment pay-back in a single year or less. (See Execution)

Evidence – measure business impact routinely at levels 3 and above easily without cooking the books because you have relevant KPIs in hand. (See Discovery)

Adopting a Performance Paradigm represents a journey over time. Methinks the word “journey” is scary to a lot of folks, because going on a journey means leaving the comfort of “where you are right now” (a.k.a. status quo)…and that implies Change…and Change implies innovation…and innovation implies disruption…and from the list above there is no shortage of any these attributes to enjoy.

A colleague of mine described adopting a Performance Paradigm where Performance Support is fully integrated as “the project that never dies” and that’s not a bad thing, because if the paradigm dies, so do the performance benefits…and those benefits are tied directly to tangible, measurable business results.

My point is this…adopting a performance paradigm is not a project; it’s a transformational change to a new, ongoing focus and approach. Full adoption is reached when the list above becomes “routinely applied” versus a “one-and-done” transaction. It will not happen overnight, but for the sake of sustainable business results, it needs to start happening. And that statement is at the core of my efforts of endeavoring to persevere.

The “journey” requires a “start small & scale” prioritized migration road map, but a road map is worthless if you do not know where you are starting from in the beginning. The starting point must represent Current State where the People – Processes – Content – Technology – Measurement capabilities have been assessed. Knowing the details of Current State and the identified gaps enable prioritization of what and where the first milestone should be pegged; hence the creation of a prioritized adoption road map to guide migration. (See Workforce Capability Solutions for details)

I know of no short cut. You cannot teleport to full adoption any easier than you can eat a whole elephant. The journey is meeting one prioritized milestone at a time…one bite at a time. There should also exist an essential Change attribute of Cultural & Organizational Appetite supporting and committed to the effort, and that’s always a challenge when leadership is firmly wrapped around the Training Paradigm and convinced that Training Drives Performance…though in reality it DOES NOT…it only drives potential. To date, I’ve never heard of potential of any degree paying the rent.

If you want tangible, measurable performance results you must key on the Point-of-Work as ground zero with both heads and hearts of everyone in the organization. It should become a cultural value…a strategic plank…in the organizational mission. It’s that mission-critical because if the workforce does not “DO” and “DO CORRECTLY” business value is compromised, not optimally created…or worse…may be outright lost.

Take it from someone who has planted these seeds of Change multiple times successfully…”it ain’t easy“…if it were easy,  everyone would be doing it. Sometimes it takes the pain of flames being turned up under the right butts to trigger movement. Building the momentum necessary to create critical mass for sustaining Organization Transformational Change will require both unwavering commitment and perseverance.

Want to take a little trip? It costs you nothing to have an exploratory conversation. If things line up, my contribution will cost you less than you’ll lose by maintaining a limited status quo Training Paradigm.

Now where did I stash that quiver…


Gary G. Wise
Workforce Performance Strategist & Change Agent
Human Performance Outfitters, LLC.
(317) 437-2555
Website – Workforce Capability Solutions

  1. Tita Beal
    November 1, 2016 at 2:34 pm

    The point of work is clear when we are developing specific procedures/steps. What is the point of work when we are developing more abstract, cognitive interpersonal management, sales, negotiation or analytic thinking skills or decision making skills? Probably realistic case challenges – and guidelines on how to handle them.

    Too often, however the skill models for handling these point of work challenges look great – catchy phrases or dynamic illustrations – but the steps are made up… participants could make them up themselves – what to do’s not hows. For example, steps in a skill model like “identify common needs” or “brainstorm options” are obvious even if they are arranged in a trade-markable illustration or pocket guide. Give me a word that captures the essence of a performance development topic, e.g. “C.O.N.F.L.I.C.T.” for strengthening ways to manage conflict, and I can create a skill model that looks good, but is only the obvious “What” – for example,” Clarify your own and other’s concerns…. Organize your requirements… Negotiate common values and goals… ” etc.

    Our challenge is HOW to carry out the steps. Every instructional designer or subject matter expert could make up more steps for each main step in the skill model… but point of work situations for interpersonal or thinking skills usually cannot be resolved by robotic practice of steps in one skill model – flexibility, listening, aligning, creative improvising within a framework, attitudes, responsiveness to each unique mix of people and priorities…. etc. …. are usually more important than trotting through elements of a boy scout skill model.

    Once newbies have the basics – think about other’s needs, not just your own, ask questions and listen more than talk, etc. – any thoughts about how capture and transfer the deeper skills… the essence of what makes some people really effective interpersonally or as strategic thinkers and problem solvers? Beyond money making “answers” in the form of skill models that anyone could make up themselves if asked the right probing questions – “how would you…and then what would you… .” questions? How to get at the essence of people who interact effectively with others and who collaborate to develop needed strategies and responses? This blog makes me think we need to look not at the answers at how top performers create their own answers for complex interactions and thinking challenges. Maybe generic case challenges where the goal is not to spoon feed a skill model, but to learn how to create one’s own mental skill model aligned to each challenge…Instead of developing the ability to carry out a skill guide at the point of work when a complex challenge is interpersonal or cognitive, how do we distill then transfer the ability of top performers to scan mentally and rapidly a range of options then have the expertise and confidence to align and create the needed response? How do we teach a man to fish” rather than give participants one fishy skill model that we can claim and copyright as The Answer?

    • November 1, 2016 at 2:57 pm

      Tita, thanks for reading and taking the time to raise some very valid points/questions. As a performance consultant I will be the first to admit that not every work scenario…either at the actual Point-of-Work…or at some interval prior to…or during something like “teaching to fish” is a cut and dried, step-centric process. At conferences I use Crucial Conversations as an example. Where there may be…and there are…job aids that provide reinforcement of “how to”. Truly, performance support is not an all or nothing proposition. My key point is determining what slices of a performance event are worthy or appropriate for providing support at…or in and around…the Point-of-Work. Without assessing the actual versus desired performance…and the drivers/retainers to sustaining that performance, we may miss an opportunity to shorten formal training time…enhance experiential learning with PS assets…and come to the rescue with reference knowledge when recall knowledge has evaporated over time or infrequent application.

      Totally agree with you…and actually call this process of “extended blend” where PS assets used in the 70 of the 70:20:10 model are embedded into the 10 and the 20 where appropriate. The key to the performance paradigm is to start with the performance, confirm the gaps, and intentionally design, develop, and prepare to deliver an extended blend. To be honest, none of this is rocket science, but is a shift in thinking and execution when building a holistic learning and performance solution.

      Thanks so much for reading and for the thought-provoking comments!

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