INTENTIONAL DESIGN – Redirecting L&D Strategy to the Point-of-Work

Intentional DesignTo some this may seem like more of a “mis-direction” than a re-direction. Redirection almost sounds like a course correction…and in many respects it is, but then I make that distinction from a previous life experience. Humor me for a minute for a quick story to make the point that L&D in some organizations has lost its way. Yes, it can happen, and this story tells of how that can happen through the eyes of an effective L&D team that was effectively undone. This “undoing” is the basis of my suggestion that “re-direction” can indeed be a course correction as opposed to an entirely new and radical direction in other cases.  It begs the question if the organization was ever ON the right track, and the next question becomes…which is it for your organization?

The recent post “True Confessions of a Performance Ninja” tell the entire back story of how the L&D team I was blessed to lead down this new path. The “new path” was my first departure from a familiar regimen of a Training paradigm to pursue a different intent offered by a Performance Paradigm. At the time, nobody was spewing virtues about “paradigms” of any variety, so the jargon and the greener grass attraction could not be seen as informing a road map by any stretch. What was driving our team was a desire for a different outcome. We needed to sustain our workforce on a couple of fronts; Sales and a brand spanking new enterprise systems implementation (SAP).

Our L&D unit, owned by the Executive Vice President General Manager of Sales & Marketing was tasked with driving sales results and the business systems utilization the company relied upon for operating the business. It was great. My team would field a request from an operational stakeholder that informed us that “something was broken”. Our job description was simple – “Fix it!” And we would. We would find out what was broken and why…and then determine the fastest path to fixing it. No muss. No fuss.

The “Ninja” story I mentioned retells one such event. Life was good. My team loved the performance concept and we operated smoothly with successive positive interventions…some of which were traditional training solutions…some were not so much. We chugged along until the day of “the great discomfort”. Actually, it was an annexation event to consolidate fragmented L&D functions. Some might even have called it a hostile takeover. It was the day the Sales & Marketing arm of the business gave up ownership of their L&D function of 12 performance warriors and turned them over to the Evil Empire…Human Resources.

I won’t go into all the “re-orientation” horrors and the fruit punch we were forced to drink but suffice it to say that was the day our performance orientation died, and we became re-programmed into the traditional HR style of training. That was the day my team became part of the lost. In all honesty, it was the beginning of the end for this camper because the orientation became inwardly focused to building the dynasty of HR and the outward focus toward the operation side of the business…who coincidentally paid the freaking rent…was lost.

The INTENT behind our mission became mis-directed and de-prioritized in favor of more traditional HR Generalist focus and solution applications. Note the emphasis on the word “INTENT” because that’s what this post is all about. If INTENT is not outwardly focused on the workforce…who coincidentally pays the freaking rent…and solutions are not designed with the INTENT to sustain workforce capability…then a “RE-direction” should at least be a consideration on the strategic road map.

I can imagine all the HR sphincters biting their respective chairs all around the land over what is likely viewed as my openly shared disrespect for HR. And that would be mis-guided perspective…mainly because I am deeply buried in HR right now and steeped in the HR discipline. I am however…a Performance Ninja. I know who pays the rent. I know I am part of a cost center…an expense…and I know if I’m not contributing to solutions that generate revenue for the organization I have no room to bitch when the next down-sizing happens and I am once again hurled through the window of opportunity.

There has to be INTENT in what we do…whether we are HR traditionalists or a bunch a free-range performance consultants…and that INTENT must have laser focus on driving workforce capability…no…wait…that’s not strong enough…make that sustained workforce capability.

I would argue that there needs to be a “black ops” function of “special ops ninjas” who are “off the books” and assigned with the intent to fix performance problems by whatever means necessary. [Sorry…too many Brad Thor eBooks might be showing here] These ninjas should go to wherever the performance gaps exist and perform root cause analyses and define what the solution mix should be…and then report it back to the HR L&D specialists who power up in instructional design, media development, and innovative delivery functions.

These performance ninjas are tasked to prioritize discovery around Point-of-Work attributes. These ninjas are performance consultants [black pajamas optional] who have business acumen in their background and operational business expertise up their sleeves. Their focus is “Intentional Discovery” with the intent of finding out what is broken and why. At a high level, that will include things like:

  • What is the hypothesis behind the brokenness?
  • Who does the work?
  • Who support the “who” doing the work?
  • What is the work?
  • Why is the work being done in the first place? What’s the work worth? What is the brokeness costing?
  • What are the root cause(s) impeding the work?
  • What information assets are used to DO the work?
  • How are those assets accessed?
  • What systems and technology are brought to bear to DO the work?
  • What metrics exist that establish current benchmarks?
  • Are those metrics the best ones to use?

And there are others, but I can’t give up all my ninja secrets now can I?

Here’s another question I’d like for you to consider. “Do you see anything on that list above that resembles what’s included in a training needs assessment?”

There may be a couple that are close cousins but likely not without some stretching. The relationship is irrelevant for the purposes of my point in this post, but what is relevant is the INTENT behind why these questions are critical to ask. Proximity to the performance problem is the secret sauce – Point-of-Work.

If we do not intentionally discover what’s broken and why at the Point-of-Work…how in the world can we intentionally design a solution to apply at the Point-of-Work?

What I’ve just described at a high level is a “Performance Assessment” not a training needs assessment. Building any kind of solution prior to this kind of ninja insertion behind the lines at the Point-of-Work will simply yield Training solutions and with Training content. Yes it may be micro-ed or MOOC-ed, or spaced, or gamified, or mobilized, or badge-worthy, but in the end it is still training content. And all we can hope for is documented proof at levels one and two that we have perpetuated the myth that training drives performance.

Training, in and of itself, does NOT drive performance…it only promises potential.

Want evidence of performance at Level 3, 4 or 5?

  • Get to the Point-of-Work with the right intentions.

Is sustaining workforce capability the end game?

  • Intentionally discover what’s broken and why…so you can then intentionally design solutions that support learning AND performance at the Point-of-Work.

It’s easy to get lost in pursuit of a new paradigm. It’s even easier when there are things you don’t know that you don’t know. Having been in this game for over 35 years, I’ve amassed an impressive string of failures in sustaining workforce capability all the while earning exceeds ratings and assorted merit badges along the way. Those failures were essential in pointing me toward a new paradigm of performance…I needed to rethink the strategy because I was not “seeing” it. I was too deeply embedded in what I was doing in my traditional role, and I was not doing enough AND doing it close enough to the point of business impact – the Point-of-Work. That single shift in perspective dropped the performance paradigm squarely in my lap.

Doing well in your role and doing the “right things” for the business aren’t always aligned. Read the “7-Right Things Road Map…” post for more insight into the “intentional design” approach and the “right things” that design mindset supports.

I’ve coached people and teams in my past to adopt this approach paradigm, and am happy to report none of them have been reported missing in action. My advice to any organization considering this path is to embed a performance mindset as part of your organizational culture first. It must be on the radar up on the bridge where strategic direction steers the corporate ship. On a more tactical level, it’s critical to build in performance consulting expertise for your L&D team.

Too much change for you all at once?

Build a “black ops ninja performance consulting hit squad” and let them deliver proof of concept. Whether you choose to sip the performance Kool-Aid or drink it by the gallon, the whole shift smacks of transformational change.

Whatever you choose to do, choose to be intentional!

Gary G. Wise
Workforce Performance Advocate, Coach, Speaker 
(317) 437-2555
Web: Living In Learning