It seems I read too many black ops books and look at missions from a tactical perspective before nailing down an actionable strategy to move forward. No Delta Force team moves to execute on a leadership request on a mission without completing a thorough and comprehensive reconnaissance effort first. We (L&D) could gain considerable insight into adopting this approach to ensure an effective design strategy if we recon the mission intended to render an effective solution. Too often we receive a request for training and then go in “guns blazing” with Articulate solutions. What should we do before firing the first design shot?
Being a performance consultant at my core, I learned early on that the best intentions of my stakeholder may be based on perceptions, assumptions and/or hypotheses that do not always match conditions on the ground. That is not an exception more so than a rule when you consider the myth we have been feeding stakeholders and leadership for years – Training Drives Performance. Sorry, that is a myth because training in and of itself can only contribute to Potential. No measurable performance is generated until after training and the actual return on that investment can be diluted by restraining factors other than deficient knowledge and skills. How can we be certain Training is the mission? We must gain Alignment that spans from Leadership making the request to the Individual Contributors who are expected to perform at their Points-of-Work.
Alignment, in that case, is a combination of Leadership perceptions, assumptions and/or hypotheses and the actual conditions at the Point-of-Work. The key is consistency of Discovery from the top of the organizational hierarchy to the bottom – Top-Down Discovery. Comparing results of a cascade down through the hierarchy provides source data that can facilitate an Alignment Conversation gleaned from dependable, validated reconnaissance. Nobody dies if we neglect to negotiate a discovery cascade, but how many precious hours and resources do we spend to build an ineffective one-size-fits-all solution?
Discovery Cascade Categories
I always start at the top to frame perceptions, assumptions and/or hypotheses held by leadership making the request. I ask the same questions in multiple iterations downward in a cascade toward Individual Contributors. There are six categories of discovery questions/statements that frame multiple attributes than can impeded or dilute performance results. (See Table 1) I need to identify perspective at the top AND bottom to make an accurate comparison. I need to find strengths and weaknesses; the obvious ones known by all as well as those hidden in attributes other than knowledge and skill deficiencies. If they do not match, an Alignment Conversation is in order to fine-tune the original request. In other words, the actual Discovery findings go in the opposite direction – Bottom-Up. Likewise, so does the ultimate solution design.
What follows are statements shared during the discovery interviews throughout the cascade for rating of 1 – Strongly Disagree to 5 – Strongly Agree. Here are several discovery cascade statements I will share from my cascade lists to give you some ideas. You will notice some are identical whereas others are localized to an Individual Contributor’s Point-of-Work:
|Individual Contributor Discovery|
Environment & Culture
|Our organization has a clearly defined culture||Our work group has a clearly defined culture|
|Someone new joining the organization will have a positive first impression||Someone new coming into my work group will have a positive first impression|
|Collaboration within and among work areas is encouraged, active, and enabled with the means to be effective and efficient||Collaboration within my work group and others is encouraged, active and enabled with the means to be effective and efficient|
People & Capability
|The training received during onboarding equips Performers to be successful in their current roles and workflows||The training received during onboarding fully equipped me to be successful in my current role and assigned workflows|
|As work volumes increase, our training team has been able to keep pace||As work volumes increase, our training team has been able to keep pace|
|Performance expectations related to current roles are clearly defined and supported across all areas||Performance expectations related to my current role are clearly defined and supported by my managers|
Workflows & Processes
|When workflows or processes change, performers are informed and equipped to adjust/adapt quickly & efficiently||When workflows or processes change, I am informed and equipped to adjust/adapt quickly & efficiently in applying changes to my task level work|
|All current job roles can easily and quickly access information and resources needed to complete their work||In my current job role, I can easily and quickly access information and resources needed to complete my work|
|Accessible information and resources are designed for immediate & effective application within workflows||Accessible information and resources I utilize are designed for immediate & effective application within workflows|
Content & Resources
|The process of searching for information and resources is easy to navigate & find the correct content at a moment of need||The process of searching for information and resources is easy for me to navigate & find the correct content during a moment of need|
|When critical resources & information change, notification to Performers in their workflows is timely & accurate||When critical resources & information change impacting one or more of my workflows, notification is timely & accurate|
|When resource components are incorrect/out-of-date, there are clear paths to reach content owners||When I discover resource components are incorrect/out-of-date, I have a clear path to reach appropriate content owners|
Systems & Technology
|Technology systems & business applications utilized in current roles are easy to use effectively and efficiently||Technology systems & business applications utilized in my current role are easy to use effectively and efficiently|
|The correct personal technology and software to be effective in workflows are currently deployed||The correct personal technology and software for me to be effective in my current role and workflows are currently deployed|
|The Learning Systems (LMS) currently deployed provide adequate opportunity to learn & grow for all performers||The current Learning Systems (LMS) deployed provide adequate opportunity for me to learn new skills & grow my capability in my current role|
Impact & Analytics
|Performers are fully aware of the metrics and measures that define their performance contribution||I am fully aware of the metrics and measures that are tracked to define my performance contribution|
|Performers can clearly see the business value produced by the results of their performance contribution||I can clearly see the business value produced by the results of my performance contribution|
|The best (most accurate) measures of workflow performance are currently being tracked||The best (most accurate) measures of workflow performance are currently being tracked|
Once again, you will notice that some of the statements are identical while others are localized to a narrower audience while remaining an equivalent theme. The collection effort could be offered via a survey or managed in face-to-face interviews. If face-to-face, Individual Contributors can be grouped together as peers in forums or one-on-one. As a group, you may find additional conversation that reveals even more by using active listening and questioning like, “Why do you think that’s happening?” Or “What do you think causes that to happen?” Or simply just “Why is that important?” or “Tell me more about that.” It is important that groups be discrete to roles and not mixed with managers or supervisors. Also, capturing Individual Contributors responses should be anonymous if you really want truths revealed; hence, Survey Monkey (or some other platform) is advisable.
It is good practice to probe at the top of the cascade as well as the bottom. Honestly, you will be closer to root causes at the bottom with responses from those who experience the workflow challenges firsthand.
Now what? Does the Discovery Cascade render a design solution? Nope! This is pre-design discovery used to reconnoiter the situation on the ground compared to the intent behind those issuing the requests/orders at the top. Disparities will exist and those disparities are source datapoints to engage in discussion that may demand a more holistic solution design. Nothin disspells an assumption quite like actual data from the Point-of-Work.
Our ultimate goal is to enable solutions that converge support as well as learning assets in the workflow to drive sustainable and measurable performance results. I highly recommend learning about what is both driving and restraining performance at the Point-of-Work before taking an order to develop training at face value.
An effective Alignment Conversation can save you a lot of time and resources with a small focused time investment to reconnoiter Point-of-Work up front. Two things will happen: 1) Your solution will better aligned with real performance restrainers; and 2) You will look an awful lot like an effective, engaged business partner to your stakeholder as opposed to a training-order-taking-drive-thru operation.
I have shared only a few statemements in this post. The cascade discovery methodology, additional questions, and statements are the IP used in my advisor/coach role. I welcome your interest if you would like to discuss an advisory role and/or comments as you are so moved!
Thanks for reading!
Keep your powder dry!
Gary G. Wise