managerial axioms

21 03 2007

i couldn’t resist. the other day when i was writing my big question post, various axioms keptThe Big Question Logo popping into my head. you know those annoying phrases that people put on posters, plaques, post-its, pens, and other promotion prizes? so here’s a whole list of axioms to clutter up your next powerpoint presentation.

(some of these are original to me – i think.  some come from the leaders i mentioned in my previous post – and may or may not be original to them.  others i’ve heard somewhere, bit don’t remember the source.  if you own the rights to any of these slogans, please be kind and don’t sue me!)

  • you’ll always have too much on your plate, so learn to delegate.
  • micro-manage at your own peril. your employees will hate you and you’ll be exhausted.
  • never punish honesty.
  • the company grapevine is for listening. make sure you can hear it.
  • learn. in every moment. in every crisis. in every victory. learn.

  • everyone learns from failure.
  • learning when to let someone fail is one of the hardest lessons you’ll learn.
  • remember everyone’s birthday.
  • be consistent in what you say, make sure your actions follow your words and your employees will go to the ends of the earth for you.
  • be inconsistent in word and deed and you’ll learn how quickly employees have survival instincts that don’t include you.
  • praise others when they succeed.
  • always take the time to find out what your employees are laughing about.
  • the grass on your side of the fence doesn’t get greener by pointing out your neighbor’s lawn care deficiencies.
  • if you already know the answer, don’t ask the question.
  • keep your eyes on the horizon. looking down at the mess at your feet will paralyze you.
  • are you having fun?

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learning to manage

18 03 2007

this month’s, big question on learning circuits blog is about how to support new managers. while we haven’t had a lot of responses thus far, the contributions have been great. rather than repeat what others have already said (because I agree with almost everything I’ve read so far), let me take a more personal approach.

whenever i get thinking about good management, i immediately think of the fortune i’ve had to have had more than my share of awesome managers. some times i’ve had great personal connection with my manager and other times personally we were like oil and water. i’m grateful to all of them, whether mentioned below or not, for their patience and willingness to teach me.

ed henson was my first boss out of college and he shared a practice with me i’ve continued over the past 24 years. ed had a “happy file.” when ever he received something that praised his work or him, he stuffed it in his happy file. as he explained to me, as a leader you will have moments of doubt. are you any good? can you pull off another miracle and meet this deadline? in those moments, you pull out your happy file and sift through those accolades to remind yourself how good you are.

jim poe was my first district sales manager. jim knew how to close a sale as well as anyone, but what he taught me was to relax, keep moving, and have fun. no matter what else we needed to discuss in our weekly, or more frequent, phone calls i could always count on jim asking, “hey buddy. are you having fun?” learning new things, interacting with customers and colleagues, and helping customers solve problems have been activities of joy and play for me ever since i worked for jim.

not surprisingly, i learned to pick my fights from a tough little irishman named jack macgarrie. jack was my regional sales manager when i moved to boston. a sage piece of advice i’ll never forget was “dave, we have 14% of the market and

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skewing the data

15 03 2007

in my efforts to push the envelop on improving our professional image, I’ve been calling out gross instances of the type of work that makes us look bad to our peers and superiors thus harming our reputations and calling into question our professionalism. 

this example is from the report on training administration and operations just published by expertus and  you can get a free copy of the report if you are a member of  membership is free.

take a look at this graphic and think about how you would write or talk about the data set that it represents.

now you might say something like a majority of programs estimate that their percentage spend on administration and operations is under 20%.   or 8% have cost control problems.  right?  Here’s what the survey’s report says about this data:

Survey Highlights

  • Results show that administrative expenses are high in most organizations:  7.6% of respondents said their companies spent more than 50% of their training budgets on administration and operations; 10.2% spent between 36 and 50%; and 29.3% spent 20 to 35%.

what!!!!!  what about the other 53% of the respondents.  47% does not constitute "most" of the respondents.  what’s the break down of the 53% of organizations who are below 20%.  for all we know, cost could be running under 10% for half the respondents.  but then again, that wouldn’t be good for an organization who is in existence to promote the efficiencies that outsourcing can bring to an organization.

this ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, is a particularly mangled attempt to skew the presentation of the data to make it look more favorable to one’s own position, no matter what the data actually says.  usually skewing the data will be seen by your audience and will undercut your credibility on this and future topics. 

if you do research in hopes of supporting your position, but end up with data that harms your position you might be able to pretend that there was no research was done or that some how the study was compromised.  but the best thing to do in the long run is to study what you have found and change your position accordingly.   you might lose the current battle, but you will earn a level of respect that will pay dividends well into the future.

learning futures markets

15 03 2007

one thing i’ve always liked about Inklingmarket
elliott masie
is that when it comes to new gadgets and toys, he’s like me. he has to play with them now. what’s great about elliott is that he loves to share. the latest toy he’s playing with is inkling’s predictive markets tool. predictive markets are used to gauge possible future trends or reactions to new ideas or products. participants are given a sum of money to invest in the trends, ideas, or products they believe will be successful in the future. this simulation/game approach mimics the real world actions and reactions of groups in dynamic settings.

elliott asks “what will employees, in 2009, use as their primary tools for everyday learning in the workplace?” today is a listing of all the options you can invest your initial $5000 of play money in. you purchase stocks in the technologies which you think have the best bet of being the primary tools in 2009. but added to the mix is the economic incentive to invest in a stock that hasn’t peaked in value yet.

i’m doing pretty good so far as you can see from the box to the left. i’m currently invested in phone/mobile, on-the-job training/learning, unknown technoloMe_so_fargy/techniques, and gaming and simulation.

this specific market has a few problems like the category of eLearning, which truly encompasses many of the others. classroom teaching really isn’t much of a daily learning tool. obviously, “unknown technology/technique” is a bit wide open. elliott did heed the participants calls for adding cellphone/mobile technologies to the list – a glaring miss given the real world.

there is a very lively forum regarding the market that you can participate in as well. all in all a great group tool and lots of fun. although I could be saying that only because i’m doing so well. the market is open until april 1. come on over to and give it a try!

what’s wrong with workplace learning?

13 03 2007

in my previous post i talked about how jay cross’ observation that training, like psychology, has historically been a field built on a cornerstone that we come to understand and improve human abilities by identifying weaknesses and deficiencies and fixing them.  psychology is slowly being brought out of this negative perspective by the positive psychology movement and the discoveries enabled by new brain imaging technologies.  but what of training?

as I began writing my follow up post, my ideas expanded and i realized that I had two posts (at least)  to play out, so here’s a post on what’s wrong and I’ll follow it with a solution.

well, first we need to understand what the desired change is. for the purposes of this discussion i’ll put forward this overarching goal for learning:

to serve our organization as a integrated strategic contributor helping to drive profit and shareholder value by assuring that the workforce has the necessary knowledge, skills and abilities to meet their individual and collective performance goals.

obviously, i’m addressing the strategic aspects of the learning function as a whole. while there are specific issues to be addressed by course designers and developers, facilitators, delivery support personnel, technologists and the other specialist who work under the learning umbrella, i believe there is a critical need for a rethink of the underlining purpose and orientation of the role of learning in the organization. one of the things that came out of learning circuit blog’s december big question was that as a profession we are generally unsure of who we are and what we are supposed to be doing. until we know what we are trying to achieve, we’ll never bring an end to this occupational cakewalk we’re in.

are we a m*a*s*h unit?

employees are shipped off to us when they can’t do what they need to do. when something goes wrong, a good day or two of training is just what the doctor ordered. stat! we’ve gotten darn good at triage and meatball surgery. working with impossible deadlines to create learning instances just in the nick of time is our forte. we know it’s not the best that can be done, but we happily take the pat on the back for having pulled it off again.

but while we are operating in this crisis management mode, we’re falling into a trap of having to do more with less yet faster. don’t believe me? let’s look at the numbers according to astd’s 2006 state of the industry in enterprise learning report – considered by many to be the standard source for industry data in our field.  t+d magazine trumpeted that US organizations spend $109.25 billion on learning and development. while the huge amount of money spent on learning each year is remarkable, the reality is that  we are being pushed to produce at a rate greater than the increase in investment.

(note that I am using these numbers as possible indicators of issues that may exist, not as facts.  they are compelling, but more definitive and precise research needs to be conducted to consider any of this to be factual.  My point is this summary data points to issues to be explored further.)

If we use the expenditure per employee as a baseline number and compare it’s year on year percentage increase to the rate of increase (or decrease) of the data that relates to the workload of learning professionals, we begin to see some interesting data. in mosts cases the increased demand on the workplace learning professional is substantially greater than the increased investment. For example, in bmf companies from 2005 to 2006 astd projects a 25.54% increase in the number of hours of learning that will be provided per wlp staff member. but astd is projecting less than a 1% increase in expenditure per employee at the same companies. you might assume that much of the increase in the number of hours will come via reuse of digital content, but the report projects a 16.13% increase in repurposing of content.

similarly, while there is a decrease in the number of employees each wlp is hypothetically responsible for, the increase in the number of hours received by each employees results in an overall increase in the workload for wlp’s.

these productivity gains are, on the whole, a positive for the learning function.  in large part, our ability to decrease costs and increase efficiency is what improved our standing with in the organization and got us "a seat at the table."  but an alarm went off in my head when we discussed our instructional models back in november on lcb.  most of the suggestions were for cutting back on parts of the models we use.  cut back on assessment or reduce design efforts.  much of the thrust of the rapid elearning movement is to cut out development time.

all of this feels like it comes from a very strong focus on project management.  decrease the scope, cut the budget, lessen the time to delivery.  all tactics to increase efficiency and productivity.  true, we work in a business environment, but efficiency and productivity really don’t have much impact on human learning.

not assessing what needs to be learned makes designing an effective learning experience a matter of random luck.  developing content without the expertise of someone who understands adult learning will likely lead to demotivation of the learners.

we are so busy fixing problems, reducing costs, and increasing productivity that we may be missing the boat on what we need to be doing to insure our corporate survival.  tending to the wounded is all well and good, but i’d rather avoid finding myself in a similar position as hawkeye pierce on m*a*s*h was, when overworked and under appreciated with no sign of let up, he went awol to go to the frontlines to get them stop fighting. 

the learning needs of our organizations will only increase in the future.  for our own sanity, we have to find a better way to meet them.