Here’s A Quick Way to Measure Learning Impact

We ask for client feedback on nearly every class or workshop we hold. It’s the way we ensure continuous improvement, instructor/client culture fit, and client satisfaction. It also opens the door to other opportunities; many students express opinions about what they want to see next.

However, a number of clients get stuck when it comes to justifying training spend. Senior leaders know that talent development is critical, but they want to see results. And as I noted in my last benefits realization post, if you don’t go in with a measurement plan, you’ll struggle to find those benefits.

Here’s my advice: pull together a simple assessment tool to provide a “before-and-after” look at training’s impact. Such a survey establishes a performance baseline, against which you then can measure impact. I’d keep it simple: a “Net Promoter” question, followed by just a few focused questions. Below is a set of questions that I’ve used in other contexts:

  1. How likely is it that you would recommend ORG UNIT to a friend or colleague?
  2. How often does ORG UNIT meet its deadlines?
  3. Which of the following words would you use to describe ORG UNIT? Select all that apply. (attributes like high quality, quick, unresponsive, etc.)
  4. What changes would ORG UNIT have to make for you to give it an even higher rating?

If you’re familiar with Survey Monkey, you will find it easy to replicate these questions. Once I have this template together enough to share, I’ll share it.

Do you have practical suggestions about measuring learning impact?

Why Project Management Expertise Isn’t Enough: Lessons Learned from Security Breaches

How many times have I heard that “a good project manager can manage any project?” Too often for my taste. My biggest issue with the claim is that it begs the question: he statement assumes we all agree that any project manager with a mastery of the profession’s tools and techniques can succeed anywhere.

We’ve finally learned better, and PMI has acknowledged this in its new requirements for PMP continuing education. As PMI itself puts it:

As the global business environment and project management profession evolves, the [certification] program must adapt to provide development of new employer-desired skills…. The ideal skill set — the PMI Talent Triangle — is a combination of technical, leadership, and strategic and business management expertise. (PMI 2015 Continuing Certification Requirements (CCR) Program Updates)

Our pending research on project skill gaps (stay tuned for a webinar invite) shows that executives and senior managers understand this much better than project practitioners. They emphasize strategy, business, and leadership improvements, while practitioners don’t.

Perhaps an example from the current headlines will help. As most of you know, security breaches have wreaked havoc on a number of prominent firms: Target, Home Depot, Sony are simply the most well-known. The sad thing is that the most famous failures could have been prevented.

One of my new favorite podcasts is from Andreessen Horowitz, the venture capital firm. My most recent listen was an interview with Orion Hindawi of Tanium. I recommend listening to the whole thing — it’s less than 30 minutes — as Orion provides some great color to what, where, why, etc. on security attacks and vulnerabilities. The summary hits his sobering message on the head:

The paradox of security is we pretty much know what we are supposed to do most of the time — but we don’t do it. If you examine all the recent high-profile attacks, somebody in the organization knew something was wrong before it happened. They just didn’t have the ability to escalate the problem, or the ability to raise a flag that people took seriously.

In other words, we don’t lack the technical understanding of security risks, or the tools and techniques to mitigate them. We lack the leadership and business savvy to confront the challenge of communicating the risks, then deploying and using our toolkit effectively. The last two sentences show how these skills gaps drive the root causes:

  • Ability to escalate the problem” is a leadership challenge. This suggests that “somebody” wasn’t connected, articulate, or brave enough to get to decision makers.
  • Ability to raise a flag that people took seriously” is a symptom of weak strategy and business skills. If the threat isn’t framed, articulated, and understood in terms serious leaders get, then such warnings are ignored…or even worse, viewed as counterproductive scare mongering.

Now THIS Is What I Mean By “Advanced” Training

We’ve had a ton of discussions with clients after the Project Management Institute (PMI)announcement that it would soon demand business and leadership training from its certification holders. Some organizations wanted just the facts – who, what, where, when, why, and how — then were on their way. A few weren’t interested for personal reasons: their organizations don’t require or reward PMI certification.

The most interesting talks, however, were with customers who didn’t really focus on the requirements at all. The original blog post or email had merely crystallized needs that they already had. We heard it again and again: “We’ve already had the basics, we’ve already put everyone through the curriculum. How do we get better, how do we advance?”

These kinds of conversations are music to my ears, because it means that we’re going to talk about building new and differentiated capabilities. In other words, these clients aren’t just thinking about industry standards and compliance. They now think strategically about how their staff’s strengths and weaknesses match up to their organization’s opportunities and threats.

So how does this play out in practice? Each firm or agency is different, but we believe there a few useful questions that help focus on the learning that your organization needs to advance.

  1. Knowledge and Skill Gaps: These are items that were simply missed in previous training or need formal reinforcement. Example course topics that address gaps:  How to Lead a Team;  How to Model, Analyze, and Improve Business Processes.
  2. Knowledge and Skill Mastery: Here’s where one truly goes beyond the basics and gets command of a subject. Courses like Project Cost & Schedule Management; Project Risk Management; Strategies for Effective Stakeholder Engagement; and  Vendor Relationship Management take one to the next level.
  3. Behavior Change: Here’s the real opportunity to breakthrough performance: ensuring that skills manifest themselves in behavior. Our simulations — for example, Managing by Project; Managing by Project: Construction; and Leadership in High-Performance Teams — move participants from mere understanding of skills to application of these skills back in the working world.

As always, if your organization would like discuss these ideas and how it will impact your project management training curriculum, please use the contact form below. We are happy to review your current curriculum, your upcoming learning plans, and make recommendations.

Become Focused by Failure

Great WSJ article by Prof. Ken Bain that takes the Cub Scout motto of “Do Your Best” to the next level. 

It also hits home personally.  I was often praised for being “smart”, which is like being congratulated for being “lucky.”  The implication is that I didn’t have much to do with it.  That approach wasn’t too “smart” it turns out.  As Prof. Bain notes, for about 25 years social scientists have developed:

key insights into how successful people overcome their unsuccessful moments—and they have found that attitudes toward learning play a large role from a young age.

The most important attitude is a “growth mind-set”: the idea that knowledge comes from trying, learning, and yes, failing at, new things.  

Prof. Cain also references research that our brain makes more and stronger connections after exposure to novelty.  While he presents the research obliquely — as part of a psychology experiment about priming learning attitudes  — my understanding is that there is real neuroscience to support this insight.

I wouldn’t rely on the priming approach solely.  If you believe in priming, whatever you do don’t read this Nature article by Ed Yong on the problems with social science experimental design!

The Tsunami and Knowledge Management

Talk about wisdom of the ancients… this CBS News article highlights the Japanese village of Aneyoshi, which heeded the warning of an old stone marker:

“High dwellings are the peace and harmony of our descendants,” the stone slab reads. “Remember the calamity of the great tsunamis. Do not build any homes below this point.”

The east coast of Japan has these scattered about, but apparently not all of the warnings were heeded.  Or perhaps the warnings weren’t so clear.  Another interesting tidbit is that awareness of the tsunami danger didn’t persist simply by word-of-mouth:

“It takes about three generations for people to forget. Those that experience the disaster themselves pass it to their children and their grandchildren, but then the memory fades,” [Fumihiko Imamura, a professor in disaster planning at Tohoku University in Sendai, a tsunami-hit city] said.

Continue reading

PM Quote of the Day — Carol Burnett

You have to go through the falling down in order to learn to walk. It helps to know that you can survive it. That’s an education in itself.

Embedding Employee Engagement in your processes

Mike King at Learn This has a fairly long post on promoting employee engagement (here) — one last Hat Tip to the PM Blog Carnival (here).  I liked the thoughts in this passage especially:

Make it Part of The System … In order to ensure that employee engagement is something that gets attention, is measured and has various methods contributing to it, its important that it is part of a system. Not many things work on their own in business and its important to look at ways to embed it into the business practices….  [T]here are always examples where individuals do things right, but unless its fixed at a larger scale, it doesn’t become cultural or lasting…  The more ingrained it is into the system, the more likely employee engagement will expand and retain itself as part of the culture in the workplace. [emphasis mine]

This insight is often missed by human resources and other professionals focused on employee development.  Too many of these colleagues see their practices as somehow set apart from the rest of the business or they don’t have enough commercial experience to do so effectively.  Line managers and HR partners should collaborate to embed employee engagement practices into the way their firm works.

Finally, I should acknowledge Jose DeJesus’s post on employee motivation (here).  One could do worse than to pay heed to his five steps:

1. Listen to your employees.
2. Acknowledge your employees’ achievements.
3. Help your employees develop their own communications skills.
4. Encourage your employees to grow into new roles and take on additional responsibility.
5. Set a Good Example.

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