Nov 262011

Performance Metrics: Metrics Performance Learning Driven System

Performance Metrics: By David Gow, Business Critical Learning, Wednesday, March 30th, 2011  

Ray Jimenez, PhD presented a case study for session 411 during the Learning Solutions conference. What he demonstrated was a very strong design which clearly integrates business objectives and job performance metrics with formal and informal development interventions.

Alerts to managers for variances in key performance metrics

The core is a performance tracking tool. Key business performance metrics that drive business results are identified and tracked (daily). Variances between target levels and actual performance levels alert managers to lagging performance areas.  Managers investigate to decide what action(s) should be taken. So, it is a support tool to focus managers on performance areas that may require their attention.

A learning plan for scheduled, assigned training

Another section of the dashboard is a Leaning and Development plan. This is used for key assigned trainings, like onboarding, or compliance and licencing training. These items can be scheduled and tracked as key learning metrics which need to be maintained in the business. As with other performance metrics, the learning metrics can be clearly understood at a glance, and trigger alerts where necessary.

Strong coaching tools to address performance variances

Another section of the dashboard is specifically dedicated to coaching interventions to respond to performance variances. For example, if a salesperson begins to lag in a specific performance metric (number of outgoing calls), the manager is able to select one or more coaching interventions to assist the employee in closing the gap. These performance-triggered interventions are tracked separately from the Learning and Development plan (which is a bit more vanilla and not specifically tied to on-the-job performance).
Ray shared that the interventions available to the managers to coach their employees are:

  • Pre-defined: each performance metric tracked has a set of support materials recommended to the manager as potential resources to help address the issue
  • Searchable: in addition to formal training resources recommended to the manager, a searchable wiki houses a wealth of community-authored solutions (many times, stories and tips submitted by employees)
  • Easily deployed: any item found in a Google-like search can be bookmarked, assigned, or send the URL to the employee via email
  • Rated: a rating system evaluates the training interventions (the rating system is also utilized as a relevancy “audit” to evaluate content at a systems level)

Most training is curriculum- or subject- based, but not performance-based.Ray made a very clear statement about the general problem with learning designs today when he noted that most training is curriculum- or subject- based, but not performance-based. It is canned content for certain skills sets, but not optimized for responding to real time needs of learners while they are on the job. It is almost never designed as a direct remediation resource to be deployed in response to a measured performance issue.

The worlds is getting smaller,time shorter; how about training?

Jay had one slide in his presentation that looked at “Big ID” (tradtional) and Micro (instant, simple, affordable). Micro content, micro-sharing, micro-coaching, micro-analysis, micro-feedback, micro-conversations…

It reminded me of Ken Blanchard’s One Minute Manager. It seems that traditional training hasn’t been right-sized for today’s business world. Despite Eliot Maise describing himself as a nanolearner, most systems don’t provide managers tools to have laser-beam focus on specific performance issues and targeted solutions to address it in an optimized fashion, quickly and efficiently.
This isn’t about training; it’s about operational efficiency. Providing managers almost instant clarity on performance items and line-of-site resources to address them with no-filler, quick-hit solutions is a tremendous value to the business. Ray offers several resources on the subject, like 3 Minute Games.

The work/learning connection

There are many in the industry who have spoken out against LMS systems and traditional training designs because real learning occurs as employees perform work. Although you can attend a sales seminar or take an online course on Flash Actionscript, you really don’t know how to truly apply and refine these skills until you perform the tasks in real-world environments. Yes, experience is still the best teacher.

Worse- specifically in the case of the LMS- too often the training environment is significantly disjointed from the work environment. If employees want to improve their work skills, should they have to disconnect from the natural workscapes and project spaces to “go to training” so it can be tracked, or is there some way to embed learning in the natural activity streams of work (and, if needed, track it- preferably “invisibly”)?

Ray’s model seems to hold a lot of promise. There is clear alignment between performance aspects of work being the trigger for learning. And, it seems it specifically separates out the formal learning plan for necessary tracking, but also offers informal tools that can be used in workscapes or assigned and tracked where a more formal coaching arrangement is necessary.

Empowering and supporting managers

The system alerts, but does not make decisions. It empowers managers to make the right decisions by providing information and resources. I have seen systems that assume too much and auto-assign training based on business metrics. Invariably, this causes mis-assignment that a manager can more intelligently filter. A great example is when a sales representative does not hit call volume metrics because s/he worked on active contracts and closing deals that more strongly correlate to business success (actual sales dollars).  Managers can see that grey area. Systems, no matter how well they can cross reference data, cannot always get these nuances.

Not only should managers be making the decisions of whether or not to intervene, they should be aware of their employees’ struggles and accept their role as the employee’s mentor. Managers often avoid aspects of the mentoring role because they are knowledgeable in the business, but not in developing people (i.e. managers promoted based on high individual contribution, not their ability to manage others). Without resources to identify problems and coach, managers lose significant and valuable time on these tasks, and may elect to work on management tasks they feel are more immediately relevant and achievable.

A metrics-performance-learning driven system provides managers with initial information to focus their attention for further investigation, and provides resources for quick resolution if an intervention is required.

What one idea can you apply?

At the end of his session, Ray asked “what one idea can you apply?”  Certainly, his system took the coordination of many teams: business operations, IT, and training. Many of us won’t the opportunity, time, or resources to develop a system that is this interconnected. However, I left with a few take aways that perhaps would help in using components of this design for your business:

  • Can you identify the key operational performance metrics defined and tracked for your business (I assure you, they exist)? Can you gain access to the reporting system or an exported data feed?
  • Can alerts for variances against target levels be created (or alternatively- can you create a simple spreadsheet template and instructions for managers to plug in numbers to highlight variances as a decision support tool)?
  • Can you develop appropriate “response training” resources (short, focused, accessible, deployable) to address gaps for each of the key performance metrics?
  • Can a “coaching system” be set up so managers can find and assign resources most appropriate to assist their employees in addressing performance gaps (if not systemically, maybe a spreadsheet or webpage showing the map of developed resources for each of the performance areas, or keywords to use in searches)?
  • Can you leverage community-based authoring tools like a wiki, and rating tools (or “like” buttons) to create a wealth of resources “from the field”? (Ray’s shared stories about how simple tips shared by employees became some of the most powerful tools managers could use: i.e.  ’this is how I blew this sale’ or ’100% of my clients said they would show to the meeting, but only 50% did’)

Ray offers some insight on this project on his blog. It was a great case study to walk through to show how far learning systems design can go to stop being a support process for the business to being a central part of the measured business performance results.


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Tom McDonald,; 608-788-5144; Skype: tsmw5752

performance metrics, McDonald Sales and Marketing, LLC