A Few Thoughts About Motivation

Motivation is one of the most common work-related issues I hear from clients (“these people are unmotivated” or “we want high scores on the climate survey to improve everyone’s motivation”).  Yet motivation, especially from a performance perspective, tends to be oversimplified by most managers and executives.

First, no-one (well, other than perhaps someone who’s dead) is completely unmotivated.  We all have motivation.  It’s simply not true that a group of employees is unmotivated.  The problem is that motivation is usually a complex issue with a range of factors playing a role.  I may want to do a good job and get praise from my supervisor.  But I also don’t want to end up doing work that some slacker didn’t do—that isn’t fair.  And while I may believe in working hard I also don’t want to have to stay late and get caught in bad rush-hour traffic.  Plus, my favorite TV series is on tonight and we’re having an early dinner so I’m preoccupied by those thoughts.  And I like dealing with the immediate project I’ve been assigned but find two members of my project team to be boring or irritating so I want to spend as little time with them as possible.  And our staff meetings run on too long.  As a result, I work hard but try to look busy as quitting time approaches and on Tuesday I’m going to come up with any excuse I can to avoid extra work or find a reason to duck out early (while on Wednesdays I’m willing to stay late) and I have a reputation for sweating the small stuff and producing good work product. Continue reading

The Power of Workplace Learning! (Seven Tips for Professionals)

Use the power of workplace learning!
Despite their massive participation in various forms of formal education or training, most professionals confirm that they have had most of their learning experiences on the job. When asked where they had their most impressive learning experience, ninety percent of all respondents answered “at the work place”. Nevertheless, research shows that most organizations are showing a bigger interest in formal learning and training than in informal learning in practice.

Informal learning
Many managers and professionals learn informally on the job, without any intervention of school, university or training company. Sometimes learning experiences can be a result of executing challenging tasks under pressure. In other occasions informal learning takes place by observing, role modeling or copying best practices from coworkers. Informal learning is not structured, planned or managed. It does include purposeful activities like reflection, practicing, organizing feedback etc. however. Continue reading

So, What Do I Do For A Living?

I dread cocktail parties and social networking events. Not because I don’t like people (I do) or alcohol (in moderation, of course). What has made me anti-social is trying to explain what a Certified Performance Technologist is and how I possibly earn a living at such an esoteric line of work. I remember the time I told a middle-aged executive I had just met at a network mixer that I was in the field of human performance improvement. He paused, looked at me with a quizzical frown and replied, “So, do you do sex therapy?”

Well, no, actually that’s one human performance problem I don’t treat, but thanks for sharing your performance need. Continue reading

Dog Agility and Performance Insights

I compete in dog agility with our rat terrier Ike.  In fact, I do more than compete—it’s my favorite pastime.  So it’s only natural that I’d manage to see a lot of application of my profession (performance improvement) to my pastime (agility).

For those of you not familiar with agility, it’s the world’s fastest growing canine sport.  It involves the handler and dog working as a team to negotiate a course in a specific order while following specific obstacle requirements.  So a team might have to cover twenty obstacles over 150 yards in 60 seconds without mistakes.  The obstacles usually involve some tricks, the human is usually sprinting almost the entire run and the dog is typically going even faster.  It’s an fun, healthy, addictive sport that builds the relationship you have with your dog and also provides your critter with a great job to focus on and train for.  But you didn’t check into this blog to read about dog agility—so here’s the connection I see to performance analysis. Continue reading

Leverage Points and Performance Work

Anyone who has studied systems thinking or looked at the science of complexity is familiar with the concept of leverage points.  A leverage point within a system is a point where a little bit of action produces a disproportionately large amount of impact.   For instance, if we have a fire in a room, it may take a lot of water to put the fire out.  Or, if the room is airtight we can simply shut the door and the lack of oxygen can shut the fire down almost immediately.  In this instance, the access to oxygen is a leverage point for the fire.

Donella Meadows has done some great work around leverage points for complex systems.  Besides identifying the 12 types of leverage points, Meadows has also determined generally which ones provide more leverage. Continue reading

Cause Analysis and Systems Thinking

It’s been traditional within performance consulting to talk about cause analysis or even root cause analysis.  This implies a mentality that we can get to the cause or primary factor responsible for the performance gap.  This also seems to imply a linear “start-stop” relationship of sorts.

Klaus Wittkuhn has written about this issue.   His point is that a systems approach (and a good performance analysis requires a systems approach) would reject the idea of a linear scheme with a clean start and end.  If we’re truly taking a systems perspective to performance, than we have to honestly admit that issues are circular.  That means that the concept of “a cause” is probably flawed. Continue reading

Performance Consulting in Government

At the recent (2009) ASTD International Conference, I had some great conversations with a performance consultant in South Africa–Bill Sewell.  Bill was busy trying to tap into US Government contacts to find out our experience with performance consulting.  With South Africa’s transition to a new President (Jacob Zuma) and an effort to be more results-focused, he was looking at what lessons we may have learned in that arena.  Bill wanted to know what US Govt. organizations were doing with performance consulting.

And that question made me stop and think.  The track record of performance improvement within government, at least on a broad-based level, isn’t that impressive within the US.  Of course, the US Coast Guard, due to their initial involvement with Joe Harless and then Paul Elliott, has probably been doing performance across the entire organization longer than any other governmental entity in the US.  But the Navy dismantled their Human Performance Center (that was starting to do some great work by the way). Continue reading

Learning from Geary Rummler

Those of you who have talked with me a lot or have read some of my work (especially No Magic Bullet) know how highly I think of Geary Rummler.  The performance world lost a true friend and original pathfinder when he passed away in 2008.

I was fortunate to get a number of unique opportunities to collaborate with Geary.  He and I both served on ASTD’s Board of Directors at the same time—we had some great discussions.  He took all of the kidding from some of us about his last book (Really Serious Guide to Performance Consulting) in good spirit. Continue reading