One of My Favorite Websites

As the content (and garbage) on the web continues to proliferate, it’s sometimes hard to sort through the gold nuggets from the chaff (or the garbage).  This is especially true in the performance arena.  There is one particular site that has been up a while (“a while” in this case means since 1995).  It’s the work of consultant Don Clark.  Don has produced a true labor of love that everyone in the workplace learning and performance fields needs to be aware of.  With a background in the Army and then Starbucks before he set off on his own, Don decided to create a site not to promote himself but really cover a wide range of ISD, training, OD, performance, management and programmed learning content.  He’s got a variety of self-created templates, forms and manuals you can download on topics like ISD or task analysis.  He provides a list of HRD names and why they matter, books that are important, timelines for particular topics, relevant quotes and more.  But mostly the “more” is about tools and examples and content around how to do what it is that we do–more intelligently and effectively.  And the site is clearly designed to share knowledge, not for self-promotion or profit.  Frankly, I cannot think of a single person in the workplace learning and performance field who has been so prolific on their website in terms of content.

The primary topic headings off the main page are:  leadership, training, learning, history, knowledge, performance, java, news and his blog.  And under each of these topics, you’ve got a wealth of depth (in some cases over 100 individual pages of content in terms of a user’s manual or separate job aids).  Quite simply, there is a tremendous amount of eclectic depth and breadth on this site.  In the few exchanges I’ve had with Don in the past, he’s proven to be trusting, magnanimous and helpful and easy to deal with.   I once wanted to use some of his material for some University Professors in Central Asia and instead of providing a lot of hoops for me to jump through, really made it easy to move forward with his stuff.

I’m going to list the URL in just a few lines but I do so with the caveat–I think the URL has changed a few times over the 15+ years that Don has has this site up (and he continues to add to it).  So if for some reason the URL doesn’t work (which could be due to my error or a change on his part), I’ve always found it by searching for “Big Dog’s bowl of biscuits” (certainly a memorable phrase).  And if you go to the website and look at “about” you’ll see pictures of “big dog” and “little dog” with an explanation that will probably draw a chuckle from you and also just drive home how amazing this site is–that Don is clearly doing this out of a desire to help the field and share knowledge, not profit individually or market himself.

The most recent URL that got me to Don’s site is:  www.nwlink.com/~donclark/ and if you haven’t visited the site before, I strongly suggest you do.  Don–keep up the great work!

Gulf Oil and Performance Lessons

With some labeling the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico as the worst environmental disaster the USA has ever experienced, it’s worth looking at what we know so far about efforts to deal with the spill for performance improvement lessons.  As I look at what I’ve heard about this disaster, several critical lessons come to my mind.

  1. Ignore process at your own peril.  There has been such an emphasis on “action” and “leadership” (both by private and public sector organizations) that we’ve seen lots of money, people and activity–but often at cross-purposes.  Throwing money and resources at any problem is usually ineffective when there is no clear alignment around the process connecting all of the specific tasks.
  2. It’s a lot easier to prevent a problem than to fix a mistake.  The Gulf Oil spill illustrates this point so well–far better and easier to prevent the rig blowout than to clean up tar balls from beaches and try to bathe birds.
  3. Being clear about the desired outcome is critical.  Those of you knowledgeable about performance improvement know how critical outcomes are as a means of providing direction.   Unfortunately, everyone assumed there was a clear purpose (clean up the spill) when actually there was tremendous disagreement among directions.  Some groups argued for booms to corral the oil (which doesn’t address oil beneath the surface).  Others argued for strong use of chemicals to eat the oil or break it down (which was opposed by others who felt this could produce worse environmental impacts than the oil itself).  The disagreements were more than just differences on tactics but instead reflected major (and often incompatible) directions.
  4. Data matters.  Throughout the first month of the disaster, there was a consistent inability to answer some of the most basic questions like:  approximately how much oil is escaping daily, what backup or contingency plans are reasonable if the first cap fails, what are the environmental impact of the oil dispersants being used, and what percentage of the oil is remaining beneath the surface?  Without some kind of data, policy decisions were being made on the basis of educated guesses and anecdotes.

What other performance insights have you gotten from this mess?