Thursday, September 30, 2010

7 Habits of Highly Effective Instructional Designers

By Shelley A. Gable

Stephen Covey is a well-known organizational consultant, perhaps especially well known for his book, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. I was thinking about the book the other day, and I also started thinking about how those habits might translate for instructional design specifically.

Here’s what I came up with…

Habit 1: Be proactive.

Covey characterizes being proactive as the ability to shape your situation through your choices. It's about being the source of solutions, rather than waiting for others to solve problems.

As instructional designers, we can be proactive by observing business trends and building relationships with our clients. Rather than waiting for clients to come to us with requests, we can keep up with their business well enough to anticipate their needs. To suggest opportunities they might not think of. To offer creative solutions for the problems that keep them up at night, even if they haven't specifically asked us to solve those problems.

Habit 2: Begin with the end in mind.

In his book, Covey encourages readers to visualize what they want in life and develop a personal mission. The idea is that knowing what you want in life allows you to act in ways that help you realize your goals.

This is what we should do as instructional designers as well. Before we start typing objectives, we need to understand the business goals that training is supposed to accomplish. What are the specific results the client expects to see? And where is the organization now, relative to those results? Our objectives, and all development work that follows, should directly help to close that gap.

Habit 3: Put first things first.

This habit focuses on prioritizing what's important to you in life and making decisions that sync with those priorities.

This might be a loose interpretation of this habit...but when I think about it from an instructional design perspective, it makes me think about working with subject matter experts (SMEs).

On the one hand, SMEs often want everything they know to make it into training. To them, everything they can think of is important. So, we have to prioritize the information we receive from them, according to how that information aligns with training and business goals. We have to use that analysis to determine what goes into training, what stays out, and how much time to allocate to the specific pieces.

On the other hand, SMEs also tend to neglect to convey the most basic (and often most important!) information. Information that's so obvious and intuitive for them because of their expertise, that they forget that it might not be as obvious to others. So with our understanding of the client's needs and what it takes to accomplish the client's goals, we have to know what questions to ask to solicit the information that is most critical for training.

Habit 4: Think win/win.

Covey describes the importance of building mutually beneficial relationships. Relationships that are rewarding for everyone involved.

I sometimes experience a tug-of-war with clients over training resources. They want training fast and cheap, and I fret over the possibility that developing too fast and too cheap may result in training that isn't very good. Cutting corners in training development not only makes the work feel less inspiring from my perspective, but it also compromises the learner.

But ah ha! Now we're on to something.

If the learner's experience and ability to learn is compromised due to a lack of resources for training, then that's likely to negatively impact the client's goals. So when it comes to negotiating for training project resources, the link between the learner experience and business goals can be a key part of the conversation. If you can use that link to build a strong case that yields the resources you need, you get that all-around win - an engaging project for you, an effective learning experience for the learner, and the desired results for the client.

Habit 5: Seek first to understand, then to be understood.

In addressing this habit, Covey emphasizes active listening skills and empathy. After you understand someone, you can better relate to that person and help that individual understand you.

This habit reminds me of cause analysis. Rather than jumping to a recommended solution immediately after a client comes to us with a problem, we need to take the time to investigate the potential causes of the problem. Our cause analysis then helps inform our training design and other supporting interventions, and relating our recommendations directly to those causes can help us earn the buy-in to move forward.

Habit 6: Synergize.

Synergy is about building a diverse team, where the whole of the team is greater than the sum of its parts.

This habit seems to capture the spirit of teamwork that is critical to instructional design. Instructional design is more than taking a pile of content and figuring out how to teach it. Depending on the role of the designer in an organization, the process is largely consulting-oriented and requires input from people in a variety of roles and at a variety of levels in the organization - often from executive-level project sponsors to the frontline employees impacted by the training. For us, this habit is about being able to work with people across organization levels and functions, and possibly with varying agendas, to produce effective training.

Habit 7: Sharpening the saw.

Covey included this habit to encourage us to invest in ourselves and indefinitely continue our education.

As with any profession, we need to invest in ourselves and continue to develop our skills. The opportunities for this abound, from stretch assignments at work, to reading what’s written in the field, to attending classes, conferences, or seminars.

What do you think?

So that’s my interpretation of Covey’s seven habits, as they apply to instructional design. What are your interpretations?

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

eLearning as Part of a Change Management Effort

By Shelley A. Gable

Have you ever thought, “well, that was a waste of time; it’s not like I’m gonna do anything differently now;” as you completed a training course?

I’ll admit it: I have.

A less-than-compelling training design might be to blame. But maybe not.

A lot of smart people in the field often remind us that a training event alone rarely accomplishes an organization’s goals. In order for training to succeed, it must be supported by other efforts in the organization. Change management models offer a framework for thinking about this.

Many change management models exist, and I’m opting to focus on Jeffrey M. Hiatt’s ADKAR model for this post – it’s simple and captures most of the components included in other models.

Let’s look at the ADKAR change management model against the backdrop of a project I worked on a while back, which involved teaching customer service representatives a conversation flow for resolving customer complaints. Prior to the training, the organization had no formalized model or flow – just a list of tips for talking with angry customers. The purpose of the flow was to ensure that customer complaints were resolved effectively and consistently (ultimately increasing the likelihood that customers with a dissatisfying experience would receive a satisfactory resolution and remain loyal to the company).

A = Awareness of the need to change
In this model, awareness is more than an email announcement. Building awareness requires a communication process that attempts to shape perceptions by building a case for the need to change. At this point, it isn’t necessarily critical to actually announce what the forthcoming solution is. Rather, the focus is on explaining why a change is necessary to solve a problem, seize an opportunity, etc.

In our example, supervisors built awareness by talking to employees individually and in team meetings about the inconsistent handling of customer complaints. They shared data on the rate of repeat business from customers who have complained and explained the benefits of improving that rate. They engaged employees by asking them what they thought was most challenging about handling complaints (many responded that they often didn’t know what to say to upset customers).

D = Desire to change
As creatures of habit, we often feel burdened when change is imposed on us. While it may be easy to assume that people will change if their job requires it, the truth is that people tend to do what they want to do, regardless of whether it aligns with what the organization wants. So it makes sense that inspiring a desire to change would help things move along more smoothly.

In our example, supervisors participated in brainstorming sessions to identify likely sources of resistance and support for the change, so that communication and training would address both by mitigating resistance and leveraging supporting factors. Since employees were evaluated on their handling of customer complaints, supervisors also explained how having a consistent flow would improve those metrics (tapping into the “What’s In It For Me” factor) and make these conversations feel easier.

K = Knowledge to change
This is the training component of the change model. Teaching employees the knowledge and skill needed to change their behaviors so that the organization can meet its goals. This includes not only the training event, but also job aids and any other needed forms of performance support.

A = Ability to change
Have you ever attended training or a conference and become excited about an idea, only to find yourself unable to apply it when you got back to work? I’ve been there. I think most of us in training understand the importance of allowing people to apply newly learned knowledge and skills on the job as soon as possible in order to ensure that it sticks.

R = Reinforcing the change
This involves continuing to reinforce the change after training by celebrating and recognizing successes, rewarding employees for their success, and adapting the change into existing monitoring processes and performance measures for ongoing accountability.

In our example, supervisors offered small incentives during the two weeks that followed training. They shared employees’ success stories during team meetings and as model examples for individual coaching. And they slightly modified their existing performance measures related to customer complaints to more clearly align them with the new flow.

So what?
The moral of the story is that training should be part of a larger change management effort in order for it to stick and accomplish an organization’s goals. Are your eLearning projects typically part of a change management effort? And if so, what successes and challenges have you encountered?