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July 2011 v7no3
Building Capability
Planning Career Development 
In This Issue
Planning Career Development
Tools for Managing Work
Don't Just Sit There
Rant: More Work Than it is Worth

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   Once more, poor, maligned Powerpoint is under attack. This time, from (some of) the Swiss. There is an Anti-Powerpoint Party (APPP). Based on their calculations of the cost, they want to ban the use of Powerpoint in Swiss presentations.


Powerpoint Waste 2 

   Is it really Powerpoint or the authors of pointless presentations?

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Check Out the October 2010 PI Journal

   We are very proud of a big project we did a few years ago for a major pharmaceutical company. If you want to read the story, check out ISPI's publication "Performance Improvement" from October, 2010.  
   The article describes the project approach and . We built about 6 weeks of instructor-led and coached training in about 12 weeks of calendar time (with holidays in the middle of it).
   And, the client measured ROI at 44% over five years (and 191% if you included loss avoidance). If you are wondering, their costs included all SME time and the time the operators were being training and qualified.

Conference Presentation Materials

PH_Photo3I hope you are having a productive and enjoyable summer! Here in the midwest, we have been getting pummeled mercilessly by rain and thunderstorms...and the resulting flooding and power outages. Maybe we need to fast-forward to autumn...falling leaves seems like only a minor problem by comparison. 
   Recently, we have been working on a wide range of projects and it has been a lot of fun. In this issue, we start a series on planned, strategic capability development. In particular, we are focusing on building development paths -- defining a series of development activities for people to follow in order to perform specific roles and build desired capabilities. In a down economy, this is one of those areas that can be overlooked as the emphasis on reducing costs eclipses more long-term considerations. But, if you plan to stay in business awhile, even after the economy comes back, we think it is important to understand the work to be done and how to enable people to perform it. Everything doesn't have to be training -- in many cases, tools and references can reduce the amount of learning needed and speed the development process...but you have to analyze it to understand where the opportunities are and how best to capitalize on them.


  Being busy also means you need to keep track of what you, and others, are doing. We've been experimenting with a number of on-line tools for managing tasks and to-do's but have had difficulty finding one that meets our needs for ease of use, functionality, and mobility. We've included a summary of our thoughts on this topic and would welcome any advice or experience our readers might have.


  I hope you enjoy this issue of the newsletter!


Peter R. Hybert, CPT  

Principal Consultant

Planning Career Development 
Paths vs. Open Menu

  One of the functions of an LMS which benefits all levels of the organization is the ability to prescribe a specific series of development activities, i.e., "paths," to prepare learners for a specific job or role. This allows learners to see what they need to learn to perform that role, it allows managers to plan for development, it allows training providers to design programs that fit together to support an overall intent, and it allows management to anticipate and plan for the costs and downtime of development.


  Paths are not perfect though, there are risks. Not all jobs/roles are the same. Not all learners are the same. What if you hire someone who has equivalent experience -- do they still have to complete the path? Do you make the path mandatory or recommended? If recommended, how do you handle the learning gaps that result when someone doesn't have the right prerequisite capabilities for a given program in the path? 


  Ultimately, there seems to be a core set of fundamental questions to be answered before building and prescribing development paths. Is development the responsibility of the employee or management? And, should the development process be geared to meet the needs of the organization or the employee? 

   The real answer is "yes." Both the employee and the organization have a stake in the development process. Somehow, the needs of the organization need to be met (or it won't invest in development) while still meeting the needs of the employees (or they won't invest the effort).

   The good news is that a well-designed path can meet the needs of both sets of stakeholders. And, the process of getting there yields related information that can inform other business management activities, such as strategic planning, succession planning, hiring, process improvement, tool and reference development, and others.

   We've been developing curriculum and development paths since the mid-eighties...we can talk all day about this but space is limited here so we plan to have a few related articles in the upcoming issues. For this issue, we will focus on some key considerations about creating paths and what it takes to build one.

What Should be Included?

   Depending on your business needs, the size of the audience, your mission (that is, the scope of deliverables and content you provide to your end users) the path can be large or small. You might prescribe a series of development activities just related to a new product, process, or technology. But normally, we recommend creating a path for key roles. Of course, in the vast majority of situations, a role is not the same as a job title. In a large company, people with the same job title often have very different roles.

   We use the term "development activities" on purpose, by the way. Sometimes, the path includes only training courses but we recommend a more comprehensive approach. There are things that are best learned locally on-the-job. (And, sometimes there are things that need to be learned for which no formal training exists so, if you are going to learn it at all, you have to learn it on-the-job.)

   Be careful making things mandatory, especially entire paths. The reality is that simply identifying all the things people need to know to perform any role results in a pretty big list. You probably won't be able to address every single item...otherwise, you would have people in development mode all the time, instead of actually working. It is important to make smart trade-offs and address the critical issues. It is also important to allow some flexibility for people to build their own career, to make choices that allow them to move from one path to another. Reserve mandatory paths for things that are definitely required and, even then, try to make provision for exceptions if at all possible.

How Do You Develop a Development Path?

   At a macro level, there are some key things that need to get done. First priority is identifying the key performance areas and roles on which to focus. Usually this depends on the forces driving you to consider defining paths in the first place. Are you planning on growth? A change in business direction? New products, processes, technologies, or markets? Are there regulatory changes pending? Are you expecting a large portion of your workforce to retire soon? Are there plans for a merger or acquisition in the future? Are you trying to reduce the time it takes new people to get "up to speed?" The answer to each of these and other questions will affect the paths you develop and implement and how you go about it.

   The first step is usually putting together the teams to run the project. You need business leaders to set direction and get the resources. In particular, you are going to need people but you also need buy-in, support, and budget. The people are key -- you will need a representative set of top-performers to in order to analyze the work and supporting capabilities needed to perform the work.

   The second big step is figuring out what the work is and getting it on paper so people can agree to it. Ultimately, the development process that the path illustrates should match the work people need to do. Don't think of a college curriculum where there are blocks of topics people can learn. Instead, think of what you need people to do and the shortest path to getting them productive. 

   After you understand the tasks, outputs, measures, etc. that define the work, you can come back and identify the supporting capabilities (e.g., knowledge, skills, tools, traits) needed to perform it. Starting with the work is key though because it is the only way you can set boundaries on the supporting capabilities. Otherwise, a case can be made for including almost anything, which will only increase the learning curve cycle time. 

   Once you finish this analysis, there are lots of side uses for this data. We've used it to evaluate and restructure how the work is done or which roles perform it. You may identify work process changes, opportunities for the development of tools and standards. You may identify changes in recruiting and hiring practices. Don't skip past this step if you can help it -- this is really the "end in mind" and it sets the trajectory for the design of the path and any new development activities. Another way to look at this is that whatever you set as the requirements will determine the cost and time it takes to meet them.

   To actually define the path(s), you will need to continue working with a selected sub-set of your top-performers. Sometimes, we engage supervisors as well and occasionally other subject matter experts. Imagine taking all that analysis data, conceptually parsing it out on index cards, and then just sorting them into piles that fit your requirements. Not easy, kind of fun (for a certain type of personality), and gets every decision made quickly with a surprising breadth of discussion. Usually about 90% of the decisions made by this group are sound and remain valid through the review process.

   At a detailed level, there are a million considerations for "chunking," sequencing, media selection, sharing similar content with other audiences, re-use of existing development activities, and more, that weigh into the definition of individual path items and sections -- we will take a look at those in a future article. 

Review, Roll-Out, and Implementation

   Once you have a draft path, you will need to review it with a larger population of the target audience, their supervisors, and even business leaders. We've done this by email (which we don't recommend, actually) but more often by in-person presentations. Quite often we will build a museum-style exhibit where the key information is on posters set up in a room where people can come in, review it, and provide comments. Usually, there is a presentation as well that explains the background and orients reviewers to the information.

   And the work is only beginning. In many cases, this process identifies a lot of gaps in the current inventory of development activities. We usually try to re-use as much of the existing programs and documents as we can but we frequently find that a lot of things have evolved rather then resulted from design and really don't fit as is. Or, they have known gaps and revision needs that haven't been addressed (aka "deferred maintenance").  That isn't always the case...sometimes the path can consist of an arrangement of existing only. But usually, the path identifies a slate of potential projects for which you will need to wind up the project machinery once more. You will at the very least need priorities from business leaders so that everyone is on-board with the long-term plan and budget.

   Creating development paths can seem like a daunting task and, it can be. The right know-how, tools, and process, will eliminate much of the pain but there is the important work of engaging the right people, getting the right direction, and managing expectations for the results. The pay-off though, is that the path itself, is important information for the business. Done right, it can even be a strategic advantage. (We even had one client list their development path specifically as a competitive advantage in their presentations to customers and management.) Done right, the path forms a parternship between the business, the learning organization, HR, methods/tools developers, and individual employees. It answers the questions for an employee, "what do I need?" and "how can I get where I want to go?" Good for the business. Good for the employee. 
Tools for Managing Your Work 
Are "To Do" Lists Performance Aids or Work Avoidance Mechanisms?

   We all know people who like to use lists to manage their work. Some of those people have even been known to do something and then, realizing it wasn't on their list, they first add it so they can then cross it out. (You know who you are...)

   There are a lot of tools and a lot of blogs that talk about ways of managing your work and for good reason. People today are often overloaded and the thought that maybe, just maybe, an organization tool might help get things under control can be very appealing. Even if you know better.

   Here are some of our favorite tools, what we like, and what we don't about their utility for managing tasks. 

Microsoft Outlook

   Clearly the standard inside most mid to large-size corporations. It has a lot of great features. We don't use this as a standard but even those that don't miss some of the things only Outlook can do.

  • Can "drag/drop" an email or meeting (from the Calendar) onto the "Tasks" to convert it to a To Do
  • Ability to easily delegate tasks to others while still tracking progress
  • Reminders -- both a plus and a minus
  • Can set up categories for separate projects or areas of responsibility
The primary shortfalls with Outlook is that it is not very mobile unless you are also using Microsoft Exchange Server. If you aren't, you lose the Tasks if you don't have your laptop.



   Cohuman is kind of a nifty web-based tool geared toward helping small teams work together to complete a set of tasks. You create projects and then identify people working on the project. You can create tasks and assign them to individuals. 

  • Based on the due date, this tool establishes a point value for each task, then feeds you the tasks in a list based on priority. Cute and works better than I expected. But, longer-range tasks can fall off the radar unless you consciously break them into a series of short-term milestones (which isn't really a bad thing...)
  • Can delegate tasks to co-workers (which, I assume, are the "co-humans"). The minus here is that the email notification the delegatee receives is not real useful. In fact, other notifications aren't really that great either. But you can track completion.
  • A nice feature is that you can set up a task to be blocked until another one is finished...a simple way to set up a dependency.
  • Cohuman can be set up to share tasks with Google Calendar -- if you use Google Calendar, these tasks appear on the due date, as well as in the Task list. It seems that changes made in Google Calendar don't always appear in the application, though it works the other way.
  • Does have a mobile app that works well on the iPhone, though it is easier to use on a PC. 

Note: Since writing this, Cohuman has been purchased by another company. It will no longer be available as of 8/31. I am assuming it will be back in a re-branded is worth watching for. (and, that is what you type in the browser!)

   This is the tool we are currently testing. Really nice-looking interface. Can create hierarchies of projects. Can quickly create tasks. Tasks can be sorted by date or manually. Can add notes to explain the current status of a task. Prints a nice-looking to-do list, complete with checkboxes. Can share projects. Has an iPhone app that works pretty much the same as the PC version.

   Some shortcomings are

  • Almost no help -- I think they believe the tool is intuitive so no help is needed and that is generally true...but once in awhile it would be nice.
  • Can't assign tasks to individuals. 
  • Links to Google...but doesn't really exchange any info...

Google Tasks

   This tool is a lightweight but OK way to keep short lists of things to do.  Some of us use it for errands...even if you forget your list, you won't forget your phone.  Some highlights:

  • If you assign a date to a task, it will show up on the calendar but not at a specific time...just on that day. You can drag it to another day if you like. (This is a really simple and cool way to manage your work for the week.) Downside? You can only display one list at a time -- if you are looking at the tasks for one project, the others are not visible.
  • If you assign a date to a task but don't complete it on that day, it stays on that date unless you remember to drag it forward. Sometimes, that means tasks can drop out of sight and, possibly, out of mind.
  • You can sort/order the tasks by dragging. And, you can easily move tasks from one list to another.
  • Tasks are viewed in Google Calendar -- but the column showing the task list is too narrow and the font is too big so it is not really use-able. (And, you can't change the layout.)

   There are two problems related to completing tasks. One is defining and tracking and these tools can help with that. Procrastination is another...there really isn't much a tool can do to help with that...we wish there was.


   Please let us know if you have a favorite that we missed, or if you try one and have some comments.

Don't Just Sit There
Sedentary Lifestyle


   If you have been feeling lazy lately, it may be that you just need to move around more. Recent studies have been showing that the old recommendation of 30 minutes of exercise per day is not enough. In fact, now they say that just the act of sitting is bad for you.
Sitting Hours 2 

   Click here for more dread-inducing information and shocking statistics (along with a scary graphic suitable for posting and emailing)...or, just try to move around every opportunity you get.

More Work Than it is Worth



    Anger comes from frustration, which is when you want something to happen, or when you do everything you can to prevent it from happening, but it happens the wrong way anyway. 

    We recently had some business cards printed. One of the most basic things every business does. It is kind of a key thing for a new employee -- back in the day, when you got a job in an office, you would get a box of 500 business cards...which for most people would last 15 years...well beyond their time with the title on the cards. But you still got them. Routine.

    So I didn't really expect this to be difficult. Except, I went to two well-known companies to get it done and the process rapidly became silly and irritating.

    First, I took my pdf on a CD and thumb drive, along with printed samples, to the place I had the last batch done. Instead of letting me just give it to them, they directed me to a D-I-Y workstation. I tried to argue but they wouldn't let me...I was expected to use the on-line help first, though they were there if I needed them. Normally, I like automating basic tasks but this time I was in a hurry and just wanted to hand it all off to someone and leave. Instead, I just left.

    I went from there directly to a well-known office supply company. The clerk was knowledgeable about the options and understood what I was looking for. But he got on their on-line tool and the process bogged down. It was taking way too long (supposedly, the corporate network was slow) so I told him I would stop back after running a few other errands.

    When I got back, he had a sample ready and the color was way off. We talked and he clicked awhile and finally got it to work, I paid for the printing and he told me when they would be ready...about 10 days (because of the holiday...7/4). Arghh. 

    Never heard back, called a few took forever to find the order both in the system and in the physical paperwork in the store. Twice I was told they would have so-and-so call me back when they came in...once they even did call back. Finally, they were in. Except, when I went there, they were the wrong paper and the color was off again. (I knew it!)  Plus, the clerk on duty then didn't see the paper that was chosen and was ready to argue with me about the color (except I had left the previous sample at the store stapled to the receipt...because, I knew there was going to be a problem). 

    Fast forward to July 25th (about a month after starting this) and I went to pick them up. After again explaining the entire situation to a clerk who had no idea about any of it, they found one of the sets of cards. They couldn't find the other set. (But they did still have the two boxes of rejected cards on hand.) They were going to call back...but I still haven't heard anything.  It's still not over.

    Bottom line -- WORKFLOW!  If you have an on-line tool that allows you to click selections for all the parameters (paper, ink, style, etc.) why not have one that allows you to track the status of orders? Or, one that allows you to look up an order using the customer's name, company, or order number? Or have a filing system in the store for orders in process? (Once I had to point to the CD on the counter to identify the paperwork!) 

    I also happen to know that in order to get even a basic stocking job at this company, you have to complete a one-hour on-line application complete with scenarios that test your moral character...but, once you clear that, apparently you just do additional training needed or provided.

Footnote: Once when I complained about how long this was taking and how many trips I have had to make they said they would make sure I got some kind of credit ($). I said, "how about just expedite this so I can be finished?" Umm...I guess not.
Thank you for your interest in PRH Consulting! For more about our company, approach, and experience, please visit our website at  
We hope you think of us the next time you need help improving or supporting performance.


Pete Hybert, CPT


PRH Consulting Inc.
Wheaton, IL

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