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September 2011 v7no4
Building Capability
Planning Career Development 
In This Issue
Planning Career Development
Tools for Managing Work
Decision Fatigue
Rant: Why Dumb Help? Part 2
Snooze...I Dare You

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Have you ever wondered if performance engineering can overcome natural human knuckelheadedness?  Check out this blog post.


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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.


PRH_4  It is back-to-school time for many...or coming up on the business planning and budgeting season for others. It seems like planning has been a real challenge lately with all the unpredictability in the economy. It reminds me of what a business planning professional used to say years ago when training product managers at a large telecommunications company...but I have to paraphrase it...something like "don't try to predict the future, create the future."  His point being that it is important to remember that the future isn't decided already so you have to make plans and then execute them...not guess and hope it works. This is great advice, especially if your organization is large and influential enough to set the trajectory for an entire market. But, (I've read) it works for entrepreneurs too. 


  In this issue we will be talking about career and development paths again. As with product planning, career and development planning are not about guessing what people will need to know. Rather, they are about figuring out the capabilities that the business will need and then taking steps to develop them when needed. It won't be perfect but it will be better than no planning. And it really should be aligned with the overall business strategy. In this issue we will focus on why development planning is important. In a related (and linked) blog post, we describe the application and use of two key tools for development planning, the Capability Model and the Capability Development Path.


  We also have a few shorter articles addressing decision-making (and why more decisions can mean poorer decisions) and ranting (or whining) about the lack of good online help.


  I hope you enjoy this issue of the newsletter!


Peter R. Hybert, CPT  

Principal Consultant

Development Planning is Strategic 
It Just Makes Sense

Planning Takes Too Long

   According to HR Review, about 80% of learning and development managers feel like they just don't have the resources (that is, people and time) to do strategic things like creating development paths. It is the old story of being overwhelmed by the immediate and missing longer-term opportunities that would actually provide a greater payoff.    

   What kind of payoff? Consider your annual learning and development expenditures. Not only the direct budget for the department but all the related costs, including travel, time off the job, server space, costs to develop new deliverables (which includes more than staff costs as well). 


   Now, think about how much of that learning actually targets the highest priority business needs. Hopefully, a lot of it.


   Now, think about how much of the audience that needs that know-how actually gets access to it. Hopefully, again, a lot of it.

    Finally, think about how efficiently that key know-how is "installed" in your employees and work processes. For example, there can be a lot of waste when people complete training they don't need or way earlier than they need it. If training is all theory and no application, that too is likely to be largely waste. 


   If you have a total, figure out what percentage of improvement would make it worth the effort of trying to make improvements. Even a small improvement is probably significant. And we haven't even mentioned the cost or risk of having unprepared employees performing job tasks. Or the time wasted trying to figure out how to do something that isn't trained or documented. 


   Trust me, planning for key capabilities and designing the systems needed to create, package, deliver, and verify those capabilities is of strategic importance.  


     Of course, there is another possibility...maybe you don't have much of a cost-savings opportunity. If you don't spend much on development, an analysis of the work and design of development activities and paths will result in more cost. We know more cost is bad. But it is like deferred maintenance on your house. You don't spend it now, you spend it later. When employees retire. When competitors outperform you. When you have an opportunity to grow your organization but aren't positioned to take advantage of it. 



Two Key Tools


   There are two key tools that can help managers and employees plan for and develop the capabilities they need for their jobs (and even the job they want next).

  • Capability Model
  • Capability Development Path
The difference between these is that the first shows "what" is needed and the second focuses on "when"...and maybe "how," depending on the author's intent. 

   Check out a comparison of the two on our blog at .       

   Next issue, we will describe some of the key considerations in designing a capability path that fits the needs of employee, manager, and the organization.

Recently, there was an article in Business Week that described why it is important to "download" the know-how that senior employees are likely to retire and take with them so the organization doesn't lose it. Having capability development plans and, in general, a proactive, strategic human performance and capability approach and organization will address that need without the "fire drill." Here is the full article: Business Week Article on Boomer Know-How Flight

   To be sure, many successful companies use variations on the "sink or swim" model of employee development. Apple is notorious for relying on the employees' own drive to do better (and to keep up with their internal competition) to pull-through the right development. Then, they measure performance at the company level to ensure employees learn things that benefit the business.


   Google uses an approach that fits the way they innovate as well. They let people post brief "mini-modules" using video and people can learn specific things they need when they need them. Lot's of acorns probably don't grow to be oak trees but they rely on volume. And, they rely on frequent, focused in-person/virtual events for relaying content from experts while minimizing the drone factor. For a recent summary of Google's approach, see this article.
   There are some troubling aspects to these influential companies
approach to development. We are considering an article to focus on them more closely to clarify myth from fact and to determine whether they are successful because of or in spite of some of these practices.
Tools for Managing Your Work 
Quotes that Cracked Us Up from David Allen's "Getting Things Done"

   David Allen's methodology for task management is called "Getting Things Done." He switches the focus from managing time to managing action. It is a great method but even if you don't go for the whole thing, he has dozens of great tips and ideas. 

   But, having listened to the book on CD recently, two things that stood out were a couple of humorous quotes.

   Addressing the need to actually think about each project long enough to decide the next action (when people often avoid it instead, allowing things to pile up). Allen comes up with an idea that pokes fun at gurus who over-analyze the world of work and at the same time tells us to get on with it. The quote: 

"Welcome to the world of knowledge work...where you have to think about your work more than you would like to but not as much as you are afraid you might."

   And, he doesn't apologize for telling people to keep extensive, detailed lists of specific things to do. His characterization of the average to do list is understated...and funny.

"Most people try to get organized by rearranging incomplete lists of unclear things."

Check out the method at David Allen's company website.

D-I-Y on Steriods
They Didn't Count the Sleep You Won't Get

Tired of worrying about what's in your food? Thinking about growing your own instead? Here are some quick facts...actually, it doesn't take as much space as you might think. (It would be a ton of work though...)
Live Off Land
For more information, visit the source
Decision Fatigue
I Can't Even Think About That Right Now!

     Do you ever feel like you can't take another decision? According to an article in the New York Times, you are not alone. Apparently there is a reason that quarterbacks and parole boards make poor decisions at the end of a long day. Making decisions is tiring. After awhile you literally don't want to think about it anymore. And, you probably make a poor decision. 


     There are lots of examples in the article but the bottom line is that making decisions is mentally tiring. People are more likely to make bad decisions (or have difficulty resisting a temptation) when they have made a number of decisions previously that day. One thing that helps is some glucose by the way.
     Lot's of decision-making training focuses on the steps or considerations behind making decisions but that might not be the root cause of poor decisions much of the time. It might just be a little break and a snack is the answer.
     We've noticed this when we facilitate all-day meetings. By later in the day, people need snacks. We are often asking them to look at a piece of data and then make a number of decisions about it (such as where it belongs in a learning path or which media would best fit for teaching it or which audiences need it by when in their careers). We often use two facilitators so that one can get a break while the other works the group. Just a few minutes of watching from the sidelines can make a huge difference for the other facilitator. 
     Anyway, at least we have a scientific basis for periodic snacking at work so that, when cost-cutting time comes around, we will be able to hang on to the vending machines if not free cookies in the cafeteria.


Why Dumb Help? Part 2



    Trying to learn how to use a computer software program by relying on the help files is a prescription for causing high blood pressure. It is like driving your car while lying face down on the hood looking down over the front bumper straight at the road. It won't work too well. 

    Help files can be ok if you are trying to do a specific thing, like, "how do I make the margin wider?" But it won't help you figure out how to do a larger task. It won't give you the strategy. For example, if you are using Microsoft Access, let's say you want to have a table listing all the customers and another listing all the products. Then, you want to create a report showing which customers ordered which products. Help won't tell you what to do. It won't even give you options and why some are better than others. The "Dummy" books are the same way -- they tell you "how" but not "what" or "why."

     But it is worse than that. Because many help files are nothing more than an afterthought. You see a menu item like "Project" and the help file says "Enter the Project name here." Really?! What else would it be? The button to click to make it display on the wall? (Get it? with a projector?) 

     These files are not really designed to help you do anything...and they don't. The probable reason is that they are afterthoughts. And/or, they didn't bring in a human performance specialist to create them. Instead, the help files were just an extra thing that the programmer had to generate, who was probably already under the gun just to finish the actual software and who can't possibly understand the end user's perspective because he or she knows the program too well to see where things are unclear.
Customer Service Agent Pic
It's Not the Performer, It's the System
      The worst thing now is that companies must have realized people don't like to use help so they've started not bothering to create it at all. Instead, they "crowd-source" their support by creating user forums. If you want to really spend time not finding an answer, try taking the forum route. And if you can't find an answer, how do you know the answer isn't really there? Maybe you just didn't search correctly. Try another keyword... 
     I guess we are just in the world of "figure it out yourself" now. Recently I had internet problems (for SIX DAYS!!!) and had to replace my modem. (Actually, once our ISP fixed their problem, I probably didn't really need the new modem but that is another wasn't worth the time to return it and re-do the whole set-up process.) But during the diagnosis they couldn't tell me how to set up my router because it wasn't one of their selected equipment providers. And the original manufacturer wouldn't help because it was out of warranty. However, they would sell me some help at $15/hour which I'm sure would have been delightful ("first power everything down, then unplug your computer from the router and connect it to your modem...I know sir...well I doubt it was 20,000 times...but we need to start from the beginning...true, it is your $15 per hour sir but I have to follow my troubleshooting process...")
Great Gift Idea
For the Person Who is Really Susceptible to Peer Pressure 
Okite Screenshot
Do you like to hit the snooze alarm? Do you wish you could break that habit?
If so, maybe this app will help you, but it depends on how keen you are to avoid embarrassment. Check out "Okite," a product that sends random tweets in your name every time you hit the snooze. 
It is only available in Japanese now though, so, for those of us non-cosmopolitan types who only speak English, the effect may be a little limited.


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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