It’s the performance, stupid

My recent posts on web/learning 2.0 technologies got me thinking about other technology waves that have rippled through learning and performance over the years.  Since my first mainframe based e-learning project (ouch, that dates me),  technologies from videodisk though PC-based, CD-ROM, client/server, and early web-based learning (web 1.0) have each had their day with associated evangelists and advocates.  Here’s a slightly dated SRI chart mapping some of the technologies (I’m sure there’s something more recent out there, but the only thing really missing here is web/learning  2.0).

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Mixed Results

Each of these technology waves resulted in some great learning programs that improved performance.  Each also resulted in very poor programs that set e-learning back and often hurt productivity more than improved it.   Web 2.0 and e-learning 2.0 differ from past technologies in that they “generate” knowledge as much as they “transfer” knowledge.  Whether generating or delivering knowledge, we need to keep a key lesson from the past in mind as we use new technologies for learning:

The purpose of learning in organizations is to change behaviour in ways that predictably improve organizational performance.

Technology cheerleaders and marketing forces for web 2.0/ e-learning 2.0 can distract us from that goal.  Web/e-learning 2.0 allow us to communicate and learn in new ways and across boundaries that weren’t as easy not so long ago.  But the simple act of blogging, twittering, You-tubing, posting and social networking may or may not aid productivity and performance depending on how it is used.  Helping with decisions on how it is used is where the learning and performance professional can help.  We shouldn’t simply join the technology boosterism surrounding any new wave of technology.

Working Backwards from Business Results and Outputs

When designing learning or performance improvement programs that may use web 2.0 we need to work backwards from business results and desired work accomplishments.  I’ve always found the following “performance chain” from Carl Binder useful. 

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More information on the performance chain and the “Six Boxes” model mentioned on the chart can be found here.

So, is all the “behaviour” generated from Web 2.0 tools focused on improving business performance?  Advocates make the assumption that it does.  But there is room for some skeptism.  Tom Davenport for example posted some concerns that generated some interesting comments. See his posts here and here.

It’s the performance, stupid

Web/Learning 2.0 can be a powerful learning tool, but to bastardize a well worn  Clintonism…It’s the performance, stupid.  When implementing a Learning 2.0 solution in your organization, be sure that it is clearly influencing desired individual and organization performance.

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7 thoughts on “It’s the performance, stupid

  1. A slightly more serious comment — as Harold Jarche pointed out in a recent post, one of the real differences in at least some web 2.0 tools is that they invite (or demand) participation.

    That doesn’t comport well with organizations that rely on a hierarchical, through-channels approach. Although I don’t think it makes sense to throw structure to the wind, “organizational performance” can be a bureaucrat’s euphemism for “we don’t need that here.”

    Had most functional groups waited for the I.T. department to enable, let alone encourage, web pages, we’d be having this conversation through TeleVideo 950s and acoustic coupler modems.

  2. Dave;
    yeah… dog tweets…woofs? 🙂

    on the performance question…I’m not a fan of hierarchy any more than the next guy but i don’t think that has too much to with it really. A flat, networked organization can go out of business just as fast as an old dinosaur if communication, social networking and learning aren’t focused on customer requirements and the internal process that achieve them. To extend Neil Postman’s notion from entertainment to web 2.0, we can sometimes be at risk of “amusing ourselves to death”.

    I hear you on the IT department, though.

  3. Tom,

    I appreciate the reference to the Performance Chain. It’s a pretty simple idea, but I think is probably the most important thing I learned from Tom Gilbert and Joe Harless — how to directly link the behavior and performance improvement efforts we make to business results — through the work outputs. There’s lots of talk among performance improvement, training, and management professionals about focusing on results. But, to me, the Performance Chain makes that connection very tangible.

  4. […] Human capital and LMS systems will become one and the same (more mergers to come).  Web 2.0 will feature in these systems but will not be dominant.  Free form use of Web 2.0 will thrive and morph in the public (consumer) sphere.  In business, as the drive to improve knowledge work gets more tightly focused on producing results, web 2.0 apps will be harnessed for knowledge sharing and creation around specific projects and teams.    I hope that future learning consultants will be right inside the workflow, using whatever technology emerges to help employees rapidly and efficiently add value for customers.  The “next” technology will always capture our imagination but I hope that we get better at learning from the past to not let our enthusiasm distort effective application. […]

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