Double Your L&D Budget by Aligning with Business Needs
Guy W Wallace, a Performance Analyst and Instructional Architect for Enterprise Learning & Instructional Development, joins Blake Proberts on the Strategic L&D Podcast to discuss aligning L&D and business strategy by putting a governance board in place with the CEO, creating advisory councils with specific people leaders to ensure alignment, and how to get the attention, acceptance and demand from business executives. Listen to the full episode above or watch below.
Guy, can I start with a little bit of your background and what’s led you to where you are today?
Sure. Thank you. And thank you for having me on. So I started—I have a radio TV film degree. I graduated in 1979. And I went to work at my—I was working part-time as a college student and I went off to their headquarters and joined their 10 person Training Services Group, and I became a program developer. Now they were converting 35-millimetre slides, strips with audio tracks to video and there was a video department brand new, but I didn’t go to work in the video department with my radio TV film degree, I went into the program development. So I wrote content, instructional content, that was going to be basically deployed in video. So I wrote, did interviews and such, and wrote scripts and then turned in storyboards and then participated in production activities.
I did that for about a year and a half. And then I moved and joined the brand new corporate training organisation at Motorola. And they had not had a corporate training organisation for 10 years, they had dispersed it out to the, the 30 different business facilities that they had in, five different business sectors. And so the corporate training thing was new. And there was some major corporate initiatives that the CEO, the founder’s son, wanted to instil in his organisation. And he saw that learning and training was going to be part of that. So I joined that organisation.
And then a year and a half after that, I joined a small consulting firm. I was the number three person to join the firm. And we eventually grew to between 15 and 25 people. I was there for just about 15 years. And then I started another consulting firm, broke away. It was I—well, one of the partners was my former wife. And so I broke away and started another business and did that for five years. And then I decided to go solo. And for the last 20 years, I’ve been a solo entrepreneur. I’ve worked with over 80 clients, 45 Fortune 500 companies.
I specialise in performance-based curriculum architecture, which I’m nowadays calling instructional architecture. But it’s laying out the training and development or learning development path, the series of modular events with modular lessons with modular content. And configuring an example path for people to develop themselves for a particular job title, usually, but sometimes it’s more focused on a process or a bundle of processes.
But that’s, that’s pretty much it. I’m semi-retired now. I’m 70-years-old. So I’m an old guy with a grey beard, as you can see!
Within that background, where have you seen success from organisations in terms of aligning their L&D to their business strategy?
Yeah, so in most places, it’s not, it’s not very aligned. In fact, most L&D organisations and from my viewpoint, limited as it is, they’re misaligned. Too often, L&D organisations seem to be deciding on their own what they should attend to what they should build or buy. And that’s a problem.
When, when I joined Motorola, I met with the person who was going to become my business partner in the consulting firm, 15 years the late Ray Svenson, and he was helping the new corporate training organisation put in a strategic plan. And part of that strategic plan was what he called a governance and advisory system. So there were five major business sectors that one of the top two people from each business sector sat on a governance board along with the CEO, or the person just below the CEO—I can’t remember the job title. And they decided, they listened to requests for funding for major learning or training initiatives. And they said yes or no to them, based on their insight as where they were trying to take the business and what they saw as the strategic and tactical challenges of the current state and the near term, future or, or mid-term state of the business.
And below that governance board set advisory councils that in Motorola’s case, were a management development group, a manufacturing, an engineering, and a marketing and sales groups. And the top leaders from the various functions across the Motorola business sectors sat on those advisory councils and they look at their situation, their short-term and medium-term challenges, the current state challenges of things they needed to attend to, and they formulated along with the our training organisation, what the initiatives might be. You know, what were the critical business processes related to critical business issues, CBIs? Who are the critical players, by job title, in those critical processes? Do we have anything for them? Yes or no? And if we don’t, or we have something, but it’s not enough, you know, that might go on their list, and they would prioritise their list and they would put a price tag next to that—we in the training organisation help them do that—and then they took that to the governance board who said yes or no.
Now, I remember the first time, the first cycle that this happened, the engineering organisation asked for 2 million-something in US dollars. And they were given four and a half million, because top of the organisation said, we see your priority list and we see the things that made it below the cut that you are not asking funding for. And we think that’s a mistake. And you need to do all of that, too.
So we back in the Motorola’s Training Education Centre, that forerunner of Motorola University, I mean, we were dancing in the aisles of the cubicle. We were so excited that we had the attention, acceptance and demand from the very top of the organisation, who saw value in what we could be doing. And our leader at the time, Bill Wiggenhorn, was hobnobbing with all of the executives to tell them what we were going to do that was different from training organisations in the past. We were going to focus on performance, we were going to be looking at, in my terms, what were the outputs to be produced by people? And what were the tasks, and what were the knowledge and skills, they needed to be able to do that?
And so he began pitching this and selling this along with installing this governance advisory system. And so we got aligned. And we—those groups met in a routine manner, more often the first year than than the later years. But they, they had their hands on the throttle, in terms of, what we’re doing and the steering wheel and where we were going. And so what we attended to, we were strategically aligned. And that makes all the difference in the world.’
And then, so when I went to work for this Ray Svenson, he did that kind of consulting work with our corporate clients, mostly high tech groups, because he was a former Bell Labs engineer and was a high techie himself. And, and so we helped organisations create that alignment, our corporate training clients, aligned with their organisations, and that brought around great success, if they could pull it off.
Now, so, some groups were not successful that because they didn’t put in the right philosophies, processes and practices with a performance orientation, and then develop their staff to pull that off. And when you’re aligned and the demands are there, and the expense expectations are there, and you can’t deliver—if you didn’t get the business results, the impact that the clients, the stakeholders are looking for. Well, you were just toast.
Do you have a process or formula to get to that endpoint of the outputs, tasks, skills and the knowledge?
Yeah, that’s what I was taught that starting the very first day out of college, and my first job.
My, my t-shirt here is Rummler. Late Geary Rummler. And I was told on day one that I was going to be learning a derivative of a derivative of the Geary Rummler approach to analysis for training. And I didn’t know who this guy was, but I started learning this and, and this goes back to the early 60s, this approach to look at performance and to define performance in terms of accomplishments or outputs that are produced. And you have to look at the stakeholders and how are outputs measure.
You know, we live in a chain of performance. I might create an interview guide and conduct interviews, and handoff to you my interview data. And then you create a script and get that approved and then you create a storyboard. And you hand it off to the video department, and they create a video. And that comes together with other materials, other instructional content, to help people learn and master the job that they have. And so being authentic with all of this is really the key. But there’s plenty of methods to do this. There’s a lot of people from back in the 70s and 80s, who shared how to do this, and workshops and books and conference presentations and such, articles.
And so it’s not a mystery. But it has not been very well adapted. Because it’s more work than just deciding, hmm, we need that do something on this topic and this behaviour, and then just creating some stuff, and then deploying it, and then hoping that it will have an impact and it usually doesn’t. And you don’t know what the impact would be anyway, because you just made up a bunch of stuff or curated a bunch of content or, you know, brainstormed it. And so you don’t know what the performance is that you were trying to impact, you don’t know what better, faster, cheaper would be for output X or Y or Z. You don’t know, because you didn’t do that analysis, you just jumped in and develop some content. Probably didn’t have any design, let alone analysis. And there probably wasn’t a project plan that preceded all of that.
So there is a way to do this. It demands some rigour, there is some flexibility within that rigour. But you can do that. You can take a strategic initiative, and begin to understand well, what are the processes that have to pull that off? Okay, then you focus on the process. And so what’s that process supposed to produce? Who are the job titles or key players in that? What do they gotta know, to be able to do, to be able to produce the outputs, which again, is probably in a chain of outputs—one group produces something, it goes to the next group, it goes to the next group internally, and then eventually it goes to an external customer. So you can do all of that. It’s just engineering. And it’s similar to the way the total quality management movement looks at improving quality of processes.
“It takes all kinds of people and sets of expertise to really take a business strategy… where you can actually begin to improve things.”
I remember at Motorola, I talk—I interviewed the guy that was credited with selling the CEO on this concept called Six Sigma. Hs name was Bill Smith, a famous engineer in Motorola circles. And he told me that before we call the total quality management guy—because you know, I’m just a young person from the training organisation—before we before we call it total quality management, we called it VR. Variability reduction. We were trying to reduce variation in our products by reducing variation in our processes, statistically, and, and, you know, that’s what they were all about. And people are in the process as well. But they were looking at materials and machineries and incoming, you know, supplies and, you know, in, in-process inspection, you know, all sorts of quality assurance and quality control mechanisms.
And what I learned from that experience was that it takes all those kinds of people and sets of expertise in order to really take a business strategy and get it down to the brass tacks where you can actually begin to improve things.
Where have you seen teams or organisations do well breaking down performance and business strategy and applying that to learning?
I think that this is age old. This goes back—I first heard of this in 1979, when I joined the training organisation. It’s the difference between education and training. And too many of our clients, and learning and development leaders, and even the practitioners , have an educational mindset, when they think about what it is that they’re doing. They’re providing education to people, versus some of us who thought, okay, we’re providing training, and that’s different. And this was exemplified by the late Bob Maker back in the mid 80s. He was at a conference and he was, you know, this was a buzz going on at every conference, you know, you’re, you’re doing education, or you’re doing training.
And he said, you already know the difference between education and training. And so I’ll give you this, his example. He said, so imagine your daughter, this was 1985. Imagine your daughter goes off to college, and she writes home and says that she’s taking a sex education course. Or she writes home and says that she’s taking a sex training course. The audience are erupted. And he said, see, you already know the difference.
And so, too, too often, we give people content thinking that we can create an awareness, greater knowledge, maybe even a skill, but we don’t go that last mile to teach them how to apply that in their job. We have a one-size-fits-all approach to content, where we’re going to produce something about active listening and get that to everybody and hope that they do active listening better. But we didn’t focus in on how you or I would apply that in our work processes, work streams, workflows, you know, we have a lot of language issues here in our field. But so it doesn’t get down to brass tacks. What tasks are you producing, performing guide to produce what outputs? And where does active listening fit into that? And then let’s have practice with feedback on that and make our practice with feedback authentic instead. And my joke is, you know, how many times have you been in a training or learning session where you felt you were practising for somebody else’s job. It wasn’t your job. And it may have been close, or it may have been far away.
So there’s this notion of far transfer and close transfer. You want to teach things, you want people to learn things that are as close as possible to what their real work is. So the best thing is real work, have them do real work and give them feedback and coaching on that. Well, sometimes that’s problematic. And you can’t do that there are safety issues, there’s quality issues for what you’re producing. So there’s your whole reputation is at stake. So we take people off of the work line, their workflow, and put them in some other learning environment, whether it’s a classroom or doing eLearning. And then we give them content.
And, but we don’t make sure that the practice that we—that we teach them how to apply it. And then we give them practice opportunities with plenty of feedback. And if we give them practice, it’s usually one and done. And that’s not sufficient. And so therefore, people go from a formal learning experience. And then they have to go into an informal learning experience, to figure out how to apply it on the job. It’s trial and error learning, or it’s social learning, where they ask somebody else for their guidance.
But one of the things that research shows us is that experts and non-experts alike have automated up to 70% of what a novice needs. So all the decision-making that we do when we’re performing, we’ve automated that. So if you interview me, I can’t tell you that. I can give you about 30%, is what the data shows. And so you have to talk to multiple performers, master performers, experts, and they each have a different 30% They’ve automated a different 70%. And even the behavioural tasks—those are the cognitive tasks—even the behavioural tasks that you could observe, I will miss up to 50% of what a novice needs, because I’ve automated that, too.
So the cognitive tasks, the thinking that goes along with the behavioural tasks, causes, causes great issues, when we are interviewing people and creating content. We might get our content accurate, it might be appropriate, but it’s most likely going to be incomplete. And if we don’t have strategies and tactics in our own development processes to contend with that, to try to make our content as complete as we possibly can—because otherwise, we force the learner to go from formal learning into informal learning. And while that may eventually be efficient, it is certainly—it might be effective. Ultimately, it’s not going to be efficient.
And if it’s low-stakes performance, then who cares, but why were we doing anything in the first place? If it’s high-stakes performance? Well, then, yikes, we ought to be doing something about that to make sure our content is as complete as possible, and addresses how to apply it in that work process.
Do you have a process, or have you seen learning activity selection go really well to cover that broad spectrum?
Yeah, so when we’re—once we’ve done our analysis—I do four types of analysis, since I want to understand who is in the target audience, the primary target audience, secondary target, target audience, tertiary target audience, and the primary target audience. That’s what we’re really focused on, whatever they need, that’s what we need to give them. So we need to say, well, what is the performance that we’re expecting? What are the outputs? How do you measure one? How do you know good one from a bad one? What are the tasks to perform, the behavioural tasks that we can see and observe the cognitive tasks that we can’t? And we can ask them about, what are you thinking? And they can’t tell us everything? They’ll do their best because their egos demand that they tell us, so they’ll tell us something, but we’ve got to be wary of that.
And then we can determine, we can systematically derive what are the enabling knowledge and skills? And so if we understand the target audience and what they knew coming in the door, because from their prior education and/or experience, or whether or not you cannot generalise that safely, you know, we need them to know AC/DC electrical theory, well, half of, half the target audience are degreed engineers, so, of course, they’re gonna know that, but other people are off the street. So they’re probably not going to know that. So therefore, that just impacts how we configure and mantralise our content.
But so, how do we deploy it? Well, my methods are group-paced, coached, and self-paced. And I learned a long time ago at Motorola that there was a huge issue with people and managers and learners, performers, getting what they needed when they needed it. So I was encouraged to make everything self-paced.
Now, if you’re needing to practice interpersonal skills, especially, you know, you do role plays. So that remains, well, we got to have a group-paced event, either face-to-face or virtual nowadays. Can we do it coached? Well, if we have a coach with three or four people, yeah, they could do it, because it’s just really a smaller group-paced session, if you will. So there’s a time and a place to do that when we really need practice. But otherwise, I can read, I can watch a video, I can listen to an audio podcast, I can get the information I need to become aware, and perhaps knowledgeable. Now, skill is a little bit different, because I may have to physically manipulate something, do something. And therefore, I may need some sort of like a lab or real work environment to do that in.
But, but I—but so when I’ve helped my clients decide how we should design and develop content so that it can be deployed, I’m always looking to what do they already have in place. I don’t want to create something that, oh, they got to go out and buy something brand new to facilitate that unless they were thinking about that in the first place. But it really comes down to trying to replicate the real world performance.
“[Training] really comes down to trying to replicate the real world performance.”
So if I’m reviewing loan applications on a computer screen, well I can do that on a computer. If I’m welding something underwater, well, we better have a pool with a welding unit to go underwater so somebody can do that. So we’re—should always be driven by what it is to be learned in an authentic way. I remember back in the early 80s, I was visiting a client and they, they had a simulation, a series of simulation rooms going on. And they were training pilots. And I remember going into the first simulator—they were bragging about this, oh, come and look at this. And, and we looked at it and the cockpit had—I’m going to make the number up—they had 50 flashing lights, and buzzers and things and switches and things like that. You went into the second simulation room, and there were 150. And we went into the third room, and there were 300 or so different lights. And, and so they incrementally taught you how to handle this simpler situation, and moved into something that was more complex. And then your work went into something that was really authentic. This is the real cockpit here we’re simulating now.
And so depending on the stakes, you don’t do that for low-stakes performance. You don’t do that for medium-stakes performance, you do that for high-risk, high-reward, high-stakes performance. And that drives you to approaching what needs to be learned, how do I make this as authentic as possible, that gives a greater likelihood that we’ll actually transfer back out to the job, and then have that impact that we wish it had so that we get a decent return on our investment?
On the self-paced front, one of the new phenomenons that’s come out is massive content libraries. How do you see the role of self-directed learning and self-paced training, and where should the organisation intervene?
Yeah. So I see, there’s two issues here. One is the, whether people should be guided in their learning, or whether they should, you know, figure it out on their own.
Well, when you’re new to something, you don’t even know what you don’t know, you don’t know what you need to know, you don’t know what you don’t know, you don’t know what you do know that’s applicable, that’s appropriate. You don’t know. And so you, on the front end of the learning curve, you need a lot of guidance. You need to be told what you need to focus on, because you don’t know otherwise. When you, when you’re near the top of that learning curve, and you’re more of an expert, then you know, what you don’t know and what you need to know, and you know where to go get it. And you can sort the wheat from the chaff, because you’ve got your bullshit metre on high game. And so you don’t—you know what’s faulty, incorrect, incomplete, you know what to stay away from, but when you’re new, you don’t know that. And so you can learn a whole bunch of things that are not true.
And so that’s, that’s a problem. So the whole need for guidance is on the front end. And then once people reach a certain level of expertise, they can guide themselves. Now the issue of generic content libraries, I’ve posted about, a lot about this in the last few years. And this is the same thing. So this relates kind of to the skills mania that’s going on today, which 30 years ago was the competency mania. Before that, 40 years ago, it was the behaviour mania. We were all focused on behaviours, and then we all shifted to the competencies, now we’re on skills.
“Generic content… doesn’t tell you how to apply it in your job. So it’s less likely to actually transfer out to the job and then have a positive impact. Content needs to be bookended. This is what’s in it for you. This what’s in it for the organisation and your process performance. Now let’s practice what you learned in an authentic way.”
And generic content is educational. It doesn’t tell you how to apply it in your job. So it’s less likely to actually transfer out to the job and then have a positive impact. So, what what I’ve suggested is that that content needs to be bookended. There needs to be on the front-end: Guy, this is what this is. This is what’s in it for you. This what’s in it for the organisation and your process performance. This, you’re going to go take this generic content. Now, they call it Zee, Zed, and we call it Zee. So don’t let that confuse you. And so explain whatever, and help the person orient them to what it is they’re going to learn, and why they’re going to learn that and how it fits into their performance requirements. Then let them go take that generic content.
Then when they’re done on the book, and on the back-end is, now let’s practice what you learned in an authentic way. And again, we could use the simulation thing where you go into something that’s a little bit simpler. And so when I, when I talk about practice with feedback, I see it at four levels minimally. And I always tell clients at the beginning of a project, you know, 60% of what I’m going to produce for you is going to be practice with feedback. If you don’t like that, you better stop me now. Because that’s what I’m going to do. Because that’s what’s necessary for people to actually master something, or to go back out on the job. And they usually go, what’s the big deal, we kind of like that, you know.
But, but so, the four levels of practice with feedback, I call them, are easy-peasy. We start people off with something simple, easy, they go, okay, now I understand, you know, there’s seven steps here, I got it, alright. Then you make something difficult and more authentic, but with real world difficulties in them. Then I make it darn difficult, at the third level. And then the fourth level is from Hades. All the nightmares you could experience out on the job, we’re gonna throw that into an exercise and see how you can handle that. But we’ve eased you into that. And maybe there needs to be more than four, maybe there only needs to be two practice exercises.
But, but one-and-done is most often times not sufficient. If I learn something from my exercise, and you give me feedback, well, I’m going to take that feedback, and then apply it that in how I do it the next time. And so I need that second exercise. And clients have said before, well, that’s not worth doing. Well, then is it even worth doing any formal learning at all? Why don’t we just leave that to informal learning, trial and error, social learning? They’ll figure it out. And if they don’t, if they screw it up three or four times, who cares? It’s low stakes.
So we need to be helping our clients decide—and they kind of know, now I have worked with project steering teams with middle managers on there that are four steps removed from the performers. So they don’t really know that job. They just know, hey, we need to do something about that. Because those people aren’t doing as well as we need them to. But the specifics of the job, they don’t know that. And, and so once they begin to see your analysis data, and then they get a sense of here’s what the performance requirements are, here’s where the current state gaps are. Now we go into design and here’s how we’re going to design that. And oh, Guy, you got four sets of practice on that. Are you sure that’s necessary? Well, let’s look at the performance we’re focused on. So if guys out there and he screws that up, is that a big deal or not? Oh, well, yeah. Okay, now that maybe that makes sense here, why you would put so much time and energy into honing the knowledge honing the skills for memorisation, and that leads me to a whole ‘nother issue here.
“Too often, we build learning experiences… which should help people memorise what it is they need to know and be able to do… out on the job. But most jobs don’t require that you have that memorised.”
Too often, we build learning experiences—that’s the new label for this nowadays—learning experiences, which should help people memorise what it is they need to know and be able to do, so they go back out on the job. But most jobs don’t require that you have that memorised. So if the performance context doesn’t demand a memorised performance response, and it allows for a reference to performance response, we ought to give people what I call performance guides. Now this was called guidance and job aids and electronic performance support systems and quick reference guides and performance support and workflow learning, and probably a dozen other terms that I’ve not yet heard. But people can read the instructions like when you’re going to assemble a bookcase, and if you did one last year, and you’re gonna do one this year, you don’t have that memorised. So if we want to train you on the annual inventory, we can’t expect you’re gonna know that, I did it last year, so I guess I should remember all the—no! We give you some guidance, standard operating procedures that aren’t regulated, perhaps. Perhaps they are regulated.
But so we can help provide that guidance to people, performance guidance, so that they can perform the job. And this is a notion that goes back to Geary Rummler, on the shirt here, and his business partner, Tom Gilbert, who is often referred to as the father of human performance technology. Well, I was, on day one in my job out of college, I was given a newsletter from 1970 that talked about guidance, the short way home. And part of that said, imagine a worker having a cassette tape player on their, strapped to their belt and it’s giving them the instruction step by step on what to do? Yeah, that’s what the person probably needed. They shouldn’t have been forced to try to memorise everything because memories are faulty. And if it’s high-stakes performance—you know, if you’ve ever you know, when you fly and you, if you’re sitting in the window seat, you can see the plane next to you, when you’re there at the terminal. And you can see that there’s somebody underneath with a check list, and they’re inspecting the underbelly of the aircraft next you. Yeah, that person is using guidance, a job aid. And they probably have been trained on how to do it, because that is so critical. Because if they miss something, and that plane falls out of the sky, well, that’s no good.
“[People] shouldn’t have… to memorise everything, because memories are faulty. We need to augment people’s performance and augment their memories and take what they need to know and put that in some resources.”
So we need to augment people’s performance and augment their memories and take their, what they needed to know and put that in some resource, like, something they can get on their smartphone or tablet or desktop or laptop or, or on paper. When I, you know, when I first started, the big deal about job aids was, if you laminated them, then people can handle them, and they won’t fall apart so quickly. And that was the technology of 1979.
You’ve come from a background where there was a lack of data when L&D departments were originally formed, all the way through to now where we’ve got giant content libraries. How important is the role of data?
Well, I think it’s absolutely critical, because if you don’t have good data, you can’t make good decisions.
But the data too often, I think we’ve got this all backwards, for the most part. We collect data on learning activities as if they are meaningful, and they may be meaningful if we only understood whether we were getting the business results, if we had business data that said, outputs being produced by this organisation are better, faster and cheaper, or they’re plateaued, and we want them to continue improving. Or, they’re degradating, they’re deteriorating, and we need to do something about that, because that’s no good, we’re gonna get all sorts of customer complaints, or whatever those issues lead to.
“We collect data on learning activities as if they are meaningful. We’re too focused on things like engagement. Who cares if people are engaged or not? Can they perform when they get back out on the job is the number one thing we should be concerned with.”
And so the total quality management movement tackled all this, they’re focused on the outputs and the variation in the outputs and how to figure out what’s buried, and so where in the process is that being impacted? And go back and look at the process, and measuring the process and the products of the process is where you start.
We’re too focused on things like engagement. Who cares if some, if people are engaged or not? Can they perform when they get back out of the job, is the number one thing we should be concerned with. But if we don’t do the analysis, we don’t know that. So, and too often, unfortunately, the analysis isn’t being done, or it’s being done poorly. And, therefore, we don’t know what to measure out in the business. We don’t even know if the business is already measuring that or whether we would have to implement a special measurement system, temporary or permanent, so that we can see, did we have an impact on what we were intending to have an impact on?
And, and so therefore, the proxy for us is to read out all the, you know, butts on seats, butts on sites. You know, did they complete it? How many people dropped out early? Did people feel they were engaged? Did they like the environment? Were the stories good? You know, that’s all secondary or tertiary to trying to impact performance. And did we get the learning objectives correct? Because did they link back to the performance objectives from back on the job? Did the content and what was learned, did it transfer back to the job? Because if it didn’t, we’re not going to get the impact. And did we get the impact? Because we could have mastered the learning objectives, we could have seen a transfer, it all went out there and now—but the performance didn’t change. Well, why?
And maybe it’s got nothing to do with what people know, maybe the process they’re working in is faulty, or the economy’s gone in the tank, or something else. And so we can only leverage what people have been given learning experiences or performance guides that enables that performance. But if the equipment they’re working on is no good, or if the process didn’t change when it needed to and therefore, it’s an old process, it doesn’t produce what the marketplace demands—so there’s many variables to performance.
And those people that do analysis on the front end of an instructional development or a learning development effort, need to basically understand the targeted performance of the targeted performers, and what are all the other variables at play. And if there are 100 or 1000 different sites where this performance is happening, you gotta go look at more than just one, because what is not a good sample size, for the world of performance that you’re trying to affect? Because every location could be a little bit different. And those differences are what people in those locations need to contend with.
So we do need data, we need better data. But we need to start off with what data is really important if we do the analysis right and we know what the products of performance are, what outputs are being produced if we understand the outcomes—which is when we meet stakeholder requirements or not, you know, either we met the regulatory requirements or we didn’t, and it’s a good outcome or a bad outcome. Well, the bottom we met the regulatory requirements, but now our costs are too high. So management and the shareholders are not, you know, getting their expectations met. Okay, so there’s a lot of things that work. Maybe it’s got nothing to do with the knowledge and skills, or that’s just one part of the performance variables that we can attend to.
So we need to help our clients see that there’s these other variables, and maybe they need to attend to those. And maybe, and I’ve had this happen, where I’ve done analysis on huge projects, where $700,000, and the analysis data said, it’s got nothing, the problems that you have have got nothing to do with knowledge and skills of the people. And my clients looked at all of this, and they said, well, we need to do the training anyway, because we’ve got a whole bunch of new hires, we’re planning on growing this part of the business. But we can see now we’ve got bad processes, we’ve got data that’s no good. It’s either late and untimely, or it’s old and not current, or we got tools and equipment and materials and supplies. We’ve got, you know, there could be a lot of things at play here. We got too much turnover, because we’re not paying people and the people down the street are hiring them away because they’re paying more.
“There’s so many variables to performance [where] learning is not going to solve that, content’s not going to solve that. So we need to help our clients see… where are the gaps, so that they can attend to those things. And then we can stay in our lane and help people and we can enable performance with performance guides or learning experiences.”
So learning is not going to solve that, content’s not going to solve that. So we need to help our clients see the full array of the variables and what the current state holds, and where are the gaps, and what are the probable causes of those gaps, so that they can attend to those things. And then we can stay in our lane and help people and we can enable performance with performance guides or learning experiences.
Going back to your story about asking for a $2 million budget and getting $4.5 million, what are the lessons to create a good request for budget?
Well, I think it was, because the stakeholders, the leaders of those business units, they know what the numbers are. I mean, their bonuses are tied to that they know your bonuses going up or down or going to remain flat. They know that, because they know the numbers of how they run the business by the numbers. And so when numbers are deteriorating, because your competitor is eating your lunch, and you’re losing market share, and your cost per unit are going up, because you’ve got this embedded base of cost and you’re selling less product, well, your margins start to deteriorate. Well, that’s no good. So you need to do more new product development with the right features in the meet what the market requires, or, or at least get to parody where you’re where your competition is. And you may need to upgrade and do capital expenditures and put in new technologies. And people need to learn how to use that otherwise, they’re gonna fumble and stumble around with it.
So, at the time, this was a brand-new corporate training organisation, and they were going to have some major, major initiatives. And the business leaders were looking at this, and quite frankly, the Japanese manufacturers were, were killing Motorola, and they needed to do something about it. And so they had all these plans, strategic plans, with tactical plans, about all the changes. And they’re hearing along comes, the leaders are going well, we want some learning to help us do some of this. The top of the organisation said, no, what the hell you need it all! You know, we’re gonna fund all of that stuff, because that has to be because if we put all these new things and new processes, new equipment, and people don’t know what they’re doing, well, that’s no good. It was all a wasted investment then.
So, you know, you got to prime the pump, if you’re going to put in a pump. And, and so we need to—it’s a real old school reference, isn’t it?—but we need to help people master the new ways of doing things and meeting the challenges that are new that are different than the challenges from previous years. So there was a lot going on. And, and so I think that, you know, for you know,—so we help them by saying, okay, you want to have a some learning—training—on x and y and z, and we can price that out for you. Now, so, but that’s the cost, the investment cost, that doesn’t tell us about the return.
So one of the things I learned from the total quality management movement is this notion, it was from Philip Crosby, the late Philip Crosby, one of the quality gurus talked about the cost of non-conformance. So if you live with that problem, what’s it going to cost you? Is that going to cost you, you know, $10,000 a quarter or a million dollars, or $10 million a quarter? Oh, $10 million a quarter? That’s a big deal. Okay. So if we can solve that $10 million a quarter, $40 million a year, if I do the math correctly, if we can spend 10 million to solve that $40 million problem, should we do that? Well, yeah.
“Start with the cost of non-conformance. And we can say, well, here’s the cost to address that from a learning and development standpoint.”
And so, and so one of the things I learned is that you start with the cost of non-conformance, which is the same thing as the return in an ROI equation or return on net assets equation, or whatever your finance organisation uses, use whatever they use, because that’s what they like. And so you start off with what’s the value of the problem or opportunity, because not everything is a problem. Sometimes we’ve got something that’s going good, and we want to make it even better. So what’s that opportunity? What’s it cost us not to meet the opportunity? You know, and and so the business leaders know what those things are. And we can say, well, here’s the cost to address that from a learning and development standpoint. And now they can do the math to see, Chief Financial Officer will be in there doing the math to figure out is that return on investment worthy of us making that investment? Because if you only have so much to invest, then you’ve got to be strategic in where you’re going to make those investments.
Maybe I don’t prop up some current business. When I think that in a year or two, we’re going to be shutting that old business down and doing this new business, because that’s where the, that’s where the action will be. So strategic decisions about where to invest may not make sense to those of us in learning and development. Because we can say, hey, we’ve got this huge return on investment calculation if we do this, but, but they turned it down, but they spent it on this other thing here. Well, maybe they’re spending it on the future and not on the current state and the past. And we wouldn’t necessarily know that.
So we can help them by, you know, understanding our business, understanding our own learning and development processes. What’s it cost to put in a group-paced session that’s two days in duration, or 16 hours of virtual learning spread out more than over two days? So we oughta know that. We oughta know our business well enough to be predictive of our costs for putting certain things in place. What’s the cost of analysis and design and development and testing and testing and testing, before we haven’t ready to go to the marketplace? How do we accelerate something because we’re in a hurry, we should have had this done last Friday. So what can you do for me? Well, I can spend more money to a certain point and make things accelerated before it gets out of hand. And then we’re going to be maybe producing garbage. So we don’t want to do that.
But we need to know how to put the pedal to the metal and accelerate our own processes where we can do that safely, where we cannot, where we can just slow down and do some maybe testing, does this really work before we put everybody through it, that might be smart. And so figuring out our costs should be just, you know, something that we need to master. And if you’re brand new organisation, then you need to start tracking that kind of thing to know what the hours were.
Most of my consulting life, I’ve done almost all of my projects, well, 80 to 90% of them fixed fee, not time and expense, fixed fee. Because clients love fixed fee, because time and expense, you can say it’s gonna be 100 turns out to be 350, they’re upset. You say it’s gonna be 200. And you come in and do it for 200. They all love it. And so I had to know what my incurred costs were going to be, what my touch time was, is going to be for the different roles that play out in a project. Well, how much cycle time I need to give them to do the touch time, so that I could be predictable with schedules. And I could say, well, we’ll be done with the analysis on this date, the design on that date, we’ll do the development and be ready to go to pilot test on this date. We’ll clean it up after the pilot test, and then you’ll have it ready to go for everybody on this date. And then I had to hit all those dates.
And so it’s doable, but you’ve got to think about operating more as an engineering function than as an artist colony, where everybody’s doing their own thing their own way. And you are in total non-control of what’s going to happen and how much is it going to cost? Let alone you know, what day is something had to be ready.
My last question, Guy, is where can people find you if they want to learn a little bit more about you?
Well, they can find me on LinkedIn and Twitter and at my websites. So LinkedIn is probably the best place a place to find me, it’s Guy W Wallace. So two W’s in a row there on LinkedIn. And so you can find me on the social medias. So I’m posting a lot on LinkedIn.
I’m on a mission to help promote and push a performance orientation to learning and development. I owe my mentors that, because they taught me these things, and they counselled me. And they gave me the corrective feedback and the reinforcing feedback to, you know, get me on the right path. And so, I come from a very sharing tradition in the, my professional society. And so many people helped me that I want to help others learn about people like Geary Rummler, and there’s several other people that were my key mentors. But I’ve had really dozens and dozens and dozens of mentors. I’ve learned from a lot of people.
“Learning is just one of the means of performance.”
And I need, I want to help others get on that performance track and start really thinking about performance. And learning is just one of the means of performance. And so how do we begin to look at performance and diagnose it and to build enablement, through performance guides and or learning experiences when the situation calls for it.
This is a transcript from the Strategic L&D Podcast, where we venture through what key L&D opinion leaders are doing today to ensure they’re delivering a strategically impactful L&D function. If you want to stay up to date with our latest releases, subscribe to our learning and development podcast. We’re on most common podcast platforms, including Spotify and Apple. You’ll also find us in video form on our YouTube channel.
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