Archive for May, 2008

As marketing professionals most of our working lives, we have spent a lot of time looking for differentiation. What is this product’s differentiation? How does our company differ from our competition? How does our story set us apart? And how can our story be meaningful over time, not just until our competitor copies us, or worse, comes out with something better?

Most of the time we think of differentiation as a product’s feature, the ability to tout a big client or even our brilliant strategy to market. While all of these things are differentiators and some of them good ones, in themselves they are about as sustainable as bringing the first car to market with an iPod jack. The product feature that is going to change the world may be obsolete in 6 months. Our biggest and best client loved us, until the company re-orged and now our new contact has a friend who works for our competitor.

So is there such a thing as SUSTAINABLE differentiation? If so where is it?

It’s in your company’s PEOPLE! In the speed of today’s highly competitive business environment product features come and go, but the people BEHIND the product are the sustainable force.

So why then is the investment in the development of people the first budget to get cut, while the practically useless blinking light that differentiates our product from the competition never comes under scrutiny? Does that light really have a better ROI, or is that just what we like to think because it takes more effort to demonstrate the value of continuity and great talent to our business?

We’re not suggesting to drop product innovation, but rather to look beyond product features to the people who made them possible. The engineer who had an idea at 4:00 am and spent the next 72 hours perfecting it. The team who spent the weekend in the office to finish the project which keeps the big client coming back. The sales person who gives the marketing campaign life and stays to make just one last cold call on Friday evening.

Invest in the development of people and you invest in the one true sustainable differentiator that will weather your company through any competitive storm and lift your organization to prosperity through the worst of economic downturns.


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In a previous post, I asked the question: How can social network environments be used to support competency models that include attitudes and behaviors?

With the variety of social network environments (SNEs) available in today’s Web 2.0 milieu, the possibilities for leveraging them in the support of competency models and training initiatives may be infinite. In this post, I will focus on two or three of the SNEs and may choose to write about some of the others later. That said, I would encourage you to comment to this post about your ideas for these and other SNEs.

Weblogs and Blogging

Weblogs (blogs) are easy to implement but are challenging to leverage in support of competency models and training initiatives. I say “challenging” because blogging requires an individual or small group of knowledge experts to write content and keep it up to date. I think they are a very valuable tool, but when using them to support training initiatives, it is important to:

  • Identify potential authors
  • Create a writing schedule
  • Remind authors when its time to write
  • Link relevant courses to the blog
  • Encourage readers to comment
  • Assign someone to identify comments that need a response from an expert


I’ve personally worked with at least 9 different wiki tools. Some of them I’ve simply written inside of, others I’ve implemented for clients or simply for my own understanding of their usefulness. While these tools are a bit more challenging to implement than a blog, I believe they are enormously important for supporting competency models and training initiatives.

I recently read an article, that described how P&G saved $500,000 annually by moving the technical support for a particular internal tool from phone based support to wiki-based support. I think the same can be true in supporting learners in the attainment of competencies.

Wikipedia offers an excellent example of how a wiki can be used to support the acquisition of knowledge. In a business environment, an internal wiki could give users the opportunity to locate content quickly and because any member can edit the content the community can monitor, correct and update the content.


When I first logged onto Facebook, I really didn’t get how powerful of a tool this can be. I recall telling coworkers that its not really all that valuable for us. However, now that I’ve been using Facebook for a few months, I find myself on it nearly every day. I actually met some men from the church I attend on Facebook before I met them in person.

One way that Facebook can be used to support competencies and learning is through the groups and pages feature provided. These features allow users to interact about subjects that are important to them. But it also allows them to get to know one another through the information shared on personal pages.

Before Hurricane Katrina destroyed parts of New Orleans, I was an associate professor in Tulane University’s online program. Over the six years I taught in their online program, one of the biggest challenges I faced was encouraging students to collaborate and discuss the content. In a classroom, this happens almost automatically, but in an online course, it has to be fostered. If Facebook would have been available then, I would have used it to drive the discussions for my class. I believe when students know what one another look like and some of their interests, the sense of knowing someone and participating in something with them increases dramatically.

Through some of the Facebook groups I participate in, I have been impressed by how quickly you can find and get to know someone. And how it breaks down some of the barriers to online collaboration.


I’m sure there are more ways to leverage these tools just as there are many other tools available online that can be leveraged. What ideas do you have?

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How Do We Support Competency Models?
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How many times have you heard “We need an eLearning course that we can launch in <insert any abbreviated timeframe> and it has to be engaging, exciting, effective and can only cost <insert any really low dollar amount>?”  It’s a challenge we all know too well.  It’s also the reason many of us have developed internal project strategies for rapidly executing eLearning design and development.  Our goal on any project we encounter is to provide great learning to our customers while designing effectively and efficiently and to reuse and repurpose good learning strategies wherever possible. 


So that brings up the question, how do you reuse and repurpose effectively?  Can it be as simple as reusing assets from a repository and applying a templated approach?  Or is it more than that?   Templates have a bad rep as being inflexible as well as a format that can sap the creativity out of good designers.  Overall, I tend to disagree.  Templates, when used properly, can provide direction and structure while still allowing a designer the freedom to be creative and having a repository of assets to draw from is key to being efficient in design and development.  So, this brings up question #2, how do you use templates properly?   


I was doing some reading on principles of adult learning and the learner-centered approach to eLearning when I found an article that discussed the topic of a templated approach versus a patterned approach to eLearning.  The article is titled “Creating Interactive, Engaging and Effective E-Learning through Patterns” (by Prashanth Prabu, October 2006).  In defining the patterns approach, Prabu explains that a patterns-based approach for creating reusable solutions at the learning objective level allows designers to create effective eLearning experiences.  The key phrase is “reusable solutions at the learning objective level”.  And to break it down a step further for those of us that pride ourselves on crafting meaningful learning solutions and solid instructional design strategies, patterns are mapped to learning problems at the learning objective level.  It all comes back to identifying the learning problems and creating solid learning objectives that solve those problems.   


There is hope!  I really like this approach because this is fundamental to what we do as instructional designers and learning solution gurus – – we identify learning problems and then create solutions that are engaging, exciting and effective using the core principles of instructional design and adult learning that we all know and love.  Reusable solutions at the learning objective level are truly learning solutions that can be called a template or a pattern but fit the bill of being reproducible learning elements that are foundational building blocks for good course design.  I think it’s worth the effort






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About a year ago I participated in a research group that focused on Informal Learning and participated in some great discussions. As we worked throuhg our research we distinguished formal from informal learning by the packaging. That is, formal learning components have instructional design, a facilitator (personal or technical), and a beginning and an end while informal components are not packaged. Here are some examples,

Formal and Informal Resources that support learning:


  • University Course
  • LMS-driven Online Course


  • Manual
  • Video
  • Book
  • Subject Matter Expert
  • Article

Another distinction may be that formal resources usually have learning objectives written to be specific, measurable, attainable, behavioral. For example:

  • At this end of this lesson, the student will be able to calculate tolerances using process capability data.
  • At this end of this lesson, the student will be able to evaluate the use of control measurement systems and ensure that measurement capability is sufficient for its intended use.
  • At this end of this lesson, the student will be able to develop a problem statement, including baseline and improvement goals.

Learning objects and their objectives help a student to understand what he or she should be able to know or do to be successful in a course. A compentency, on the other hand, helps someone know the knowledge, skills, abilities, and characteristics that will make them successful in a particular role. As we begin to think in terms of competencies, we can see that learning objectives reveal the competencies that the learning resource will target.

A learning resource supports or enables the achievement of a competency.

A single competency may have many development resources.

A single development resource may be linked to multiple competencies.

When competencies are defined they should be described with a category or group, a definition and demonstrated behaviors that aid the evaluation of the competency. One author defined competencies as, “A specific, identifiable, definable, and measurable knowledge, skill, ability and/or other deployment-related characteristic (e.g. attitude, behavior, physical ability) which a human resource may possess and which is necessary for, or material to, the performance of an activity within a specific business context.”

An example of a competency may be




Demonstrated Behavior

People management competencies Building Team Spirit Provide team members with the excitement and desire to cooperate with each other, contributing to common goals Encourages help and respect to other team members Creates a common mission and a feeling of belonging to a team that aims at such
Developing People Help team members to reach their potential in personal development. Provide mentoring and experience transfer Provide feedback on strengths and weaknesses of the team members

Competency models can be derived from the learning objectives found in training programs, but the models should also seek to define the characteristics (attitudes and behaviors) that describe a successful employee. When competency models and training resources are linked, the organization establishes the path for talent management and succession planning that are vital to today’s lean organizations.

Related Articles
How Do We Support Competency Models?
Facilitating Personal Growth Through Training
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In a previous post, I asked the question: How can schools, colleges, and universities help in the process of building the characteristics that tomorrow’s employees will need to be successful?

When facilitating personal growth beyond knowledge and skills any approach must first be intentional. Personal growth doesn’t come by accident. It also isn’t achieved over night.

Using competency models (knowledge, skills, abilities and characteristics) within an academic setting can help students to see the bigger picture of success. For example, when I was in college as a journalism major with a photojournalism emphasis, my English professor pulled me aside and told me that my first job was not going to be as a photographer but as a writer/photographer for a small newspaper. Not one professor in the school of journalism mentioned this but my English teacher truly guided me by helping me see the big picture. She helped me to be a better writer so that when I graduated I was able to step into a job as a Sport’s Writer. Understanding the competencies I needed, gave me an opportunity to be successful after graduation.

My English professor, used coaching and mentoring, to guide me down the right path. This too is an important component of leading students to be successful in their career field.

Another way colleges and universities may intentionally address expand their view of a student may be in their educational model. Rev. Russell Smith, pastor of Covenant-First Presbyterian, relayed his educational experience from a summer program at Oxford,

The methodology was that we would have twice weekly tutorial meetings with a professor in our chosen subject….we would have assigned reading that we were supposed to preview and then the tutorial (usually 1-on-1 or 1-on-2) was a matter of hashing through it and demonstrating an ability to interact with the material.

While I’ve not participated in this type of educational experience personally, it does seem that it opens the door for personal growth opportunities that far exceed the traditional lecture format of a course.

While coaching and mentoring can be very powerful for personal growth, a formal competency model however, can provide a more clear image of the knowledge, skills, abilities, attitudes and behaviors a student will need to be successful both at school and later in their career.

If a college provided students with a complete competency model (knowledge, skills, abilities and characteristics) for specific career fields and mapped these models to specific courses as well as demonstrated behaviors, students would be better equipped for success.

Let me provide an illustration…
My first day as Sport’s Editor, was also a day that our weekly paper went to the printer. The stories had been written, so after meeting the staff, my task that first day was to simply layout the sports page: one page, for each of three newspapers. After working nearly all night trying to make the stories and photos and ads fit together on the page, I knew that I should have worked harder in that Layout and Design class I had a the University of Kentucky. I had passed the class with an “A” but the real world was very different than the experience I had in class.

My professor was a professional editor for a large paper. He knew what it was like in the real world so I must have missed attaining a competency that would have been useful that first day. If I would have had a better picture of the competencies I needed to attain in the course, I may be been better prepared for my first day as a Sport’s Editor.

Competency models give students, employees and employers the specific information they need to be successful. When those competencies are synchronized with training resources and coaching / mentoring, students can see the knowledge, skill, abilities and characteristics they need for success.

Related Articles
How Do We Support Competency Models?
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In a previous post, I asked the question: How can training support the evolution of characteristics like attitudes and behaviors that are important to a given role? And its that question that I wanted to take up in this post. I’m sure there are many more perspectives on this but I wanted to offer at least one.

I think there are some formal and informal ways in which training can support the attitudes and behaviors defined in a competency model. Some of the formal approaches include

  • Soft skills training such as interpersonal communication, conflict resolution, team leadership, etc.
  • Personality evaluation tools like Herrmann Brain Dominance Instrument by Hermann International http://www.hbdi.com/

Informal approaches may include mentoring relationships where managers and peers support one another in personal growth. But I also believe that we can the instructional design that lies behind a course can consider what I call “secondary objectives.” These secondary objectives may not be main focus of the course, but underlying goals that can be integrated into the training session.

One approach may be to document these secondary objectives and design learning activities that creatively address attitudes and behaviors below the surface of the main goals of the educational experience.

One key to being successful in this type of approach is to understand the internal process someone may experience as attitudes and behaviors are changed. Dr James Loder suggests as individuals change they go through a series of stages:

  • Conflict
  • Internal Scanning
  • Constructive Imagination
  • Release and Openness
  • Interpretation

Loder believes that insight, or in his language the “imaginative construct,” is the key to transformation. In The Transforming Moment, he suggests there are “Aha Moments” in our lives that can trigger insight. “Discontinuity effected by an imaginative construct is the key and center of the knowing event; indeed, it is just this discontinuity that makes transformation possible.” These knowing events have five steps that inform how people are transformed: conflict, interlude for scanning, constructive act of imagination, release and openness, and interpretation.

As an individual encounters change, he or she experiences a discontinuity, which facilitates the imaginative construct, or insight, that allows for the release of the old belief system and openness to a new one.

The diagram below shows how an individual may pass through the five steps inside of a knowing event. As the client has more interaction with the subject of the knowing event, he or she moves closer to interpretation, or the application of the new understanding.

Loder suggests that “Aha Moments” can trigger insight that creates an opportunity for change in understanding. In a single training event, we may not be able to facilitate growth in the most conflicted individual. But if we intentionally design training materials with the secondary objectives in mind, we may be able to facilitate the leap in understanding for someone who has already begun to reflect on their own attitudes and behaviors.

Obviously, Loder has done some deep level thinking on this subject that may help us consider how to facilitate the characteristics that may be desirable in an employee.

Writing training courses that not only explore the primary content but that also leverage the training event to facilitate and reinforce personal growth is a difficult challenge. But as competency models strive to identify the characteristics of the most successful people, training will need to offer resources that will facilitate and reinforce personal growth.

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Tier1 A Culture of ServiceI’ve always enjoyed helping people. I think that’s why I started my career as an elementary teacher. While at times it was a challenging job, I feel that some of the most rewarding moments in my life thus far were experienced in the classroom or working one-on-one with my students. The feeling that comes with making an impact in someone else’s life is immeasurable. I have seen this same dedication to service demonstrated in TiER1’s culture, and I appreciate and am proud to be a part of that. Through my work with TiER1, I’ve been able to help our clients meet their performance needs through the solutions I help design and deliver. And lately, I’ve thought about taking the next step by getting involved in the community.

In my experience, TiER1 really ‘walks the walk’ when it comes to service to others, both inside and outside of the office. The company supports its employees and clients and cares about their goals and well-being. Whether it involves providing opportunities for personal career growth, independent pursuits, or even supporting the development of our clients’ in-house teams through our co-sourcing model, the company has displayed a willingness to build and invest in relationships. I think TiER1 recognizes that relationships are crucial to the success and health of the company as a whole, and it’s refreshing to see a company that committed to its people. Recognizing the importance of people in companies is more the exception than the rule, at least in my experience. This interest in its employees and clients is what sets this company apart for me. Additionally, many of TiER1’s employees actively volunteer their time to helping others through their work for non-profit organizations, community events, and in the little day-to-day things they do to give back. It’s this special culture that I admire, and in turn, want to perpetuate in my work and personal life.

Sometimes in the hustle and bustle of day to day life, it’s easy to lose sight of what truly matters. Winston Churchill said: We make a living by what we get; we make a life by what we give. Taking some inspiration from Winston, TiER1, and its many team members who give back, I’ve decided to become a mentor. I am excited to give more of myself and make a bigger impact in the lives of others.

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