Friday, February 13, 2009

Off-road

From what I have seen these past few weeks, we have an incredibly competent and diverse team of professionals on board at my new job. Still, sometimes things go off-road. The last couple of days I have been really busy with dragging one of these out of the dirt - a very nasty and dirty business.

It reminds me a lot of similar occasions in former jobs. The tricky thing with dragging something out of the dirt is making sure you cause as little friction as possible. Like a car that is stuck, too much spinning and too much friction cause only harm and no good. You dig yourself in deeper and deeper, until only a display of real power will be able to drag you out: a tow truck. Tow trucks however, are expensive and take time to arrive. Time and money you don’t always have.

Making a correct assessment of how deep you are stuck is therefore essential before any intervention. Unfortunately we tend to assess risks lower than they actually are, when we are in the face of an emergency or urgency: “I don’t have the time and money for a tow truck – I have to get out now!” So we set out and try to get out ourselves, with disastrous results. We’re digging ourselves in deeper, more time and more money is seeping away and by the minute it will become clearer and clearer: “We need that truck!”

The thing I’m currently working on has fallen prey to one of those infamous bad assessments. It seemed pretty straight forward, it looked like no big deal, but it is becoming apparent that the devil really is in the details. And with time pressing heavily on us, those details are costing us dearly. We simply don’t have the time to be extremely thorough on the last details. But every time we are in contact with the client it’s all about those details.

And they have every right. We made a bad assessment – now we have to deal with it. This basically means that over the weekend I’ll be sifting through the project again, again and again. Monday. Monday it will all be over – hopefully…

Monday, February 9, 2009

Are you scared?

Change is a force of nature: its impact is hard and unstoppable.

No wonder change is a fearful concept for most people. Changing takes effort, it forces adjustments, and brings uncertainty and insecurity. Who would opt for that - willingly?! Therefore, most changes force themselves on us. Sometimes by our own doing, but just as often, without any of our own interference. Relationships end, family members die, babies are born, cars crash, companies fold, departments reorganize, new competitors enter the market, innovations make current technologies obsolete. Change just happens.

Resisting change is therefore futile, but still quite understandable behaviour. When moving through change, a common change management model is the concept of the unfreeze-freeze. First, the current situation must be unfrozen, then the situation must be altered to fit the new desired situation and as soon as this happens, that situation should be frozen again and voilĂ ! The change has occurred.

Unfortunately, that only happens in fairy tales. Oft-times "unfreezing" isn't a gentle defrosting experience on a low wattage in the microwave, but a solid heatwave blasting through. Leaving us charred and vulnerable. How would you react to that? Like anybody would in times of trauma: with denial and resistance. When you or your company is the one forcing change, you should be well aware of this. You are making the change, you are seeing the direction you are heading, you are ready to mould the new situation as soon as everything is unfrozen. But for everybody else you are an unstoppable trauma that is washing over them.

So be humble. Be honest. Be understanding. Help people to see where this is heading. Don't resist or deny the resistance and denial of change that will occur. Because than the pot is calling the kettle black. Realize, that just like they must come to terms with the change, you should adjust to their resistance. Because if you don't, the only thing this change of yours will become, is a big lump of defrosted goo.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

From Good to Good Enough

I’m a child from Generation Y. Born in Orwell’s ominous year 1984, I belong to a generation which, according to the media, has known only prosperity, opportunity and security. We are demanding, independent and have high expectations of what we’ll accomplish in life (up until the current Great Recession of course). Happiness is supposed to be our middle name, with all this wealth, health and boundless opportunity surrounding us.

Nowadays there seems to be a taboo on the darker sides of life. Every day we have to: “Be more!”, ”Be better!”, ”Be great!”, “Be rich!”, “Be good!”, “Be the best!”Everything around us screams in our face to Be some superlative. But I’m not great. I’m not rich and I’m not the best. Can’t I just Be, without the add-ons?
Why do we have to always move from good to great? I would like to sometimes just take a step back and go from good to good-enough. Take a break; take the lesser in things in life as they are. Or maybe be like the carpenter in a sketch by Rembo & Rembo:

A man passes a garage door with a note on it:
“Lookin for work? Knock on the door.”
The man knocks and waits.
An anxious looking carpenter opens the door slightly.
“Yes?”
“Ehh.. I saw this note on your door and well.. I’m looking for work.”
“Ah yes, the note. It’s just that, unfortunately, I’m not here today. Maybe tomorrow. Tomorrow, I might be here.”
And he closes the door, leaving the man completely puzzled in front of his door.

Every once in a while, I think it’s good for everyone to say to the world we’re not here today, but that we’ll be back tomorrow - maybe.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

How e-learning helps

E-learning is usually all about results. “How much will performance increase after everybody has done the course?” “What kind of tangible effect can we see after someone has finished?” These are very real questions, with hopefully real results in the end. But there is one other result which you’ll get when you start with e-learning: a thorough examination of what you are trying to ‘teach’ with e-learning.

During almost every course we develop, we see that clients start to struggle with their content. They thought they had it all figured out. It was supposed to be an easy breezy affair, this e-learning course. But most e-learning courses are about mimicking real processes and situations. At the start of an e-learning project clients will say: “Well, there are 14 processes which we would like to present to our learners. We have them all here, in these charts. Look, this is the decision tree we have made in Visio. Just go into this new application we have build, capture the steps and make it into e-learning.” Fair enough.

But then theory has to be become practice. Real processes need a start, middle and end; they need to be fleshed out. Every step will be held to the light: “Is this going to be in the e-learning or not?” “Is this step in the process really carried out this way?” We see this all the time with software application training. Software applications always seem to be in a state of near-completion. Several of our projects have been on hold for a long while, because applications which we need to screen-capture, aren’t ready. And even if the application is ready, we always ask: “Why does someone have to do this?”

We are well aware that making something into a process or ‘structure’ is hard. Thinking up ways how people will do things and how a software application is going to facilitate this, requires a lot of testing and thinking. But it leads away from the most prominent question learners will have during an e-learning course: “Why do I have to do this? Why am I sitting in front of a computer looking at all these processes unfolding on my screen?” We, as e-learning developers, try to be the voice of the learner: “Tell us Why! We understand it must have been hard work to flesh out these work processes, work flows and applications, but why exactly do we need them?”

And it’s here, that you can find the difference between good and bad e-learning. Good e-learning focuses first on the Why and second on the How. The How is the blood, the Why is the heart that pumps it around. That is why e-learning helps: we make you think about your Why’s again.