LEADERS ARE TOO FAR UPSTREAM TO EFFECT CHANGE—TALENT MANAGEMENT MUST BE FOCUSED DOWNSTREAM ON MANAGERS

Who hasn’t been the recipient of the exhortations of motivation? It seems everywhere; used to suggest, cajole and inspire workers. Indeed exhort all of us to get out in front of a task and get going. I remember, I think, a professor or mentor of mine in the education business who consistently said that motivation, a mental state, is not what we want to create. No, he said, what we really want is movement.

Movement is measurable, while motivation lies within us affected by a variety of mental attitudes and internal prejudices. Whereas movement can be evaluated against expectations or scales of achievement, motivation is opaque to the organization seeking its presence.

This may not be news, but in the context of leadership and management, the misapplication of either motivation or movement in an opposing context can often lead to problems. Furthermore, with the push towards the nurturing of talent; talent management as its referred, it’s worth a look at how these states might be aligned to justify the effort, time and resources placed in readying current employees for more responsibility.

The End of Motivation?
No discussion of motivation can take place without clearing up the idea of incentives. Leaders continually seek ways of extracting more or better from their minions, only to find most systems never seem to yield consistent results. Incentivizing workers of any level with rewards, extrinsic or intrinsic seems to work only when there are simple goals to achieve and solid rules to guide performance. The problem of if-then reward schemes is a narrow focus on the task at hand. In many studies, incentives have been shown to effectively kill creativity. In sales and mechanical tasks, incentives may work but only sometimes, and not for long. However, as Daniel Pink has noted, as soon as performance requires any additional cognitive skill (e.g. reasoning) even a larger reward leads to decreased performance. He notes that the London School of Economics has found financial incentives can result in a negative impact on overall performance. And not to be overlooked, robotics are increasingly eliminating the types of work for which incentives would prove even marginally valuable.

So what to do? Firstly, let’s accept motivation for movement lies in the realm of management and distinct from leadership. The traditional definition of management says if you want compliance then create a linear system of compartmentalized tasks and add people adequately skilled to so function. Then stand back and measure, doling out cash to the top performers. The disconnect between this conceit and the new working environment fails to account for the types of problems so prevalent now—devoid of a clear set of rules, or a single solution or only one right answer. More often than ever before, business problems demand more right brain, conceptual activity. When challenges are mystifying and abstract, if-then reward systems/incentives don’t work. Since most jobs that demand compartmentalization and linearity are so easy to outsource (or robotize), tradition bound incentives, or motivation through rewards are useless. Nevertheless, what about managers who must raise the performance of workers, achieve cost/time/efficiency savings, another top, or bottom line positive changes?

Science and Business
There is a mismatch between what science knows and business does. For instance, we know, and studies show when people want to succeed because the problem matters, because it’s important or interesting or because it is bigger than themselves, they require no external rewards to perform at high levels. An operational paradigm that recognizes mastery, autonomy, and purpose will encourage workers to respond with energy to the types of business challenges in today’s workplace. If managers want workers to perform up, then the challenges and types of work that must be solved have to be designed to respond to these human factors. Is it the job of managers who require relatively simple tasks to be executed to re-form the jobs not into compartments of interchangeable elements but to something more interesting? The answer is yes. If we need new managers capable of thinking this way than that’s where talent management learning might start. Remember it’s not the manager who does the work…but managers need to set conditions where others can and do to their utmost abilities. Some might say this is starting to sound like leadership. But leaders themselves are too far distant from actual work.

Why Managers Need to be Leaders
The 20th century business model erects a formidable wall between management and leadership. Yet in this century it should be clear anyone in authority—having the responsibility to move (not just motivate) people to perform must embody both managerial skills and leadership qualities. When companies speak of talent management they still, in most cases, make distinctions among the types of employees who earn or receive the types of learning that prepares them for one role or the other. That distinction might best be obliterated. If managers are incapable of leadership perhaps they should not be managers. Not to be harsh but given the types of conceptual as well as practical business challenges that will engage enterprises big and small if there is no leadership in management (and the converse it true) success will be most difficult. Workers as people are different; those who guide their tasks had better be aligned to their ways.

Leadership Is Too Far Upstream
We know leadership has two distinct functions particularly in large enterprises; imbuing the business mission with vision and tone and setting priorities and policies. However to change performance I suggest unless a leader is in total control—think Jack Welch or Steve Jobs—they are too distant—to far upstream from the action to make a difference in how people move and their commitment to performance. Even Jobs, perhaps the most hands-on of any modern executive even with supreme governance required intermediaries, subordinates…managers to transfer his visions into reality.

Without direct control of how problems are phrased and scoped, organized and aligned, leaders may exude all the power their words can muster but won’t help a local team produce better or faster solutions.

Here’s a descriptive chart breaking down leadership and management from different perspectives:

    Leadership   Management
Core Art Science
Visionaries Technicians
Process Upstream–Strategic Downstream–Tactical
Personality Driver Charismatic Pragmatic
Foundation Situational Empirical/Formulaic
Modality Front, top, prior to action Within or during action
Structure Ideas, theory Hands-on, get it done
Action Thinking Scheduling
Metric KPIs FTEs
Skill Motivation Movement

The Talent Management Function
There’s no question leadership is vital to any enterprise. In addition, leaders can come in all shapes and sizes, talents, strengths, weaknesses and deficits. Many companies thrive with lousy leadership—but none can survive without skilled managers, especially those who can meld some of the qualities of leadership into the organizing behaviors of managing.

I suppose the final tally of all the characteristics in the chart can be boiled down to the simple idea that talent management learning programs should be less focused on building leadership and more attuned to managerial competence. Bringing management into a 21st century paradigm will directly encourage people to do great work. Employees will move towards excellence when problems support autonomy, permitting their own way of working out a problem, provide opportunities and tools to allow mastery to flourish and offer a clear purpose that serves the greater service. Incentives, no matter what type are contradictory to this type of cooperative milieu. Managers who are skilled in creating this type of work situation, who have received the education and training they need to create such an environment will be the backbone of every successful enterprise. Shifting resources from building leadership qualities for leaders only to ensuring hands on managers have the skills and knowledge, techniques and tactics they need, will lay a foundation to ensure the survival of the enterprise even as leaders wash in and out with the tides.

Scenarios Are Mini Dramas…Not a Glorified Q and A.

Contrary to many articles published lately, scenarios are not written questions with a supposition or proposition followed by questions. They are micro dramas that bring learners onto the screen and compel interaction. Once in, learner needs to work his way out.

One my mantras I have consistency followed is that elearning is an analogue to a television drama. Using this core belief, the components that make up a show can be modified to enhance, if not totally structure an online course experience. Too often, I visit learning that is frankly weak even if it has all the requisite objectives, structure, and guiding scaffold, e.g. ADDIE by example. Whether in Captivate, Articulate, or a full-blown Flash/HTML course too many learning experiences are dry to the mind, dull to the eye and dead to the ear. If this indicative of a general lack of imagination on the part of learning designers, ID’s or constraints place by clients it matters not. The results are courses that are outwardly pushed at learners rather than trying to entice learners and pull them in to the story.

In many examples of courseware, scenarios are one component of a learning experience. While there are many interpretations of the word, there are very few differences in how, as a learning technique, it has been applied. So let me tell you what I think a scenario isn’t:

  • Not a series of questions with multiple answers that try to engender thinking
  • Not a brief explanation of a situation and then questions that demonstrate the learner will know what to do
  • Not a grouping of pictures that ask the learner to choose which is the right answer, whether process, action or straight knowledge

A scenario is part of a longer story enriching the experience for learners by placing them inside the course as a full participant. It would be similar to jumping into a movie while it’s being shown and working your way out again by uttering a magic word. Only in the case of learning, it would mean meeting a challenge as a role player and by actions, words, and deeds, demonstrating competence in order to move ahead in the course. When used at its full strength, which I’ll explain next, it is almost in the realm of gamification; the hot thing in learning now.

The Elements of a Real Scenario
Let’s begin where we always should and that’s with the outcomes we are seeking; not just for the course, but for each scenario. It’s imperative to establish very specific outcomes and their key performance indicators (KPIs) in the design brief. The latter are necessary for evaluating variables like degree of success, number of attempts, quality of corrections and other metrics that will determine whether the actor can go on to the next scene or stay on for take 21.

Based on these outcomes we can now get creative by spinning a situation or state of being into which the learner will be placed. We will need a setting and/or space and the other actors in this little drama.

By example, we might start like this:

  1. Establishing a locale, setting or space
    Providing a visualization of a realistic environment is essential. This is the stage where the action takes place. In fact, consider more than one virtual space; activities amongst actors, like in a film rely on multiple sets to help tell and sell the story. Place your emphasis on detail. If you watch ‘Mad Men’ you’ll know the efforts Matthew Weiner goes to establish a real feel for the era by inhabiting a set that goes to the smallest detail; a stapler, pencils, clothes hooks…nothing is too small so the place rings true. You may not need to be that fanatic, but it’s a point to remember. Whether you use static images or illustrations, Flash or movies strive for reality.
  2. The actors in this drama must be typical so they can be instantly recognized as a ‘type’. No need to take this to extremes—not every CFO wears neither a three-piece suit nor every creative thick nerd glasses. But try to stick to type. And this goes for their speaking (VO or audio) which should use appropriate technical or professional speak…with some exceptions. When selling learning for example, resist putting abbreviations in a person’s mouth before it’s made clear. For instance, say ‘instructor led training’ before saying ILT.
  3. The action is moved by dialogue but it starts a problem that needs to be addressed. The best prologues have a sense of urgency and can be spoken by one or more persons. And be specific about stage directions as well. If you don’t know how to direct a camera or the proper terms than learn them. You are, remember writing a drama, and even if the budget won’t allow complete customization the many details can be established in less costly ways.
    • (CFO, Stephen, in his office speaking to his marketing manager) (CU – close up on his face)
      “Bob, we need to get our numbers up to meet projections and our sale people are not closing. I’ve spoke to Rona and she is meeting with her account execs today. What do you think about bringing in some training, live, virtual, or online? We have less than 60 days to turn this around.”
      (MS – medium shot where we see Bob gesturing towards Stephen)
      I agree we can’t let this slide. I’m actually sitting in on the meeting and I’ll drive the conversation in that direction. Frankly, I don’t know if our people are saying the right things about our products or their not selling right. But I’ll get back to you ASAP.

4. Making it real often depends on the media and budget. Another consideration is real estate; how many screens can be appropriated without intruding on time constraints.Here is the hierarchy of scenario media by cost:

  • Low Cost:
    Stock images with voice over. To make this work look for stock images that feature the same people in multiple poses. Moreover, make sure you use a variety of voices as well. All too often, a scenario becomes a simple narration of a scene. If the content would benefit from a narrator, ensure that voice is different from all the others. Also, you can drop actors into different backgrounds (settings, like above) using Photoshop to create a transparent background. Having a good ID with top-notch skills makes this a quick operation. Now you can place actors in the best possible office, or warehouse or field site and approximate reality. Lastly use special effects by moving people across the screen; even if it looks phony, it works
  • Medium Cost. Using an illustrator allows you to design any setting and any look for your actors. While pricier your work can begin to establish a branded look and feel and with voice over’s adding the final touch you can create a unique scenario
  • High Cost. There are stock video places where you might find enough content to tell a real story. However, this technique works best when combined with either of the other forms. Multiple media heightens interest and it compels learners to stay focused on the action.
  • Custom video. Clearly the most expensive but usually the most effective form of scenario building. Actually, you’d be making a small movie only interrupted by questions or other actions. You would design stops in the action and perhaps bring in a narrator, on screen, to describe the action to come or review what has just taken place. The learner relates to the narrator and welcomes him as a guide.
  • Multimedia. Mixing forms of media is very effective. Illustration that fades into actual images of the actors is very powerful, just as static images can turn into live action video. Any numbers of combinations are possible; just remember the objectives set forth in the design brief are the target—with apologies to Marshall McLuhan, the medium in not the message.

5. The basic rules of instructional design should include how to use images in scenarios. There are infinite options about how to place objects and people on the screen. Too often scenarios look like home movies with all the action taking place at the same distance from the screen. Everything is in the middle distance. How boring. Add vitality and interest by pushing faces right into the screen dominating the entire frame while other people or the background appears tiny behind the giant face. On the other hand, start a voice speaking before the person enters the picture; and bring an actor from way back into the foreground while talking to someone who is already in the picture. I can’t possibly go in to all the options but I’m sure you get the idea. Variety with a purpose should by your focus.

Bringing In the Learner
While scenarios are interesting and often entertaining, they are not passive. The best results are obtained through interactive elements. Most often, this works by stopping the action until the learner causes it to start again that results from their completion of specific actions.

Here’s a sample of actions:

  1. Selecting a physical action for the virtual you; go to this office; enter the shipping center, load the truck, inspect the device and ensure it is functioning
  2. Choosing the appropriate phrase, selling point, technical language or procedure
  3. Answering direct questions; correcting an erroneous response
  4. Participating in a discussion and offering a suggestion that brings consensus
  5. Completing a form or using an application correctly
  6. Following the next step in process

Scenarios are essentially rehearsals for real events and offer the practice needed to begin forming good habits. It follows that if the responses are correct, the scenario can move ahead. If wrong, the scenario can branch into a remedial loop where the concept(s) are explained using other examples or rationale. NOTE: If there are multiple correct responses, a scenario can have branches that extend the scenario along different paths too, like a game model.

Finally, the scenario continues until the objectives have been met. Managers depend on the structure of the scenario to know competence has been achieved when either multiple correct responses during the scenario have been achieved, or there is a final, summative problem the learner correctly completes. It is imperative learners take away the knowledge, skills and behaviors they need to be more effective in the workplace.

Too many volumes and guides teaching instructional design relegate scenarios to just another technique to be trotted out in a few circumstances. In actuality, the more dynamic and exciting the scenarios, and the more kinds offered, the more television-like the courseware becomes. And because this is two-way, participatory television it has all the components of good story telling with the participation of the learner as a primary actor. We know when learners interact in multiple ways their immediate understanding is high and the application of what was learned is used successfully on the job. That leads to performance improvement…and that is the ultimate goal of any learning system.