Business Performance Blog

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Two Great Books on Increasing Throughput

Submitted by on December 4th, 2012

The Goal book coverThe Theory of Constraints (TOC), introduced by Dr. Eli Goldratt over two decades ago, has transformed the way businesses operate worldwide. Its practical principles have helped many companies increase system output, optimize tradeoffs, and clarify choices in a variety of different situations – all by managing constraints.

Instead of simply lecturing on how to apply the TOC principles, Goldratt often uses fictional storytelling to explain the ideas in riveting and memorable detail. The fascinating plots of his business novels help people assimilate a range of insights and applications through an engaging discovery process. For example, two that I use and recommend quite often are:

The Goal, Goldratt’s inaugural business novel two decades ago, focuses on the dilemmas and challenges that Alex Rogo, a new plant manager, faces in a serious business predicament.

Since his plant can’t seem to ship any of its products on time, Alex learns that the business will go under unless he figures out what to do. He turns to Jonah, a consultant friend of his, whose theories and advice help Alex and his colleagues discover and explain the TOC principles that break through the impasse.

Critical Chain book coverCritical Chain next explores TOC in the realm of project management. A business professor and class of project managers hypothesize, debate, and finally realize why their projects often run late and over budget, or fail to complete everything that was originally specified.

As the protagonists examine a range of thorny project issues, we vicariously learn how to optimize a project’s “critical path,” handle resource conflicts, introduce safety buffers, negotiate with subcontractors and suppliers, and predict the effects of early vs. late starts. The resulting formula offers us several powerful ways to resolve these age-old project challenges.

For more information on applying these important principles, read my article, What’s Holding You Back? Tips on Managing Your Biggest Constraints.

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Posted in Processes, Projects | Comments (3)

Leadership for the 21st Century

Submitted by on November 2nd, 2012

Red piece standing in front of six blue piecesDid you know that there is a gap between what we know about leadership and what we actually do? I’ve recently published a series of articles on a white paper by Skillsoft entitled Actionable Leadership in the Creative Age. The study set out to ascertain what people’s views are on the leadership characteristics required for success in this century, as contrasted with the previous one. Over 1,100 participants from across the globe shared their views. Six unsurprising characteristics were highlighted. However, the confirmation in the study of a sizable gap – a weakness in 21st Century leadership – triggered my in-depth exploration of the study and the issues it raises.

Skillsoft put forward an approach for bringing its six identified leadership characteristics into practice in the form of seven techniques. I split their proposed techniques into two main themes. In my first article, Four Actionable Leadership Techniques for Today’s Leaders, I look at how to overcome fear and inertia and revisit time management practices. I then go on discuss why a bias for action is critical and emphasize the need to understand what employees experience as motivational versus management’s often mistaken assumptions about what fires up workers.

In my next article in the series, Three Learning and Motivation Practices for 21st Century Leaders, I discuss Skillsoft’s interesting suggestion advocating the use of the speed and direction (velocity) of learning for heightened learning and competence. They propose coupling this with the second technique, creating a “growth” mindset in the organization. The last technique I discuss in this article is, like so many of the others, a new take on an old practice. It is about bringing goals to life for each employee. I talk about how to give employees a sense of purpose when engaging in goal-setting activities.

My final article in the series is, Leadership Study Reveals Six Key Characteristics of Successful Leaders. In it, I discuss the six characteristics identified in the Skillsoft study and explore why they are important in our time. I offer some ideas on how to make them more evident in our daily leadership practices. These six leadership characteristics are:

  • global perspective
  • future-focused
  • excels at building relationships
  • high level of integrity
  • collaborative approach
  • open to new ideas

There are no surprises in this list. Although some of them carry over from the previous century, they are here with an altered perspective, as we would expect. Old practices and techniques are being finessed to be appropriate for this new and rapidly changing age. Each characteristic is not a standalone. The six characteristics work together as ingredients for an awesome leadership recipe. Each leader who works at it will nuance their style and practice differently, as a good chef does. A little more garlic or a little less lime juice and you know you have the dish, but with your personal signature.

If we look for a formula in the Skillsoft study, we can find one. If it is applied by rote, each element in sequence, one at a time, the end result will be a string of new “interventions” perhaps. What we need, however, is an integrated, seamless new century leadership practice. The dish can be boring, predictable, no longer nutritious or exciting, or it can be thrilling and appropriate for a new understanding of our nutritional (leadership) needs: the new actionable leadership.

I wonder how your picture of 21st Century leadership practices looks. Do you have some practical examples of how the Skillsoft leadership portrait manifests itself in your practice that you are willing to share with us? Or perhaps you have a contrary view: an alternate leadership profile that is highly successful and practically evident in your world? I encourage you to review my three articles and share your perspectives here. We’d love to hear from you.


  • Skillsoft Ireland Limited (2012). Actionable Leadership in the Creative Age

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Posted in Research, Talent | Comments (2)

Leslie Allan Wins AITD National Award

Submitted by on October 26th, 2012

Leslie Allan holding AITD National Training Excellence AwardAITD National Training Excellence Award LogoThis month, I graciously accepted the Australian Institute of Training and Development’s (AITD) Council Member of the Year Award. The National Training Excellence Awards ceremony is held each year, with the event dedicated to rewarding the best in training and development for the current year. I was privileged to act as one of the Awards judges for the category, Australian Learning Innovation.

I, along with all of my fellow judges, was very impressed with the caliber of the Award entries. We got a taste of some of the best of the best in learning, training and organizational growth. My hat goes off to all of the Award Winners this year. The winners for each of the respective categories are:

Australian Learning Innovation Skilled Up and Microsoft
Organisational Learning Effectiveness Adelaide Shores
eLearning Achievement Evolve Studios
Best Implementation of a Blended Learning Solution Department of Immigration and Citizenship
Excellence in a Learning Resource Management Consultancy International
NPS MedicineWise

I felt very honored to win the Award for Council Member of the Year. This Award is given annually to the AITD Divisional Council Member who has made a significant contribution to their Divisional Council and in doing so benefited both AITD and their local L&D community. This is what the award judges had to say about my contribution:

…instrumental in ensuring that the Council continues to find ways to offer value for members and has been a core member of the Council for many years.

I shared in my acceptance speech how the great work of the Councils is only possible because of the efforts of so many. The AITD continues to go from strength to strength because of the hard work and commitment of all of the Council Members on all of the Councils. I find on our own Council, it is by all of us working together as a close-knit team that we can provide the best Professional Development activities for our members.

This year, I was very pleased to see that we had so many nominations for Council positions that it was a tight contest to get a seat. I think this is testament to the interest and drive of all of us in the training industry to make ours a profession for which we can be truly proud.

I was also glad to follow in the footsteps of our Vic/Tas Council President, Michael Werle, who won the Award last year. My thanks go to my colleague on the Council, Lyn Flint-Cornell, who nominated me for the Award this year and to all of my fellow Council Members who supported Lyn’s nomination.

What would this Award and, for that matter, the whole spectacular AITD National Awards event be if not for the dedication and perseverance of our CEO, Paul Dumble, President, Jeanne Marshall, and office support staffs, Jenni Noble and Kaye Vines. I thank you all for making this event a great success. Keep an eye out for the next issue of the AITD journal, Training and Development, for a full rundown of the event and the proud winners.

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Posted in Training | Comments (2)

New Product for Segmenting and Reporting on Workforce

Submitted by on October 23rd, 2012

Workforce Segmentation and Reporting PackWe recently released our new Workforce Segmentation and Reporting Pack. The Pack is intended for HR executives, recruitment specialists, organization development consultants and anyone else involved in HR strategy who wants to get more value from their organization’s human capital.

The Pack is highly practical and consists of three core components. The principal guide, How to Segment Your Workforce, Measure and Report on Human Capital, shows you how to use a skills’ based approach to segmenting your workforce. The advantage of this approach compared with more traditional job evaluation or organizational hierarchy approaches is that roles are matched to strategic importance. With this approach, human resource policies and practices can be tailored in a way that elicits real strategic advantage.

The second component in the pack is the Outsourcing Guidelines. These guidelines are designed to help you identify the roles and activities that are best left in-house and those best suited to outsourcing. The focus in on gaining an economic and strategic advantage with your human resource decision-making. In addition, the guidelines help you include all of the key elements in your outsourcing contracts.

The third component in the Pack is the Human Capital Data: Reporting Templates. It is this template pack that makes this product truly practical from day one. We include here an array of checklists and reporting templates ready to record your workforce data. The reporting templates are in Microsoft Word format for you to customize to your organization’s exact needs and to use time after time.

Be sure to visit the Workforce Segmentation and Reporting Pack product page for full details, including product features, table of contents for each of the components in the Pack and the licensing terms. We have also made available complimentary chapters from the Pack and a 10-point human capital strategy questionnaire for download. Feel free to contact us with any questions you may have.

Posted in Products, Talent | Comments (0)

Needs Assessment – Essential Step One

Submitted by on October 19th, 2012

Fitness woman holding up red and green apple

“So you want to fit into that favourite pair of jeans again?”

“Let’s try a few more repetitions and increase the challenge a bit.”

“Come on, you’ve got this!!”

People close to me have long seen me as a fitness enthusiast. A thirteen year stint as a fitness instructor led me to enter the field of workplace learning and performance. Fast forward several years and my commitment to exercise and healthy eating remains. At a broader level, we all need continuous learning and improvement throughout our lives – personally and professionally. Where do we begin to plan for our goals? With a comprehensive needs assessment.

For life or work-related goals, learning more about our needs is crucial. Some good questions to ask ourselves: What are the desired results? What are the potential barriers to achieving the results? What are the best sources of information and guidance in this area? Case in point: improving one’s fitness level with a qualified personal trainer is a one example of a situation that typically involves a systematic needs assessment process.

Much like a workplace trainer, a good personal trainer (like mine) will assess your needs first. Included in my fitness assessment were: health/lifestyle history, goals, current measurements, motivation level and support levels of people around me. Finding out where I was at and what my goals were helped me clearly visualize what I wanted. Related to my goal-setting I was asked: How will your life improve as a result of these changes? How will these changes be important to you? How confident are you that you can reach your goal? Do you believe the trainer will help you make progress? Reflecting on these questions allowed me to clarify my vision of fitness and revealed the gap between my current and desired states, which my trainer is helping me close.

Needs assessment, whether for improving fitness or developing workplace skills/knowledge, is the place to start when planning to reach your goals. With work-related training, you begin with the end in mind and where the trainees are by assessing: current knowledge/performance, motivation, desired outcomes (vision), goal value, self-efficacy, social supports, and belief in the training’s effectiveness.

Not everyone has an energetic, 20-something personal trainer planning ever-challenging activities, consistently cheering them on and reminding them of their fitness goals like I do. In any case, people and organizations everywhere benefit from having competent trainers who systematically assess learning and performance needs before designing and facilitating suitable training. A good trainer also helps you follow best practices by providing guidance and support to reach your goals.

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Posted in Training | Comments (1)

Feedback: Performance Improvement’s Low Hanging Fruit

Submitted by on October 10th, 2012

Businessman holding up pad with OKWe cannot underestimate the importance of environment in performance and its improvement. Receiving timely and helpful feedback – positive and constructive – helps us achieve better performance and productivity in organizations and in life. Sometimes we need praise or positive reinforcement from others who “catch us doing well.” At other times, we benefit from someone pointing out the proverbial “toilet paper on our shoe.” Of course, the feedback recipient needs to be open to it and act on it for the future. We have probably all stepped into politically dicey feedback situations. Still, it’s generally a good practice to at least give the feedback some thought as to what you can learn from it.

In organizations, surveys, focus groups or interviews with employees, customers and other stakeholders, allow us to collect people-centered data to guide decisions and future performance for achieving better results. Organizations, teams and individuals are never able to step outside themselves for an objective view, so it helps to have an outsider holding up the mirror. Seeking out the feedback of family, friends, significant others, supervisors, co-workers and others should not be underestimated.

Toastmaster’s International’s time-honoured method of improving communication and leadership skills through valued feedback in a supportive atmosphere is great proof that feedback is critical to getting better at something. Performance experts, Rummler and Brache, recognize “useful feedback” as a critical performance factor. This helps explain the 360 degree survey feedback currently in vogue. Genuine praise and practical suggestions help us learn what to “Start, Stop and Keep” doing by gaining otherwise inaccessible insights about ourselves.

It may sound rather Skinneresque, but we do have the ability to influence each other’s behaviour -for the betterment of all. The classic “Sandwich Technique” (positive-constructive-positive) aids feedback digestion. Some people prefer the direct method and prefer to skip the niceties (an approach I’ve noticed tends to be preferred by American colleagues). Interestingly, the work of Dr. Lionel Laroche reminds us that newcomers often have a different understanding of supervisory feedback, which can have far-reaching implications. Many newcomers find the ever-so-palatable “Canadian Feedback Sandwich” confusing compared to the direct method of open-faced constructive comment (which, in my experience, appeals more to the American palate).

Receiving and providing feedback in work and in life provide us with valuable opportunities to learn and improve. An absence of regular, accurate and timely feedback typically demotivates staff and tends to reduce productivity and performance. By the same token, believing you have no room for improvement is the height of ignorance and arrogance. I’ve seen that unfortunate habit in some managers, colleagues and acquaintances. While confidence (along with competence) is critical to performance, we should never rest on our laurels, thinking we are somehow above feedback for learning and improving or CHANGING for the better.

My Montreal-based colleague, Sonia Di Maulo, (a.k.a. “Feedback Queen of Canada”) believes, “Providing authentic feedback is a key factor that boosts growth and cultivates trust and collaboration.” She encourages using feedback as a tool to “harvest” workforce performance by using timely and accurate feedback as a performance management tool.

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Posted in Communication, Performance | Comments (3)

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