Don’t make eye contact with the PPT

“Don’t make eye contact with the PPT! Arun Pradhan 22 May 2018

Apart from being a potentially awesome plot line for a Dr Who episode, this is definitely my favourite quote for 2018.

“More context!” you say? Okay, maybe you’re right.

In May I attended the Sydney workshop, From Order Taker to Performance Partner, run by Michelle Ockers and Arun Pradhan. Now I don’t know about you, but when I’m in the middle of an incredibly busy few weeks with lots of projects on the go – and all needing constant attention – it’s hard to justify taking a whole day to go sit in a room and talk about ideas. And, not knowing what to expect, there’s always that niggling thought that it might turn out to be a horrible waste of time.

Having said that, the signs were good. As I slugged down a coffee at the train station that morning, I reminded myself that for a long time I’ve been ranting (ranting?…yep…that’s the right word), about changing the conversation, about stopping talking about “learning” and instead, talking about performance and business impact – stuff that non-learning people care about. So, the signs were good, and I was really interested to see if I would get any new insights into how the conversation could change. As it turns out, I was in luck.

The context Arun and Michelle created for that fabulous quote is a pretty common scenario where a Learning person is invited to a briefing for a new learning project. As often happens, the stakeholder will essentially place an order for a shiny new 30-minute eLearning module (with a 10 question assessment), or a 2-day workshop (with a 10 question assessment), or some gamification (with a 10 question assessment). And, just as often, the stakeholder will hand over a printed PPT and say, “All the content is in here.”

It’s at that point in the conversation where, as Learning people, we get to make a choice. We can make eye contact with the PPT and essentially accept the order. Or, we can accept the PPT (it takes practice to do this without looking at it), and say something like “Thank you for this. You’ve clearly put a lot of work into gathering content. If you’re open to it, I’d like to ask you some questions that will help me better understand the project and the outcomes you’d like to achieve. It should only take 30 minutes.”

And that’s where Performance Mapping begins. Arun took us through a practical, easy-to-use and collaborative model of a conversation that involves co-designing with the stakeholder to:

  • Define the performance goals attached to a desired business outcome
  • Understand who in the organisation is best placed to drive the change
  • Explore the context for those people – essentially develop a persona
  • Identify the behaviours that will drive the change
  • Identify the levers that will enable those behaviours

The process will naturally point to a solution. While we didn’t really explore solutions in the workshop, it was clear from the case studies, that the right solution would be very different to the initial order that was placed.

So…conversation changed. Job done. Time for pastries and another shot of coffee. Right?

Well, from the perspective of a Learning person within an organisation, I can see how this model would be an immensely powerful tool to align learning with performance and business outcomes. As a vendor though, my initial reaction was to wonder how many of my clients are going to be comfortable about walking into a briefing with one solution in mind and walking out with something potentially very different. Given that the brief is usually the end point of a long and convoluted process that involves procurement, project budgets, project sponsors, KPIs, timelines, and expectations cascaded through multiple areas of the business, how practical is it to change course on the solution.

But, as I ate my third low-carb pastry, it struck me that this is the only conversation we should be having. We want to work in partnership with our clients, to better understand their context, to contribute to their businesses, their culture, agility and growth. We want to stop just talking about learning and start talking about the best way we can help our partners achieve results – and this Performance Mapping conversation is a great way to get there.

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