The first Monday of every September recognizes the men and women who labour to build this country. Through a time-honored tradition with roots in the coordinated efforts of the labour movement of the 1870s, Workplace Performance Consulting salutes the Canadian (and American) workforce.
This National Day also signals the official end of summer. With the school year starting and an extra day to the weekend, all the hard-working men and women earn a well-deserved break! Families take one last summer trip and cities hold that last festival for the season.
HOW TO OBSERVE
Labour Day is often spent as a vacation weekend by many families. Most campgrounds on this weekend are packed full as is the river in front of my house. As you celebrate this day, consider and appreciate your hard work and how it has added to the well-being and prosperity of our country. Use #LabourDay (or #LaborDay) to post on social media.
The origins of Labour Day can be traced back to April 15, 1872, when the Toronto Trades Assembly organized Canada’s first significant demonstration for worker’s rights. The aim of the demonstration was to release the 24 leaders of the Toronto Typographical Union who were imprisoned for striking to campaign for a nine-hour working day. At this time, trade unions were still illegal and striking was seen as a criminal conspiracy to disrupt trade. In spite of this, the Toronto Trades Assembly was already a significant organization and encouraged workers to form trade unions, mediated in disputes between employers and employees and signaled the mistreatment of workers.
There was enormous public support for the parade and the authorities could no longer deny the important role that the trade unions had to play in the emerging Canadian society. A few months later, a similar parade was organized in Ottawa and passed the house of Canada’s first prime minister, Sir John Macdonald. Later in the day, he appeared before the gathering and promised to repeal all Canadian laws against trade unions. This happened in the same year and eventually led to the founding of the Canadian Labour Congress in 1883.
Labour Day was originally celebrated in the spring but it was moved to the fall after 1894. A similar holiday, Labor Day is held on the same day in the United States of America. Canadian trade unions are proud that this holiday was inspired by their efforts to improve workers’ rights. Many countries have a holiday to celebrate workers’ rights on or around May 1. (https://www.timeanddate.com/holidays/canada/labour-day )
Employee Appreciation Day is observed annually on the first Friday in March. This day was created as a way of focusing the attention of all the employers in all industries on employee recognition. Businesses and organizations plan celebrations across the country recognizing the achievements and contributions of their employees.
Employees are one of your greatest assets – regardless of the size of your company. Personally, I believe they are your single most important asset. Without your employees – where would you be? Recognition and appreciation are one of the key motivational factors in the workplace!
You can show your gratitude for your employee’s efforts and contributions to the goals of the company in a variety of ways from rewards to verbal interactions. Expressing employee appreciation increases employee job satisfaction. Plain and simple!
HOW TO OBSERVE
Great Ways To Show Your Employees Some Appreciation
Be Flexible – Flexibility goes a long way in this virtual reality world. If possible with your industry, allowing a little flexibility can reap huge benefits when you need last minute work done.
A Thank You Note – When a job has been done well, a heartfelt, hand-written thank you means more than a slap on the back or an e-mail sent off at the end of the day.
Team Effort Celebration – If the team pulled together and made it happen, reward them with an office pizza party, casual dress day or even close the office early so they can spend some well-earned time with family.
Get Caught – Make sure the employee hears you telling someone else you thought they did a great job.
Create a Culture of Encouragement – Employees who expand their horizons bring new skills to your workforce and will encourage others to do so too. Praise their achievements and encourage others to pursue their goals.
If you have employees, be sure to show them some appreciation and use #EmployeeAppreciationDay to post on social media.
National Employee Appreciation Day was created in 1995 by Bob Nelson, a founding Recognition Professional International board member, together with his publishing company, Workman Publishing.
It’s time for the next installment of the Performance Improvement Process Model or PIPM. A couple weeks ago, I talked about the difference between an opportunity and a “good” idea. This post will address the next step in the model “Want or Need.”
I’m an old dog. As hard as it might be to teach me a new trick, my good friend and mentor Dr. Roger Kaufman keeps trying. He has written extensively about the difference between needs and wants. The problem starts when we used need as a verb instead of a noun. I do this ALL the time – publicly and in private correspondence with Dr K. Thankfully he is patient and reminds me of the error and we keep moving forward. One day it might just stick!
When we use need as a verb, like “I need a new boat” (my wife may have heard this once or a dozen times) we are going right to the solution and not considering other potential options. Seriously! Look at it! In dire need of replacement.
I know… it’s a sweet boat and I have caught a lot of fish in it. There is no need here what-so-ever. There were some issues with the old gal (my boat NOT my wife). Mostly ancillary equipment like the trolling motor, bilge pump and *gasp* the stereo didn’t work. Long story short, I didn’t need a new boat, rather, I wanted to get all the little irritants fixed so my fishing trips would be more enjoyable. I have talked about this misuse of need and the jump straight to solutions in past blog posts as well. See Just gimme training and Just because it says performance doesn’t mean it’s there (sadly).
How did I get onto boats and fishing!? Okay – seriously, if I keep using need the wrong way, what’s the right way? It’s so simple. Kaufman (1998) has been trying for decades to get everyone on the same page and define it as “a gap in results.” For example, I want to catch more fish. I currently catch an average of 20 a summer. I want to catch 50. The gap between my current and desired results is 30 fish. A new boat may or may not close that gap. In reality, the best way to close in on 50 is simply to spend more time fishing.
Let’s shift over to a work related example of needs. Did you know that cashiers get measured on the number of items they scan per hour? It’s called the ISAH or “Items Scanned per Active Hour” and it is calculated by averaging the total items scanned per hour when cashiers are actively signed into their registers. Generally, good industry performance is 500 ISAH.
In this fictitious example, our experienced cashiers have an average ISAH of 900. The rock stars of retail. Cashiers with 3 months experience or less have an average ISAH of 250. Based on customer feedback, there is dissatisfaction with slower transactions. They prefer to get through the checkout line fast. What’s the need?
The gap in results at the worker (cashier) level is to increase the cashiers ISAH from 250 to 500 or better. The gap in results at the workplace or organizational level is the level of customer dissatisfaction. Improving the cashier’s ISAH will contribute to increased customer satisfaction.
If you can’t describe the problem or opportunity in terms of a gap in results, it’s a want, not a need and you should proceed directly to the stop sign, take a breath and give your problem a second look. It’s probably not the real cause of whatever is giving you business pain. Next up – the Needs Assessment. Stay tuned!
Kaufman, R. (1998) Strategic thinking. A guide to identifying and solving problems. (Revised edition.) International Society for Performance Improvement and the American Society for Training Development. ISBN: 1-56286-051-8.
Get to Know Your Customers Day is observed annually on the third Thursday of each quarter (January, April, July, October). This is a day to reach out to your patrons and get to know them better!
When businesses get to know their customers, they can also learn a lot about where they need to grow – or in performance technology language, they can identify needs (gaps between current and desired results) which – when addressed will help them grow. Do you have a favourite locally owned and operated business where you get exceptional service? Where you are known by name and the owners know your shopping habits? I have a few of those, because we live in a relatively small town. When they don’t have what I want, they are generally willing to get it for me.
With the advent of the Internet and big-box stores, much of that personal attention has gone by the wayside. Get to Know Your Customers Day is a day to turn that around. While we should be doing this every day – make it a point to get to know a little more about your customers and make each of them feel like they are your most important customer of the day today!
A great book I discovered last year, “The Absolutely Critical Non-Essentials” by Dr. Paddi Lund, a dentist in Australia, provides some fantastic strategies – and hard evidence to help you get to know your customers. I highly recommend it.
OBSERVING GET TO KNOW YOUR CUSTOMER DAY
Grow your business by taking the time to get to know your customers. You’ll be planting a seed that will flourish! Use #GetToKnowYourCustomersDay to post your best interactions with your customers on social media.
The topic of sustainability keeps coming around in my reading as of late. I was first introduced to sustainability during my Commerce program at Royal Roads in 2003. Darlene and Garry McCue were our profs and the text we used was their own called “The spiral stair.” The course was very environmentally focused which at the time put me off somewhat as I was not of the same thinking as environmentalists.
Fast forward ten years or so and I was studying Systems Thinking at Boise State University and our text was “Thinking in Systems: A Primer” by Donella Meadows. My studies at BSU literally changed the way I look at the world. Systems Thinking, Human Factors Engineering, Design Thinking, MEGA planning, Behavior Engineering… all these different models , each a new lens through which to examine the world.
Meadows taught me that to understand how systems work you must see the relationship between structures and behaviours. Gilbert’s Behavior Engineering Model (BEM) taught me how to sort between behaviours and the environmental factors (structures) that drive or restrain performance. The view from the BEM is more at the individual level which reminds me of John Maxwell’s “The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership: Follow Them and People Will Follow You.” Maxwell’s 5th law is “The Law of Addition” which states that Leaders add value by serving others.” When explaining this law he challenges the reader:
“If you are a leader, then trust me, you are having either a positive or a negative impact on the people you lead. How can you tell? There is one critical question: Are you making things better for the people who follow you? That’s it. If you cannot answer with an unhesitant yes, and give some evidence that backs it up, then you may very well be a subtractor. Often subtractors don’t realize they are subtracting from others. I would say that 90 percent of all people who subtract from others do so unintentionally. They don’t recognize their negative impact on others. And when a leader is a subtractor and doesn’t change his ways, it’s only a matter of time before his impact on others goes from subtraction to division (p. 51).”
In all my adult years I have worked for some great adders and some real big subtractors. In retrospect, I am pretty sure I have been on both sides of the equation at different times in my life. I am also pretty sure that at the end of the day, my balance sheet will be in “the black” and overall I will have added more than I subtracted. As I get older and wiser, I am looking for more opportunities to add, not only at the individual level, but at all levels.
Kaufman (2011), has challenged us to ask ourselves, if we are not adding value to our shared society, how are we assured that we are not subtracting value? I think about that a lot. As we see above, we can add or subtract value from the societal down to the individual level. Kaufman’s “MEGA” has strong alignment with what I have learned about sustainability, i.e., if the results of our actions increase sustainability we are “adding.”
To put a business spin on the connection between adding value and sustainability, let me share about a coaching session I recently attended. Our coach talked about “Critical Non-Essentials,” (CNE’s) an idea developed by an Australian Dentist Paddi Lund. Lund developed processes that add value for his customers. They weren’t essential to the dental issue being treated but the CNEs differentiated his practice and he became very successful and his practice achieved sustainability! I just gave my copy of the book to MY dentist. I’m hoping to see an Espresso machine at my next visit (read the book to find out what I mean).
What I am seeing is that when we look for opportunities to add value, or increase sustainability at any level from friends or family, stakeholders, clients or organizationally, there should be a trickle effect that will contribute to the sustainability of society as a whole. Small actions add up.
Kaufman, R. (2011) The Manager’s Pocket Guide to Mega Thinking and Planning. HRD Press, Inc. Amherst MA
Maxwell, John C.. The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership: Follow Them and People Will Follow You. Thomas Nelson. Kindle Edition.
Meadows, Donella H.. Thinking in Systems: A Primer. Chelsea Green Publishing. Kindle Edition.
Once in a while, a topic seems to be begging to be written. A couple weeks ago, CBC’s The Nature of Things aired an episode called “The Brains Way of healing.” Last week, a discussion on policies for accommodating learning disabilities popped up in one of my professional networks and a few days later Sean asked me how the Canadian military deals with accommodations. Around the same time, friends of ours, who have a son with autism stopped in to watch the Nature of Things episode. Through all this, my own daughter who deals with disability and her quest for a career that will enable greater self-sufficiency weaved its way through the other discussions, trying it all together.
I contacted Brett due to my son’s interest in being a paramedic in the public sector or the military equivalent of medical technician. My son, next year, is entering in to his last year of high school making this a real issue. The main reason I reached out to Brett was to find out how the military deals with accommodation of learning disabilities in its occupations, as I couldn’t find any information on this. The college system in Canada is very clear on the process for students with learning disabilities, they are assessed and then college decides what the student needs to be successful. In my son’s case, he has several diagnosed disabilities including: a grapho-motor disability, ADHD, and mild dyslexia. These three combine to make it difficult for him to read and write. That being said, to the outside world, he comes across as a very intelligent and articulate 16 year old. His IQ is slightly above average, and he has a vocabulary several years above his grade level. From a learning accommodation perspective, if my son can have content presented and studied without reading (i.e. video or audio) and is tested orally or from a performance basis, he learns as well as his peers. His knowledge of his limitations draws him to kinesthetic types of fields for work, and not fields that would require him to read quickly to attain the information he would need to make a decision. For this reason, he has been attracted to the first responder’s field, or just the other night he mentioned maybe being a carpenter.
Within the military, the absence of a policy on how to address learning disabilities has left training facilities and supervisors in the workplace to deal with each individual as best they can. I experienced this personally as Chief Instructor of Acoustics from 2000 to 2002, having a number of students with learning difficulties including ADHD, ADD and others that I wasn’t privy to because they are medical problems that the students and the health system don’t have to share, causing a barrier in helping the student succeed. It was frustrating, but we did the best we could.
My friend’s son with autism will be going into grade 7 next year. He is an awesome guy and makes me think of what a young Sheldon Cooper would be like. He likes things a certain way and when you say it’s time for hot-dogs, buddy you better have his dog on the plate ready to go. He is very high functioning and has strengths in math, memorization and organizing things. My daughter has disabilities to deal with as well. She’s 24, she completed a college program in visual. Thanks to support from her family and an employment counselor she has held down a part time job in a florist department in a market for several years. She shares an apartment with a friend and has made an incredible amount of progress towards her goal of becoming self-sufficient. Saying that, her desire to move into a more challenging and financially rewarding line of work has been a struggle.
I have been known to help myth bust learning styles pretty regularly. I just did it again last week in a webinar for the ISPI San Francisco Bay Chapter. The topic of accommodation got me to thinking about it, and I went back to check my notes to be sure I had the right message. When instructional designers are doing their bit for the greater good, it is a waste of time, effort and resources to use learning styles in the design of learning. Dr. Will Thalheimer provides a great top ten list of resources supporting this. It’s great advice and I agree 100%. Until you get to someone with a learning disability – and this is the difference. When designing training for the masses, learning styles are bad ju-ju. But what about addressing the needs of individuals that are placed into the learning environments designed for the masses?
As a seasoned Instructional Designer (ID), I agree with Brett and Dr.Thalheimer regarding learning styles. At the end of the day, the learning activities chosen by the ID must be aligned with the learning/performance objectives. If the objective is to be able to do something (say build a widget,) then the learning activities must be kinesthetic (build the widget.) In instructional design 101, we teach that we must design our training to the lowest common denominator, or in other words, to the population having the biggest performance gap. Then we come up with other strategies to meet the needs of those having smaller gaps (staggered entry etc.) The question that Brett and I floated around was “as IDs to we need to include learning disabilities into our gap analysis and choice of learning activities?” In my opinion no, as they have a much wider difference in strengths and weaknesses in different learning abilities. Also, adults with diagnosed learning disabilities should be aware of their accommodation needs and can advocate for themselves in the learning environment. In the example of my son, he will struggle with learning activities that involve reading activities and written assessments. However, he excels when given hands-on, practical activity, auditory text and instructional video. So, in the example of paramedic training, if the chosen instructional technique for starting an IV line is through a text book, followed by simulation, he will struggle with text book learning, but once sees an instructor demonstrate the technique he will learn quickly. Or he might ask the instructor to recommend a video alternative to the text book (for example How to Insert an I.V.) In the case of Brett’s friend, typical accommodations for autism may include, the much heavier use of written media, visuals, pictures and graphic. They will often need to know the “why” of a lesson and they often learn best from whole to part (complex to simple.)
So with such a wide range of functioning and abilities seen across individuals diagnosed with a learning disability, it would be next to impossible to design for these individuals as the accommodation needs are individual.
That being said, society, businesses, and agencies need to play a bigger role in making sure these individuals are successful in their learning, performing in the workplace and making a positive contribution to society. I anticipate that this will be a greater concern as my son’s generation enters the workplace, considering almost half of every school classroom has students with Individual Education Plans (IEP.) Given the current Duty to Accommodate rules under the Canadian Human Rights act, we don’t have a choice but to provide accommodation, with the exception of undue hardship and occupations that have a valid reason to discriminate.
If we want these individuals to be successful, the learning and performance community is going to need to be flexible with these learners, but in my opinion it is on the delivery side and not the design side. A well designed course, following adult learning principles, and incorporating neuro-science principles such as those outlined by Brown, Roediger and McDaniel in Make It Stick (2014) will create an effective learning program that can be supplemented with alternative activities based on the learning needs of those individuals with disabilities. The good news is that Brett’s experience as an instructor who didn’t have access to this information on the students is changing. The fact is that today, children coming through the education system with an IEP are aware of their accommodation needs and can articulate them to the instructor. I could see it coming shortly that things like the pre-course survey would ask participants about any accommodation needs they have. No different than dietary/allergy factors we are asked on a regular basis. This would provide the instructor/facilitator the opportunity to open a dialogue on how to best help the learner succeed.
As Sean noted above, there are Duty to Accommodate rules under the Canadian Human Rights that have been incorporated at the Provincial level as well. You can read more on Ontario and British Columbia’s positions at the links. After I read these examples, I noted one common thread. The requirement to accommodate appears to be directed at employers. Reading between the lines, that means if I am disabled – I should not disclose my disability until after I have secured employment, as discussed here in Duty to accommodate mental health disability upheld by landmark Ontario Human Rights Decision. If you disclose your needs in a hiring interview, my gut tells me that any other candidate without a requirement for accommodation will get the nod. So where does that leave kids like ours? A little more digging reveals a real morass of services to wade through as shown on the inclusion BC website. When you look closer, the actual support to people with disabilities looking for employment, the available list for support gets short quickly.
The progress Sean describes in the (Ontario) education system is awesome. It still requires that the disability is recognized, properly diagnosed and then reported to the education system so it can be addressed. With my daughter, the full scope of her disabilities was not clear until she was almost finished high school. That was a set-back but we are thrilled to see the progress she continues to make.
With my performance technologist and MEGA-Planning view on the world, where If you are not adding value to our shared society, you have no assurance that you are not subtracting value (Kaufman, 2011), I still see a very large gap between when a child with an IEP leaves the education system and the transition to the workforce where they have an opportunity to add value to our shared society.
We’d love to hear YOUR thoughts. If you found this post worthwhile, please DO share it!
Kaufman, R. (2011). The manager’s pocket guide to mega thinking and planning. Amherst, MA, HRD Press Inc.
Brown, P et. al. (2014). Make it stick: the science of successful learning. Cambridge, MA, The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press
If you read my post on the Education Revolution, you will remember my question “Do students (of any age) prefer one form of media more than another for learning? Do we need e-Learning for children and chalkboards for Boomers?” My answer was “of course not!”
There has been more and more information shared about the multiple generations in the workplace and the need to treat each generational cohort differently. For example, the American Management Association (N.D.) says “Each group has its own distinct characteristics, values, and attitudes toward work, based on its generation’s life experiences. To successfully integrate these diverse generations into the workplace, companies will need to embrace radical changes in recruitment, benefits, and creating a corporate culture that actively demonstrates respect and inclusion for its multigenerational work force.” Do we really need to treat Millennials different than Boomers? Of course not! I’ll explain why in a moment. But first…
I am currently working my way through a business boot-camp provided by the Leeds Grenville Small Business Enterprise Center (LGSBEC). After a little more than a year of running my own business, I needed something to motivate me to get my business plan done and the LGSBEC has met that need! There were four days of face-to-face instruction provided by Karen McDonald of the Opportunity Group to walk my group of nine entrepreneurs through the ins and outs of business plan writing. Six of the nine will be awarded a grant to kick start their business. What a great program!
One of the entrepreneurs, Holly, had a daycare disruption in week two and had to bring her four-month old daughter Jillian to class with her. That’s Holly, Jillian and Karen looking at cash flows in the picture above. I believe that baby Jillian was pointing out an error with the formula that carried the cumulative cash-flow from the previous period into the worksheet for year two.
I have to say, Jillian is the BEST baby! Very quiet and happy. We hardly knew she was there. So, where am I going with this? These three got me thinking about the generational noise again. Recall that the AMA said “Each group has its own distinct characteristics, values, and attitudes toward work, based on its generation’s life experiences.” Let’s consider THAT.
First, we have to define what a generation is. The Center for Generational Kinesthetics uses this definition: A generation is a group of people born around the same time and raised around the same place. People in this “birth cohort” exhibit similar characteristics, preferences, and values over their lifetimes.”
There are reams of studies that have defined those “similar characteristics, preferences,” etc. The ones I use for arguments sake were published by (2005) Greg Hammill and adapted for use here to show a summary of personal, lifestyle and workplace characteristics by generational cohort. Hopefully they aren’t too hard to read for you folks in the Veterans Generation. :-O
Did you take a moment to look at the charts? Do it! Look at “your generation” and see if you agree with the characteristics assigned to you. Do you agree? Are you 100% aligned? 80%? Do you feel like maybe you were born in the wrong era? (If you are having trouble reading these tables, right click and open the image in a new tab and you can zoom in to increase the font size).
We should also be aware that generational differences in attitudes toward the balance between work and other parts of life such as family may vary to some degree by gender. The charts above don’t take THAT into account.
And there’s the rub! There are glaring weaknesses in the generational research, especially with respect to the understanding of generational differences among people in the blue collar and service industry work forces, and with regard to people of lower socioeconomic status. That’s a lot of variables that keep me wondering about the validity of these categorizations of people by age.
Weiss (2003) notes that most attitudes and distinguishing characteristics attributed to the generations are identified during childhood and adolescence, but these characteristics may undergo adjustment as people experience life stage changes such as marriage, childbearing, and challenges of adulthood.
Hmmm, so as people age and experience “things,” they change? That seems pretty radical. Is it possible that all the Boomers didn’t always see work as an exciting adventure for their entire work lives?
Wellner (2003) acknowledges as well, that demographic projections are fallible since they are assumptions based on past behavior, and future behavior may or may not follow the same patterns. More concerns about validity. If you judged me on my past behaviour as a 20 year old in the Navy, you would never have predicted that I would be sitting here writing this! Maybe we do change…
The Center for Creative Leadership says, despite what is seen on television, heard on radio, and written in newspapers, magazine, books, the differences between generations are not as stark as we have been led to believe.
Here’s my favourite. Jennifer Deal, author of Retiring the Generation Gap (2008), argues that we all want essentially the same things at work. [My emphasis] Her assertion is based on seven years of research in which she surveyed more than 3,000 corporate leaders. Deal says that the conflicts have to do with influence and power—who has it and who wants it. And in some ways, the negative stereotypes about each generation are the byproducts of defense mechanisms used by the competing age groups.
So – it is definitely not recommended to make assumptions in the workplace OR in the training environment about any one individual based upon his/her membership in a chronological generational cohort or gender, age, learning style, personality characteristics or other factors.
Well then – what DO we do? Marcia Zidle provides a list of ten principles to “help you look past the stereotypes and become a more effective leader to people of all ages.
All generations have similar values. In fact, they all value family, the most. They also attach importance to integrity, achievement, love and competence.
Everyone wants respect – they just define it in the same way.
Trust matters especially with the people you work directly with. Everyone wants to trust and want to be trusted.
People of all generations want leaders who are credible and trustworthy. They also want them to listen well and be farsighted and encouraging.
Office politics is an issue – no matter what your age. Most realize that political skills are a critical component in being able to move up and be effective.
No one really likes change. Resistance to change has nothing to do with age; it is all about how much one has to gain or lose with the change.
Loyalty depends on the context not on the generation. People stay or leave a company based on their boss, opportunities, stage of life and other factors.
It’s as easy to retain a young person as it is to retain an older one. It depends on what’s important to them. Age defines a demographic not a person.
People of all generations want to make sure they have the skills and resources necessary to do their jobs well. The ability and desire to learn continues throughout life.
Everyone wants to know how they’re doing. Feedback is desired but no one likes only negative feedback; they also want positive as well.” THAT relates back to my last post!
Did you identify more strongly with Zidle’s ten principles or Hammill’s generational characteristics? To circle back to the boot-camp, which is what got me all fired up… There were five, probably six generations in the room with little Jillian. We all shared the entrepreneurial spirit, a common goal, clear and caring leadership from Karen and from what I could see, age was never a factor, except we all wanted to hold the baby!
In summary, you will get better results by (1) applying effective leadership and (2) creating a high performing work environment than you will by labeling people in your workforce by age, gender, personality or favourite colour!
If you liked the article, please feel free to share and/or leave a comment! Although WordPress gives some great stats on how many have visited… it only gives a number and a country. I’d love to hear from you!
A lot has been said on the topic of feedback. Google will give you about 2,070,000,000 results in 0.82 seconds. There are different kinds and different definitions… my interest is in the realm of workplace performance which is defined as “the transmission of evaluative or corrective information about an action, event, or process to the original or controlling source; also: the information so transmitted.” (Thanks Merriam-Webster)
I have been seeing more and more of the traffic signs that provide feedback on your actual speed popping up as of late and it has definitely affected MY behaviour every time I come into my sleepy little town. When approaching these 40 km/h zones, I now set my cruise control at 42 and breeze by the local constabulary with an ear to ear smile!
On a recent visit to British Columbia, I saw more of these signs, with a little twist. Instead of just the hard data (your speed), a positive or negative reinforcing stimulus was also included in the form of a happy or sad face, similar to the image to the left. Psychologists call this “operant conditioning” and these signs are an effective application of feedback and reinforcement. This video of my mom driving into Vancouver is a great example of the application and a successful outcome!
Reflecting on my own experience with these signs, I realized that the sign positioned by our elementary school on the north side of town, has had the desired effect while the ones on the east and west sides of town, haven’t. Initially, when the eastern and western signs went up, I complied. Now I am less likely to slow down as much as I do for the sign at the school. That got me wondering why. No kids. Less hazard??
There is (thankfully) more scientific data than a video of my mom and my own reflections. If you are so inclined, I have provided some references below (Ebrahim, Z. & Nikraz, H., 2013 and Shinar, D., 2017) that show an overall positive effect in the reduction of speeding and accidents in areas that used digital signs instead of standard signs. There are many other studies (Chhokar, 1983; Goldhacker et al., 2014; Pritchard et al., 2012; Park et al., 2011) that report the positive effects of feedback on performance.
A Transportation Alberta guideline for the placement of these signs notes that “permanent installations may lead to a proliferation of Driver Feedback Signs which could lessen the visual impact of the signs when they are needed most” and recommends that the signs be used in one location for no more than 30 days. This explains my declining compliance with some of the signs. All the signs in my town appear to be permanent and the two not situated by a school zone are losing their impact on me. I am sure this article will make it top of mind again for awhile! I suspect that the combination of the sign at the school coupled with the fact that the police are often parked on a side street contributes to me slowing down there more often.
Long story short, these signs got me thinking about feedback and how important it is in the workplace and any system. In the most basic sense, when a system output is measured, the result (positive or negative) can be fed back into the system to make adjustments as required to improve performance.
The measurement and change aspects often become the weak spots in the system, as determining what to measure isn’t always easy and, as M.W. Shelley said in Frankenstein, “Nothing is so painful to the human mind as a great and sudden change.”
When we think about performance in the workplace, it is helpful to look at it from different perspectives. I use the four listed below (Kaufman, 2006; Addison, Haig & Kearney, 2009):
World (or societal impact from organizational outputs);
Workplace (the organization as a whole);
Work (processes and practice level); and
Worker (teams and individuals).
How we measure outputs and apply changes to the system, based on the feedback received, will obviously be different depending on the perspective, the type of output and the change(s) required.
The frequency of feedback provided will also change depending on the factors involved. In an automated system such as a thermostat connected to a furnace, the frequency is almost continuous while feedback on employee performance should definitely not be continuous.
When I started out in the military, we had an annual performance feedback session which I felt wasn’t enough. Over time that changed to quarterly, which I also felt wasn’t always enough. When I was the Chief Instructor of Acoustics, our students got feedback at least weekly and more often if they had exams or had committed some horrible sin like letting their hair get too long or putting two creases in the sleeve of their shirt! For a poor performer it could be relentless. My instructors had a feedback session on a monthly basis which seemed about right.
Chhokar (1983) notes that “more [feedback] may not always be better” and finds that “the existence of some optimum frequency of feedback (not necessarily, the most frequent)” would result in a desirable level of performance. So how do you find that sweet spot? Is it the same for every performer? Is all feedback effective feedback?
Brethower (2006) cautions that “data dumps are not feedback” and “Intelligent value-adding performance is possible only with adequate feedback; defective feedback yields defective performance, always” (pg. 126). There are lots of ideas on how often feedback is required. I can’t find a study that says “X is the optimum frequency” likely because there isn’t one.
Of course, organizations must establish a minimum to ensure that feedback is being provided. Much like trying to address every individuals learning style when designing training, creating an individualized feedback system for every employee would be impossible.
The key is (1) appropriate feedback can increase performance, (2) too much won’t have that same positive effect and (3) when you are the person providing the feedback, asking your employee how much is enough could help you find that sweet spot!
Addison, R., Haig, C., & Kearney, L. (2009). Performance architecture. The art and science of improving organizations. San Francisco, CA: Pfieffer
Brethower, D. M. (2006). Systemic issues. In Pershing, J.A. (Ed) Handbook of human performance technology: Principles practices potential. (pp. 111-137). San Francisco: Pfieffer.
Goldhacker, M., Rosengarth, K., Plank, T., & Greenlee, M. W. (2014). The effect of feedback on performance and brain activation during perceptual learning. Vision Research, 99, 10, 99-110.
Kaufman, R. (2006). Change, Choices, and Consequences: A Guide to Mega Thinking and Planning. Amherst, MA. HRD Press Inc.
Park, J. H., Son, J. Y., Kim, S., & May, W. (2011). Effect of feedback from standardized patients on medical students’ performance and perceptions of the neurological examination. Medical Teacher, 33, 12, 1005-1010.
Pritchard, R. D. D., Weaver, S. J. J., & Ashwood, E. (2012). Evidence-Based Productivity Improvement: A Practical Guide to the Productivity Measurement and Enhancement System (ProMES). Hoboken: Taylor & Francis.
It’s Saturday night movie night and I was browsing Netflix for something stimulating (mentally). I stumbled across “Experimenter” a biography of Stanley Milgram. If you have done any psychology courses you probably already know of him.
If you haven’t heard of him or have ever wondered why German soldiers in WWII willingly participated in the concentration camps, why US Guards at Abu Ghraib abused prisoners or why people in your workplace will turn a blind eye to practices they know are wrong – this is a great introduction – in only 98 minutes!
Expectations of the Workforce or “What do you really want me to do!?”
Have you ever started a new job or moved into a new position and thought “I don’t have a clue what I am supposed to be doing!?” How about the frazzled manager who gets the new hire and says “Here’s your desk… don’t worry – you’ll pick it up as you go.”
More than once in my career I have been transferred into a position where my “job
description” consisted of a file folder full of printed e-mails, post-it notes and hand scratches on the back of a beer coaster. Frustrating when there are Human Resource (HR) policies and procedures that clearly outline requirements for job descriptions and performance reviews leading up to the annual performance assessment.
After becoming exposed to Performance Improvement and understanding the importance of the job description for setting expectations and the performance reviews as a feedback loop – in each successive position where I wasn’tprovided a job description – I wrote my own – and presented it to my supervisor and asked “Is that what you want me to do?” It worked as a way to at least start a dialogue about expectations.
In my most recent position where I had to manage others, I had one fella who had been bounced from job to job in the unit and didn’t seem to be getting a fair shake. When I took up the job, we sat down and reviewed my first attempt at his job description and made some tweaks, added some of his professional aspirations and away we went. We sat down twice in the year reviewing his progress, as well as at other intervals when more immediate feedback was needed. At the end of the year, I was able to base his performance assessment on all this and substantiate his higher than average rating amongst his peers. Easy when you use the system as it was designed.
A lot of people seemed to have “written off” this young man as needing too much care and supervision. I wondered – as we often do in our field – is it the performer or the work environment (which is the responsibility of management)?
Back in 2012, Guy Wallace (another one of my mentors and friends) and I wrote an article for eLearn Magazine that attempted to answer the question:
Where did the statement “80% of performance gaps are caused by other than Knowledge/skill deficits” come from?
To make a long story short, there was a consensus amongst the research and experts in the field that around 75-80 percent of the factors that influence performance are environmentally rather than individually based.
Now there are many (many many) environmental factors that can negatively impact performance. Some we can influence, some we can’t. In this case, simply setting clear expectations and providing regular feedback to show him how he was progressing created a real turn around.
One of the foundational models in Performance Improvement is Tom Gilbert’s Behaviour Engineering Model. Gilbert helps us see performance from both environmental and individual perspectives. A good topic to delve into next…