Accommodating Disabilities

With guest blogger and my pal Sean Rea (

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.

CaptureI 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.

CaptureMy 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?

CaptureAs 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.

CaptureAs 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


Just because it says performance doesn’t mean it’s there (sadly)

As a professional in the field of performance and learning, it is important for me to continually learn and to give back. To do that – in part – I have been a long time member of the International Society for Performance Improvement (ISPI) and the Institute for Performance and Learning (I4PL) – previously the Canadian Society for Training and Development (CSTD).

I give back a lot more to ISPI as I have always been aligned with its’ larger view of organizational performance. I was really excited when CSTD re-branded to I4PL in 2015, believing that a shift was on the way and the then Society, now Institute, was going to broaden its’ horizons and move beyond training to look at organizational performance from the holistic perspective that is required.

I passed on their last annual conference (which is always in Toronto) after reviewing the program and seeing much of the same old training training training topics, with all the new spins like micro-learning. Not worth my time or money.

Today, I received in my e-mail, an invitation to a webinar that would introduce me to the competencies for “Performance and Learning Professionals.” It had this very colourful graphic included.

for Performance and Learning Professionals, Institute for Performance and Learning

I was SO disappointed. After piece of pie number one “Assessing performance needs” the rest of the pie is ALL LEARNING. YES – I AM YELLING THROUGH MY KEYBOARD. These are competencies of LEARNING PROFESSIONALS NOT Performance Professionals.

Here’s why. When you assess the performance needs, using a methodology, such as needs assessment, you are identifying gaps between current and desired levels of performance at the levels of the worker, the work, the workplace and the world.

NA v NA V5
The Performance Improvement Process Model (PIPM) Adapted from Christensen, 2018.

I4PL’s competency model goes straight from the needs assessment to designing curriculum. Performance Technologists take a few extra steps before jumping to training as a solution (not the solution). What if training doesn’t address the problem?

If you look at the Performance Improvement Process Model (PIPM) above,  you will see a cause analysis step to determine WHY those performance problems are occurring. From there we write a business requirement to describe the accomplishment that the solution must deliver. The business requirement is “intended to stimulate innovation and creativity that ultimately results in more tangible solution options” (Honebein, 2018).

How often have you seen a problem that simply needed some clear direction from management to be fixed? Instead, because no one wants to tell management the true cause of the problem (or worse, no one knows how to determine the true cause), a training program is implemented. Gadzooks! (As my Grandmother Christensen would have said.) What a waste of resources.

I4PL is selling some snake oil by including the “performance” in it’s competency model. It’s not there. If you end up getting a training solution – don’t be surprised.


Christensen, B.D. (2018). Needs assessment to needs analysis. Performance Improvement, 57(7). doi: 10.1002/pfi.21785

Honebein, P. (2018). Business Requirements. Performance Improvement, 57(7). doi: 10.1002/pfi.21785

Canada’s favourite coffee – why the shift?

On the 22nd of October 2017, MSN Money reported that McDonald’s McCafe Coffee is now Canada’s favourite coffee chain. Tim Horton’s, which I think most people would assume to be the front runner in this contest was FOURTH! Second Cup and Starbucks were second and third respectively. In 2014, Canadian Business reported that Timmies was #1 for coffee and the Tim Horton’s brand was rated #2. I came up empty handed for 2015/2016 results, but the slide from 1st to 4th in three years is dramatic for the franchise that is really a Canadian cliché.

Having grabbed a lunch at Tim Horton’s just the day prior, this got me thinking about WHY? I thought it was proper to do some quick data collection on the product itself. I stuck to just looking at the medium size as I already drink way too much coffee and to keep my physician happy I drink half-decaf now. As I suspected, size, price, and rewards, Mikkie D’s edges out Tim’s.

McDonalds Tim Hortons
Size (medium) 442 ml 425 ml
Price $1.75 $1.79
Taste Awesome Meh*
Recyclable cup? No No
Recyclable lid Yes Yes
Cup construction Double wall Single Wall
Lid Construction Easier to open/stays open Lid doesn’t stay open consistently (for me)
Loyalty program Yes (Buy 7 get 1 free) No
Rewards Monopoly Roll up the Rim

*Yes – taste is totally subjective

I was a faithful Timmies drinker until around 2010 when I was on a trip to New Brunswick (Yes – Gagetown for the military folks) and McDonald’s had one of their free coffee giveaways for the entire two weeks I was there. Being a frugal fella, my mates and I picked up our free coffees every morning and discovered that the new McDonald’s bean was pretty darn good. But that wasn’t all.

cup1There is a human factors engineering aspect to this too! It’s all about the CUP and the LID. Props to Timmie’s for the Canadian hockey logos at the bottom (Go ‘nucks).

For whatever reason, my fingers have always been pretty sensitive to heat and I need to let a Tim Horton’s coffee sit for five minutes or so before I can comfortably hold it. Those little cardboard sleeves help – but they fall off all the time and are generally a pain. Poor engineering. The McDonald’s cup on the other hand has TWO walls and doesn’t toast my tender fingertips. Far superior engineering. Human Factors Engineering which is one of the components performance analysts consider when looking at workplace performance problems. Even though the ml of coffee is only different by 17 (just a few drips) the McDonald’s cup LOOKS a lot bigger too eh!?

Now, the lid. The Timmies lid is left, McDonald’s right. I have always had troublecup2 tearing open the Tim’s lid and getting it to stay open with that little bump thing in the middle. It never seems to work quite right. The McDonald’s lid just flips back and sticks – every single time. Again, better engineering. Added bonus, the double walled cup seems to keep the coffee hot longer. I haven’t measured this – so that’s anecdotal. So we have looked at the product, the design… let’s consider service and the value proposition. Remember when I was in New Brunswick in 2010? Tim Horton’s was king of coffee. Even with the free give away at McDonald’s, cars were lined around the block for a double-double. My pals and I couldn’t figure it out, but we were happy our line was short. Did I mention it was free? Oh yeah – I did.

I have noticed over time that the service at Tim Horton’s has declined somewhat. Again – no science here – this is just my experience. Yesterday – they gave my sandwich to someone else and after three people behind me got served I asked where my meal was… they had no idea, but there was this crispy chicken sandwich that no one wanted – no doubt belonging to the fella that scooped my ham and cheese. Disappointing. Then there are those lines! I am always amazed at how long the lines are at the Tim’s drive thru compared to McDonald’s (anecdotal). I know both chains study this stuff and they time loyaltyeverything. I would love to see the data from both to see who is ahead. I think I know the answer.

Finally, let’s consider the value proposition. 442ml for $1.75 vs 425ml for $1.79 – but you also get the 8th cup free at McDonald’s. That drops the price per cup to $1.53 (if you collect those stickers – and I do.) See. Only one to go.

In summary, less expensive, more coffee, better cup, better lid, cool fingers and a taste I like better. I know – taste is subjective. The rest of it though is quantitative. If service is slipping like I have experienced personally (anecdotal) then that is just further exacerbating the issue. That’s my back of the napkin analysis.

If you found some value in this post – please feel free to “like” and “share!”



Multiple Generations in the Workplace

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.

  1. All generations have similar values. In fact, they all value family, the most. They also attach importance to integrity, achievement, love and competence.
  2. Everyone wants respect – they just define it in the same way.
  3. Trust matters especially with the people you work directly with. Everyone wants to trust and want to be trusted.
  4. People of all generations want leaders who are credible and trustworthy. They also want them to listen well and be farsighted and encouraging.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. 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.
  8. 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.
  9. 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.
  10. 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!


American Management Association. (N.D.). Leading the Four Generations at Work [web log]. Retrieved from:

Deal, J. (2008). Retiring the Generation Gap: How Employees Young & Old Can Find Common Ground. Personnel Psychology, 61(1), 202-205.

Hammill, G. (2005) Mixing and Managing four generations of employees. FDU Magazine. [online, Winter/Spring 2005].

Weiss, M.J. (2003). To be about to be. American Demographics, 25(7), 29-36.

Wellner, A. S. (2003). The next 25 years. American Demographics, 25(3), 24-29.

Zidle, M. (2013) Working with different generations. [web log]. Retrieved from:

Needs Assessment or Needs Analysis?

Words are important. I hate to admit it – but they are. There are some folks who love to sit argueand debate from dawn until dusk about the best verb to use in a performance objective statement. I am 180 degrees opposite and want to get the verb that the majority agree on and move on! In my experience, the subject matter experts are pretty good at choosing a verb that works.

There are two terms that continue to get used interchangeably, Needs Assessment and Needs Analysis. Even worse is the fact that both can get shortened to “NA” by practitioners which can lead to even more confusion. Want to get crazy? Add in Training Needs Analysis (TNA) which is also often described as the “NA.”

If you want to find “the” explanation of NA and NA, be prepared for an arduous search through the Internet and many many texts where authors have put their own spin, tweak, massage and a coat of rust-o-leum paint on the definitions. I say “the” because there is no single definitive explanation.

While analyzing a previous client’s training system, the NA and NA terms were being used in very interesting but not necessarily accurate ways. To help clarify how the terms are related (but different) I headed to to do my own research. Watkins, Meiers and Visser’s (2012) FREE book A guide to assessing needs: Essential tools for collecting information, making decisions and achieving development results is an exceptional resource which helped me to develop the first version of this diagram:

na v na2
Needs Assessment vs. Analysis Concept Map

With some feedback from my colleagues John Egan and Julie Maiilé (merci mes amis), the diagram was tweaked, spun and massaged into the picture above which tells this story:

A performance problem or new opportunity starts with a Needs Assessment. When you do a Needs Assessment you will (should?) use both needs analysis and performance analysis. The results of the Needs Assessment works to improve results through the implementation of non-training and/or training interventions.

If a training intervention is required, then you will have to do a Training Needs Analysis. The TNA uses task analysis to determine what has to be trained and what doesn’t.

One of the big ah-hah’s in this client’s situation was that the Needs Assessment function resides within the training system and was being done by training specialists. How many non-training interventions do you think get recommended?

This is a very macro view of Needs Assessment aimed at making us all a little wiser about when we should use NA or NA… or maybe never use the acronym at all? If you want to learn more, go get that book! Did I mention it’s free!?


Watkins, R., Meiers, M.W., & Visser, Y.L. (2012). A guide to assessing needs: Essential tools for collecting information, making decisions and achieving development results. Washington, DC: The World Bank.


Learning Anytime Anywhere

ADHDA while back I said that my next musings would be around Dr. Tom Gilbert and the Behaviour Engineering Model (B.E.M). but I keep running into other things that catch my attention! I will  tie the BEM into the story at the end.

Last weekend we hosted a friend of my daughter’s who recently arrived at CFB Kingston to start his training as an Intelligence Operator (INT OP) in the Canadian Armed Forces (CAF). One of my first two projects as a Training Development Officer (TDO) was to convert the first forty hours of training for this course from Face-to-Face (F2F) to self-directed online learning. That was ten years ago… wow time flies!

2006 was “the year of the social network” (R. Macnus, 2006). Phones were getting smarter and the 3G network was here! Important to the CAF was the increased stability of its Learning Management System (LMS) “DNDLearn” which at the time was provided by Desire2Learn or D2L. Since then, the CAF has moved onto SABA and D2L created Brightspace. My point here is that with respect to Distance Learning (DL), the CAF was really at the beginning of a major shift when I was assigned the project.

When I took over the DL project, the school had already thought through a lot of the logistics and access issues. There was real (valid) concern that the learners might not have a computer, reliable Internet access or the support of their supervisors to commit the time required to complete the DL portion of the training. To address these issues, laptops, headsets and hard shipping cases were purchased to send to each student so everyone started at the same level with respect to technology. An instructor was available every day to support the learners. Learning contracts were developed that the instructor, the learner and the learner’s supervisor at the “home unit” had to sign.

This learning contract is really key to the story. The CAF is – understanding its culture – pretty particular about where it’s people are and what they are doing. The more junior you are, the more this applies! The staff at CFSMI were not about to let these new INT OPs run willy nilly all over the country unsupervised while they did this training! The instructional staff and I had some passionate debates about learner centricity and giving the learner responsibility. A tall order for an organization that is so control oriented.

Fast forward to last weekend. Matt and I were talking about his upcoming training and given my history with the initial attempt, I was naturally curious about what had changed! I wasn’t disappointed. The DL curriculum has expanded from 40 to 72 hours (9 training days) which is a pretty solid demonstration of success, but the change that really got me was that Matt has already headed back to Victoria while he completes his DL phase of training. The Chief Instructor’s directions were (in Matt’s words) “I don’t care where you do it, as long as you get it done on time and you don’t get hurt.” Quite a different contract from 2006.

Of course, logistics and access have changed quite a bit in the past ten years and the Defence Learning Network (DLN) has matured. More importantly, connectivity is not the issue it was and we are almost all connected. Internet access by individuals jumped from 67.9% in 2005 to 80.3% in 2009 (Statistics Canada, 2010). I couldn’t find more recent stats, but I think it is safe to say that access has surpassed 2009 levels and mobile technology keeps getting better.

So how does this story about learning relate to workplace performance? As  noted in Expectations of the Workforce, there is a consensus amongst  research and experts in the field of performance improvement that around 75-80 percent of the factors that influence performance are environmentally rather than individually based. The top row of Chevalier’s Improved Behaviour Engineering Model in Table 1 below helps focus the analyst’s attention here first.



Table 1: Updated BEM (Chevalier, 2003). Reprinted with permission.

The expectations “I don’t care where you do it, as long as you get it done on time and you don’t get hurt” are pretty clear! The maturity of the DNDLearn system ensures that guides, materials and tools are in place and support performance. The biggest change to me in this environment is the level of trust displayed by the leadership in allowing young Matt to really learn anywhere anytime, within the allotted timeframe of course. A truly incentivized environment!

My hat is off to the School of Military Intelligence and I trust Matt is enjoying being at home with friends and family while taking this first step in his journey to becoming an Intelligence Operator.


Macnus, R. (2006). 2006 Web Technology Trends. readwrite. Retrieved from, 09 Mar 2016.

Statistics Canada (2010). Internet use by individuals, by location of access, by province. Retrieved from 09 Mar 2016.

Chevalier, R. (2003). Updating the Behavior Engineering Model, Performance Improvement, 42(4), 8-13. Retrieved from

Expectations of the Workforce…

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 Capture
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’t provided 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.

Feedback is the breakfast of champions.
~Ken Blanchard

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…


Humble Beginnings

MugI have been working in the training and performance improvement field for a little over ten years now. There is so much information “out there” that I have never thought that there is something unique for me to add to the discourse so until now, I have remained a consumer of information with the exception of my own little professional network where I was more of a “sharer” than creator.

Yesterday I was interviewed by a graduate student from the University of Louisville who is studying Organizational Development and Learning. We spent about an hour talking about my beginnings in the field, past projects, my favourite thought leaders (many) and models (also many) and things he should consider in his future role as a  “consultant.” His positive reaction to my stories – “I learned more in this hour than all my classes,” an exaggeration I am certain, has prompted me to reconsider my potential as a creator of information.

I always joke that I am Métis but was raised a poor white boy. I enrolled in the Navy at the age of 18 as a Sonar Operator where any sailor will tell you, you learn quickly. After 17 years and a succession of promotions to Chief Petty Officer, I was looking for a change and timing was on my side. The military was paying for sailors, who were so interested, to pursue a Bachelor’s degree – the Navy paid, you committed the time. A great opportunity that with my wife’s encouragement, I took. (Thanks Momma!)

With my Commerce degree from Royal Roads University, I was qualified to take a commission and become a Training Development Officer or “TDO.” During my initial training, I learned about the Instructional and Performance Technology Programme (now Organizational Performance and Workplace Learning or OPWL or “opal”) at Boise State University, which really caught my attention. I had no idea that training was only ONE of many many ways that performance can be improved. What a revelation! The worst of it was that TRAINING, the thing I just learned all about, was (is) usually the most expensive. I also learned that if you write on a white board with permanent marker, all you have to do was scribble over it with a dry erase marker and wipe. It comes right off! That was good to know too.

In 2012 I was invited to join the Boise OPWL Faculty as an adjunct. What a privilege to share what I have learned so far and equally important – to learn from everyone in the program – faculty and students alike.

After ten years of “doing the business” in the military, yet another opportunity appeared and I retired to become a veteran and start a new career in the private sector doing the exact same thing I did as a TDO, but from home! That has been working really well! It is lean and focused and we get a lot done so it is very rewarding.

So in short – that’s how I got here. I am looking forward to sharing my view on the world through the lens of performance improvement.

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