I’m Up & I’m Down – with the Anticipation & Memories

This time of year lately brings me a mixed bag of emotions.

I’m Up

For 31 of the last 33 Aprils (with a few exceptions when the timing was March) I have looked forward to my attendance at the ISPI Conference and the chance to meet up with many in my Professional Network at ISPI. Nowadays everyone has their favorite conference – where they network with their peers and instead of exchanging Business Cards – they bump or point their mobile smart phones at each other. Nowadays it is easier to stay more connected throughout the year via Social media and the like, when in the past, the 80s and 90s it was a phone call on rare occasion – making the F2F meet-ups all the more important.

Today we have the promise at hand of EPSS – as I heard from Gloria Gery in the 1980s – so long ago. Yes, we still don’t have the George Jetson space car – but we have the bounty of technology developed initially for the US Space Program.

Miniaturization of electronics figuratively put a rocket in your pocket/pocketbook.


I’m Down

I’m down as this time of year reminds me of those who are no longer with us, such as one of my key mentors, the late Geary Rummler. There are others who are gone and I miss them too. And I’ve had many mentors – some of whom will be at this next ISPI conference.

Ah, life.

ISPI’s 50th Anniversary Conference

In fact several old fogies are coming out of retirement to make the trek to Toronto – including but not limited to – Joe Harless. One still active member – who has only missed one conference since the first in 1962 due to foot surgery at the last-minute, Roger Kaufman will again be there with his lovely wife Jan. If you’ve been to a Conference then you’ve met or at least seen Jan. Roger is as they say, the last man standing – from those who started this merry band of Educational Revolutionaries.

Once they collectively discovered that Training ain’t the cause of Performance Problems – they quickly expanded their view to all of the other variables. The fact that Training (or Communications and Education) is in the mix of the Solution-Set – is often confusing for many, new to The Society and/or from other affinity groups – where Training or Learning seems to be the be-all-to-end-all about Performance – when the data seems to suggest that somewhere between 80 to 96% of all Performance/Process problems are due to other causes – see this here by new Board member Brett Christensen and I – Chasing Down the Elusive Credits for Facts and Fictions in Learning and Improvement – published recently online at eLearn Magazine – I and others tend to not get to caught up in the frenzy that our specialty is THE SPECIALTY and will save the world, the whales or the whalers.

Those of us trying to avoid learning Myths in the First Place – appreciate places like ISPI and eLearn Magazine – where the Foo Foo is verboten. Or quickly tamped down after raising it ugly little head.

Ah, the EBP – Evidence Based Practices Crowd.

Meeting the Good Doctor

I had met Geary Rummler at the 1980 NSPI Conference – after having worked alongside two who had worked with his brother and working with his brother-in-law, for 8 months at Wickes Lumber in Saginaw Michigan – my first real gig out of college. I was introduced to him after one of his sessions at NSPI. I had been reading articles that he and Tom Gilbert had written – along with other writings of other NSPI gurus, Mager, Harless, the two Brethowers and a few others – and I got introduced to many others whom I would soon begin to learn from – as they helped me climb THAT Learning Curve of getting from “training to performance.”

At Wickes we used a derivative of a derivative of the work of Rummler and Gilbert. My co-workers had come to Saginaw from Detroit and Blue Cross Blue Shield where again, they worked with brother Rick Rummler. All of the Insurance stories/cases studies in Gilbert’s “Human Performance” book came from The Blues – which was a bit of a laboratory – as it was explained to me so long ago. We practiced Performance-based Instructional Design at Wickes and uncovered the non-Knowledge/Skill issues as we did our Instructional Analysis.

Ah, the early 1980s.

Trading on the Name of the Good Doctor

I left Wickes after 18 months and joined a new department at Motorola – and I got hired because I had Geary Rummler’s name on the 1st of my 16-page Resume booklet. Thank you Barbara Warbritton for seeing that and setting it aside for the new Director who hadn’t quite started yet: Bill Wiggenhorn.

Ah, serendipity.

Working with the Good Doctor

At MTEC – Motorola’s Training & Education Center I worked with Geary and his cohort Carol Panza (when she was just a child) – they were my consultants working on my projects – several projects – which meant that I carried their pencils a lot – as the phrase went, back in the day.

And I observed and learned from two of the masters of what was sometimes referred to as Performance Technology and then later Human Performance Technology – where Technology had little to do with computer technology but everything to do with the application of science. That energized me and encouraged me to get even more involved with NSPI – the National Society for Performance & Instruction – before it became the International Society for Performance & Instruction before becoming the International Society for Performance Improvement. Hey, shift happens  – as the paraphrase went, back in the day.

And I ran for ISPI office – first the Board, and then after a year’s break, for the Presidency – and in that capacity I got to work more closely with Geary again, in attempting in 2003-4 to bring to life a concept that he had proposed in a 1983 article about defining HPT using Technology Domains versus a paragraph or two.

Ah, the Wisdom of My Crowd.

Lesson in Attributions 

I learned something very important from Geary – about attributing my “ideas” and professional contributions. I asked Geary for his advice on attributions  when I brought my book “lean-ISD” to him in early 1999 with the promise to remove all references to him and his influence if he thought I had screwed up his work and it would be an embarrassment. Here is the good Doctor – wearing a CADDI (my firm at the time) hat. He had us take this photo and others with his camera, and then sent me the pictures afterwards.

He gave me his advice on how to attribute the influence of others – something lost in the computer archives that I have not been able to dig out. But the attributions in “lean-ISD” were done after his instruction.

Ah, the many lessons from a master. Do unto others….

In the Files But No Longer On the Internet

…is this piece… where I can find references to it – but not the original that I had snagged and put into a Word document.

Ah, the Internet.

Enjoy – and here is my critique: Right On!

Geary Rummler Discusses Training and Consequences

The late Geary Rummler, Ph.D., was a pioneer in the application of instructional and performance technologies to organizations.

ER Editor Randy Barrett conducted this interview – in July 1996.

ER: Where is workplace training now and where does it need to go?

GR: The training folks need to understand that they only have a piece of the action. They need to understand the business process, the consequence system and the feedback system [in the workplace]. Frequently the problem is misdiagnosed as a training problem: “These dodos don’t know how to do it, so let’s train them again.” In fact, they know how to do it, they just know better than to do it.

Geary Rummler, Ph.D. , CPT

The late Geary Rummler, Ph.D., was a pioneer in the application of instructional and performance technologies to organizations. His clients in the private sector included the sales, service and manufacturing sectors of a wide range of industries. Rummler authored several seminal books on performance improvement and training and at the time of this interview was a partner in the Rummler-Brache Group. The following interview was conducted by ER Editor Randy Barrett.

ER: Where is workplace training now and where does it need to go?

GR: The training folks need to understand that they only have a piece of the action. They need to understand the business process, the consequence system and the feedback system [in the workplace]. Frequently the problem is misdiagnosed as a training problem: “These dodos don’t know how to do it, so let’s train them again.” In fact, they know how to do it, they just know better than to do it.


ER: How does your theory of consequences fit in today’s work scene?

GR: People will do things that lead to positive consequences and they will avoid things that lead to negative consequences. For example, if you have a ticket agent at the airport, the rule is he is only allowed to check two bags free and must charge excess baggage for the third. That’s the rule. But if a ticket agent does that, a series of things are going to happen to him. One is, the customer is going to be highly pissed-off. Secondly he has to fill out a form to handle the $60 transaction – that adds more time, makes the line longer and upsets everybody else. And then it turns out the supervisor gets angry because what a supervisor is evaluated on is how long people wait in line. So the consequence system for the ticket agent is highly negative.

At another level, what you have is a conflict of consequences. You have the airline telling the ticket agent to collect excess baggage charges, but then you have the airline also telling the boss to keep the line moving. That little piece [of conflict] is so significant to implementing all these changes in process that we’re talking about. You can design these processes and use all the fancy technology you want, but if you haven’t built what we call that “human performance system” and aligned it from the bottom worker on up to the vice president the thing is going to fall apart.


ER: So what you’re saying is don’t forget the human being.

GR: Yes. Absolutely. And what we’ve been seeing too is that we’re redesigning processes and we’re not thinking through the management system and that points back to the human element too.


ER: If reengineering is going to be done right, how should it be done?

GR: I think one starting point is the business case for whatever change you’re going to make. For example, one of our clients builds computer disk drives. It takes two and a half to three years to design a new disk drive. But the problem is the life cycle for a new disk drive is now two years. They’re taking three years to build something that’s going to last two years. They’ve got a business case that says they’ve got to learn how to design new disk drives in nine months. So then they begin to build what that work process looks like and what that requires from all the players in the organization. In my world, I tend to view information technology as an enabler. First we need to understand how we need to understand how we’re going to design new products and then we’re going to figure out how to use information technology to support the thing and really make it go faster. Then, as part of the design, we’re going to get very clear what it is we have to have from engineers, marketing people – all the human beings. So then it’s really clarifying the roles and responsibilities of all the people, not only the people along the process, but what’s required of people in each of those hierarchies. You need to align the system vertically as well as horizontally.


ER: It sounds like you accept the fact that vertical structures exists. Do you generally support the idea of a vertical organization?

GR: From our experience, we very much understand the horizontal organization, but I have not been overwhelmed by the results of people who try to reorganize along process lines. Functions or departments are going to tend to exist – that’s a fairly efficient way to manage resources and keep them professionally developed.


ER: So what you’re saying is vertical is a fact of life?

GR: Yes.


ER: What kind of research are you currently working on?

GR: One of the things we’re interested in, that we think will change the way organizations approach the challenge is this: You can improve all these individual processes but what seems to be missing is understanding how all those individual processes fit together into a whole system.

Organizations need to be managed as a system. If you fix each of these processes and manage them without understanding the organization, you’re going to have a problem for two reasons. One, the bottom line is that organizations have to adapt to the external world – what we call the “supersystem.” Part of what management has to do is be scanning that supersystem to understand what’s going on. The second part is, once you understand you have to make certain changes, how do you communicate those signals for change to your organization? Traditionally you communicate through the old vertical system, you change everyone’s management by objectives. The response time is terrible.

But if you send the signal for change down through the organization as a set of processes and you let the processes then dictate to each function what it’s got to do support each process [it can work]. In our disk drive example, the 9-month objective tells marketing what they’ve got to do, what engineering has to do and what manufacturing has to do. All those people are involved in the redesign of that process.

And For More

The work of the late Geary Rummler lives on – with the work and writings of his business partners at the PDL – The Performance Design Lab:


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