We talk a lot in this business about client requests, stakeholder needs, and formal design processes. But sometimes a performance issue is so glaring and has such a simple and obvious remedy, that we could just skip all the rigmarole. Sometimes we don’t need a needs analysis or storyboards or a committee to review it all. And sometimes, when it isn’t directly related to a specific work task or role, or happens so often it becomes white noise, we may miss a glaringly obvious opportunity to fix a problem.

Coffee, anyone?

To wit: There’s a new coffee machine at the office, a brewer that uses small coffee pods. You pop a pod in, press “brew,” and the coffee brews in about 15 seconds. Seems easy enough to me, but then, I have one at home. But many of the participants who come to our building for training don’t think so. I was at my desk one recent morning when I heard, for the forty-eleventh irritating time, the receptionist walking someone back to the break room while explaining how to work the coffee maker.

I Googled around to see if a job aid already existed, but nothing turned up. So I walked to the break room, used my iPhone to take a few pictures (lift brewer lid, insert coffee pod, close lid, press “brew”), walked back to my desk, and made a quick job aid in PowerPoint. I printed it out, slipped it into a plastic sleeve, and taped it to the counter. Done. DONE. It took maybe 15 minutes. Performance problem eliminated. Receptionist thanked me. Not one more trip down the hall for her since. In the day-to-day activity flurry, it just never occurred to anyone that there was a simple fix. And probably, because of the location of my office, no one else realized how often the receptionist was doing this. Moral? Don’t get mad: Make a job aid.

It’s not about what you want

And: We talk a lot in this business about “getting people to” – adopt, or try, or use, or embrace, or incorporate. Often this is in regard to a new technology, device, tool, method, approach, or process. This comes up in many of my conversations about incorporating social media into the workplace: “I can’t get them to use wikis….” “I can’t get them to post to Twitter….” (Note: You really can’t get anyone to do anything, but that’s another column.)

My own work involves finding ways to use social tools for learning, but that isn’t at the exclusion of using them for anything else. Watch for opportunities to solve someone’s problem using the tool or approach you’re trying to sell, and be aware it may have nothing to do with some training project you’re working on. Stop thinking about what you want, and consider what they need.

Case in point: My boss was heading up a large committee (of which I was a member) to evaluate a large software purchase. After a meeting she sent an e-mail: “Attached is an Excel sheet with the criteria we discussed today. Everyone please take a last look and send me your edits.” What would she have gotten back? Fifteen iterations of the same document. I went to her office and said, “I think I can make compiling that information easier for you.” I sat down at her computer, uploaded the Excel sheet as a Google doc, and showed her how to share it. It rocked her world! She re-sent her message and ended up with one final document to edit. We did not convene committees or discuss best practices in using collaborative documents. I didn’t show her 33 other things Google Docs could do. She got it! Done. DONE. Now? She is my strongest advocate among the senior managers in encouraging use of better, new approaches, and has lately caught fire about other tools like Doodle and iTunesU.

Doesn’t “wiki” mean “fast”?

A friend reported a similar experience in trying to “get” her colleagues to use wikis. After several discouraging false starts, she overheard them struggling with the logistics of planning a baby shower for a coworker. She set up a wiki with separate pages for guest list, decorations, food, and logistics, and gave them all editing access. Problem solved. Done. DONE. The colleagues loved it, used it, and are now happily using wikis in their work.

Git ’er done!

I’ve said it before – Instructional Designer is a job title; “performance consultant” is a mindset. Not everything requires “instruction.” Many of us are involved in work that doesn’t start and end in a day or two, but sometimes we can just solve something right then.


Want More?

Job Aids: Rossett, A. and Schafer, L. (2006). Job Aids and Performance Support. Pfeiffer.

Implementing change: There are hundreds of resources on change management, and everyone tends to have their favorite flavor among the choices. Something different: look at the literature on Positive Deviance. Start with Pascale, R., Sternin, J. & Sternin, M. (2010). The Power of Positive Deviance: How Unlikely Innovators Solve the World's Toughest Problems. Harvard Business Review Press. Also check out the Positive Deviance Initiative at: http://www.positivedeviance.org/.