A working list of guiding principles for leading through a crisis

The past few weeks have been unprecedented for all of us. At Affirm, we’ve been very busy trying to help our customers, merchants and our employees during this crisis. While there have been other crises I have dealt with at work, this far exceeds any of the previous ones. One of the things I am trying to articulate is what does it take to be a good leader, manager, boss during such a crisis.

Here’s a working list of guiding principles I’ve come up with:

  1. People come first: Always prioritize your team member’s needs around their safety and health over the business’s needs. Say this to them often, listen to their concerns and act accordingly.
  2. Be compassionate: Crises energize some people and for others, it can be stressful, sometimes to the point of inaction. Recognize the folks who’ve risen to the occasion and help those who are struggling.
  3. Focus on what matters: During a crisis, leaders get pulled in different directions. So defining your focus and energy becomes even more critical. Make sure you are focusing on initiatives where you add value to the business. Don’t be in there just because you can get more face time with other leaders.
  4. Divide work equitably: Don’t immediately assume that all your team members are equally busy during a crisis. Evaluate what’s on each team member’s plate and try to be equitable in assigning work to each of them.
  5. Asking for discretionary effort: Feel comfortable asking for people to go above and beyond. You are doing this and it is only fair that others do so. We are all in it together.
  6. Create space for feedback: You might have said this ad nauseam to your team – give me feedback, feel comfortable to disagree, etc. In a crisis more than ever you need to create space and opportunity to do exactly that. It will help you avoid blind spots, consider all angles and help you make decisions faster.

Got guiding principles or tips of your own? Share them in the comments below.

This post first appeared on LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/working-list-guiding-principles-leading-through-crisis-mukerji/

Looking beyond style – Separating good instructional design from bad instructional design


Last morning, I was waiting by the sidelines as my 5-year old daughter was at her Bear Cub Gymnastics class at the Golden Bears Recreation Center. At this gym you can see some future star gymnasts hard at work perfecting their skills and routines. About half hour into my daughter’s class, they cleared the center of the gym and a few girls between the age of 9 and 13 started their warm-ups. One of the things they did was the standing backflip or back tuck. And watching them I looked towards another parent and before I could say it – she said: “I wish I could do that.”

Later in the evening back in the comfort of my couch and wanting to kill some time, I was surfing YouTube and searched for “How to do a backflip.” Among the top search results was this video:

The video was pretty well made by YouTube vlogging standards, and the guy in the video clearly knew what he was doing. He used a few devices that would help a person learn this move – repetition, breakdowns of steps, slow-motion etc. In spite of this, I felt he made it look too easy and consequently too hard for a novice like me to even conceive trying to learn how to do one.  

Due to YouTube’s brilliant autoplay feature, I kept viewing other backflip tutorials done by other YouTube users including Howcast. And then I came across this video from UrbanNinja Fitness&Sports by “Kai.”

I loved how Kai breaks down all the drills that would prepare you for doing a back flip. In fact, right at the beginning he says this: ” …if you can’t do this one… you should go home and do some push-ups and sit-ups..” – nicely done, Kai – way to clearly explain the pre-requisites for this tutorial (I need to start here :-0) . He then goes on to show a progression of drills that would help you prepare yourself to do a standing backflip – a seemingly impossible feat for a novice. While a number of videos I saw were slicker, shorter or more entertaining, this one really took me step by step to a point where having perfected all the drills, one could possibly think of attempting a standing backflip.

And this is what good instructional design is – helping learners understand what steps they need to do to gain proficiency or mastery in performing a skill or task. Breaking down how a pro does something is often NOT a good way to help a novice learn. One has to go back to what pre-requisite knowledge, skills or abilities does one need to possess in order to perform the task.

OK- Gotta go know – time to do some push-ups and sit-ups….

Rethinking Learning Management Systems

In my decade long career in technology-enabled learning, I have spent a lot of time using, managing or implementing learning management systems (LMS). I first used them as a student – we used Blackboard at Grad School and then at each of the companies I worked at – GreenPoint (Docent & SumTotal), Bechtel Corporation(SumTotal & SuccessFactors) and now at LinkedIn (Cornerstone On Demand). At some point right after Grad school, I even designed an online course on how to use a feature in an LMS (Plateau) (Now that just doesn’t sound right- a course on the LMS on how to use an LMS!)

Everyone in corporate education complains about their LMS – in fact my favorite quote about LMSs is from someone I met years back who said he selected the LMS for his company because he hated this particular LMS the least and liked the people representing this vendor the most. But I know this is harsh particularly for all the smart people I have met who work for these LMS companies.

So what’s going on here?

In my opinion, the issue with most of these systems (and many other enterprise systems like CRM, ERP etc.) is that they eventually become so feature rich (ok- so bloated) that often these complex features designed to serve a few, start impacting the very basic features that every user needs to use these systems. Very simple transactions that users perform effortlessly elsewhere, in other content consumption platforms like Websites, Blogs, or YouTube, become mired in complexity in an LMS. A few examples – multiple steps to launch online courses (which after all that effort typically load in a pop-up window that the users browser suppresses.), the inability to launch content on mobile browsers from an email deep link or completing a course evaluation right after taking a learning event. The ‘friction’ in these experiences is not solely the fault of LMS vendors who design these systems – requirements from compliance training and certification organizations dominate how these systems are designed (features such as five-step training approvals and sign-off requirements). These requirements seem to consume most of the time that product teams at LMS companies spend their time on.

But I believe the tide is turning – in the past 2 years, I have attended two conferences hosted by two large LMS vendors and I am heartened by the focus on user experience & user interface design during their CEO keynotes and product demos. Of course these vendors are not starting from scratch so they have to craft an elegant user experience over a system that is already being used by millions of users and a software stack that was written years back. But as these vendors do these makeovers and as new entrants come to this already crowded market, I’d like to propose a simple conceptual framework to think about these systems:

Be Invisible and Frictionless
LMSs should be invisible – users should be able to get to the content they need to get to gain proficiency or mastery without encountering any friction – login windows, register buttons, pop-ups – Is their team intranet or the product they are using the most natural setting for them to need training – let them launch content from that location. Let them launch a webinar directly from the confirmation email or the calendar invite.

Be Visible and add Value
LMS should be visible only when they add value – Course landing pages that explain why users need to take the courses they’ve been assigned (MOOCs do a really good job with this), how much progress have they made towards completing an assigned curriculum, what are others saying about the course or what other courses should they take if they indicated that they liked the one they just completed. Even well-designed easy-to-print transcripts that they can print and mail to their licensure organization.

I am eager to hear what others (particularly those who like me spend a good portion of their time managing an LMS) think of this framework – what features would you want to make invisible or how would you improve a feature that’s currently visible? So chime in – Maybe a few product managers from your ‘favorite’ LMS vendor are reading this post!

There’s a lesson here for IDs…

I laughed out loud at this video. I am sure I have done this to some courses I’ve developed. I’ve certainly received slide decks from SMEs that are similar to the final design of the package.

p.s. This is an old internal video created by Microsoft’s own packaging team as a humorous look at branding and packaging issues for marketers.

via MacRumors


Boots On The Ground: Introducing A Community of Practice at Bechtel

My colleague Paul and I wrote an article for the Learning Solutions Magazine about building a community of practice at our company. Here’s a summary:

In this article, the authors, members of the Global Learning and Development team at Bechtel, a global engineering and construction firm, give a detailed account of building an online community of practice geared to help field professionals share knowledge and insights gained at the project sites with each other. A key point they attempt to make in this article is that with the right game plan, it IS possible to start and nurture informal learning communities even in organizations where management has not explicitly embraced the value of social learning and networking.

Find the full article here. (eLearning Guild membership required.)

Six Word Summaries

I really enjoyed this Sebastian Wernicke TEDx Talk about how he approached the task of summarizing each TEDTalk to six words.

Now wouldn’t it be fun to summarize every piece of content we consume in to six word summaries.  Or how about starting with summarizing all the content you create…online courses, white papers, even e-mails? It also might be interesting to ask each learner to create their own summaries of each courses and posting them for all learners to see.

Instructional design advice from Orwell

My colleague Paul Drexler, a man of many many talents, has been working on improving some eLearning courses and shared some sage advice from Orwell via e-mail.

“I’ve been struggling to organize my thoughts on making these courses better.  This morning an essay came to me which brilliantly describes and sums up some of these thoughts.  I refer to Politics and the English Languagean essay by George Orwell, author of Animal Farm and 1984.  I read this my college Freshman year and it made a deep and lasting impression.  If we followed Orwell’s suggestions alone we would greatly improve our courses.”

If you want just  the take away points, read Orwell’s summary below:

  1. Never use a metaphor, simile, or other figure of speech which you are used to seeing in print.
  2. Never use a long word where a short one will do.
  3. If it is possible to cut a word out, always cut it out.
  4. Never use the passive where you can use the active.
  5. Never use a foreign phrase, a scientific word, or a jargon word if you can think of an everyday English equivalent.
  6. Break any of these rules sooner than say anything outright barbarous.

mLearnCon 2011: Our impressions

My colleague Paul & I attended a mobile learning conference in San Jose last week. We interviewed each other to record our impressions of the conference while it was still fresh in our memory. See it here: 

p.s. We made the video in a hurry so some details are missing from the video or are incorrect.

1. Jeremiah Owyang Keynote slides are here: http://www.web-strategist.com/blog/2011/06/21/slides-developing-a-learning-strategy-for-mobile-and-social-keynote/ (And my last name isn’t Johnson, so I shouldnt comment on someone’s last name.)

2. A brilliant young chap by the name of John Park co-presented with Alison Rossett.  http://www.elearningguild.com/mLearnCon/concurrent-sessions/session-details.cfm?session=2430Link to their presentation here: http://www.johnjpark.com/mlearning/MLC11_505_ROSSETTPARK.pdf

3. NexLearn doesn’t just sell SimWriter but they build custom sims. And Brandon Andrews, the presenter at the session I attended is THE expert to learn how to write simulations from.

Make it simple!

This week I heard a NPR Planet Money Podcast that’s probably the best piece on Instructional Design that I’ve come across in a long time. I think it’s very relevant because a majority of e-learning designers write courses for regulatory or technical compliance and we often work with SMEs whose viewpoint on the subject matter to be taught resembles the view of the attorney in the piece who thinks every line of the credit card agreement is important and that every one who receives such a notice should read it (like she does!)

I encourage all my designer colleagues to give this podcast a listen (click here)! Not only is the content excellent but the podcast uses humor so well to make its point.

Taleo buys Learn.com: some thoughts on consolidation

This morning I learned of Taleo’s purchase of Learn.com through a Bersin e-mail alert. Bersin goes on to say:

” This announcement marks the beginning of a fundamental change that Bersin & Associates projects in the stand-alone LMS market. Our research shows that this market is rapidly bifurcating into integrated talent management systems and highly specialized learning systems.”

While I understand this trend of leaders in Talent Management software (SuccessFactors, TaleoPeopleclick Authoria, Kenexa) growing through  acquisitions and it doesn’t come as a surprise, I think what’s happening is bad for customers. All these vendors are good at only specific parts of the TM process (like Recruitment, Compensation or Performance) .  The part that made them a leader. (Taleo with recruiting, SuccessFactors with Performance…) They are often poor or mediocre at other parts of the process. Customers buying these ‘integrated talent management suites’ are often locked in to a suite and have to re-engineer their processes to map to the mediocre or poor parts of the suite, losing some of the complexity and richness they enjoyed in the software they used to manage the process previously. Furthermore, the promise of integration is often superficial. Data from one part of the suite does not seamlessly flow to another.

I think this approach of buying one tool or suite that does it all seems outdated. When you see what’s happening outside the world of Enterprise Software, we see that a bunch of sites and platforms interacting seamlessly (Twitter, Facebook, Flickr, Picasa etc. etc.) What might be useful is to build a framework like Open Social specific to Talent processes and data that allows seamless flow between different TM tools and other related platforms like ERP, CRM and Enterprise Social Networking and Knowledge Management.

footnote: I think this post relates to my previous post on fB Places and checking in. fB places is guaranteed to be popular because it’s got a captive audience of 1/2 a billion. Yes, more people will use it because it shows up in an app they already visit. But it does not have the richness of foursquare. foursquare was purpose built to do check-ins. It has interesting game elements, badges etc….And it even integrates with fB. But fB users will see none of that richness of foursquare.