Archive for October, 2010

Living in the moment

Thursday, October 28th, 2010

Here in the UK, Christmas is upon us – or so the advertisers and retailers would have us believe. A visit to some of your local high street shops will give the impression you need to do your shopping now. To encourage us further, there are discounts for buying early – to help the retailers more than for our benefit. Should you be unfortunate enough to have to watch TV adverts without being able to fast forward through them, there are already numerous ones with Christmas themes. And we are still in October.

Recently I spent a couple of weeks working at a company office. I visited the canteen on a daily basis and chatted to a very friendly person there each day. I asked him how he was (or something similar) each day. On the Tuesday of the second week he replied, “Better than yesterday, because we’re one day closer to Friday”. “Does that mean that Wednesday will be better than Tuesday?”, I responded. “You’ve got it”, he replied.

He continued with his work as we chatted. I thought I was starting to understand his rationale, but I needed to test it to make sure I understood it. “So, Monday is the worst day of the week …?” I asked. I paused and he nodded, “ … and Saturday is the best day of the week?” 

“No!”, he replied, laughing – “Friday is the best day of the week”. I hadn’t expected this answer. “So why Friday rather than Saturday?” I asked, inquisitively. “Well”, he responded, “Saturday is one day closer to Monday, which as you now know is the worst day of the week”. I pondered and then sought to clarify my understanding. “So even though you work on Friday and not on Saturday, and obviously look forward to the weekend, you look forward to Friday more than Saturday?”. “Yeah, you’ve got it!”, he said with a big smile.

I thought for a moment, and responded, “Do you ever live for the moment?” “What do you mean?” he said, slightly quizzically. “Well, do you ever just enjoy the moment, whatever day of the week it is, without thinking too much about the future or the past?” He stopped – not only talking, but his work. As he stood absolutely still, his eyes were focussed far into the distance.   About 10 seconds later, he came back to our conversation. “That’s brilliant, that – I’m going to try that”, he said with a decisive tone to his voice.

And that’s where I think we are at with Christmas – and it’s almost a fight now to be able to live it in the moment. I remember being in Barcelona a couple of years ago during the week before Christmas. I was sitting in a coffee shop in a shopping centre by the Port. I watched two young women – late teens or early 20’s – sitting wrapping all the presents they had bought that afternoon. They were having so much fun, and putting so much effort into making curly ribbons. They were oblivious to everything else around them. It was an oasis of Christmas fun with a retail backdrop.

Whether it’s Christmas or some other time or event, how often do you live for the moment?


Avoiding evaluation pitfalls

Sunday, October 24th, 2010

In my last post I said that I would use this one to explain how to avoid common pitfalls when undertaking evaluations. So here goes …

  1. Identify your sponsor. This is the person asking for the evaluation and has the authority to implement any recommendations. If the person you are working to is not the person who can implement your findings, you haven’t found your sponsor. What’s the point in carrying out work specified by a person who cannot do anything with it?
  2. The list of ‘10 key questions to ask’ that I published in my last post have to be discussed and agreed with your sponsor. Without clarity on these answers you will not be able to create an appropriate methodology. You may want to produce lots of statistical data, but if that’s not what he or she requires, it’s pointless creating it.  This helps you get your methodology spot on.
  3. When you are asked to evaluate something, remember that there will be a reason for it – and sometimes that reason will not be shared with you. Your sponsor may want the evaluation to prove something, they might want to use it to justify something or they may have already decided what your findings should be. So, what happens when your findings are different or you come up with the ‘wrong’ answers? What can happen is that the evaluator gets blamed for problem. You have used an inappropriate methodology or interpreted the data incorrectly or just not done what the sponsor asked. The focus is turned on the evaluator. So whenever you agree something with your sponsor get it signed – it is one of the many strands of life where having an insurance policy can be useful even though you don’t expect to need one. And this one costs nothing. And if the sponsor is reluctant to acknowledge his or her agreement to it, you perhaps need to be concerned at that early stage. Why are they reluctant? Do they actually know what they want?
  4. Once the evaluator has chosen an appropriate methodology, it can be very easy to stray off the planned route. At regular intervals check the methodology still fits with the agreement you have with the sponsor. This will help you stay on track, and to appropriately amend the methodology should it be warranted.
  5. Triangulation. Often you will find what appears to be a meaningful or important piece of data. If you are to publish it, I suggest that you triangulate it. That means you corroborate it from a different source. Using non-triangulated data can be problematic and may make your findings easier to challenge.
  6. Consider letting the sponsor and key stakeholders see copies of your report prior to publication – assuming your agreement with your sponsor allows this. This is particularly useful if you have some controversial data. You may get asked to remove it – which you can then do if you think it appropriate – however, you will already have made your point to those people who matter.

By following this guidance you should avoid the common pitfalls, keep on track, protect yourself and be able to produce a very effective evaluation report.

Good luck!


The key to productive evaluation

Monday, October 18th, 2010

When managing a project or delivering training it is important that we know what our manager, sponsor or client needs from us. Clarity is required. Without it we are unlikely to deliver a good quality product.

There is exactly the same requirement when undertaking an evaluation of a training or learning event. But for some reason evaluators often obtain the information they think is appropriate rather than what the sponsor requires.

Here are the 10 key questions to ask your sponsor in order to unlock their exact requirements and ensure you deliver what is required:

1. Do you require statistical or anecdotal data? A person requiring statistical information probably wants to be able to scientifically back up the findings ensuring it is provable and measurable. If the sponsor prefers anecdotal information they may well be looking for thoughts and impressions as to how it appears to others.

2. Do you want simple answers to simple questions or complex process issues to be addressed?

3. When obtaining data, do you want a large sample size of respondents to be used or a case study approach? With the former we would interview or question lots of people, with the latter we would follow individuals or ideas from start to finish, like a thread.

4. Is the report intended as a management tool or a practitioner’s tool? In other words, is it for the sponsor or another manager to use to improve a situation or is it for the providers to help them?

5. Am I, as the evaluator, required to make a judgement with sanctions, or am I non-judgemental in my approach?  With the former, I may be required to report on whether people are following a specific policy and name those who were not. With the latter, the sponsor does not want people to feel threatened and wants them to develop issues.

6. Are my findings to be specific or anonymous? This indicates whether the sponsor is more interested in who is doing (or not doing) what or more interested in what staff really think about the issues.

7. Is it a set agenda or a progressive agenda?  The former means the evaluator sticks to the initial remit, the latter gives permission to go with new or unexpected issues that arise.

8. Is the final report (assuming there will be one) to make recommendations or pose questions? The former gives the readers a clear idea of what is required whilst the latter involves everyone in how the goal or noteworthy practice can be achieved.

9. Is the information gathered to be closed or open? With the former, only the sponsor gets to know about the findings, whereas with the latter everyone knows tham as they become apparent

10. Is the feedback to be ‘official’ (summative) or ‘formative’? The former would usually be a full report with recommendations to act on whilst the latter would be a product enabling everyone to understand what is happening so that those involved are in the best position to decide where to go to next.

As you will have seen, all the questions contain alternatives. If your responses are all towards the first alternative within each question, you will be undertaking what can be called a ‘Bureacratic’ evaluation. If your sponsor’s preferences are more towards each of the second alternatives, your evaluation methodology will be more ‘Democratic’.

Get this right and you have sound foundations for your work. Get this wrong or omit to do it, you are almost guaranteed problems. In my next post I’ll explain why, and how, to avoid the potential pitfalls.


How do I ask that?

Wednesday, October 13th, 2010

On the community forums where I often post comments I spend a significant proportion of the time answering or offering thoughts on learning and development evaluation. This then leads to me receiving other personal emails regarding the subject. One of the key areas that appears to be problematic for a number of people relates to questionnaire writing.

I have formed this opinion both from the questions I have been asked and from seeing some of the questionnaires that people have asked me to complete or critique. I think this is because people often think (something like) “They are only questions – I ask questions all the time”. They can therefore assume it is straightforward and so don’t put sufficient thought and time into the process. Exactly what information are you looking for? What type or style of questions are most likely to elicit the information. How should they be worded?

It is a critical area. It can have a huge impact on the quality and quantity of the primary data you generate. Many years ago I was lucky to have had the opportunity to write and deliver an 11-week course on Training Evaluation. As you might gather from the duration of the course, it was very detailed! We spent a day of the Programme looking at how to write a covering letter to a questionnaire, and another 3 days on the actual formulation and writing of the questionnaire itself.

Are you thinking of writing a questionnaire? If so, the following 10 principles will assist you to maximise the quality of data and quantity of questionnaires returned to you.

1                     Avoid general or vague questions

2                     Avoid hypothetical questions

3                     Avoid leading questions

4                     Avoid double-barrelled questions

5                     Avoid jargon

6                     Avoid potentially embarrassing questions

7                     Keep your questions short

8                     Consider your terminology

9                     Open ended or prompted questions?

10                 Apply all the principles appropriately

If you go to the Discussions area of my Company Facebook Page you will find a document with more detail on each of these principles, together with examples of each. Or you can email me if you would like a version in MS Word.

On my next post I will look at two different models of evaluation.


The power of poems

Thursday, October 7th, 2010

I recently blogged about how the use of stories can be very impactive when delivering training or important messages. As some of you will know, it is National Poetry Week here in England and so I thought I’d share a couple of poems that I have seen make a difference for people. I have used these both when working with groups and when coaching individuals.

Risks (Anonymous)

To weep, is to risk appearing sentimental.
To reach out to another, is to risk involvement.
To expose feelings, is to risk exposing our true selves.
To put your ideas, your dreams, before the crowd is to risk loss.
To love, is to risk not being loved in return.
To live, is to risk dying.
To hope, is to risk despair.
To try at all, is to risk failure.

Only the person who risks is free.

But risks must be taken,
Because the greatest hazard in life is to risk nothing.
The person who risks nothing, does nothing, has nothing, is nothing.
They may avoid suffering and sorrow, but they simply cannot learn, change, feel, grow, love, live…
Chained by their attitudes they are slaves.

Untitled (Nadine Stair)

If I had my life to live over, I’d dare to make more mistakes next time. I’d relax, I would limber up. I would be sillier than I have been this trip. I would take fewer things seriously. I would take more chances. I would climb more mountains and swim more rivers. I would eat more ice cream and less beans.

I would perhaps have more actual troubles, but I’d have fewer imaginary ones. You see, I’m one of those people who lived sensibly and sanely, hour after hour, day after day. Oh, I’ve had my moments, and if I had to do it over again, I’d have more of them. In fact, I’d try to have nothing else. Just moments, one after another, instead of living so many years ahead of each day.

I’ve been one of those persons who never goes anywhere without a thermometer, a hot water bottle, a raincoat and a parachute. If I had to do it again, I would travel lighter than I have. If I had my life to live over, I would start barefoot earlier in the spring and stay that way later in the fall. I would go to more dances. I would ride more merry-go-rounds. I would pick more daisies.

Do you have a favourite poem that could be used in such a way? If so, it would be great to read it.


Organisational maturity

Sunday, October 3rd, 2010

As we leave September and the nights grow longer here in the UK, many organisations are awaiting the Spending Review due to be published on 20 October. I was at a Business Link event last week and this was one of the main topics of conversations. There is understandably much concern and trepidation around due to the potential impact of the spending cuts.

As you will have seen from the news, many public sector organisations are already starting to make cuts in spending and people resources due to their reduction in finances. Many private sector organisations have been undertaking this for some months already.

So what are you doing to start working more efficiently and effectively? We will need to do this in order to soften the blow of any cuts. I also believe that we all have a responsibility to do this. And don’t underestimate how much you can save. A 2007 survey by the Proudfoot Consulting (Guardian 22 October 2007) covering 2,500 businesses over four years and across 38 countries, demonstrated that the cost of wasted time to UK businesses is £80bn per year, equivalent to 7% of its Gross Domestic Product. The ‘worst offender’ causes of inefficiency were found to be:

  • Inadequate workforce supervision (31%)
  • Poor management planning (30%)
  • Poor communication (18%)
  • IT problems, low morale, and lack or mismatch of skills (21%)

Recently I delivered a Leadership and Management Programme within an organisation. It took place on a number of days over a period of 4 months. It was great fun and I was a little sad when it ended as I had developed some lovely relationships with many of the very keen and talented delegates.

At the end of the Programme, the delegates delivered presentations as to what they had learning and, most importantly, how it was making a difference in their workplaces. Where possible, I assisted them to convert their achievements into cash or efficiency savings.  

One person explained how they had stopped staff from coming to the line managers and asking questions (unless business critical) and as an alternative the managers held ‘surgeries’ for such questions three times a day. This saved on the time of all concerned and allowed for more uninterrupted work. A by-product of this was that staff then started to sort out their own minor problems, thus saving even more time. Over the period of a year, based on the finding of the first month, they were due to make over £15,000 of efficiency savings due to the time they were saving.

One saving I have always been keen to make is through not having ‘Any Other Business’ on meeting agendas. If you have 10 people attending a meeting, and all work for £16 per hour (including on-costs), every 15 minutes of the meeting costs the organisation 2.5 hours staff time or £40. By cutting the AOB section, it means that people have to plan more effectively for what they want in the meeting, other delegates can plan for the item and the Chair can make the meeting more focussed.

And all these activities have knock-on effects that can help to develop a more mature organisational culture. The surgeries example has led to staff sorting out their own issues and therefore thinking for themselves more effectively, which will create a more Adult and self-sufficient environment. Losing the AOB means that staff start to plan more effectively, and this skill will then be transferred elsewhere. So, the increased efficiency leads to increased effectiveness.

So, as I said earlier, what are you doing to work more efficiently and effectively? Or, more pointedly, what changes will you introduce this week?

Please let me know – I’d be really interested to hear other ideas.