28 October 2007

Learning Styles: Do You Know Yours?

If you have encountered a primarily tactile learner in one of your classes, the discussion in this post may be familiar. If you haven't worked with a kinesthetic learner, this post will be interesting because nearly 10% of all adult learners are primarily kinesthetic learners and their learning style is very different from those of us who learn visually or aurally. The simplest way to describe a kinesthetic learner is that she learns by performing the task, and not by watching someone do it or having an instructor describe it.

I am an aural learner for the most part. I hear something and retain it fairly easily. I was completely baffled the first time I had someone with a kinesthetic learning style in one of my classes. Further, this individual was dyslexic, which meant that I couldn't rely on visual learning as a solid back up strategy and her aural skills were weak.

What do you do in a situation like that? I experimented with a combination of classroom instruction and peer coaching, with the coaching portion scheduled first!

On a Larger Scale

Our client was rolling out a new, online employee expense tracking and reimbursement system. The training course that the training team had designed was 2.5 hours duration. As a consequent, we were delivering 3 classes each day in 2 rooms for 11 weeks to ensure that all employees were reached by the time the system was in place and the new policies and procedures were in effect. We had identified just over 200 employees who were tactile learners. Some of them were in the sales department. Others were in operations. A few worked in the warehouses.

We selected folks from the classes who were in the kinesthetic learners’ department to “walk” the tactile learners through the new system and have them perform the exercises we designed. We also suggested to the “coaches” that they be creative with the exercises. Once the coach observed that the learner was comfortable with the system, he was instructed to walk the learner through diagrams that we provided, which described the new policies and procedures. Finally, we enrolled the tactile learners in classes that occurred during the 9th through 11th weeks.

Granted, this was a solution that involved additional time –- from the instructional designers, the trainers, and the designated coaches. It worked, however. Our client’s workforce experienced less than a 10% drop in productivity with the new expense system. When you compare our client's productivity impact with the standard 25%, the additional time was cost effective.

I’ve seen numerous discussions about simulation software and its advantages for tactile learners, but we didn’t have it available then. Has anyone tried using simulation software for training kinesthetic learners? If you have, post a comment here. It would be useful to hear about how it worked.

15 July 2007

ERP projects and business process

Perhaps some folks who read this blog will be aware of the work of Dr. Thomas H. Holmes and Dr. Richard H. Rahe. I came across their research on life events and their effects for the first time in the early 1980’s. Holmes and Rahe created something called the Social Readjustment Rating Scale (SRRS). It is a list of 43 most universal events that may occur in a person’s life and can cause stress. Each event is assigned a numerical value called a Life Change Unit (LCU).

The feature that caught my attention with these events is that major business readjustment (i. e., reorganization), addition of a family member, and sexual difficulties all have the same LCU value, 39. Pregnancy has an LCU of 40, while a major change in responsibilities at work has a value of 29. Now Holmes and Rahe maintained that if, over 12 months’ duration, the total LCU value of events in an individual’s life exceeded a value of 150, there was a 51% increase in the possibility of stress related illness.

If one person in an organization experiences illness due to work-related stress, how will that affect productivity overall? The effect may be minimal. If several are affected, a definite drop in productivity can, and probably will, occur. A colleague on a mail list that I subscribe to made the following observations, which relates tangentially to the stress-illness discussion.

What I have experienced first hand, is that companies that stress a good life/work balance have employees that... in short, are in-love with their companies.

By in-love, I mean that they exude an enthusiasm for their work and their company that is infectious. Working with such employees is energizing, I walk away from such encounters as an advocate for the company.

On the flip side, I worked with other well-known companies in which the employees see themselves as victims of their [company’s] policies. The guilt of missing a baseball game or time with their families feeds a poison which also is infectious and permeates their work and culture. I walked away from these experiences with a bad taste in my mouth, which follows me when I encounter the company’s products or services.
While Jeff is talking in terms of life/work balance, I think that this is a significant component of the work-related stress discussion. In an ERP implementation (or migration or upgrade) there is no work-life balance! Teams, both the client’s and the consultants, are working incredible amounts of hours in a day, easily 10 to 14. This isn’t for one day or a week or a month. This schedule can last for several months, sometimes a year. I’ve watched project managers praise the efforts and accomplishments of these teams. What I haven’t observed is their recognition of the stress involved when a parent must bring a child into work at night because the team must make a deadline and there is no one at home.

In the last couple of days a several colleagues have sent e-mail reminding me that either “we change and grow or stagnate and die.” I am in complete agreement. As I mentioned in my earlier post, change is necessary. For companies to sustain their competitive advantage, business change and transformation are crucial.

What I am questioning is: Do we have a responsibility, as trusted advisers and consultants to companies that are embarking on programs designed to bring more change, and therefore stress, into their employees’ lives, to help management appreciate, plan for, and take action regarding mitigation of the more destructive effects of the stress that can arise from constant business change and process improvement?

As always, I am interested in knowing what you think of this discussion. Feel free to respond here or send me e-mail at faun@fmtsystems.com

25 May 2007

This is about you

While I am mulling over various ideas for another post or two, I thought you might be interested in knowing about where the Learnng ERP Systems blog readers are located. Perhaps those of you familiar with blog analysis services are aware that information about site visits and RSS feed subscriptions can be gathered.

I use Feedburner and Feedblitz as their services work together to provide a rounded view of who vists or subscribes to the blog. There is an image
that I took today that shows visitors' city locations, based upon IP address. The larger text indicates that the blog received more visitors from that locale.

The interest in learning about ERP Systems is global. That's pretty cool!

For those who celebrate Africa Day, happy greetings. For those in the US, have an enjoyable Memorial Day weekend. Happy Independence Day to all in Jordan. Happy Spring Bank Day (on Monday, 28 May) to everyone in the UK.

04 May 2007

Change is inevitable. Struggle is optional.

I saw this at the bottom of someone's e-mail message this morning and it started several threads in my brain. We'll see if I can weave those threads into fabric.

The discussion of the last week has been about companies and their un/willingness to assist their employees with managing the amount of change that occurs in the workplace. Thanks to Dorothy, Michael, and George for raising some important issues. Dorothy suggested that an organization's success with change would be enhanced if employees are given a voice about impending change as well as a choice. George questioned whether or not this kind of an approach is feasible or even realistic.

Strangely, I worked on an implementation several years ago (1998-99 time frame) where the employees were given the opportunity to vote on software system selection. It was a dead heat between PeopleSoft and Oracle. The controller cast her vote last and it was for Oracle, which was the system this organization implemented. While some of the human resources employees felt that PeopleSoft would have been a better choice for their department, they accepted the direction toward Oracle and set about to make it work for them.

You might think that the employee voting process would lengthen the decision cycle. It didn't. Information about each system, including excerpts of the RFP responses from each company, important features, and functional gaps were made available to employees in advance of the voting. The length of the decision cycle was close to the average for the particular industry.

I think that the voting had an unexpected benefit; these employees looked forward to learning about the new system! They were a delight to train because they were curious, engaged, and eager for knowledge. Did the implementation of the Oracle Financials and HRMS have some bumps? Of course it did. They all have bumps of one sort or another.

The struggle, however, was very low compared to other implementations on which our team had worked.

26 April 2007

Choice and Change

I believe that personal CHOICE has a huge impact on the way that change is both perceived and dealt with.

Does the end user feel that he or she has a choice in the changes that are being made? For example, if a new software package is being implemented, did the user have any say as to which package was chosen?

Regarding training for change: Are you giving the user a choice as to how he/she will be trained in the new application or business process? For example, are you making several different types of training available (computer-based and instructor-led) to allow the users to pick the method they prefer. One size does not fit all when it comes to training and training is a crucial tool in successful change management.

I have personally encountered users who would rather switch jobs (such as: move to a new department within their company, take a buy-out or even retire) rather than accept change, such as learning a new software package. As long as this choice can be accommodated, it makes perfect sense for both user and the company that is making the change.

I’m not saying that companies should not change. I’m saying that, as much as possible, giving their users a CHOICE as to how the changes are implemented is a key factor to doing it successfully.

21 April 2007

I know it's been a while!

It's been nearly a year since my last post on this blog. You might be asking, "Well, what took you so long?" It's a fair question.

Sometimes life intervenes. In my case, the number of children in my household doubled and my family moved across the North American continent. All of this change meant that the level of stress increased dramatically in my life and that of my family. I wish that I could tell you that we all found healthy means to work with the higher stress levels, but no, we didn't. As with most human beings, we handled some issues well, some issues poorly, and other issues somewhere in between.

From a business operations perspective, many of the company's business processes changed, responsibilities shifted, and activities had to be handled differently. Again, some of the staff sailed through these changes with no apparent difficulties, others experienced a few minor bumps along the way, and a few were unable, or unwilling, to handle the changing business environment.

It's been a year of upheaval and change. I thought about this blog at least once a week telling myself that I would write about . . . something. Then the demands of family, friends, and business would carry me away into another engrossing activity.

Now that I can look back over the past year's events, I find myself more empathetic regarding the changes we ask our clients to accept and embrace. Change is a fact of life. We make this statement to ourselves and our clients' employees during every implementation, migration, or upgrade. Business is constantly evolving. We encourage process improvement and business transformation to help companies and their employees to keep pace with the ever changing economic landscape.

Yet, rarely do we, as advisers and consultants, acknowledge overtly the tremendous stress that this constant adjusting can produce in people's work and personal lives. We schedule meetings and talk about change management and business transformation. Perhaps what we really need to discuss is the stress caused by change and how to manage it.

These are some initial thoughts. I plan to write more on this topic and other training related topics over the next several months. I'd be very interested in hearing what others think about business transformation and the stress it creates in the workplace.