When it comes to delivering value through knowledge and skills, you, and many others, are definitely in danger of biting off more than you can chew.
We see this all too often – clients start off with a very acute pain point/issue, and instead of addressing that need (and only that need) and solving their specific problem, they tend to lose focus and start getting tangled in complex processes, decision loops and finally – a long and tedious project that they never could’ve imagined in the first place.
While a specific and tactical knowledge and skill-building solution is not always the best road to take, sometimes it may be just the right size for the right moment. It may even prove as the best first step towards a wider implementation journey. Remember – all in good time. Don’t try and bite off more than you can chew (we don’t want you to accidentally choke!)
This LearningZone insight paper looks into what can be a good, tactical knowledge delivery solution, and offers some steps you need to take and things you need to consider when planning to succeed in such a route.
The Tactical Need – A Common Story?
Knowledge and skill gaps often float to the surface when there is an evident performance problem. This may happen, for instance, when your sales are not going so well, or when there are too many manufacturing quality mistakes. As you may know – there are too many examples to count.
Another common scenario is facing an upcoming challenge that you need to prepare for quickly. Other familiar challenges include new products that are about to be launched, or a change in regulations or procedures that people need to be made aware of and change their behavior accordingly.
Assuming that your business has identified that the way to bridge that gap and face to forthcoming challenge is by boosting the knowledge and skills of the relevant audience, what happens next often goes as follows (no, we’re not fortune tellers – just a bit experienced):
Someone is put in charge of defining, choosing and delivering a solution. They are then pressured to realize the solution as quickly as possible, but as they try to advance, the different voices and forces around them seem to pull them in different directions. The project either gets delayed or stuck, or loses focus completely and end up addressing more things than the problem it originally set out to resolve.
We’ve seen this happen in examples where a solution to train field engineers in troubleshooting equipment – a very specific and acute problem preventing business growth – turned into a mega project that took months to realize due to all sorts of complications and additional goals. In other cases, for example, the original idea was to help managers prepare for a specific leadership challenge (a strategic or organizational change), or to train salespeople on a new product model that was to be launched within a few weeks. Both of these projects complicated themselves – why? Due to other groups and goals jumping on the bandwagon and holding off the knowledge delivery solution launch.
Have you come across similar challenges in your business or organization? Do you have a burning need that needs to be resolved by training and informing a certain group of people?
Do you know how you are going to approach this challenge?
Don’t you worry – we’re here to help! Use what we’ve learned at LearningZone to avoid the common pitfalls and ask the right questions to help you succeed.
2 Tools to Focus on your root business need
It doesn’t matter if you’re the business owner of the challenge at hand, or you’re the one that’s supposed to lead its resolutions, your most critical starting point should be the figure out what it is exactly that you are trying to resolve.
1. The “5 Why’s”
The first tool that we find useful for focusing on the root business need is called the “5 Whys?”. You begin by asking “Why do we need to do this?”, and when the answers come in, you keep on asking “Why?” at least 4 more times. This helps you dig deeper into the root challenge that you are facing.
Here is a simple example to help you understand how this may work:
Q: Why do we need to do this?
A: Because we have too much downtime of our expensive machines
Q: Why do we have too much downtime?
A: Because most of our engineers are taking too long to troubleshoot and fix broken equipment
Q: Why are they taking so long to troubleshoot?
A: Because often these are complex problems that need expert knowledge to handle
Q: Why are our expert engineers solving it better and faster than others?
A: Because they are using best practices and approaches they learned over a long time
Q: Why are these methods not widespread with all engineers?
A: Because these methods were never collected and delivered systematically to all of them
The example above may be a bit simplistic, but it goes to show that such a discovery phase can reveal important information that may be critical for choosing the right focus for you project, and for planning the steps for your very own tactical solution. It may clarify who your target audience is, what kind of knowledge or skills will help them most, and what the strongest business justifications for the project are (trust us – this may come in handy later when you need to secure budgets and get people to invest time and effort for the initiative).
A moment before we go into the practical advice of realizing a tactical performance focused solution, let us go over another powerful framework. Using this tool will help you know the kind of performance gap that your audience needs to traverse – hence establishing the right content and character of your solution.
Performance gaps can originate from one of four roots. Ask yourself and the people involved the following question to figure what where you need to put your money first
Knowledge: Gap due to lack of knowledge
Skills: Gap due to lack of skills
Motivation: Gap due to lack of motivation
Environment: Gap due to Orginazation/Technical/Cultural barriers
2. Ask yourself – What are the sources of the gap between current and desired performance?
You may use the following sets of questions to explore this framework and get insights on the possible solution.
General Questions: • What would things look like when everything is working perfectly? • What do you want the target employee audience to do? • How do people in your team get work done?
Knowledge and Skill Questions: • Do you think they lack a skill or a piece of knowledge? What is it? • Is the skill used often? • Can we provide this knowledge from an internal source? An external one?
Motivation-Related Questions: • If the target employees do it right, do they suffer in any way? • If they do it wrong, do they benefit? • Are my employees clear on expectations? • Is there a fear of failure? • Are stress levels too high?
Environment Questions: • Is there something wrong with the equipment being used? • Is there something wrong with the methods being used? • Are managers playing their part? • Are there obstacles in the workplace getting in the way? • Are the systems used cumbersome or outdated?
A tactical knowledge and skill delivery solution is most appropriate to use in cases where the performance gap of your target audience is a result of the top two quadrants of the diagram. If you help your audience overcome this gap and perform better – you will have helped the business make a big step forward.
6 Questions that will let you know if you should choose a tactical approach
To determine if a tactical solution is what your organization truly needs, you can use the following 6 questions:
Who is your target audience?
How big is your audience? Is it heterogenous or homogenous in terms of position? Are the experience and knowledge levels similar throughout the audience? If your audience is too diverse, or there are too many differences in skill levels, then you may need to consider a wider solution. However, if you can isolate to the most important groups and skill gap – a tactical choice may still be a good starting point.
Can you deliver value to a specific business need?
Is there a specific unit or senior leader that you can deliver value to? Will it show up on the bottom line? How quickly can we deliver value and show results? The more you can connect the solution to a specific business-related parameter, the better the focus will be on the specific tactical solution.
What are my available resources (people, budget)?
While every project requires resources, and while it is usually desired to save on resources as much as possible, sometimes – if you know you have very limited resources in terms of people’s availability and budget – it compels you to go for a tactical, more focused solution. Note that you need to consider not just the resources needed to acquire/build, and launch the solution, but the overall resources during usage as well – including the time and attention employees and managers can dedicate to learning (this one’s a biggie). So if the resources are limited – a tactical solution may be just the size you need to commit to, and will focus you and the organization to deliver the maximum amount of value with the minimum amount of resources.
What is the culture of your organization?
Some organizations tend to seek more strategic and complete solutions. This may be something dictated from the leadership of the organization, the way your IT department is used to address projects and solutions, or the prevalent culture of the organization as a whole. The culture and nature of other organizations may be more inclined to go for smaller, tactical solutions. This may be true of the organization as a whole, or for specific units that are accustomed to execute and move ahead quickly on their own. If you find that your organization, or a part of it, is willing to progress with a smaller, tactical approach, it may be just the opportunity you are looking for. Later, you can use that success story as a leverage to promote bigger initiatives, and to learn from what worked and what you may need to change.
Who are my partners & sponsors?
This goes back to what is the burning business need you are trying to resolve. Will it mostly affect a specific audience or the organization as a whole? Specific leaders or subject matter experts? Usually, a widespread, strategic solution, would require the sponsorship and support of top leadership, as well as willingness to cooperate from major stakeholders in the organization. If it becomes obvious that such support will be difficult to obtain, a tactical solution should probably be your first choice. Don’t forget that in that case too, you’ll have to rally the right people and teams to make it a success.
If all other questions are leading your towards the tactical option, there is just one more question you should look into before making your decision. This one’s important in order to let you go over any possible risks and implications you might have missed in choosing a tactical approach. Common risks of such a solution are:
* A tactical solution may become the permanent one. This may be undesirable in the case you planned it as a first step towards a wider roll-out.
* A tactical solution may not have sufficient impact to make a notable difference, and may not be of interest to key decision-makers.
* The solution that you build will be too narrow and you will find it difficult to transfer the content, the method, or the tools for other challenges and opportunities.
Remember! Even if you find some possible reasons that make a tactical option risky, it does not necessarily mean that you should give it up. Instead, you may choose to prepare for and minimize those risk to make your solution has the best chances of success.
The bottom line is that Tactical knowledge portals and content items should focus on a specific set of skills that boost people’s performance – Show salespeople how to use the best process to close complex deals; Build the skills of engineers to resolve technical problems efficiently and effectively; Increase the confidence of new managers when they need to go through performance review meetings with their team members – and much more, of course. All these and more are great examples of skills that boost performance.
5 Common Mistakes People/Managers Make
Now, if you’ve established that a tactical knowledge and skill building solution is the route you should take, you need to make sure you don’t fall into one of the following traps during implementation.
Trying to use an already existing, yet inappropriate platform/solution for the tactical need
In an attempt to save time and money, some organizations try to build the solution on something that already exists in the organization: reuse existing resource or platforms. It may be just the company’s regular site, or an existing knowledge base application. Although this may save the effort of implementing a new platform, choosing the wrong platform may fail your attempt, and may even negatively impact your chances to succeed in similar future initiatives. Whatever platform you choose – an existing or a new one – it must be in line with your goals and the spirit of your content, your audience, the user experience and flows you want to create. Don’t skimp out in the beginning – the results can be bad.
Choosing a scope which is too wide
So you went for a tactical solution. You chose your audience and goals. But then – you fall into the trap of taking on a bit too much (remember the biting?) When organizations begin to work on content, we often see managers, subject matter experts and project leaders trying to tackle more than they can later handle. Your mission is to keep the tactical solution scope to the critical minimum that will make most of the influence.
Letting technical barriers hold you back
Tactical solutions call for rapid deployment. You need to find ways to avoid technical barriers. One way to do so is to go for a cloud solution which are now often an acceptable by IT departments. It is easier to do so in that case of tactical deployment as you are normally dealing with a specific set of users, and specific content. This may also help you not go through legal teams to approve content (which, from experience, can be a never ending process).
Failing to consider the long term
While the tactical goals for the project and the value it needs to deliver should be your main focus most of the time, it is best to keep in mind some longer term objectives. Even if you cannot use the content itself later, maybe you can establish some of the templates and the methods that will serve you to later update the content and create new content items for a wider solution. Also – make sure you collect information during the project, ask for feedback and test out various scenarios that will prepare you if and when the time comes for a wider deployment.
Not focusing on delivering value
We never tire of reminding ourselves and our clients that what matters in the end is the value that we deliver to our users. This is even more so in the case of a tactical solution – which is often meant to provide just-in-time support for practical needs. Examine each content item, each block of information on the front page, each video you produce and deliver to your users and even each menu item you turn on or off – will this be the best use of their time? Will they get immediate value from it? Will it make it easier for them to reach what they are looking for faster?
Shoot us an email to find out more about how LearningZone can be used to implant and create tactical solutions like the ones we mentioned above.