Sunday, November 12, 2006

Learning 2006

Orlando, FL
Masie’s Learning 2006 just concluded. A couple reflections…
When you want to learn something, where do you go? Do you look for an online course? How about a online learning unit? Nope, you type “”. Our learning has to be that same way. If my team never produces another “course” that may be the best use of our time. We need to be focusing on developing the tools people need at the time of need. “Courses” should be about teaching people two things: 1 – an overview of the job is and 2 – how to use the support resources that will help you do the job. The rest of the time should be spent in scenarios that give people practice experiencing increasingly complex examples.
I presented this morning as part of the conference. I demonstrated how you can author courses entirely in MS Word. There were a handful of people who seemed to get engaged with what I was presenting. I committed to placing some examples on a Wiki I’ll maintain around the topic.
The general sessions were great and I learned (or were reinforced) some principles for my team’s direction. I only really attended one smaller session. Two guys from the Univ. of Michigan were demonstrating a method of using Visio process flows (exported as HTML with links to supporting documentation) as the foundation for just-in-time instruction. I had explored this method a few weeks ago with Visio 2002 and the Export as Web feature just didn’t cut it. They’re using a newer version of Visio and the Export as Web feature looks to be robust enough to support what I want to do.
As part of my role, I provide the training support for 4 call centers. Right now, the centers are organized, primarily, by function. Calls of one type are sent to one center, calls of another type are sent to another. The management has decided to restructure the centers. Now each center will handle all call types and calls will be routed by region. The intent is that associates will gain an understanding of a region and make better decisions with that increased regional understanding.
I was visiting one of the centers a few weeks ago. While I was there I noticed an interesting thing happening. Each CSR (call center representative) had a small flag attached to an 18” stick. When they had a question, they’d raise the stick and the front line leader would come by. They’d discuss the question, it would get answered, and the stick would go down. I asked one of the CSRs, what happens if someone in a different part of the department has the same question later in the day? His response, “They’d have to find the answer the same way.” Well, immediately I started thinking “searchable threaded discussion.”
As I’ve reflected on this a bit further, I believe there are different types of knowledge that we need to support in the call centers. One type is “institutionally-blessed knowledge.” These are the corporate-developed processes, procedures, and policies. The second type of knowledge is that gained by people as they have questions. We aren’t going to be able to predict all the questions. We need a way to support people as they gain this understanding. If we’re supporting and monitoring this type of learning, I’m sure we’ll find things that need to be moved into the blessed domain. The third type of knowledge are “alerts.” These are the official messages that need to go out that serve as updates to the established knowledge or new knowledge that needs to be integrated.
Right now, we don’t support the first type of knowledge well. We don’t support the second kind at all. We don’t support the third in any systematic way.
I have some ideas for each type of knowledge and I’ll keep you updated in the next few weeks as I work on it.
So, back to this restructuring… Not only are we giving everyone new tasks to perform we’re also implementing a new software system that will change the existing processes. All these things are happening around the same time and my team needs to support it. We’ve been promised the documented processes well in advance – and I’m sure we’ll get something. However, the software is still being written and I’m sure the processes will be changing right to the time when the software is implemented (which is just 3 weeks ahead of when the restructure starts).
My team has to support this. Here’s what I’m thinking. I think we need to be leveraging the process flows and procedures that the business unit develops as they do their work as the supporting materials and classroom materials. I’ll keep you updated on how it goes.