Capability Insights Consulting



Technology's Role (Part 2)

Posted on May 20, 2010 at 11:35 AM

In the last post Technology’s Role in Building Capability (Part 1), I talked about the promise of technology that is too often not realized. Specifically I looked at the role technology should play in building process capability. But what about the role of technology in building people capability?


Technology’s role in building people capability


The possibilities are exciting and astounding. Here’s a story to show just how far technology can go to build people capability...


A few years ago I led a team of people looking at advanced learning systems. We completed a number of great projects but one stands out. The learning system was designed to help new insurance sales reps build their skills and confidence in the sales process and in matching the organization’s product to the potential customer’s needs. The system was built on a simulation model, not unlike many computer games today. So, for example, one simulation had the sales rep cold-calling door-to-door. The system has built in video and the rep could choose their “script” at the door and then the potential customer video was tailored to react to reps choice of approach. The result was anything from a slammed door in their face to the opening they needed to enter into the next part of the sales process. In every situation there was performance coaching available – some automatic and some that the rep could call on – to help them learn what they did right or wrong and what they could do better. The system was very popular as it was extremely engaging, very realistic and provided a safe and private learning environment. I can also tell you that it quickly proved to me that I was not cut out for the sales rep role!

Unfortunately technology is often under-utilized or ignored as a people enabler.


We use technology to improve processes and functions which typically means we are changing the workflow and skills needed for the people executing the process. Here’s 4 ways technology can be used as an enabler.


1. The system supporting the function/process is built with humans in mind.

Whether building a system from scratch or customizing or configuring a purchased application, ensure the workflow embedded in the technology matches what your people are really going to do and how they are really going to do it. Ensure the system reacts well to needed hand-offs, to approval checkpoints, to interruptions that force the users of the system to temporarily abandon their work to deal with another business issue. Ensure the system is designed to allow power users to get around easily while still providing the flow needed for new users as they learn both the system and the business process.

There is a vast body of knowledge available on human-computer interaction, human- centered design and usability engineering; mountains more than this one post could cover! But if you start from the principal that the system must enable the people using it, you will have better results. Also if you start with a clear understanding of how your people are currently working and exactly what workflow needs to change you’ll be better prepared to factor effective workflow design into the enabling technology. See the post Do a Reality Review for more on getting to the truth of the current state.

2. The system has built in performance support.

Imagine your people using a system that helps them learn the new business process, business terminology or business policies simply as part of doing their work; where new hires are provided with what they need to do the job as they do the job. This is not a pipe dream. Technology has never been more able to build in contextual help, integrated learning aids, policy updates and the like. Having this or not is a choice we make as leaders when we embark on improvement projects that involve automation.

3. Technology-based training and education.

Some skills and concepts that employees need to improve their capability are not about the specific skills for a specific process. These may be more general skills like analysis and problem solving, project management concepts, time management or specific technical skills. The range of technology-based online learning available is huge and can be arranged with remarkably low expense.

Of course, not everyone can learn this way and no training whether technology-based or in person has any staying power unless it is treated as a learning process vs. a training event. There needs to be a commitment from the organization and its leaders to help people get access to this training, schedule time for them to take the training and work with them to translate the general learning into specific organizational scenarios where the learning can be applied. In short, technology-based training can and should be a key part of professional development but does not replace the role of the leader as a coach to determine the training needs and help people integrate the new material into their business practices.

4. Simulation training.

This relates back to the story above. This kind of technology driven training is sometimes built into online training as mentioned above or is created for the specific needs of an organization. Clearly much more sophisticated it also often comes with a higher price tag. You would want to focus this level of technology enablement at very complex and high-value processes that typically have a long learning curve.

The last post in this series will look at technology’s role in building leadership capability.




Categories: technology

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1 Comment

Reply Jonathan Korchuk
12:55 PM on May 24, 2010 
I'd be facinated to hear how much time you feel leaders in a learning organization should spend helping their people directly (one on one, or behind the scenes) so they can take things they've learned and apply them in ongoing "practice" or actually trying the ideas or new approaches out on the job. Completing the initial training is I can from your writing is only part of the story. Time available "from the organization" is what allows it to become reality. How do you feel the modern lean "close to the bone" organization from a personal perspective imbedes the ability of private enterprise and public organizations from making new learnings reality?