IBM’s co-investment in training cuts salaries by 10%

Just saw that IBM is cutting salaries 10% for employees in the Global Technology Services strategic outsourcing group who have been identified as not keeping their skills current. For the next six months, identified employees will spend a day a week getting current on their skills. IBM is calling this program a “co-investment” in training. (See the full article at Computerworld.)

So, it’s pitched as a way to help employees who are falling behind. Employees spend 20% of their week in training and their salary is reduced by 10% (assuming they are working five day weeks for eight hours a day). Critics and cynics suggest it’s a way to weed out certain employees without having to pay severance. Or maybe it’s just a new way to reduce the salary budget for six months?

So many questions:

  • Was this a long time coming or just dropped on employees one day? How was well was it communicated?
  • How did IBM determine who was lacking current skills and which skills were lacking? Are those skills needing to be brought current actually required in the daily work of those who haven’t kept up?
  • Have training budgets or programs been cut in the past five years? Did everyone have equal opportunity for development?
  • What have those who are deemed current done differently than those who aren’t? How did they stay current? Was it through seeking training on their own time or was it on-the-job training from working on new projects?
  • Were those skills and the level of mastery needed made explicit before / after the pay cut?
  • Who is providing the training? How is it being paid for?
  • Why is the program six months long for everyone? Is everyone lacking the exact same amount of skills?
  • Has the workload of participating employees also been reduced to allow for the day of training?
  • How will the skills and mastery be assessed before reinstating pay?
  • What happens if a person doesn’t reach those levels? Are they fired, do they continue training, etc.?
  • Has IBM just handed everyone an excuse for not working more than 40 hour weeks: “I’d love to stay and work longer, but I need to keep current.”
  • What will be the impact on the morale of all employees?
  • Is this – as some commented – an subterfuge to “encourage” certain employees to quit or a clever way to help trailing employees get back up to speed?
  • What will be the next company to do this?

What thinks you?

What a 9 Year Old Can Teach Us About L&D

SWEET! I wiped out! They should make pads for your butt!

Five minutes into his first ride on his first skateboard and my son was bouncing up off the ground, getting his board out of the shrubbery, and jumping right back on.Skating There were no tentative “baby steps”, no hesitation. It was full force, hop on and go enthusiasm. That brief moment contained the most important aspect of successful training.


What is the most important aspect of successful training? Today, I’m guest blogging over at Performance I CreateRead the rest of this post here .

is learning about performance?

Sukh Pabial (@sukhpabial) over at Thinking About Learning (he writes good stuff – check him out) raised an important question the other day: Is learning about performance? As one who continually states that increasing performance is the only purpose of training, learning and development, etc. I liked his question. I say it so often and am so convinced of it that his question made me stop and think a bit about my own beliefs.

I do believe the immediate purpose of training is to either create additional skills or knowledge OR to help a person better use the skills and knowledge they already have. Why? Why take time away from the job to learn? Why spend the money, time, and energy? Why pour resources into learning? Because we expect the additional skills and knowledge will help people do a better job and get better results. Technical skills improve performance with tasks and soft skills improve performance with other humans (highly relevant for everyone who’s not a hermit). Even compliance training – safety, anti-harassment, regulations, etc. – aims to improve performance or at least prevent performance from dropping (death, dismemberment, lawsuits, or imprisonment all tend to have a negative effect on individual and company performance).

Put another way: if learning and development doesn’t increase performance through increased or better use of knowledge and skills, then what is the purpose?

When we develop learning events or provide learning resources we work hard to make the information as understandable, relevant, and real-world as possible. We design in the best ways for participants retain and integrate the ideas into their lives and jobs. Why? The more they retain and use, the more they can use on the job, and the better their performance. If knowledge retention and use didn’t lead to better on the job performance why would we spend time worrying about it? Deeper knowledge for the sake of deeper knowledge is nice but doesn’t help the individual excel in their job and doesn’t drive the company forward. I, like many, simply love to learn new things. Learning is a huge value for me and I could happily drain many a day on google, Wikipedia, and in the library. As an employee, my company cares most about the learning that might help me in my job (versus, say, mountain biking), BUT it has a huge interest in me being knowledgeable, competent, and continually improving in my role.

The good news is that I can help others improve their performance across a wide variety of jobs and even industries. I don’t know much about most jobs or industries, but unless I’m training technical skills, I don’t have to. I just have to know enough to be able to apply real world context. For example, with only slight changes, a class on conflict resolution could apply to a manager, customer services representative, sales person, negotiator, line worker, etc. It’s really hard to imagine a job where conflict resolution (or any important soft skill) wouldn’t improve performance – even if that person isn’t directly evaluated on conflict resolution.

It is the manager’s (and employee’s) job to evaluate performance – I can’t do that for them. But when they identify areas that need to be improved either because of low performance or to increase performance as a part of their career path I can help provide the resources and learning experiences that help them develop and use the necessary skills and knowledge. Just as I’m not involved in evaluating their on the job performance, I also can learn and implement it for them. The sole purpose of training and development is to increase performance but the employee and manager play a massive role in it.

I’ll take the discussion a step further. Not only do I deeply believe that the purpose of development is to improve performance (however that’s defined), but I believe development is a source of ongoing competitive advantage.

  • A company must have talent. It can choose to buy talent or develop talent or both. But it does need talent.
  • High performing people are required to create a high performing company. It’s hard to imagine any situation where we could create exceptional results far and above the competition using indifferent, unskilled people who lack the necessary knowledge.
  • We cannot improve a company’s performance without first improving individual performance. Sure, we can slash costs, buy new technology, acquire other companies, but those tend to be short term gains (measured very narrowly) or impossible to do without dealing with the messy human side of it (bringing us back to development).
  • We often struggle to measure the dollar benefit of development and spend much time discussing the ROI of training. Training is an easy cost to cut and is often the first to go when times get tough. Which is funny because I doubt any professional sports teams spend much time discussing the ROI of practice, training, and developing their players. Would a low performing team ever decide that the best way to improve their performance is to STOP coaching and improving their players? Put another way, we can easily measure the cost of training and tend to focus on that because it is difficult to measure the total benefits of development. The problem is we can’t measure the costs of NOT training. (Hat tip to Zig Ziglar for that thought.) And as the old saying goes: The only thing worse than training someone and having them leave is not training them and having them stay.

Is learning about performance? In my mind, absolutely. There are many, many side benefits to learning and development, but if we’re not helping people create the knowledge and skills they need to do better at their jobs and if we’re not helping the company perform better by helping individuals and teams perform better, what are we doing?

What thinks you?

hard won lessons on presenting

I really enjoy speaking and facilitating and wanted to share some of the things I’ve learned over the years.

It’s always about the participants. Always. The worst, most boring, least engaging presenters make it about themselves. And no one cares. The best presenters think through every single aspect from the participants’ point of view.

 They are participants, not an audience. This may be semantics, but in my mind participants are involved in understanding and applying the material to their own lives while an audience is passive and just along for the ride. Great presenters engage everyone in the room.

 The participants don’t know what they don’t know. This was the single most freeing concept I ever learned about speaking. The participants don’t know what you intended to say so they don’t know when you skipped something. No point in getting hung up on your mistake. If it’s important, loop it back in appropriately. If not, let it go.

 “Winging it” is for complete amateurs. There is a huuuuuuge difference between knowing your material so well you are able to adjust to audience needs on the fly and making it up as you go. Very, very few presenters are able to go off the cuff and those who are able to are tapping into years of experience and material. Some people complain that preparing makes it mechanical, but if your presentation is mechanical it means you haven’t prepared enough to truly own the material. Respect your participants (and yourself) enough to prepare.

 PowerPoint is a great enhancement, but a lousy focal point. The best speakers I’ve seen have very, very little content on their slides. By only having the most important points, the slides are used to support the mood and tone and enhance and underscore the most crucial information. Anything more risks becoming a distraction and a crutch. Think of it like a tie – it needs to match the suit, it can stand out but should never be the focal point, and if you took off the tie the suit should still look great without it.

 Technology breaks. I was at a conference recently and watched as a speaker went through three laptops, two connecting cables, and several staff and volunteers before he was able to get his slides on the screen. Fortunately, he wasn’t dependent on his slides and just rolled into the presentation while the staff and volunteers got his presentation to work. Once the projector was working, he smoothly transitioned to using it. Never rely on technology more sophisticated than flipchart and markers. Use the technology, but be ready and able to give a full presentation without it.

Everything has a purpose. Every-little-thing. Everything. Don’t do that activity, don’t tell that funny story, don’t show that slide unless it directly supports your presentation. If it doesn’t have a purpose don’t do it. Ever.

Introverts can be great presenters. Never confuse introversion with shyness. Some of the best presenters I know are introverts and they use it to their advantage because they are naturally good at staying on point, keeping the focus on the participants, and never talking just to hear themselves speak. Introversion doesn’t matter and it’s not an excuse. A good presenter is a good presenter.

Mistakes are the best teachers. We all screw up, forget stuff, get it out of sequence, and say just the wrong thing. I can say I’ve learned the most about presenting and made the biggest improvements to my presentations from my errors, not my successes.

Care. This one is simple. If you don’t care, neither will your participants.

Have fun. Relax and enjoy it. Once you get past the nervousness and adrenalin dump, presenting can be great fun. And your participants will reflect your energy. If you’re enjoying it, they will too.

Your thoughts?

time to talk

I am a big believer in leadership development classes, workshops, and seminars. I’ve witnessed (and experienced) so many of those “light bulb moments” where there is suddenly a huge shift in thinking that changes a leader’s approach, and results.

BUT. I wonder how much of it is the content of the class and how much of it is something else. Good content is important, yet the magic happens in the spaces between the tools and concepts. The class provides crucial time to think, reflect, and discuss. It gives time away from phones, email, customers, and employees and becomes a catalyst for dialog and insight that doesn’t happen on its own.

The class gets people together and gives them space and time to talk. The information, theories, tools, and approaches gives context and content for reflection, dialog, and sharing. The conversation lets people know that they are not alone in their challenges, and leading is sometimes difficult and lonely and sometimes a bit scary for everyone, and there are solutions.

It’s amazing what happens when leaders drop the charade of invulnerable infallibility and get human. Suddenly, there’s so much to teach and so much to learn. Building trust, exploring ideas, sharing and learning from each other’s joy and heartache doesn’t happen quickly. It takes time before the conversation gets deep enough and rich enough to matter.

Time that no one thinks they have – until they take it.

What thinks you?


rock and roll presentation skills

A side effect of being a presenter and facilitator is that I cannot attend any training, speech, or event without mentally taking note of what they are doing well and what I could do to improve my own skills.20130205_234003

The other night I saw a concert with two local opening bands and a European headlining act on a world tour. A middle of the week show, in club with maybe 100 people, this was clearly not going to make the band rich – it was likely more of a chance to make some gas money to get to the weekend at a much bigger venue.

The local bands were good. For local bands. But there was a big contrast between the presentation skills of those who had day jobs and were musicians on the side and those who were full-time musicians. Lots to learn for anyone who gets up in front of others:

1. Engage the crowd. Connect with as many people as possible on as individual of level as possible. The headlining singer continually referred to the crowd as “friends”, pointed out people in the audience, brought signs people were holding up onto the stage to show them off, gave the audience a choice of what song they’d play next, repeatedly told the crowd how crazy/enthusiastic/loud they were being, and thanked the audience for coming out on a weeknight. Sound obvious? The local bands did none of this. What are the obvious things to connect with my audiences and classes that I’m not doing enough or at all?

2. Recognize ALL presentations matter. Whether in a stadium or a small bar, all shows matter. The headlining band had played 200 shows around the world in the past 10 months – that’s a show two nights out of every three. Yet, they showed no signs of boredom, exhaustion, or the sense that it was just one more gig. They played as though it were the most important show on the tour. Full out, completely committed, pouring sweat, not an ounce of energy held back. The local bands showed up and played as though it were just another show. Compared to the headliners, they were restrained, half-hearted, and holding back. As a presenter and facilitator it would be easy to fall into the trap of thinking I’ll just wing it, it doesn’t matter, it’s just a little presentation.

3. Make it about the audience, not the presenter. The local bands kept mentioning the CDs they had for sale in the back, that you could download them on iTunes, blah, blah, blah. Any words between songs were few and really focused on the band. Everything the headliners said – every single word– was focused on audience and how fun and great they were. It was clear the band was thrilled and grateful that everyone had showed up to see them. It would have been easy – almost expected – for the headliners to show up with rock and roll egos completely unchecked and complain, gripe, and moan about the small venue, small crowd, lack of attention they get, etc. This is a subtle, but really powerful difference. Our words reveal our focus – is the concern for the audience and participants or for ourselves? As a presenter I have the choice to punish the few that are fully engaged OR be thankful and build their commitment even further – guess which one leads to success and which one leads to rapid obscurity.

4. Keep it simple. Interestingly, both local bands had bass players with five or six string instruments, using sophisticated techniques to play complex lines. The headlining bass player used a traditional four string bass with a pick and often played just one note repeatedly or used comparatively simple bass lines. As a presenter it’s tempting to show off with technology, complicated materials, fancy language, credentials, etc. But that’s all about the presenter. Complex is the lazy route. Simple is difficult, it takes more time to do, and it feels unprofessional when you’re a novice. What amateur presenters miss is that simple often requires expert level judgment, effort, and refinement. Simple keeps it about the message connecting with the audience.

5. Have fun. It’s easy to get jaded and burnt out and feel like you’re not getting the respect you deserve. It’s hard to show up, connect with the audience, be grateful for any opportunity to get your message out there, and have a blast while doing it. Presenting is the greatest job in the world IF you enjoy it. If you’re not having fun, it’s a private hell. 200+ shows into the current tour and the headliners were smiling, playing, and connecting like there’s nothing else they’d rather be doing.

It’s funny how the things that set us apart are often not all that big on the surface. Could the local bands have done all this? Yes. Did they? Not really. They were more than skilled enough, but in the end were no more memorable than the background music the club played over the stereo between the bands.

A nice reminder I need to continually step up my intention, focus, and connection. I need to make sure I’m creating a great user experience and not getting between my message and my audience.

What thinks you?

two secrets for better public speaking in 5 minutes or less

[Ok, just had to use an infomercial style title this morning. Seemed like a fun way to kick off a Saturday]

Public speaking is a crucial career (and life) skill that requires practice and persistence before most people feel comfortable. And, no matter how good we get, there is no finish line – there is always room to develop our skill even further. It can be a tedious and painful process, but there is a way to short cut it a little.

Use your video camera (differently)

Videotaping yourself presenting – and actually watching the video – is the only way you can see how your audience is experiencing you. We all know that. But it can be lengthy, tedious process. Here are two “secret” ways to shortcutting the process and picking up on nuances you might otherwise miss.

Different way #1: It’s not what you say, it’s your body language

Shut the sound off. That’s right: watch your presentation without listening to it. Communication is 55% body language and with the volume down all your attention is on your presence. In just minutes (5 or less!) you can easily see how confident, energetic, enthusiastic, charming, engaging, etc. you are.

Different way #2: Did you really mean to move like that?

Watch it in fast forward. It’s amazing how much you can pick up about your presence and body language that you don’t notice at regular speed (but your audience is noticing subconsciously). Are you flapping your arms about, pacing like a lion in solitary confinement, or stuck in a repetitive gesture? You’ll see it right away (that’s right – 5 minutes or less!).

Don’t words matter?

Yes, sort of. Words are about 10% of the message received by your audience. It’s an important 10% that can either be supported or completely undermined and negated by your presence and body language. Shutting the sound off or watching on fast forward removes the distraction of your words and lets you really focus on how you are coming across.

tale of two burritos

Customer service makes or breaks a business and good enough just isn’t. This weekend, I ended up having burritos from two competing franchises. Let’s call them Good Burrito and Better Burrito. Both offer super fresh ingredients, make them with specifically the ingredients and toppings you ask for, are pretty quick, and are very tasty. I never really thought about the differences until sampling them back to back.

Good Burrito asked what toppings I wanted and shuffled me from person to person as the burrito moved down the line. By the end of the line, three different people had contributed to my dinner. Henry Ford would be proud of the assembly line efficiency. Better Burrito had one person who put my food together and what a difference that one person made.

Supergregarious, he seemed to truly be interested in my day. How was my Saturday going, was I working or off, where did I work, did I like it there? When adding ingredients he’d brag on them a little: These vegetables are great, we cook them with… You can’t go wrong with that salsa, it’s great on everything…

A couple of important points. This took NO MORE time, in fact it was probably quicker because I didn’t have to repeat what I wanted like I did when getting passed from person to person at Good Burrito. He never got bogged down in the conversation. I never felt like I was being interrogated. It never felt fake or forced. Instead he gave the impression that he was really interested in my day and in making me the perfect burrito.

Then when I got to the register to pay I asked to get a brownie. The woman at the register (also superfriendly) said, “Let me find you a good one. They put the old ones on top.” And she dug through the basket until she found one. It looked like all the others, but she proclaimed it worthy. When I decided to get a brownie to take home for my wife, she dug through the basket again.

Here’s the most important point: Whether they cared about me, my day, and my lunch doesn’t matter. What matters is that they made me feel like they did. It took no more time, cost no more money, and made all the difference.

The HR and business lessons I take from this:

Hire right! Here’s the secret to hiring people: hire people who give a damn. Nothing else matters unless they care. If they care, the rest is largely irrelevant.  I’ll take under qualified people who care over qualified but apathetic people any day. Qualified and they give a damn? Score! I suspect that the guy making my burrito was following a semi-scripted patter. But he was so fluid and did it so well that it came across as very authentic. And, he was clearly a very outgoing person and a good fit for a customer facing role. The woman at the register went out of her way to find a good brownie. It’s hard to train people to care or go above and beyond. Much easier to hire for it.

Train right. Again, I suspect that much of it was patter, but done so well it felt natural, not forced. That requires a lot of practice, role playing, feedback, more practice, etc.

Think twice about your dress code. Employees at both places were clean and well groomed. Except that the three workers I saw at Better Burrito had long hair (male), blond dreadlocks (female), purple hair (female), and a heavy emphasis on tattoos and face piercings. And they were supernice, not too cool for you, not angsty, not indifferent. Let’s see, person who gives a damn and has nose rings or one who is unpierced and indifferent? Hmmm, easy choice.

Sustained business performance requires great customer service. Great customer services requires great people. Great people requires an intense focus on hiring right and training well. That requires leadership that truly gets the DIRECT connection between people and performance.

The final lesson? Great customer service trounces good customer service every time. Good enough customer service never is.

all you need to know about training design (repost)

When training fails, it is generally because the learners haven’t understood the material on both an intellectual AND an emotional level. Intellectual level training focuses on the “what” and the “how”. What needs to be done and how do I need to do it?

We see this all the time. Where people say they don’t need training because they already know it, but they aren’t doing any of it. They haven’t truly connected with the “why”. Why is it important that I do it? What are the benefits of doing it or the consequences if I don’t?

There are only two reasons that humans do anything: 1) to seek pleasure; and 2) to avoid pain.  These are the same two reasons that humans learn anything. Why do we learn the newest version of Microsoft Office? To do our jobs better (pleasure) and to avoid failing at our jobs (pain). Why do we learn new exercises or diets? To get sexy and delay death.

So, no matter how much we read, research, discuss, and ponder, we never truly learn until we connect with the material at an emotional level. Everyone knows that smoking, drinking, or eating too much will shorten their lives. We know at the intellectual level, but often don’t get it at the emotional level (if we did, we’d stop). Until a person really, really connects with the consequences at an emotional level, intellectual warnings do zero good.

All great training – regardless of topic – teaches the what, how, and the why. And it does it in a way that each participant can individually understand and key into. Experience is the best teacher because it provides the emotional learning.

Will Rogers really understood this principle. He summed up everything important about training design in three sentences: “There are three kinds of men. The one that learns by reading. The few who learn by observation. The rest of them have to pee on the electric fence for themselves.”

Design and evaluate your training programs accordingly…


Note: this is a repost of my very first blog post from almost a year ago. Hope you enjoyed.