Getting E-Learning Right – Building Adaptive E-Learning Programs


LinkedIne-learningconceptHuman beings, unless they engage in the careful, systematic work and thinking that is the backbone of modern psychology, basically understand others by thinking others are like themselves. We project our inner experience on those around us. Our internal experience is what is most readily available to us. It makes most sense to us. Believing that others experience things the same way we do follows straight forwardly.

Modern psychology has shown that this “others are like me” approach is in many ways successful at letting us get on with the business of daily life. The only time this approach gets us into trouble is when we interact extensively with another person. During such complex, lengthy interactions, the other person will communicate and behave in ways that may or may not line up with how we think they will. When the person does not, we learn that this person experiences things internally in ways that are different from our own.

So how is this relevant to learning? Well, educators do the same thing. They project their learning styles onto their students. If I want to know an educator’s learning style, I look at the way they teach. Educators teach the way they personally learn. Unfortunately, not all of their students learn share their personal learning style.

E-learning most do better than this. An e-learning program can potentially reach thousands of individuals. So how we, as e-learning designers and creators, get around this normal human tendency?

The best way is to use a model of learning that provides you with an explicit design framework that keeps you from doing this. I use one of the following two models in my own work.

David Kolb’s learning style model [1]


I use Kolb’s model as my guiding framework whenever I am designing e-learning programs that will be used by individuals. I explicitly include elements in the program that cover all 4 kinds of learning. I started to do this years ago, when building conventional learning programs. My practice simply migrated to my e-learning design work.

In some ways, this is a “shotgun” approach. But since I have been doing this, my learning material received far higher ratings it did in the days when I simply projected my personal learning style onto people. I used to design learning material in a way that stressed my personal “concluding / learning from the experience learning (Abstract Conceptualization)” learning style preference. I am no longer this naïve[2].

My Development Styles Model [3]


I use the Development Styles framework whenever I am designing professional development programs that will involve individuals interacting in groups. I explicitly include activities that allow participants to engage in all four of the behaviors (Clarifies Verbally, Clarifies Reflectively, Validates Against Experience, Validates Through Consistency) that define these 4 Development Styles. Each person gets an opportunity to do what works best for that individual as a learner. I use this model because professional development normally includes know how to and know why elements as well as know that[4] material.

My goal in developing learning material is to maximize the “skill transfer back to the job” for each individual. Without the ability to “do what I am learning in a way that makes sense to me”, individuals may not transfer their learning successfully. If my professional development designs were limited to my personal development style – Conceptual Active, I run the risk of missing this goal for all those participants whose personal development style is different from my own

My goal in all my learning design and development work, whether or the web or for face to face programs, is first to create a great learning opportunity. But that is only a means to an end. My real goal is to get my participants to take it back to the job, even if that job is simply the day to day business of living life.

The Future of E-Learning – Dynamic Adaptive Presentation of Content

Just taking this simple step – consciously designing and including material that covers all of the learning dimensions in one of these two models will go a long way to increase the effectiveness of your e-learning programs. But this is only a first step. Whenever we have the budget, we need to do more, particularly if our learning objective is changing behavior on the job – whether that job is income oriented or just living day to day life.

We need to structure our e-learning content delivery in a way that explicitly matches each e-learner’s learning style. When we do that, we achieve the following.

  1. We maximize this person’s engagement during the time they are working on the program, which will lead to improved speed and ease of learning.
  1. We deepen retention, meaning that it will be easier for this person to take what they are learning and apply it back on the job.
  1. We increase their fun and enjoyment during the learning experience, energizing them to work through the strangeness that always accompanies learning new ways of doing things, and leaving old ones behind.

Determining a person’s learning style is not that hard to do. By using one of the models above, presenting participants with a few short scenarios based on it, and asking them to indicate which choices best describes how they like to learn, we can rapidly determine that individual’s learning style.

Once we know that, with a bit of background programming, we can present our learning material in a way that has been explicitly created to match this person’s learning style.

Of course, the cost during the development phase of our work will increase somewhat. But if we are already using a “shotgun” approach in our e-learning design and development, this increase will not be dramatic.

The day will come when this way of delivering e-learning will become the norm. It maximizes the value of the learning experience for the learning. This is learner centric, rather than educator centric learning. Educators will stop projecting their personal learning style onto their e-learning program participants, and become true learner-centric educators.


[1] McLeod, S. A. (2010). Kolb – Learning Styles. Retrieved from Kolb’s model has been available since 1984. It is widely used and referred to. Google “Kolb learning styles” to find thousands of Internet references.

[2] See my voice over presentation on making E-Learning content choices or the PDF version of the supporting paper for more on this. Both are available on the Internet.


[3] Roelf Woldring “Development Styles: A Competency Styles Skill Development Workbook” available through contacting me or from

[4] See my previous writing on the differences between knowing that, know how to and knowing why – and how they impact developing learning programs on Linked In or on my website.


E-Learning and Knowing – Or Why the Classroom Lecturer Will Rapidly Become Extinct?


Let’s really simplify a complex topic – how we as human beings know – by creating a model of knowing that says there 3 ways that we know.

We Know That – this is the world of facts and ideas. We know these things as chunks of knowledge we can repeat and share with others. This kind of knowing is tested in the academic world by asking us to respond to multiple choice questions and questions that require short essay answers.

We Know How To – this is the world of skills and techniques. It ranges from the simple (e.g. how to add 2 plus 2) – to the complex (e.g. how to lead an organization through a period of profound change).

We Know Why – this is the world of valued consequences and moral understanding. It is as important for giving us insight into why NOT to do things as it is for helping motivate us to do things. It also ranges from the simple (e.g. why not to touch the hot stove) to the complex (e.g. why not to abuse those we love and those we live with). It requires us to have as much insight into consequences as it does into facts and techniques. (1)

Can e-learning address all three kinds of knowing? The simple answer is yes. The more thoughtful one is yes, but how, and with what price and effort?

Here is what I believe.

  1. With 25 years, all Know That learning will be delivered via e-learning.

Today, we can already build e-learning programs that rapidly figure out the learning style of the person currently using the program, and dynamically adapt the delivery of learning material to best suit that person’s learning style. It is not the norm yet, but it soon will be.

Once that starts to happen, the classroom lecturer will become extinct. Unfortunately, practically all university professors are still not really clear about this. But then, the non-adaptive ones, who depend on the traditional power structure of the classroom and the punitive power of exams, deserve to become extinct. Bored students, who only pay attention because of the power of these exams, will cheer their demise.

  1. Know How To learning is a more difficult issue. The answer is yes, but ….

We are already seeing the spread of how to e-learning programs in the areas of programming and computer use. As the technology evolving in the computer gaming world becomes more readily available, we will see this technology spread to how to e-learning. Computer simulated application environments will become the norm in how to e-learning.

Real time computer simulated environments coupled with responsive programming that dynamically adapts what is presented to the learner based on the learner’s immediate performance in a simulation are not simple to create. They require combining the skills that make movies with the skills that program computers. It will take talent and money to develop such e-learning programs. They will have to be used by hundreds, even thousands and tens of thousands of users, to create reasonable per delivery unit costs. That can only begin to happen now that the Internet as a delivery tool has become socially pervasive.

Flight simulators are an already existing example of where this kind of e-learning is going. Computer games, whose users rapidly learn the in’s and out’s of the game environment, show us what is possible. All that is missing is teams of creative educators and gaming programmers with the budgets to make this promise real.

Some how to learning will never migrate to e-learning. Skills and competencies involving physical motor skills will always require real world training. Surgery is an example. The perquisite know that learning will be delivered via e-learning. That includes learning the “steps” involved in the applying the skill. But the skill of surgery will be acquired through actually doing it in a closely supervised environment. This will be also be true of other complex skills that combine cognitive knowing with physical doing. Such learning will always require a dynamic “in the moment mentoring / coaching component” that depends a great deal on the personal relationship between learner and teacher.

Instead, once perquisite know that and know how to learning is delivered by e-learning, the role of mentor / coach in such learning will become more dynamic. Guiding learners who already know a great deal is a different job from guiding learners who are acquiring know that and basic know how to learning at the same time as they are developing physical doing skills. The power dynamics between learner and mentor / coach will shift dramatically. Instead of being role based, successful mentor-coaches in this new learning world will be individuals who have great self and other insight. They will also have the personal confidence that comes having “done it” in a large variety of situations. The importance of role based dynamics, buffered by the traditional structure of universities and the like, will fade.

  1. Know why learning is not straight forward. The answer is yes, but involves sorting out complex issues about who ….

Know why learning requires that the “learner” respect the “teacher” in a very unique way. People are motivated to do things, and even more importantly, motivated NOT TO DO things, because they respect the person who is providing them guidance. Respect is a complex interpersonal dynamic. It involves personal component originating in the learner, not the teacher. It is not created based on a power dynamic that derives from stratified organizational roles.

Know Why learning involves morality and ethics. There is no doubt that people often learn why they should or should not do thing from being exposed to stories with a moral component. But this only works when the learner extends respect to the story teller. E-learning can be used to deliver stories. But the story teller must still be someone to whom the learner extends respect in order for know why learning to occur.

Some individuals already extend respect to “automated teaching tools”. Such people may acquire “know why” learning from e-learning programs. Perhaps this will become the norm some where in the future. But I do not believe it will be. I believe that the real value of the Internet in know why learning comes from its ability to expose people to the individuals whom they respect in a way that transcends the limits of space and time.

When I design e-learning programs with a know why component, my first question is always – “Who will these learners extend respect to – who can motivate them to do or not do?” Then I find ways to incorporate these people into the e-learning program though quotes, pictures, short video clips and so on. I also look to provide follow up connections to these people that allow the learners to interact with them through their writings, through their Internet presence, or even face to face.

Let’s sum it up.

E-Learning takes over Know that learning and makes the classroom lecture model of learning extinct.

E-learning delivers Know how to learning by incorporating more and more gaming and simulation techniques. It supplements and supports complex Know how to learning that involves the whole body by ensuring that the only people who succeed as coaches and mentors are great doers who also have superb interpersonal skills.

E-learning facilitates Know why learning by providing more direct connections between learners and the people who they respect to motivate them to do and not do.

That’s my vision of the future of e-learning.


  1. You can see much more about this model of knowing in two publications of mine available at the following places on the Internet “The Know That / Know How To / Know Why Model of Knowledge” and “Making Effective Decisions About E-Learning Content”.

6 Seconds to Rejection – Can Hiring Managers Afford It?


Some time ahead I created a voice over Internet presentation for managers on the difference between recruiting for well established roles and recruiting for roles that will make change, perform at peak levels and introduce innovation. (See “How Do I Find the Talent I Need?”). I explore the two kinds of recruiting and ask managers to think about which one fits their hiring needs.

This morning I saw a short Internet video from Business Insider that presented the results of research that was done on how recruiter read resumes. The researchers found that recruiters spend less than 6 seconds on a resume. They look at the person’s name, the person’s current employment – title and dates, the person’s last place of employment – again title and dates, and then the person’s education. They do that in 6 seconds. If the resume does not fit the pattern that they are looking for, it is rejected and the recruiter moves onto the next resume.

What a powerful way to illustrate the difference between recruiting for well established roles and recruiting for innovation. 6 seconds to rejection only works when a recruiter is looking for an exact fit to a preconceived notion of what the job is all about.

If you are manager, and you need innovative or high performing people working for you, you cannot accept the results of the 6 seconds to rejection recruiting. You must find recruiters who do more.

Such recruiters take the time to understand your requirements. They want to know what defines effective future performance on the job. They will ask you how you will measure this – what will you see and hear that defines such a level of high performance. They will create candidate filtering processes that move beyond resumes. They know they are searching for talent, not conventional fit.

Such recruiters will not be working for most of the recruiting departments in organizations or for most of the recruiting and search firms that exist. These groups are full of 6 second to rejection recruiters.

6 seconds to rejection recruiters don’t have to live with the consequences of their actions. You, the hiring manager, do. You and the person who fills your job will be working together for months, perhaps years. A 6 second to rejection recruiters has no stake in your long term.

Of course, if you as a hiring manager are looking for a conventional candidate who will fit into a well established job and perform at a normal level, then by all means use 6 seconds to rejection recruiters. They are likely to be cheapest. Even if they are not, they are not likely to ask much of you. That will save you time.

But if you need anything more than conventional performance in the people who work for you, you run the serious risk that exactly the candidate you need will be in the pile of rejected resumes resulting from your recruiter’s 6 seconds to rejection process.

How can you tell the difference between 6 second to rejection recruiters and the one you need? In exactly the same way you separate an exceptional candidate from an average one – by watching how the recruiter behaves. A 6 second to rejection recruiter will be satisfied with a traditional job description. He or she will post the job on whatever Internet recruiting platform is normally used in your organization. Then the recruiter will read incoming resumes to find a number of conventional fit candidates. The recruiter will pass these onto you.

In contrast, a future performance oriented recruiter will ask you for time at the beginning of the recruiting process. She or he will want to know a lot about how you will define successful future performance on the job. This recruiter will use this information to create filtering mindsets and techniques that are designed to look for the candidate innovativeness and future high performance you need.

This recruiter will also read resumes. The future performance oriented recruiter will be looking for clear signs that this candidate has taken the time to signal innovativeness and demonstrate exceptional performance. That may take the recruiter 30 seconds to determine, but those 24 seconds are the key to spotting a potential high performer for you.

When future performance oriented recruiters find such a resume, they use the specific filtering techniques they created for your search to quickly determine – is this person real or is this just a well crafted resume? The recruiter will focus on what the person can do in the future, not just what the individual as done in the past.

Once the candidate has gotten beyond this first filter, the recruiter will dive into the future with the individual, finding out how the person will respond to your performance challenges. Only those candidates who show signs of understanding and rising to these performance challenges will be passed onto you as the hiring manager

So choose. As a hiring manager, your choice is really quite simple. Live with the results of 6 second to rejection conventional recruiting, or invest more. Find an atypical recruiter, one who does not practice 6 second to rejection recruiting.

Ask e-learning clients 3 questions or pay the price!




Great, you got an opportunity to propose developing an e-learning program for a new client. They like the examples of e-learning that you have up on your website. They know that you have up to date skills in the major e-learning software development platforms. They are thrilled about the possibility of working with you.

You are getting ready for the project scoping meeting with the senior client representatives. What should you ask them? Here are the three critical core questions you must ask at this stage, and the reasons you need to ask them.

  1. How long do you expect this e-learning content to remain current?

Some clients know the answer to this question. Others may not. But the expected useful life of the program is one of the key things that you need to know. Some things, like a technical skill, may only have a useful lifetime of months. Other skills, like soft or people skills, might have a lifetime of years.

Content with shorter lifetimes must be addressed with smaller program development budgets. What was true in one client’s circumstances may not be the same as in this new client’s. Don’t assume or guess, know. Ask so that you can properly scope your development proposal.

If your new client representatives does not have an immediate answer, take the time to explore the issue with them and develop it together.

  1. How many people will potential use this e-learning program?

The economics of e-learning are very different from the economics of traditional learning or professional development. The single most important element in e-learning economics is the “unit cost of delivery” – how much will it cost to deliver a single instance of this program to a single learner.

An e-learning program, especially when delivered over the Internet or an learning management system, can potentially reach thousands of people. This means that the cost of developing the program will be spread over many, many people. When this is the case, you can make a business case for more room in the development budget.

More room in the development budget means money to pay for things like video components, interactive menus, and even – adaptive content delivery that takes different paths depending on each learner’s personal ability, learning style and background.

When the potential individual delivery numbers are large, you must discuss these alternatives with your potential client. Each of these can increase individuals’ learning engagement. Increased engagement means greater transfer of skills back to the job. A well used, larger e-learning content development budget will pay off in increased productivity for your client.

In contrast, when the number of anticipated users is small, you will rapidly want to focus on including the simplest version of the one or two techniques that maximize engagement for this client’s learners in your proposal.

  1. What is the one critical thing that you expect people to do differently back on the job when they finish this e-learning program?

Clients expect results. That is why they are paying you. You might think that the results they are paying you for is the e-learning program that you will deliver. But it is not. For most clients, your hard work is a means to an end. You need to know your client’s ultimate end in order to properly develop first your proposal, and then eventually the content you will deliver.

For most clients, the ultimate end is a change in the way that the people who take the program behave on the job. You must know precisely what change in behavior your client wants to achieve. Knowing this will drive all of your content creation and delivery process design decisions. You can’t put together a correct development proposal without insight into this client goal.

If you don’t know this, you will fall into the trap of projecting such an ultimate requirement onto your client. You may be aware that you are doing this. You may not. But all professional training, including e-learning, is about changing the way that the people who take the program behave on the job. You can’t properly develop any professional training program without having such a goal, whether it is explicit or implicit.

If you don’t ask this question, then unless you are lucky, and your projected change lines up with the client’s need, you are not going to have a satisfied client.

What do you risk if you don’t ask these three questions?

These three questions are core to e-learning project scope definition and client expectation management. Nailing the answers early in your dialog with your potential client’s representatives underlie developing an effective proposal. You will use that proposal, and your client’s belief in it, as the foundation on which you will build the e-learning program.

Not knowing the answers to these questions mean you run the risk of building great e-learning content that does not meet your client’s needs. Do that a few times, and you will pay the price – a poor reputation and a lack of future business, no matter what your skill level as an e-learning content creator.


A Chance to Really Make Change – The Potential of On-Line Learning


E-Learning, of which on line learning is a sub set, finally offers the possibility of fully moving from faculty centric to student centric education. But this will not be an easy shift. There are two main reasons, one cultural and one managerial.

The cultural shift.

Faculty (in collaboration with educational administrators) have dominated education for centuries. Classroom based learning has large economic advantages – 1 person delivering educational material to anywhere from a few to several hundred student, even though the average is in the 20’s and 30’s. Although there have been some advances in teaching technology, by and large, the average teacher (at whether level) teaches in a way that reflects the teacher’s own learning style, assuming that students, especially the better ones, will learn in this way as well.

In the 20th century, investments in educational plant started to increase, but largely only for the specialized sciences and disciplines that required laboratories and access to specialized equipment. By and large, the fundamental unit of education investment is still a classroom, equipped with some relatively cheap television and projection equipment. This is the core of faculty centric teaching. Most classrooms are laid out in a way that makes the social power dimension of teaching extremely clear – teachers are the front are the power players in learning. Asking faculty to give up this role, and become consultants to and servants of “students” is not likely to be an easy social shift.

The managerial shift

With e-learning and on-line learning the economics shift. Course delivery is no longer limited by the physical limitation of the classroom. Well designed e-learning programs could potentially be delivered to thousands of learners, dramatically shifting the unit cost nature of the education business.

But something else will shift as well. With careful design and creative implementation, educational content could shift dynamically to make the learning style of each student. We know enough today to be able to put an on-line student through a series of short experiences which provide insight into the learning style of the student. Once that is clear, on-line educational programs could dynamically shift their delivery of content to maximize the learning possibility to “this student”. Instead of faculty centric learning, we are now in a world where we can be truly student centric.

Creating such e-learning content also means a managerial shift. The process and the steps needed will require a combination of skills – from software development and engineering, from curriculum design, from appropriate subject matter experts, and potentially, from online gaming development and simulation experts. Developing educational content suddenly requires team work among experts, not faculty member by faculty member individual endeavor. Project management skills become essential. Personal team work skills become critical.

To date, educational management has largely required leaders who could manage relatively simple plant – classrooms and individual contributors – faculty members. On-line education, if is not be simply be the replication of traditional faculty centric education on the Internet will require something much more in educational leaders – the ability to shape teams that create dynamic educational programs that dynamically change the way that their content is delivered to a student to maximize that student’s learning potential – student centric education.

Creating that on-line educational reality is the real challenge. Educational leaders in the developed world largely do not understand this in my view. But the creative ones in the third world, driven by the need to educate large numbers of students, constrained by a lack of existing classroom plant and government funding, might. If they do, they will truly evolve education to be what we now need it to be in our planet’s history – cheap (at the unit cost of each delivery level), effective, student centric learning that dramatically increases each student’s forward movement on their personal learning journey.

“Change Who Recruits, Don’t Ban Resumes”


On February 21st, Lou Adler posted the following on Linked In. It generated a lot of interest, including my own comment at the end of this blog.

“On why we should ban resumes!”


The idea of matching someone’s skills and experience on a resume to a job description consisting of an arbitrary list of skills and experiences seems rather archaic to me. Some people actually defend doing this faster as a major advance in modern HR practices.

In a recent post, I suggested that a better first step was a candidate being referred to a recruiter or hiring manager by someone already in the company, a vendor, a customer, or someone who can personally vouch for the job-seeker based on the person’s past performance. This is equivalent to using the company employee referral program to proactively seek out more top performers. Most companies recognize this as one of their best sources for new talent and the primary reason why referral programs are being expanded using tools like LinkedIn. Promoting people through internal mobility is also based on the tried and true concept that performance is more important than experience.

In my new book, I suggest that the process used for internal promotions represents a good model for finding and hiring people from the outside. Adopting this approach involves eliminating traditional skills-infested job descriptions, replacing them with performance profiles, and reconfiguring the box-checking first step.
Due to the “radical” nature of this proposal I asked David Goldstein a senior attorney with Littler Mendelson, a highly respected U.S. labor law firm, for his legal perspective. His white paper is now available. Here’s his opening statement:

Because the Performance-based Hiring system does differ from traditional recruiting and hiring processes, questions arise as to whether employers can adopt Performance-based Hiring and still comply with the complex array of statutes, regulations, and common law principals that regulate the workplace. The answer is yes.

In particular:
A properly prepared performance profile can identify and document the essential functions of a job better than traditional position descriptions, facilitating the reasonable accommodation of disabilities and making it easier to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act and similar laws.

In the book, I also suggested that the standard “submit resume and box-check skills” approach should be replaced by an initial matching process that didn’t inadvertently eliminate fully-qualified people. One idea was to have candidates submit a one-page summary of two accomplishments most comparable to the real requirements of the job. Since the job postings I recommend minimize skills and emphasize opportunities and challenges (sample), this is pretty straight-forward. For example, if you’re hiring a maintenance supervisor to minimize machine downtime and upgrade the team, ask all applicants to describe something they’ve done in each area as the first step. This will minimize the pool of unqualified people from applying and broaden the pool of the most qualified who might have a different mix of skills and experiences. David gave a legal thumbs-up to both the creative advertising idea and the alternate approach for applying.
Coincidently, in the past few days two different starts-up companies approached me to consider being on their advisory boards. Both had far different and unique ideas on how to broaden the pool of potential candidates by breaking the same nonsensical skills-matching process described here. The common idea: the best people aren’t interested in lateral transfers, the best people often have a different skill-set, and these same people aren’t interested in enduring the insensitive application process. Excluding the most talented people from consideration when hiring from the outside never made sense me. It’s exciting to see some technical advances being proposed to now do this at scale.

If you follow my posts, you know I’m on a quest to change the focus on finding and hiring people to one based on their actual performance – they’re ability to deliver comparable results. It’s what people have accomplished with their skills and experiences that matters, not their accumulation. This opens up the door to a whole new pool of more diverse, younger, older, military veterans, displaced workers and the physically challenged. We don’t have as big a skills gap as the national media contends, we have a bigger thinking gap.
Lou Adler (@LouA) is the Amazon best-selling author of Hire With Your Head (Wiley, 2007) and the award-winning Nightingale-Conant audio program, Talent Rules! His latest book, The Essential Guide for Hiring & Getting Hired, is now available as an Amazon Kindle eBook.


My Response:

Change Who Recruits, Don’t Ban Resumes

Well, how intriguing, I am about to both somewhat agree and profoundly disagree with Lou Adler, a man whose writings I deeply respect.

I think that he probably used the word ban to provoke dialogue. He certainly succeeded – 411 comments at my last count. A quick scan of the comments – they seem to break into two camps – folks who agree and folks who don’t. But both groups seems to me to miss one of the key points.

Resumes are tools. Tools serve a purpose. But if you have only one tool in your took kit, then you then to see everything in terms of that tool. I don’t. I use a bunch of tools as a recruiter.. A resume is just one.

When I use a resume, I treat as a tool to make a crucial decision – will I choose to invest more time in getting to know this person well enough to make sound decisions about their status as a potential candidate. How I use the resume is all about me and my decision making process, not about the quality of the match between the candidate and the job.

I can make a first scan “no –I will not invest more time in this person – decision” in about 10 seconds. I have probably read 10,000 plus resumes during my career as a recruiter and as a hiring manager. Of these two, reading them as a hiring manager is of far more importance. A people manager, I have had to deal with the consequences of the hiring decisions that I made (hundreds plus) – including the bad hires that I made. Doing performance reviews at 3 months and 12 months point has shown me that I made more than 1 bad hire decision over the years – maybe about 10% of my total hires were “not the best” looking back. A few were outright disasters, for me, the person that I hired, and the organization for which I was working. That means that I read resumes with a very different set of eyes that 95% of the professional recruiters with whom I have, and do, work.

Here are some thoughts about how I use a resume as a tool in my recruiting – hiring decision making process.

1. If we could count on resumes as being written by the people whom they profile – i.e. as personal expressions – they would be a kind of performance piece. I still read them this way – how well does this person do at the job of presenting oneself in a world where it is tough to use this limited tool to stand out – to differentiate yourself?

Unfortunately, in the last 5 years, more and more (almost all now) of the resumes that I read are written by “resume writing professionals” or based on a “format” that is available in a book. I always ask the folks I invest more time in “Did you write this? Did you follow a format that something else recommended?” The answer is almost always yes. Given this fact, in my opinion, resume still work as a “first scan tool”, but that is about all.

2. Everyone practices resume inflation. A resume is a marketing document. You write it (or have it written) to make yourself look good. I read them now (in about 30 seconds) to answer ONLY three initial questions for myself.

• Has this person invested enough time into this resume (or cover letter) to indicate that the individual is motivated to want this job – to adapt the first way they present themselves to me in a way that reflects what I have communicated about the job, or is this a “one size fits all piece”?

• Are there enough facts in this resume here that indicate that this person has a hope of having some past experience that indicates that they either have relevant skills or RELEVANT POTENTIAL to be a person I want to invest more time in getting to know on this recruitment?

• If I should decide to invest more time in this person as a possible candidate, what “past accomplishment or performance” looks likely to be a good one that I could use to explore in depth through dialogue with the person to get a better sense of who this person was when she or her was doing this accomplishment?

That is what I use a resume for. I don’t use “key word matching” algorithms. The information they generate is about words on paper, not about people who can potentially do a job.

I don’t make hiring / candidate recommendation decisions on the basis of resumes. I make “explore deeper decisions”. I believe that resumes, even given the way they are generated today still serve a “good enough purpose” to do that, provided the recruiter AND hiring decision maker also has some or all the tools that Lou recommends in his performance based hiring writings (or similar tools) in his or her tool kit.

If I were to make one change in the recruiting process (and I do so in my own firm), it would have to do with recruiters, not resumes. I would never assign a person to a recruiting role until they have had experience with managing people on-the-job, high performers, average performers and poor performers.

You can teach people recruiting techniques, including skills which help them understand the performance requirements of the job, and deep interview skills in a reasonable period of time. But you can’t generate the mature people judgment capability you need in a high quality recruiter in a reasonable period. You can only search for, select and deploy it. I believe that this will make far more difference to the quality of recruiting that banning resumes.

Are Older Workers Marginalized in the Workplace?


Lorrie Clark of the Permanent Search Group in Toronto, Ontario, Canada started a dialogue in the Canada Jobs, Careers and Networking, a subgroup of Job Openings, Job Leads and Job Connections!  group on Linked In.

Are Older Workers Marginalized in the Workplace?

Do you think that aging workers become less valued and even marginalized in the workplace as they grow older?

The thoughtful comments there got me thinking. Here is my point of view of the underlying dynamics leading to this.

Funny how things changes as the years accumulate. When I was in my 20’s, 30’s, 40’s, and 50’s, I never really thought about hiring folks who were older. I just hired the folks that fit the jobs I needed filled – and generally age reflected required experience.

As I gained experience, and moved into more senior positions, I tended to hire folks who were the same age or folks who were younger than I was.

Because I moved into senior ranks (CIO level) in my early thirties, I also often hired folks who were older than me – but even then I realized that this was not the usual pattern in the companies in which I worked. People tend to hire folks who are the same age or younger. Most folks are just not comfortable hiring folks who are the same age as their parents.

Then I entered my late 50’s and 60’s. Suddenly, head hunter acquaintances were politely telling me that I was a “hard sell”. The socially polite ones used the words “too experienced”. But a few of them were a little more straight  with me. Here is the kind of thing I heard from them.

“Can’t place folks pass 55 in most of my assignments – people want the appearance of youthful energy – even when it is an illusion. The other reality is that folks don’t tend to hire people that are older than they are. It’s is the exception, rather than the rule. Most of my clients – the folks who make the hiring decisions – are in their late 40s, early 50’s and they hire folks who are younger than they are.”

So I believe that things have not changed all that much in the past 50 years or so on the hiring side.

But things have sure changed on the demographic side, and on the economic side. There are more folks who are healthy and wanting to do productive work who are in their late 50’s, 60’s and 70’s than ever before. And there is a talent crisis coming, as well as continuing economic turbulence. This in and off itself is not enough to produce real change in the hiring marketplace. Things won’t change however till companies, and even more importantly, politicians, do three things.

1. Companies need to stop expecting HR recruiters in their 30’s and 40’s to present candidates who are older than the HR recruiters to hiring managers. Put some recruiters in their late 50’s and 60’s into the recruiting department if you want to see that change.

2. Companies need to stop the hiring myth that we as a company are hiring you for the rest of your career. The employment marketplace and social stats are clear. People will work for a number of companies and have a number of careers in the 21st century. Problem is most companies’ pension plans, even if they have made the move from defined benefit to pay out what your plan is worth, are still structured on the 20th century expectation that you will work  for this company for most of your career.

Cut pensions loose from companies, make them portable, belonging to the individual. Let’s see serious tax and legal frameworks that encourage companies to do that. Politicians take note please.

3. Create a job market place which encourages and supports “interim” or contract assignments which are strongly differentiated from full time or career assignments.

Again this will not happen until appropriate legal and tax framework changes are in place. For one thing, individuals working in this “contract” marketplace need things like income averaging to help manage the risks involved. They also need a simpler “business expense” framework than the one which works for companies / corporations.

But, personal opinion – given the mess that politicians have gotten into by running up big deficits – we are not likely to see this kind of forward thinking from most of them. On my more morbid days, I sometimes think that democracy is a con game in which politicians buy votes with a voter’s neighbor’s (who can vote) and voters’ kids (because government deficit financing of current programs ==> future taxation of people who cannot vote) dollars.

Systematic Consensus – It is Great but It is Not New


In the February 2012 issue of the Internet-based Eco-villages newsletter, Diana Leafe Christian, the editor, published a piece called “Systemic Consensus – Fast, Visual and Hard to Deal With”.  In it, she described the development of an extension of consensus decision-making called Systematic Consensus. Diana  praised many of its features, based on real experience that she has had with it.

Systematic Consensus has two main features. First, it allows participants in a decision-making group to express their degree of support for the options being considered. They use a scale – typically a scale running from 0 to 10 – 0 meaning no support, 10 indicating full support. They indicate their degree of support for each option on this shared scale. As a result, individuals can move beyond simple binary decision making – support or do not support. They can express nuances – degrees of support – that are far more thoughtful, and revealing, than simple binary choices.

Systematic Consensus’s second main feature is the collation and public posting of each individual’s level of support for each option on a group flip chart, poster or white board. The facilitator leads this process. As she or he does so, dynamically, in front of the group, the facilitator is creating a real time group profile that displays the range of support for the various options under consideration. As a result, the dialogue in the group is enhanced, leading to more productive outcomes.

Dinah goes on to explain how all of this works. She provides some concrete examples drawn from real involvement with a number of community groups. She demonstrates that is not simply a mechanical process, but one that requires real process leadership skill on the part of the facilitator.  It’s a fascinating article. I recommend that you have a look at it. It’s available at the following URL –,_Visual,_and_Hard_to_Argue_With.

As I read it, I was reminded of the power of, and difficulty inherent in, facilitating productive consensus in groups. I remembered some of the difficulties that I had experienced when facilitating a group dedicated to achieve consensus early in my facilitator life. I learned through hard experience that great consensus building sessions make deep contributions to building a highly functioning team or a strong sense of community among individuals. But I also learned that skillful individuals can block or sabotage consensus in groups, bending other members to their own point of view through sheer self-centered determination. Achieving productive consensus is not always easy.

The two core concepts that underlie systematic consensus are important ones. They address some of the problems that can occur in consensus seeking groups. But these ideas are not new. They are a great contribution to the dialogue about the dynamics needed to build intentional communities. I have been working with very similar processes for years when facilitating problem solving groups in  more conventional environments, both community and business. Some I developed myself. Others entered my facilitation took kit as a result of mentoring and coaching from facilitators who has struggled with the difficulties inherent in facilitating consensus long before I start to do so.

I hope that you will go take a look at Diana’s article. It provides background for following insights about facilitating group decision making and consensus.

Building Dynamic Group Profiles in Real Time

I have been using the visual charting technique in working with groups for several decades.  Hedley Dimock[1], one time Director of the Centre For Human Relations and Community Studies, first introduced me to the idea of visually developing group profiles in front of a group.  Since those days, I have learned that there are a couple of critical things to do when a facilitator chooses to use this technique.

  1. First, I get individuals to make a personal decision about where they stand on the issue or the options under consideration. I direct them to move into a “personal” space while they are doing so. As a result, they experience a physical separation between the space they are working in as a group and the place in which they make these personal decisions. This physical separation aligns with the cognitive distance that I want them to experience.

Often this is as simple as getting them to move around the room in some way that results in them being in different physical location from where they would be when the group is in its normal “working in group” configuration.

  1. I ask them to record their decision in some way, often by requesting that they do something as simple as writing down their stand on each option – e.g. simply recording the relevant number of the scale if we are using one. I always ask them to label this recording with their name. If multiple options are on the table, they record where they stand on each one in a way that clearly identifies each of the options.

I have found that this “personal recording step” is crucial in avoiding “group think”. Without it, people often change their “judgments on the fly” as they see the pattern of individual results being recorded on the publicly visual group profile. For some people, “belonging” is far more important than taking a personal stand. They “conform” to group patterns, even though the group pressure they are feeling is implicit and indirect..

By asking group members to make these judgments personally, and recording them, I decrease the likelihood of such a “spontaneous” personal change in judgment. When I am really concerned about this dynamics happening in a particular group, I will even “collect” the individuals’ judgments before starting to build the group profile with the whole group. I do so by simply asking people to give me a copy of what they have recorded. I then ask them to refer to their copy as I record their personal results on the group profile. If individuals do verbally provide a different input on an item from what is recorded on their / my copy, I record what they say. I take these steps in order to decrease the likelihood of this happening, not force it not to happen.

  1. Although I may create a version group profile for my own insight[2] before I facilitate the “profiling” group session, I always build a group profile dynamically in real time with the group. By collecting, collating and recording the individual judgments in real time, in front of the entire group, I achieve the following.
  • Each individual verbally expresses their personal decision in front of the other members of the group. Every group member experiences each person doing so. This creates an implicit sense of each person “owning” their judgments within the dynamic context of the whole group.


  • Each member of the group sees the group profile being built. They can see the evolving patterns in the group profile. They can see where they are personally with reference to each of the other members of the group.

I am well aware that implicit “sub-grouping” around similarities can start to occur at this stage. But they do anyway in normal group discussion.

Underlying Psychological Dynamics

Recording individual judgments in a way that creates a publicly available group profile has many benefits for team and group development. It takes advantage of a number of well-known psychological dynamics.

  1. Both the foreground and the background[3] of the group’s current decision-making are available to everyone in the group at the same time.

Each individual can see the patterns that exist in the group, whatever they might be – whatever degree of consensus or difference currently exists. At the same time, each individual can see where they stand with respect to the other members of the group.

  1. A tremendous amount of information about the underlying dynamics in the group moves from being “implicit, private” knowledge to “explicit, shared, public” knowledge. This allows the members of the group to focus more of their energy on the content under consideration, and less on figuring out where they stand with respect to the other members of the group on the issues.

Underlying Democratic Dynamics

Charting group patterns in this visual public manner reinforces the basic sense of democracy in the group.

  1. Each individual is shown to be an equally valued individual contributor in front of the whole group.
  2. The similarities and differences between the group members are also being made public. The degrees of similarity or difference are apparent to all.

This is the other side of democracy. Differences exist in democratic groups. Making this explicit allows individuals to deal openly with it. It removes much of the covertness that often exists in democratic situations. Sub-groups do form. Alliances are created.

The public group profile provides explicit insight into these possibilities. As individuals participating in a democratic process, each group member has a responsibility to deal with these similarities and differences. Making their personal stands public in a way that provides open insight into similarities and differences encourages people to do so.

The Benefits of the Psychological Disassociation

When I create a group profile in this fashion, I am actively working with the principle of “psychological disassociation”.[4]

  1. I take great care in making sure that each individual has an opportunity to make a personal record of the decision about the issue before I create the group profile.  I ask them to record it. That’s extremely important. It allows individuals to experience the results of their internal decision making process, whatever it may be, from the outside in. The record of their decision making is step one in the disassociation process. They are moving from experiencing the process of making the decision to looking at a record of the result of that experience. That implicitly from them from a first position stance – experiencing – to a second position stance – looking at the results of their experience.
  2. I also create a public version of the group profile, in real time, in front of the entire group. That is step two in the disassociation process. The person’s decision about each option is no longer simply being “something which I have personally experienced inside myself, and then recorded to that I can see the results of my personal experience”. When the individual verbally declares each of their decision in front of the group, and I record it on the profile, they experience another level of disassociation.  Their decision becomes “a decision that I have presented to others and seen publicly placed in the context of what others have done when they made the same personal decision.” The minute I record it, the individual experiences it from a third position, seeing it on the group profile. As result, individuals move from a “me” stance to a “my decision in the context of others’ decision” stance.[5]

The degree of psychological disassociation achieved by these actions reduces the likelihood that individual will engage in “flight – fight” personality dynamics when experiencing differences with other individuals in the group.  Differences becomes “idea or issue” focused, not person to person focused.  As a result, the possibilities for creativity within the group are deeply enhanced. The likelihood that the group will move to some level of eventual shared and creative consensus is increased. The possibility that the consensus when it occurs, is about new, creative possibilities that develop from the patterns of similarity and differences in the group is greatly enhanced.

Moving Beyond Simple Binary “Yes / No” Decisions

Starting with decisions that move beyond simple binary decisions is essential to all of this. The originators of Systematic Consensus use a scale to achieve this. I also used scales to achieve this. But based on work that I have done with Q-Sort methodologies in individual research, but I have also use option card ranking methods which I will describe later.

The technique chosen to move beyond simple binary stance must reflect

  • the nature of the problem under consideration by the group,
  • the time available for group work,
  • and the skill / past experience / comfort level of the facilitator.

What is important is that the facilitator uses a technique that adds depth and nuance to the personal and group decision making process.

When working with problem solving groups, I often use these following steps. These steps become more and more difficult to manage as the size of the group starts to exceed small group limits (12 to 20 participants).[6]

  1. I introduce overall steps we will follow to the participants in an initial group meeting. This meeting usual follows some start up dialogue with a number of the members of the group to ensure that I understand their concerns and that I am the “right fit” person to be working with them.
  2. I meet with each person, in interview mode. I am trying to get a sense of each person perspective on the issues and options that the group is facing. I also start to build the rapport with each person which will make my involvement with them as a group a richer and more dynamically valuable experience.
  3. Based on these meetings, I organize / summarize my understanding in a set of issue / problem statements. The language that I use reflects what I have heard. I take great care to use their language, not my own.
  4. I circulate these statements to the group members as individuals for input and comment.  I incorporate their responses into a final set of statements, and circulate them once more, asking if they are an accurate depiction of the issue or options that the group needs to address.
  5. I place the each statement on a card, often a simple 4” by 5” (or 4” by 8”) index card. I end up with a set of cards that define the issue or problem or options with which the group is dealing.
  6. I meet with each person and ask them to rank order these cards in a way that reflects their personal perception of importance or urgency or suitability. Again, the precise language I use in these instructions comes from the group’s context.

Card sorting moves individuals beyond the verbal. They engage fully – cognitively, emotionally and physically – in this process. As they sort the cards, they are paying attention to where they place in card in relation to all of the other cards – taking advantage of our human ability to consider foreground / background patterns at the same time.

Once they are through with the card sort, I ask them to verbalize their reasons for placing the cards in the way that they did. Essentially, this provides an opportunity for them to verbalize / rehearse things they might say later in the group. I record the results of their card sort, showing the individuals how they ranked the cards from “most to least”. This becomes their personal record.

  1. When the group reconvenes, I use some highly visual method to publicly record the results of each individual’s card sort into the group profile. Again, I make sure that they “verbalize” their input to me in front of the entire group.

Sometimes I do this as simply as possible, building a group profile, individual by individual, on flipchart or poster paper. At times, I get more technological, recording the individual’s input into a pre-prepared excel spreadsheet, using a computer and computer projector to project the process of building the profile on a wall or screen[7].  It depends on the group. Rapport is key. Using technology with a non-technology comfortable group is a problem, as is using paper based methods with a technology using group.

I am more likely to use 0 to 10 scales used in Systematic Consensus when I have to work with the group in a single session. I use a break out period to allow them to do the personal decision making. Using scales is easier to explain to a whole group in real time. They understand it, and need less personal direction than using card sorts. The time needed to “develop” the issues / options out of personal interaction is not needed.

Working Through Differences

Once the group profile has been built and is publicly apparent to everyone, the profile itself becomes a resource that I as the facilitator can use to encourage and to focus dialogue in the group. I can use it to explicitly move conflict from people to issues. I work with the group as follows.

  1. On the group profile, I visually identify two individuals who are “at opposite ends” on an item.  I ask each person to talk to the whole group about the reasons they made the personal decisions they did. My verbal directions to each person indicate that I’m asking them to talk as a resource to the group, helping the group understand how and why they as a person came to the judgments that are apparent in the group profile.
  2. I create the opportunity for the other members of the people to ask the presenting individual questions. But I manage this to ensure that these are understanding questions, not personal statements in the form of questions that are really an indirect form of disagreement.
  3. Once both individuals have described their personal reasons, I turn to the group. I ask if, based on what each person has heard from these two individuals, does any member want to make a change in the judgments that is been recorded for them on the group profile.

If any individual does indicate a desire to do so, I first record the changes on the group profile in a way which is immediately apparent to the whole group. Then I ask the person who has made the change to tell the whole group their reasons for making this change. I facilitate this “change in judgment” process until no one indicates a desire to change their recorded judgment.

Clearly group dynamics, and interpersonal pressure, impact what is happening in the group during this activity. However, because each individual is changing a personal judgment which has been recorded in a disassociated fashion in a group profile, the change tends to be about the content of the ideas, not the implicit and explicit interpersonal alignments in the group. People usually provide content credible reasons for their changes.

Sometimes, the group members start to engage in discussions which lead to consideration of blended or new options that do not exist on the group profile. Often this creativity leads to clear and readily apparent consensus in the group.

What Happens Next

My experience indicates that the dialogue in the group at this point is a function of many different and interacting factors The length and intensity of this dialogue will depend on the issue, the history of the group, the nature of the individual personalities, the patterns in the group profile (large degree of similarity, bi-polar or tri-polar or … sub-groupings,) and the feelings that individual group members about the likely outcome.

But this dialogue now occurs in an environment which is deeply enriched by the amount of data about the group dynamic that is available to each individual. Groups seldom stay stuck; regardless of the difficulty of the issues they are dealing with, when this information is available to them. If consensus does not emerge from within the group, the new options can be clarified as a new place from which to recycle and start the individual judgment over again. “Stuck groups” often welcome this way of moving beyond their lack of progress.

What Happens to Individual Outliers

There is one other consequence of this type of group profile based consensus seeking that facilitators must be aware before they start using these processes. Individuals whose personal perspective on issues is dramatically different from the pattern that emerges during the group profiling are immediately identified in a public way as being different from most or all of the other members of the group. This individual must now deal with the consequences of being “distant” from the group in this way. This person can come to feel isolated, even blocked out from fruitfully participating in the groups’ further dialogue.

Sometimes such individuals simply treat this being related to the issues at hand, and continue their active participation in the life of the group or community. At other times, such persons feel alienated from the group.

People who end up with these feelings may do one of two things – withdraw from the life of the group or take a public stance of agreement with the group even when the person does not feel this. Facilitators need to be aware of this possibility, and when it occurs respond dynamically in a way that is respectful both to the individual, and to the whole group. These consensus seeking / facilitating techniques are not mechanical. They require facilitators to have deep skills, both as group process leaders and as sensitive human beings.

[1] Hedley is long retired, although some of his books on group process continue to help and to inspire folks who work with groups.

[2] Doing so often helps me decide on the exact format to use during the real time profiling session with the group. I tend to do it this “self step” if the timing and the dynamics of working with a particular group allow me to do so. If not, I develop the profiling format on-the-fly with the group.

[4] Severely disassociated personal states are considered sub-optimal by psychologists (see However, a level of disassociation from the immediacy of one’s feelings and judgments can allow an individual to be more productive in group situations. See Robert Kegan”s “In Over Our Heads” for insight into this type  of disassociation. Google Robert Kegan for much more on these “mature adult processes” when participating in public/ social life.

[5] Robert Kegan’s classic 1994 book “In Over Our Heads” for more insight into the benefit of moving from 1st to 2nd and 3rd position, and the importance of this ability in our journey through life to mature adulthood.

[6] The modification of these facilitation techniques for large groups is beyond the scope of this article. But it can be done. Google “large group methods” to gain some insight into the richness possible.

[7] At one point in my facilitation career, I “decreased the time needed for this process” by preparing these profiles in advance of the group and simply distributing or projecting them to the group. I learned that the time I saved led to unanticipated consequence. Because each group member no longer went through the process of publicly providing their input to the profile, there was far less ownership of personal stances. The subsequent dialogue in the group was often far less rich and creative. I now resist the personal temptation, and often the urging of one or more group members, to do “save” this time. The process of publicly verbalizing personal decisions, and seeing them recorded as they are verbalized, is important to the dynamics among the group members.


Four Core Things I Believe About Life in Organizations


I learned something important about myself on the weekend. I am less patient with myself now and much less accepting of some of the things others in my society believe about life in organizations. I don’t expect to be seen as being any more “right” in my views now than in my earlier years. I don’t expect folks in general to agree with me any more than they did in the past – that is up to them. But I do find that I am not prepared to engage in as much dialogue about these beliefs with those who see things differently, unless that dialogue leads to real constructive action that benefits both of us.

I have worked for a long time. Over the course of my career, I have kept up a constant involvement in academic life – as a night student, graduate student, part time lecturer and distance education participant. I have and still read widely in management and workplace psychology. I have thought hard about what I was doing at work and how I was leading the folks who worked for me.

I have come to these four conclusions by reflecting on both the reading and the experience. I have quietly held them for years. They underlie all my consulting work and business related writing.

1. Performance appraisal is a waste of time if you are looking for business results.

Our evolved instinctive approaches to living in tribes makes power based interpersonal relationships vey much part of the way that we work together. We like tribally defined hierarchies. We need leaders and followers. We need to know where we stand in these tribal power structures. Performance appraisal does a fine job of addressing these needs. But it does nothing at all to increase an organization’s ability to generate results.

I have personally appraised dozens of direct reports. I have directed the building of innovative computer based performance appraisal systems. I have led the implementation of such performance appraisal systems in large large IT organizations (> 1500 professionals).

But I now accept very little of my work around performance appraisal contributed to improving the results we delivered in the organizations for which I worked. I now know that backward looking performance appraisal simply does not justify the energy it takes to do and the anxiety and mistrust that it creates in the people who were appraised.

Forward looking performance contracting is different. Performance contracting means looking ahead, not looking back. It consists of:

  1. negotiating what an individual will do in the coming months and year,
  2. clarifying how this relates to what others, including the person whom the individual is dependent on, are doing,
  3. agreeing on how the to be delivered by the individual are going to be measured  by both the person and the boss (i.e. they each need independent access to the data that makes up the measures);
  4. and then getting together regularly to review delivered personal results against the agreed upon performance objectives.

Managers who do performance contract in this way lead at work. They inspire. They shape the future through the actions of the people who work for them.

It worked for me. I have twice created IT organizations that outside auditors independently judged to be “world class excellent”. In both organizations, I did performance contracting with my direct reports, and encouraged them to do so with the people who worked for them. Together, we supported the cascade of this approach down our organization.

Performance contracting is not easy. The boss must make a personal commitment to simultaneously treating the people who work for the boss as problem solving peers and as results-responsible direct reports. Doing so involves accepting and working with the dynamic contradictions between these two roles. As power solving peers, the two people share power and a kind of equality. As direct report and boss, they are in a clearly defined power hierarchy. Recognizing and respecting these differences, and dealing with the conflict they create, takes self awareness and self containment on the part of the boss.

Bosses must discipline themselves to continuously clarify when they are behaving as a problem solving peer and when they are behaving as a results evaluating superior.

At times, bosses must negate the “power surge” that comes from being a results evaluating superior so they can effectively coach as a problem solving peer They must resist the temptation to use the power component of the relationship to simply dictate the solutions to problems when the two of them engage as problem solving peers. They must accept that simply telling does not always lead to understanding on the part of the direct report. They must act as if this is the boss’s failure, not the direct report’s, when this occurs.

At other times, particularly at the end of the performance period, bosses must take on the tough challenge of carrying though on negative consequences when the direct report’s performance has been lacking. This is not easy if the boss has developed a “liking” for the person through working with the individual as a problem solving peer. It will be even harder if the boss has failed to coach effectively in the regular review meetings between the two.

Human beings’ instinctive approach to managing performance in organizations – power based performance appraisal – is much easier, especially on bosses. It just does not motivate the folks who are appraised to produce “above every day” or excellent results.

2. Organizations waste the dollars they spend on interpersonal skill training (e.g. programs on leading others, resolving conflict …).

If behavior on the job does not change as a result of training, the money spent on it is wasted.

Very little interpersonal behavior training leads changes on the job, despite the millions of dollars spent on managerial, supervisory and interpersonal skills training. Every one “kind of” knows this. That is why there is so few systematic follow up programs to measure actual “on the job” behavior after such training programs. As long as we don’t have to face the facts, we can continue to believe.

There are two reasons why behavior change back on the job after participating in interpersonal skill type of training program is so hard.

1. Unless individuals are personally motivated, they are not going to change their behavior back at work (or in their personal lives), even it they learn the underlying ideas and concepts.

Self selection and self initiation of participation in such training is a good indicator of the needed motivation. Personally enrolling oneself in this type of course is a good predictor that the individual might have the needed motivation needed to actually change behavior back on the job. Expending personal resources to pay for the training is an even better one.

Being “sent” on such program by your organization has very little to do with having the level of personal motivation needed to actually change behavior on the job. Yet many organizations ask people to attend such training programs because the “boss” thinks it is a good thing, or because it is the norm for all people who first enter a certain job level, or because some executive has come to believe that this type of training has pay back.

2. Individuals behave in interlocked patterns at work. If one person changes his or her interpersonal behavior, the others the person interacts with have to change theirs as well. These other people are often not motivated to do so. Instead, they put group peer pressure on the person who changes his or her behavior after attending a training program to revert back to the old behaviors the person had before they went on the training program – the social extinction effect. Most individuals who try to implement new behaviors do revert back to the old behaviors in the face of this implicit social pressure. The training investment is lost.

The individuals who persist in wanting to change their behavior after such training often respond to the peer pressure by finding new people to work with. Usually, this means moving to a new job. Often, that new job is with another employer. The training investment is lost.

Organizations who want to really change interpersonal behavior patterns need to engage in systematic culture change programs. As well as training, such programs involve visible recognition and compensation programs that reward the “new behavior”. These programs also involve specific activities that counter “resistance” to change on the part of current members of the culture.

Such programs are difficult to plan and to execute. They must work from the top down and the bottom up in a coordinated way. They are intensely resource demanding. They require persistence over extended periods of time. Few organizations succeed at such culture change programs at the level of “walk”.  Most organizations though engage in “talk” as if they are doing such things, even if they don’t really do them.

There are a couple of simple things to consider as a result of these dynamics.

If you invest in an individual’s interpersonal behavior change, you need to move them into a new job to have a reasonable chance of recouping on your investment.

When individuals are motivated to spend personal resources on changing their interpersonal behavior at work, they are also at high risk for leaving your organization in order to find another job where they can practice those new skills.

3. Interview based recruiting is all about “good enough” hiring, not future performance excellence on the job.

The academic research is clear – talk during recruiting interviews is not correlated with eventual final candidate performance on the job. But everybody continues to do to use talk based interviewing as their primary recruiting tool. Why?

Talk based interviewing finds “good enough” candidates – both on the technical skill level and culture fit level. Talk based interviewing does not systematically succeed in finding the “best candidates”. It does not need to. Good enough is good enough for most organizations. Few organizations are really excellent. Most organizations talk ‘excellence”, even when they don’t “walk” it.

It is possible to recruit for excellence. It takes “show us how you will perform with the people that you will be working with” recruiting techniques. This means crafting work based role plays and work based simulations. They are more difficult to set up and to facilitate than interviews. Creating them, and then facilitating them, is far beyond the skill of most recruiting professionals.

The best way to see how a person will behave in the future – on the job, is to get them to behave currently.  Get candidates to do, not talk about what they have done. Even “behavior based interviewing” does not do that.

Job based role plays and work simulations go some way to allowing the assessment of performance fit. Involving future peers in interacting with candidates and then systematically collecting their impression of fit allows some level of assessment of cultural fit.

The best hires – excellent performance fit to a particular job and superb emotional fit to a specific organization’s culture – are often temporary folks who have already “demonstrated” how they will perform on the job. You see what they can do and how they will interact with their fellow co-workers during their temporary assignment. The best predictor of future behavior is always past behavior.

Bringing the person in on a temporary basis is the best way to assess both performance fit and culture fit. It remains the best hiring tactic if you are hiring for excellence. If you are not, and most organizations do hire for good enough, then the talk that happens in recruiting interviews will do.

4. Many human abilities are as much instinctive as thoughtful. Excellence at work requires thought rather than just responding instinctively.

More and more, modern research is showing how much of our human capability to do and to interact with others utilizes ability systems that located in the pre-conscious parts of our brains. These evolved ability systems let us become the dominant species on the planet hundreds of thousands of years ago.

Somewhere in the past 40,000 years or so, we began to move from being tribal creatures to being societal ones. We started to live in conglomerations of individuals which were bigger than one tribe. Previously, as simple tribal members, we might have had occasional interactions with members of a number of other geographically local tribes. But as societal creatures, we developed (i.e. added) the ability to be concurrent members of a number of tribe-like social collections that exist within our societies.

As societal creatures, we developed organizations that specialized in achieving at least some of the objectives of each of their members. We shaped these organizations in which that reflected our evolution as tribal beings. Our organizations have hierarchies and insider/outsider dynamics that we developed as tribal creatures. At the same time, as societal creatures, we developed shared mechanisms and processes for collaborating within and across these organizations.

Organizations traded with other organizations for the resources needed to achieve those objectives of each organization’s members. Thoughtful, structured, planned ways of interacting with individuals in these other organizations became as important a part of our human abilities as our instinctive ways of interacting with other individuals in families and in tribes.

Today, we have all these types of ability. Our gene based evolutionary history adds new abilities to our competency repertoires. It does replace the ones we already have with new ones. Neither does evolution act to integrate new abilities with old ones in balanced way. As a species, we have simply added the new more thought based organizational abilities to our older instinctive interpersonal familial and tribal ones.

Stress is a large of our organizational and societal life. Under stress, we tend to fall back on our instinctive abilities, even when they might not be as effective for dealing with a given situation as our thoughtful abilities. Our instinctive abilities often define our business and societal interactions. Much confusion and turbulence occurs in organizations and in societies as a result.

Understanding and mitigating the results of these dynamics requires that managers in organizations consciously override their instinctive first responses with careful, thoughtful, analytically-based responses. The next generation of organizational behavior writing and business professional development curriculum needs to be much more clearly explicit about the evolutionary nature of human abilities. We need to move from theories of “emotional intelligence” to ones that more clearly reflect the additive evolution of our abilities. We need to make sure that managers understand that they concurrently have instinctive interpersonal and thoughtful organizational abilities. We need to help them recognize that our instinctive abilities, the ones we all move to under most levels of stress, are not the best ones to use to respond to the demands of organizational and societal life.


There is tremendous hope for us as human beings. Our evolution has given us the ability to shape our collection future through collaborative, thoughtful organizational action. But we often do not. Our evolution has also given us the capacity to interact in ways that are firmly embedded in the pre-conscious instinctive abilities that evolved when we were members of families living in tribes. We need to move beyond the familial and tribal in organizational and societal life in order to have a future of hope, not one of self defeating strife.

Facing Our Future: The Age Driven Dilemma in Western Society.


Let so many of my contemporaries who are past 55, I am finding harder and harder to find interesting work. The next generation of managers – the folks in their 30s, 40s and even 50s, are simply not comfortable working with us. As a result, they tend not to hire us as employees or engage us as contractors / consultants.

The “freedom 55 myth” that pervades our societies makes that reality for many members of my generation even worse. These marketing myths suit the pension plan industry and the banks but do not really mirror social reality. Surveys have shown that many folks do not have well crafted or stable pension plans. Some of us simply had careers that meant we did not stay with one firm long enough. Others saved and invested in the stock market, long considered a haven for retirement saving. The stock market’s main purpose used to be raising capital for business enterprise. Today, speculative and computer algorithm based short term profit taking dominate its dynamics more and more. Retirement oriented investments are often not stable enough or generate enough steady return to provide adequate income for retirement time periods that get ever longer. Life expectancy is steadily increasing. More and more people are staying healthy for longer periods. Modern medicine now leads to recovery for things that used to mean death.

Retirement income needs are increasing. The actuarial pool model that underlies most pension plans – many people contributing over a long period of employment but not all of them living for a long retirement periods to take out their benefits – is being progressively undermined by the reality of our social dynamics

Many of the folks who expect stable pensions will be rudely impacted in the next 1 to 30 years as their pension plans struggle with demographically based declining contributions at the same time as more people live to expect benefits for longer periods of time. Many apparently stable pension plans will simply collapse under these pressures.

Income from a pension plan is not my problem. I don’t have a comfortable pension plan that is managed by someone else. I chose to invest in entrepreneurial ventures in my late forties and fifties. I did not succeed in them as I had hoped. So generating income in some way will always be part of my life.

But then I never expected to retire either. I always wanted to continue working as long as I had the health to do so. I seem to have lucked out in my genetic endowment. Three of my four grandparents lived long productive, socially active lives into their eighties and nineties. More and more, the evidence indicates that genes combined with exercise, diet care moderation and modern medicine increase the probability that I, and many others, will, live longer than most folks in previous generations. If I want to work, I am likely to healthy enough to be able to do so.

My model of my life’s progression, and the continuing place of work in it, was different from the one inherent in the “freedom 55 myth”. I experience work as providing me with dignity, a place for being creative, an environment in which I continuously learned continuously and a sense of personal joy in who I was professionally. It was not a “grind” from which I needed freedom

So, it is with some surprise that I am facing my current situation – a social climate that does not support many of my contemporaries and myself in our desire (and our need to) work actively in the later stages of our lives.

The shared employment models common in our societies have not kept up with this growing social reality. Jobs are still seen as part of a career leading to retirement. Instead, we need to start thinking of them being a life long need. The numbers of hours may decrease with the age, but not the need to emotionally engage in meaningful and income generating work.

Corporations still staff their human resource executive posts with individuals who hold the “freedom 66 myth”. They fill their recruitment teams with younger people who don’t really have a sense of the new social reality faced by a large number of people in their 60s and beyond.

Not all of these older folks find fulfillment in travel or babysitting grand kids or going to the community center. They describe themselves as “young minded” in a way that is new in our societies. For many, their sense of personal identity is strongly connected to making a valued contribution to the society they live in through some level of meaningful work. In addition, they will need the income generated to live with dignity and a sense of self resourcefulness.

Increasingly, such folks will become more important in the voting dynamics of our modern democracies. Unfortunately, our politicians are out of touch with much of this. Their own pensions plans are among the best sheltered in our societies. But as keepers of the public purse, they are beginning to panic about the growing strain this age driven change places on our collective social finances. So, we hear then talking about limiting public pension benefits, supporting the change corporate pension plans from defined benefit to earned value and so forth. They do all this while blindly assuming that their own pensions will be inviolate in the hands of future politicians.

Today’s politicians do not seem to understand the needed deeper social changes that are required to cope with these age drive societal dynamics. These changes need to start with an update in our shared model of what constitutes a productive life in our society and how this relates to employment.This change will require a long period of sustained dialogue at all levels of our societies, public, private and individual.

Politicians are more reactive than proactive. Their short term orientation, driven by the next to win the next election, blinds them to longer term social dynamics. They are not leading, or even just facilitating, the dialogue needed to create the “new solutions” – solutions with involve some fundamental changes in the shared way that we think about the age related progression of our lives in our societies.

Neither are the “associations” of older people in our societies providing productive leadership. They are still largely oriented to lobbying current politicians to get the “benefits” of being older – stable, inflation protected pensions, government paid medical benefits, and stable social conditions in which they enjoy traditional view of retirement – as a time to “stop” the grind of work and travel and relax. But this will change.

The crisis faced by the part of the older generation who today do not have the pensions they need to live with dignity will expand as more and more pension plans cannot cope with financial demands placed on them. When that happens, a new political dynamic will emerge in our society – that of the older voter angry at the failure of social contracts they felt they could count on. The time to start addressing this dynamic, and making it a positive one, is now. If we do not start and sustain the societal dialogues needed to make changes in our current models of retirement and employment, we as a society risk an angry backlash by older people. That is not a good prospect in democracies in which older people’s share of the popular vote is increasing.