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Knowing the Business Helps Keep it Real

Learner Attitudes and Performance

"Nothing ever becomes real til it is experienced." - John Keats

A few years ago (let's say 20, but who's counting?) a set of seminar participant surveys showed that we should "have more real world examples."

Wait, what? MORE real world examples? What are they saying? We had discussions, case studies, role plays, and "multimedia" in the training. Everything was real. Yet it wasn't. At least for these people. What did we miss?

We missed the business. Knowing the business provides the real context for learning. It keeps everything real. When you know the business, with what I refer to as "business acumen," the new leadership skills are far more useful. Keeping it real encourages learners to take their new learning and apply it back on the job. What do they apply it to? Real world performance.

Nowadays, I apply this principle in everything I do. I seek first to understand the learner's context, 'where they are," and then the learners can apply their new learning -- in the real world.

Consider these three areas of performance for leaders in business. Business acumen keeps it real in all three. They are:

  1. Assessing performance

  2. Evaluating performance

  3. Decision making

When assessing performance, leaders apply a fundamental skill: Is it or isn't it? Academics call this discernment. That is to say, can you discern when something is a thing and when it isn't? Assessment is simply comparing things against a standard or rubric. Is it meeting that expectation or isn't it? Business acumen keeps this process real by giving the leader the expertise to assess things more accurately.

Evaluating performance is similar but different from assessment. In evaluation, you're doing two more things that business acumen helps with: A) Assigning a value and B) analyzing impacts. Leaders with high business acumen will assess things with the most value (cash flow, margin, market share, payback, etc.) since these drive overall results for the business..

In decision making, leaders apply business acumen to analyze impacts, before or after a decision is made. Beforehand, it's used to predict an outcome of a set of decisions. Afterwards, it's used to learn what went well and why. It's vital that leaders are able to fluently "go both ways" like this. This ambidextrous approach reduces risks and improves performance.

Our seminars provide learners with a set of questions they may not have asked before, but are now empowered to ask. These are relevant, real world questions for assessing, evaluating, and deciding things back at work. Our learners use questions and their newfound confidence initiate change for their teams, their companies, and their stakeholders. That's leadership performance.

Today, trainers gamify, micro-learn, mLearn, MOOC, and blend our learning programs to to meet our learners' expectations. They may or may not need us to do so. What they truly need is for all of us to keep it real. Keep it real and you can't miss.


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