Data - The Secret Sauce of Performance Consulting


Oh, it is that time of year again. The seven weeks before Christmas where everything suddenly and eerily sparkles, and all the tidiness and order is replaced with bits and baubles. I know, you are not allowed to hate Christmas. I still do, but not maliciously. I mean, go crazy with your festive sweaters and tinsel (just not glitter – anyone who sends me a holiday card with glitter is an abominable person). But for me, I can do without all the disruption.

Probably my biggest dread in December is the endless parties. As a fully-formed introvert who mastered the art of the French Leave before I even knew such a thing existed, these are taxing events. My closest friends know the chance I will bail on an event increases in direct correlation to the number of guests I will not know, such is my social awkwardness. Case in point: on more than a dozen occasions I have woken up at 3AM in a cold sweat remembering my brutally embarrassing moments. For example, when I boarded a plane and wished the flight attendant a safe flight, or instead of saying “hola” or “ole” for cinco de mayo, I simply blurted, “HOLE!”. Cringe.

My lack of basic small talk skills mean I will go through extraordinary lengths to avoid face-to-face conversation with people outside of my inner circle. Email, WhatsApp, Slack, LinkedIn, Blog, Text – all fantastic ways to engage with me. Coffee? Depending on who you are, that’s pushing it. This bumbling nature means one of my least favourite L&D tasks is performance consulting.

To be clear, I am not saying performance consulting is without value. It is extremely important, and I greatly admire people who can do it well. Unfortunately, my inability to maintain a neutral face means anyone can tell when I am impatient or bored, making performance consulting conversations awkward. I do try my best, but it is just not pleasant for all parties involved.

As a result, I have long sought out ways to streamline performance consulting conversations. Not just for my own personal and selfish comfort, but so they are more meaningful and result-orientated (and shorter!). The method I prefer to use is data. Now, all needs assessments should involve data collection and analysis. The data I am referring to are from sources we do not typically consider, but can offer insights to influence what solution, if any, we create.

In no particular order, these are the pieces of data I try to bring to any performance consulting conversation.

Intranet Search Terms

These indicate precisely what your audience is interested in and can be easily obtained by IT. Too often, I have stakeholders claiming their employees are desperate for content on “X”. Many times, this item has not even made the top 50 of search terms, in which case, the gap is dubious. Now, if content “X” is integral to the business then it means we then consider how to make the topic a priority for the audience, which is an entirely different problem. That said, a L&D leader should keep a keen eye on these trending terms. They are the canary in the coal mine to what is truly important to the learner.

Time of Day/Week Most Active

A lot of information can come out of knowing when your audience is engaging with your content. For example, spikes at lunch hours or outside office hours are intriguing. In my experience, they indicate a very eager learning culture, willing to invest their own time in their growth. However, if the content consumed is compliance-based, it may also indicate the business is not allocating enough time for people to learn. Again, an entirely different problem. Lastly, knowing when learners are most active gives you the best time to launch a new program or communicate with your audience. Follow their digital body language and engage when they are already active.

Seat Time

Stakeholders usually come to the table wanting an elearning module or a video because these are the only things they have seen in L&D. Before you have the performance consulting conversation, look at the types of videos you have and how long people actually view them. If you are using a platform like Vimeo or YouTube, you can see robust data analytics. One insight I have discovered is talking head videos tend to have shorter seat times. Likewise, if you are using xAPI, look at the data to see where learners spend most of their time or what they skip over. I have used these data points to guide stakeholders away from bloated designs because I could show evidence these would likely not yield engagement and therefore, not solve the problem. And no, making content mandatory fixes nothing.

Downloads, Views, Likes, and Shares

If you have a social collaboration platform, statistics on the engagement for posts should be readily available. Just like with the common search terms, these are indicators on whether the content is considered of value or not to the audience. Do a light comparison – do videos, infographics, or articles, have the most likes or shares? Are there differences between geographies? Just because someone viewed an item does not prove it was valuable, but sharing with peers demonstrates engagement. Use the insights to influence stakeholders towards content modalities that have proven track records in your environment.

Mobile vs. Desktop

Building for mobile is expensive. It is not just about transferring the design to a smaller screen. Content needs to be written and chunked in a unique way to make it palatable on mobile. Something I have discovered is that in some ecosystems, mobile learning is quite low in comparison to the desktop. Scarily low. There could be a variety of reasons such as no reimbursement of data usage, the LMS does not have an app, or the content is not that great on a mobile device. Whatever the reason, it is prudent to look at the uptake of mobile in an organisation before investing in the development. This is not to say stop building mobile. It simply means use data to make wiser design decisions.

There are loads of other ways to use data. This is just the skinny version. If you are keen to learn more, download my free eBook “Data-Driven Learning Design”, or visit here for more.

As for me, it is starting to snow here in Toronto, which means the inevitable cannot be ignored. Enjoy the festivities, if they are your sort of thing. To the other introverts, stay brave. Maybe we should invent a sticker or something to tactfully indicate we would rather be reading? What about a polite, “Thank you in advance for not inviting me” button? That would mean getting together to collaborate, so best give it a swerve.

And here's my grade one report card. I appreciate the underline by my teacher.

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