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Focus on Learning Performance: The SAVVY Start

by , senior instructional strategist | @LearnerAdvocate

Angel Green, senior instructional strategist - Fous on PerformanceIn a recent Iterations video blog, Richard Sites and I discussed the SAVVY Start. We chose this topic because after making the rounds to a few ASTD chapters and conferences, it is apparent the SAVVY Start strikes a chord with our audience.

In fact, almost immediately after the video posted, a viewer asked the very same question we have been asked many times before—can you video tape a SAVVY Start and post it?

The answer to that question is, unfortunately, no. Trust me, while being a fly on the wall in a SAVVY Start might seem like a cool concept, the reality is that this meeting is not something anyone would or should watch. Sure, we could probably hire actors and make an “ideal” version of a SAVVY Start, but it wouldn’t be real. And having cameras in an actual SAVVY Start would cause people to hold back when we need them to be their most honest.

In Leaving ADDIE for SAM, Chapters 7-11 are dedicated to the Preparation Phase of the SAM and provide a very detailed explanation of how to successfully schedule, manage, and lead a SAVVY Start. If you decide to start conducting SAVVY Starts for your project, I highly recommend reading the book to get the type of in-depth explanation I simply cannot provide in a blog.

However, since so many of you are curious about the SAVVY Start, and being the firm believer in them that I am, I thought I would continue the conversation of our video blog.

“Start with Performance to End with Performance”

Richard made this comment during the video blog and he is spot-on. This concept is so critical to understanding why the SAVVY Start is vital. Set the expectation with the team from the start that while content may be important, during this meeting the focus is on the performance.

The goal of a SAVVY Start, and using SAM, is to create performance-driven learning. Using SAM is not appropriate for developing a content heavy e-learning course or classroom based lecture. If you want to develop a content heavy course with some multiple choice questions or drag and drops interspersed throughout, then simply ask for the content and move forward with development. There is no instructional design necessary in a page turner. You can make it pretty, and “judge” the learners based on their ability to answer a few questions, but there certainly isn’t a need to have a meeting where you ask people to abandon their ‘real jobs’ for a few days to discuss the design.

However, if your goal is to create a performance change in learners—if you are asking them to eventually apply what you are teaching them—then the SAVVY Start is the ideal place to start.

You’ll likely get some pushback about the expense or time away. You are going to have to sell the fact that it is worth the effort. Explain the value of having everyone in a room together: “We are meeting because this is the best way for us to determine the performance we want learners to demonstrate, and more importantly to avoid. We believe the learning event we create from this meeting is vital for our organization because a change in performance will ______ [increase sales, decrease errors, reduce the burden on the help desk, or other measurable benefit].”   

Create a Safe Environment

SavvyStartOnce you have everyone in the room together, set the expectation that this is a safe environment. The meeting should be as fun and energizing as it is challenging and uncomfortable. Having been in many SAVVY Starts over the years I have been at Allen Interactions, I fear a conversation when everyone in the room is in agreement a majority of the time.

The ability to have differing opinions is absolutely necessary to dive into the real issues being faced by learners. This meeting is about improving performance—even if this is a new hire training course—there is likely to be disagreement of what good performance looks like and why some new hires just don’t cut it.

When performance is failing, the conversations are tough. There may be blame on why performance needs improving in the first place, or there may be organizational challenges outside the scope of what anyone in the room can control (reductions in force, pay, leadership). What you need to do as the SAVVY leader is facilitate these discussions, allowing everyone to share their opinion, listening to each.

A good question to begin the meeting with is: “Why do you believe we are here today?” or “What’s wrong?” Ask each member of the meeting and you’ll likely hear a different answer from each. The fact is, there are many reasons why employees may need improvement in performance.

Dive deep into the conversations of what’s wrong, and then move to the question, “What does good learning look like—to the employee, and to the organization?”

Only when you’ve answered these two questions—and this may take half a day or longer—can you begin to prototype.

The Value of Prototyping

Using the discussions about what is wrong and what good looks like, you should be able to start brainstorming some ideas for interactions that could place learners in situations where they can perform.

Ask your recent learners about the context of their work. What does it feel like when they can’t answer a question from a customer? How does their manager react when they deliver a report with errors on it? What is it they stumble through with the Point-of-Sale system? Who do they go to when they can’t get it to work?

From here, you should be able to identify some challenges and activities to drive to the performance you want to improve. Now, you can sketch them out. First on paper or a whiteboard. Don’t invest much time, just put pen to paper. Later, you can determine which of the sketches are worthy of spending a little more time using a tool like ZebraZapps to make them function. But, that’s another discussion for another blog.

End with the Beginning in Mind

The SAVVY Start began with the end in mind, but it ends with the beginning—the beginning of a great learning program that will change performance. Walking away from the SAVVY Start, after seeing the power of the prototypes and discussions, will leave the project team excited to get started.

Take advantage of the enthusiasm and set up a next steps call or date for the group to meet together again. Shortly after the SAVVY Ends, summarize the discussion and send the prototypes for the team to review. During your next call you can discuss any “ah-ha” moments that may have occurred following the SAVVY.