Hook or hangman?

I’ve been working for the last few weeks on a piece of elearning related to performance management. Although it seemed like the project from Hell when it started – a dozen people to sign it off, certain issues and terminology to be avoided at all costs, no process just the principles and, by the way, here’s the script – it’s turned out to be quite collaborative and my suggestions have been taken seriously throughout.

The first suggestion I made, which has shaped the piece, was to turn it from ‘At the end of this xxxx you will be able to yyyy, now let’s begin with the background’ into a story with four characters whose misguided or informed efforts illustrate the principles being put forward. Not much, but quite a step forward for elearning in this company.

One aspect of it, however, has proved contentious. I chose to begin it with a picture of an unhappy employee, disgruntled because he’d just come out of his annual review being rated down when he thought he’d been doing just fine. Cue principles about regular communication, no surprises etc. The principle being to hook people in with some conflict, some emotional content, before you turn them off with corporate learning blather.

It was reviewed by teams of HR people and ‘ordinary’ people. Several of the HR people protested that it was ‘negative’ to begin with someone looking unhappy. Some wanted him to be balanced by another employee buzzing with delight at having been managed well; others wanted to revert to ‘objectives, then benefits, then overview of the principles’ THEN the story begins. I resisted but in the end had to insert one page of ‘our approach is fantastic’ before ol’ grumpy makes an appearance.

While I can’t be sure, I strongly suspect all the ‘no negatives please’ came from the HR people.  Their background and training, with lots of pop psychology may be combining with a paternalistic attitude to protect the poor staff from anything that might not confirm that they’re working in the best ever business on the face of God’s earth. Maybe I’m being unfair.

The politics involved here have been interesting, but I do feel I’ve made some steps toward reforming the view of elearning here; if the post implementation feedback suggests the users don’t want a negative beginning, then I was wrong. If it’s only HR people, well what do they know? 😉

While I’m on a rant, when is someone going to make a fortune in istockphoto.com by putting up pictures of the same people with different expressions in different situations, but NOT grinning round a computer or showing off their new dentures in other cringingly staged scenes? Look up ‘angry’ and you get caricature – they’ve almost got steam coming out their ears. We ended up taking our own photos of people in the office. Stock photos look so embarrassingly false, but why do they need to?

2 thoughts on “Hook or hangman?”

  1. I like your story approach to the subject matter as it allows participants to explore it from a more emotional angle. Ftom a HR perspective they would have invested a lot of time ensuring the process is as fair as possible. The problems usually occur because line managers haven’t been managing the performance of their staff effectively.

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