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The Purpose Driven Instructional Designer

The Purpose Driven Instructional Designer
Summary: Do you often struggle when answering the simple question, "What do you do for a living"? Learn how my child's answer to the question, "What does your mommy do when you're at work" helped change the way I describe my work, and so much more.

What Does A Purpose Driven Instructional Designer Do?

It’s probably the most common question asked in social situations: "So, what do you do for a living?". For years, I would stumble through my answer. If I said, "I’m an Instructional Designer", it would often be met with a confused expression. If I said, "I work in corporate training", the response was one of two reactions: Either I was told of their favorite/least favorite training experience, or I was asked what kind of training I facilitated – sales training, leadership training, etc.

But, to my delight, this problem was solved for me on Mother’s Day a few years back. Early in the morning, along with the obligatory breakfast in bed, I received a gift from my daughter. It was a simple questionnaire entitled "All about Mommy!"  with questions like "What is your mommy’s favorite food?", "What do you like to do best with your mommy?", etc.

When I got to the question "What does your mommy do while you’re in school?" my heart skipped a beat. There, in a few simple words, my daughter gave the most perfect response.

"My mommy helps people do their job better."

That was it! In one little sentence, she provided me with such a gem. It immediately became my life’s purpose, my "Why" (see Simon Sinek’s Find Your Why). It’s now the answer I give to the question of what I do for a living at parties and family gatherings. And, it is the backbone of an entire strategy for my team’s function in the organization: We help our employees do their job better.

Here are a few reasons why I believe this simple mission to help people do their job better is so powerful.

1. It Focuses Your Training On The Employee

I’m an advocate for the learner. One of my biggest challenges with corporate training is that it often feels cold, out of touch, and content focused. eLearning courses with a "text and next" setup will likely do little to inspire learners to do their job better. Instructor-Led Training (ILT) that is death by PowerPoint won’t help much either. Instead, eLearning and Instructor-Led Training need to create with the learner, for the learner. Involve them in your design. Get real-world scenarios that learners face. Use language, images, the context that is familiar to the learner. To be effective, the learner must be able to relate to the training. It must have meaning for them. They should be able to say, "That sounds familiar!" or "I face that same problem!". When a learner feels that the training is relevant, they are more likely to pay attention because they find value in taking the time to listen. The motivation becomes intrinsic. The content sparks curiosity, which plants the seeds for learning!

 2. It Ensures You Create Performance-Driven Programs

When your mission is to help people do their job better, your entire focus is on performance improvement. The measure of success is no longer an LMS course completion percentage or a passing test score. Instead, the measure of success becomes an employee who does better work after the training than they did before. To achieve this, your programs must be focused on performance, not content recall or memorization. You need to build scenarios where learners have the chance to fail. Where they can experience, in the safe environment of training, real-world consequences of decisions they made. You, as the trainer, or the eLearning designer can then give guidance (feedback) on what they could do better. This is not the "incorrect, try again" variety of feedback. This is a realistic consequence followed by some coaching. In life, there are very few times when a decision is clearly right or wrong. Instead, there are some choices that are better than others. Have the learner absorb your guidance after making a choice, and then give them the chance to put it to use. This is how we learn outside of the corporate training space – through trial and error, learning from our mistakes. If it’s how we get better in life, why not make it how we get better at our job, too?

3. It Is A Litmus Test To Determine If Training Is The Right Solution

Often, we are asked to create training when an employee simply needs to know some new information. Maybe your sales reps need to know about a minor change to the pricing structure, or the call center employees need to be told about a new keystroke they can use to search a database. Does this require training? Or would a simple, quick, intuitive communication work? Will creating a training course about a minor pricing structure change help the sales rep do their job better? Maybe, but probably not. Negotiating the contract based on the pricing structure? Now, that’s a training!

Sometimes, training is simply a Band-Aid solution to an underlying problem. Even the most scenario-driven, learner-inspired design will not compensate for performance gaps caused by poor leadership, misaligned performance expectations, unclear accountabilities, inefficient processes, ineffective tools and systems, compensation/reward structure issues, or consumer trends. If taking the training you designed should help employees do their job better, but can’t due to situations outside of your control, speak up! Be the advocate for the learner. Few things are more frustrating to employees than wanting to do a better job, but being unable to (due to a genuine circumstance). Don’t let this go unsaid!

4. It Brings Value To The Learning Department

When your mission is to help employees do a better job, you create immediate value to the organization. Employees who perform better drive better financial results, are more engaged, reduce turnover cost, improve organization culture, are less likely to be involved in a safety incident, and set the bar higher for those who underperform. By setting your measurement of success on their measurement of success (number of sales closed per quarter, decreased return rates, improved customer satisfaction scores, etc.) you begin speaking the same language as the organization. Instead of focusing on metrics that have little to do with the success of the business (the number of training hours delivered, or percentage of people who would "strongly agree" that the course was easy to navigate), focus on the performance improvement of those who complete the training. Set up test groups and monitor their performance prior to and post-training. Look for improvement. If you don’t see the results you’re looking for, go back to them and ask them why. Then, make changes to your training design and try again. Focus on improving organizational performance (measured and tracked), and you’ll be seen as a critical function.

And last, but not least…

5. It Feels Like A Superpower

There is a conversation starter that I like to have with my kids, teammates, friends or even strangers I’m getting to know better. I ask them, "If you could have one superpower, what would it be, and why?". I love to hear the responses and talk about why they chose the superpower they did. So, doesn’t "helping people do their job better" kind of sound like a superpower?

I love the feeling of seeing the light bulb come on, of having participants share the three or four things they will do better or different tomorrow due to what they learned today, to have people come up and share with me what they remember from their eLearning course because of a choice they made. It’s powerful. It makes me feel great. I love helping others… it’s why I got into this profession in the first place. It’s all too easy to get bogged down by content, to get sidelined by SMEs, to get discouraged by round after round of review. But, when we remember that our superpower is helping people do their job better, we’re able to stay strong, we have the courage to fight the good fight for great design!

I hope my daughter’s insight into our work helps you as much as it has me. And, as for me, I will continue to keep true to her vision of the importance of my work!