Category Archives: Work it out

What happens in the workplace

I passed! With no idea what I did…

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Close up of a person writing on a chalkboard

The good news is that I passed the first post-assessment for the online training I’ve done. But in all honesty? I wouldn’t have any confidence to sit a certification exam with this result. Why is this?

The first part of the “why” is probably to do with my learning style. I pick things up quickly, but I’m a shifty cheater. For technical training like this, I don’t see why I should memorise the THEORY if I know the practical, and I rely heavily on what I call “cheat sheets” – handwritten notes which contain the key points I know I will be examined on, but have no inclination to memorise.

One of the things my past colleagues have always amused themselves with is that I have a huge breadth of knowledge in my field – how to create weird and whacky formulas in Excel, how to rig up a crazy function to make online training work in a SCORM interface, even though it’s not typical functionality, how to make funky things happen in Flash, and so on and so forth. But I have limited depth of knowledge. I know how to use the F1 key damned well. Google works well for me because I store in my mind the best key words to use. I have hand written notebooks with formulas hand written down. I have a basic grasp of algebra and how to make it work for me and my work.

In the world that I work in (software development, business analysis – aka Excel Monkey – and web), the technology changes often. The functions which used to work stop working in the next software release, etc etc. So I find it’s more important to know what you’re doing, rather than how to do it (see my previous post on faking it). I think this is why I’m good at my job…

Back to the topic at hand though, I’d only pass an open book certification exam on this topic. The software specific jargon just blows my mind – it’s all just noise and I’d rather memorise something more important (like what value a formula will return, so that I can use said formula practically, later).

The second reason I have so little confidence in sitting a formal exam is that I didn’t concentrate. Let’s go back to some online learning 101. Don’t overload your learners on the nitty gritty details when they’re not necessary. 

The great thing about the SAP online training is that there are a LOT of demos and simulations which you can do. It’s so good that even though I didn’t have a system I could access (to do the learning activities), there were recordings which I could interact with, to learn the basic process of how to do something. But I lost interest after about the first 5 simulations and demos because the first 15 steps (ok, minor exaggeration) were going from the Microsoft Windows home page, to open the damned application, to accessing the multiprovider, to opening a query. It was interesting the first few times, and then mind numbingly boring for every recording and simulation thereafter. So I’d press “Play” and then I’d go and read my emails or do something else. Why couldn’t the simulation start at the learning point of the process, rather than at the start of the program?

Secondly? Don’t confuse me with an audio track that doesn’t match up to the copy I’m reading on the screen.

Believe it or not, I’m an auditory learner. It’s been tested! That said, if I’m listening to something and it doesn’t match up to what is happening in front of my eyes I tune out. This training was infested with this kind of mismatched audio / copy. Why bother with two different scripts? It makes absolutely no sense! Either get rid of the wall of text and make it into a condensed and effective infographic or get rid of the audio. Not only is this confusing to many learners, but it’s also a waste of money. The extra bandwidth required to play the audio, the extra time to write the script and then record it… it’s all so wasteful.

Thirdly? I know I didn’t have to pay for this training, but it would be so nice if there was a cheatsheet provided for me. Just on the key process steps. It doesn’t need to be an extensive manual, but a simple print out would have been fantastic.

So all that said, don’t examine me on this. It’s going to take me a few months of solid, real world application of this learning, for me to have the confidence to sit down and do a formal exam…

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Fake it until you make it

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Image of a caterpillar, captioned Fake it until you make it

Monday is a big day at my workplace. It’s the day where the different countries (I work for “Asia Pacific”) submit their revised quarterly forecasts, and get quizzed by the regional managers on the accuracy and details. There are definitely three different types of people who attend these calls – the knowledgeable and confident, the knowledgeable and not confident, and the faux confident.

I don’t envy the managers who are not confident. Every week they get ripped to pieces because while they understand their numbers they are not confident to commit to a thing. And in the business that I’m in, you have to commit and keep your promise. I’ve had to attend these meetings in both the scribe (which is basically what I do now) capacity and also in the number giver capacity and I can safely say that behind closed doors I’m a knowledgeable and not confident type! But I’ve learned the supreme benefits of faking your confidence.

Faking it is a contentious topic in my house. The Husband believes in being straight up truthful – if you’re not confident about something, you should certainly not promise it. I think it’s why he fails so miserably to understand the political mindset that he needs when working with the upper levels of management the large organisation that he works in. On the other hand, after being ripped to shreds mercilessly for about 6 months when I started attending these “review” calls, I learned that while you don’t lie, you certainly don’t “um” and “ah”. Even if you have bad news, it’s better to convey an aura of supreme confidence.

So how do you do this?

  • Remove the “ums” and the “ahs” from your range of speech. I’ve listened to a few people present to the room. It’s nor a formal presentation, but it’s a presentation no doubt – and when the speech is peppered with “um” and “ah”, it conveys a complete lack of confidence. Not only in yourself and your presentation skills, but in what you’re talking about.
  • Slow down. I notice that when people start to waffle (and demonstrate that they’re losing confidence) their speech patterns start to vary more – they mumble or they speak much more quickly than normal. So slow down.
  • If you’re in person, make eye contact. If you’re on a phone conference, you know how on America’s Next Top Model, Tyra Banks talks about how to “smize“? You can do that with your voice as well. Infact, it’s both easier and harder over the phone because people can’t see your facial expression. So learn to convey confidence with the tone of your voice by speaking clearly and audibly.
  • OWN the shortcomings in your message, but don’t focus on them. Find one thing that is positive to bring to the discussion and make sure you mention it on its own – not as a defensive move to some negative feedback.

I had a manager who was awful. This manager was so bad that the whole team was demoralised and quitting. The sales numbers didn’t meet the targets in the slightest, the support staff weren’t helping because they were too confused (and unhappy also). But this manager was AMAZING at instilling confidence in her senior managers. I hated working with her, but I learned so much by watching her work. She spoke with so much confidence. When the news was bad, someone you walked away from a discussion with her feeling like you’d won something. And she was a master at deflecting the bad news and shining a mirror on the good news. I know that this is one of the key reasons why she succeeded so well in her job – despite the failing numbers!

So you might hate the political game. You might want to stay true to yourself to the bitter end. But why does it have to be bitter or untrue? Fake the confidence and you can turn it around until one day you’ll wake up and you’ll realise it’s not fake anymore. Not only that, you will have a brand new audience of people who trust what you’re saying and who will follow YOUR lead.

Online learning 101

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Image of a keyboard and sticky note, labelled Online Learning 101

Today I have spent about 5 hours doing my online training. I was really excited – a new opportunity has popped up at work which gives me the chance to expand my technical skillset, so now I am learning about SAP Business Warehouse Query Design and Analysis. It’s an excellent opportunity as this is something I’ve been doing at work ANYWAY, without the benefit of any formal training, and while I think on-the-job training is the best kind of training you can get, you can be so much better with formal training. I’d liken it to getting on-the-job experience and then completing a Masters degree to give your skills an edge.

That said, I’m only one day into this training and while it is not necessarily overwhelming, I’m feeling whelmed. The technical detail is astounding – I never knew there was so much “SAP” terminology that wasn’t in my vocabulary. In the short few hours that I have been doing this training, I have learned SO MUCH. For example, did you know that for SAP BW, when you create a query with a BOOLEAN formula it will return a “1” instead of a “TRUE”? That’s an important discrepancy to note! But I’m not here, typing this now, to give you an indepth summary of what I’ve learned about the technical content. I am “whelmed” because of the (lack of?) interactive design and design consideration in this online training!

In a former life, I worked for a company that developed some pretty great online training. From the script, to the graphics used, to the way that the content was interacted with on the screen, every element was important. The aesthetic AS WELL AS the content. It was a firmly entrenched belief in the company I worked with, that the visual and interactive elements in an online learning piece could separate effective training from ineffective training. It was equally important that every element in the training we created, was fully quality controlled. Every single word and phrase checked, every single click, every single animation.

I think I’ve exacerbated my shoulder injury (ironically injured by spending hours and hours and hours on developing online training) by clicking, clicking, and clicking “Next Page” some more. I’ve also been so horribly frustrated by the lack of quality control. If you’re putting simulations and demonstrations in your training modules, it doesn’t ever present well when they pause unexpectedly and you sit there like a fool waiting for the demo to move forward and it doesn’t. And I don’t even feel like it’s worth commenting on the audio. What is the point of spending money on audio when it adds literally no value to the presentation?

When I think about the hours upon hours that must have been spent on writing the content, recording the demos and the simulations, and then building the course, my opinion is that SAP should feel slightly ripped off. It’s almost offensive how poorly designed and poorly quality checked this course is, and that is a real shame considering the technical content is covered so well and so in-depth.

I’m no “expert” in online learning design (but go on, ask me how to get a highly customised piece of training to work on a SCORM compliant platform and do fantastic things upon exit and enter. On THAT I count myself an expert) however if it interests you, this person is. I recommend you start at this blog post and work your way forward! Happy reading! And more importantly, happy learning.