Last week I took my Rav4 in to the shop. Over the past few months an occasional squeak in the carriage has developed into a squeak and grind. I had no problem coming up with reasons to procrastinate: Stacked work schedule, kids finishing up the school year, a business trip, it’s probably not that bad, I’m not ready for bad news if it is.
Turns out, I had a cascading failure on my hands.
A cascading failure is a failure in a system of interconnected parts in which the failure of a part can trigger the failure of successive parts. (Wikipedia)
This messy and expensive problem can happen in any type of system: computer networks, bodies, bridges, and learning portfolios.
There’s a tendency to hear a squeak and grind in a learning program like our annual conference or our eLearning program, and respond with a quick fix we hope will buy us time until we have the resources to really dig in with a good SWOT. That’s like me feeling good about getting routine oil changes but not taking time to find out some factory original parts on my car were busted and causing a mess of other problems not at all associated with where I heard the noise. Because it’s a system and same-old is not sustainable.
Your learning portfolio is a system of learning
Your learning portfolio is comprised of all of the ways members can learn with you: conferences, regional meetings, hybrid / virtual events, eLearning, mobile learning, textbooks, workbooks, webinars, workshops, whatever you’ve got that runs on learning objectives. Because of the tendency to manage these programs in silo’d teams that do not collaborate or coordinate, we think when we hear a squeak it must be located within that program. We may even do a study on that program or ask a consultant to evaluate it. But when we do not acknowledge that our programs belong to a larger system of learning we offer to our constituents, our quick fix could trigger a cascading failure.
Check it out from this angle: Your members don’t see (or necessarily care) that different teams support different learning programs — your portfolio of learning opportunities culminate in their total experience of your brand. So if members have a rotten experience with a webinar series package and decide not to participate in a new eLearning offering — and you see alarming decline in eLearning registration — evaluating your eLearning program will not solve the problem. Another example: Say you’re introducing a Pop-up Talk format at your annual conference but the logistics team is tapped. You pull talent from your eLearning team to fill the gap — but leadership is disappointed a few months later when the online course development schedule is way off track. There’s now Board pressure to look into what’s wrong with the eLearning team…
Sometimes we’ve got a headlight out and we just need to change the bulb. Easy. Done. There may be fixes and innovations that are focused upon an individual program within your portfolio. Understanding the ripple effects our decisions introduce throughout the portfolio is fundamental to assembling an effective strategy.
How do you diagnose your squeaks and grinds?
Assess the system, not just the part
I’ve developed a Scorecard for Associations who want to diagnose squeaks and grinds or take their portfolio to the next level. It’s a diagnostic tool that we work through together to assess strengths, weaknesses and priorities. The Scorecard is comprised 25 performance drivers addressing the entire system: strategy, portfolio management, and learning design.
One we’ve identified our areas of concern, we evaluate the system.
- Education strategy: Strategic alignment of business and education objectives governing all learning programs (11 drivers)
- Portfolio management: Architecting the portfolio for efficiencies in content development, deployment, and member experience (7 drivers)
- Learning design: Producing learning experiences incorporating the best practices of instructional design (7 drivers)
Our analysis prepares us to refine our priorities and lay groundwork for high yield next steps. We’ve got full system perspective and have spotted the areas that need immediate attention to achieve our goals.
What are your squeaks and grinds?
Are you seeing declining registration and revenues?
Interested in building new revenue streams with education?
Want to stand out in your competitive market?
Take time for a full system diagnostic to ensure your next steps are the right steps to elevate your entire portfolio. We’d love to help.