Saturday, October 12, 2013

Performance Evaluations, Knowledge Management and Gamification

I've never liked performance evaluations.  Who does? The employee is cynical about it. The manager is cynical about it.  Why bother?  Under current circumstances, I am no different from anyone else.  I can't escape it.  It's part of "business-as-usual".  From a knowledge management perspective, I hear time and time again that knowledge sharing and other knowledge management activities should be part of an employee's performance evaluation.  As soon as I start imagining what that would look like, I cringe.

  • "How many lessons learned did you write this year?"
  •  "How many knowledge sharing workshops did you attend?" 
  •  "How did you share your knowledge?"
  •  "Did you coach or mentor someone?"
I fear that adding Knowledge Management questions to a faulty performance evaluation process will not add a great deal of value.

Solutions often emerge out of personal frustration with processes. Faced with the prospect of yet another useless performance evaluation I came up with a variation.  I didn't ask for any changes to the process (I typically don't try to rock the boat).  I simply gave it a personal interpretation. I had recently taken a course on gamification (a MOOC) and while I had a hard time figuring out exactly how to use that new knowledge directly in the context of the work I was doing around knowledge management, I could certainly experiment with some gamification within a more personal context, my own performance evaluation.

I came up with an overall personal mission statement, six core goals, and a number of specific objectives for each goal. Five of the six goals correspond to the responsibilities of my position while the fifth is more oriented towards personal growth, yet directly related to the demands of the job.  The five core goals would be the same for anyone doing the job.  The sixth is something specifically designed to address what I consider to be a personal weakness.  Addressing that weakness would allow me to better perform towards the other five goals.

The next step was to assign points to each objective.  After playing around with the numbers for a while, I settled on an annual goal of 100 points, spread across the six goals and objectives.  Part of the adjustments I made with the points and how they were allocated had to do with the need to be able to monitor progress on a regular basis.  I have a good mix of objectives for which points accrue on a weekly basis and objectives that can only be reached over a much longer period of time and for which points can only be earned at the successful completion of a milestone.  Having done some work in evaluation in prior years, I had a few ideas about setting clear criteria for completion and making it relatively easy to monitor.

In a real gamification initiative, all of this would be automated and points would show up on a digital dashboard on my computer.  Until I have some evidence that this is working for me, I'm keeping it very low-tech.  Next year, I might enhance it with an Excel spreadsheet and a mini-dashboard.  Since my goals and objectives are completely unique to my job, this approach can't easily be scaled to an entire organization.  If the approach was standardized so that everyone had the same categories of goals and objectives and employees were competing for the highest number of points, not only would some employees become tempted to "game" the system, but the goals and objectives would become too generic to add real value.

Why would I want to compete for points against other employees who do completely different jobs? I'm interested in enhancing my own performance within the specific context of my very unique work.  I want goals and objectives that are designed for this specific position.  Since I'm designing the approach, I even get to say what the goals and objectives are.  I did share the goals and objectives and the entire point system with my manager in the context of the performance evaluation meeting.  I can't think of a much better way to see if expectations match. I can't think of a much better way to discuss actual performance next year.  For once, I will have very precise data to provide... and a few lessons about applying some gamification principles to employee performance.


P.S.:  There is a lot of hype around gamification.  Like anything else, when done poorly, it will fail.  If done right, it can work. 

Saturday, June 22, 2013

10 Tools Challenge - The Book

My 10 Tools Challenge needs a reboot.  As is often the case, other interests have taken more of my time and I have neglected this one.  My goal for the next few weeks is to focus on the book as a tool for learning. Not a very original idea, but I'm thinking in terms of connections between a book (whether it is being read or being written), and complementary tools.  I'm thinking of a web of tools, a mindmap, with the book at the center, and some large branches leading to key categories of tools.

We'll see how this goes.  I'm off on vacation with a couple of books.

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Web conferencing tools

Until this past week, I had used web conferencing tools in the role of participant/attendee rather than organizer or speaker.  As an attendee, I have encountered three obstacles to overcome:  1) making sure the web conferencing tool is compatible with the computer you are using; 2) figuring out the best audio solution when there are options (connect via computer vs. call-in via phone); 3) identifying options for engaging with the speaker (via chat panel or audio).

This past week, I conducted my first webinar as a speaker. Having attended several of the previous webinars in the series, I was most concerned about the audio channel, which had created multiple problems in the past.  Testing my audio connection ahead of time helped to ease my anxiety levels. I had brought in an external microphone to try to improve the quality of the audio compared to the laptop's embedded microphone.  It all worked out well from a technical perspective.  I was also surprisingly able to keep an eye on the chat panel for questions.  It helped somewhat that I work with two computer monitors. One displayed the screen that was shared with the webinar participants.  The other displayed the chat panel and other webinar tools. 

I really enjoyed it.  Much less intimidating than a room full of people.  I do need to practice getting rid of my "ums" and "ahs".  I'm afraid of listening to the recording. :)

Two connections: 
  • The best video lecture content presented in the three Coursera courses I recently took was a combination of the professor talking primarily via a small window on the screen (up to half the screen) and other dynamic content on the screen.  The content was dynamic in the sense that a) specific points appeared as the professor was addressing them; b) the professor was using a stylus or some other tool to highlight, circle, or point to specific things he was talking about.  In essence, even though none of it was live, it almost felt live because you were never staring at the same screen for more than a few seconds.  That was the Gamification course.  The Physics course videos were also great, but in a very different way.  The professor was showing a lot of hands-on activities and leveraging multiple filming locations to make it more interesting.  
  • We should really do much more with video to enhance knowledge sharing within my work environment.  I have to come up with a specific proposal connected to an existing activity.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

10 Tools Challenge: CMAP Tools for presentations

I'm a big fan of CmapTools.  I use it extensively for a wide variety of maps.  When an opportunity presented itself to experiment with a low-risk audience, I decided to ditch PowerPoint and use CmapTools to develop my presentation. I had a number of options:
1. Use CmapTools to develop the content but then make the content fit into PowerPoint slides for presentation purposes.  I would have copied maps into the PowerPoint.

2. Use CmapTools' full functionality and both design and deliver the presentation using CmapTools.  This requires using my own computer (or using CmapTools on a USB stick).

3. Use CmapTools to design the presentation in such a manner that it can be turned into a set of hyperlinked web pages, navigated using any web browser.

I picked option 3.  While I've experimented with the presentation functions embedded in CmapTools, I've found that building a presentation that way is very time consuming and forces you to define a very specific path through your presentation, replicating the linear aspect of a PowerPoint.  I wanted a presentation that had few slides/web pages, but many options in terms of navigating from one place to another, opting in and out of various paths depending on time available, questions asked, etc... I eventually came up with a presentation that could take 10 minutes using the shortest path (10 minutes was the time I was given) and potentially an hour or more if I had clicked on every link and taken every path available.

So, how is that different from a PowerPoint with a lot of backup slides? The main difference is in how I could navigate to the backup information in the context of each core page.  Technically, it's possible to do the same with a PowerPoint by simply creating a link to a specific back up page.  Instead of thinking of my presentation as a set of sequential slides, I was visualizing it as a set of circles.  I had a core of 5-6 maps at the center, a set script or sequence for going through these maps in 10 minutes, and wider circles around that full of backup options should there be questions about any of the core maps.

Two disadvantages of using a web version of a CmapTools presentation:

1. Sitting Down: If you embedded links and you are navigating using links, you can't do it standing using a page clicker / slide changer.  Think about whether standing in front of the audience is important.  I wouldn't do it with a large audience.  It works fine in a relatively small conference room where everyone can still see you in a sitting position.  You can do it if you're standing at a podium, but make sure there's a mouse available or bring your own.

2. Fixing Size: With a PowerPoint, you are guaranteed that your slide will appear in the appropriate size, filling the screen.  With a CmapTools map transformed in html, you may need to adjust the size of the map on the screen using CTRL+ or CTRL-.  It's okay if you're comfortable adjusting quickly.  Ideally, you can open up all the pages ahead of time and set the right zoom level for each screen.  I have to look into how to set a standard / template size as I design those maps and avoid this page specific adjustments.

A reminder:  The rules that apply to PowerPoint apply to any presentation medium: pay attention to the font, font colors and always test on a projection screen.  It may look fine on your computer screen and not so good when projected.  I was particularly disappointed with the colors.  I had nice background images that didn't look as good as they should have. I might have been better off showing the background images separately, or using them for transition purposes.

Given the overall purpose of the presentation and the chance to demonstrate an innovative approach, using CmapTools was a good decision in this case. Most complex maps developed with CmapTools cannot be read when projected on a screen in a conference room.  It requires zooming in and out or slicing a map into smaller elements (which is what the CmapTools presentation functionality does).

Friday, March 29, 2013

10 Tools Challenge - Coursera (2)

Back to Coursera.  This is a follow up to an earlier post.

I'm now finishing week 4 for both courses I signed up for.  A third course is starting next week and I'll be in trouble.  I'm managing the two courses by sticking to the strict minimum of work.  I'm watching the video lectures and taking notes.  I'm not doing any of the recommended readings.  This makes taking the quizzes challenging. Sometimes I get "lucky" with my guesses and the score has nothing to do with how much I understood or absorbed.  

As a student, how much am I really learning? 
  • Physics for dummies (aka "How Things Work") - 6 weeks
    Entertaining videolectures, formulas are barely touched on and there is no work involving calculations.  The quizzes are challenging because they definitely test the understanding of concepts.  Yet I managed a 10/10 on a quiz for which I would have given myself a 5/10 in terms of understanding.  If the course were offered over the summer, I would recommend it to my daughter.  She might need to take the real  version of this course in the fall.  This version would be very good prep.  I'm assuming the real course is asking for a little more from the students.
  • Know Thyself (Philosophy) - 10 weeks
    Here the subject lends itself to much more reflection and deep thinking than what I am engaging in, yet it's giving me a nice, shallow introduction to some philosophers I encountered years ago or have heard of but never read. This is also a longer course and for now, I haven't made a deep connection to the materials. I'm not inclined to read much more than a wikipedia article or two on related concepts.
Now to the "discussion forums":  I tried and failed to engage in any meaningful interaction.  The benefit/cost ratio is just not there.  Too much noise.

Assuming I complete the courses and pass the quizzes, do I deserve college credits?  I don't think so. At least not for these two courses. They're really good for what they do, but I'm barely scratching the surface because I can pass without reading or writing anything.  Extensive reading and writing was 90% of my college experience.

Sunday, March 10, 2013

10 Tools Challenge - Diigo - Making better use of what I bookmark

I'll be attending a course on creativity for the next three days and I decided to refresh my brain attic by scanning through my Diigo collection for anything tagged "creativity."  There were 40 items, the first one dating from 2006.

What do my bookmarks tell me?

1) If you use social bookmarking on an ongoing basis (it doesn't have to be a very consistent habit), you will end up with a very solid collection;
2) Eventhough "creativity" isn't one of my key topics, it's one that has sustained my interest over the years based on my bookmarks;
3) I am a collector.  I re-read recently the paper by Patrick Lambe on Personal Knowledge Managemement where he highlights the main KM personalities.  I'm definitely a collector, so finding useful ways to revisit my collections, rather than just categorize and move on, would add value to the process.

Eventually I decided the best thing to do was go view some TedTalks on Creativity, which I had bookmarked and most likely did not fully watch.

Wednesday, March 06, 2013

10 Tools Challenge - Coursera

I signed up for a few Coursera classes of interest, two of which started this week:  How Things Work (aka Physics 101) and Know Thyself.  From a course content perspective, it's a good mix of understanding the external world and understanding the self. For the purposes of this blog, I'll focus my observations on the courseware, learner interactions in a MOOC, and my own learning experience.

Week 1 - Initial Explorations
Navigating the course sites is very easy; the professors' guidance/instructions were all clear and available.  There were a couple of small things that slowed me down (finding a usable version of the video transcripts and finding the text of an introductory message that had been sent via email but was also posted on the site). These were really small details and overall, my experience as a student exploring two Coursera courses for the first time was a good one.

The week isn't over yet but I can tell that the main challenge for me will be figuring out a useful way to navigate the discussion forums or decide to completely stay out of them.  There's just too much noise in there. It's just not possible for 70,000 students to have a useful conversation.  An interesting element related to this is that it looks like for many students it's not their first Coursera course and they've already figured out how to set up smaller study groups and how to organize conversations in other forums (twitter, Google+, Facebook, even Meetups).  This is happening within the first two days of the course.

I like the delivery format: short video lectures with suggested readings.

BONUS: Both of my current courses are from UVA and they've been smart about showcasing the campus.  It's a plus for me since I have a daughter who is a student there at the moment.  I can think about her walking the same paths I'm watching on the screen.

As a side note, I took the first science quiz and failed, which means that technically I already failed the course.  The good news is that I'm too old to care about the grade per se but I did want to figure out what I did wrong and I think I've got it now (and I'll be a little more careful with the next quiz).

Question:  How many Coursera students (aka courserians) give up on the course when they fail the first test  when a passing grade means passing each and every one of the quizzes? (passing is 70% or higher)

Sunday, March 03, 2013

10 Tools Challenge: Presentation tools & "design"

Thinking about how tools either constrain us or help us imagine new ways of doing things. I'm a big fan of Edward Tufte, his books and his lectures. Just caught sight of one of the recommendations captured in the visual notes below:  use real objects whenever possible.  So that answers my question about whether or not to bring my juggling balls to my presentation tomorrow.  I will bring them.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

10 Tools Challenge - Windows Movie Maker

This month my intent was to focus on testing Windows Movie Maker.  It took me a while to figure out the webcam options and audio recording options on my laptop and to get it all to work.  In the end, the presentation I created was based primarily on images accompanied by a narration, but I did sign off with a few seconds of video.

I didn't initially plan on posting the video but YouTube makes is to easy that the only reason not to post it would be that it was too embarrassing.  It's definitely amateurish but who cares. I'll be able to see improvements in my next experiment.  It is posted on YouTube under the title "Selecting Images for a Presentation".  As the title suggests, the video is about the images that I selected for a recent presentation I have been working on and the rationale for the selection.  It's just five minutes long and I didn't do much editing or retakes of the audio narration.


  • I tried to be thorough in my initial steps, especially in trying to identify all the options in terms of video capture.  I looked up some YouTube videos about creating videos.  I picked up a few tips about positioning the webcam for example.  I discovered that I had two options for the webcam:  an internal webcam on my laptop and a very easy-to-use plug-and-play mini external webcam that fits nicely on the edge of my laptop screen.  My first recording attempts were quite pathetic.  The audio was not loud enough, the lighting was insufficient, and the color was too green. I ran a second test using my iPhone camera to discover that the MOV file wasn't compatible with Movie Maker.  MOV file open with QuickTime. I would need to convert the file.  Then the conversion tool turned the movie sideways!  Next I had to look up how to rotate the video.  I found a YouTube video that explained how to take the video "upside down" during capture, with the iPhone buttons at the bottom.  Within two hours, I had learned how to improve video files in Windows Movie Maker with two types of input (iPhone and webcam); and I had solved two problems (the file format and the sideways display).
  • Once I had solved all these initial technical problems I should have spent more time storyboarding and planning. By the time I figured out how the technology I was too much in a hurry to produce something.  Even now, knowing that I could have done it much better, I'm not inclined to make the improvements. I'm calling it "good enough".  Importing images and then adding narration was very easy, and so was the final step of saving the whole project as a video.
  • This was a very important experiment with a new tool because it lifted some myths about the complexity of multimedia presentations.  From now on, I will feel much more comfortable considering integrating video components into training materials or presentations.  I also know I could learn much more about how to make it really great.

Saturday, January 26, 2013

10 Tools Challenge - January 2013

Jane Hart's 10 Tools Challenge

Here's what happened this month
1. Experimentation with a new tool
I realize that this 10 tools challenge is meant to focus on trying new tools but I'm getting distracted already and I'm finding it difficult to focus on any particular tool when I don't have any immediate use for it and so many other things are happening.   Here's what I propose:  Beyond writing a monthly post about my experience, I will use Movie Maker to document key lessons about tools I encounter and my last post, the overall review, will be done using Movie Maker (or by then perhaps some other video tool).

2. Opportunities that popped up
a. I've signed up for a MOOC (massive Online Open Course) through Coursera.  More insights at a later date.
b. I came across an opportunity to try Google Hangout. More about it in a future post
c. Zinio - eReader for magazines through local library.  I came across an announcement from my local library about a new service offering free access to hundreds of magazines.  I had to try that out.  Not exactly a straightforward process since it requires creating multiple accounts (one with the library and one with Zinio) and it's clearly a marketing strategy to get people to eventually subscribe. I am working with an old laptop and a small screen, which may contribute to my difficulties, but the verdict for me is that I'd rather take a healthy walk to the local library, pick up the magazine from the shelf, sit and browse the magazine than struggle with the pages and font size on the screen.
d. OverDrive - OverDrive is another free tool facilitating access to digital media available through the local library.  It takes a significant amount of persistence to get this working and I'd much rather wait for the audio CD version of a book to be available for borrowing so that I can listen during my commute than sit at my computer to listen to a book. Listening is too slow and engages the brain in a different way than reading.  In reading, the process of pausing to reflect on a connection or taking a quick note is seamless.  In addition, a book, as a physical object on my dining room table is an easy reminder that I started reading something.  The audiofiles on OverDrive are easily forgotten.  I started listening to a book this week and then completely forgot about it because it was "invisible". I also don't need to physically return these files, so there's no need for me to remember to finish the book before it's due back.  Ironically, these audio files aren't always available and they have a due date, so the advantages over the audiobook or hard copy book are few.

4.  Refreshing Old tools
a. Excel - I learned something totally new this month, using the Page Layout view to increase efficiency of my weekly reporting at work.  I streamlined my reporting by eliminating the need to transfer data from one tool (Excel) to another (PowerPoint).  I used to create a PowerPoint importing linked Excel data. Since it was "linked" data, an update in Excel would update automatically in the PowerPoint.  Checking and fixing the formatting every week was still a chore. Now I use Excel as my presenting tool, making it look essentially like a PowerPoint, only more powerful in terms of data manipulation on the spot.  The irony is that several months ago I was seriously annoyed by a co-worker who only worked in Page Layout view and I couldn't figure out what she was doing or how to work in that view. At the time, it made no sense to me and I saw no need to use that function. Then at some point the option became relevant and it probably took less than 20 minutes to fully leverage it to address my need.  This reinforces my point:  until I have a specific need, I'm not that interested in new tools, yet unless I know what's available out there I'll never consider these opportunities.

b. TiddlyWiki: When your favorite tool stops working
TiddlyWiki is one of my favorite tools. It's a personal wiki, a very portable digital notetaking and organizing tool. I have now used it for years for many different purposes, including organizing a huge amount of research notes for a novel. This past week, it started to misbehave.  It would not save.  My troubleshooting habits are dangerous.  I often start messing with things in the absence of any understanding of what I am doing. There is a 50% chance I will make it worse. I could have ended up doing a lot of damage, but in the end, I connected the dots. I remembered that Firefox had just automatically updated to a new version and it turned out that this new version was incompatible with TiddlyWiki.  Thankfully, the TiddlyWiki site had the explanation and a download fix. Back on track.

c. The book and the brain
I've borrowed my daughter's Digital Media Studies syllabus and I'm keeping up with the assigned readings.  As a result, I re-read Nicholas Carr's The Shallows and made a point of trying to focus and engage in deep reading.  My college experience was 99% deep reading and very little else, so any time I pick up a non-fiction book I can't help but be transported back to my college days when English was still a relatively foreign language to me and reading involved taking lots of notes, in cursive longhand.  And so, I still take copious notes.  The brain is by far the most useful tool I've ever used. Pen and paper are wonderful assistants.

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Starting the 10 Tools Challenge

Here are my "tools" goals for this year:
1. Explore tools I've previously stayed away from:  I'll try tools that involve audio and video, both from a producer and user point of view.
2. Find new ways of using "old" tools, tools I've tried and abandoned and tools I use regularly but not necessary to their full potential. 
3. Document the experience on this blog.

I'll do this in the context of Jane Hart's 10 Tools Challenge.

However, trying/testing tools without a broader goal isn't going to be sufficient for me.  I need to do this within the context of a broader personal/professional development framework.  I'm more likely to sustain this effort if it also fulfills other learning interests.

Outputs might include:
  • An overview presentation on Personal Knowledge Management for Project Managers, using audio and video components for use in a self-paced learning environment.
  • A TiddlyWiki space template for organizing notes for a new novel (and related research notes on self-publishing options and tools needed for self-publishing).