Axalta’s Road to The 5 Moments

This blog is excerpted from episode 25 of the Performance Matters Podcast where Sue Reber, APPLY’s director of practice, sat down with Bill Hickey, a 5 Moments Designer and learning practitioner with Axalta, to discuss what led him to search out “something more” than traditional training.  

Sue Reber (SR): Today I’m going to be talking with Bill Hickey from Axalta about the journey that he made shifting from traditional instructional design to The 5 Moments design. Bill, welcome!
Bill Hickey (BH): Hi Sue. Thanks for having me.
SR: You started out as a high school history teacher, Bill, then you got your degree in instructional design and that was traditional instructional design. Because back then it was Dick & Carry and Gagne—right?
BH: Oh, yeah, very much. “Back then” it was very much a traditional type of background. And very solid. Not criticizing that traditional background. It really has served well. But it was very much focused on the learning, how do we write the appropriate objectives, how do we make sure all the multiple choice questions have the appropriate plausible distractors in them, how do we make sure the design of our performance evaluations is very oriented to  the lesson at hand. Good experiences. Great background to have. But as I continued to progress in my career and as business challenges started to come faster and faster, you started to say, “Wait a minute. This doesn’t quite get us exactly where we need to be. It’s good. It’s addressing some things. But it’s not really getting us where the business needs us to be and, frankly, where our learners need us to be.”
SR: Bill please share a bit more about that, because in your experience—in your world—the trainers were training people and they were going back on the job and what was happening?
BH: Most of what I have done in my career and most of what the groups that I have supported throughout my career have been focusing on end users of the product. And so, they usually spent two, three, four days with those students in a very traditionally designed learning event.
And at the end of that event and we would have our Level 1 Reaction Forms completed and folks would tell us how wonderful it was. And we had our tests at the end and our knowledge assessments and everyone scoring 85 and above and we would have a performance evaluation. We could watch people perform on the job they had been trained on, and sure enough they could get that job done at our location.  
And then, it might be a week, it might be a month, it might be six months later, we would hear, “Oh, by the way, that person you trained...” and you could feel the finger pointing at you as it is said, “that person doesn’t know what they are doing.”
And you’d sit back and say, “Wait a second.” And you’d pull open the file cabinet and you pulled out the class they were in and sure enough, they passed the test. They did the tasks. They said it was “great”. But it turned out that nothing was really transferring from our learning events back to the workplace. And it definitely wasn’t’ being sustained over time.
So, where we really started to see, and I most especially started to see, if we can’t connect what we are doing to actual performance on the job, we’ve got an issue. And as the business climates became more and more intense, it became obvious to me that if we can’t fix this post-training performance thing, we’re not going to be around very long.
So “How do we start to get at that?” became my real concern, it led me to a point where I was really starting to look around and say, “There’s got to be something ‘else’ out there.” Not that what we had was wrong, it just wasn’t getting us to where we had to be.
SR: So, did you find that “other” thing you were looking for?
BH: Interestingly enough, I had the opportunity to attend Learning 2009 and I was paging through the event guide and I came across this thing called—I think we were calling it— “Performance Support 101.” And it was presented by a couple of guys you may have heard of, Con Gottfredson and Bob Mosher. And I said, “Hey!” As I read this write-up, it was pretty much saying, “Yeah, you ran a great event and people loved it. Then they went back on the job and they didn’t know what they were doing. Have you solved this?” And I said, “I gotta go see these guys.”
It was there that a light bulb went on. And the process began. The conversations began around, “How can we begin to transform what had been traditionally done, traditionally designed? How do we begin to move that into a new and different space? What are the technologies we need? What are the design principles we must have? And how quickly can we start to turn this around?” And that’s where a lot of challenges started to emerge.
SR: Could you share more about those challenges?
BH: One was personal. I attend this event. The lightbulb goes on for me with the sense of, “This is what we need. This is how we need to approach it.” And I, of course, want to flip everything right away. “Let’s go back. Let’s change everything we’re doing. Let’s modify everything about our design approach, our instructional delivery, let’s start to look at systems that will work.”
So, my own lack of patience was certainly one of the challenges. I wanted it all yesterday and that just wasn’t going to happen.
Organizational challenges. Certainly, we had a technical instructional staff who were very good at what they did. They were viewed as experts in what they did and now here comes this instructional design knucklehead coming in and telling them it’s got to be different. Because they are the ones reading the reaction forms. They are the ones looking at the tests. They are the ones who had watched the performance evaluations. They say, “Wait a minute. Everything is right!”
It was me trying to say, “No, we need to change the way we do things.” So internally, our instructional staff needed to think differently about this. And our organization as well. As we began to look at how would we do this, how we would get our entire organization to think differently about what a training function could really do—for that training function to not only have responsibility for sort of these one-off classroom experiences, but instead for that training organization to take responsibility for this full life-cycle of the learner from the first time they are introduced to our products. How do we take that and move it to transfer to the workplace and then sustain over time? Where our relationship with the learner is not measured in hours that they might be in a class but really over the lifetime of their experience with us.
So, getting the whole organization to begin to think about us differently—at a time, truthfully, when we were transitioning. Our division was being sold at that time. So a lot of those sorts of things that really tested our ability to persevere through many different challenges until ultimately we could find a spot where we could find a willing partner who could grasp what it was that we were thinking about doing and then be willing to walk down a path with us as we tried to do our first proof of concept.
SR: So, what did happen to make that shift? How did you find someone who was willing to take the journey with you on the business side?
BH: It was sort of a chance happenstance. We were working with one of our functional groups who had responsibility for getting color formulas out to customers. When you’re painting things, obviously, you’re painting them with a color formula. So how do we communicate that formula to the users of our products?
And the folks who were responsible for that were having sort of a similar struggle as to what we had. They had a lot of great tools that folks could use. They knew those tools worked well. But all they’d ever hear back from the customer was, “Your stuff doesn’t work. I can’t match the colors I need.”
“Well, wait a minute. We know you can because here it is! Why can’t you do it?”
So, sort of similarly, they could show folks something but when those folks then went out and tried to apply it, they couldn’t get it done. So here we were on the training side, here I was on the design side, saying, “Hey, I gotta get at that thing out there called performance.” And now I had someone, subject matter experts inside saying, “Hey! We gotta get at that performance. Maybe we could link this up.”
And that’s what we did. So, having that opportunity and inviting Con Gottfredson in at that point to say, “Hey, could you help us do some Rapid Workflow Analysis? Can we begin to look at the critical impact skills things that we need here? Can we put together a plan that would say, ‘Here’s how we can clarify what it is you need to instruct on?’ and then here’s the support pieces we can make sure we have in place.” So not only do what they need to do but then, over time, know what they need to know and sustain that for the long run.
And that’s, Sue, when you and I got to work together.
To learn more out about Bill’s first project, what it took to build the solution, how it was different from their previous traditional training, and the impact this “new” form of training had on training—listen to the entire episode.

Don’t forget to subscribe to The Performance Matters Podcast to stay up-to-date on all the latest conversations and guests in The 5 Moments space.

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