Welcome to ISPI’s Organizational Spotlight! This column focuses on our members—some you may know, some you may not. Each month, we will explore what brought them to ISPI, how they use the principles of human performance technology (HPT), and their insights into the value of membership. This month our interview is with Lisa Toenniges, CEO of Innovative Learning Group.

InnovativeLearning Group (ILG) helps employees perform better by creating powerful, practical training solutions that are smart, engaging, and designed to significantly improve business results. Notable ILG clients are leaders in all market sectors and include Amway, Blue Cross Blue Shield, Boston Scientific Corporation, Brasscraft, Cintas Corporation, Comerica Bank, The Dow Chemical Company, Haworth, Johnson Controls, Trinity Health Systems, and many others.

For more information about Innovative Learning Group and its clients, please visit the ILG web site at www.innovativeLG.com.

Does Innovative Learning Group (ILG) work locally? Nationally? Internationally? Globally? How does your organization approach human performance technology in each of these landscapes? Is it different? How so?

Innovative Learning Group works locally, nationally, and internationally. About 60% of ILG’s work is for global corporations based in the United States. Examples of these companies include Boston Scientific, Dow Chemical, and Amway. ILG works closely with client subject matter experts to design and develop learning and performance support solutions that will be universally accepted by audiences around the world. This includes choosing words carefully and ensuring that the learning activities account for cultural differences. ILG often manages the translation process, which has included as many as 11 languages. Several clients also localize the training once the master versions are received.

How does ILG adapt to performance improvement needs for today’s variety of generational workforces?

Regardless of the generation, all learners want training and performance support solutions that are engaging and practical, and relevant to the job they’re doing. If anything, I think previous generations may have tolerated poor learning experiences more. Today, learners have been exposed to the entire gamut of hastily produced YouTube videos to multimillion-dollar websites and simulations. It’s important to use the most effective current technology available based on the audience and learning and performance needs.

How do you use social media in your work?

The ILG team uses social media to share best practices, collaborate, look for resources, pose questions, share news and resources, and get the word out about upcoming events. In the context of doing our client work, we may specify social media as a solution (or part of a blended solution) after completing a thorough audience analysis, understanding the client’s learning and technology infrastructure, and drafting the performance and learning objectives.

What is your favorite CPT-HPT story?

Stories where simple solutions make a great impact always strike a chord with me. I was once teaching a class on Gilbert’s model and was getting audience examples that illustrated the data cell of the model. A participant gave an example of an employee who was coming late to work. As the manager probed the situation, she learned that the employee was out sick the day the shift time change was announced. Once the employee was clear what time work started, he was always on time.

In another example, three hours of training was required to learn how to complete a form because of its complexity and poor design. Once the form was redesigned, no training was required. This example illustrates the importance of exploring the instruments cell of Gilbert’s model rather than defaulting to training to improve performance.

What excites you about ISPI’s work?

The work ISPI does is absolutely the right thing to do and the right way to systematically approach opportunities involving the performance of people. The 10 Performance Standards help to differentiate human performance technology from other disciplines and serve practitioners well as they apply the principles.

What types of learning or performance improvement opportunities does ILG offer its employees? Its clients?

At ILG, our staff does a portion of its learning through engineered project pairings. An employee may have 10 years of experience in the field but may never have done the exact project that he or she is slated for next (that is, industry, subject matter, service, delivery method). In this scenario, we pair the individual with another team member who has the pieces of experience the other employee is missing. The experienced person is involved early in the project to point out tricks and traps, sit in on key meetings, review the newer person’s output and provide feedback, and, in general, ensure that the employee is successful as he or she tackles a new portion of a project. A slight variation on this would include the less-experienced person shadowing the more-experienced person for some or all of a project.

We also use typical performance improvement approaches such as tutorials, participation in professional associations, and attendance at conferences (it’s encouraged that individuals play a speaking or volunteering role if attending a conference).

Our client service offerings cover the entire learning and performance landscape: learning and e-learning strategies, consulting to the learning function, curriculum design, needs analysis, learning and performance support design and development (all delivery methods, including mobile), implementation support, training evaluation, and LMS consulting. In delivering these services, we apply our expertise in human performance technology, instructional design, e-learning technology, project management, and information design and architecture.

How has ILG’s approach(es) to performance improvement changed over time?

Our approach to performance improvement hasn’t really changed over time. We’ve always believed that “training” isn’t the solution for all performance problems. In general, however, we find that it’s difficult to sell performance consulting as a service. It’s a bit too intangible for many clients. We find the best approach is to meet the client where he or she is (which is often asking for a training solution) and begin to work through the ADDIE process. Along the way we are able to “infuse” non-training ideas into the mix. Over time, we gain credibility, earn respect, and gradually can suggest more non-training interventions. Clients begin to see that training isn’t always the best answer.

What has your organization learned from the recent economic slowdown?

ILG started in 2004 during a tough economy, so we really don’t know how to operate any differently. We work smart, we make careful decisions about how to spend money (with both short- and long-term goals in mind), we’re always in a sales mode, and staff spends money like it’s their own. Our staffing model, which includes using freelancers as team members, has served us well and enabled us to expand and contract with the ups and downs in the economy.

What interesting things does ILG do to manage and develop its human capital?

Mostly we do the basics, the things we all know as performance consultants are the right things to do. First we hire the right people and spend a great deal of time in the on-boarding process (which may span the better part of a year). Then, we set clear expectations for performance and provide feedback, provide tools and other resources, align rewards and recognition with desired behavior, and ensure employees have the necessary knowledge and skill.

We’re very open with our communication and share financial performance data on a monthly basis. The team can explain how ILG makes money and how what they do impacts our business measures. The entire team participates in our annual business planning, which begins in October and includes doing a check of ILG’s strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats; and identifying business tactics. Our planning ends in early January when we finalize our business measures.

On an ongoing basis, we watch webinars together and discuss our learnings, we share examples of other good work we’ve seen, and we pass along good articles and blogs we’ve read. We also have periodic lunch-and-learns to look at the client work we’ve done.

How does human performance technology add value to ILG? How do you measure its worth and value?

As a performance consultant and business owner, I have my own “laboratory” for practicing performance improvement on a daily basis. ILG is an ideal size to see the whole picture. I can analyze a performance challenge, select the best solution, and pretty quickly see whether it’s working. As part of our annual business planning process, we set goals around revenue, profitability, customer satisfaction, and the successful completion of business tactics. As a nearly seven-year-old company, ILG has grown steadily and profitably, and I attribute much of our success to our systemic application of human performance improvement principles.