Our brother in performance improvement, Joe H. Harless, 71, a key figure since the mid-1960s in the development of human performance technology at NSPI and ISPI, passed away while on a family vacation on October 4, 2012. Spearheaded by Guy Wallace, the November/December issue of Performance Improvement journal will feature a tribute to Joe. To get us started, Erica Keeps, Jeanne Farrington, and Carol Panza have shared their reflections below. Please join in the dialog by leaving your fondest memory of Joe Harless.
I met Joe Harless at the first ISPI conference I attended. I was very impressed with the time he gave me and the knowledge he shared even though I was a newcomer. His passion and dedication to the field inspired me. His humor and wit intrigued me. He became a guide and professional to emulate. Our relationship was one of friendship. I will miss Joe.
I met Joe many years ago when I took his Job Aids Workshop in Atlanta. There was Joe, bigger than life, enthusiastic to the max, and sure he was right about whatever he taught us. He practiced what he preached, and everything was thoroughly explained, diagrammed, and practiced. His course notebook sits on my shelf, and I’ve referred to it more than just a few times in the intervening years. Joe was a trailblazer in our field, and more than that, he had an overarching desire to make things better. Encouraging to newcomers and to all, Joe’s zest for our field (and for life in general) were always inspiring. I’m so thankful I met Joe early in my career, and that I had a chance to learn from him at many NSPI/ISPI events after that. I remember him fondly, and I’m sorry he had to leave us so soon.
I can still remember the first time I actually spoke to Joe, face-to-face. It must have been more than 20 years ago. I certainly knew Joe’s work, of course, (Who didn’t?) and heard him speak many times. In short, like many others, I learned from Joe. I also learned about him from one of his teachers, Tom Gilbert. But, I hadn’t been introduced to the legendary Joe Harless. Then, a colleague of mine from New Jersey asked me to say hello to Joe on her behalf (She was a longtime client and associate of Joe’s.) at the Annual Conference.
I actually assumed it would be unlikely I would have an opportunity to speak to Joe, who always had a big following at conferences. And, just walking up to someone of his stature seemed a little cheeky. However, as luck would have it, during the conference, one afternoon, I found myself in a big open reception-type area in front of a ballroom, where there was only one other person present . . . Joe Harless. Somehow I summoned the courage to introduce myself and pass along the greetings from my colleague, after first apologizing for the intrusion. I took the opportunity to express my admiration and thank Joe for sharing his immense wisdom. (Like so many, I was a fan.) He responded by saying he had read everything I had written and was fan. I was stunned and don’t know how I kept from falling on the floor.
I share that with you all only because it strikes me as characteristic of truly great people to broadly, actively, and continuously seek out and consider the ideas of a broad range of people. That Joe had read stuff of mine, tells me he must have had lots of time on his hands back then! I will always be grateful to my colleague from NJ, because if she had not tasked me with passing her greetings along to Joe Harless, I doubt I would have had the nerve to approach him. He was a big burly man who was genuinely caring, with incredible humor, great wisdom, absolutely straightforward in his approach, and a truly generous spirit. After that first meeting, every time I saw Joe, he gave me a big bear hug and treated me like family. It’s hard to believe he’s gone. As many have said, I deeply appreciate the opportunity I had to meet this incredibly unique and valuable professional and get to know him, just a little.
Links to Five Videos on YouTube of Joe Harless: