Including Experimentation in your Training Workflows

Including Experimentation in your Training Workflows

It’s been about a month since the ATD 2023 conference and hopefully those of us in the industry have been able to put our big ideas into practice. This year’s conference brought out lots of great ideas; whether it was unlearning our assumptions about our jobs, giving high impact players freedom to thrive, or considering how we encourage constructive feedback. ATD reminds us that there are many innovators out there digging into a multitude of hypotheses and finding real applications. It should also remind us that you don’t need to be a professor or a published author to discover new applications. Working in training & development means constantly searching for better ways to educate that produce real world effects. No matter how small or specific your area of education is, there are valuable gold nuggets to discover—better ways to educate that result in faster training times, longer retention, or improved performance. But with our packed schedules and tight deadlines, when do we have the opportunity to look for these gold nuggets? Here are some ideas for including experimentation into your training workflows.

Create With the Purpose of Discovery

When it is time to create something new (which will inevitably happen if you’re an instructional designer), be deliberate about what you create. Consider a new approach to your training but be selective—one big idea is enough! It might be a storytelling device, a game, a social activity, a journal, or one of many other possible teaching strategies. The point is to try add something new to your training to see if it makes your training better.

It is easy to fall into a routine with every new course; but it’s unlikely doing the same thing over and over again is going to lead to a breakthrough. Instead, treat each project as a way to apply something you haven’t tested yet. Keep your changes small—it is better to thoroughly test one small change rather than try to separate the effects of many changes.

Set Up Your Training Program Like an Experiment

Including Experimentation in your Training Workflows

Just because your idea is new, that does not mean it’s good. Experimentation simply requires controlling the training implementation in a way that lets you see if your new idea makes any difference. The classic way to do that is to create 2 groups: an experimental group that receives the new training and a control group that receives the old training. Make sure you have a way to clearly target the different training content for your 2 groups.

Keep in mind that we don’t want to harm the control group by giving them bad or inaccurate training. We just want to provide them with a continuation of the old way of training.

Does this mean we are doing twice the work in order to try new methods of training? It might, depending on what you are experimenting with! But I would recommend keeping your experiments simple. Restrict your experimental training to just a few activities. Split your groups up so some receive the new activities and some not.

Measure Outcomes

We wouldn’t learn much about our training strategies if we didn’t measure any of the possible outcomes. Most eLearning should already come with common tools to measure learning: quizzes and surveys. You should also have tools to track time spent in the training and the big picture impact on performance.

Luckily measurement between your two groups can be exactly the same, no new measuring tools are needed. But you will want to make sure you have these measures in the first place.

Do you have two independent experimental groups? Did you collect relevant data from each group? Excellent! This is a good situation to use a Two Sample t-Test to check if your results are significant.

Repeat: including experimentation in your training workflows

If you’ve come this far, don’t stop! Each experiment informs all your further experiments and greatly increases your chance of finding that gold nugget. Training and development is not about doing the same thing every year, every project. We want to keep trying new approaches but we also want to ensure we only keep the approaches that work.

One way to accomplish this is by including experimentation into your training workflows. That is, continually trying new ideas, creating these ideas as small pieces of content, targeting content towards an experimental group while maintaining a control group, and comparing measurements between these groups.

Psychological Safety at Work: Fostering Growth, Trust, and Performance

Psychological Safety at Work: Fostering Growth, Trust, and Performance


In today’s rapidly changing and highly competitive business landscape, organizations are increasingly recognizing the importance of creating an environment where employees feel safe to express themselves without fear of criticism or reprisal. This concept is known as psychological safety, and it plays a vital role in promoting collaboration, innovation, and overall employee well-being. In this article, we will delve into the depths of psychological safety at work, exploring its definition, why some leaders may be afraid of it, the barriers that hinder its establishment, and whether it truly hinders performance.

What is Psychological Safety: Beyond Fear of Criticism

Psychological safety refers to the belief that one can express their opinions, ideas, and concerns without the fear of negative consequences such as criticism, punishment, or rejection. It encompasses a sense of trust, openness, and mutual respect within a team or organization. Psychological safety encourages individuals to take risks, share diverse perspectives, and engage in constructive discussions, ultimately fostering an environment of innovation and learning.

Why Some Leaders Are Afraid of Psychological Safety

While psychological safety is widely acknowledged as beneficial, some leaders may feel apprehensive about fully embracing it. One primary reason is the fear of losing control. These leaders may worry that by allowing open dialogue and differing opinions, it could lead to chaos, dissent, or a loss of authority. Additionally, leaders who prioritize short-term results over long-term growth might view psychological safety as a potential hindrance to productivity, as it requires time and effort to build trust and nurture a safe environment.

Barriers to Psychological Safety

Several barriers can impede the establishment of psychological safety within a workplace. One common barrier is a lack of trust among team members. When trust is low, employees may hesitate to speak up, fearing that they will face disregard or the use of their opinions against them. Another barrier is a hierarchical organizational culture that discourages dissenting opinions or discourages challenging the status quo. Additionally, a lack of clear communication channels and feedback mechanisms can make employees uncertain about where to voice their concerns or ideas, hindering psychological safety.

Does Psychological Safety Hinder Performance?

Psychological Safety at Work: Fostering Growth, Trust, and Performance

Research has found that psychological safety positively impacts performance. It indicates that a safe environment for risk-taking, idea-sharing, and mistake-making without punishment fosters innovative thinking and problem-solving. Psychological safety fosters a sense of ownership and empowerment among employees, leading to increased motivation, collaboration, and productivity. Furthermore, it fosters learning from failures and continuous improvement, essential for organizational growth and adaptation in today’s dynamic business environment.

Creating a Psychologically Safe Workplace:

  1. Foster Trust: Build trust among team members by promoting open communication, active listening, and demonstrating empathy. Encourage team-building activities and create opportunities for personal connections.
  2. Lead by Example: Leaders must model psychological safety by actively seeking input, encouraging diverse perspectives, and responding constructively to feedback and ideas. Encourage healthy debate and avoid punitive behavior or negative reactions to dissenting views.
  3. Establish Clear Expectations: Communicate clear guidelines on respectful communication, encourage questions and curiosity, and emphasize that mistakes are opportunities for learning and growth.
  4. Encourage Feedback: Create feedback mechanisms that enable employees to provide anonymous suggestions, share concerns, or raise issues without fear of retribution. Regularly seek feedback from employees to demonstrate a commitment to continuous improvement.
  5. Promote Learning Culture: Encourage continuous learning and skill development by providing resources, training opportunities, and recognition for personal growth. Celebrate and learn from both successes and failures.


Psychological safety at work is a critical component of a thriving and innovative workplace. By creating an environment where individuals feel safe to express their thoughts, take risks, and collaborate, organizations can unlock the full potential of their employees. While some leaders may have concerns about losing control or hindering performance, research consistently shows that psychological safety enhances creativity, engagement, and productivity. By actively promoting trust, open communication, and a learning culture, organizations can cultivate psychological safety and reap the benefits of a motivated and empowered workforce.

How Knowledge Management Can Avoid the Peter Principle

How Knowledge Management Can Avoid the Peter Principle

If you’re looking to fill a role by promoting from within, you’re potentially setting yourself up for failure. While promotions are often well-deserved and well-executed, sometimes, promoting the wrong person can spell disaster. When promoting from within, it’s critical that you avoid falling victim to the Peter Principle. Here’s what you need to know about this little-recognized but all-too-real risk of promoting your employees.

The Peter Principle at Work

Dr. Laurence Peter formulated the Peter Principle in 1968 as an explanation for why incompetent people get promotions. In his book The Peter Principle, Dr. Peter asserted that “the cream rises until it sours”.

In other words, highly competent and skilled workers receive promotions through the ranks of an organization. They continue to receive promotions until they reach a position they have neither the knowledge nor the skills to perform.

The Peter Principle has long been criticized as simply a neat theory. However, recent research has shown that it’s an accurate reflection of corporate hierarchies. One 2018 analysis of over 53,000 sales staff at over 200 companies found that the best salespeople were the most likely to be promoted to managerial positions – and the most likely to perform poorly as managers. The researchers concluded that “the best worker is not always the best candidate for manager.”

The Peter Principle can be seen at work in the 2005 sitcom The Office. Regional manager Michael Scott, while friendly and outgoing, is nonetheless a poor manager. He makes irrational decisions and wastes a considerable amount of time. However, when Scott acts as a salesman, he continually demonstrates a high degree of intelligence, a winning personality, and a persuasive charm that wins over his clients. It was his strong sales record as a salesman that led Scott to be promoted to regional manager. Now, though, he lacks many of the managerial skills needed in a professional workplace.

The Paula Principle

In 2017, educational philosopher Tom Schuller published The Paula Principle, a follow-up to The Peter Principle that aims to explain why women underperform. According to Schuller, the Paula Principle states that “Most women work below their level of competence.”

Schuller argues that bosses fail to recognize women in particular for their competence and performance. He says women often work in positions that under-utilize their full skill-set. 

“Women’s career paths are flatter and more broken, their salaries lower, and their retirement incomes smaller,” Schuller writes. In The Paula Principle, Schuller lists five factors to explain why women underperform relative to their level of competency. These factors range from discrimination to lack of childcare to lack of self-confidence and beyond.

How Over-Promotion Can Derail Your Business

The Peter Principle can have myriad effects on your business. When bosses promote workers above their competency, it can show up in ways both predictable and surprising.

For instance, you might notice that recently-promoted employees are suddenly less productive than before – or that they make more mistakes. Perhaps they spend too much time on menial tasks, or maybe they suffer from lower morale.

Over time, these issues can compound and grow. And if you continue promoting employees above their level of competency, you can fall victim to Peter’s Corollary.

Peter’s Corollary states that “in time, every position within an organization will be filled with someone who is not competent to perform the duties of that role.”

By promoting your employees above their level of competency, you’ve created an organization where nobody knows what they’re doing. And when nobody knows what they’re doing, it results in less productivity and more mistakes.

So how can you ward off the Peter Principle? How can you ensure your employees continue to perform well even after giving them well-deserved promotions?

Mitigating the Peter Principle in Your Workplace

The first thing you should understand is that the Peter Principle isn’t evidence of a hiring mistake. It doesn’t necessarily mean you promoted the wrong person to the wrong position, or that it was wrong to hire that person to begin with. Rather, the Peter Principle means the person chosen to fill a role is not currently prepared to perform their duties.

When it comes to mitigating the Peter Principle, there are two important strategies to take: Prevention and mitigation.

If you’ve already promoted someone who’s ill-suited for their new role, you can mitigate that error by giving your recent promotee leadership training and skills training to help them adjust to their new job.

Going forward, you can prevent the Peter Principle from impacting your workplace with a series of new initiatives.

First, you’ll want to implement a new leadership training program for recently-promoted employees. You’ll want to design this program to equip these employees for their new roles by focusing on their new duties and on managerial best practices.

Next, you’ll want to create employee mentorship programs whereby your high-performers can gain new skills and knowledge by observing others. Mentoring and nurturing employees is a great way to ensure they’re prepared for their new roles.

You can also create new rewards incentives for high-performers, like raises and bonuses, in lieu of promotions. These incentives could also be tangible rewards like hockey tickets or gift certificates for restaurants. When you can offer multiple performance rewards beyond just promotions, you’ll be able to promote only the people who are prepared for a new role.

You can create learning cohorts among employees who are up for promotions. This strategy can help your promotees lean on each other for support and help each other learn the job.

Create a New Promotion-Track Program

Finally, you’ll want to open up a number of non-managerial opportunities so that high performers can be promoted within their competency. When the typical promotion track involves promoting tactitians to managers, you’re often forcing your people into a role they aren’t prepared for and don’t have the skills to perform. While someone may be excellent at their current role, that doesn’t necessarily mean they have the temperament and personality needed for a managerial role. So if you can instead offer senior-level and specialist positions that are based on current employees’ skills, you can promote your high-performers without it negatively affecting the rest of your team.

The Peter Principle is a notable threat to productivity and revenue. Without careful monitoring, your organization could quickly find itself in a position of resource waste and incompetent management. But with the proper training programs and skills-based rewards initiatives, you can ensure the right people fill the right positions and keep your organization firing on all cylinders.

How is the Peter Principle affecting your business? What are you doing to give your leaders more skills training?

How to Build High-Performance Teams

Building high-performance teams is a critical component of any successful company. When a team is functioning at its best, it can create incredible results and drive the company forward. However, building a high-performance team is easier said than done. It requires effort, investment, and dedication from all parties involved. In this article, we’ll explore some of the key strategies and tactics for building high-performance teams in your company.

Define your goals and values

To build a high-performance team, it’s essential to start by defining your goals and values. What are you trying to achieve as a company? What values do you want your team to embody? These questions should guide your hiring process and inform the way you approach team building.

When you have a clear vision for your company and team, it’s easier to make decisions that align with those goals. You can also communicate your vision to your team, which helps everyone understand the big picture and their role in achieving it.

Hire for culture fit

Culture fit is crucial when building high-performance teams. You want to hire people who not only have the skills and experience necessary to do the job but also share your company’s values and vision. This ensures that everyone is working towards the same goal and can collaborate effectively.

To hire for culture fit, you need to define your company culture clearly. What are your values? What kind of environment do you want to create? Once you have a clear understanding of your culture, you can evaluate candidates based on their fit. This includes assessing their values, work style, and communication skills.

Foster open communication

Open communication is essential for building high-performance teams. When team members feel comfortable sharing their ideas and opinions, they can collaborate more effectively and make better decisions. As a leader, it’s your responsibility to create an environment that encourages open communication.

One way to foster open communication is to set aside time for team meetings and one-on-one check-ins. This provides an opportunity for team members to share updates, discuss challenges, and offer feedback. You should also encourage team members to share their ideas and opinions openly, without fear of judgment or retribution.

Provide opportunities for growth and development

To keep your team motivated and engaged, you need to provide opportunities for growth and development. This includes training, mentorship, and opportunities to take on new challenges. When team members feel like they’re constantly learning and growing, they’re more likely to stay committed and invested in their work.

You can provide growth opportunities in a variety of ways. For example, you might offer in-house training programs, or you might encourage team members to attend conferences and workshops. You can also assign stretch projects that allow team members to develop new skills and take on new responsibilities.

Set clear expectations and goals

Clear expectations and goals are critical for building high-performance teams. When team members know what’s expected of them and what they’re working towards, they’re more likely to stay focused and motivated. As a leader, it’s your responsibility to set these expectations and goals.

When setting expectations and goals, it’s important to be specific and measurable. For example, instead of saying “improve customer satisfaction,” you might say “increase customer satisfaction ratings by 10% within the next quarter.” This gives team members a clear target to aim for and helps them understand what success looks like.

Foster collaboration and teamwork

Collaboration and teamwork are essential for building high-performance teams. When team members work together effectively, they can achieve more than they could on their own. As a leader, it’s your responsibility to foster a culture of collaboration and teamwork.

One way to encourage collaboration and teamwork is to create cross-functional teams. This allows team members with different skills and expertise to work together towards a common goal. You can also encourage team members to share their knowledge and expertise with each other. This creates a culture of learning and collaboration where everyone can contribute and benefit from each other’s strengths.

Recognize and reward success

Finally, recognizing and rewarding success is crucial for building high-performance teams. When team members know that their hard work is appreciated and recognized, they’re more likely to stay motivated and engaged. As a leader, it’s your responsibility to create a system for recognizing and rewarding success.

This can be done in a variety of ways. For example, you might give out bonuses or promotions to top performers. You might also recognize success publicly, through team meetings or company-wide announcements. Whatever method you choose, it’s important to make sure that team members feel valued and appreciated for their contributions.

In conclusion, building high-performance teams is essential for any company that wants to succeed. By defining your goals and values, hiring for culture fit, fostering open communication, providing opportunities for growth and development, setting clear expectations and goals, fostering collaboration and teamwork, and recognizing and rewarding success, you can create a team that is motivated, engaged, and capable of achieving great things. Remember, building a high-performance team takes time and effort, but the results are well worth it.

Worker Productivity is Falling Sharply and CEOs Don’t Know Why

Worker Productivity is Falling Sharply and CEOs Don’t Know Why

(Disclaimer: This article is examining the general trend of falling worker productivity and may or may not apply to your company in particular. Cogcentric does not claim that this article is comprehensive or complete in its analysis.)

All across the globe, companies are facing an unprecedented challenge at every level. For the first time in 40 years, worker productivity is decreasing.

On top of record-high inflation and stagnating growth, this worker productivity slump is yet another economic headwind hitting companies just when the COVID-19 economic recovery had reached full swing. During a CNBC Town Hall, Nela Richardson, Chief Economist at ADP, told attendees that 2022 is the first year to see three consecutive quarters of falling productivity since 1983. Workers are less engaged and less productive, and their job performance has suffered.

Complicating matters is that business leaders can’t figure out why their organizations aren’t more productive. Marc Benioff, co-CEO of Salesforce, recently said in a company Slack message that newer hires aren’t as productive as he wants them to be, and he doesn’t know why. Benioff invited team leaders and employees to account for their reduced productivity and explain what isn’t working within the company.

This productivity slump isn’t just specific to North America. Companies in  Japan, Germany, and the United Kingdom are also seeing productivity fall.

What’s behind this trend? Why are workers suddenly less productive than they were just a few short years ago? And is there a solution to this productivity slump? Here’s what we know.

What Might Be Behind the Worker Productivity Slump?

Different companies may define worker productivity in different ways, but generally, worker productivity is defined as a worker’s hourly output.

While CEOs have said they don’t know why worker productivity has fallen, there are some other coincidental workforce trends that might explain reduced productivity. Real wage growth stagnated in 2021 and shrank in 2022, indicating that across the globe and in North America in particular, wages have not kept up with inflation. 

The International Labour Organization’s 2022 Global Wage Report states that in North America, real wage growth was zero in 2021. In 2022, meanwhile, most North American workers saw a real wage loss of 3.2 percent.

This real wage loss occurred as a result of not decreasing wages, but historically high inflation. In Canada, the annualized inflation rate was 6.8% in November 2022; this stands in contrast with the Bank of Canada’s target inflation range of 1% to 3%. 

In other words, inflation has taken such a large bite out of wage increases that most employees are taking home less money in 2022 than they were two years prior, despite earning higher salaries.

According to the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University, higher wages are associated with higher productivity. So when employees’ inflation-adjusted wages fall, they’re less motivated and therefore less productive.

Better Engagement, More Training Can Mitigate Worker Productivity Losses

With higher wages being associated with higher productivity, it only makes sense to dole out cost-of-living raises. But in addition to cost-of-living raises, employers can advertise financial incentives for employees who complete additional training, achieve certain targets, or show some sort of initiative. When employees can see that their contributions are valued, they become more engaged and more productive as a result.

But increasing employee compensation is just one of several ways that companies can boost productivity; other measures can help to increase output without adding to payroll costs. For instance, there are several types of training that can increase employee productivity.

Time Management Training and Skill Cross-Training Can Help

One of the simplest kinds of training to give your team is time management training. If productivity is poor because your team isn’t managing their time well, teaching them how to better manage their time while at work can be an effective means of boosting productivity. For instance, you may want to teach your employees the Pomodoro Technique or various energy management strategies. Teach your team to tackle easier tasks when they’re low on energy and harder tasks when they’re alert and motivated.

You’ll also want to ensure your employees aren’t overworking. Burnout is a key cause of low productivity; if your team is spending more time than needed on non-critical tasks or taking on too much work, they could be burning themselves out. Check in with your employees regarding their workloads to get a sense of whether they’re taking on too much.

Or maybe your team isn’t as productive as you want them to be because they lack certain competencies. If your team is composed of specialists who are experts in their roles, that means they probably aren’t well-equipped to cover for each other when needed – for instance, when someone is out sick or on vacation. Cross-training can help your employees to learn each other’s roles, so they can step in and perform each other’s work as needed.

When cross-training your team, you’ll want to ensure you’re optimizing the division of labour and knowledge management – make sure you understand who needs to know what and who needs to take on which tasks. 
You can also use dataanalytics tools to track worker productivity and identify patterns. For instance, if productivity seems to slump immediately after lunch, you can ask your employees to prioritize important work in the morning and focus on non-critical tasks in the first hour or so after their lunch break.

Ask your team why they think productivity isn’t where it should be. Ask your team what challenges they’re facing and how you can give them the tools they need to perform. Then give them the personalized training they need to solve those challenges.

Emerging Technologies Can Boost Worker Productivity

Investing in new technology can be an effective method of increasing your team’s productivity. Emerging tools and strategies like artificial intelligence and gamification are making it easier to help teams boost output. 

For example, you might consider switching to a corporate LMS that uses content personalization and a gamified progress tracker to motivate your employees to finish their training.  An LMS can also help with knowledge management, so you can ensure all of your employees have the knowledge and training needed to get the job done. Or, you could use any number of AI-enabled corporate tools that can help your employees file paperwork faster or better organize their workdays.

It’s also important to use technology that can monitor goal progress. When you have instant insight into your team’s progress, it’s easier to spot problems and remind employees of incomplete tasks. Your team can also manage their time better when they have a clear view of their goals.

Worker productivity has started falling for the first time in 40 years. In contrast to the previous productivity slump, today, managers have access to a wide array of tech tools. These tools can help them to keep a closer eye on productivity and better manage and motivate their teams. 

The employee productivity slump is at least partially tied to high inflation and real wage loss. However, doling out raises is only one of many solutions that team managers can use to boost productivity. New technology, better employee engagement, and investments in corporate training initiatives can all increase productivity. These initiatives can help to justify cost-of-living raises and further motivate your team.

What are you doing to boost your company’s productivity? How are you keeping your team engaged and motivated?