Don’t Fall into the Capability Trap: Does your organization work harder or smarter?

When organizations fall on hard times, as many do in our volatile market, the way they
deal with the performance gap typically involves either working harder or working smarter. When organizations take the “work harder” path, they cut staff, increase hours and productivity, and push their constituents to do more with less. If this doesn’t pay off, then wages are frozen or cut and more layoffs ensue. Other work-harder measures typically involve eliminating training and HR budgets, delaying building maintenance, and minimizing retirement funds. Working harder can result in short-term gains, but in the long run, it can lead to long-term deficiencies in lost talent, mistrust, worker burnout, and low morale. Eventually, those working harder either move out or burn out. This leads to what Repenning and Sterman (2001) call the capability trap.
imagesTo escape the capability trap, organizations must view serious shortfalls as indicators of inadequate capability and instead of taking a work harder approach, take a work smarter approach to address the performance gap in a systematic manner. By first identifying the root cause of the deficit and defining best practices, organizations can then invest in developing the knowledge, skills, and abilities of its constituents to work smarter and turn things around.

Lyneis and Sterman (2016) offer a series of strategies that organizations can take to escape the capability trap and find win-win solutions to complex organization problems. Although the authors apply the strategy to physical plant issues, I believe they are equally relevant to issues of human capital and performance. Here is my take on the five principles that contribute to working smarter:

  1. Don’t expect a quick turnaround. When organizations implement Performance improvement strategies take time and when resources are diverted to investigating and solving root problems, performance indicators may get worse before they get better.
  2. Metrics are important. Take stock of a variety of capabilities throughout all areas of the organization and honestly and openly communicate the results to bring deficiencies into the open.
  3. Avoid silos of improvement and instead, focus on the organization system as a whole. Often in hard times, small pockets of excellence will rise to the top, while others continue to decompensate. Sustainable improvement involves addressing systemic, organization-wide improvement.
  4. Invest in capabilities, even when times are tough. Most organizations are so lean, they have few reserves of ‘fat’ to rely on when they fall on difficult times. Investments in human capital in the form of skill development, reward systems, work-life balance, and career planning can create a reserve of capability and loyalty to draw on during the salad days.
  5. Invest in capabilities, even when times are good. The best time to build reserves of human capital (performance management, rewards, development, and morale) is during a boom. Reinvest in the organization to both prevent future difficulties and to have a strong reserve to address even the most unexpected challenges.
Lyneis, J., & Sterman, J. (2015). How to Save a Leaky Ship: Capability Traps and the Failure of Win-Win Investments in Sustainability and Social Responsibility. Academy of Management Discoveries, amd-2015.
Repenning, N. P., & Sterman, J. D. (2002). Capability traps and self-confirming attribution errors in the dynamics of process improvement.Administrative Science Quarterly47(2), 265-295.

Questions for Discussion

How does your organization deal difficult times? Does it take a “work harder” or “work smarter” approach? What are the long term effects on morale, capability, performance, and retention?

Posted in Human Performance Improvement, Organizational Development, Uncategorized | Tagged , | 14 Comments

Go Ask Alice: Checking our own Beliefs


BewareOfMemesYou’ve probably seen—or heard—this meme about learning. It is a text-based version of Edgar Dale’s “Cone of Learning,” sometimes referred to as his “Cone of Instruction.” The question for you, dear reader, is:  Do you believe it?  In total?  Sort of?  You might even be nodding your head as you read.  What’s that? It makes intuitive sense to you, but you’re not going to sweat the exact percentages? Fair enough, but please keep reading, though you may only remember 10% of this later.


  1. Dale himself acknowledged the numbers were not based on empirical data.
  2. If you obtain(ed) a master’s degree in either Training and Development or Organization Development from Roosevelt University, and you use this meme in presentations, please stop doing so.

AuditoryLearningStyleYou’ve also probably seen—or heard—about ‘Learning Styles.’  Supposedly, each of us has a specific modality by which we not only prefer to learn, but learn best by. Ah, another day, another meme. There is no credible evidence to support that anyone learns best by a particular modality REGARDLESS of the subject matter.

Let’s get back on track. Suppose you insist that you are indeed an Auditory Learner. You have personal proof of this this, which you are only too happy to share. Fair enough, but please keep reading.

The question I pose is: Can you believe both of these memes at the same time? That is, we remember 20% of what we hear, but auditory learners will remember 75% of what they hear in a lecture? Maybe the first meme is general, but if we control for learning style, we have to…..??????

The truth, Dear Reader, is that there is no “there” there (shout-out to Gertrude Stein) for either of these memes. Believing both of them at the same time can be delicately described as “problematic.”

  • What other generalized beliefs/memes are there about learning or instruction that you have come across?
  • What other generalized beliefs/memes are there about organization development that you have comes across?
  • What about leadership?



Posted in Uncategorized | 6 Comments

Careers in Training and Organization Development- Alumni Panel Discussion

Join the Graduate Program in Training and Development for a panel discussion with alumni about their paths from graduation to a successful career. They’ll share career advice, thoughts on setting professional goals, industry trends, best practices in networking, and how they continue to practice social justice within their current roles.

  • Date: Saturday, April 23rd
  • Time: 10-11
  • Location: Schaumburg campus, room 311 or join us virtually using Zoom.
  • Please RSVP to Tara to confirm a seat or get the Zoom link.

Meet our panelists:

Jeff Carpenter

Jeff CarpenterJeff Carpenter is CEO of Caveo Learning.  He is a recognized leader in the learning and development space and has more than 20 years experience in instructional strategy, performance improvement and organizational development.   Jeff has developed learning strategies and helped clients achieve performance objectives across a broad range of industries within the Fortune 1000. In addition to his professional accomplishments, Jeff has taught Masters-level courses at Roosevelt University on adult learning theory and instructional systems design.  He is also a distinguished speaker at international conferences in the learning industry. Jeff has earned a Master of Arts in Training and Development from Roosevelt University and a Bachelor of Arts in Human Resources from the University of Nebraska.

Reggie Jackson

ReggieReginald C. Jackson currently works at University of Chicago as an Academic Technology Analyst and an adjunct for Roosevelt’s Graduate Program in Training and Development.  In addition to completing Roosevelt’s TRDV Graduate Program, Reggie also has an Ed.D. in Adult Education from National-Louis University and a B.S. in Psychology from Loyola University. Prior to joining University of Chicago, he held positions as a corporate trainer and instructional designer primarily in the banking industry.  Reggie was also the 2012 recipient of the CCASTD (now ATDChi) Deb Colky Student Award.

Jenny Massoni

JennyAs the Director, Change Management and Training in Pharmacovigilance at Astellas,  Jenny Massoni leads global cross-functional teams to design and deliver training and change management solutions that support and align to business priorities and objectives. Jenny holds a Master’s in Training and Development, a Graduate Certificate in Performance Consulting and Prosci Change Management Certification. Over the past years she has been active in the industry through her involvement with ACMP and the Chicago ATD Board, serving as VP of Membership and Technology.

Israel Vargas

IsraelIsrael Vargas is the Director, Community Engagement at Roosevelt University in Chicago. As a director, Israel Vargas is responsible for ensuring Roosevelt University continues its Social Justice mission in the communities through involvement in key issues affecting our communities while providing easy conduit for families to acquire the right education to impact their communities positively. Israel is the 2014 recipient of Chicago Latino Network’s Latino Professional of the year.  He currently serves on a community advisory board for NBC 5 Chicago and is a board member for Mikva Challenge. He has served on the board for the Chicago Alliance to End Homelessness and Vice-Chair for the Council on Latino Homelessness. Israel’s passion for helping others has led him to speak against violence and to advocate for higher education at schools, churches, and community events throughout Chicago. He has participated in Ceasefire marches in Cicero and has received an Award of Excellence by the Office of the Cook County Treasure Maria Pappas and Recognition by the Chicago Commission on Human Relations Advisory Council on Immigrants and Refugees.

Posted in Uncategorized | 6 Comments

The Stress Struggle is Real: Stress Management for Adult Students

Niké Basurto, MSW, CAE MATD Student

Niké Basurto, MSW, CAE
MATD Student

By Guest Author: Niké Basurto

Last month I saw my dentist and learned that I was clenching my jaw so tightly at night that I was damaging my teeth. The real culprit? Stress. After some soul searching and a bite guard, I took measures to de-stress. Here are a few lessons that I’ve learned so far.

Get Happy

Humor me for a second. Write down three really important things you need to do today. Now look at that list. Is something that involves taking care of you on that list? Probably not. Our jobs, co-workers, instructors, course mates, kids, loves NikeDancingof our lives, parents and even pets always seem to need us for something. In my house the bathroom isn’t even a refuge. But guess what? The only person who can say, “I just need a minute for myself,” is you. The photo on the left was taken by one of my dearest friends. I’m dancing in a club while my childhood and cherished friend is DJ-ing. No, I’m not the youngest one in the club, but I don’t care. All I know is that makes me happy. Do a little something that makes you happy every day.

Loosen the Reins

Stop trying to control everything. We made a major change by returning to school. We took control of our careers or lives or both and that can be scary. One way people often manage fear is through control. The problem is, no matter how many color-coded calendars and to-do lists we create, we can’t control everything. Yes, we need to manage our time and schedules, but don’t get bent out of shape when something doesn’t work out. Look for the possibilities behind the problems. So your course mate isn’t responding in your group. What a great opportunity to practice your project management skills. See how that could work?

Real Priorities

If everything is a priority, then nothing is a priority. This was a hard one for me. Hopefully the project management course I’m taking in the fall will help me untangle some of this more. Until then, I have decided to write a list of three things that absolutely have to be accomplished that day. One list is for school and the other for home life. I still make a to-do list weekly, but I find that everything on that list doesn’t need to be accomplished at once, so I move those things around accordingly.

There you have it, a few ways to lower stress in your life. I would love to hear your take on student life and stress.

  • What’s your go-to stress reliever?
  • Have you ever found stress to be useful?

Niké (Nee kay) Basurto, MSW, CAE
Niké is a seasoned nonprofit professional transitioning into instructional design and training with a passion for organizational development, dancing, laughing, fabulous live music and a great meal. Currently, she is a full-time student in the MATD program at Roosevelt University, thoroughly enjoying working as a Graduate Assistant for the Training and Development department, and seeking an amazing summer internship. Feel free to connect with and follow her:

Posted in Coaching, Guest Student Post | Tagged , , | 60 Comments

The Recipe for Success: Formal education leads to better results

Guest Author Susan Spear 2015 MATD Graduate

Guest Author
Susan Spear
2015 MATD Graduate

When I began my studies at RU, it was with many years of experience working in the training and development field under my belt.  I was a competent training manager—serving as the liaison between the SMEs and developers, offering input on both design and execution.  But there was something missing—the foundational knowledge as to why things needed to be done a certain way, and the foundational blueprint to craft programs that would be likely to succeed.  It was similar to my knowledge of cooking—it is something I love, but have little formal training in the fundamentals and the science behind it.  This year, I’ve come full circle on both my vocation and my avocation—training, and cooking.  In addition to spending a week this summer in Italy immersed in a cooking class, I’ve worked on consolidating almost five years of study into my training philosophy and trying to understand the nuances of both the art and science of effective learning.  Both experiences have been a revelation.

In my portfolio paper, I connect training to cooking—equal parts science and creativity.  To be successful, one needs to understand the rationale of why things are done a certain way, and the outcomes that are likely to result. High-quality ingredients, preparation time, and careful measurement give you better odds that the final product will be edible.  In the T & D field, using a clear methodology (Dick & Carey, anyone?) increases your chances of creating a program that will change behavior and result in organizational improvements.  What could be simpler?

As with cooking, there are variables and unknowns.  The key components to successful training are similar:  goal, resources, audience, staff (Factors Impacting Employee Training, here).  For a meal or dish, sustenance or celebration?  Ground beef or filet?  Sophisticated diners or kids? Home cook or budding chef?  The similarities with training are remarkable:  Compliance or career development? Flashy e-learning, or PowerPoint®? Gen X or Gen Y? In-house employee recruited to deliver content, or professional trainer?  With any endeavor, the best-laid plans often go awry…as when I was in Italy studying cooking and the wild boar ate the parsley growing in the garden and we had to improvise with other like seasonings.

Even with all the training in the world, the best T & D professionals are often faced with circumstances beyond their control.  The instructor misses his flight, or turns out to be less competent than anticipated.  The classroom is cold, or the lunch is inedible.  The e-learning program goes over budget, and cuts need to be made.  This is where improvisation becomes the difference between success and failure.  If we have done our homework (established attainable and rational goals, researched the audience, invested the time and resources necessary) and have done our best to design and deliver a program that will result in a meaningful change in behavior, trainers should have Plan B in their back pocket to adjust and adapt.  Just as when the boar eats the parsley, there are other ways to get to the same place.  And the results, though not perfect, are often just as satisfying.

Why do you think it’s important for seasoned trainers to have formed education in adult learning & training?

How does knowledge of theory help trainers ensure that their programs are successful?


Posted in academic studies, andragogy, Careers, Guest Student Post, Instructional Design, Learning at Roosevelt, Training, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , | 7 Comments

Crossing the Digital Divide: Networking and career development for online learners


Olimpia Kaczmarczyk-Benoit 2015 MATD Graduate

So a while back, you decided to change careers. After a period of frustration and trying different things, you finally decide that the first step to a successful career change is to get a Master’s degree at Roosevelt University for example, in Training and Development. Congratulations! The first step on the journey to the new career is complete. But now what? You may ask yourself…How do I grow my network of colleagues and gain industry experience sitting on my sofa at home taking online classes? It is a valid question. It is an important question to ask if you don’t work in the new field and don’t have contact with other professionals in the field. You are ready to immerse yourself in a new career but where do you start? The good news is that all you have to do is to look around Roosevelt University and take advantage of what the school or your department has to offer.

  1. Career Development Center. Get off the sofa, and make your way to the Career Development Center and have the nice professionals look over your resume and help you rewrite it so that it reflects your new skills and abilities.
  2. Career Fairs. The Career Development Center organizes fairs on the campus and you should take advantage of this opportunity. Meet other job seekers and connect with potential employees. Even if you do not make job contacts, you will leave with a headshot (for free!) taken by a professional photographer that you can include on your LinkedIn page.
  3. Department blog. The Training and Development department has its own blog. You know that of course because you are reading this post but other departments are sure to have similar blogs where various topics pertaining to your field are discussed. The blog is worth visiting for many reasons besides getting the extra 5 points in some classes. Treat it as an additional source of information regarding current topics in the Training and Development field and a place where you may find a job. Check out the job postings often because you never know what opportunity may be posted there.
  4. Reach out to your classmates. This seems like a simple piece of advice but just because you are taking online classes does not mean that you cannot create deeper connections with your classmates. Start building a circle of new friends and fellow professionals that can support you in your career choices

What other pieces of advice would you add to this list?

What have you found to be the most helpful in your transition between careers?

What is your most valuable piece of advice to help other find new jobs?

Posted in academic studies, Careers, Guest Student Post, online learning, Training | Tagged , , , , , | 10 Comments

Does Diversity Training Work?

diversityAs our workforce becomes increasingly diverse, organizations look to training to increase communication and collaboration and reduce conflict. Diversity training is defined as any program designed to facilitate positive intergroup interaction, reduce prejudice and discrimination, and generally teach dissimilar others how to work together effectively (Bezrukova et al. 2012)

But does diversity training deliver? A recent review suggests that the most common approaches to diversity training might not be effective in accomplishing organizational goals (Bezrukova et al. 2012). In fact, research has demonstrated that diversity training at it’s worst can actually lead to increases in both implicit and explicit expressions of prejudice (Legault et al. 2011). So how can organizations ensure that diversity training does “more good than harm?”

Begin by using evidence-based strategies in diversity training initiatives.

  1. Reduce us vs. them mentality. Perspective taking, or the act of considering the psychological experiences of others,  reduces prejudice by requiring individuals to think about what it would be like to be a member of a different group, which serves to break down in-group versus outgroup barriers and more generally reduces an ‘‘us versus them’’ mentality (Galisnky et al. 2005). Perspective taking fosters empathy within training participants (Madera et al. 2011).  Individuals who are highly empathic are tuned into to the needs of diverse populations and thus internally motivated to respond without prejudice toward them.
  2. Aim high. Ask trainees to set high-quality goals aimed at promoting inclusion within an organization and within themselves.
  3. Consider your audience. Research has shown that some individuals benefit from diversity training more than others. Individuals who are already highly empathic may see less dramatic outcomes, while those who are less emphatic may benefit the most from diversity training interventions (Lindsey et al. 2014).
  4. Tell them what works. Include case studies about organizations where diversity serves as a competitive advantage (see Cirque du Soliel, Google, The Metropolitan Opera, and Cityside Financial Services).

What not to do in diversity training.

  1. Don’t single out groups. Programs that emphasize learning about one particular demographic group at a time sharpens differences between participants and can lead to conflict and negative feelings. Training that focuses on a more general, positive, and inclusive approach may be better received by all participants.
  2. Don’t bore your audience. Diversity training that includes only lecture is less effective than incorporating a variety of  instructional techniques, such as role playing, lectures, experiential exercises, discussion, etc.


Bezrukova, K., Jehn, K. A., & Spell, C. S. (2012). Reviewing diversity training: where we have been and where we should go. Academy of Management Learning & Education, 11, 207–227.

Galisnky, A. D., Ku, G., & Wang, C. S. (2005). Perspective-taking and self-other overlap: Fostering social bonds and facilitating social coordination. Group Processes & Intergroup Relations, 8, 109–124.

Lindsey, A., King, E., McCausland, T., Jones, K., & Dunleavy, E. (2013). What we know and don’t: Eradicating employment discrimination 50 years after the Civil Rights Act. Industrial and Organizational Psychology, 6, 391–413.

Madera, J. M., Neal, J. A., & Dawson, M. (2011). A strategy for diversity training focusing on empathy in the workplace. Journal of Hospitality & Tourism Research, 35, 469–487

Questions for discussion. . .

  1. What experience have you had with diversity training? What worked, what didn’t?
  2. How can we make diversity training more effective?
Posted in Social Justice, Training | Tagged , , , | 12 Comments