Say it with Samples

In last month’s post we discussed “Social Learning” and the use of role models as a learning tool. Another excellent way for organizations to speed up the educational process lies in creating “reference samples”. Reference samples are examples of key deliverables that demonstrate what high quality deliverables should look like. Much like a picture says a thousand words a set of good examples encapsulates much more information than can readily be communicated verbally. Examples can capture good practice, demonstrate how things are done within an organization and provide a basis against which expectations can be set.

When new people join an organization or when people move into a new role, they are often uncertain of what is expected of them or the standards towards which they are should be working. In most organizations a sink or swim approach is used in which the individual is left to their own devices to figure out what to do. As you might expect, the natural result of such an approach is that you end up with a wide variety of outcomes. Sometimes you get lucky and the person has a natural understanding of what is needed and how to do it. In other cases you can end up with something that ends up being rewritten because the first attempt was so flawed that it could not be used. In most cases you end up with a mediocre outcome that is sufficient to serve a purpose, but does little to ensure quality outputs and a high performance environment.

The use of examples short cuts a large portion of the training process. By providing people with a set of good examples, you provide them a framework that establishes the standards to which they should be working and how to communicate with each other clearly.  In addition you bypass the need for lengthy verbal explanations that no one has the time to give and no one likes receiving. Plus and perhaps most importantly, the fact that a set of good examples has been collated and passed to a new member of staff helps communicate that poor results and mediocrity are not the accepted standard within the organization. Such a message can do more for quality standards within the organization than many hours spent listening to an external “quality guru” talking about how things “ought” to be done.

One organization I worked with used the samples approach. They collated a set of examples that they felt established a strong model against which people could work and annotated each one so that people referencing the samples had the supporting explanation of what the author was thinking and why the sample was structured the way it was.

I’ve discussed this idea with many organizations and sadly, some organizations admit that they really can’t lay their hands on any really good examples. That in itself reveals a lot about what is really happening within the organization. If your organization is in that position you’re certainly not alone, but maybe that realization provides an opportunity to open a dialogue with the team about constitutes good practice and a starting point from which to work towards some good examples.