Thursday, January 7, 2010

ROI, IOB, the MBA, the ID, and communication

I think that Thursday might be my Instructional Design day and Monday will be Linguistics Monday - at least for now. It seems like I am devoting a lot of days on ID and not enough on linguistics ;-)

Anyway, a while back there seems to be this big broo-ha-ha over the culture clash between MBAs and Learning Professionals (instructional designers). One post was at Gina's blog - there were many others but I did not really bookmark them since Gina's blog sparked this thought.

One thing that I felt that's going on here is that there is a lack of clarity in speech (man linguistics is ingrained in everything!). Many instructional designers talk about learning and human performance professionals or specialists and they don't generally think twice about it, while in the same breath not really getting the Evil MBA speak of ROI (return on investment) and IOB (impact on business). What I find ironic is that it is the MBA that gave us jargon like "human performance professionals" in the first place, but that irony is lost on instructional designers.

What it boils down to, in a business, is whether or not a certain measure - be it learning incentives, new information technology, new perks, new initiatives, or mandated training (to name a few) have any sort of positive effect on the operation of business. Some things are easy to measure - for instance if you switch from a paper-based accounting & receipt system to an electronic one you can see a tangible ROI. Because you spend less time on writing, tabulating and searching for paper, you can have your staff assist more customers and get more sales - this way your can see more dollars and cents on the bottom line.

Some other gains are soft - for example job perks might mean that you have lower turnover rates, which means that you don't need to spend a ton of time rehiring people, and as such your productivity may increase. In this scenario you may see more money on the bottom line, you may not. There is still an impact on the business - it could be costing you less to offer perks, rather than hire and train new people. Some other measures of impact on business are greater mindshare - it may not necessarily manifest itself in sales - look at apple, it's still not the biggest PC maker, Windows still rules the world, however their sales have increased, and their price per share has gone up by a lot!

So where is this going? I guess we're all working for the same team here. Good MBAs (or a good anything for that matter) opens up the lines of communication, tries not to obfuscate (intentionally or unintentionally) with jargon, and this communication can lead to gains in the organization. It's not just up to the MBAs though. Just as with any act of communication, the participating parties need to enter the conversation and ask for clarification for jargon they do not understand, and they too should attempt to avoid profession-based jargon when working in cross-functional teams.

I guess what it boils down to is this: don't assume that because you understand something that it's not jargon. Each profession has jargon, each profession uses their own lingo, we need to not look at each other antagonistically and not to fall into stereotypes. Use clear speech to communicate.
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