Valve handbook: an unique way to organize talent and business

This week I was having dinner with Hans the Zwart who is a former colleague of mine. He is one of the most well-read people I know and when he gives me a reading tip, I will read it. This time he mentioned the Valve ‘Handbook for new employees‘. Valve is a game company (known for Half-Life, Team Fortress 2, and Portal and the digital delivery platform Steam) which is organized in a unique way. The handbook is an internal guide for new employees in order to ‘not freak out’ when starting to work in an organization without any formal structures.

It really is a very interesting read. At Valve there is no hierarchy, no formal job description, no bosses, nothing of the structures you would expect in a company that has some 300 employees.

People decide themselves what project or product they will work on and what kind of contribution they will make. The idea is that they are best capable to decide where they are of the biggest value for the company (and for the customers). Roles are fluid and can change when the requirements of the work change. Projects are voted on by feet (or better wheels). If you find a project interesting you can just roll your desk over (they have wheels) and start participating. Everybody can start up new projects or products, all you need to do is convince other people to join you.

When evaluating people they will use a peer evaluation along four dimensions:

  1. Skill Level/Technical ability
  2. Productivity output
  3. Group contribution
  4. Product contribution

Based on this peer evaluation they will ‘stack rank’ employees and based on that they will decide on their compensation. Not surprisingly ‘Hiring’ is the most important process in this company. Getting the right people in is crucial for such kind of organization. They use the same four dimensions when hiring and they are looking for what they call T-shaped employees.

This means people who are generalist, but they also are an expert in one field. This is the best guarantee that people can collaborate in a team and will have added value to that team.

There is a lot more to read in the 55 pages, so please do. For me books like this are interesting because the ideas are so far out of the box that it stretches your own boundaries. In this case it will even remove boundaries. It will change the way you look at your own organization and that is always a good thing.

By the way. Another tip from Hans, his favorite movie ‘The big Lebowski‘. And if he says you should watch it, you should.

How to keep formal e-Learning relevant

We all know that e-learning is changing, we all know that our learners have changed. The rise of the internet, social media and mobile devices have changed our world. It turned out that it is much easier for a learner to adapt to these changes than for a e-Learning manager or developer. Over the past 16 months I have written all kind of post researching this change. I was recently asked to present on this subject in a webinar. In my preparation I went through all the posts and was for the first time able to merge them in a coherent way. I wanted to share this presentation with you.

Additional information on a lot of the subjects that are in the presentation I wrote about earlier. These post contain a lot of links to other resources on the internet on these subjects:

•Output management
•Agile development for Software, and for e-Learning
•Learning metaphors, learning maps
•Outcome learning (series of posts)

You can attend the webinar if you like (Wednesday February 15th 2012 10.00 am and 2.00 pm EST). See for details the site of Interactive Advantage.

From output management and e-Learning to output learning

Recently I have reviewed a lot of e-Learning courses to get ideas for our further product development of easygenerator. One of the things I noticed was that learning objectives often play a secondary role or no role at all. Most of the time they are only anchors to attach scores to, so you can measure if somebody has successfully completed your course. In easygenerator learning objectives are present, but they don’t have a prominent place. I was quite surprised about that. Originally I was a teacher for economics and social studies and especially for social studies we often created our own lessons and learning material. The first thing they taught me when I was training to become a teacher was that you always start with your learning objectives. The other thing that I noticed is that sometimes it wasn’t clear at all how the course and objectives relate to the working place or life problems; often it isn’t clear what problem the learning wants to solve.

Then it suddenly struck me that you could match the principles of output management to (e-)learning. There is a great book on about output management by Filip Vandendriessche, which is my ‘management bible’.  I wrote a blog about output management some time ago. With this post I try to apply his output principles to learning. If you want more information on the original, you can read my blog, go to the output management site or buy his book (which I really recommend).

The Learning Funnel

Filip uses a the term ‘management funnel’, it goes from problem, goal to requirements and finally to solutions. To alter this into a learning funnel I have changed ‘goals’ into ‘learning objectives’ and ‘solutions’ into ‘adaptive learning’.  This results in the following:

Learning funnel

The funnel is a funnel because the manager/teacher is authoritarian on the strategic level,  less authoritarian on a tactical level and must ‘let go’ on the operational level.

Strategic level

Motivation is an important precondition to learning. People are often motivated by their natural curiosity and their need to develop. In the corporate world this is not always the case, we have to motivate the workers to become learners, they often need a reason for wanting to learn something. In this case the start of learning can  be a problem that they encountered during work. When you are not able to do a certain task, either through lack of knowledge or lack of skills or anything else that is a problem. The first step is that people need to admit that they have a problem. After this we can take the next step. The problem might be solved by having better equipment, but a lot of the times the solution will involve a learning process. When learning is the answer you need to define learning objectives. They are the flip side of the problem, it is the desired output in terms of learning needs. Learning objectives are often a set of sub-objectives, written in more detail than the problem. Learning objectives must make sense to the learner: “I need to be able to do …. in order to achieve …. “. Measuring success is easy: You need to be able to apply what you have learned in practice and thus solve the problem.

When people accept that they have a problem and they do accept the learning objectives they are motivated to solve the problem, it has become their problem. Motivation is one of the most essential parts of learning. Both in corporate learning and in our educational system we often forget this. It’s better to motivate your learners than to control them!

Tactical level

The next step is to set requirements. As a manager/teacher you do not only want the problem to be solved, you want to set certain boundaries in reaching that solution. Requirements can deal with time, budget, quality, support et cetera. On the tactile level you are less authoritarian than on the strategic level. Certain negotiations might be necessary. The requirements need to be acceptable to both manager/teacher and learner. When a learner does accept the problem, the learning objectives and the requirements he will be committed to solve the problem within the set boundaries.

Operational level

Because the learner is now committed and motivated all solutions to the problem the manager can lay back.  All solutions are acceptable as long as they meet the requirements and solve the problem. The learner is free in choosing his way of solving the problem and reaching the learning objectives. There are many ways to acquire the desired knowledge, skills or insights. We offer often just one way of learning (a course or a class) but we need to facilitate more learning paths with very different solutions. It might be the best solution to have a skilled person show the learner how it works, and all we need to do is connect those two people.

Motivation pyramid

In Filips theory this is called conflict pyramid. The chances to have a conflict on an operational level are far bigger than on a strategic level. There are always more solutions (learning paths) to one problem, and it is arbitrary which one is best. On a strategic level the chances of a conflict are way smaller. When you can’t execute a designated task, you have a problem, it is that simple. I renamed the ‘conflict pyramid’ to ‘motivation pyramid’ because avoiding conflicts is not enough for learning, you need to motivate the learner.

Motivation pyramid


If you place the learning funnel and the motivation pyramid in one image you will get:

Learning funnel and motivation pyramid

The essence of this is that motivation will increase when a learner can create his own (learning) path to the solution. Because the boundaries are given the manager/teacher can let go. The proof of the pudding is in the eating, so does the solution the learner came up with, solves the problem within the given requirements.

Writing this post created some new insights for me. I have to develop these ideas further but I think they can help in steering diffuse learning processes like social learning and informal learning and it does give more direction to adaptive learning then just ‘let go’. I was looking for a new term to capture our activities in the learning field; the term e-learning becomes outdated. ‘Output learning’ might be an option. I like that it describes the content and the process instead the medium like e-Learning does.

Note: The concept of ‘output management’ is created by Filip VandenDriessche. The theory and images are a reworking of the originals from his book ‘de input-output manager (ISBN13 9789077432037)’. This post was published with the permission of Filip VandenDriessche. The book is available in three languages:

English: Leading without commanding (Published in-house), French: Diriger sans imposer (Eyrolles Paris 2008) and the Dutch version, Leidinggeven zonder bevelen (Lannoo 2011).

Change is doing today what was odd yesterday

This week I have attended a seminar about change management. The speakers were all leading men from the Dutch field of change management (Boonstra, de Caluwe, Wierdsma, Homan and Peters). For me Jaap Peters was the one I knew the least of, but he turned out to be the most surprising and inspiring. I noted some great quotes from him.  The title of this blog was one of them.

I find this quote interesting because it reminds you that people have very different views on change. For me I live by change, but for others it’s odd. This is a great reminder.

“You can push guild around, but you can’t do that with shame” was on other one. And it’s true. You can try to blame someone else, but if you are ashamed that’s personal, that’s from you. Real change originates from people who are changing. Therefore professional shame is a great motivator for change.

“McDonald’s is the world largest restaurant and they don’t have a single cook”. They have replaced people and passion, with rules and equipment. It’s true that your burger taste the same in every restaurant, but you never will get an exceptionally good burger. It’s people who make great quality, not rules.

The last one I wanted to share with you is “Where there are no rules there is attention” He illustrated this with a video clip ‘self-organization in Hanoi traffic. ‘It shows that if you let people think for themselves it turns out great.

Thanks Jaap for this inspiring session.

Cultural management

Culture is an interesting aspect of learning, managing and changing. A few years ago Stoas made a web based training about intercultural awareness for the Abn Amro bank. We did this together with a company who specializes in culture; Ideas4.

Recently I was introduced to them by a colleague. We met with two of their partners (Juanita and Dick) and we hit it of right away.  We decided that they would do a culture survey at Stoas and in return  Stoas would help them step into the world of digital learning.  We had a few sessions with them to understand their business and to create a shared vision on the future for their company. I think that we can actually change their business model by changing the way they organize their learning and courses and by building a community for them. We decided that the first step was to take a closer look at their “intercultural management course” and use that course as a pilot. In order to understand the course me and two of my colleagues took  that course. It’s a two-day course and it was very interesting. They use several dimensions (created by Hofstede) to measure culture and to map it.  Very insightful to realize what the differences and similarities between cultures are and have a method to make that possible. The cultural differences between Belgium and The Netherlands (which are neighboring countries) are for example,  much larger then the cultural differences between the Netherlands and the Anglo-Saxon countries. A lot of knowledge and hands on experiences was shared. I really can use this in my international contacts. I can recommend this course to anyone who works with people from other countries and cultures, it’s well worth your time.

Last week I was reading a book from the Belgian author and trainer Jef Steas (only available in Dutch). The title is ‘My organisation is a jungle’ it’s about management, innovation and change. I didn’t liked it at all. I didn’t recognize the situations and I didn’t agree with him at all.  At one point he was talking about the fact that the manager should be the biggest expert of the company on every field and then it hit me. This was one of the things we talked about during the Ideas4 training. In some countries the manager must be the expert, but in others like the Netherlands that’s not the case. It even can be an advantage the manage experts as a non expert manager. I reread the book and found much more cultural differences. The book still didn’t appeal to me, but now at least I understood why.

Output management

I am writing  a series of post on my professional foundations both for (e)learning  and managing. This is the second blog in that series and it is about  ‘output management’, my management foundation.

In 1998/1999 I followed a training called SVO (an abbreviation for – in Dutch- Steering of change in organisations) at SIOO in the Netherlands. I took away a lot from that course. For example I still have an ‘Action learning group’ that originated from that training. This training transformed me from a consultant into a manager. It was composed of ten three-day sessions in a far to expensive hotel.  Each session was managed by our course manager (Jaap Boonstra, now dean at SIOO) and there was a ‘special guest’, somebody from the field of (change) management.

One of the guest teachers was Filip vandenDriesche. He is the author of the book ‘Leidinggeven zonder bevelen’ , that translates as ‘Leading without commanding’,  it was originally published under the title ‘De input- output manager’.

This book became my management bible. I will explain why. The following picture shows an important concept of the book:

Image form ‘De input- output manager, Filip VandenDriessche.

There are two contradicting pyramids. The “management funnel”  and the “conflict pyramid’. Both cover to three stages (strategic, tactical and operational). On the strategic level (problem and goal) the chances of conflict are small, but if you have a conflict it runs deep! On a tactical level (criteria) the chances of conflict are increasing but on a operational level the chances on a conflict are the biggest. Therefore Filip concludes the following: A manager should be authoritarian on the strategic and tactical level. But on an operational level manager should accept any solution that meets his criteria. In other words keep away from the ‘how’.

Of course there’s more to it, a shared vision is a prerequisite and the person(s) who will create the solution must acknowledge the problem. Pilip has a very simple strategy for that, he calls it ‘how to sell a monkey’. If you have a problem as a manager, then the monkey is ‘on your shoulder’.  You need to get the monkey on the shoulder of your coworker. Just take the following steps:

1. Confront the person with irrefutable examples.

2. State that this isn’t acceptable,

3. Ask the opinion of your coworker and wait.

If the coworker acknowledges your opinion you can actually feel the monkey jump from your shoulder and land on his. This last picture sums it all up.

Image form ‘De input- output manager, Filip VandenDriessche.

For me his book was the most practical management book I have ever read, I can recommend it to everyone. I contacted Filip before writing this blog, he told me that a translation in English  will be available in the next few months. He will publish this on his website:

Change to learn

I have changed the title of my blog from ‘kasperspiro’s Blog’ to ‘Change to learn’. Of course I should have done that when or even before I wrote my first blog, but it is not unusual for me to act before I think.  I wrote the blog before I knew what I was going to blog about.

Learning and Changing are the most important ingredients of my education and of my working live. First I was a teacher, later I became a (change) manager. It took me a while to discover that learning and changing are the flip sides of the same coin. True learning always invokes change, and true change always invokes learning. That’s why I love being a manager at a changing e-learning company.

Of course it depends on how you define learning. For me transfer of knowledge does not define learning, but a change in behaviour does. I believe that in order to change and really learn people have to be ‘forced’ in new and different circumstances and experiences in order to break through their normal behaviour and really learn and change.

I also believe in the expression ‘standstill is regression’ (Or ‘movement is progress’) and I apply this to my work. I constantly try to implement all sorts of interventions in order to force people to change and learn (I’m not sure that I would be happy with myself as a my line manager).

I regard myself as a change manager, even in my regular work at Stoas as a line manager. I find my work as a line and product manager important, but it is all an ‘excuse’ to play a role in the changes that are taking place at Stoas. Changing and improving the solutions we offer to our customers and the way we offer and create them. The ultimate goal is to make Stoas into a permanent changing and learning organisation. I suppose that the bottom line is that I’m learning and changing all the time, I hope this makes me a Learning Manager.


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