Pathways: December, 2000 — Volume 12, Issue 3

Focus — Celebrating FLI’s 20th Anniversary

FLI is now officially twenty-years old and we are very proud that we have reached this important anniversary.  Much has happened during that time …and, especially because we are in the professional services business, we have concluded that the changes have effected us all personally.

The old saying … “The more things change, the more they stay the same” … although true, hardly would have prepared us for the ride we’ve experienced since we opened for business in 1980.  When we look at the changes during that period, they have affected every area that touches our clients’ businesses, our FLInet™ affiliates’ businesses[1], and our business.

We will look at a few of those impact areas in this Anniversary issue of Pathways, including the “then and now” of:

1.      Organization strategies — hierarchical vs. matrix

2.      Business models — monolithic vs. virtual

3.      Office arrangements — company office vs. home office

4.      Instructional systems development processes — traditional ISD models vs. rapid development

5.      Technology — centralized computing vs. personal appliances

6.      The economic climate — a time of challenge and change vs. a time of challenge and change

7.       The career development model — company driven vs. learner centered

In the At Issue section, I will look at each of these areas in more detail.

First, however, I want to thank everyone who has contributed to FLI’s many successes during this period.  No one person is responsible for all of the good things that have happened.  In fact, a special thanks must go to each of the following groups:

1.      Our clients — for being loyal and appreciative, and for rewarding us with an average 70% repeat business ratio each year.

2.      Our FLInet™ affiliates — for consistently exceeding the expectations of both our clients and our staff by delivering their projects in a quality fashion, and, at the same time meeting short time frames and tight project budgets.

3.      Our staff — for providing the environment that has allowed it all to work, year in and year out, by consistently providing exceptional service to both our clients and our affiliates.

Now we face the challenge of the next twenty years.  But I am certain that will also take care of itself as long as we stay focused on the tactical nature of delivering on every contract we accept.  At the same time, we must maintain our willingness to change and adapt to the changes we face in the future.

John C. Wills, President/CEO


At Issue — Twenty Years of Change and Innovation

Much has happened in the last twenty years — hopefully, you have found most of it positive.  In this Pathways section, I will discuss a few of the areas where changes have been notable in terms of their effect on the way our clients’ businesses, our FLInet™ affiliates’ businesses, and our business now operate.

1.      Organization strategies — hierarchical vs. matrix

When we used to ask a client for an organization chart you could almost always depend on it being hierarchical.  Everyone knew who was on top and who worked for whom.  There was always an informal organization chart as well, but the formal one usually dominated.

However, this is seldom the case today.  Organizations have moved to more project oriented structures — resulting in matrix structures that draw needed resources from departments throughout the organization and from vendors outside the organization.  Project teams are formed to accomplish key business imperatives, then disappear when the project team’s mission is accomplished or when the organization’s priorities change. 

An organization chart usually still exists.  It displays the reporting relationships of resources within the organization, but it no longer gives us the information about who is making the key business decisions or how they will be made as we deal with different project teams.

2.      Business models — monolithic vs. virtual

When FLI opened its doors it established itself as a “virtual” corporation.  This was a much different business model than the more common monolithic models we found in use by most of our clients.  That more traditional business model caused companies to try to provide all products and services needed internally.  If you looked at an automobile manufacturer or an information systems provider, you would find them with internal resources to deliver virtually all areas of need.

Today, many organizations have streamlined their businesses, shedding non-critical services and concentrating on core-business competencies.  Strategic alliances and partnerships that provide access to these secondary services are now the norm.  The “virtual” organization has come to pass and is rewarding the organizations that have embraced the business model by

·        allowing them greater flexibility in meeting customer needs

·        permitting them to be more agile in their response to change

·        minimizing the requirement for them to invest in infrastructure in the non-critical service areas

·        providing them the ability to respond globally and reach a broader market place.

3.      Office arrangements — company office vs. home office

The company office was the organization’s castle.  Everyone worked there.  Our client’s even expected their contractors  to have a regular presence “on-site.”  Today, many employees and most contractors work out of their “home” office.  Numerous specialty stores have been created that cater to the needs of this growing segment.  One of our clients recently announced that they have reduced their overall requirement for office space by 60% in the last ten years. 

With the advent of faster electronic connections between organizations’ information technology infrastructures and employee and contractor homes, we may see this trend accelerate.  In fact, we have completed several projects during the past two years where we have not had need to meet with the client “face-to-face” even once during the entire project.  Company office vs. home office —  the lines are getting very blurry and the physical location less important.

4.      Instructional systems development processes — traditional ISD models vs. rapid performance system development

The ISD model is still a very viable approach to developing “performance system[2] components.”  However, skeptics and promoters alike have challenged its applicability to the current development environment.  Does it still meet the requirements for quality and at the same time produce results that support the organization’s business imperatives?

In response to this requirement, we have evolved numerous “rapid development” approaches to ensure that our clients can design, develop, and deploy performance system components in a cost effectively way.  Using these approaches, performance systems that consistently deliver business results are being produced quicker.  However, we find that a significantly enhanced client/vendor partnership is needed to achieve the time and cost saving benefits offered by these approaches.  This partnership involves client and vendor personnel working side by side to ensure that project goals are met with roles merging and responsibilities shared.

5.      The technology — centralized computing vs. personal appliances

When FLI opened its doors we were an early adopter of technology as a performance enhancing approach to our work.  We actually built our own computer terminals (Heath Kit H-19s) and bought computer time on a mainframe computer from a service bureau to get access to the computing tools we needed and to early versions of the laser printers we take for granted now[3].

Today is obviously much different.  The computing power available to each of us in our own “personal” computers is considerable and growing daily.  In fact, as we move forward I expect that we will see the computer as we know it today disappearing and reappearing in a series of specialized personal appliances.  Many of us already are using some of these personal appliances, for example, cellular phones, PDA devices, etc.  But hang on to your hat … we are only beginning to see the integration and the practical application of many new technologies that will help us become even more productive in the future, if we choose to apply them intelligently.

6.      The economic climate — a time of challenge and change vs. a time of challenge and change

“May you live in interesting times” — author unknown (an ancient Chinese curse)

Yes, we do live in interesting times; the financial market numbers support that.  In fact, we have seen a continual “roller coaster” in the financial markets.  The US and International Financial indexes have fluctuated wildly during this time period.

Good economic results resulted in organizational overconfidence and denial that the good times would not last forever.  When negative economic results occurred they resulted in organizational insecurity and often significant disruption.  During this twenty-year time period, FLI’s experience as an organization has been both good economically and bad.  The future will certainly also be both good and bad economically.  Economic cycles constantly change, but our organizations must prepare for both good and bad.  We must anticipate the needs of our clients and our own organizations and be prepared to remain viable.

7.       The career development model — organization driven vs. learner centered

Who is responsible for your career?  Twenty years ago there was a belief that the organization had to look out for the career development of its employees.  Today the answer is YOU!  Organizations have high expectations of employees and vendors these days.  They expect that these resources will be ready to meet the challenges and changes of today and tomorrow.  They expect each individual to take an active role in their own career development and to maintain knowledge and skills needed regardless of what the future needs of the organization might be.  They expect their organizations to be “learning organizations.”

Well, that is it.  A short treatise on a few observations about the last twenty years and their effect on the clients, FLInet™ affiliates, and employees I have worked with.  We believe that we have positioned FLI to be ready to respond to the predictable and unpredictable changes that we know will face us in the years ahead, including:

·        employing a matrix organizational strategy on client projects

·        demonstrating a proven track record by delivering quality services as a “virtual” business for twenty years

·        employing the most efficient mix of company and home office

·        developing “rapid development” approaches that can help clients realize business results by improving the productivity of employees on the job in a more timely manner

·        maintaining a constantly improving technology infrastructure to take advantage of the productivity gains that are available through intelligent application of technology

·        responding to the changing economic landscape and remaining a viable and sustainable organization

·        attracting and retaining FLInet™ affiliates and staff who are challenged and enthusiastic about being a part of a “learning organization.”

I hope that you have found some of these ideas interesting or, at least, a little thought provoking.  Now the fun really begins as we head into the future and all of the changes that those years will bring.

John C. Wills, President/CEO


“The only thing that is constant is change.” — author unknown (ancient Greek philosopher)

Text for Side Bar

Where are they today?

We have been privileged to work with a number of employees over the years who have left FLI to pursue other opportunities.  The following is a partial list of some of those people and what they are doing today:

·        Sue Callahan — teaching at  California State-Fullerton and LaVerne Universities and providing sales and marketing consulting services in Orange County, CA.

·        Bob Casey — one of FLI’s founders, a mentor who had a major impact on many of us, but, sadly, passed away unexpectedly a few years ago.  He is missed by those of us who knew him and learned from him, and, also, by those who could have been his students, but never got the chance.

·        Karen Croley — mother of two fast growing children in Danville, CA.

·        Nancy Daves — heading up the education development effort for a start-up company in Glendale, CA.

·        Peter Gastaldi — running the North American operations of Sanrio Corporation in San Francisco, CA.

·        Richard Sui — attending State University of New York’s Optometry School in New York, NY.

·        Jeremy Switzer — lead programmer at Countrywide Finance in Woodland Hills, CA.

·        Paula Browne-Wagner — heading the public relations group of the  California Science Center in Los Angeles, CA.

·        Lisa Weeks — supporting the operations of a fast growing Asset Management firm in Los Angeles, CA.

·        Van Wright — retired as FLI’s Director of Quality Control, Emeritus.  He is attending Spanish classes at Orange Coast College … and really enjoying his retirement in Costa Mesa, CA.

[1] FLI works with a group of dedicated professionals who have affiliated with the FLI Professional Affiliate’s Network — FLInet™.

[2] Performance system, in this context, comprises all the components needed to support individuals who must perform a role or series of roles in an organization.  These components might include marketing collaterals, education and training, documentation, web-sites, job aids, electronic performance support systems (EPSS), and the like.

[3] Xerox introduced the Xerox 2700 Distributed Laser Printer in 1981.  It printed at a rate of 12 pages-per-minute, was available to us through our service bureau, and sold on the open market for around $27,000 each.