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Performance consulting: how to handle “Shiny Object Syndrome”

Blog posts | 28.04.2021

Shauna L. Vaughan

Senior Learning Consultant at Kineo US

L&D has evolved beyond simply training employees; we help businesses improve performance and achieve business goals. Our relationship with the business has become (or should be) one of partnership.  An elusive aspect of performance consulting is the “Shiny Object Syndrome” – not often talked about, but can have a big impact on scoping projects. Often, for clients it’s like this: Let’s say you wanted a phone with more storage space, so you went out to shop and came back with an iPhone 12 Pro Max. No doubt it’s a great phone, but you probably didn’t need a host of its features anyway. You only needed extra space. The iPhone 12 (and its features beyond storage space) was your shiny object!

This is what we call Shiny Object Syndrome or SOS – a disease of distraction, as calls it. A serious case of SOS, if not managed, has the potential to create misalignment with client expectations and learner performance.

Performance consulting: Easier said than done

To bring about major improvements in performance, we need to be more than just the trainer or the instructional designer – we must evaluate what’s really necessary at the performance level. This means asking some hard questions about business goals and objectives.

Easier said than done, right?

In the business of L&D or any other field for that matter, many of us become obsessed with next gen technology, the new wave in L&D! Or, the answer to ALL your performance woes!

If you’re dealing with a client or partner who has SOS, chances are they’ll want to explore a lot of shiny stuff that has the potential to drive effort, time, and investment away from the solutions they really need. Clients often ask us for ideas on how to implement the newest trending technology. For example: augmented reality (AR) or virtual reality (VR). We know the applications for these technologies are very specific and not suited to every setting, business goal, or targeted performance outcome; however, most clients asking for something unique (shiny) like AR/VR come to us looking to understand the ins and outs of the technology. The effort needed to implement the tech, time required, and monetary aspects are usually not considered up front (under the SOS influence)! 

How do you effectively consult clients with SOS?

As an effective performance consultant, you cannot simply give clients what they’re requesting just because they want it and it’s new, trendy, or even gives an illusion that it will help achieve business or performance goals.

Running diagnostics: Your part as a performance consultant

As a performance consultant, your primary goal should be to run a diagnostic of the business you’re working with: the ever-famous analysis phase, sometimes known as Discovery in the agile world.

During Discovery, we validate the perceived need. In other words, look into the issue the client thinks is solvable with the fancy tech or shiny object. In the process, we will likely identify the ACTUAL cause for the performance issue and the most appropriate modality for bridging gaps between actual and optimal. Make sure you’re a part of a team when you talk to your client. Early on in the engagement, build a partnership and maintain that throughout. It’s important to ensure you and your client are on the right track to address the correct needs in order for performance to improve. Catching the wrong train can be a long and frustrating episode, and you don’t want to go there! Communication is the key!

Talking to your client

Initially, clients will only want to talk about shiny objects: adopting that newly released tool, software, or technology that will integrate beautifully with their existing employee management platform. In L&D, especially if you have a little extra investment available, it’s tempting to try and take on everything that’s trending (in an effort to maximise performance) like:

  • Microlearning
  • Blended learning
  • Social media learning
  • Simulations
  • Virtual reality
  • Augmented reality
  • Just-in-time learning
  • Learning through AI driven chat-bots

The list is endless. Let’s take virtual reality for example. Your client perceives a need for VR as part of an ethics and compliance programme. The programme is a training for bank tellers about money laundering with content focused on general awareness and ranking on the lower end of Bloom’s Taxonomy. The budget is conservative. It’s possible you’ll immediately know that VR is not the ideal modality for this type of training. However, simply telling a client that VR is not a good fit for them can sound rather impudent. Time to put on your performance consultant hat and ask some good questions!

So, coming back to the iPhone 12 example, when you’re at the store, you could ask yourself: what do I really need? Do I want to invest this much on something that’s inherently good, but perhaps not what I need right now? Stopping to think things through really helps: That’s what you have to do as a performance consultant!


To be a consultant is to try to influence people over whom you have no direct control.

- Peter Block (Author of Flawless Consulting)

Here’s a 4-step action plan to follow:

1. Refocus

Acknowledge the client’s perception of the need (and their idea for a shiny solution). Take time to ask good questions. Dive into the discovery/analysis, make recommendations, and refocus your client’s attention on the actual problem at hand and what’s causing it...and the more appropriate solution.

2. Throw a spotlight on the shiny object

In this case, explain briefly what exactly VR is and how it is suited for technical, hands-on training and particularly useful for specific roles. VR has a track record of successful hands-on technical training – such as flight simulations, military training, etc. The pros and cons need to be weighed in order for a business to adopt VR for compliance or soft skills training.

3. Recommend

Using the, “Yes, and…” approach: Acknowledge that while VR may seem like a great idea, there are other (perhaps more budget-friendly or more goal-appropriate) modalities to consider. Be prepared with some recommendations, and provide rationales for them as well.

4. Reinforce

Address your client’s concerns, and support your recommendations with research you have personally done (in discovery) or drawn from authoritative sources. There may be cases where you’re not sure if you can provide what the client demands. It’s better to be realistic than to promise something you cannot deliver.

Successful performance consulting

We all like shiny objects and they're fun to add to our training, but performance consulting isn't about showing off the latest thing. It's about meeting our client's needs, so in the end they see their goals realised. We need to be aware of our own SOS and how to use what we found during client discovery to create solutions that utilise the best modality for the project goals.

If you’re looking for a proven performance consultant, contact our experts today! 

Shauna L. Vaughan

Senior Learning Consultant at Kineo US

Shauna has over 15 years of experience in instructional systems design, facilitation, and performance consulting. She has consulted with, and designed learning and performance solutions for, a variety of clients to help them meet business goals and objectives.