Some more thoughts on the future of functions/’support’ services

WARNING: Even by my standards, this is a bit of a mish-mash of ideas rather than any type of coherent article…

I’ve previously considered the idea that corporate ‘functions’ should change their terminology to the language still used in many institutions, such as universities, namely to become ‘support services’.  However, more recently, I’ve wondered if this actually will exasperate existing problems – particularly the struggles professional groups have in ‘pushing back’ to those ‘in charge’.

The CILIP event on demonstrating value I mentioned in a previous post put across a very passive approach – recommending you ask the organisation “what else should I do?”.  On reflection, this is in part why I moved away from pure ‘library and information’ roles, there was too much focus on the niche and, often, the physical space.  Instead, why not look at the business vision and plan to build proposals with clear business cases to go over and above what the organisation expects or thinks is possible?

Many people working in corporate roles will be seeing something else – the attempt of ‘traditional professions’ to try to claim the ‘business partnering’ mantle.  HR, L&D, IT, marketing and more are all claiming organisational alignment and ‘performance consulting’ is a term being adopted to mean multiple different things.  This feels like an attempt to claim ‘the middle ground’ and position one professional group in power, like when IT departments claimed ‘information’ for themselves via ICT or where PMOs have aggregated expertise from across the business in a vacuum from BAU activity.  However, the question remains, how can we best support the ‘business as usual’ in our organisation/industry as well as dealing with change?

I thought about this again recently when discussing something on Twitter, following this tweet from a renowned UK education tweeter:

The physical enforcement of location on education is something that does irritate me so I asked the question of why that needs to be:

The reply included a perfectly fair question*:

* the way I’ve previously recommended use of social media is to “say what you’d say to people’s faces” – this tweet is a good example of exactly what you’d ask in that situation (say if discussing the issue in the pub, at a conference, over dinner, etc.) BUT…

…it also highlights the problem: too many people jump to “well have you ever done it before?” or even straight to the dreaded “because we’ve always done it this way”.  Depending on how you read that tweet it’s either a reasonable question or trying to ‘shout someone down’ (in this case me).  This won’t be unfamiliar to, say, support services in universities (“how can you tell me how to teach my subject?” ) when, in reality, learning technologists, librarians and other support staff can add considerable value (I particularly liked this recent post from a lecturer at Northampton Uni seconding to their learning tech team).

So, in a world of open opinions online (such as my tweets in the above thread) how do we best share and support ideation internally?  Of course hybrid orgs and similar models come and go (holacracy’s for example got a lot of attention a while back).  There also seems to be renewed interest in ‘fee earners’ vs support type models that have long existed in LLPs, for example where people are looking at a ‘core’ team supplemented by flexible resources that come and go – in part via the ‘gig’ economy.  Another I’ve had bashing around in my head is BAU vs project structure/model.  However, BAU and projects could encourage a ‘them and us’ and a move away from ‘continuous improvement’ in the BAU fields.

So if we want to be ‘consultants’, in part to differentiate our professional work as cognitive and to avoid replacement via automation/machine, to improve performance perhaps the flip side is ‘delivery’.  The challenge for L&D, however, is that ‘learning delivery’ can risk an over focus on that traditional area (as identified by Jane Hart and others).

For now I think all we can say is continue to look for continuous improvement via lifelong learning and organizational development.  Whatever our professional backgrounds we need to try to ensure a rush for the middle ground doesn’t end up being a rush for the bottom in lowering quality and the support our teams expect of us.

Skillsoft Perspectives (EMEA) 2018

My first of these events and it was a useful mix of Skillsoft product updates/demos, (industry) experts and user/client presentations.  I tweeted a bit during the day but some major takeaways below:

Skillsoft as a company

Like a lot of learning technology companies there has clearly been a push to improve UI/UX of products and inevitably this led to stories of their own ‘digital transformation’, shifts to ‘agile’ development (Percipio updates coming out every two weeks is pretty impressive) and more.  These rounds of buzzword bingo included my personal not-so-fave of lots of “Netflix-esque” experiences being mentioned.

That all said, the “beautiful technology and engaging content” mission they set themselves two years ago has, at least in part, been met.

Indeed there was no lack of ambition from the Skillsoft presenters:

and you suspect they are continuing to have success with this.  The US equivalent of this, single track, EMEA day conference was a full three days in Vegas(!)

Undoubtedly there are advantages to their scale in terms of the workplace learning space, I was intrigued by what analysis of their different clients’ competency models might show:

I’d suspect the answer would be that many an L&D team are reinventing the wheel and stuck in a cottage industry of creating such competency records.

The content development team said their mission is to “help people achieve their fullest potential through learning” and that, hopefully, resonated with the clients and potential clients in the room!  The work being done with MIT on the evidence behind eLearning sounds interesting, and probably a fair few years late.

Percipio vs Sumtotal vs ELSA

The Percipio product has clearly had a lot of investment and looks like it could end the old problem of Skillsoft content being hidden away in ugly client LMS platforms via SCORM/AICC.  However, for reporting and the general usual experience do you want this fragmentation of platforms?

Fragmentation came up in one of the sessions…

…and I wonder if, in part, people are using ‘digital transformation’ as a term for throwing the kitchen sink at problems and hoping something sticks.  However, I suspect DT means many things to many people, as I hinted at:

Sumtotal itself looks much better than when I last looked at it – which must be at least three or four years ago at least – and seems to have been retrofitted to some of the Percipio model, including the “watch, read, listen, practice” break down of activities/resources.  I quite like this approach to breaking the blend down but it does also, reinforce how much this aspect of learning tech is really an evolution of the library world (i.e. the world of my first postgrad!):

The sell for still needing Sumtotal seemingly now being less on the learning side but the integration of that functionality with talent and recruitment components.  Indeed elements like the 9-box grid have been given a UI/UX facelift themselves.

ELSA, on the other hand, is an interesting new development in bringing learning more into the workflow.  Currently a Chrome plugin, we are seeing more and more of this kind of support tool and there is hope (from my side) that this will improve performance support being exposed away from being buried in a LMS or Intranet:

Leadership development

There was quite a bit on this – not least as a key part of the Percipio content puzzle.  There are, of course, mixed views on the value as whilst we are continuing to see increased investment there is arguably little real output:

The challenge I guess here is how bad could things be if we were not investing, certainly I’ve had friends who have burned out in manager roles, in part, due to a lack of leadership development support and guidance.  Obviously, you could argue this is less about formal support and more about their own managers being better coaches, etc.  Perhaps, all in all, a form of self-fulfilling prophecy?

One of the sessions mentioned research at Google (presumably this) that aimed to show the importance of leadership and management was a myth of the corporate world but actually showed the importance.  Perhaps, in England at least, those who really need a confidence boost can get it as a management apprenticeship.  The scenario based, video-heavy, learning in Skillsoft’s library reminded me of a (photo rather than video based) eLearning I built with the help of a vendor a few years back and really just reinforced, to me, that context is key with this and the need for realism in the story telling.

Overall, this was deemed a market ripe for disruption and they were pretty transparent on their instructional design approach and belief that this L&M product can be a big hit:

‘Modern learning’

The Fosway Group session was good, as always, on some of the data in the sector and it’s difficult to disagree with the idea that often learning is still delivery orientated and doesn’t get followed up upon, updated, reinforced, etc.

I recently saw a description of magpie syndrome and I fear how much I fall into that trap.  My problem is less the need for ‘shiny and new’ but rather jumping from one project to another, plus the day-to-day email deluge, without making the impact as one would like.  Do we need to assign L&D time by topic to ensure people are driving the improvement in those areas rather than trying to offer more holistic support?

The session also recalled the need for:
Acquire > Practice > Do
as a model – developed over fifteen years when it was clear blended learning too often focused on medium.  Some things don’t change.

Other sessions picked up on the fifteen year point – if we reflect, are we really in a transformation?  For example, people said much the same as today when talking about video discs and their potential to transform learning.  Personally, I always remember Encarta ’95 with my first PC and how it was perceived as a earthquake for teaching in schools and the encyclopedia industry – *waves at Wikipedia*.

Therefore, perhaps we have no real perception yet on what transformation looks like?  My view would be that this is going to be continuous and we just have to acknowledge that.

In the panel session I was pleased to see recognition that lots of people are not interested in the learning opportunities we can make available.  This is a tough one as it is about push v pull (as the panel discussed) but also how as a country/culture we need to realise the real transformation is that companies are going to come and go – with reskilling through a career essential.  Again, there is a balance here between snobbery, assumption and a need to bring people along for the ride:

The bringing people along piece has surely been a challenge for RBS due to their size and recent historical issues so their client case study was particularly interesting in how they are trying to adapt their approach:

as was how the National Trust is supporting their disparate workforce and volunteers via Skillsoft, including IT technical skills for their IT apprentices.

Diversity

Just a nod to an excellent, no slides used, presentation from Harriet Minter on women in leadership.  The session included some stats I’ve heard before and some new in terms of the importance of diversity and evidence of positive impact, with the easiest diversity to implement being gender.

 

CIPD Learning and Development Show: April 2018

I didn’t last long at this year’s CIPD L&D show – beyond catching up with a few people there wasn’t much grabbing my attention amongst the usual wide spread of presentations and stalls.

The CIPD show often feels like the broadest of L&D churches with a mix of tech, publishers, consultancies, coaches and more in a space smaller than many of the coaching, technology or other focused learning events.  Indeed this year the stalls seemed quiet whilst the presentations were oversubscribed (as always) – as a one-stop shop for HR generalists to keep up-to-date with L&D it is no doubt a useful day.  For the L&D specific person (like myself) it is less of a ‘must attend’.

This all said, the first session I attended:

did get me thinking at least…

Improving employee buy-in and engagement with training programmes

I recently said L&D is a “simple” profession – that we work to deliver improvements in performance (through knowledge, skill and behaviour change) in areas the business needs.  However, this session title hinted at a number of challenges I’ve faced and I’m sure are not uncommon, including:

  1. teams are busy and too ‘in the day-to-day’ to reflect and improve
  2. employees have their own ideas of what is needed vs management, different perceptions on business metrics, etc.
  3. unless something is transferable (to other organisations) and/or accredited there can be little interest in participating
  4. we have many underemployed people in the UK who may, simply, be in the wrong role(s)
  5. there is a continuing desire for ‘formal training’ when informal would be better and vis-versa.

Now the ‘simple’ solution to this could be to have stakeholders involved in design and use performance consulting to tackle the real issues.  However, carrot and stick techniques remain often necessary.

The presentation, from the Professional Academy, argued that you need to build a learning environment to then facilitate a development culture.  I suspect most L&D professionals would like to think they do this but, at the same time, it’s probably worth reenforcing.

The steps outlined for the perceived environment creation:

  1. Training needs identification
  2. Training structure – formalise and make clear to new starters from day one
  3. Reward and recognise
  4. Demonstrate progression (show learning impact, including but not limited to promotions)
  5. Gather feedback
  6. Formalise knowledge sharing and best practice

Johnson and Scholes’ Cultural Web was referenced as a way to think about learning and culture:

  1. Apprenticeships, for example, are good for the success “stories“.
  2. Symbols can include badges, different uniforms, etc.
  3. Rituals include things like graduation ceremonies.
  4. Power structures to help L&D includes genuine executive sponsorship and organisation structures that assist (at basic level that you actually have an L&D dept)
  5. Control included the calculation of ROI on investments [but see many an earlier post on my issues with ROI via ROE]

The session moved onto the 10Cs of Employee Engagement and how this relates: for example, making it clear the contribution of mandatory training is good for you and the company – not just there for the sake of it.  I liked the ‘confidence’ item in this as its related to the empowerment piece that I often refer to.

The ‘simples’ bit of ‘know your audience’ was also picked up.

The other good bit of this presentation was a free download of a toolkit – always good to get some freebies 🙂

Interestingly an article on marketing your external content passed my way too shortly after covering some of the same ground.

Rest of the show

predictably universities and training providers seem to have caught on that the apprenticeship levy is a potential game changer, if only people only cracked on with it.

xAPI update from HT2 Labs on how some of their work (as introduced to me at Kineo Connect) is delivering real results (and lots of industry awards).  The key thing here, for me, was that the examples have strong business metrics – sales figures, etc – to impact upon.  As always, your L&D approach is only going to be as strong as your business strategy.

Also briefly popped around a couple of other sessions that were not really up to too much.

Time to stop the snobbery in L&D

L&D departments need to support their organisation in valuable ways.  Simples.

Yet I increasingly feel that the L&D industry takes a snobbish approach to the world of work – far too often talking about what we might actually call ‘knowledge workers’ or, at least, office work.

Yes knowledge work is obviously a large part of the workforce, however, this focus ignores the large numbers of UK PLC working in hospitality, healthcare and other areas where the workplace and workforce are relatively ‘low tech’, ‘low skilled’ (in the traditional graduate workforce kind of sense) and unfortunately often low paid.

Part of the problem seems to be that multiple traditional support departments (IT, KM, L&D and more) all seem to be running for a middle ground around productivity – which is largely as identified by the DWG’s 2018 research agenda:

Digital Workplace Group (DWG) embarks on an exciting research programme to deliver focused insights across both intranet and digital workplace good practice….

1. Collaborating in the digital workplace: how to have and to measure impact
2. Taking a strategic approach to the digital workplace: teams, structures, methods
3. Office 365: a detailed look at the wider suite
4. Digital literacy in the workplace: how to raise the organization’s digital IQ
5. Successful intranet migrations: strategies, approaches, tactics
6. The intelligent DW assistant: what teams need to know now about artificial intelligence
7. Digital workplace trends, themes and statistics: insights from DWG research and benchmarking.

The above list is pretty close to the buzz in L&D circles – at least if you swap out intranet for LMS or other system.  The reality on the ground for L&D professionals – especially in those low paid sectors mentioned above – is instead apprenticeships, post-Brexit skills agenda, basic skill training (even JISC are saving ‘citizen’ resources from closure) and more.  The positive is that at least via mobile, AR and VR we are seeing some practical workplace L&D buzz away from the knowledge workers who are tied to a desk and Outlook.

Yes, digital workplaces exist and many support departments will be made up of digital-first workers (even if their parent market or industry are not).  However, let’s not forget everyone else.

After starting this post I then, when catching up with TJ podcasts, hit upon the Donald Clark interview from Online Educa that really hits many nails on their heads.

Unleash18 London

I took a different approach to Unleash than my normal focus at events – instead of making lots of notes, to  reflect on later and blog from, I tweeted throughout most sessions (each session a different Twitter thread) with a view to save links to the tweets here with a few reflective notes.  All slides from the event are here.

Looking back at the tweets I’ve realised I didn’t stick to my own approach of adding comments in [square brackets] or after >>> marks.  Anyways, hopefully they were some use for the twitterverse and in capturing key points from what, in the most part, were pretty quick fire 20 minute presentations.

The day after Unleash I needed to update a paper that I last updated in April 2017.  My main point in that paper last year was that someone needed to decide on the Digital Employee Experience and what that might look like.  If I take the call of the conference, to be “unleashed”, then deciding and implementing that experience is an action for me…

Day 1

Opening and other MC/intro duties

A tough gig for the always excellent Deborah Frances-White – trying to get a crowd going after long registration and cloak room waiting on day one.  I for one, sans coffee, was far from in the mindset I think the organisers were going for with the very loud, movie trailer start (“Let’s make a better place to work and live…unleash your people”.  As MC for the keynotes DFW mixed some new (to me) content and some of what I have seen used before – for example at LearningPool’16.  I did like the call to “presume inclusion” – i.e. dont wait to be invited or asked to do something, be like a kid at kindergarten: introduce yourself and get involved.

Opening keynote: How do you DISRUPT and Change the World of Work?

Lots of naughty words and pretty controversial ideas from Jonas Kjellberg.

By his own admission people are quick to want to get rid of him but he’s clearly a disruptor who has had a lot of hits (like iCloud and Skype) and misses.

As I tweeted (outside of the above thread) I did love the beaver – i.e. reward people for being willing to take the chainsaw to old ways of doing things:

As a way of signifying the disruptive mentality of this role I might well have to have a look at the ‘Gear Up’ book’s approach too:

Gear_Up.PNG

Future of Learning: PA Consulting

Pretty broad content here, which was perhaps deliberate in opening the learning stream (one room) of the conference.  Nothing too earth shattering or revolutionary but a fair summary of current thinking.

I did like the concept of the course > resource > guidance > automation paradigm to explain how automation can fit in:

“Best Practice Evaluation and Transfer of Learning” project at Icon PLC.

A decent example of showing a fairly traditional blended leadership programme could be evaluated.

“Build an Employer Brand in 100 days”

Really energetic presentation this one – I always like when consultants, rather than selling directly, give up some ‘secrets’ from their methodologies – definitely one where the slides are worth picking up.

“Assessing future leaders digitally at Royal Bank of Canada”

Moving from standard psychometric testing in graduate recruitment to a more bespoke assessment.  Overall, sounded good and potential to move it away from the focus on graduate centric approaches to existing staff.  Makes me wonder again what the best way of judging potential is for internal candidates to our own programmes/talent management.

“Empathy in Action”

On reflection, a more challenging session, focusing on the need for workplaces to be more empathetic.  Whilst it’s difficult to argue people should be more empathetic I’d also be tempted that it’s not something that is naturally energising to everyone – as Strengthscope states empathy is a strength where:

“You readily identify with other people’s situations and can see things clearly from their perspective”.

Brexit as an Opportunity for Business

A quick run through of Brexit history, current situation and possible solutions.  As always with this topic there were some things you could agree with and other bits where that was less the case.  Overall it really just highlighted that many things are still up in the air and that overall, from a country-wide workforce perspective, things really have not been managed very well at all.  For a session that was supposed to be the ‘opportunity’ from Brexit it was pretty depressing.

Brexit and GDPR started day two so I skipped for time on the trade show floor although that then did mean lunch on day two dragged a bit.

Day 2

Lloyd’s of London’s “Bigger than the business”

Good example of corporate L&D team offering services to the ‘extended enterprise’ and becoming a profit centre as a result.

“Virtually Learning”

Possibly the best example of VR in workplace learning I’ve seen – a clear productivity gain by moving a practical session from ‘real’ to ‘virtual’.

Mazars U on LinkedIn Learning launch

A session that would be familiar to the library and information world – trying to get external content providers embedded into culture and systems, *spoiler*: it’s tricky.

“It’s our time are we ready”- event close

A deliberately challenging session to finish.  I did comment more on the presentation as it went (below thread).  Overall I’d say digital is pervasive and I agree the ‘waiting for IT’ excuse is growing old, however, whilst I always remember an old conference presentation from BBWorld in the US that said “tech should just work” in reality (as with Mazars above) things are more complicated.  Coming to this conference not from a ‘classic HR’ background probably impacted on my view of the talk of digital, experiences, performance and collaboration – i.e. that a lot of this was really a call to action that could have been made a number of years ago in many ways:

General comments on conference:

The “Unleash” themed seemed to fall a bit flat with the dancing aliens (or whatever they were) and loud music not really getting the crowd going.  Perhaps a cultural thing and the North American crowd, in Vegas, would be more into it than those isolated in the always rather isolated ExCeL?

The event app was good for tracking the agenda but I remain as having two notifications that would not shift during the show even though it shows as having cleared everything.  Really not sure what was going on there – perhaps an issue in using the work iPhone rather than my Android?