I was not going to go to the RS this year – even though I was invited following attendance in 2016 – mostly as the sessions did not seem hugely promising. However, I am glad I did as a couple of the presentations we’re really good.
The below write-up focuses on those two with some brief comments on the other presentation session.
Learning and Development in a VUCA World: Inform, Inspire, Involve
This session was particularly worrying – see previous comments on VUCA and L&D – when I read the invitation. However, Susan Goldsworthy put together a really nice combination of positive psychology and other concepts to encourage inclusive L&D (I’ll add a fourth ‘I’ to her list!).
Susan referenced a number of models that would be familiar to L&D folks but with good examples and a real energy in presentation, some of the more interesting points with my comments indented underneath:
- Knowledge into behavior. Example: Just look at huge value/revenues in diet industry to show that knowledge (eat less & exercise more) does not lead to desired behavior change (nor the results – of weight loss).
- L&D focus on knowledge and skills is fine but an organization has to do more.
- Human needs beyond Maslow. Two key ones are acceptance (including belonging) and achievement (incorporating recognition).
- Have to agree with these and also closely aligned to Strengthscope’s 5A model and other techniques.
- Challenge to create a climate of caring and daring.
- I suspect a lot of organization would like to claim this (for example through value and behavior statements) but suspect they might fall down on it. There were similarities to Strengthscope in the idea of stretch and the need to enjoy challenges. I particularly liked the calling out of one of my pet annoyances – “do as we’ve always done it” – and the need to balance courage and energy.
- Four states of organizational energy – Productive, Comfortable, Resigned and Corrosive. If you think from this perspective then you can see the negative impact of attempts – for example, new CEOs trying to be productive and move people out of comfortable, aka “do as we’ve always done it”, risk being dominating in a control/corrosive style.
- Not sure I’ve seen this particular model before but it makes a lot of sense, more about this view of organizational energy here.
- Trust is all important – combination of warmth (good intentions) and competence (evidence can act on good intentions).
- Trust is, of course, fundamental to many models – not least The Trusted Advisor.
- More natural to focus on negative. Need to recognize this and focus on what can do instead.
- Again, similar to Strengthscope and the logic of needing to focus on the ‘path of possibility‘.
- Recognize learning from failure as a positive base. Example: one of her clients use “get out of jail free” cards – people can use once to recognize failure and report the learning to the team. The, Canadian, client’s boss being the first person to show how it was acceptable to admit mistakes.
- I liked this idea but perhaps limiting to only have one and make so specific?
- Importance of saving F.A.C.E. – four ‘buttons’ to get people involved: Fairness, Autonomy, Certainty and Empathy.
- Another really good idea/model, the kind of concepts that make a lot of sense but is useful to be reinforced when attending networking and development events like this. Bit of detail on it below…
- Fairness: need to express what think, including negative emotions. Being open about negative emotions reduces them, combined with courage of being open stops gossip and negative communication. For example, Susan mentioned work she does with teams prior to moves to open planning working to allow people to express their concerns in advance so boundaries can be defined by getting people involved in decision making…
- Autonomy: give people a choice, even if limited – they might have to do something but leaders can give people options within it. Most important element is self control.
- Certainty: ‘the need to know’, ‘cool head, warm heart’, live values, communicate (bad news is better than no news), etc.
- Empathy: “social disconnection creates social pain” [I loved that line]. Exclusion shows in brain as same part of MRI scan as physical pain! Thus need professional and social collaboration and interaction.
- Shift power to people with environments where people own and share. Waterfalls (top down – parent to child) to waves (in and out – adult to adult).
- This made sense and I particularly like the link to language [more on that when I get to writing up a recent Interact event I attended]. An Australian example was given on this, dont use “stop>start>continue” as parent-like telling off. Instead “decrease>increase>maintain”.
Creating Learning Flexibility While Following the Business Beat
A nice attempt at a jazz metaphor and visual cues in the slides albeit a metaphor that didn’t feel like it quite worked. It was, at least, a slightly different way to consider how L&D needs to change. If the organization is the baseline, and face-to-face learning is classical music then jazz would be allowing individuals their improvisation in an individual-centric solution.
Program and Content Curation in Times of Complexity
A refreshingly honest session from Aimee O’Malley of Google’s L&D team. The title didn’t really align to the presentation (again) but was good.
Rapid growth continues for Google and still “scrappy” with lots of “trial and error” internally.
Working on 5 principles (as below some of my comments below) for L&D:
- From skills to mindsets.
- I thought this was interesting in that it seemed less a decision to leave technical with the SMEs and focus L&D on ‘soft’ or generic skills (which is often the approach). Instead it was about acknowledging that long term planning is difficult so need people to be less role orientated and need them to be self learners who can change over time.
- Restructure yourself to be nimble.
- When I went through a redundancy due to L&D team relocation/restructure one of the strong messages from fellow professionals and recruiters was that very few people will have a long HR/L&D career without redundancies. For Google they’ve shifted from business units (i.e. customer) focus to try and be more centralized and thus able to support emerging areas. Still probably one of those issues where there is never a perfect solution but the ‘pool’ (rather than business unit resource) idea obviously could work but needs to be flexible – scale being the challenge.
- Ruthlessly prioritize.
- There was one great stat in Aimee’s presentation: for the last 6000 hired Googlers there has been 1 new L&D person. Thus they have come to the conclusion that rather than “stacking programmes” they need to focus on the most high impact ones. Aimee admitting this has been difficult for many, the “sun-setting” of one programme even being raised on a whole company call with the founders. Again, I can sympathize with this having experienced the ongoing, vocal, advocacy for retired programmes in the past. The organizational legacy and shifting the “this is how we’ve always done it” is of course very difficult. I did like the idea, they have introduced, of “viking funerals” to celebrate the closure of programmes, including being open on the rationale for why things are being stopped.
- Open source everything.
- An open approach – the lack of L&D resource meaning materials are put out there with 85% of internal training by Googler-to-Googler (rather than L&D or external vendors). This in part about scale but also opportunity cost, i.e. do L&D have to be involved? Basic, level 1 type, feedback can then be used to spot the people not delivering well.
- Focus on landings not launches.
- A decreased focus on the “new” is no doubt something that would be good for lots of support structures. This is of course, in part, the argument for better evaluation and less jumping from one need/project to another. A particularly good idea, Google has introduced, was for L&D staff performance reviews to be focused on work completed 18 months earlier – i.e. the impact of previous work with better KPIs. The “landing plan” of expected impact being largely aligned to the logic of learning indicators.
The final session should have been from AMEX but unfortunately the presenter was ill and the discussion in its place, on my table at least, was pretty broad and without too many outcomes for me – in part that I think I probably spoke too much!