Some reflections on learning from recent weeks in a new role

Not working directly in a workplace L&D team for a little while has been nice in some ways.

It has allowed me to reflect once more on the nature of learning and what we are trying to achieve via investments in ‘workplace learning’ teams and initiatives.

This time has only reinforced in mind the reality that everyone at work is learning, all the time.  Those of us who might consider ourselves as ‘learning pros’ are really only able to support this through appropriate infrastructures/scaffolds, interventions, etc.  At the same time trying to ensure, from an employee engagement perspective, that people feel valued and supported.

As I am working in formal education again (albeit now in the 2-18 age range which is mostly new to me) I’ve also gained new insights into what we really mean by ‘learning’, ‘performance improvement’, etc.  It is also clearer to me than ever that the idea school teachers are educators stuck in didactic formal learning (sage on stage/chalk n talk type stuff stymied from change) couldn’t be further from the truth.  This, in part, reinforces my old view about how stuck-up/presumptive a lot of the L&D industry’s focus is.  It also makes the case for more interaction between schools, colleges/universities and workplaces to better leverage technology and better understand what we are all trying to achieve (or “business needs to stop complaining about talent and do more with schools and apprenticeships” as I’ve put it in the past).

More thoughts will no doubt come out of these experiences in coming weeks – first up is a feeling…

Corporate change and the hamster wheel

…A feeling that workplace learning conversations, continue to be stuck like a hamster on a wheel.  This has been triggered by seeing some of the old workplace learning arguments coming up once again on social media in recent weeks and also from a quick flick through of “Beyond Knowledge Management: Dialogue, creativity and the corporate curriculum” which I’ve recently picked up (Bob Garvey and Bill Williamson, 2002 – BKM from here on).

BKM’s forward (by Rosemary Harrison) suggests the book is a “response to…turbulent competitive conditions” and considers/suggests how to tackle this via “the competencies and ethical issues involved in working in a continuous learning environment”.  Here we effectively see the L&D staple of VUCA vs the need for learning organisations to tackle such uncertainty and continuous change.  The point though is that this is from 2002, before VUCA became the standard descriptor.  Consider that with another recent excerpt I got from a book:

href=”https://twitter.com/iangardnergb/status/1092430958437883904″

The answer to the question in the tweet is 1975

The Hawleys were talking about the growing volume of media in the ’70s (TV, magazines, newspapers, etc.) but I thought the quote clearly felt contemporary in the ‘information overload due to the Internet’ era. 

Overall these examples show that, for decades, we’ve been talking about the same issues and really wasting effort in tackling them.  Another recent-ish tweet of mine considered how Mad Men picked up on this in showing that whilst some things have clearly changed, although in areas like racism perhaps not as much as we’d like to think, there are other aspects where the same conversations are happening ad nauseam.  The specific example in my tweet being the rise of the machines:

https://twitter.com/iangardnergb/status/1089955996607434752

That issue being particularly appropriate given that AI, automation and associated technologies are very much the vogue topics in 2019.

The difference in BKM’s title to the more modern conversations would perhaps be that the “corporate curriculum” has come and gone in preference to learning ‘in the workflow’ via increasingly bitesize and flexible provision.  That said, I can consider my own personal experiences in the interim years with global curriculum management (2012-2015) and redefining a UK learning curriculum from local practice to national and accredited (2016-2018).  Compare those six years to someone delivering a traditional curriculum, for example, a traditional ‘trainer’ doing the rounds and you hit the classic of “doing the same thing for six years is one year’s experience versus doing different things for six years is six years’ experience”.  Thus, we hit another L&D trap – an assumption that ‘in workflow’ is the way to go rather than more formalized approaches.  This is in part the snobbery I mentioned previously where white-collar knowledge work is all anyone does (to be fair, BKM is specifically considering issues stemming from the rise of knowledge workers).

Working in a school I’ve already made the point multiple times to pupils that time is the commodity they do not realize is most important.  They will come to realise this in the workplace, of course, but supporting the international baccalaureate is an eyeopener in the specific focus on what we mean by knowledge/learning and what the profile of a learner looks like.  I’d be tempted to say every L&D professional should familiarize themselves with this as, if you are hiring IB graduates, you should have a very different breed of new-hire than if not.  Certainly different than I was at 18 and probably still so after the extra academic skills and instruction of university to 21 and travel/reflection to 22.

So what about dealing with that VUCA world?  Well it was interesting to see the 20th anniversary comments on Office Space (http://www.bbc.com/capital/story/20190205-office-space-turns-20-how-the-film-changed-work) and the “Is this good for the company?” culture of the 90s versus the employee wellbeing and engagement culture that is increasing the case today.

One thing where we can be happy to stay on the wheel is in agreeing that learning is continuous, good for the organisation and good for the organisation’s people.

8bill for a survey tool? Really?

Tidying some old emails I found a number from a few years ago where I always included the below link in my email signature:

http://www.rypple.com/iangardner/pleasegivemeyourfeedback 

Rypple had the excellent idea of making continuous feedback easier and would quickly be bought up by SalesForce (at around the same time SAP bought SuccessFactors).

It’s then interesting to see SAP go big with their more recent acquisition of Qualtrics.

With Qualtrics the talk is of an “experience management platform” – something which of course aligns with the full ‘digital transformation’ buzzword bingo. This is where the challenge comes, is a tool like Qualtrics simply its core functionality (which has multiple competitors) compared to the value in existing customer bases (as this article mentions)?

I’ve briefly used Qualtrics tools in the past but the fee seems huge and the you suspect that the people/data as a product age is really upon us with this expensive deal.

A new identity: The Learning Reducer

Following on from my reflective posts in recent weeks about my experience, things I have seen in the workplace and the challenges the world faces I have come up with a title for myself: The Learning Reducer.

Inspiration (outside of learning)


instead of adding stuff, try taking stuff away” 


– Rick Rubin: http://erickimphotography.com/blog/rick-rubin/

The inspiration for this title is a combination of music producer/reducer Rick Rubin and what I have realised during this period of reflection.  Further logic behind the ‘reducer’ moniker:

“Girls” is indicative of Rubin, who initially portrayed his role as “reducer,” not “producer.” 1980s music had a lot of needless flourishes and additives. Rubin’s mission was to boil off excess and serve the essence. Rick is often portrayed as a producer who does almost nothing to the music he touches. Which isn’t to say that he does nothing. The opposite, in fact, is true. Like a great chef, he chooses the best ingredients and lets them speak for themselves. The genius is in the selection and arrangement of those ingredients.

In the case of “Girls,” it’s one part drums, one part piano, and four parts asshole.


DAN CHARNAS: https://www.complex.com/music/2012/03/25-best-rick-rubin-songs/girls

Inspiration (from learning)

In part my adoption of Reducer is based on some things that have really stood out to me during my time working in learning over the years, including:

  • Subject Matter Experts (or worse people responsible for something who are not even an SME) throwing requirements ‘over the fence’ to L&D whilst refusing to engage or find time for proper needs analysis.
  • Mandatory ‘training’ stipulated by government and other groups with no consideration for personalisation, real outcomes or other needs.
  • Bloatware learning where learning is elongated by everything from a corporate logo (even just for 5 seconds) at the start of a video through to fixing ‘learning’ into an arbitrary schedule of an hour, a work day, etc.  As a result organisations have been left with lots of legacy learning content that is difficult to manage, update and makes little us of the opportunities AI, AR and other tech gives us. 
  • Inefficiency – we hear a lot about productivity gaps but do very little about the basics around skills, process, etc.  There have been improvements in encouraging honesty and learning from mistakes but tackling fundamental bad practice, for example with Microsoft Office, remains an issue.
  • Self importance.  Unfortunately we all fall into the trap of thinking our piece of the pie is most important.  Realistically, the product/service of our organisation is most important and in big organisations we only contribute to (or sell) it.  Therefore, the need for learning to drive self aware and reflective practitioners is all important – what we don’t need are bloated learning (or other support teams) expecting the impossible or putting self interest ahead of the shared vision/goals.  There is also the snobbery issue here in self importance of learning professionals and a failure to support all learners – too often focusing on leadership and high level concepts.
  • The learning industry is in need of shedding a lot of dead weight (learning styles, Myers Briggs, etc).  We are seeing new ideas emerging but often people are clinging to ideas (like 70/20/10 in totally the wrong kinds of ways).  As an industry/profession it feels like learning pros constantly beat themselves up but are far too slow (still) in shedding the old sheep dip training for something that adds more value.  Admittedly because too often things are thrown over the fence as ‘requirements’ (see above).

Reducer as critical friend

So – can I be the learning asshole?  Well, perhaps I already am – I noticed myself verging into this territory recently when asked to give feedback on pre-launch content from new vendor Thrive and also with the UI of a recruiting platform I was given early access to.  

There feels like a value in looking at L&D from the perspective of critical friend.  Seperate from industry or SM expertise.  If only to ask a question of L&D pros practice: why?

What is applicable to super scientists is applicable to all.

Reducer and curation

Curation is not new – even though some L&D commentators would have you think it is.

Blog followers will know I get a bit of a “bee in my bonnet” about curation as an L&D topic.  However, it is a facilitator of ‘reduction’ – pick the best of what is out there and maintain current awareness without excessive build times and other traditional L&D activities.

Curation done well has to be part of a continuous improvement culture.

Reducer and culture

Through a learning reducer focus we can establish true learning organisations. 

Agile learning through experience and reflection, combined with ongoing collaboration via digital means.  Where face-to-face and virtual classroom are reserved for real value added sharing and relationship building.

Learning can be embedded in work, agile in deployment, is owned by everyone and contributes to learner/employee engagement.  This works both in education settings and the workplace.

What next?

Contact me to discuss further as I continue to develop this chain of thought.

The often ignored realities of talent management (#2): one real solution for (screen based) workplace productivity

I think some posts on this topic have been lost on an old blog of mine so it can come in here as the second in this series…


Do you hunch over a laptop?  Do you constantly switch between apps, windows and tabs?  Are you desk based but just have one monitor?

If you answer yes to any of these questions a simple solution to improve your productivity may be to get more displays.

This is increasingly recognised (see a Guardian article here) and was touched upon at a JISC keynote that I must have seen/been about 10 years ago now.

A short post but a useful one – if your organisation presumes only IT, fx traders or other internal groups are worthy of multiple monitors then they are probably selling you down the river.


Miss #1 in the series? Here’s a link to location, location, location.

Thoughts on L&D Recruitment 2 of 2: Applying

As a follow up to my previous post, now some thoughts on my job hunt.

It’s over two years since my last job search, this time self-inflicted rather than redundancy driven.  I had gone very ‘eggs in one basket’ for a role in an organisation I am really keen on (but have heard today they do not want me for a second interview).  That said I have a couple of other applications ‘out there’ that would also be fantastic.

So let’s think about roles in a bit more detail…

Like when in that career gap last time (see Why I Work in ‘Learning’) it is a time of reflection and consideration.  The challenge is that my primary driver remains the same – I enjoy help[ing] people better themselves in the context of their organisation/environment.  This should, you would you think, leave plenty of room for opportunities aligned to my past experience and education – traditional L&D, digital learning, research, libraries and information management, operational support, etc.  However, I worry this is perhaps too vague a driver?  I suspect being ‘generalist’ (working across the ‘lifecycle’ of ADDIE-esque work for example rather than just instructional design or digital development) and keen to continue to adapt my sector expertise (having worked in FE, HE, professional services and healthcare) goes against what employers (myself included in that first post) look for, i.e.:

Someone to hit the ground running.

Rather than consider experience from other sectors and that it probably demonstrates adaptability in combination with the correct knowledge and skills too many recruiters, it seems, have an inflexible idea of what they want.  This is primarily articulated in my personal bugbear, the bloody “10 years of experience” line, when you could do nothing for 10 years or so and (in that model) be a better candidate just because you are in the correct industry.  I would argue, and it is the case with my experience, you could have experience across sectors/industries where you have achieved consistently – moving your organisations’ learning approaches forward every time – which is far more valuable than sitting on your hands in industry x for 10 years or more.

Yes, this is in some ways contradictory to my first post – I’m more than aware I’m not drinking my own champagne here in the balance of looking for a capable, experienced and reliable candidate.

…and me

Inevitably you also start to worry if personality is the issue.  I remember being given a talk ‘to one side’, when others were on a coffee break, in my post redundancy outplacement support that I didn’t seem enthused by the mock-interviews and doing our ‘elevator pitch’ type prep.

This is because I wasn’t, I feel the process tired and out of date.  I generally don’t like the introvert/extrovert dichotomy as I think it all depends on context but it is incredibly difficult to portray a personality in an interview and, as a person applying and a recruiter, I need to keep that in mind.

…and organisations

Part of my rather fuzzy ethos is that opportunities should be open to all.  However, there are many reasons why people have traditionally got by with ‘who you know not what you know’.  This is where I feel we can all improve upon this now – there is a very real opportunity to express an interest and allow that organisation to say “okay, let’s take a look” – online portfolios, twitter, LinkedIn, etc, etc. will give you a picture of their expertise and personality.  This is far greater than what can be perceived in an interview, although I would agree that the face-to-face or virtual meeting skills should still come across that way.

I wanted to give a shoutout here to https://www.smartrecruiters.com/ which seems by far the smoothest application process I have come across – express an interest backed up by your social links and ask for a call/email back if they are interested in you.  A great idea.  This also keeps things personal, unlike some of the recruitment systems out there, certainly when I was applying for this a couple of years back many of these just seemed to be tests of patience/willing.

Sure, if you get 100s of applications you probably need some automatic filtering but keep things personal to some level. Please!  For example, one role I applied for in late July still has my application status as “application received” two months later.  I’ve tried following up via a contact at that company (no reply, so okay, bad sign) but there is not even a generic ‘careers’ email, never mind a bot of live chat for me to say “hey, I’m still interested – what’s going on?”.

Dear Hiring Organisations,

look, I know you are looking to fill quickly and easily but remember many of your applicants (like me) will have been in that position too.  Think about how your recruitment makes you seem in terms of personality, transparency, etc.  I’d also say this may well be hidden away from most hiring managers so, hey, Recruitment teams – sort it out!

Flexibility

One thing I have looked at in detail this time is remote work.  This would be my preference just due to locations and personal circumstances (I am splitting my time between countries and due another house move in a few months).  However, whilst the business press, L&D (via webinars and collaboration), etc. all talk a lot about this there are virtually zero roles.  Some learning designers are home based but many will include that all important “regular visit to Brighton, London, Nottingham, etc” in the text.  We seem to lack a truly global approach to recruitment even in big organisations – again, you wonder why when organisations say they have multiple unfilled vacancies and are stymied by skills shortages they remained locked to physical locations.  Talent is everywhere, businesses remain locked to location with Brexit, GDPR and other trends just seemingly reinforcing old mindsets.

At the conference I presented at last year, there was a discussion where the room considered future talent needs.  I made the point that employers can’t continue to complain about skills gaps when they remain so inflexible.

It is in this research on virtual/remote work that I’ve come across Rodolphe Dutel who has some excellent resources and advice.  He is also, possibly, the first person I’ve come across who genuinely replies to emails from people subscribed to his newsletters so kudos to him too.

For now

I continue to support my old team and will keep my eyes open for that next new role!