Interact Taster Day

I previously mentioned that I recently attended a taster day at Interact’s London office.  Beforehand I did not really know what to expect, having agreed to attend to see if there were some useful tips and tricks for my own leadership and management support.

Overall, it was a good day.  I’ll admit to initially being nervous about an actor-led development organisation but there were a lot of useful points to reflect on.

Some particular takeaway points reflected on below.

A bit on Interact

Undoubtedly some real value in the techniques (such as forum theatre, hot seating, etc) and it is very impressive that they’ve managed to grow to “over 1000 associates”.  That number means they are now likely the largest employer of actors in the country after only the BBC – with most having achieved additional relevant qualifications in areas such as executive coaching.

Value of stories

A number of examples were of the all-important impact through stories to “provide meaning”.  This will resonate with most people who have any kind of instructional design background – but coming at the issue from the world of drama and acting.

First thing the founder did with the company was to ban the use of “role play” – instead want people to be themselves, actors pick up the customer or other perspectives.  I can recognise here the value in seeking realism, however, I’ve also had some success where playing a role (other than your own) can change perspectives.

Value of actors

Undoubtedly there is value in actors providing a real life environment for safe learning environments.

I have had mixed feelings about this in the past, over if there is realism in using actors, for “practice based learning”.  However, I’ve see plenty of good examples over the years and the day included more, including forum theatres for Transport For London.  Interact’s standard practice is starting with the extreme bad situation (to get people engaged) and work backwards.  In TFL’s case this was about not just following process but delivering customer service, part of organisational change from ‘we were running a railway, now we run a service’.  The argument being that drama is 3D and human so will engage, unlike PowerPoint.

Another advantage of actors is undoubtedly the ability to playback ‘scenes’ and there were some good examples where they replicated scenarios perfectly so people could improve their performance.

Role of the facilitator (beyond acting)

Useful to keep in mind that “facilia” of “facilitator” is to “make easy”.

I liked this as it is somewhat ‘meta’ for L&D professionals but it is the balance of educationalist rules and ‘teaching’ versus the more realistic key purpose of the role: engage.

In the examples shown, the facilitator, separate from the actors (at least on the taster day), support the interactions/acting and move into skills via facilitating the audience discussion.

Importance of culture and language

Interesting cultural differences were discussed throughout the day, for example, Americans tend to expect to see good practice first, not bad.  However, Interact find better retention with their approach – 30 writers making use of humour (including a bit of drama shown adapted from the famous John Cleese/Two Ronnies sketch) on and other techniques.

There were some good conversations on the day around language, including a recommendation to avoid asking for volunteers: instead give orders (“show me what you mean”) but not in the tone of an order (so avoid negativity).

Founded by a playwright, they stress the importance of words, for example “as you know” is the beginning of a telling off, not the way to start feedback.  The 93% non-verbal ‘rule’ has been debunked and we do need to think about what we say and how.

Context is king and globalisation has led to “leading by written word” (particularly email), indeed I’ve often thought this is in part why leadership is being viewed so poorly).  Another activity considered “what is leadership?” and an analysis of the words people responded with (nouns vs verbs, etc.) was really good.  Again, cultural differences were considered – in this case due to the nature of the English, French, German, Arabic, Chinese and other dictionaries.  This is a personal topic of interest for me as I think English, or at least my, education failed to look at English in the same way that you would then be expected to know linguistic rules to learn other languages.  Thus I found French and German very difficult.  There is, of course, the argument that learning Latin is a great way to understand such rules but that’s probably not going to be a realistic way forward for most people.

The importance of language was shown in some good examples, for example M&S adverts used noun > adjective > adjective > adjective to turn the brand (M&S) itself into an adjective.

Won me over on Communication Styles

Communication styles [HRDQ style series] was used well in another activity to get people thinking and talking in the room.  Generally I’ve resisted such activities that attempt to put people in/on a limited scale (a spectrum of four categories in this example) but, again, the facilitation was very good in getting the attendees involved and getting key messages across (including the need for balance) and how people go about the work, e.g. as a “systematic” communicator I wrote on the flipchart with arrow bullet points, hinting at the ‘getting on with the task’ mentality.

Raytheon Symposium 2017

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:

  1. 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).
    1. L&D focus on knowledge and skills is fine but an organization has to do more.
  2. Human needs beyond Maslow.  Two key ones are acceptance (including belonging) and achievement (incorporating recognition).
    1. Have to agree with these and also closely aligned to Strengthscope’s 5A model and other techniques.
  3. Challenge to create a climate of caring and daring.
    1. 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.
  4. 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.
    1. Not sure I’ve seen this particular model before but it makes a lot of sense, more about this view of organizational energy here.
  5. Trust is all important – combination of warmth (good intentions) and competence (evidence can act on good intentions).
    1. Trust is, of course, fundamental to many models – not least The Trusted Advisor.
  6. More natural to focus on negative.  Need to recognize this and focus on what can do instead.
    1. Again, similar to Strengthscope and the logic of needing to focus on the ‘path of possibility‘.
  7. 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.
    1. I liked this idea but perhaps limiting to only have one and make so specific?
  8. Importance of saving F.A.C.E. – four ‘buttons’ to get people involved: Fairness, Autonomy, Certainty and Empathy.
    1. 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…
  9. 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…
  10. 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.
  11. Certainty: ‘the need to know’, ‘cool head, warm heart’, live values, communicate (bad news is better than no news), etc.
  12. 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.
  13. 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).
    1. 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:

  1. From skills to mindsets.
    1. 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.
  2. Restructure yourself to be nimble.
    1. 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.
  3. Ruthlessly prioritize.
    1. 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.
  4. Open source everything.
    1. 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.
  5. Focus on landings not launches.
    1. 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!

Can L&D learn anything from The Teaching Excellence Framework (TEF) experience?

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/education-40356423

The above article is one of many to pick up on the outcomes of the first UK Higher Education TEF results.  The standout piece of the story, for me, is that the measures being used to judge “teaching”, including:

  • facilities,
  • student satisfaction,
  • drop-out rates,
  • whether students go on to employment or further study after graduating.

are as, the article points out, “based on data and not actual inspections of lectures or other teaching.”  Swap out “data” for “indicators” and you basically have the L&D model.

The Ofsted inspection of schools is, of course, more teaching focused but, even there, judgments of schools use other metrics.  School teachers, for example, are expected to support “progress” that is influencing by beyond what is immediately impact-able.  The impact of other factors, like parenting, are not factored in.

Therefore, between Ofsted, TEF and L&D (via models like Kirkpatrick) we really do not seem to have cracked the nut of measuring how well we develop learning and improvement.

With TEF it feels like a missed opportunity to evaluate the quality of ‘traditional’ lecture centric programmes versus more seminar or online models.  Some included elements, such as student evaluation of facilities, are also surely difficult considering most students will only know one HEI and thus not have something to benchmark against.  The cost of London living presumably impacting on the poor perception of many London-centric organisations, including LSE.

So, beyond saying “well universities haven’t cracked it either” what can L&D departments learn?  I’d be interesting in hearing people’s thoughts.  One item from me – with the growth of apprenticeships and accredited programmes “training” is being reinvigorated but also being reimagined with a performance focus and approaches like bitesize learning away from the big “programmes”.  Therefore, for me, the more metrics the merrier to try and build a picture of our organizations.

Learning Technologies book from Donald H Taylor

Thoughts on: “Learning Technologies in the Workplace”

So after picking up a copy a while back I’ve now had a skim through Donald Taylor’s book and thought I would capture a few thoughts here:

  1. I really like that it goes back to the origins of some of our key concepts (e.g. eLearning and technologies).  No doubt due to my history studying background, I have a soft-spot for books that consider historical perspectives.
  2. It does a nice job of linking those historical issues to the current state of play; with recommendations from and for the usual suspects: Jennings, Harrison, etc.
  3. It feels like the kind of book that could become somewhat seminal – the kind of history/good practice balance that often act as an entry point for people coming into an industry (or, in this case, HR generalists up-skilling in this area).  What makes me say this are various, perhaps unintentional, attempts to establish standards – such as a move for the use of ‘e-learning’ over ‘eLearning’ and other variations.  I know that example is basic semantics but it is indicative of the industry that such things have never really been agreed – I’ve certainly tended to always use eLearning and a lot of Don’s webinars/presentations around the book’s launch have stressed that this kind of text has never really been done before for learning tech and the question really for him in authoring it was “why not?”.  My view would be that its just been presumed you can pick up bits and pieces from conferences, blogs, etc. rather than needing a ‘go to’ text.  I am certainly going to treat it as such and pass my copy around my team!
  4. The book adopts the approach of Clive Shepherd in using e-learning as the generic term, under which includes the traditional self study model but also virtual classrooms, social tools, etc.  Personally I prefer ‘online’ or ‘digital’ as the umbrella, under which ‘click next’ style content is what we call ‘e-learning’.  Again it is semantics but you do often get misunderstandings if you are not explicit – for example, a static PPT file is IMO a resource (or ‘piece of content’) not eLearning [oops there I go again].
  5. The book also makes the point that much of “learning” technology is really about being inventive with workplace and commercial tech.  This include’s categorizations such as those in the below image.  Personally this is an area that has always interested me – the scope to be more productive and innovative with tools beyond their initial design but avoiding what the book refers to as “magazine management” (i.e. just running with the latest ideas without proper analysis).
  6. WP_20170602_21_43_28_Pro
  7. The introduced APPA model (an aim; a people focus; a wide perspective; a pragmatic attitude) is sensible and gives a structure to the case studies and main arguments.  Obviously there are lots of other ways you could classify successful projects but its a useful mnemonic.
  8. There are a few big jumps in logic – for example the section on justifying the aim/evaluating through metrics is strong but this statement: “If the Hawthorne effect can be accounted for, and if we have historical data and a control group, then ROI should be calculable in instances where we can calculate the value of the work of the employees concerned”.  The statement is fine but easier said than done for many people!  The chapter goes on to a pet peeve of mine – people using “ROI” as a term when its not actually ROI and it’s good to see Don call this out.
  9. The classification of typical aims very nicely simplifies the complexities of different (particularly LMS) projects as being one of the below (with appropriate metrics):
    1. “Organisational infrastructure – Effective business-as-usual, risk avoidance, compliance
    2. More efficient L&D delivery – Cost savings in L&D , reduced admin, faster delivery
    3. More effective learning – Faster time to competence, better retention
    4. Part of organizational change – Defined by the sponsors off change”
  10. The above is a really nice way to consider if the LMS is more than compliance (point 1) through to fulfilling options such as being THE social platform in an organisation (an example of cross-organisation change like point 4)

To summarize, the book reads a little like a “greatest hits” album, a compilation of my 10ish years of going to Learning Technologies shows and LSG Webinars. With Don calling on his experience as chair to mention players like Jane Hart and their contributions to the industry (such as her top tools for learning) as well key concepts towards good practice.

Overall, it is a great primer on development within and of organisations, covering introductions to Performance Consulting, Agile, network analysis and more – not just learning tech [which of course is the point – learning tech can not survive if just acting in a ‘learning bubble’].  I also attended his session at the Summer Forum and will post my notes on that one soon.  Even more from Don on topics around the book on this podcast.

CGS Corporate Learning Trends, Observations, & Prediction 2017

Notes:

  1. A decent report based on a survey of L&D leaders.
  2. The headline taken away is that digital has truly arrived with increased use of video, mobile, social and micro formats.  Perhaps more interestingly is the strong intention to use “instructors” to the same amount (c.65%) or more (10%) suggesting a general increase in the mix/blend rather than shifts.
  3. The “greatest challenge” was budget (surprise surprise) with 47% reporting this issue.
  4. When considering the metrics to justify that budget – “employee engagement” was identified as the “most important”.  I wonder how much this is due to the fact that employee engagement surveys are relatively easy?  The KP programme would argue for combining different metrics and, indeed, the catch all of “business metrics” was a close second to EE in the survey response list.  A separate quote from Jack Welch reverts to three measures for overall company performance: employee engagement, customer satisfaction and cash flow.
  5. I had more issues with the question of “So how do L&D professionals get employees excited about learning?” being answered “by giving them what they want”.  The report here is talking about “speed, efficiency, relevance and usability” but, of course, that’s all well and good but only if it actually helps improve their performance.  We can give wonderful ‘development’ experiences, that people want, that can be completely irrelevant and fail to stop someone being redundant a few weeks down the line.
  6. There’s a run out for the old quote (included below).  Lots of issues with this I’d say, including:
    1. retraining might be to solve original failures,
    2. the upgrade needs a clear as-is/to-be message,
    3. development in this context = performance and outcomes?

“People need maintenance and upgrades even more than machines do.  Retraining is maintenance.  Training is an upgrade.  Development is the next generation model.”