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.

Why I’ve changed my mind on award nights

In the past I’ve been quite snobby about award nights in the HR/L&D field.  I’d argued the only real recognition you should need is from your board/c-suite that you are doing a good job.  However, I’m increasingly being won over as award nights for a number of reasons.

My new found enthusiasm includes that (well organised and robust – not like these) awards are one of the few times that we see robust evaluation of L&D.  For example, I was quite shocked to see how Brandon Hall asked the second of the below questions in their “Learning Measurement 2018” survey.  In my opinion the third option may be perfectly valid, i.e. “not all our…initiatives get measured” – this can be perfectly fine as evaluation requires resourcing (like other activities) and the ‘top’ two options wouldn’t necessarily be correct in that context:

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Awards are also increasingly important in sharing best practice in what has become a more transient environment – we’re not realistically seeing books or journal articles on good practice but shorter format blogs, tweets, conference presentations, etc where an award can act as a stamp of quality based on people taking the time to be reflective and analytical of their practice.

There is also the bonus that L&D teams can be too often firefighting problems.  Taking the opportunity to reflect, on actually solving a workforce or performance issue, can be a positive benefit in line with the “celebrate achievement” piece of good team building.

#talentbites : How can employee engagement improve business performance

Hosted by Havas People this was my second Talent Bites event (notes from first one here).

The format was a quick hour or so with a couple of introductory bits by Havas followed by three case studies.  It was a really good example of the kind of event where it is helpful to think about the messages after the event, reflect on what you think the key messages were, develop some personal take-aways, etc.

What is engagement anyway?

I’ll start with a point from the Q&A:

“full-on/full-off”

This made me think how many of us can honestly say we are 100% “on” all the time at work and, when away from work, able to relax fully?  Indeed, what does “full-on” really mean with so many questions over UK productivity, people struggling with email overload and ‘firefighting’ taking people away from projects and other work that adds value?  Indeed whilst we can standardise work, to some extent to try and help, there is a risk of stress and a lack of treating people personally.

Discretionary effort

In the introduction engagement was deemed to be “about change, not surveys” and “discretionary effort” (DE).  DE was illustrated with a version of the below graphic:

This got me thinking about a couple of things, firstly that we’ve seen some very high-profile examples of DE in the UK in the last few weeks, not least #snowheroes battling the bad weather.  Secondly, that the idea of people hitting a lull a few years in to a job probably rings true with my own experience and the need to move beyond initial goals and targets.  Personally I’ve also struggled to imagine working for the same company for more than a few years and this chart hints at that idea of decreasing returns.  This, I would argue, is where learning and development very much kicks in as a value add – beyond initial onboarding and into keeping people engaged with career options and development.

Importance of a company narrative

The three case studies, on reflection, all had one thing in common: the companies wanted to grow but needed to baseline to bring people along.  Without that idea of (growth) direction it would be very easy to see how people would not be engaged

I used to run some basic business/consulting skills sessions and one aspect was the different levels of business planning (akin to below image):

Much like a sports team – if the company’s vision isn’t one of growth and success then it is difficult to engage and gain peak performance.  Even being average is not likely to be much good if we continue the sports analogy, for example, “we’re happy tracking along in mid-table” isn’t going to gain much support from employees (players) or customers (fans).

Engagement as a part of wider system

The complex interactions of internal coms, internal/external branding, learning and other people elements were clearly only touched upon in the short talent bite sessions.  However, the sessions did make me think of HBR’s Human Capital Drivers model and (as well as developing mission, vision and strategy) organisations need to cross link all of these against the below model:

I also found a useful blog post that does a nice job of pulling together some of these various components: and how they can impact on discretionary effort (that it is considering it from a school leadership perspective does not really matter).

Top-down vs Bottom-up; Local vs Global

All three presentations were by global companies and it was therefore interesting to hear how they balanced ‘corporate’ requirements versus local needs.

  • In the case of Umicore – there was a central effort to develop a new employer brand but with a lot of input from across the business.  This input (via research) was deemed key – the new brand was not based on HR and/or marketing’s view of what brand should be.  There was then a “marketing for dummies” brand toolkit developed that could be used locally, with core elements to be customised for local usage.  As the company is a green one and can be seen, via recycling products, to be building a better world it is easy to have people aligned with the brand and be proud of the work by living the values.  They also back this up with “brand ambassadors” who are a network to share interesting marketing and internal coms activities across the group – this sounded like a community of practice and, presumably, shared content on internal social networks, etc.
  • Allergen – a story of considerable change (multiple takeovers either that happened, didn’t happen or were muted) over the last four-ish years (following previous stability of three CEOs in sixty years).  This was an excellent and very personal talk, more open and honest than many you would see at such events.  Against the hostile takeovers there were examples of grassroot activism where people spontaneously acted ‘in defence’ of the brand.  In the end, four cultural aspects were launched to set what the company means for all employees (a ‘BOLD’ culture).  Through all the change, management managed to keep the business going via: authentic conversations, bringing their customers with them and developing the BOLD new company culture.  Overall, I’m sure Allergen would make a great business studies case study for how much change can happen in just a few years!
  • Nomad – A story of turning around multiple brands within a newly created parent company.  They have had turnover of staff, realising you will lose some people, but tried to make people aware if they were being cynical – can’t change everyone but create conditions that can inspire.  Some of this nicely tied in with Strengthscope and the idea of positive psychology.  Some of those more positive aspects articulated in their “Our Way”.  The CEO worked with HR on this to create a turnaround and growth narrative and what people needed to do and how they needed to act to deliver this.  Our Way tapped into basic emotional needs of needing growth and community via combined vision, mission, growth strategy and eight values.  This was not just about posters on a wall, worked with an external partner to run a number of large face-to-face events for what it meant for different levels of management (8×1 day programmes : 800 people from 13 countries) – some snippets from these being shown via video.  The external partner (Breakthrough Global) providing a number of simple tools and activities that aligned to the values for use in these and other sessions.  The presenter and company acknowledged strategy is one thing but need the culture with it and reinforcements were all relaunched: appraisal, culture survey, performance and reward to all align.  Now back in acquisition mode thanks to change, organic revenue growth and company turnaround around, inc. share price value.

Summary of some of the techniques and approaches

So, to summarise the above, here are some of the things that seemed to have worked for the presenters:

  1. Ensure enough focus on people managers: they will win/keep hearts and minds, do not just rely on senior managers.
  2. Keep things simple: from Allergen focusing on four key statements to Nomad’s wider, but nicely integrated, “Our Way”.
  3. Be authentic: personally I’d add transparent to this – both with employees and customers to ensure there is confidence.
  4. Simple tools: give people simple tools to transfer big picture and ‘corporate’ ideas to what it means for individuals in different roles and roll back up from community/grassroot advocates to bigger picture.

I don’t think any of these are revolutionary but it is always good to hear some case studies where things do work and can influence performance.

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!