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.

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!

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:

thumbnail

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.

Adapting your Personal Brand in a Volatile World (Event)

A thought provoking breakfast session at TeleTech consulting.

Whilst I attended to think about my own brand and how I can support others with their own it was really an event that worked at multiple levels – individual, team, department, organisation, etc.

The three recommended strategies:

  1. A growth mind-set vs. fixed
  2. Clarity of self, strengths, passions, differentiation (vs. other, technology…)
  3. Understanding value (the market…)

nicely align to some of my recent work, including via the strengths based positive mentality.

This brought my mind back to the Mercer/HBR paper I picked up at the Leadership Symposium on “Bottom-Up Leadership” and their own Venn diagram showing the need to combine personal strengths, personal interest and business needs.

I was particularly interested in attending after a recent event where I saw some old colleagues for the first time in c.5 years.  Those interactions highlighted the long term perceptions people hold and the TeleTech event described this as the weighting of perception on one trait rather than taking a balanced view.  The personal brand was described as the “story people tell about you behind your back” so I guess we all need to get back to basics and reflect on our expertise.  I also thought this paralleled with the idea of the weight we give to first impressions.

The three fundamentals of the brand outlined as:

  1. Credentials
  2. Passion
  3. Market Needs

The sweet spot, the trait to focus on, being the middle point of these three.  The challenge here was to “go big” on the sweet spot, this posing a test for me as I would like to be seen as being good at a number of areas of L&D competency.  However, when I was looking for work a couple of years ago, I suspect I was not “selling” myself well enough due to too broad an interest?  I also thought there were challenges around what I could do and what I have actively done a lot of – the two do not automatically line up but that is not necessarily a bad thing if it can be justified in the middle ground of the 3 brand items.