The often ignored realities of talent management (#4): A little bit of appreciation can go a long way

Employee engagement remains a key issue in business discussions and literature. It has even combined with other trends/buzzwords – such as in a blockchain solutions for dealing with disengagement.

I’ve been lucky to have line managers who have been very supportive of my career but that feedback rarely goes beyond the one-to-one relationship. Indeed our traditional 360 and other feedback mechanisms, usually tied to annual review, have often over complicated these arrangements. Such issues have encouraged me in the past to look at simpler solutions, like Rypple. Therefore, I thought I would give a shout out to my new employer and the ‘staff shout out’ wall – where anyone can stick up a post-it with a message to the team, thanks to a team member, etc.

A simple and really nice idea.

Also nice to pick up some thanks for some of the IT support I’ve been giving in my first few weeks:

One of the many problems with Office365 is people need time to take a look at it and be aware of some of the options – so great to be facilitating some productivity improvements through Sway and Teams!

The often ignored realities of talent management (#3): buzyitus as a social curse

Are you really busy at work?

There seems to be a growing division between the genuinely busy and those ‘coasting’. Guardian articles argued for two sides of this recently:

Britain is chronically overworked. A four-day week would liberate us

Why coasting at work is the best thing for your career, health and happiness

Slave to the grind?

This is, of course, nothing new.

But the issue surely is if people can hide behind pointless tasks, email or other activities then there is something fundamentally at fault with your workforce planning. Here is the bigger challenge going forward – people appearing/claiming to be busy as that is the ‘norm’ and what should be accepted. It has negative effects on many things, for example people being hesitant to contribute to ESN/LMS systems as it might be a sign they are not ‘busy enough’. This is another area where honesty is needed and where trust and transparency needs to be (re)built – with clarity for talent via HR key.

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:

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.


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.

LEARNING AND DEVELOPMENT PRACTITIONER apprenticeship: the subject matter expert (SME) conversion course and/or the future of the ‘profession’?

Looking again at the English apprenticeships, a particular piece jumped out from the L&D Practitioner apprenticeship:

Entry Requirements:
Whilst any entry requirements will be a matter for individual employers, typically an apprentice will have an area of technical, vocational or behavioural expertise in which the organisation needs others to acquire through training.

This is an interesting statement as it suggests this apprenticeship is an SME to learning practitioner conversion programme (or at least the standard has been written with this in mind).

As someone who has previously trained SMEs in instructional design, eLearning  techniques and other competency areas it is interesting that a full apprenticeship may be in place for this.  This leads to a few thoughts for the apprenticeship:

  • SME conversion as an apprenticeship is overkill, especially if the 20% time rule is enforced as most people coming in from a technical expertise area will have inherent opportunity cost of their time for the organisation that goes above 80% of their existing salary.
  • It may be more suitable if the expertise being sought, and converted into a learning orientated mindset, is something like graphic design, multimedia production, etc.
  • As a route for people new to business the suggestion, therefore, is that L&D is a career you wouldn’t choose as a starting point.  I recently had the L&D labour market explained to me as particularly challenging for job seekers as “L&D is the nice bit of HR that everyone in HR actually wants to do” so the ignoring in the above statement of L&D as a HR specialism is an interesting one (should L&D be part of HR is of course a long running debate).  Yet the approach of the employers on this trailblazer, and perhaps the influence of aligning to CIPD membership, is that L&D remains not a career but something you can find an interest in as your career develops.  This perhaps is not a bad thing?

As the entry point to work

A challenge, and source for much criticism of the government’s apprentice reforms, has been the shift from apprenticeships being just for new/young workers to upskilling and ongoing career development for all, for example with the suggestion that too many starts are in the management area.

What you would hope many apprenticeships would actually be used for, in the current climate, are more suitable ways into professions, for young people, than a university route.  Indeed, if companies could really adopt them, rather than the huge cost of university options, the apprenticeship reforms will have been a success.  Professional bodies, by shifting certification from degrees (see the US equivalent here for L&D) to apprenticeships (through the ‘trailblazer’ standards), have become more realistic about the future prospects of their future members.  Breaking barriers to entry for any professions is of course worthwhile – as has been pointed out for elected officials this week!


So it seems we are in an interesting stage – will the L&D apprentices be adopted?  If so, will they be for new workers or converting other skill sets.  There seem to be arguments for both but I have to remain hopefully they will actually be used for people to come into the profession without the university costs (that many of use have had to accept in the past).

The often ignored realities of talent management (#1): location location location

Having worked for a variety of organisations one thing has become clear – life choices for employees/colleagues are a balance of many factors.

Location – restricting your organisation?

The decision on where to live (or where would be acceptable to move for work) is the primary life choice that impacts on employers.  In return any employer locked by location, especially when there is no need for it in the digital workplace, restrict the talent they can access.

Break the clustering to seek talent

I recently listened to HBR Ideacast 650 that focuses on ‘talent clusters’.  I found myself disagreeing with much of this podcast.  Traditional locations were driven by logistics, for example the UK’s industrial north was driven by canals and then railways to help people come to the cities, work in ever larger mills/factories (driven by access to raw materials), etc.  The podcast argues it is important to be in one place and that real estate prices are an indicator (of demand):

And the differential for the premium spaces in places like either Wall Street or Market Street in San Francisco or Sand Hill Road or somewhere. Those premiums relative to other places are at all-time highs.

Likewise the wage differentials you see. So clearly, somebody is willing to pay and pay dearly in order to be in those environments.

There is some logic to this, but it goes beyond talent – for example, Wall Street is attractive for the microseconds it offers traders against their competition.  The podcast interviewee’s view shows legacy thinking from the employers and we are surely past email as the go to tool for distance collaboration:

And my kind of next reflection on email – and this would be true for phone calls – is that if I thought of what’s the number one destination of emails from Harvard Business School? It’s Harvard Business School.

So just because things can, you know, engage at a distance doesn’t mean that we all suddenly become untethered to place. Broadly speaking, at this point, technology has done as much to enforce the value of place as to make the world weightless and distance-less and to not have that kind of internal connection.

The above is a ridiculous statement in my eyes.  The very fact tech companies exist, with talent in Silicon Valley, production in China, distribution worldwide, etc shows that technology has untethered design, production, distribution, etc.

Trust yourself for a world of opportunities

The above is, of course, also indicative of the ‘dirty’ side of globalisation.  Costs are kept low by manipulating labour markets, taxes are kept low by manipulating geographical differences and the ‘top’ talent gets to choose to live in Silicon Valley, New York, London, Geneva or elsewhere that they decide is nice but also attractive for client meetings, time zones for client calls, etc.

What organisations have failed to do is break that tethering to place for the talent where that is a possibility, with very few employees actively allowed to collaborate from their location of choice.  A recent Fuse podcast with Rachel Hutchinson came direct from her home in the United States where she collaborates with global colleagues for her multinational employer.  However, it is fair to say she is an example of the minority worldwide.  The reality is that many roles should be free from location but management practices, particularly trust for new hires, do not seem to align with modern reality.  Indeed just this week Channel 4 have announced their planned move to Leeds, whilst good that London-obsession in the media is slightly diluted the announcement, at the same time, makes a mockery of the idea that technology driven companies (like broadcasters) have transformed their practice.

Trust your hires

Why you would not trust a new hire in a remote role smacks of undefined recruitment and a lack of clear goals and KPIs.  Something many of us will have been guilty of but avoidable if we spend sufficient time planning.  Yes, sometimes, you will be ‘fuzzy’ over boundaries and responsibility, particularly at stages of the change cycle or how VUCA your environment currently is.  This is fine – but digital working, data and evidence does not mean you need to be colocated.

eMail does play a part here – for example, is logging 10 hours a week to email admin acceptable?  It may be, but unless dealing with service desk software or shared inboxes it is difficult to know how efficiently someone is dealing with queries/emails.  The mill owner in industrial England could view his domain and have power relationships directly over employees, the modern manager needs to be much smarter about this.  For example, think about traditional remote roles like drivers and salespeople – they are out on the road but have clear targets.

The podcast idea that if you need a tech future you need to move to a talent pool is also maddening.  Did you previously move to London just for a larger pool of marketers, lawyers, etc.?  If not, do you really need to for digital?  The academic hubs of Cambridge (UK and MA.) are even mentioned – it’s not like you expect those cities to grow hugely, the whole point of universities are to develop people to move on beyond their core location:

I think it applies most to companies where technology is going to be the central thing that shapes their company’s future. If you are a senior leader and at some point senior leaders have to sort of make their belief about what the future is and act upon it. That’s what these things require. And it’s not that excellent customer service is not going to be important, and low-cost production and all those operational efficiencies. But in terms of at the margin, where am I going to be most effective in helping my company make the big choices that it needs to make? The people that are going to end up making this headquarters transfer will be those that say: “That’s the thing that I need.”

Where universities actively support their local communities away from the major pools/hubs they can lead to incubation of startups and local economy growth.  This is in part the problem highlighted by the the results of market conditions on higher education.

Talent management and “whose education is it anyway?”

Here we once more end up back at the blog’s title and the difficulties in the balance of talent management for world survival, national growth, company success and/or individual development and fulfillment.

The one thing that is for sure is that only through talent mobility can we liberate the individual to contribute to all four of these and remote work is the easiest way to achieve this, particularly with the hostility against migration that is sweeping the world.

For companies – think about what you are really asking people to do (the detail to your job descriptions) and, at least, offer the option of remote working – perhaps you will be surprised by the talent that emerges in your teams and applies for roles going forward.