Creativity, environment and progress

There are many instances today of people being creative. Be it through art, music, work, technology or science, creativity is a constant as much as change is. People finding new and different ways to express themselves and to find new solutions to old and new problems.

In the context of work, though, we seem to have lost practise in being creative.

Ask anyone at work what they enjoy doing in their spare time, and almost inevitably it will be described in a way which allows them to be creative, experience creativity or allows them a place to excel in some way.

I spend a lot of my time finding ways to inject a sense of creativity into how people work and what they experience. What I’m conscious of, always, is that I have to follow a set of principles.

The first is to be really clear about the problem we’re trying to solve. Sounds almost obvious, but without a clear brief, you could end up designing a solution for the wrong problem. Getting clarity on the problem, then, is vital.

Next is to find out what’s currently happening. Be it through data gathering, data intelligence, anecdotes or otherwise, I need to have a sense of what already exists. After all if the system works, why break it?

What this also informs me is what are the constraints in place. These constraints are vital to being creative. Constraints – perceived and real – are what can be broken and constraints are what we often circumvent when reaching a new solution.

For me what happens next is where life gets interesting. Once I understand the problem, what works and what constraints are in place, that’s when I can start challenging the norm. That’s when I can start inviting ideas. That’s when creativity happens.

I can start to use tools and techniques as simple as brainstorming to advanced techniques like Six Thinking Hats. Regardless of the tool I use, it’s about the environment I’ve created for creativity to happen.

My final principle I believe in is that good ideas can come from anyone. A lot of people will claim they haven’t got a creative bone in their body. That’s because they’ve been told to not be creative in pretty much their entire adult life. Create the right environment for it to happen though and everyone can contribute. Doesn’t mean everyone has to come up with a solution, but it does mean everyone can provide insight and advice on how to make something happen.

There are whole job titles and companies set up in helping unleash creativity in different ways. Kudos to them. The problem every organisation faces is how to enable creativity in useful and progressive ways internally.

And I’ll let you into a secret. It’s not about taking the team on a team building day to experience creativity. It’s about facilitating it to happen in your work environment.

When presentations are about meaning making

I enjoy presenting. I have no compunctions about standing in front of a group of people. I am more than ok with people focusing their attention on me. I am positively exuberant about talking on things I know about.

See, I end up thinking about all those presentations where people just aren’t presenting well. And it makes me mad. It’s a judgement I make. I make lots of judgements all the time, and this is one I freely admit too. Similarly to being in a learning session. If you’re helping me to learn something I will scrutinise you to within an inch of your life. (in my head – I’m not that rude k?)

But there’s lots of things I learned about what makes a good presentation.

A lot of a good presentation is to do with the content. There’s no denying that. People enjoy a presentation when the content informs them of something they can do something with. That’s the hardest part of a presentation – creating meaning and telling a story.

And clearly, a presentation needs to be practised. People cannot wing it and deliver a good presentation. They can wing it and make it seem like it was practised, but it’s never as good as a practised presentation. It’s why on presentation training you’re constantly practising, because that’s the best thing to do.

Then there’s all the things you never learn about on a presentation skills course.

I learned about emotional intelligence. This was massive for me. I learned how to recognise my emotions better, and how to listen to what they were telling. I rely on this every time I present. It’s a core part of how well I know how I’m doing. When the anxiety I feel turns to adrenaline and I can use that purposefully is when I know and recognise I’m in full flow.

Importantly, though, I learned how to read the audience and what they’re likely to be experiencing. I’ve often been told I build rapport with a group well. I believe this is because I am highly conscious and mindful of the emotional presence everyone has in the room with me. Or said another way, I become purposefully empathetic. When I do this, I take stock of as much information as I can to help guide my delivery.

I learned about power, and who has it. You’re often told that you’re the one who has the power. I believe that’s true. What I found, though, was sharing my power with the group is what counts. When I share my power with the group, that’s what moves it from being a presentation to being about sharing my purpose and sharing my meaning. That engagement and participation is crucial. If I don’t make that happen, I do not consider it a job well done.

One of the main things we all know about is story-telling. Every powerful presentation is about story-telling. I had to work on this a lot. I could present well enough – and what I wasn’t doing a lot of the time was crafting a story. I wasn’t helping people make those theories, those models, the data, or the information tell a story. It took me a long time to learn how to craft a story and make that the thrust of the presentation.

I try not to use props or visual media where possible. The presentation is about you and what you are bringing to the party. Ok, it may be about a product if you’re in sales, but the product doesn’t change anything. It’s the person selling it that makes the product valuable. That’s the greatest trick of a salesman – making you think you need a product you’ve already got.

The language I use is critical and crucial. I take my time over this. Every word is purposeful and invokes a reaction in different ways. Sometimes I use provocative words, sometimes I use emotional words, sometimes I use offensive words. But I do it with a high level of self-scrutiny. I don’t want to offend or make anyone uncomfortable, and the language I use is core to making this a reality.

And the last thing I really focus on is me and my presence. Where am I in the room? How am I positioned with the audience? Who am I focusing on? What do people see me doing? Am I displaying congruent behaviours to my presentation? Am I being still when it matters? Am I moving around when it’s needed? Am I waving my arms wildly? Am I using welcoming gestures?

I don’t think I’ve mastered delivering good presentations. I love doing them and will continue to seek feedback about them. The above list helps me to keep on track with maintaining a ridiculously high standard.

The best laid plans…

When your 4 yr old daughter video bombs a recording of a proposal you’re trying to make…

Dealing with difficult people when facilitating

There comes a time for most facilitators when they’re met with that person in the group who is difficult. In the context of the learning session, this is quite broad. A difficult person is someone who:
- is dominating a lot of the conversation because they have things to say
- are openly questioning and challenging the facilitator
- is making inappropriate remarks or comments to others in the room
- is cynical to an uncomfortable level
- is challenging because of recent change affected to them
- and other behaviours I’m not remembering to list

I’ve had cause in recent learning sessions to deal with these types of difficult people. And it’s caused me to reflect on what role I play in their behaviour.

First and foremost I have taken the opinion that if it is happening in the learning session, this is the right place for it. Something in that session has sparked something in that person for them to react a certain way. This may be wittingly or not on my behalf. In most cases it is an unexpected outcome of an intended exercise.

This helps me to consider that with this group, it’s my role to help that person move through what they’re experiencing. This involves a range of skills I call on to help me gauge what’s happening.

If it’s annoyance at a model or theory I’m presenting, I can accept that. These things don’t work for everyone and it’s important not to be wedded to such things just because the session was designed a certain way.

If it’s someone who is dominating the conversation,  I find this is normally because they are someone who expresses their opinion freely with little regard to how it is received. I do a few things when faced with this. I’ll set to purposefully change the way an exercise will run so that it relies on open participation and means more than one person has to be active in the discussion.

In a group discussion I normally let this person say what they need to. I’ve learned to be careful how much attention I offer that person and will move myself amongst the group and talk directly to other members encouraging their input. I’ve been plenty guilty in sessions to stand my ground (literally) and direct myself only to that person neglecting everyone else.

If it’s cynicism I find this harder to handle. Generally because I want to focus on progressive and positive discussions and learning. This often means I’m fighting my urge to argue with that person and show them how wrong they are. I have to go back to Facilitation Skills 101 and focus on my active listening (or facilitative listening) skills. Like I say this is really hard for me in this context as I’ve already judged and decided that person is wrong. When I can do this, it helps me to better understand where that cycnism is coming from and often contracting with that person to move on with the session because their concern cannot be dealt with then and there.

If it’s inappropriate remarks to someone else in the room, I have no qualms about addressing those directly. I don’t demean or put down the person doing it. It’s not heckling and I’m not a comedian. Well, not professionally. So I challenge the comments being made. I never challenge the person though. In this context I’m actively seeking to raise awareness of a person’s behaviour by challenging what they’re displaying.

Now don’t get me wrong. These techniques I use are far from fool proof, and may not be the right approach to take. Indeed there are other factors like the trust in the group, trust with me, the engagement of the group, the purpose of the learning session, the environment we’re in, the motivation if individuals, all of which and more, which may be affecting a positive or negative outcome.

I find that it it in these moments of challenging behaviour in a learning session that my learning most takes place. I have all the theory and models ready and waiting to be deployed for awareness raising, but these situations demand a different active skill set which I’m enjoying reflecting on and understanding better about myself and the environment I’m creating. This is when true learning takes place for me.

A good day of learning

So last week I attended my first #FIRMday courtesy of Gary Franklin and Emma Mirrington. There were some tip top things being discussed which I wanted to share here.

First, I loved hearing the history of The FIRM from starting as a LinkedIn group, to becoming a recognised centre of excellence for in-house recruiters, to them developing a qualification and this summer holding an experiential camping and learning event called Recruitstock. There’s a lot to be learned in how this has come about.

For me, it’s about the needs of the profession being delivered by a few brave souls. Gary saw the in-house recruitment market needed something extra and something purposeful to help them be better and he made it happen.

I liken this to how L&D Connect came about, and why it persists as a community.

Industry bodies are one thing, and they always have good intentions at heart. The beauty of a community like L&D Connect or The FIRM is that they’re agile, and responsive to the needs of the community. Industry bodies have to seek approval and seek industry speakers and have industry standards. Why determine the fate of a group when the group are perfectly capable of self-government – provided they have the means and the resources to make it happen?

There were two excellent examples of organisational activity which I came away with.

The first was having robust discussions about diversity and inclusion at a major high street bank. They held a series of internal and external forums to find out how they could attract more talent into the business at all levels so there was true diversity being represented. This was pretty cool and I wonder how purposeful most companies make this kind of activity? I imagine most will say – oh yeah sure we do diversity checks and surveys all the time, we’re fine.

What I liked about this approach was the willingness to have discussions about a topic which most people don’t even know how to address. It’s clearly a topic of concern, and the challenge is always about creating a culture where it’s ok to have those robust discussions.

The second was about how to improve your employee referral programme aka refer a friend. A lot of companies have a scheme whereby if you recommend someone you know for a permanent job in your company, you receive a pay reward for doing so. What we heard about was how for a call centre based in Crewe, this referral programme became their preferred method of recruitment. They trained all staff in how to be brand advocates and spent money and comms and marketing efforts in promoting the referral programme across the company.

Oh and I spoke about Positive Psychology which was warmly received and I got some brilliant feedback.

It was an unexpectedly good day of learning and good opportunity to hear how internal recruitment teams are making good things happen in different companies.

Is your Corporate Induction a flagship learning event?

There comes a time in most the life of most L&Ders when they are faced with the dilemma of delivering the Corporate Induction. I say dilemma because it’s normally laden with presentations and is meant to be a high point, but in truth is nothing more than being less a facilitator and more an event organiser.

And, for the purposes of this blog post let’s clear up some things. Whether you call it Induction, Orienteering, Welcome Day, [insert organisation name] Life Day, or anything else makes little difference. I’m talking about that one day where new starters come and expect to be wowed by being part of the business. And if the term Induction summons visions of a woman in labour, I can’t help that. Get over it. For the record, I don’t like the term Induction, it’s too hard and doesn’t actually convey the right meaning at all. And finally I’m not talking about the Induction that happens on the first day. That’s not the same thing as this.

So this day. This one day where new starters come together. And what do we do with them? Sit them through a suite of presentations about the business and expect them to have a better understanding of the business. All they’ll have a better understanding of is the complexity of the business. They won’t understand it any better. At all.

Here’s how we can make better use of modern technologies and techniques to make this day a flagship learning event.

Anything which is operationally important should be dealt with in the first two weeks of a person joining. Typically a new starter has waited several weeks if not months before attending Induction. As such, if they don’t know the IT policy, H&S policy, Fire Safety procedures, and anything else which is vital to their day to day working life, then this isn’t the place to mop up and make sure they all understand. Your process on each of those needs to be much tighter in early days of a new starter joining.

Anything you can make available via e-learning should be. We can make very engaging and sophisticated modules to ensure certain tasks or learning is undertaken in the early days of joining. Don’t make someone do this in Induction. That’s just mean.

We can use social collaboration tools like Jive or Ning to help share knowledge about how things get done and what a person needs to know. We don’t need to subject a person to “this is how we expect you to work”.

So what should be included on the day itself then if you’ve taken away the core bits? I think there’s plenty of room for play and helping develop a high impact learning event.

I think there’s no beating an introduction from a senior leader in the business. Hearing from someome who knows the business well is a major step towards employee engagement. What’s key is that you, the L&Der, provide clear guidance about how to invite participation. Many senior people think they do this by virtue of presenting. They are mistaken.

From here, the rest of the day should focus on the core messages people need to understand. How those get delivered is where things get interesting and you get to play. If it’s a presentation, fine. But add purposeful exercises that embed that presentation knowledge. If it’s a series of presentations, fine too. But give people a chance to have meaningful discussion about what they’ve learned.

Does it need to be a full day? Well when you expect a person to spend a few years with you as an employee, the least you can do for them is give them a meaningful introduction to the company. For some this may be half a day, for others one day, and for others three days. It’s less about the length of the Corporate Induction and more about making it a meaningful experience.

The thing about Corporate Induction for many is that it’s seen as a necessary evil for employee engagement. I mean what hope have we got for making new starters truly feel welcome if that’s how we think about what it’s meant for. For me it’s a prime opportunity to shine and dazzle. The organisation that we work for is amazing in its own way and we need to pay attention to making it a top class learning event.

And here’s my controversial bit. If you can’t make the Corporate Induction a flagship learning event, then what confidence is there in any of your other learning events you hold?

Presenting, facilitation and learning

Recently I’ve embarked on ‘recruiting’ internal people who want to become skilled in facilitation. My budget is limited, our learning needs varied, and my time is spread across projects.

For me, it’s about making the best of what we already have. Why do I need to select an external consultant to deliver our learning needs, when we have people fully capable and willing to do it themselves?

Before Christmas, I asked Sheridan Webb to help produce a complete set of bespoke learning materials that could be used for this purpose. When I say she did a stellar job, this is not me just being kind. We had everything designed from workbooks to games and exercises to facilitator notes to the slide pack and all formatted brilliantly. This saved me a lot of time and was well worth the investment. We’ll be using these materials many times over, and more importantly they’re accessible for anyone to pick up and run with the material if they so desire.

That was the first step. The second was working with the group in developing their facilitation skills which we spent two days doing. I love doing train the trainer learning sessions as they really allow you to see the potential of what could be.

Recently we’ve been co-facilitating these learning sessions, and I’m reminded of some core things which I forget.

As much as delivering a training session is about the learning achieved by the people attending, it’s very much dependent on the skills of the facilitator.

One of these skills is about presenting. Regardless the length of the learning session, there is always an element of presenting. You have to talk to the group about something to help them stir their brains. What I’ve been reminded of is that it’s not enough to just be able to present, you have to know the topic enough to have the confidence to present. I’ve been caught out on this many a time, and it’s my own undoing. I believe that because I can facilitate a discussion well enough, I can get away with not presenting the information well enough. This is, of course, nonsense. How can I expect to facilitate a discussion based on bare facts and little substance? More fool me.

When I know what I have to present, I am clear, I have purpose, and I create discussion. When I don’t know, I skirt over the important stuff, rely on the group to carry out an exercise, and try to get out of it by entrusting the group with the power to discuss.

Then comes the art of facilitation. Oh man I am still such a novice in this, as much as I love it. One of the earliest pieces of feedback I had when I started in this game was how I engaged the group and built rapport with them all. That’s stuck with me ever since. When reflecting on it, it’s because I really enjoy being able to capture a mood, and shift it progressively. It’s pretty special when it happens, and I enjoy learning more about this skill to do that. In the early days it was about how to invite a discussion from a group. That progressed to seeking input from a group about what they want to achieve. At the same time I was learning about how to design a development workshop to bring people together. Then I started to learn models and theories that help build teams and build self awareness. Until I started to learn about facilitation techniques such as Open Space, World Cafe and Unconferences, I thought I was doing pretty good at inviting response. Then I learned a whole new dimension of discussion and dialogue and how potent it can be.

I pride myself on being a facilitator. What I enjoy is being part of the group. For me, by being part of the group, they see that I am sharing my power with them. I may be the one initiating the discussion or exercise, but I’m by no means the leader. That’s a power I share with the people present. I do that by being in their space. The only space I may choose to exercise as my own is when I use a flipchart or other aid or prop of some kind. Otherwise, I’m in with the group. I’m standing around people, behind people, sitting away from them, talking out of the circle, calling people out, moving between them – I don’t follow rules. I break them. And by doing that I’m showing that everyone has just as much valued input as whatever I may bring to the party.

How do I know it’s working? When they’re doing all the hard work of dialogue themselves. I just step in when I get the sense that something isn’t as it should be and requires some facilitation.

This form of internal learning is fab. It’s not a new engagement technique, and I’m certainly not unique in doing so. It’s offering some top moments of reflection and learning. If that continues for me, then I’m fairly sure it will help me keep on top of the learning I help enable in my organisation.


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