Author: Sukh Pabial

I'm an occupational psychologist by profession and am passionate about all things learning and development in the workforce. One blog is about that. The other is about tennis.

The Creative Challenge of L&D

Scenario 1

“We’ve developed a new product that we need to train our staff how to use.”

“Sure, what needs to be done?”

“A course on everything about the product from its design to its actual usage to its potential use.”

“No worries. That’ll probably take two weeks to learn all that, a week to design and then a month for training roll out.”

“Not good enough. It needs to happen in 3 weeks with a go live date in 4 weeks.”

Scenario 2

“My team are really struggling to get along well. They’re over worked, under resourced and only been working together for six months.”

“How can I help?”

“Could you facilitate a team building day?”

“Sure, and what’s the focus?”

“Oh we need to develop a strategic plan, get to know one another, agree personal objectives and save the business money while we’re at it.”

At its core, L&D has always been about information delivery and data delivery. Product development or marketing campaign or leadership competencies are all about information delivery. Its intention is always about giving people knowledge and letting them decide how to use it best.

Along the way came a science (of sorts) of behavioural and business success. That is, what are the behavioural traits a person displays that helps them also be successful people. That lead way to a great many persons who thought, “I could tell people what that looks like” and chose a path in training.

This was and has been our mainstay for many years. Even with the advent of social technologies via the interwebs, we’re in a place of information delivery, but via digital methods. Online facilitation via a webinar or an online class is still facilitation.

The challenge that has always been before us is how to make that information delivery be more than just information. How can I make it useful? How can I make it meaningful to the user? What method of delivery would help explore the topic? Is there a best method of delivery?

Social technologies haven’t made the delivery of L&D any more exciting than it ever has been. MBTI hasn’t made understanding people an exciting affair. Neuroscience hasn’t made the theory of learning any more practical. It’s always been about the delivery.

And when thats great, that’s when we in L&D know a great job has been done. By the learners. By the design of the programme. By the sponsors. By the resources. By the performance improvement.

That leap, from information delivery to creative delivery is a big one. It happens all the time, and sometimes lands well and sometimes lands really badly.

Just some thoughts for you to ponder on.

Outputs vs Outcomes

How does anyone become expert at anything?

How do we know what high performance looks like?

How can we best support performance in the work context?

All different questions, all geared up for a similar set of answers.

While I worked as a consultant to Ford Motor Co., I worked in the same building where they trained their apprentices in Dagenham. At the end of the two year programme, they produced fully ready apprentices ready to join the workforce proper.

You know what was the single most important factor of this success?

The training. Nothing less, nothing more.

You know what was the biggest challenge they had?

The training. Massively unpredictable even though there was a curriculum to work towards.

In the L&D world, it is easy to get lost in the outputs of what we produce and forget about the outcomes. I’m very guilty of this.

Performance support at work is all about providing learning at the point of need. This is the single biggest challenge facing L&D departments everywhere.

There’s no silver bullet for this stuff. We have to doggedly work at educating the business into what that difference is. When they keep asking for stats on bums on seats and spend per head, that’s fine but it means very little. We need to be providing information on outcomes.

That means things like:
- A person’s time management and personal organisation improved because they understood how to make that happen
- A cohort of people completing a programme of activity ready to take on the next business challenge
- A fully trained group ready to join the workforce
- Improved performance by a team who undertook some proper team development
- Greater use of technology or systems because of improved literacy and education levels

I look at that list and I know that those outcomes are what I should be focused on. But because it’s easier to describe the outputs, I lose sight of the outcomes.

More pertinently, what I think happens is that we forget that we’re the experts in learning and performance support. That means we have a mantle on which not many others in our organisation can occupy. We may be able to argue the toss about which delivery method is better than another, but the challenge is how we help others to understand that we know how to achieve the outcome best. I’ve had many an argument with senior directors because of this. It’s our single most difficult task we’ll ever have to do.

A coaching exercise

I’m delivering a training session on coaching today. One of the exercises I like to use to illustrate how challenging coaching can be is to get the group to build a paper aeroplane.

I normally do this when we’ve had some discussion about what coaching is, we’ve discussed people’s experience of it, and how it can be used at work.

The first part is to ask the group to simply build a paper aeroplane. Once they’ve done it, we all stand at one end of the room and see how they all fly.

The people’s ‘planes who flew the furthest then become the coaches for the next part.

The coaches team up with 1-2 others and their goal is to help the others build a paper aeroplane. The only consideration is that they can’t tell them what to do.

Once completed, we do a download of the exercise and talk about whatever learnings came through.

There are many exercises that help achieve the same, this is my preferred one. Also, for me, it acts as a useful way to link discussions around attitude, skills, knowledge and performance management.

Networks, networked, networking

I am here. Moving. Discussing. Thinking. Planning. Doing. Saying. Creating. Fun having. Being.

The eye blinks, like the shutter on a camera and transposes an image on the retina. It does this at regular intervals otherwise we would suffer coginitive overload. Each blink allows the brain a brief respite in order that we can process that information in some way. Each blink, creates a moment. Each moment collects to create an experience.

I’m in a meeting. We’re talking about something. It’s useful in some way. I choose to be present. I listen and hear what’s being said. This group I’m with are a temporary network I’m connected to. Time will move on, and tomorrow that network either remains useful or becomes redundant.

I’ve been doing things today. It’s the end of the day and when it’s time to rest, allow the brain to make sense of those things and of those thoughts. The networks that are in there are either reinforced and strenghtened, or new ones are being created. The new ones may need more time to develop and become strong.

I’ve been talking to people. They move me. They push me. They provoke me. They please me. They pull me. They stand with me. They argue with me.

Those conversations are important. They help me feel. They help me connect. They help me survive. They help me thrive. They help me exist. They help me switch off. They help me progress.

What happened to my network? What happened to what I knew? Has it changed? Is it the same? Where do I seek support? Where do I seek comfort in practice? That anxiety is because my brain is telling me this will be hard. I can feel that. I can experience that. My gut is all twisted into knots of stuff.

Something sparks. It sparks and it creates a flame. The flame grows and it becomes a fire. The fire burns and it envelopes. The fire dies to its embers.

I’m on a road. I’m on a train. I’m walking a path. I’m in my house. I’m following a routine. It plays out and I’m somewhere. I know I’m here, but do I know what happened?

When did I stop to hear? Did I see that thing? What experience did I have? Did it matter?

I’ve created a new connection. I’ve been part of a network. I’ve found meaning in a conversation.

Networks, networked, networking.

Opinions in the wind

I find the whole concept of online trolling truly bizarre. That there are a group of people out there who willingly seek out to connect with a person with the sole intention of causing them distress. Intentional distress. What’s going wrong in these people’s lives that they think this is a valid way to express themselves and connect with others?

Which is why, in the main, I’m glad that I don’t write anything truly controversial, or divisive, or upsetting to others. I have opinions on lots of things, and choose to share them via different media. On Twitter, I tend to express myself on lots of topics because I’m quite aware that it’s a transient medium. A tweet can get lost in the timeline because it can.

But here, on my blog, I’m far more cautious. People can seek out my opinion. So I express my opinions which don’t matter to many people. The only people who care about what I write are a very small population in the big bad world, and if I got trolled by anyone, I’d probably hunt them down and shake their hand or something.

So, it surprised me the other week to learn that I may have potentially with little intent and no malice but it happened all the same caused various people I know in my network to be cautious about their voice in social media.

Yo, no one should have that level of influence.

I have shared, quite widely and openly, that I have a very low opinion of NLP.

And I have done this knowing that there are many L&Ders who are trained in various levels of NLP. And, many of these people I would consider, friends, good people and good L&Ders.

Here’s the thing. If you choose to practise NLP as a way of working for you, and as a way of helping and supporting others, then I can only applaud that. Everyone needs help in this world, and there’s nothing worse, for me, than demonising others.

I just choose to believe something about this particular mental model of the world. I find its efficacy and its claims to be wild, and I find the evangelism that goes with it to be bizarre. There are a good many folk who don’t care about those things, because it works well for them.

Just like I think homeopathy is complete nonsense. I know many people who swear by it, and live perfectly healthy lives. It has incredibly low medical verification of any kind, and for me that matters. For many others, that doesn’t mean a thing.

There are things I’m perfectly willing to change my mind on. Like when I wrote about whether learning is about performance, or that there should be one definite route into L&D. I wrote something, got some valued input, and changed my thinking. I’m allowed to do that.

It will take more convincing for me to buy into NLP as a legitimate way of thinking.

I’m highly aware that I’m using language which caveats my openness to NLP.

I’m also highly aware that when I talk about positive psychology, the same claims of evangelism could be levelled at me.

What I don’t want though, truly, is for anyone I know, respect, socialise with, regard a friend, to be uncomfortable with me because I have this bias. I have opinions on certain religions (like Scientology), and prejudices and biases on a whole range of topics – just like we all do. What I think I’m careful of, though, is not letting them affect my actual behaviour. Dialogue helps, challenge helps, support helps, different thinking helps, and I’m always interested to know more.

This is my blog. My thinking space. I happen to enjoy sharing that openly. What I think, and what I do are often two very different things. In particular, what I write doesn’t always reflect what I think. My thinking process happens outside of my head. That’s where I get clarity on things. So when I write things down, it’s like I’m talking to a friend who understands me. And, for me, it’s about making sense of what I’m thinking. Like I said once before, I just happen to be someone who enjoys thinking outside of their head rather than in it.

So to anyone who I’ve put at arms length because of my opinion on NLP, this is an invitation. It’s an invitation to understand me a bit better. It’s an invitation to say, please don’t not promote your NLP skills because I express an opinion about it.

And what’s the lesson we can learn from this blog post? That if you’re an NLP practitioner, who follows Scientology and practices homeopathy, we’re gonna really struggle to get along.

ADDENDUM: I’m aware I haven’t trolled anyone about NLP. It’s an extreme comparison, and that’s how I work. I find extremes of examples help me figure out my position.

On Kindness

There are all sorts of social experiments carried out to show how kindness is all kinds of awesome. Stories about kindness get shared lots, and why not? It shows the best of being human, and who can argue with that?

We know that when people are kind, we repay that kindness to complete strangers.

We know that when people are kind, we feel good inside with all the warm fuzzies.

We know that when people are kind, it leaves us feeling with a sense of awe.

We know that when people are kind, it cuts through straight to the heart.

But.

And.

Just what is it?

My children are capable of such kindness to one another that I beam when I see it. They do it because they care about one another. They do it because they just do it. As much as we might explain how it is to be kind, and why they should do it, there are many a moment when it just happens. And I feel so full of joy and pride when I see it.

And then they fall into sibling behaviour and get into scraps and arguments with one another moments later and I think and wonder, how did that switch around so quickly?

Did you know our closest evolutionary cousins, primates, are also capable of kindness?

We get so bombarded with such a variety of messages. Buy this product so you too can have a clean and happy home. Buy this investment so you too can live a happy financial future. Buy this life that you don’t currently lead and feel valued in. Buy this.

I’m not railing against consumerism. It is what it is. But advertising isn’t meant to show us what kindness is about.

And the national political debate swings from claiming we’re all in it together and then demonising those living on the streets and on the breadline.

Charities and the voluntary sectors have oddly seen a rise in their donations over these difficult years, which says something loud and bold.

So I’m railing against the good advice.

I’m railing against the top ten list of how to do it.

Because we know it when it happens. I feel it. You relish it. We live it. It is awesome. They crave it. It is free.

Go and be kind? If you want.

Show some kindness to a stranger? If it fits in your day.

Take a moment to offer a kind word to a colleague? If they deserve it.

Write a kind letter to a loved one? If they’ll be receptive to it.

Damn that yin and yang.

Go. Be. Do.