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.

Creativity is in the mind

Over the last few months I’ve been working with a colleague designing a document. The document, in and of itself, is boring. It’s going to essentially be a capability framework. It’s not exciting, and it’s not ground-breaking.

I am loving the project though. Not because of the time invested into the project, but because of the creative process we’ve been going through with the document.

See, it didn’t start off as a document. It started off as an idea.

We were given a brief on what needed to be done. That brief was clear, and the expected outcomes were clear too.

What we did when we came together was to bash around the brief together to see what we thought it needed to be. That’s where the fun started.

We didn’t just sit at a table and brainstorm ideas in a bullet point fashion on a sheet of A4.

We were walking around the room and being all animated with one another.

I was scribbling things on the whiteboard and illustrating things.

He was commenting and providing context and developing his thinking. He was getting all visual in his head about what it could be.

Then we went away and left it alone.

When we came back together, he showed me this document and said that’s what our session produced for him.

We started getting all excited about things again. More things were being drawn, graphs being created and ideas being had.

We’ve been steadily, and surely, iterating each round of the document, and it’s looking fab.

It’s going to be a capability framework. It’s boring. It’s mundane.

But it’s been fab fun.

The Curious Case of the Anonymous Tweeter

I am intrigued by Twitter users who choose to keep themselves anonymous, yet at the same time choose to interact with the community they affiliate with.

It’s an odd one in my mind.

You want to remain anonymous, yet take part in discussions with others.

You want to remain anonymous, yet write a blog and publish this in the social space.

You want to remain anonymous, yet follow others to see what they have to say.

These people are connecting, and they’re interacting, and they’re doing all these social things, but they’re just hiding behind a veil.

I understand the purpose of hiding if you’re afraid to out yourself. There’s something about self-preservation which many of us don’t want to jeopardise.

I understand literal veils. They have strong religious and cultural norms attached to them. They are meaningful and help people find self-identity.

I understand masks. They help people be someone they normally aren’t. Or they help people have fun.

Most of all, though, I’ve seen that eventually the veil gets removed and people out themselves. I’ve seen lots of people choose to keep ‘protected’ and then ‘out’ themselves.

So, I have some questions:

If you’re hiding, why are you hiding?

If you came out from hiding, what prompted that?

If you want to continue hiding, what’s driving that?

What makes a good pitch?

We’re about to hold an internal Dragon’s Den event at the organisation I’m currently working for and I’m seriously excited by what the prospect holds. It’s been a great exercise in seeking a different way to gain ideas from anyone in the organisation. The brief was simple enough – it needs to support one of our corporate goals. From a selection of ideas, 10 were selected and divvy’d up to work with a senior leader to help craft their idea to something worthy of investment.

I’ve been supporting the teams as they prepare for the pitch so that they can have a good chance of being successful. They were given some early parameters that they needed to bear in mind, prime being the pitch must be delivered in five minutes.

This was a great challenge for me. I want each of these ideas to be successful, and the ideas are all worthy of investment. This performance support has been all about the structure of the pitch. It’s different to presentation training as the focus isn’t on the personal delivery style of the teams. Sure it will make a difference to how engaged the Dragon’s are, but this is less about the presentation and more about the idea.

For a pitch to be successful the following has to be true.

The time is the most important factor

This is indisputable. You don’t go over the time. If you do, your whole pitch was a problem at the start. The time drives the pitch. This is singly the hardest and most important thing to get right.

The idea has to be conveyed in one statement

This has been one of the consistent bits of feedback I’ve been making every team work on. Where the pitch is only 5 mins long, the idea has to be captured in one statement. If you can’t explain the idea in that way, the whole pitch will be a ramble.

I’ve been ruthless about this with the teams. If I can’t clearly understand what the idea is in that one statement I’ve been relentless about getting it to that state.

Keep the numbers simple

A lot of the teams I worked with thought they need to get into the details of the investment they’re seeking, or showing ROI, or be clever about how it will be spent.

I’ve been telling everyone the details don’t matter. The numbers have to be as accurate as they can be, but all you need them to do is help tell the story. If the idea makes sense, then the investment makes sense. Simples.

Context and market research matter

Not as obvious as you might think. The context for the idea is hugely important. What else is happening in the marketplace? What are other organisations doing? What technology is available? What data is available? Why is that data relevant? Who wants the idea? What feedback have you had?

This can easily swallow up time. It’s a hard balance to strike between harping on about the need to make this happen, and giving brief information on relevance in the external market.

Timelines for delivery

Quite a few teams just hadn’t considered that this was important. Yes, the idea might be fabulous, and the investment makes sense, but are you realistic about the timescale of making this happen? Too soon and you’ll fail based on lack of planning. Too far and you’ll be told to come back when you have a clear plan of action.

Props help but not necessary

It’s a pitch and it’s all about the idea. Anything not part of the pitch is potentially a distraction. Clearly if the idea hinges on a product or demonstration, then this has to be well thought through in terms of the time that takes.

Demonstrating a product means the pitch hinges on the success of the product working. If it works, job done. If it doesn’t or if it delays the pitch, you’re eating into your own time.

The structure of the pitch will help you win

I’ve had all sorts of anxieties and nerves that people have been sharing and commenting on. My single piece of feedback to them all has been the same thing. Stick to the structure. Don’t detract from it. It’s only 5 mins and they’re the most precious 5 mins of your life at that moment. Let nothing else come into play. Keep to the script.

I’ve purposefully not included various other factors of successful pitching such as story-telling, such as delivery style, such as using visual aids because those things, although important, are unlikely to determine the success of the pitch.

OD, Wellbeing and Health

When was the last time you felt vibrant?

It’s quite the question isn’t it?

It’s a hard thing to define too. What is vibrancy? And when I feel it, how do I recognise it? I might know that it’s a concept which exists, but can I be confident I’ve ever experienced it?

I last felt vibrant when I last delivered a talk similar to this at a conference in May. Lots of things went right for me in that moment and I felt great. It was a great reminder that for good things to happen, you have to work at them.

Hmm. Ok, so let’s move on.

How’s your wellbeing?

Do you take care of you, enough?

Again, quite the searching question. Most people won’t and don’t. But why? It’s not hard, and it’s not difficult. It’s just a matter of keeping the right things happening regularly and consistently over the bad things/negative things.

Overall, I’m happy with my wellbeing. I’ve always been mindful about how I am and what I need to help me be my best. I eat well, have always kept physically active, keep as much in touch with my friends as I can, and am happy with family life. Believe me when I say I know this is not the norm, and also believe me when I say that this is far from easy. I will eat things which aren’t great for me regularly (crisps), sometimes miss going to the gum for days, can go months without seeing or talking with friends, and can forget how awesome it is I have a family at all.

Ok. I’m thinking now.

How many of us have business aligned objectives? I’d expect most readers to say they all do. I doubt the truth of that.

Because look at your own wellbeing and health. How many of you can confidently say that your day to day activities are aligned to achieving positive wellbeing and health?

That’s what positive psychology is about. It’s about positive living and wellbeing. It’s about a set of activities and tasks which help us feel better about our lives in genuine ways.

So when we look at things organisational development, I wonder if we’re aligned to that as a goal? Because, essentially, that’s what our role is about. It’s about helping people at work be their best. We do that in a variety of ways, and I think we could do that so much more.

- How many of us share the good stories from our interventions and solutions? Not just to the senior leadership teams, but to everyone?
– How many of us advocate and promote better working lives in the interventions and solutions we provide? When we do that, we’re helping everyone be their best
– How many of us just let the group of people we’re with just get on and chat? People love to talk, and when they do great things happen
– How many of us share resources of great things we come across online to help create a culture of open learning? People don’t need permission but they need to be shown it’s ok to do it
– How many of us have a mindset of participant-led learning? People don’t need facilitators for their learning, they just need to know they are already doing great learning activities

Organisational development is about helping people in an organisation improve their wellbeing and health. The likelihood is this will improve organisational performance.

The above is the basis of the workshop I’m doing at the Strategic HR Network OD Conference on 8th July 2014.

The Placebo Effect in Learning

It is often the case that we have to argue our way to a solution with managers in the organisations we’re part of. Managers have a view about what learning looks like. It’s my role to help others see how I’m the expert in learning and development and as such can advise the best solution for learning. As I often advocate that should more often include performance support on the job, with a training course as part of the solution, not the end.

The placebo effect fascinates me. What is it? In medical terms, it’s when you have a control group of patients who think they’re receiving certain medicine to improve their condition but in reality are receiving nothing more than a sugar pill or something else non-critical. Want to know something interesting about the plaecbo effect? People’s health can still improve even though they are told they are taking nothing more than a placebo.

I swear I fall into this category. When I suffer hayfever, I take an anti-allergy tablet. I am sure if I took a placebo, I would stop sniffling and sneezing all the same. But because I am taking something, actually physically doing the act of taking a tablet, I know I’ll feel better.

So is it the tablet, or is it the power of human belief?

Learning is a lot like this. We send people on training to fix them. But often it’s not the training that fixes them. It’s the dialogue they’re having in the learning, the self dialogue they’re having about the learning, and the self assessment they’re doing about the topic. What they learn at the session either supports their thoughts or challenges them or serves neither.

Which makes me wonder how do we mitigate for this?

It also makes me realise that I’ve totally made the case for not investing in L&D and just argued the department into redundancy.

The mitigation of the placebo effect for me is this.

- Managers are the key to performance support. If they don’t know how to do that, no amount of learning interventioning (totally a word) will improve the situation
– People learn best when they’re in dialogue with one another. As the very wise Julie Drybrough says “I challenge you to talk in a group of people and not learn something. It just can’t happen.”
– In organisations we need to get much better at developing communities of practice or communities of interest. This is where innovation happens and this is where people learn.
– If we’re going to offer online support we need to be aware of natural online usage. People don’t surf the web looking for e-learning. They look for articles to read or videos to watch or podcasts to listen to. They will do e-learning only because it’s mandated as a way to deliver core information. Fine, so let’s make that whole thing excellent.

You’ll note I haven’t spoken about alignment to business objectives. Or speaking the language of business. Or ROI. Or anything else we’re meant to focus on. That’s cos all these things are red herrings.

The above is essentially the talk I’m going to be giving at Learning Live in September. See you there?

Have we got talent management all backwards?

This is pretty much my favourite time of year. Wimbledon is on, and most of my Twitter followers will know this all too well with a timeline full of tennis related tweets. In fact, if you’re interested, I’ve written who I think might win in the final on Sunday.

Ordinarily, I’m loathe to write about sport and how it relates to HR or to business. Mostly because I see a lot of poor connectedness. There are, and can be, some very good analogies between the two worlds. In the main, I tend to find that the analogies are weak, and focus on a few factors neglecting many other realities of transferableness (it’s totally a word).

So today I break this rule. Cos I want to us to consider if we’ve been approaching the whole talent thing completely backwards.

I want you to abandon your notions of what bad competition looks like. I want you to imagine competition and our concept of competition needs re-writing.

Let’s take Andy Murray. I’m a big fan of his, and even though he’s been knocked out of the quarter-finals of the Championships, doesn’t mean he hasn’t achieved some awesome wins in his career to date (Masters 1000 tournaments – big deals, two Grand Slam events – even bigger deals, and Olympic Gold – the biggest deal). What helps him be successful?

He chooses his own team. Here’s a guy, who has the talent to win big and get far. He knows he needs a solid team of people to help him get there. But no-one is directing him on what that team looks like. No one’s setting him individual targets or objectives he has to achieve. He’s setting those himself. No one’s managing his performance if he performs badly. The governing body are responsible for poor attitude, substance misuse and poor form against other players.

He relies on his team to help him be successful. They guide him on nutrition. They guide him on physical fitness. They guide him on form and technique. They guide him on wellbeing. They challenge him to do more. They challenge him to push himself. They challenge his beliefs about himself.

His performance reflects on his world ranking. If he’s not happy with his performance, he reflects on himself, and also on his team and how they’re helping him – or not. He can choose to carry on with the game at his pleasure. If he’s demotivated, no-one cares. If he’s disengaged from the game, no-one cares. If he tries to stay in the game, we’ll pay notice, but only if he wins.

The competitive sport he plays in means there are too many other talented players doing the same thing for anyone to care about for too long. As long as he performs and achieves big wins, he’ll be in the news. When he stops and decides to retire, he’ll be remembered for his achievements and for his sportsmanship.

Imagine that in an organisation. Imagine we gave Talent free reign to choose their own team to help them be successful. Imagine there were no restrictions on what that team consisted of, and it was Talent who made the decisions. Imagine we said, “Hey Talent, your objectives are set by you, for you, and achieved by you. I’m not going to manage you. I’m not going to even ask how you are doing. I won’t even ask what you’ve got in place to be successful. You just let me know if there’s anything in your way and I’ll try remove it for you.”

Imagine that we’e got our concept of talent all wrong. It was never about a nine box grid. It was never about identifying talent at every level of the organisation. It was never about talent pools. It was never about succession planning. It was never about performance management. It was never about holacracy. It was never about the 70:20:10 theory of learning. It was never about democracy in the workplace.

Instead it was all about the individual stepping up and making things happen. No managers. No hierarchy. No control. No risk management. No contingency plans.

And it wasn’t just one individual, but lots of individuals. If one person tried and failed, fine. There’s someone else trying to sustain the business and make things happen. That Talent was good and interesting for the organisation. But they’re not dismissed, because there’s no contract of employment in place. They can step back in when they are back on form.

That person leads things. That person defines their success. The team members support the achievement of that goal. They couldn’t step up to be the Talent, because their role is something else. If the Talent stops, the team have no purpose any more until they find another Talent to work with.

Am I describing the role of a manager or am I describing something different?

Have we got talent management all backwards?