A chronicle of the last two years

I read something the other day which said something like “two years ago in January 2020”, and it stumped me. Are we already two years later?

January 2020, I went up to see a friend in Edinburgh with narry a worry. February of 2020, I went with a friend for a ski trip to North Italy over a long weekend. It was the early moments of Covid, and at Milan airport people were having their temperature taken. Two days later we had guidance to suggest anyone returning from that region should self-isolate, which we dutifully did for 14 days. A week later we were all given the order to stay home.

It is genuinely astounding to me that we are now two years into this pandemic, and we’re still unsure what this means for the future.

I quickly learned that I hated everything about lockdown, even though I had a lot of privilege. I live with my parents, so I wasn’t alone and thankfully neither were they. I could work from home with relative ease, and our team were finding ways to come together virtually in good ways. I live in an English village with a lot of fields and forests around us. I wasn’t furloughed, so could continue to work.

By nature I am a people person. I have always enjoyed the hustle and bustle of life. People doing people things. Going to the shops. Meeting friends to hang out. Last minute plans. Getting on the tube. Being in an office. All of that and more like that energises me thoroughly. To not have any of that quickly depleted my levels of resilience. Even after restrictions started to be lifted in summer of 2020, I was so cautious of everything.

We were literally told we could not trust those closest to us for fear we could pass the virus to them. Covid-19 was running rampant and there were 1000s of deaths a day. A day. I read that back and I am floored.

I have innate trust in those I meet. To be told, repeatedly, that others were now dangerous to our health… I need a moment.

We knew so little about transmission of the virus and how to mitigate against it. Wearing of masks we were initially told would be ineffective, and eventually told they would be vital for going to shops, restaurants, etc. Social distancing was important, and then we had inane and hard to understand rules about how to respect that. Friends of mine refused to see their family members because they didn’t want to indirectly infect them.

In the height of all this, we also had news of the killing of George Floyd, and the outpouring of support and raising of awareness about anti-racism. We were learning that lockdown and the virus were hitting ethnic minorities and the poorest harder. Inequalities in society were heightened like never before. It genuinely felt like the fabric of civil society was now broken.

Then came the second wave and it hit us all hard. We went back into full lockdown in January 2021. One whole year had passed, and we were no closer to returning to any level of normal. Who even knew what normal meant anymore?

The early days of the vaccinations were so significant. Much was made of the speed at which the drugs were manufactured and the concern about testing of the vaccinations. And thankfully, the science was reliable and vaccinations have helped reduce the severity of illness.

For the best part of the last two years, my children have been faring far better than may be expected. They’re young enough to be resilient to most illnesses, but I think benefited from spending time with their mother some days of the week, and with me at other times. And when schools re-opened fully, they adjusted as well as they could. I rather think it’s parents who were more perturbed about the schooling than the kids. I’m not talking about those studying GCSEs, ‘A’ Levels, or other higher education. Clearly there were decisions made that affected education negatively in many ways.

In summer of 2021 we had a family holiday at Center Parcs for a week. It was a fab holiday break, and am grateful we had that planned. Ordinarily as a family we have regular breaks abroad, but with various global restrictions it just wasn’t feasible to do.

And later in 2021 we had the murders of Sarah Everard and Sabina Nessa due to male violence, and reminded once more about the ongoing problem of male violence itself and male violence against women in particular.

Over Christmas and New Year, I gave myself complete downtime. I was mentally and emotionally exhausted. And coming back to a regular routine of work is much needed to start to restart and refill those goal-setting and goal-achievement buckets. But I’m giving myself a wider berth and self-compassion for how this all goes in 2022.

This blog post is more of a reflective piece. A short chronicle of things that have remained with me in the last two years.

What should an L&Der do?

The role of an L&Der has advanced a lot in the last decade or so. And of course there are many roles that an L&D team is likely to have. Gone are the days it was mainly facilitation, mainly administration / coordination, mainly instructional design or mainly team leadership stuff.

This isn’t an exhaustive list – it’s written to provide insight.

Understand the tech landscape. Your LMS is one part of the tech landscape. People are using MS Teams, Outlook, MS Office, Slack, Zoom, Salesforce, and any other number of technologies. That’s the tech landscape. You’re not just focused on helping people access learning content, you’re helping people use their technology better. That doesn’t mean you have to be a tech whizz in all those technologies – you’re an L&Der so you know how to help people access good quality learning resources and content that helps them do their job well. Work with SMEs using those tech systems to develop resources and job aids that will help people use their tech better. Honestly, you’ll be enabling the business and that’s going to win a lot of brownie points.

Arrange regular talks with senior managers and leaders. We all want to talk with the executives, but executives focus is always more strategic and pan-organisation. Senior managers/leaders are in the weeds. Their teams are delivering the products and services of the business. Get in and understand the team ethos, ways of working, and their deliverables. The team will be developing workarounds and doing everything they can to achieve their objectives. Help teams figure out what they need.

Market and shout about your L&D products and services better. Just because L&D exists, doesn’t mean people will flock to the calendar, or access the content. I learned long ago that if you don’t tell people what you have to offer, they will make their own (often wrong) assumptions and then be surprised when they learn of what L&D can really offer. Use all the skills available. Posters, internal newsletters, course campaigns, advocacy from senior leaders, open sharing via HRBPs. It’s all good stuff. The more you can let people know what you’re doing, the more you’ll become a natural point of discussion in the minds of leaders.

Understand performance data and metrics. What products and services does the business deliver? What does the annual report say about financials? What is the CEO saying about performance? What is the COO wanting to focus on? What did the CFO say about budgets? Which products are selling incredibly well? Where is their potential growth? What products are likely to be put to bed? It’s not an option to not understand these things. You’re more than likely in a position of authority and power as an L&Der. That makes you a business leader, and as such you’re part of the businesses success. If you’re not talking the language of the business, the business won’t talk the language of L&D.

Develop yourself. We got so caught in the delivery of L&D solutions we forget to pay attention to other forms of solutions, or new ways of working, or developing our own skill set. L&D isn’t a linear path. You don’t go from being a facilitator to master facilitator to strategic facilitator. Or from an ID to a senior ID to L&D Lead. Pick your things where you have strength. Build on those. For the other things, reach a level of competence that means you can get stuck into varied work. If you only focus on one or two things, you’ve already made yourself redundant.

There is so much more I could talk about. Product management, performance consultancy, design thinking, tech stacks, and so much else. The key thing, I’m hoping you get from above, is that L&D is many things.

What is facilitation?

I never knew about facilitation being a skill I could learn and become really good at doing. When I got my first job, and I saw how the more experienced trainers would do this thing of facilitation, I just didn’t know what they were doing. Asking these great questions of the group, getting involved in discussions and really being part of the learning. Not this traditional lecturer or trainer, where you just get talked at for hours.

Facilitation, I learned, is about providing the right kind of environment for the needs of the group, and allowing them to find a path to get from here to there.

At first, I was thrust into models, certifications and accreditations. You had to learn about things like ice breakers, and energisers. About things like Myers Briggs Type Indicator and other personality assessments. Get accredited to run internal training programmes. I bloody loved all of it. All of these ways to understand the human condition that I have not learned about studying psychology at university.

As time went on, I learned there were a range of other skills that I personally brought to facilitation. The ability to listen and just allow someone to have their voice heard. How I sought to include everyone and bring the group forward. To not always have the answer, and trust the discussion was enough. Creating a safe and fun environment where thinking and learning can take place. How I could cede control and power to the group and trust them to do what they needed.

I also learned how to deal with my own anxieties towards facilitation. Preparation was a big learning for me in my early days, and is one I have to keep re-learning. When I don’t prepare well, things go to pot very quickly. Having really clear conversations with stakeholders about their expectations and what I was going to be doing. Learning about doing really good debriefs after a session so I could really reflect and think through what happened and what I wanted to do differently/better next time. Not to get fixated on small issues and keep an eye on the overall process.

And since technology started to make virtual options for learning delivery more accessible, learning how to adapt my skills to a virtual and digital format. Learning how to facilitate a group of people online, and get very used to the technology enabling me to understand their engagement. Learning how to use virtual and digital tools to get groups to think well together and collaborate without seeing each other.

And now I’m a local business owner, an operator of a coworking space, and really keen to see what I can facilitate in a very different context. I am actively thinking about how I can add to / build a community, and where my facilitation skills might be useful in different ways.

So, for me, facilitation has been about learning and developing skills of working and collaborating with people in a range of contexts. I’ve learned that you can’t just be trained in one set of models or only have one kind of accreditation. That there are many things at play when it comes to working with a group of people, and you and your own thinking is only one part of what they need – and very often, it’s their own thinking and process they need to work through with or without your involvement.

Actually, I’ve often found that getting the group from here to there, was really only ever one part of what they needed. The real work tends to happen once they’ve had their time for reflection and thinking after the session and they make their own independent decisions for what they do next.

Facilitators are not like coaches where we might have more active involvement in a decision-making process. Facilitators are the guides, and although we may a have a map of the terrain, where people go and the choices they make are completely in their own hands.

Oh, We F*cked That Right Up

Over the years, we across HR have been guilty of mistakes. Some right stonkers where we chose to implement a policy, made decisions about working stuff, poorly delivered a workshop, or any number of things that we just fucked up.

And, there has been much talk over the years about authenticity across HR. How we have to show up and be brave and honest about failures. How we have to be ‘adults’ and communicate with others as ‘adults’.

But, we’re just really bad at talking about how we’ve fucked up. Instead we have to talk about lessons learned. Or we have to talk about reflective practise. Or we have to talk about stop/start/continue. Or we have to do root cause analysis. What we don’t do, is just accept things got fucked up and we need to re-think the solution we went with.

One arena where we insist on this form of toxic positivity is at conferences and seminars and keynotes. But why do we hear about it in those particular contexts? Because people want to be motivated or inspired when they pay good money, apparently. Or, people want the opportunity to hear what worked really well, and take back those lessons.

Those are good things for sure. Absolutely we want to hear about success stories, and I don’t doubt we want to be inspired. But, we’re also just really bad at being honest about when things went properly sour and we had to do a lot of remedial work to make things better. Cos that’s just not good news, is it? And it doesn’t put our business/organisation in good light does it? We can’t bring our own company into disrepute. That would be career suicide, right?

But here’s the thing. Why is it we only hear about the really bad fuck ups when they become high profile things? Yes, we should hear about the high profile cases, but what about the normal fuck ups that happen, but we have to positively spin into an opportunity for learning?

Because somewhere along the line, we as HR are involved in those fuck ups. And HR has a bad habit of only discussing things in the positive. We are too focused on being overly positive, even in the face of clearly bad practice. Be that bad compensation, bad office moves, bad recruitment, bad management of an investigation or bad learning solutions, we are those bad practices.

At conferences and the likes, I’d love to see companies be able to stand up and say, you know what? We fucked this shit right up. Here’s what we tried to do, here’s how it played out, and we got it so wrong. We had to do all this remedial work, and man it was hard, and we had to do a lot of re-work, but this is where we are now. Of course we learned lessons, but what we should have done are these things to ensure we never got to that bad situation in the first place.

Importantly, we don’t have to throw anyone or our own companies under the bus. We can have honest and open conversations where we discuss things as adults. Not everything we do has to be rose tinted, or covered in opportunities for learning or being an unexpected good thing for us to do. Sometimes it’s ok to just admit, “Oh, we fucked that right up”.

Answers

One of the many issues facing people across the piece is that there’s too much Me Time.

We haven’t learned how to deal with our Own Thoughts.

We were never taught what it means to be mindful and Accept Our Thoughts.

Instead we were told Go To The Pub.

In the absence of Distraction and Alcohol or Drugs, we have Random Fucknuts filling our mental space.

The upshot of this is our Limited Capacity is filled with Random Bollocks that ends up translating into conspiracy theories of the highest order.

People actively railing against the very healthcare systems and institutions that will save them when they are in need of that very healthcare.

There are many layers to why this is the case. Our Thoughts are there for us to interrogate and understand better.

Instead we give up Our Thoughts to Their Thinking. They Said. I Heard.

We are so uncomfortable with Our Thinking that we’d rather fill it with Random Bollocks.

We were never taught how to deal with Our Fears and Our Anxieties. We were told to keep a Stiff Upper Lip.

What we didn’t realise was keeping a Stiff Upper Lip left things wide open for Farage and Hartley-Brewer and Pearson and Sikora to give us active disinformation and misinformation to help us think we’re Doing Better.

And not just them. But the likes of all the self-help phonies out there. Christ I hate them. Such an incredible lack of empathy and compassion with messages that are so deaf they are deafening in their egotistical prowess.

I sincerely hope this Lockdown 3.0 gives the UK government the time it needs to genuinely create the plans and policies it needs to enable the country to get back on its feet.

Things I’ve learned in 2020

We all have trauma and pain that we need to deal with and resolve.

In all likelihood, that trauma and pain is the cause of many bad decisions and ongoing bad decisions.

I never took for granted having good health, and my recovery from Covid-19 highlighted to me just how good my health has been.

My extended family continue to be important for my wellbeing.

My immediate family continue to be everything to me.

I learned years ago that a strong support network of people who can build you up and help you be your best self is crucial for my resilience. They have been a constant source of energy and life for me.

My closest friends are such good guys. They’re good men and they’re good people.

I miss my commute into London. I don’t miss the transport, I miss the people. I never cared if people were too close, or man-spreading, or eating their lunch. That shared space was whatever any of us needed it to be.

Similarly I miss the live shared experiences. Sitting with my team and someone bursts into laughter. In a pub and the buzz and the energy. In a cinema and everyone being shocked at the reveal. At the bus stop and commenting on the service.

My daily walk is much more regenerative than I realised.

I am building my confidence with mountain biking. I hate hills.

I really don’t like not trusting my surroundings. So much of what I have security in is based on trusting that my environment, the people I’m with and the general infrastructure of life.

Everyone is reacting so very differently to lockdown and the various edicts we receive. It’s very hard to know if there’s meant to be a “right” answer.

We are learning, live, what it means to live through a global pandemic in a way many of us would never have thought probable except in dystopian novels and films.

Science is the genuine winner. We have experts in their fields crunching the data, doing the analysis and studying all related things. This is how you combat large scale disease.

Conspiracy theories and fake news are far more a problem than we realised after the 2016 Brexit and Trump votes.

I am loving Viola Davis in How To Get Away With Murder. Her character, Annalise Keating is a equally brilliant and frightening.

Black Lives Matter. Until they do, we cannot claim all lives matter.

I am really impressed with Disney+.