Leadership in public life is lacking

Elected public officials are given the mandate to improve things for others. That can look like a lot of things. Resolving hardship, better resources on the ground, improved housing conditions, better strategic policing and public safety, improving public health, taking care of the public purse, and so much more.

This current UK government seems to not be interested in improving anything that matters, and instead focusing on initiatives and policies that aren’t as important as other points of focus.

In almost any major department, there is such a lack of leadership on giving hope and vision to the public. Just what is Nadine Dorries delivering to improve entertainment, sports and culture? Selling off C4 doesn’t seem to be as hopeful or progressive as is being touted. How are we going to invest in and continue to support the arts and culture of the country?

What is the business secretary Kwasi Kwarteng doing for UK business? I’m a small business owner, and I couldn’t point to a single thing that helps me to know what the government will be doing to help my business thrive. I’m not waiting for them to do stuff either and experimenting in many ways for my small business to be a success.

How about the housing crisis in the UK? What is Michael Gove’s plan here? How are everyday Britons going to afford to get on the property ladder and build their lives in different ways? Related, what is being done for stronger infrastructure so these new schemes are not just delivered, but able to thrive?

There is so much focus given to cultural politics and identity politics in everyday discourse from these “leaders” and their colleagues in Cabinet, that it’s farcical. What are we meant to believe in for the UK? Where is the hope and the vision that leads us from wherever we are today, to a better tomorrow?

For all the talk and rhetoric of Brexit being good for us, the evidence to date seems to indicate that our lives have been made harder, and will be for some time to come. With a political leader who willingly lies to the House of Commons, and isn’t held accountable, what hope is there for political strength? The public can handle the truth, but with spin and lies being such a part of public messaging, if Brexit means harder times now for improved living in 10 years time, we should be told that.

We have incredibly smart and intelligent people who could create excellent policy for the UK if they were given the permission, autonomy and authority to do that. Instead, they’re given remits of work which doesn’t advance the country, and that’s just a dire indictment of the lack of ambition and leadership from our publicly elected officials. UK industry needs political leadership to truly unlock and allow innovation and creativity to flourish.

Since the vote for Brexit, we’ve had such a lack of high quality leadership. Instead we’ve had to deal with political parties embroiled in their own internal games and politics, while leaving the public left incredibly wanting. How different things could be for all if political power wasn’t the focus, and advancing / progressing the country were the genuine agenda.

New Voices in L&D – Qian Feng

We’re almost at the end of February and the end of the series in hearing new voices in L&D. This piece from Qian Feng is a great piece helping us to understand how to look past what are seemingly accurate problem statements and really examining the structures and systems which could be causing the issue instead. I have a bias towards systems thinking and Qian describes this really well below.

I don’t edit or amend the pieces being written for me. I’m not an editor, and that’s not something that matters for the purposes of this series. Each piece is submitted in the author’s own writing style. I’m also not fact-checking, unless there’s something that needs to be fact-checked.

Qian is a learning & development professional who is passionate about cultivating a culture of learning to unlock our collective potential. She has extensive experience building large-scale capability transformation programs for organizations in the life sciences industry. Qian just completed a Master of Design degree in Strategic Foresight and Innovation from OCAD University in Toronto. She gets excited about the intersection of learning, systems thinking, and technology. She is also passionate about helping organizations create meaningful and fulfilling work and always looking for ideas to engage people in learning.

You can connect with Qian on LinkedIn.

No Time for Learning: Are We Solving the Wrong Problem?

If you ask a typical corporate employee what is their biggest barrier to learning, you will probably hear something like “I simply don’t have time!”

According to a Josh Bersin study, “the average employee only has 24 minutes a week to learn”. And this was 2015 data. Adding 7 years of rapid digital adoption plus the unprecedented level of change and uncertainty catalyzed by the pandemic, this number is likely even smaller today.

No time for learning is one of the biggest challenges in corporate L&D today. As a L&D consultant, I hear this regularly from learners that I interview, as well as from L&D teams and leaders that I work with. Yet we know that in this time of skills gaps, the Great Resignation, widespread burnout, learning is more important than ever before.

So as L&D professionals, how do we address this challenge?

There are many great solutions that our industry has produced in the last few years. From Learning in the Flow of Work to microlearning, gamification to focusing on human-centered learning experience design, we’ve come a long way to making learning more engaging, embedded into day-to-day workflow, and digestible to meet the needs of our busy lives.

But are these solutions enough? Will we solve the problem of ‘no time for learning’ if we continue down this path?

My suspicion is no. Why? Because I’d like to think that ‘no time for learning’ is not the problem, it’s a symptom of many underlying problems in our work and organizations today. Unless we solve the fundamental problems that’s causing the lack of time for learning, our efforts will likely fall short to create long-term outcomes that we’re hoping for.

To illustrate this point, let me share a quick story.

Sometime in the 1800s in India, there was a problem: there were too many poisonous cobra snakes on the streets of Delhi, their population was growing rapidly and becoming a danger for people. So the government came up with a solution. They offered a bounty for every cobra caught and killed. This incentive worked well initially and the number of cobras on the streets started to decline. However, as time went on, the problem didn’t go away—instead, the number of cobras started rising again no matter how many dead cobras were collected. Why did this happen? Turns out that people started breeding cobras in order to collect the reward. And guess what happened next? The government stopped the bounty program. Cobras were now worth nothing, so the breeders set them free, leading to more cobras on the streets of Delhi than before.

This story, known as the Cobra Effect, is commonly used to illustrate the point that we live in complex systems. And in systems, problems don’t just get solved by applying a quick ‘fix’, because cause and effect are not linear. Sometimes there are unintended consequences to a seemingly perfect fix, especially when you add the test of time. In the cobra example, putting an incentive on catching cobras actually amplified the problem. So what should have been done? The key is to understand the fundamental problems underlying the symptom. What’s causing the rising number of cobras in the first place? Fix that instead.

It’s time to add systems thinking to our L&D’s toolbox
The point of the story is that we need to dig a bit deeper on the fundamental causes behind the ‘no time for learning’ symptom. I often hear the argument that because people are more distracted than ever, and have no time for learning, therefore we need to keep learning more bite-sized, more micro. I have no problem with bite-sized or microlearning, there are many great use cases. But at the same time, could we actually perpetuate the problem?

I don’t know the answer exactly. But what I do know is that we need systems thinking in our L&D’s toolbox if we want to find out how to help people invest more time in learning (because we know that those who spend more time learning on the job are more engaged, productive, and successful than those who do not).

Systems thinking helps us do that because it’s an entirely different way of looking at problems than what we’re used to. It focuses on looking at things as a whole as opposed to a collection of individual parts. It helps us understand the dynamic and complex web of systems that we’re all a part of every day and helps us see how things influence one another both in the short- and long-term. It helps us find the root cause of problems and come up with solutions that address them.

Let’s start with this tool: the iceberg model (a.k.a. causal layered analysis)
While systems thinking is a vast and rich discipline of its own with many tools and methods that one can spend a lifetime learning, I’d like to introduce a simple tool that we can incorporate in our L&D practices.

You may have heard about it before as the iceberg model. It’s official name is causal layered analysis created by Dr. Sohail Inayatullah. It’s a technique of breaking down the driving forces behind the symptoms that we see on the surface through 4 layers of analysis as shown below.

Going back to ‘no time for learning’ as an example, this is what’s happening on the surface (the top level). Going down a level, what are the trends and changes that have occurred? One possible answer could be that people are increasingly getting burnout, overwhelmed with the amount of changes in a particular organization while keeping up with the productivity level that’s expected. Now what’s the underlying structure that’s behind this? It could be that there’s a lot of process and system inefficiencies that’s causing people to waste time navigating the systems as opposed to doing actual work or developing themselves. Or it could be that people are not finding the learning offerings from this particular organization useful for their rapidly changing role. Then going down to the bottom layer looking at the deep beliefs or values people hold in the system, we might find that there’s a lack of culture of learning at this organization. While there are many learning programs and initiatives offered, speed and productivity are valued the most and there is lack of integration of the learning mindset/culture into the day-to-day work and decision making.

The root cause of ‘no time for learning’ can be very different depending on the context of the analysis. But with using the iceberg model, we can begin to see that simply making learning more bite-sized or engaging is not enough to address the root cause of the issue. This technique can be used in various ways such as in a needs analysis, or in the design phase of a learning program to ensure we are designing solutions that address the fundamental problem.

As a L&D practitioner, I think it’s crucial that we take a systems view in our work in order to generate real and long-term impact for our learners, our teams, and our organization. And I hope the iceberg model I shared above can be useful to get us started.

I’d love to hear your feedback on my thoughts!

New voices in L&D – Adam Meek

We continue our series of new voices in L&D with a really helpful and practical piece from Adam Meek. Adam is a Product Manager for a leading learning tech provider. Today, Adam talks through a variety of tools some of you may or may not have heard or considered, the idea here is to give an alternative not just because they are free but because some of them are even better than the paid-for options.

I don’t edit or amend the pieces being written for me. I’m not an editor, and that’s not something that matters for the purposes of this series. Each piece is submitted in the author’s own writing style. I’m also not fact-checking, unless there’s something that needs to be fact-checked.

You can connect with Adam on LinkedIn.

Alternative tools for L&D

I have spent the last 10 years of my career speaking to learning and development professionals and the last 5 speaking about learning tech. To some, this is a really boring subject and in fairness, it should be. 

Often the focus conversations about learning tech are what can the tech do rather than the outcome for your people should you do it.

This sort of message is not just heard in learning but also in marketing, communications, research, creative industries and other areas where the outcome is not always a specific metric.

So, this list comes with a word of warning, before downloading or signing up to any of the below going in with a clear outcome for you  (even if that outcome is for you to learn to use the tool and say you can do so) or your people (maybe testing an MVP) will leave you with a different opinion than going in to just poke around.
If you would like to learn how we do this in Tech, I would recommend reading inspired by Marty Cagan.

Types of tools
Open source: 

Software that is released under a license in which the copyright holder grants users the rights to use, study, change, and distribute the software and its source code to anyone and for any purpose. In short, free stuff, produced by people who are passionate about creating said stuff with the skills to do so.

Upside: it’s free and often direct replacements for other tools.

Downside: often the look and feel is an afterthought, this isn’t usually the place to find original ideas (but this is changing). Usually requires downloading and installing which can be tricky on corporate machines. 

Freemium: 

A business model, whereby basic services are provided free of charge while more advanced features must be paid for. This can be online subscription services, in-app purchases or requiring the viewing of advertising to support the app development.

Upside: it’s free at least to start, these models are often browser-based so no need to download and the UI encourages you to complete your task.

Downside: It usually isn’t clear where you will be asked for money, you could spend time building something and then be hit with a bill when it comes to publishing/downloading it.

Data Monetised Apps: 

“If you don’t pay for the product, you are the product” Facebook, Google and Twitter are the best examples of this. 

Upside: they are mostly free, look and feel are excellent, ginormous budgets mean they create the best features and buy the companies that come up with original ideas before they can become competitors.

Downside: You feed the beast, type a product name and you will start to see adverts for that product appear when on the web elsewhere. 

I have previously written an article on this subject focusing on content creation here so this article will be focused on how you can create communities, analyse data, automate actions, host content, survey and even god forbid, make SCORM!

Communities
Discord

Open-source (if you host yourself) or Freemium

Anyone who has ever used Slack will feel right at home in Discord, for those that haven’t, think about if WhatsApp, Teams and Clubhouse had a baby and you would be close.

Starting out as a way for gamers to build a community around their games the features grew up when someone integrated Patreon to control access and this resulted in a boom of small communities for anyone to charge access to.
Now it’s a key source of income for most podcasts, bloggers, YouTubers giving them direct access to their fans without the noise you get on social media.

I look forward to the day consultant or consultancies advertise to join a patreon like a retainer for services. 

L&D use cases: 

Communities of practice, supporting a long-running programme, an alternative to teams, slack or Webex.

Alternatives to the alternative:

Terminal, Revolt, Telegram, Rocket.chat

Bubble

Freemium

Bubble describes itself as a way to create a prototype and scale to a full-scale app without a line of code. It is as close as you can get to no-code software development although I think you would run into some issues if you end up with 100k users, setting up a small community even a self-registering community is just a case of editing some templates and hitting publish. No-code tends to rely on multiple vendors to make the more complex sites so if you talk about bubble you generally have to also talk about airtable, if bubble is the fancy front end you can click, drag and drop, airtable is the database that holds all the user record, interactions etc in an excel-like interface. 

L&D use cases:

Communities, restricting access to your IP, content delivery, mini-lms, data capture.

Alternatives to the alternative

Sotr, Bravo Studio, Quixy, Thunkable, Webflow, Carrd.

Data analysis

I am not going to assume anything in this section, data analysis is incredibly mature in some organisations and non-existent in others so let’s start with the basics and go from there. 

Calc

Open-source

Calc is effectively a clone of Excel made by the open-source community because they were all so fed up of paying Microsoft for old rope. It used to be limited to open-source formats (not supported by excel) but part of the E.U. battle with Microsoft in the early 2k’s meant Microsoft made a switch from deriding open source community to fully embracing and even contributing to it on a regular basis. There are multiple versions of calc, LIbre Office and Open Office are the main ones people use.
For basic data manipulation, this will serve you well, it may not have all the bells and whistles Excel does, but then most of the bells and whistles excel does are done better elsewhere.

L&D use cases

Preparing reports, creating CSV’s, opening excel files without an MS subscription.

Alternatives to the alternative

Google Sheets, WPS spreadsheet, Zoho sheet, smartsheet.

DataWrapper.de

Open-source

Data analysis is a messy business, cleansing data, making sure its all in the right formats and then setting up pivot tables and whatnot to try and get all the data in the right place before you can click that magic chart button in excel….then after all that it does not work because of user error somewhere along the way. Days like that I will just chuck a file at data wrapper, it checks all different data, figures out what data is what and then applies the right formatting and gives you options to visualise it. 

L&D use cases:

Completion data manipulation, attendance record analysis, mail merge

Alternatives to the alternative

Trifacta, RapidMiner, Talend, Qlikview, Orange. 

Tableau Public

Freemium

Not for the faint-hearted, this is a fully-fledged data analysis tool that will help you organise your data and create easy to understand visualisations. The learning curve is a bit steeper than the rest here but this is proper data analysis, there are tonnes of Youtube how to’s to guide you through and even more friendly forums. 

L&D use cases:

Visualising engagement data, analysing big data, presenting statistics

Alternatives to the alternative

Google charts, WebDataRocks, BIRT 

SCORM authoring

SCORM gets a bad rap, for good reason, it’s a millennial, 30+ years old and it’s showing.

This is not Cristiano Ronaldo at 31, winning champions leagues and scoring loads of goals, this is Wayne Rooney at 31, grumpy, difficult and has serious personal problems.

Anyway, what I am saying here is it takes a lot of work to make a good SCORM course, personally, I have given up, but if you are stuck with an LMS that only accepts SCORM and a subject that requires you to get that fabled SCORM completion status and no budget to get captivate or no will to give Adobe any more money then there are alternatives.

Ispring

Freemium

Free to author and the simplest way to create a SCORM, take a PowerPoint, click a couple of buttons make a quiz and you are done. If you have to, this is the way to do it. 

L&D use cases:

Compliance training, Elf and safety.

Alternatives to the alternative

eXeLearning is a genuine open-source tool but a lot less intuitive.

New Voices in L&D – Russell Woods

Welcome to week 3 of the series in New Voices in L&D. Today’s piece is from Russell Woods, Organisational Learning Partner at Aster Group. Russell shares his insights of his time in a leadership role, his transition to an L&D role and what he’s learning about how to pay attention to the learning needs of the organisation.

I don’t edit or amend the pieces being written for me. I’m not an editor, and that’s not something that matters for the purposes of this series. Each piece is submitted in the author’s own writing style. I’m also not fact-checking, unless there’s something that needs to be fact-checked.

You can connect with Russell on LinkedIn.

From leading people to supporting leaders: My key takeaways from the transition

The average age that leaders get their first leadership role is 32 years old. When I heard this research on a recent leadership course, I could see how that would be correct. What I heard next was worrying; the average age leaders start getting professional development around leadership is 40.

When I think back to when I started my leadership journey at the age of 23, that research would have correlated with what I have seen and my experience. I was passionate about building an organisation but didn’t have much of a clue about leadership or the critical practices that would set me off on the right foot with my team. We were a small sports organisation, so the first time I went on a leadership course was probably eight years after becoming a leader. Luckily the chairman’s passion for self-development through books rubbed off on me big time.

During those 17 years of leading the organisation, I went through many highs and lows as we grew rapidly. It was a steep learning curve in how to lead an ever-growing team. Many mistakes were made, some easier than others to learn from. It was when I realised how important it was to work on myself, to give me a fighting chance of building a successful organisation.

I had reached a point in my career where I needed a new challenge, and everything told me L&D was the path to take. I’m now six months into my new role working at a forward-thinking social housing association called Aster Group, as an organisational learning partner. This career change into L&D has been the right choice, I’m a learning nerd and the fact I now get to do things like reading articles, watching videos, listening to podcasts as part of the research phase of designing support is amazing.

My transition from being a leader to supporting other leaders across the organisation from an L&D perspective has been a huge and exciting learning curve, with some of my insights and learnings being:

Resources, Experiences & Sessions must meet a need and be useful

Why are some L&D professionals designing support that potentially doesn’t even meet the needs of those they are serving? From discussions over virtual coffees with LinkedIn connections, I was gobsmacked to hear that this was happening in some parts of the industry. How do you know if the support is relevant to the challenges leaders and colleagues are facing? Will they be inspired to make the necessary behaviour changes if it’s not relevant? Will they even bother to access it? If you don’t know the answers to these then you are just pushing content at your colleagues and the chances of it being impactful drops dramatically.

Part of the process of supporting leaders and colleagues that I am enjoying, and in my mind is crucial, is talking to leaders and their team members to find out about the challenges they are facing. Delving deeper into these challenges gives me a better picture of what support should look like. Furthermore, how to design it so it creates an emotional connection with colleagues utilising it, helping them see how it will have a positive impact. This is where it’s crucial to ‘Be More Curious,’ as Michael Bungay Stainer would say, ask more questions, to gain more data and insights into my understanding of their challenges.

Preventing my bias from getting in the way when supporting leaders

I must remind myself to keep my unconscious and conscious bias in check when supporting leaders. Due to my experience of leading an organisation, it would be easy for me to hear a leader’s challenge and think of the same or similar challenge I faced as a leader. The temptation is then to go away and design support that would have worked for me. It’s human nature, right? Hear the problem, jump back to my personal experience and ‘hey presto’; give them the answer. Unfortunately, most of the time it’s the wrong solution. I must keep it front of mind that what worked for me may not work for them. It’s essential to explore potential other ways or better ways to support them.

The importance of belonging as a leader

What do leaders need to succeed? A growth mindset and to be passionate about developing themselves and those in their charge is key. They need to ensure that they and their team are prioritising the big rocks each day to allow them to have an impact whilst ensuring they are aligned to the wider organisation’s objectives. Leaders need to be clear on their strengths and bring individuals into the team who add additional strengths that the leader does not possess.

There are many more factors that come into play in building a successful team, but only till I stepped into my new role, one within a much larger organisation, that I realised the importance of community for leaders. Some leaders are actively building relationships across the business, but it feels there is so much more that can be done to build a community where leaders are sharing their learning and challenging each other to improve through conversations.

Recently I set up and facilitated an Action Learning Set for a group of leaders. The objective was for one leader to come with a leadership challenge they were facing, and the others to come with a question each to challenge their thinking and perception. It was brilliant to see these leaders from across the business, many of whom did not previously know each other, having inspired discussions and using great questions to make others think in different ways. The leader with the challenge came away with new insights and ideas of how best to approach their situation, and it was all through having discussions with other leaders, not a learning session. The power of communities! We need to create more experiences for leaders.

I’m still at the beginning of my L&D journey, and even after 17 years in leadership roles, I still feel there is so much to understand and learn to keep improving. For me that growth mindset is a key ingredient in making an L&D professional and a leader effective. However, the challenge is instilling that mindset across every level in organisations. To reach a point where people are sharing their learnings. To have people staying curious that little bit longer in conversations, before jumping into the advice giving if even required. I’m lucky I am surrounded by a great forward-thinking L&D team, and I’m up for the challenge and raring to go!

If we are connected on LinkedIn, you’ll know I always like to share learnings from books, podcasts, and videos. I have found it incredibly useful to reinforce my understanding and the conversations that follow, so here are a few that have helped my thinking and understanding of L&D and leadership recently.

Books

How People Learn by Nick Shackleton-Jones

Turn The Ship Around – David Marquet

Podcast Episodes

The Learning & Development Podcast by David James:

The Mental Fitness Podcast with Anthony Taylor

Learning That Sticks Podcast by Mark Williams

New Voices in L&D – Candice Mitchell

As we continue our series in hearing new voices in L&D, I’m pleased to welcome Candice Mitchell to the blog. In this piece, really interrogates the new starter experience when you start a new role remotely. What’s the role of L&D during this important period?

I don’t edit or amend the pieces being written for me. I’m not an editor, and that’s not something that matters for the purposes of this series. Each piece is submitted in the author’s own writing style. I’m also not fact-checking, unless there’s something that needs to be fact-checked.

Having built up a lifelong career in developing talent, Candice is a self-professed learning nerd because nothing excites her more than supporting people throughout their careers and watching them thrive. She is particularly adept at standing up the L&D function from the ground up and building capabilities in the team so that L&D can deliver best-in-class solutions to our customers.

You can connect with Candice on LinkedIn and on Twitter.

No person will be left behind

Imagine this. It’s your first day in your first role. You make your way to work. You walk from your bedroom, grab a cup of coffee, and walk through to your workspace. The butterflies, the excitement, the unknown, you have arrived. You open your shiny new laptop and dial in to your first meeting with your incredible manager. 

During that meeting you discuss the basics, your manager tells you about the team and the projects you’ll start working on. You are eager to get started. In the weeks that follow, you attend a company induction, you meet your teammates and key stakeholders, and get access to the information you need.

You start working. Days go by and you don’t speak to people except for the transactional messages pinging in your work groups. Now what?

Many people, especially young people entering the job market, are feeling like strangers in their own teams. They feel forgotten and lost, and they are too afraid to ask for help because they’re supposed to know this stuff. That’s why they got hired right? This is not how its supposed to be so let’s dig deeper.

I felt like a stranger

One heartbreaking account was of a person starting in a new team and “willing the faces in the Zoom squares to become their friends.” But they didn’t. In fact, no one except the lead person got to speak. There were too many people in the meeting and the approach was information sharing rather than collaboration. We will lose our sense of belonging if we do not connect to our teammates. No one builds relationships over Slack. We know that people put more of themselves into a job if they feel like they are part of something, part of a team, part of the organization.

We will lose our company culture. New hires who start in remote roles do not get to live the culture. You and I know that interacting with people behind the screen is not the same as in person because most online meetings or chat groups are transactional.

Out of sight, out of mind

New hires don’t get to know their colleagues which resulted in 34% less peer recognition for them compared to in-office counterparts. People have reported being forgotten and therefore not being invited to important meetings. They are not part of vital conversations.

For more experienced professionals, Amy Sanchez said, “In all transparency, the work from home phenomena has had a higher negative impact on career progression because we don’t have the same ability to build relationships and management is not making a lot of changes to org structure (unless it’s to let people go) because there’s so much uncertainty about the future,”

I am supposed to know this

Most research points to people being more productive from home, but who are these people. If you dig a little deeper, it is those with more experience. They know the job, they know how to achieve results and so the time saved from commuting and the office distractions, all make for a ripe environment to be more productive.

But on the other side of this coin, you have the inexperienced youth. Most of what I have read and gathered through conversations, is that they are too afraid to ask for help. They believe they should know this. They got hired into a job and so they should be able to do that job. But they don’t, not yet. They don’t ask and so in some cases, weeks go by without them completing a task and without anyone helping because no one knows that this person doesn’t know what to do. It’s a vicious cycle. Where is the support, and how do we learn from each other?

To sum up the challenge, an article “remote work is failing young employees” reports that all (interviewees) were grateful to be employed, but many felt left behind, invisible and, in some cases, unsure about how to actually do their jobs. How do we actively support people coming into our organizations, so that they feel included, mesh into the culture, make friends, and become confident and capable at their jobs?

These are the 5 things we can do now:

Show them the way

Your policies written up in the beginning of 2020 are no longer relevant and people are desperate to know what the new normal will be. It’s 2022 but let’s face it, 2020 was about surviving and 2021 was trying to come up for air. Now we’re here. We’re here in a time where we need to guide people. Set the policies, even if they are a work in progress. People appreciate the progress over silence. They need communication and clear guidelines on what’s next.

Learn from one another

Cross-functional cohort learning, I beat on this drum a lot but it’s one of my favorite instruments. Build safe places for people to connect and learn from one another. Do you have a leadership program? Mix the teams from finance, sales, and logistics. Do you have an on-boarding program? Mix the groups with people who have been there 3 months, 2 months, 2 weeks and 1 day. Sales Excellence programs? Customer Service programs? Mix people from in-field sales to the call center to the back-office support people who process the orders. We need to break out of the echo chambers and start building capabilities cross-functionally.

Connections

Different to cohort learning, social groups have no agenda or outcome. These are just groups where people share interests and come together to talk about it. Suggestions range from video game groups to book or movie clubs, virtual pub quizzes or organizational initiatives like wellness workshops or social impact events. Create the space and let the creativity flow. Your people will come up with ideas that feel natural and effortless. 

Coaching

Connect your people to one another through coaching programs. All managers should be coaches so my point here is this should extend beyond the manager as coach. My suggestion is to have a variety of coaches. A coach to show you the ropes of your role. A coach to be your sounding board when you are not sure about something, even something as simple as reading an email before you send it, time ranges to call people, appropriate times to email or send messages, where to find what. A coach to guide in navigating team dynamics and building stakeholder relationships. The more coaches, the more that person will be able to live your culture.

Mentoring

If I had to choose only one solution, this would be it. There is a huge need for mentorships. From the newbie, through to the seasoned professional.

A mentorship program is a deliberate and formal pairing of mentors with mentees. I believe in a double mentorship program.

The one mentor is there for support with career growth as the primary goal. This person can assist and map out the mentee’s long terms career goals and guide on how to get there. The mentor is a seasoned person in the organization that has reached the top of their career and wants to help build a talented pipeline. They have had their successful career and have nothing to gain from the mentee except to give back and impart their wisdom. I think this is reason enough.

The second mentor provides more immediate support with the primary goal of networking and championing the mentee on current work tasks. This mentor, as an example, guides the mentee through the prep of a presentation or arranges opportunities for the mentee to present to prominent people in the organization. This mentor will be recognized for growing top talent and getting people upskilled quickly to move from project to project or team to team. The mentee will be viewed as someone who can quickly add value with the guidance of this mentor. This mentor wants to grow their career and be recognized as a formidable leader. This mentee wants to be connected and be capable.

People are social creatures. Employees are most interested in collaboration. We want to work with people and feel connected. We want to do the best we can. We want to earn respect and we inherently want to be fantastic in our roles. Let’s help people be the best they can be, and feel that sense of belonging we all crave.

Research resources:

The future of remote working. The good, the bad and the ugly: https://luminalearning.com/the-future-of-remote-working-the-good-the-bad-and-the-ugly/

What employees are saying about the future of remote work: https://www.mckinsey.com/business-functions/people-and-organizational-performance/our-insights/what-employees-are-saying-about-the-future-of-remote-work

Why in-person workers may be more likely to get promoted: https://www.bbc.com/worklife/article/20210305-why-in-person-workers-may-be-more-likely-to-get-promoted

Remote Work Is Failing Young Employees: https://www.nytimes.com/2021/11/22/opinion/remote-work-gen-z.html

New Voices in L&D – Laura Bullen

Next in the series of new voices in L&D, we hear from Laura Bullen. This piece is a really helpful bit of thinking out loud. I really enjoy pieces like this because Laura sets out her stall for the current reality in her organisation and then sets out her intention for where she’d like to get to. There’s no finished a-ha moment, it’s a work in progress.

I don’t edit or amend the pieces being written for me. I’m not an editor, and that’s not something that matters for the purposes of this series. Each piece is submitted in the author’s own writing style. I’m also not fact-checking, unless there’s something that needs to be fact-checked.

Laura is an open-minded learning and development practitioner and accredited coach with over ten years’ experience of leading multidisciplinary teams to develop capability and deliver transformational change across multiple sectors. Laura leads on the strategy, design and implementation of learning pathways at the Co-op, the UK’s largest consumer co-operative.

You can connect with Laura on LinkedIn.

When is an induction, not an induction?

Have you ever tried to buy a new car only to be told that the display colour was the only model available? Or perhaps you’ve been to a restaurant where you were informed that the set menu was the only option? I can’t imagine you’d be willing to part with thousands of pounds of your hard-earned cash for a car that wasn’t exactly what you wanted. And I’m also not sure that the restaurant with such limited options would be somewhere you’d choose to spend an evening of your precious free time. I’m sure there are a few fine dining restaurants which would prove the exception but, in the main, it’s not likely to be your first choice!

And yet… when people join us in a leadership role at the Co-op, the UK’s largest consumer co-operative, an employer of over 65,000 colleagues, we only offer them one fixed option for learning.

We currently offer a 5-day fixed programme for first-line managers or a 12-day fixed programme for mid-senior managers to the Co-op. There’s no choice.

You may be joining us from another organisation, or you may be a promotee but you’ll receive exactly the same programme.

So, what if you’d like to just sign up for certain elements of the programme? Sorry, no.

What if the demands of your job mean that you can’t spare that many days for learning? Sorry, we can’t help you.

And what about if you already work for us and want to take part? Also, sorry, no.

I’m being deliberately facetious, and I should say that the content of both programmes is described as excellent so it’s not the content which is an issue. It’s when you consider this fixed approach in the context of our modern lives, which are becoming increasingly led by choice, it doesn’t quite fit. Pair this with the economic climate, increasing costs, and the drive to ‘do less with more’, and I’m sure you’ll agree that we can’t afford to rest on our laurels.

That’s why, this year, at the Co-op, we want to transform our approach to inducting leaders. We want our induction to mirror our ambition to promote a continuous culture of learning at the Co-op. We want to break down the content of our fixed induction programmes and offer these in a modular way as part of an ‘always on’ learning offer which is available to everyone, not just newbies. We want to create a way of orientating new leaders to the Co-op which is likely to be 1-2 days at most, followed by the opportunity for individuals to develop their own learning plan from our portfolio.

This doesn’t mean we will wash our hands of new starters and ask them to self-serve i.e. all but the most engaged do nothing. This means that we want to invest in the tools and guidance for leaders to create their own learning plans which should evolve as they grow into their roles rather than ending in the way fixed induction programmes do. My ultimate dream would be to include a human element… people helping people to create learning plans which support their goals. There are likely to be more than a few reality checks along the way, not all our businesses may be able to manage such a flexible model, but we’ll work closely with them, take on board feedback from colleagues, and let’s see where we end up!