Being your best self at work

This is the basis of the talk I’m delivering at Learning Live on Wednesday 10 September.


Start with Phil’s blog post – It’s time to choose, right now.

Can everyone with a smartphone have it on and connected to the wifi, we’re about to crash the system.

Go to YouTube and search for Chicken chicken chicken.

Apart from being an amusing video, with valuable insights into chickens, this is what’s happening daily in organisations across the world. And L&D are doing little to stop peddling this way of raising the game.

With all the talk of Chief Learning Officers, Business Partners and our activities being linked to business objectives, we’ve lost sight of what we do best. We help others be their best self.

I want to question why our focus is where it is. I want to invite you all to put those big brains together and have some hardcore dialogue. I have no answers, I just have a lot of observations. One of my biggest observations is that we are so lost in making whizz bangy learning programmes that we’ve lost the art of being in L&D.

We get lost in designing and creating weird and wonderful programmes of activity that are not guaranteed to do do anything other than impress ourselves with the level of sophistication of the programme. We get lost in rights and wrongs at works. We get lost in absolutes and stakes in the ground. We get lost in prescribing actions and mandating actions. We are so lost we fool ourselves into thinking a strategy will rectify the haze we’ve created.

You know who has the least clue of what’s going to happen next? People in power. You know who else has no clue of what’s going to happen next? People not in power. Yet we fool ourselves into thinking that control and direction are the answer. They are an answer. But not the answer.

Control and direction only matter when you’re clear about your purpose. And if our purpose is to help others be awesome, that’s what I’m aiming for.

Maslow had it wrong. It’s not that our basic needs must be met before we can self-actuslise. It’s that we’re not focused on self-actualisation enough because we think we need basic needs.

Helping people be their best self at work is about helping people do stuff better. My kids are awesome because they find ways to be awesome all on their own, with some guidance and prompting from me.

That’s where we’re falling down in L&D. We still think we have to give our learners the answer to all of their problems. We don’t. What we have to do is help them learn how to get their themselves.

It’s easy designing a course following a set curriculum. It’s even easier delivering that training. What’s hard is just providing people with resources and asking them to get on with it.

It’s easy to get lost in the idea of social learning and 70-20-10 as a methodology for delivery. Let’s explore what that all means.

Think about e-learning Design. What one thing do you do really well?

Find someone who you want to learn from on a topic on the wall and talk to them about what they do. What techniques do they use? Why those? Why are they effective? How did they learn them?

Communities of practise at work.

What one thing do you want to learn more about?

Find someone in the group who can help you. How can they help? What will you be able to do differently?

Peer based coaching and learning at work.

Mindfulness in learning

Carry out a 4 minute mindfulness session.

What are you now focused on doing?

Is that how you’ve practised mindfulness before? What was your experience? No right or wrong answer. It’s about better understanding and practise. It’s about focus of thought. How do we encourage focus of thought instead of juggling of balls?

If embedding of learning takes anything from 5 days to 120 days, what exactly are we reporting on in our MI? How does bums on seats help us show the efficacy of learning?

Outcomes are hard to define. Performance is hard to attribute to learning.

You know what the biggest fib L&D tell ourselves and the business? That performance improved because of the L&D intervention.

The greatest trick the devil pulled was convincing the world he didn’t exist. That’s what L&D do. We convince the business world that L&D directly affected performance. Poppy cock – and we all know it too. I’ve peddled that lie many a time.

Performance at work is attributable to so many things, L&D being just one of them.

People are amazing when you give them the opportunity to do so. And we try our damndest to attribute everything as a learning intervention.

Once you tell someone they’re awesome, that’s a pact made in gold. You can’t renege on that. But it’s such a pact, we keep those comments reserved for the few. For the talented. For the ones who will drive the business forward. Because that’s the way the world works.

What are the outcomes we can report on? How do we focus on those outcomes as a way of reporting?

No one wants to suck at work. People don’t come to work thinking they’re going to do a bad job.

Building self-belief into learning design. Resilience is the ultimate goal.

One of the ways in which we can build resilience is by focusing on inclusion. I don’t just mean completing your E&D annual training. I mean actively and repeatedly looking at how inclusive you’re being for your organisation. In your comms, in your activities, in your language, are you being inclusive? When you spot bad behaviour, when you hear unsavoury comments, when you witness something bad, are you acting inclusively to help and support? In yourself, in your actions, in your judgements, are you challenging your own self to be more inclusive?

The question is how do we build resilience? The answer is it depends. It depends on your organisational context. If you’re in the police it’s about your personal resilience in dealing with anything from a domestic dispute, to abuse to drunk behaviour to death. If you’re a firefighter it’s anything from fighting a fire to cutting a roof of a car to filing a report. If you’re a data analyst it could be anything from a personal dispute with a colleague, to a heavy workload to Excel not playing ball. If you’re a coffee shop barrista it could be anything from irate customers to a broken machine to a kid puking on the floor.

When we can help people learn about themselves in those situations – that’s when things become special. When you are mindful of what you’re experiencing, as you’re experiencing it, that’s when people perform at their best.

Compliance training, statutory training, mandatory training, collaborative learning, social learning, informal learning, professional qualifications, personal development and management development, all have a place in supporting a person’s development and resilience building. But until they need to know a critical fact or learn about others experiences, or have a moment to practise what they’re learning, they won’t be their best self.

I hope this gives you more to think about than it does answers questions. I’m not in the game of providing answers. I’m in the game of facilitating and provoking thought. I’m in the game of helping people be their best self at work.

What are you focused on?

Published by

Sukh Pabial

I'm an occupational psychologist by profession and am passionate about all things learning and development, creating holistic learning solutions and using positive psychology in the workforce.

3 thoughts on “Being your best self at work”

  1. Great blog post and I wish you all the best facilitating some thought provoking discussion at Learning Live. Today I had lunch with a good friend today. Our topic over a bowl of noodle soup was exactly this – what value does L&D bring to the table anymore? Have we lost our way? Have we lost focus? What can we do to get it back? Can we get it back?

    He had an interesting situation that they experimented within the medical industry. They got an aeronautical engineer and an acoustics expert to go into the operating theatre with the surgeon to watch him perform on the job. They then had a debrief. The engineer questioned why certain equipment was placed where they were; the acoustics specialist wondered why there was so much noise from the machines and in the operating theatre and both continued to provide some interesting feedback that the surgeon and medical staff never even considered. The concept was brilliant – peers from across industries providing objective feedback and observations on workplace matters. I was thinking how can L&D have facilitated this type of “intervention” to occur? Would we have thought of this? This is an example of the surgeons and medical staff (clients) not even realising the potential to improve current workplace practices but opening their eyes and ideas from others outside their industry.

    Sometimes we need to try something new and focus on the future and not the past.

    Good luck in your session!

    1. I love this example, Helen, thanks very much for sharing. It’s examples like that which are aces and show that people will do this kind of thing independently of L&D intervention. Who knows, maybe the surgeon had a conversation with an L&Der and this approach got sparked. What I’m cautious of is automatically assigning this down to an L&D intervention at all. If someone in the business made this happen, let’s applaud that for what it is and share that story. People will learn from that naturally.

  2. Some very good points Sukh. For me some of what you’ve said can be summarised as “L&D don’t own learning anymore and are just beginning to realise this and its implications”. But we can impact performance if we do less of the traditional things we’ve been doing and more at the work coalface where performance actually happens.

    Great example Helen. If that was initiated by L&D I would be joyfully surprised.

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