Dyslexia and L&D

As I grow more aware of the human condition, and how this plays out in L&D, one of the things I become more aware of is the stance from which we operate.

As an L&Der, I think we presume to know what the right solution must be – after all, that’s why we are consulted in the first place about any and all things to do with L&D. However, I often find there’s an uneven rub and the answer doesn’t lie with us necessarily.

I am personally very careful to assume anything about the people or groups I work with. I’ve done this plentiful times in the past, and found the conversation that follows isn’t as helpful as it could have been, due to my assumptions and how I follow through on those assumptions.

Last week on Twitter, I put out this tweet:

I had a great set of responses, as follows.

David Goddin responded with two tweets:


We had a really good exchange in the following thread that happened.

Janet Webb offered her thoughts:

Alison Monkhouse had this response:

Which also prompted Abi Capella to ask these questions, too:

Denise Elliot shared this experience she had:

and some further thoughts from Denise, too:

Michael Osborne has experience with accessibility for online learning and had this to offer:

His thread is really helpful.

Twitter use Gold Business Consul had this response:

Samara Collins replied with this:

Donald Clark thought about practical solutions such as:

This personal sharing from Hasannah Rudd was really insightful:

Have you heard of Numicon? I hadn’t before Wes Atkinson shared his insight:

Martyn Bullard also shared his personal story and some helpful advice:

I liked this response from Keerti Jetly (not least because she bigged up my podcasts):

Janto McMullin makes a great point about the system and how we influence that:

Robert Hicks shares some really helpful practical ways to support:

This is a really simple approach from Emily Edge which I appreciate:

And this from Joyce Matthews looks at things from an instructional design perspective:

What’s really helpful for me from these responses is that we can look at problems from a number of perspectives. No one of these is more right than the others, it largely comes down to our choices for how we want to provide a solution.

As ever, I learn.


360 feedback and coaching

Over the years, I’ve been through and administered many 360 feedback surveys. The key thing about the feedback has always been about the quality of the coaching discussion that takes place with it and how you help someone think about the feedback in terms of their development.

Here’s my top tips for making sure the feedback and coaching from the report is done well.

1. It’s important for the feedback to be delivered via someone independent. That can be internal or external. It really shouldn’t be delivered by the line manager of the individual.

2. All 360 tools I’ve come across have a rating system. It’s important to understand what the ratings mean when debriefing. If that’s unclear to the individual it’s hard to interpret what the data tells you.

3. At the outset it’s important to know what the individual wants to say about the 360 process, their history to date, and hearing about any leadership development they’ve been through. This provides valuable context about them as individuals and how they’re likely to receive the feedback.

4. As the feedback facilitator, be sure you’ve read the report before you go into the meeting. You need to have a sense of what the report informs, where there are potential difficult areas to discuss as well as any strengths to draw on. The verbatim comments are helpful but only in the context of the questions asked. You can’t draw conclusions from the report alone without having met the person.

5. Although the questions are often clear in what they’re asking, they still get interpreted very differently by the individual. It’s important to hear what the person is saying and use that language and insight to help you understand what they’re thinking and what they’re making sense of.

6. Your role as facilitator of the 360 report is to help them make sense of the data. It’s not to diagnose a problem, provide expert advice or leadership, or to be their counsellor. It’s to helpfully ask questions and provide insights about the data they may not see themselves.

7. As you start to move through the report, there will be natural trends and patterns of thought emerging for the person. As long as they’re not concerning or unhealthy, let the person flow with their thinking. It’s their thinking process, not yours.

8. If there’s particularly difficult messages or insights from the data, or how the person is receiving the feedback, take your time. There’s rarely a rush or need to have the feedback over and done with at that moment. People need time to process hard messages and re-visit what they’ve heard and talk to someone helpfully about their thinking.

9. I know you’re meant to spend time at the end action planning. I think that depends on how the conversation has gone. If the person is clear about what to do next, then asking them to commit to that makes sense. But if they’re still cogitating, it’s unhelpful to ask them to commit to an action. And yes an action maybe as simple as “let’s meet in a week”, but I don’t think that’s the kind of action we’re encouraging.

An exploration of what L&D is for

“See Sukh, I don’t think we do ourselves justice by talking about ourselves as learning professionals. I think we do more than that. That’s why I think we need to talk about being performance consultants.”

“I get you. And I’m not sure we are performance consultants – not as performance is ordinarily defined in business. I can’t advise of financial performance, operational performance, for example. That’s not where I’m at nor do I think is where L&D are at either.”

This was last night’s conversation with David James. We really got into it. A proper debate about how we describe what we do. How we describe what we do is important. It defines us.

And I think there are multiple levels we operate at in our L&D roles.

We are experts in learning design and delivery. Give us content and we’ll pull together a well designed course, deliver it quite well and get positive feedback about the learning experience. That’s what we’re meant to deliver, and in most cases we do. Having had a good learning experience does not equate job improvement or performance improvement/enhancement.

We are experts in learning design using digital technologies. We can pull together content into engaging e-learning, curate digital resources and content in accessible ways, and role model how to share knowledge and insights at the point of need. That’s what we should be doing too. Delivering digital learning can be closer to improving performance, but there are often other barriers to overcome – accessibility of the platform, usability of the platform, relevance of the content.

We are also great at understanding business needs and translating that into learning needs. We can understand the strategy of a business and provide multitude of learning options that will enable the success of that strategy.

I agree with David. We are more than learning professionals.

I’m not convinced we are performance consultants. That’s just not part of the equation we get involved in – or should be involved in.

We influence performance, for sure.

Performance is meant to be managed by the people doing the job. Our role is to help them perform better, but not by being a performance consultant. We don’t do time and motion studies (or the modern equivalents), we don’t measure outputs, we don’t document work processes and identify improvements. If we were being true to the title of performance consulting, we’d be doing those things too.

Which leaves the equation incomplete and I am currently stumped. I’m unsure how to better frame what we do. Learning, yes. Performance, I remain unconvinced. Something else is happening and at play which we enable as L&D.

Changing the conversation

Last week, I had a musing.

This musing lead to a really good set of responses which I want to share here.

Nick Shackleton-Jones got involved and responded saying:

As you follow that thread, we had a good exploration of what we thought.

Ainsley McLeod had the following to offer:

I enjoyed Ains’ thinking and where it took him.

Mark Hendy thought about it and said:

He carried on reflecting and we had a good exploration of his thinking.

Twitter user, Inner Spiration, added these thoughts to the question:

Our conversation covered the difference between ‘younger years’ and the ‘us of today’.

Lorna Leeson got involved too and this was her initial bit of thinking:

She raised some good points that are worth thinking about.

Later, David Goddin added his thoughts, too:

Interesting about the comfort + needs + interest. Read it to see where we took that part of the conversation.

For Paul Batterham, he was pretty clear when he could change the conversation:

His further thinking was helpful, too.

After some time, Mike Shaw had some helpful thinking about seniority:

We had a good bit of shared reflection on what this meant for him.

I had a response from Leanne Griffin about the question, and this is what she had to say:

And Meg Peppin had this thought to share, too:

I enjoyed this bit of thinking from Doug Shaw:

His thoughts on just doing what needs to be done made sense to me.

And finally, Gemma Critchley shared her thoughts on getting involved when she cares about the outcome:

It was a great set of responses, and a lot there to think about further.

What does it get you thinking about?

Inclusion is the starting point

I take part in a regular Twitter chat called #LDInsight. It’s run and facilitated by a number of volunteers who help run the @LnDConnect Twitter account. The question last week was

What are you doing to address unconscious bias in your design?

It’s a great question and you should check out the hashtag for a lot of good thinking and practice happening in this space. Here’s my tuppence.

There are a number of things we have to make sure we understand about unconscious bias:

  • Self awareness doesn’t mean you’re not susceptible to unconscious bias
  • Training in unconscious bias doesn’t mean you now don’t have unconscious bias
  • Through many forms of influence (e.g. upbringing/societal/political/environmental) our biases are formed and reinforced
  • In some cases our biases help us to make good decisions
  • In other cases our biases will try to protect against perceived harm/fear/attack
  • Narratives and persistent messaging influences bias (e.g. M&S food is better quality than Aldi)

As I’ve been reading about the area of bias and how it influences human behaviour, one of the areas I see it being manifest is in decision making. We like to think, as rational, adult, educated humans that we make decisions based on sound judgement, through calculated logic and through objective criteria. That can happen, and the reality is more often than not it doesn’t happen that way. Buying a house for example is rarely a logical choice about money, it’s nearly always about how you feel about the house. Decisions in businesses are a different kind of decision making. In those instances it’s about the policies or the principles that are being upheld. That’s what drives the decision making. So if a value or principle of your organisation is to be fair, you’re likely to make decisions that are in that vain. If a driver is commercial advantage, decisions will be made against that aim.

It’s fine to make decisions against a line of thinking as long as it’s explicit that’s what drives the decision making.

We can fall down when we do not design into the decision making process factors that will mitigate against poor decision making due to influence of bias. For example being commercial is no bad aim, but if you’re doing it by discriminating against a group, then it has to be questioned where the moral and ethical lines are drawn. Often times our decision making doesn’t actively include thinking about mitigating against unconscious bias, and very rarely are we in a position where decisions have to be made immediately. I’m not referring to medical life and death decisions, I’m referring to normal regular everyday life decisions. We can nearly always take time to think a bit further to ensure we’re being inclusive.

The other place, more specifically in L&D, that I see us not paying enough attention to being inclusive is in the design of learning solutions. Inclusion tends not to be the driver in the design of learning solutions. Instead the driver tends to be about designing a good learning solution. After all that’s either what we’re hired or commissioned to do. Designing a good learning solution feels like the right thing to do and the right thing to focus on.

And it is.

Except what I often observe is that there is little thought process in the actual design to ensure bias isn’t unwittingly influencing decisions we make about the actual design itself.

For example:

  1. If you’re writing communications for the learning solution, what language are you using and how inclusive is it?
  2. If you’re writing a case study, what’s the demographic of the person you’re writing about?
  3. If the people registered for your programme are all from a certain demographic, how are you raising that with the course sponsor?
  4. If you’re using a model or a theory, what’s the evidence base for it? If it’s a model presented as being backed up by research, what groups was that research done with? If that research supports one group over another, what’s the validity of that model?
  5. If you’re holding a conference, how are you explicitly let it be known that you want a diverse and inclusive line up of speakers?
  6. If you’re holding an open session and you have registration from a certain group, how else can you market your product so it’s accessible to more groups?
  7. If you’re co-delivering, how are you making choices about who your co-facilitators are and what bias that either reinforces or provides for different thinking?
  8. If you can’t avoid making certain design decisions, how can you design into the session acknowledgement that those decisions had to be made?

The thing is about diversity and inclusion is if you think they’re important, it has to be designed into the idea as the idea is forming. Trying to design in D&I into a solution once it’s started taking shape is harder because your product is already forming in a certain direction. Once you give an idea a voice and it starts to take shape is when our bias starts to influence what the idea ends up looking like.

I think if we approach design with inclusion as a lens, it allows for a better learning solution. Of course the learning solution should meet a clear business need and it should be well designed to deliver a good learning experience. If we also are explicit that inclusion is important for the design then we can also enable that to happen.

Facilitation skills aren’t enough in L&D

It used to be the case in L&D that if you could train well, could design a good training session and had half decent facilitation skills you’d do pretty well in your role.

And as L&D started to grow in its breadth of roles and what it could deliver, that skillset became part of a host of others that needed to be developed too.

Instructional Design became an important skill as it became clear that e-learning could be more than just click next PPT screens. It became really important to understand how to design e-learning, how to create engaging digital content, and how to have a good user experience of learning.

Budget management became important too. Normally overseen by an operational manager, L&D needed to understand how to have commercial conversations about buying a range of learning provisions from outsourced training to using freelance consultants to buying e-learning to buying an LMS. It’s not a natural skill for many in the profession who just want to design and deliver training.

You had to learn how to create a strategy for L&D for the business. That was just never part of the skillset we were taught or learned about. Yet it’s vital for business operations and establishes your credibility as an L&D leader and as a business leader as someone who wants to provide L&D for the organisation. Add to that writing business cases too and again it’s a set of skills that don’t come naturally to a group who prefer to do work in workshops and design learning interventions.

We had to become proficient at using and becoming confident with systems like an LMS and what it can and can’t do. What reporting can it produce? How much can it automate for learning administration processes? How easy is it for people to find courses and book on? What other systems does it need to interact with and what security concerns does that raise? All sets of questions that you didn’t know you needed to know the answers to. And if you’re buying in a system for your organisation and never done that before how do you even know where to start?

It became important to learn how to be an internal consultant in the business and not just order takers for training courses. How are you building networks and connections with business leaders? What is their opinion about L&D and how can you influence them? When business leaders ask for training how are you helping them explore a range of options and designing the right set of solutions? What conversations are you having internally that help you identify yet to be identified as business and learning needs?

And it became even more challenging to be comfortable with the models and theories available about learning or about the human condition. Go to any learning conference and you’ll be hard pressed to make good decisions about working with particular suppliers or vendors because arguably they offer similar products just with their own angle on what works. And add to that the evidence base for many of those models and theories will either be non-existent, minimal or anecdotal at best. That’s not good enough for a profession meant to be focused on improving workplace performance.

This is only some of the expanded world of L&D that is now relevant and business as usual for many organisations. I come across many in the profession who are great at being facilitators but don’t want to know about or be involved in these other aspects of the role. I’d argue that if you want to develop a career in L&D the above are important elements to either gain better understanding of or gain actual experience in.

Smartphones and training

For a long while, when training I let people know we’ll be working with adult rules. That people do what they want, when they want, how they want. For me, it sets up how I intend for the training to be. That it’s about shared responsibility and shared power in the room. As the trainer/facilitator I have a role to play and so do the group I’m with.

One of the things I openly advocate is that people don’t have to put their phones away. It’s just not my role to mandate what people should or should not be doing with their personal property.

I see and observe many trainers making clear that this isn’t part of the bargain of training. I’m just not convinced it needs to be. The argument is normally something like “if they’re on their phones how can they be paying attention to the training?”

Which is a fair question. Except it means that we’ve forgotten some important elements of human behaviour and of learning design.

Not everyone can pay attention to everything in a training session at the pace you need or want as a trainer. I’ve had plenty of people ask me to repeat something because they weren’t paying attention or because they got lost in their own train of thought or because they were thinking of something else at the time. That happens with or without smartphones.

Some people like to doodle or fidget when they’re processing what they’re hearing. If someone is doodling we often respond with “are you bored” type comments. Who are we to know what that person is or is not learning?

Smartphones do give the opportunity for distraction, I don’t doubt that at all. But, what if their use was actively encouraged in the training? Instead of “put them away” why not “on your phone plug in and watch this TED video so we can discuss after, or “here’s a URL for a great site about coaching. Read it and it’ll provide a great way to lead to the next exercise.” Those are valid uses of smartphones and lets people know that training is actually a modern learning environment.

One of the common arguments against traditional training is that they’re removed from the work context. That’s true. Advocates against training will also say people learn everyday via their smartphones. That’s true too.

If the session is designed to actively use smartphones what we’re doing is enabling people to better learn on their own terms by using their devices as learning tools as well as the many other uses it gets used for. If that’s a good outcome I’m unsure why it’s frowned upon.

My final piece here is that if the design of the learning is good enough, people will be engaged with the learning experience and not feel the need to have to use their devices until they feel appropriate. If they are reaching for their devices it probably says more about the poor design than it does the person’s attention capacity or capability.

Related to this is also that I reckon it’s often the trainer reacting to the lack of attention on them as the trainer. They’re in a role where they expect people to pay attention to them and when that doesn’t happen it’s almost like an affront and direct challenge to their role and their credibility as a leader of that session.

I’m definitely interested to hear people’s responses to this.