Author: Sukh Pabial

I'm an occupational psychologist by profession and am passionate about all things learning and development in the workforce. One blog is about that. The other is about tennis.

Self-care, resilience and indulgence

It can seem like a real indulgence these days to talk about self-care. There’s far too much happening in global situations that are impacting us in various ways. And for many thousands of people, there are daily struggles that are being fought and battled. What place, then, does talk of self-care have amongst all this?

You’re all smart people. The below is nothing revelatory.

It’s a hard question in truth. But when you start to break down what we’re all up against, you start to see that a new way, or indeed an evolved way, of being is much needed.

We’re all much busier these days. Gone are the days of January being a lazy start for the beginning of the year. These days, from the 2nd January, it’s all systems go.

There is too much to do, too many places to see, too many things to experience. Bucket lists are a regular thing these days because of the ease of access we have to everything.

The exponential growth in the development of technology over the last 100 years has seen us develop skills, thinking and businesses in ways we couldn’t have conceived.

Modern medicine means we are all living longer. The life expectancy for developing countries has improved because of modern medicine, so this isn’t a ‘first world’ fact, it’s a global fact.

Education and access to education has improved dramatically. This doesn’t necessarily mean we’re all getting smarter, but it does mean we’re all developing those higher thinking capabilities on a much more even keel now.

Modern science means we are developing theories and carrying out experiments that push the very limits of current human knowledge.

Our cognitive thinking abilities are seriously advanced. We are able to debate and progress thinking to such levels that we’d need an interpreter into clear English (or language of choice) for the most serious of debates.

Our physical bodies are capable of being developed into such physical conditions that the elite of the bunch can perform physical tasks that leave us in awe.

Modern communication methods mean people are in such ease of contact that it’s almost a human right.

It’s a big old world, and we’ve got all that either going for us, or going against us.

So, taking the time to genuinely care for yourself, is a necessity these days.

It’s hard to do. It’s hard to build in time for yourself where you carry out activities that are generative, positive and progressive.

When we don’t, though, we know that our resilience is weakened. Finding the energy and motivation to push forward when things are placed in your way isn’t easy.

We don’t tend to provide this focus for the people we work with. It tends to be a ‘get on with it’ attitude. Which is fine for some, but it can’t continue that way. We’re under too much pressure, all of us, to just hope people will be ok.

Building that resilience, building that tenacity, building that emotional intelligence, building that empathy, are all important things to do. When we skip over those, for the interests of the business, or for self-interests, is when we reduce our ability to be better.

There shouldn’t be anything I’ve written above that you all won’t know about. Hopefully it reinforces some things you already knew.

HR and dirty words

Sometimes, HR, you piss me off. And I include L&D/recruitment/etc in that mix.

This week, Neil Morrison, Doug Shaw and Phil Willcox have all written about words or things they hear which grate on them. They’re not alone, many others feel similarly about buzzwords and mot du jour type affairs.

Engagement, disruption, innovation, consultants, are all words of choice that various people are moaning about and wanting to stab themselves in eyes with blunt instruments over.

It’s like there needs to be a competition for who can articulate their annoyance with buzzwords the best.

Other people write about generation y, talent management, social learning, 70:20:10, and whatever else hits their screens that irks them.

Hell even I do it. NLP homeopathic scientologists of this world beware!

Of course, we’re all wrong in doing that. And we’re all right. We’re wrong because we all know that at some point those buzzwords will need to be a genuine talking point. Someone with smart brains will come along and explain why those things need to be part of the mix. If they’re not part of the mix now, fine. At some point they will, and we’ll have to get on that wagon.

We’re all right because that’s the beauty of a free mind and being able to express yourself. Annoyance and frustration articulated well force the advocates to have robust and solid arguments. That’s never easy and it means people with smart brains are really made to work for their opinion.

On Discipline

The other day I was with my family at the gurdwara. It’s the Sikh place of worship. I was reflecting while there on mindfulness. While sitting there, the Guru Granth Sahib ji (holy book and seen by Sikhs as their Guru) was being read as is normal. People were coming and going, some were sitting listening, and my kids would come and go to me and my wife.

You see, there is a discipline while in a gurdwara. Men and women are not meant to sit together, so they sit on either side of the room. There’s no physical division, just an acknowledgement that there is one side and another. When entering the gurdwara, you are meant to offer something (e.g. food, money, sweets, flowers) before bowing your head to the Guru Granth Sahib ji. Your head should be covered as a sign of respect in reference to the Five Ks worn by practising Sikhs.

In different gurdwaras the volunteers enforce these rules with varying levels of dogma.

Which got me thinking about how one can practise mindfulness when discipline is also important. It also got me considering, what’s the importance of discipline? Who does it benefit? What does it support?

If mindfulness is the act of creating focus, how can this happen when there are distractions abound?

In the army, discipline is paramount. Orders must be followed and there are rules to be followed. We see this clearly when soldiers are on parade. The pristine of their clothes, the drill they go through, the preciseness (totally a word I just made up) of how things are done, the way orders are given and followed, are all important.

Sports players are a seriously disciplined bunch. The elite players control everything they do from the food they eat, to the training they undertake, to the sleep they get, to the company they keep, to the physical exercise they carry out, to the practise of what they do. Without this discipline, they would not be elite, they would just be average.

And I wonder at work, what happens to discipline? We often talk about it as a form of punishment. Managers carry out disciplinary hearings all the time to rectify poor performance. And, it seems, that’s it.

Is there a place for discipline to be more than that at work?

Valuable lessons in programme design

Being an advocate of innovation in learning design and facilitation, and doing it, is quite the challenge to live up to. While at the same time advocating in the benefits of co-creation and collaboration, is also not without its challenges.

I’m in the middle of our programme for senior management development and have taken some valuable lessons which were a bit hard knock, but you know, it’s all good and definitely worth sharing.

Sometimes things need to be better than good enough

I’m a fan of iterative work. I don’t believe it’s possible to always produce a great solution, and that great solutions only develop once something is out there and it’s live. If you’re spending all your time prototyping and building, then when is it ever ready to be road tested? Even when it is ready, you’ll always receive valuable feedback on how to improve it. So, the logic follows that when it’s good enough to be road tested, get it out there.

Except, there are plenty of good reasons for making sure something is better than good enough. Prime being that you want to be able to show the thought and design into why something happened. I was betting heavily on receiving input from others to help create something of joint value. The input has never ceased to come along, and what I’ve learned is that unless people are used to that as a way of working, it’s hard to just expect it to happen, even with guidance and nudges.

Self-direction in a programme has its limits

I’m a big advocate of people owning their learning. Give people the chance to take control of their learning and treat them like adults. Which is a fine principle, but I forget people have day jobs to get on with, so when it comes to this self-directed destiny of stuff, some clear support and advice doesn’t go amiss.

Actually, it’s one of the most fascinating insights I’ve taken is that when people have clear parameters in how to undertake their own learning, they’re fine. But give people open reign, and it’s almost too much freedom. Cos you know, humans.

Peer based dialogue trumps content every time

We’ve designed some damn good content into the programme. From topics ranging from emotional intelligence, to coaching, to neuroscience, to strategic decision making to wellbeing and health and more. We’ve created projects for groups to be part of to be part of cross-departmental initiatives to be able to effect change across the organisation.

And what’s the repeated message of what people find valuable? The time to talk with peers and hear what’s going on in other parts of the business. Sure the content is interesting and all, but at this level, it’s really valuable to also just talk. Who’d a thunk it?

External consultants are really valuable

I’m not averse to working with external consultants. I have a level of arrogance which tells me that I could facilitate and deliver learning sessions on most topics. I also have enough self-awareness to recognise that I can’t be jack of all trades and I need to be careful about where I spend my energy in the delivery of the programme.

I’m working with a number of people who have real depth of experience and knowledge in their respective fields of interest. What I’m finding really valuable is the one on one discussions I’m having with them in the design of the sessions they’re facilitating. There’s a lot of value in creating clarity of thought and considered plans for facilitation which are bearing their fruit and proving their worth.

Where possible I’m trying to bring facilitators together too so that there’s opportunity to do that talking thing between people and sharing thoughts and insights into the delivery of the programme.

I haven’t touched social technologies

I’m almost ashamed to admit this. But, you know… I have no excuse. There are plentiful opportunities to use social technologies in a number of ways and I’ve just not gone there. I got too focused on other aspects of programme design and didn’t factor in any use of social technologies.

Executive involvement is always a winner

There are two modules in the programme where I’ve specifically sought the involvement of executive members of the organisation due to their insight and their knowledge of the business. I actually really enjoy working like this, because it’s not just asking them to deliver a presentation, but it’s getting to work with our leaders in a way which allows them to be these ‘real’ people to others. Presentations can be well rehearsed and you can put on a facade when delivering. But facilitating and imparting knowledge and insights requires a different skill set.

I’ve followed all the standard things in developing and designing a programme like this. The above learnings have been surprising for me in some respects, and reinforce some beliefs too. Often in the world of L&D we talk of well designed programmes as if they always work out just as planned. I’m not shy to show my working out.

Words, The naming of businesses and other thoughts

I’ve been thinking about some recent writing from Phil Willcox where he breaks down the use of words and questions and how we use them to purposefully direct conversations either wittingly or not.

I’ve been thinking about how we name things and the strange attraction to branding. When London Underground became a company, did they think that was a good name? Did they consider names like London Travel Company? Why didn’t they call it something crazy like Sounds?

When a company gets names these days, does the name matter? If it’s your local newsagent, is it enough to be called Pabial’s News? Does a consultancy need a purposeful name? Could I call mine SP Consultancy? Why wouldn’t I call it The Learning Consultancy?

How did marketers decide that clever naming was a thing? Why did app based technology companies create short form names like Tumblr and Flickr? What’s wrong with the actual words they represent?

I’ve been thinking about in L&D how we use inaccessible language.

When we talk about storyboarding for e-learning to the business do they need to decrypt the words? Why can’t we say we’re designing the content and making sure it has a logical sequence?

When we say we need to build resilience why can’t we say we need to help people know how to deal with bad things when they happen?

When we say we are facilitating an away day focused on team development why can’t we say we’re helping people to understand each other better so they can work better together?

When we say we’re creating communities of practise why can’t we say we’re providing a forum for people with common interests to come together and get better at what they do?

I’ve been thinking about whether or not coaching is the only method of personal development we can have any faith/confidence would be causal and developmental.

EQ in 2015

There’s a growing world of information and knowledge around how to improve leadership. It’s almost overwhelming. And at the same time, it’s hard to know what’s got legs, what’s just a fad and what’s snake oil.

I’ve been interested in the topic of emotional intelligence for a long time now. In the early days it felt like a fresh new perspective on what drives people. Dan Pink, around the same time, was talking about autonomy, mastery and purpose. Independent psychology consultancies were developing their own tools. Salovey Mayer and Baron were some of the names leading the way. A consortium arose wanting to provide rigour and force behind studying the topic.

Daniel Goleman has a lot to answer for. It’s widely acknowledged now that he didn’t start this type of thinking, but he certainly did give it a big push. Well done that man.

I remember back in 2007 (not that long ago now) first hearing of the work of Paul Ekman and microexpressions. I was captivated and hungry to know more. Malcolm Gladwell wrote Blink around then and was writing about Facial Action Coding Systems.

And today there seems to be a big focus for reflection. Some call it mindfulness, some call it reflective practise, some call it tree-hugging nonsense. There is a place for this. Reflection is supportive of raising self-awareness. It is supportive of understanding your own emotions and thoughts better. It is supportive of examining and analysing personal approaches to life and to work.

The final piece, which seems to be more supportive than it is revelatory, is how we understand neuroscience and its part in developing understanding of the human condition. Technology is allowing us to really start to explore the brain well and understand how behaviours function and how chemical reactions change the way we behave. There is fascinating information coming forward but we’re at proper early doors with this understanding.

There’s a lot out there just on the topic of EI to get lost in. A lot of people claiming to have the right answer and advocating a certain way of being. In an age of information being available readily, it’s harder to be seen as a leader in the field.

On Friday 20th March, I’m going to be attending the EQ Summit in London. It’s being hosted by Roche Martin with Sheffield Hallam University and Sheffield Business School. They’ve got the likes of Harvard Business Review curating the event for them and Dan Pink delivering a keynote and panel session. I’ve been invited to blog at the event and I’m totally there.

I’m not expecting big answers from the day. That’s too much of an ask, and it’s unlikely to happen. I am expecting to hear some clear thoughts on how the field of EI has developed into a thing to be taken seriously. I don’t really care about how it’s helped the executives of a big corporate beast to deliver more financial performance. I really want to hear some further things on how EI is helping us understand the human condition.

*For clarity, emotional intelligence is often given the abbreviation EQ as well as EI. This was an effort to liken it to IQ – intelligence quotient.

Time to think, busy-ness and creativity

I find creative thinking and creativity to be a seriously interesting set of things to be thoughtful about. Being creative isn’t easy, and often it’s fraught with challenges about gettings things done. I like exploring in myself how creative I can be and what creativity looks like for me. In that self-learning I gain insight into my own workings and use this to see what I can design for others.

In that design of helping others to learn things, I’m mindful of an array of tools and techniques at my disposal. I’m also highly mindful of adult learning processes. We’re all busy people these days. Gone are the days January could be a quiet ease back into work, every day is at pace.

With a group of senior managers I worked with them on developing their problem solving and creative thinking skills. Back to that thing of adult learning processes and in the design of the session what I focused on was the outcomes and usable tools.

In problem solving we talked about how to use lean thinking, SWOT analysis, PESTLE analysis, trial and error, the use of technology, using Five Why’s and root cause analysis.

We also spent a lot of time talking about how we allow for mistakes to be made and how we show to our teams it’s ok to own the mistakes when they happen and together solutions can be created.

Unsurprisingly, we talked about brainstorming, we talked about how to use post-its for idea generation, we did mind-mapping, we had a chat and we went for a walk.

Now, those last two are what interest me. We had a chat. Actually we had dialogue. Views were challenged, thoughts were expressed, and ideas were generated. It was free-flow, I kept a close eye on time, and when it drifted I brought the discussion back into focus. It was fascinating to watch it unfold, and to see how the group responded.

And we went for a walk. I explicitly gave people instruction to not talk to one another as we walked and to just take notice of things as we walked. I took the idea of Street Wisdom and played with it. I didn’t label it as anything, just that we would go do this, and we’d then talk about our observations.

There was some big learning for me in all we did yesterday. Prime of these is that I’m reall railing against PPT as an aid for delivery of content. I just don’t see the point of it anymore. Learners don’t need to see a well designed slide deck, they need a good learning experience with relevant content. Does that come from a slide deck or from the prep I do to be present with them?

As I’ve been advocating tools and techniques for much of my L&D career, I’m also now advocating the ability to talk well with groups. I have a fundamental belief in using the wisdom of the crowd to create learnings and useful outputs. Where that gets stuck I can intervene with things I think might help. Where it’s working well, I see no need to do anything further in terms of content.

Giving people that time to think and to connect with each other in the room seems to be a regularly sought after experience. Not to connect around things like work flows and projects, but to share thoughts, experiences and develop insights. I pay careful attention to how I develop this as a facilitation skill, and what that experience means for the people I’m with.

Finally, a thought on creative thinking tools. As useful as they are to help people generate ideas, insights and solutions, that’s just not how ideas happen for people. These things happen when people are in a series of circumstances that support their ability to develop something different and unique. The adage goes “necessity is the mother of invention”. That doesn’t happen with a set of tools. It probably won’t happen in a classroom environment either.

Dialogue, though. Now that can happen anywhere.