Uncharted Waters

So it’s been a few days since HRD 2013 finished hosted by the CIPD, and here’s my final set of thoughts on the conference and the L&D profession.

The L&D profession is essentially driving itself into complacency. The other day I asked the question if L&D has stalled, and this has been bugging me. Why have we stalled? As one of the speakers at the conference said, this is the time for L&D (and HR) to shine, to really let loose within our organisations, and drive change. Except, this is an ambition only a few will ever realise.

There’s some important things to consider in my statement.

The economy continues to be fucked. Spending is still down, people are unsure of what’s happening tomorrow, and the government has narrowly escaped a third recession. This means organisations are in uncharted waters. They don’t know how to navigate this uncertainty, and don’t know where to get their inspiration from. There aren’t any experts or ‘gurus’ who can provide the much sought after guidance. No-one knows what the answer is. This has the potential to ignite a fire in some and create an awesome set of opportunities. For the vast majority they’re just trying to tread this water until they find shore when they can regain their footing and do what they always did. Except what most don’t realise is that shore they land on will be in undiscovered countries where the same old things are obsolete.

There are no new advancement in the understanding of the human condition – not significant enough to challenge the way we think about human learning and development. When we are still using Maslow’s hierarchy of needs as a basis for talking about motivation, this is evidence enough of how complacent we are in the profession. Quite possibly the only new piece of thinking we can rely on is in the area of neuroscience, as technology allows us to discover more about the intricacies of the brain.

At the same time, there are a lot of theories about human learning and development, and in particular about organisational learning and development. For the modern L&Der to be skilled enough, knowledgeable enough, and able enough to be jack of all trades, and master of all is mission impossible – yet it’s what’s being asked of us. Which are we supposed to invest our efforts in? Which are we supposed to disregard? Which are going to help our organisations move forward? Which are going to be obsolete tomorrow? And most importantly – who has the answer to any of that?

Engagement is a topic that isn’t going away any time soon. There’s a lot being said about discretionary effort, and it’s causing some people to be turned off to the concept and conversation. What happened to just treating people right and doing the right things? When did it become about policy and management and protocol?

Technology continues to progress at a greater speed than the late majority will get to grips with. Take the world of movies as an example. No-one these days sells VHS cassettes. DVDs, blurays and online streaming are the world of today. Give it a few years and DVDs will become obsolete. How do we keep up with these advancements? How do we harness what the technology enables us to do and use it to aid learners needs? Do we even know what learners needs are anymore? I’m of the growing opinion that we are becoming more clueless about what the learner needs in order to be effective in their roles we hire them for.

Social technologies in particular are causing a lot discomfort and anxiety for people who don’t know how to harness it. They can (and are) being used in all manners from learning to marketing to the glib to the insightful. And there are so many to use to connect with others, how are we supposed to navigate that? The question of need is redundant, it has to be done. The questions become centred around using them for useful and progressive purposes. Holy mama, I’m getting tired now.

The skills of the L&Der need to be more. Save a few people, most of what I heard from various speakers is that we are treading water to keep alive. We’re not allowing ourselves to thrive and act with intention and positivity. We have the opportunity to do this, but we lack the creativity to find what that means. How does this make you feel? Are you inspired to act differently? Do you want to fight about this and argue your case?

I, for one, refuse to be part of this complacency. It’s a rotten place to be.

Developing Internal Talent

Just been part of a very intersting set of discussions about developing internal talent in organisations. Our two presenters were Nick Pascazio from BBC Technology, and Andy Lancaster from Hanover Housing Association.

Nick started by sharing how they had to develop their technology engneering talent against the backdrop of being the provider for broadcasting the Olympics in 2012. Some further information around this is that they had to move from 3 software courses to 25 across a range of technologies and working methodologies.

They have what they call the BBC Academy, and through that created an interesting set of internal knowledge sharing sessions such as holding events where people come and have an open house talking about topics of interest. This was open to staff and to external people. I’m a fan of this type of intervention and think it’s only a good thing to do. You get natural engagement, good PR, and potentially a recruitment activity.

They created an internal accredited course which would provide the equivalent of gaining a MSc by joining the company. This is interesting as it’s attractive to people who may be interested in advancing their careers, but don’t have the finances to do so and need someone to help sponsor this activity. They also partnered with other organisations and created a buddy programme where they shared top talent with their partners to work on select projects. That’s a great example of collaboration and how it can truly work.

Unsurprisingly, they use a nine box model of mapping talent, which recognises specialism, performance, and leadership talent. This kills me inside. It says “we only recognise certain people in our organisation have talent”. It says we don’t want to invest in all our staff, just the people we like. It says we don’t have the time or resources to be a learning organisation, that’s exclusive to people on this programme. Le sigh.

Also unsurpisingly, they have a strong governance structure. However, this means that it acts as a barrier to market. Nick shared a story that iPlayer was ready for launch but was held up by two years because of governance structures and processes before they could get it to market. This also kills me inside. I understand the purpose of governance, and yet where there is clear innovation happening, the organisation is more concerned in red tape than it is making things happen.

Andy shared a story about how Hanover needed to invest in a £750,000 software project, but the supplier couldn’t offer any trainers to train staff. I loved the start of this presentation where he likened what they went through as an accidental innovation – akin to post-it notes, velcro and teflon. He said they stumbled on an answer which paid dividends in unexpected ways.

Andy shared some interesting thoughts which I think are worth repeating. He said that research shows us that 99.2% of business in the UK have no more than 50 staff. He said that although we’re going through rough and turbulent times, this is probably the most exciting time to be in HR (L&D/OD) as this is when we can be our most innovative and creative. And he shared how many organisations are raising the entry mark of a degree to 2:1 in the UK, because they think this will attract a better calibre of applicant. This all prompts a lot of thought for me which I’ll have to re-visit in a later blog post.

They opened the opportunity to be trainers to all staff across the organisation. He shared that with complex projects like this, involving people to be part of the solution is a great form of engagement and inclusive practice. They essentially asked for volunteers to become trainers for the period of time needed for the project to be delivered. To support them, they would go through seven weeks of intensive training. It was an open application, and they had a lot of applicants from which they selected the people by asking them to do a ten minute training session and interviews. It would be a formal secondment, and they would go back to their original roles once the project was complete. What is key here was having a clear re-integration plan for the person to help them understand how to use their new talents and skills in their original roles.

It worked out well for them. So well in fact that they won an award from Training Journal because of it. How’s that for ROI and ROE? What worked for me in Andy’s presentation (apart from an energetic and very engaging presentation style) was he shared a clear business problem, how they solved it, and what happened along the way. It was a great story that I enjoyed listening to. He shared some thoughts on six keys to talent development:
1) Be confident to trust those ‘within’ before those ‘without’ i.e. look internally for talent before thinking about externally, and explore options
2) Don’t set the selection bar unrealistically high
3) Invest value and reward in the opportunity
4) Ensure mistakes are a welcome part of the learning process
5) Reassure and define what is a ‘bridge too far’
6) Plan the communication, support, reward and have fun!

This was a good session which covered a lot about how a considered and practical appraoch to solving business problems can gain a lot of activity and support from the organisation you may have previously dismissed.

Developing Resilient Yet Agile Leaders for Your Organisation

On this panel discussion, made up of Mike Forde, Director of Football Operations at Chelsea Football Club, Stephen Chase from Thames Valley Police, and Ali Peck, Director of People at RNLI (Royal National Lifeboat Institute).

Mike helps us to understand that in sports training, from as young as 7 they start to build resilience in their training. It’s fascinating to learn that a footballing organisation considers resilience to be such a core part of the development of players. Players need this to help them cope with constant change and challenge they face as they grow as players and people.

There’s a great piece of learning offered there around the support needed for players by the traditional support workforce.

From the policing perspective, they understand resilience in different terms. The first is in terms of operational resilience – are they capable as an organisation to deal with events as they arise. The second is in terms of helping people to deal with traumatic and distressing things they may face in their day to day activity. Last is around the personal resilience we have to deal with turbulence in your own life.

Ali helped to understand the importance of understanding the DNA of your organisation so you know where your strengths are. By using Lean thinking, and starting at the end point of saving lives in the water, they were able to track back every step of what they do and identify where duplication and unnecessary process/policy exists. Having done the exercise they are realising savings of £20 million.

Really nice to hear that they had core learnings about not losing sight of the people and how they are resilient and in giving them power, they produce results. There was a lot of learning that resilience is about physical, mental and emotional aspects of people.

Some great sharing from Mike about the fact we need to look at the whole person when it comes to building people and developing them. We just don’t do this in organisations. We done care about the whole person. We care about the performance of the person and neglect all else. At the peril of organisations.

This is followed on by a point from Stephen and Ali that there is a difference between personal energy and personal resilience. Yes.

Simplifying L&D with efficient use of technology

Tom Bryant, of Colt technologies kicked this session off. Colt have approximately 5000 staff across 23 countries, with a widely dispersed L&D team.

What they had in place were tools such as Microsoft Lync and webex to enable communication to happen. They chose to focus on taking e-learning development in-house using Adobe Captivate. He shares a good point that one key benefit is the agility to adapt/amend content as needed. They created virtual training labs to provide training to engineers across countries. This allowed for on-demand training for engineers when they needed it. There is a need to consider where the use of external partners can help support the L&D training delivery – for example taking off the shelf training in topics such as project management.

Tom makes a good point that people need to be primed in using technology in order that this is to a barrier to learning. The technologies they used were: e-learning, webinars, videoconferencing, training labs, LMS, videos and podcasting.

Interestingly, Tom spoke about getting an external provider to support ROI through the Kirkpatrick levels.

Next up was Niall Gavin. Immediately I appreciate the way he provides his history without the use of words on the slide, instead he provides his contact details.

Niall advocates that in light of challenges First Group are facing, they’re focusing on the customer experience. He also advocates that HR needs to see the people they work with as customers, and we need to improve their experience which has an impact on how we work with customers. I agree with this.

Interestingly, he says that the classroom was the original social learning platform.

Niall makes the point that through their e-learning platform, they decided not to develop their own MS Office training as they could buy this in. They instead chose to focus on business critical software which could be transferred to e-learning. He shares a great story abou how they developed learning for a particular software, only to be told by the IT team it was being upgraded thereby making that development redundant. It’s all about engaging with stakeholders to understand the needs of the organisation.

He shared a good story about how he first came across Twitter some years ago at a learning technologies conference. He saw the potential of it and tasked his team with signing up and seeing what the potential comes from it. They started to hear about how technologies such as webinars were being used, for free. They decided to look for a webinar based technology, and decided to use a system compatible with their internal systems. This ended up not working because it wasn’t robust enough. Lots of great learning being shared here about where things didn’t work, and what happened next.

Good piece from both presenters about practical use of technology to enable learning to happen in different ways.

Has L&D stalled?

Today’s the start of the HRD conference and exhibition by the CIPD. I’ve so far sat through two conference sessions, one by Stephan Thoma from Google about Nurturing Creativity and Learning in the Workplace, and the second by Peter Cheese of CIPD, and Peter Bedford from Anglo American about Devleoping Leaders who are fit for the future.

They’ve been interesting in their own rights, and it’s encouraging to hear a few things.

Google get their basics right in treating staff, and having a culture that supports innovation and creativity.

Anglo American are very focused on safety at all levels which ensures they support staff and treat them well.

Google are famous for allowing staff to have 20% of their time to work on personal projects, they aren’t concerned about market share, for them it’s about their products.

Anglo American are a truly global mulit-national who have to work hard at ensuring their leaders go through a robust training programme which provides them with the skills they need to be good leaders.

It’s interesting, right?

Are you doing some variation of the above? Are you as an L&Der / OD professional pushing these same boundaried? Is your leadership programme effective and focsued on developing them?

Here’s what I’m left with so far. Innovation in L&D has stalled. There are some intriguing innovations out there with the likes of MOOCs, but really, L&D has lost its steam. There’s nothing new. There’s nothing different. We’re not being disruptive. We’re not creating a competitive advantage to the organisations we’re part of.

At least that’s the message I’m hearing. What I’m hearing is we’re doing business as usual, doing a good job of it and being very safe in that delivery.

There are a lot of people in the social space who advocate challenging and innovating their practice, but who’s actually doing it? Where are the internal practitioners who are blazing a new trail for their organisations? Where are the external practitioners who are shaking up the world of learning and development to provide something new and exciting?

Part of me says, you know what, I shouldn’t be complaining. As a profession we’re doing a good job. Some practitioners will be trying to be the trailblazers. Some won’t know what that looks like and unsure how to start. Some are on the path of doing it, but staying safe. And all of that is ok, because we all have secure jobs and income. And it’s mildly encouraging because it means we’re not missing any tricks. We’re not behind the curve. We’re not doing any worse than the likes of Google.

And if we believe that’s ok, then we’ve already lost the end game.