The skill of interrogating models in L&D

One of the tasks we often have to do in L&D is interrogate and evaluate the models presented to us. Pretty much everything in L&D revolves around a model, and it can be easy to get lost in the array of stuff that’s out there. Evaluation models can vary from Kirkpatrick to Brinkerhoff. L&D models can vary from 70/20/10 to learning cycle to responding to learning requests to performance consultancy. Digital learning can be e-learning, video learning, can include social learning, and can be about anything you do on the internet. Then there’s the models used in skills development / interpersonal skills / leadership and management development. E.g. coaching models, feedback models, communication models, succession planning models – there are lots. Too many, almost!

Sometimes, there are no models at all. Just a person and their thinking. That’s ok, sometimes there’s a lot of value in hearing a person’s thinking. For example, unconscious bias training, diversity and inclusion training, these topics often revolve around a set of thinking or a theory as opposed to a model.

Over time, what I’ve learned is that there are useful questions to ask about models and theories, and these can help in ensuring the solutions we develop or the interventions we design are based in sustainable practices, and help drive actionable outcomes. Often these questions are about interrogating the presented models or theories. I’m very willing to be driven by the evidence behind a model or theory. If there is a paucity of information, I’m less likely to be convinced. If the theory or model has been debunked, I need to know why. If there is evidence for a model or theory, I’m more likely to want to explore it further.

Another thing to bear in mind about the choice of models or theories is that as a people, we are more likely to be swayed by the advocacy a person has about a topic, as opposed to the facts presented. Sometimes, a person thinks x. They haven’t fully investigated, researched or explored their thinking. Their conclusions based on their thinking will reinforce their world view. E.g. A person who has never drunk water from a tap, may go to an undeveloped country, drink water from a tap, contract an illness and believe that all tap water is dangerous to human health. Of course, we know this to be false, and there are likely to be clear reasons for the water causing illness which can be corrected. But if you’ve had a bad experience, it’s going to take a lot of evidence and convincing to encourage you to try again. That person is also likely to advocate you never drink tap water, even though thousands of people will be unaffected. But their advocacy will make people listen, for no other reason than the person will have a strong opinion about it.

The skill of determining which sets of thinking / models we decide to proceed with also answers a different and very related question – which version of the truth do we want to promote? There is no one model which answers all questions about the human condition, and so it becomes really challenging to know which models present the version of the truth that we want to be associated with. However, there are models which are unhelpful, are based on false ideologies, and have questionable evidence.

So with the above in mind, here’s a set of questions I normally ask myself and ask of the person(s) about the model(s) or theories being presented.

  • Am I biased because I like the person and want to be associated with them?
  • Does the model/theory support a world view I have? If so, what other evidence is there that I should be aware of which may go against this model/theory?
  • What evidence is there for the model/theory being presented? Is that evidence reliable? What is the validity of the evidence? How has it been researched? What has been the criticisms? What settings has the evidence been developed in?
  • If the evidence claims to be scientifically validated, where is the supporting research that can be looked at independently?
  • If the evidence is about a person’s own thinking/research, how do they present it? Does it cause concern? Does it look like they are only seeking to validate their own thinking or are they attempting to present other points of view?
  • Do I have a set of thinking about the topic which will unduly bias the model/theory I decide to select?
  • If there are claims about success, on what basis are they claiming success?
  • Are there organisational / political drivers at play which will directly influence my decision making?

This isn’t an exhaustive list. It’s not even a complete list. It’s a set of thoughts that help me to keep alive to the reality that I am going to be biased in my thinking, I am going to be biased in the decisions I make, and I need to be aware of the influences on me when making decisions. Importantly, I believe, it helps to ensure that I don’t just follow up any model or theory which is presented as being the ‘right’ one, as there can only really be a ‘best fit’ or ‘right for now’ approach.


Should L&D be part of HR? This question, again?

It comes around regularly enough.

Should L&D sit with HR?

I used to think about this question.

Until I got over it.

It got raised again last week at the Learning Live conference.

It got me thinking about several different points.

L&D isn’t a lobbying group. We don’t have organisational power to change where we sit. If we are part of the HR function – who gives a flying fuck? (It’s my blog I can swear)

The answer to my question, no – one. No one cares in the organisation. No one cares so much, they couldn’t care any less or any more than they need to.

Because it’s only ever a question that anyone in L&D asks.

I don’t even know why there’s such bemoaning about this question.

The simple truth of it is this. Regardless of where L&D sits, if we want to be valued by the business, we have to do valuable work.

In the main, it won’t be ‘HR’ who stops us from doing valuable work. It’s our lack of influence.

If we want ‘HR’ to be on-board with our great ideas and great initiatives that will have business impact, we have to prove our ideas have value beyond our own opinions.

But don’t stop thinking there. ‘HR’ have a connection to business leaders, and business leaders also need to see and understand where the business impact will be with L&D’s proposals.

That influence comes from a number of factors:

  • How involved are L&D with active support and promotion of HR activities, policies and strategy?
  • How does L&D uphold and advocate for company values and embedding of values in design of solutions?
  • How does L&D draw a clear line of sight of L&D solution to business impact? (Note, business impact can mean many things)
  • How does L&D build solid relationships with ‘HR’ so it’s seen as a partner?
  • How does L&D create and deliver great learning experiences? (either as a team themselves or with suppliers or a combination of both?)
  • How well does L&D understand business drivers and designs solutions that directly support them?
  • How well does L&D understand about modern learning design principles and provide easy solutions to the business?

There’s probably more and other factors I’m missing, too.

You could ask anyone in the organisation from the most senior leaders to the more junior staff if they have an opinion on where L&D sat as a department, and not one of them would care enough to give you an answer. Why? Because it doesn’t matter to any of them!

People in the business will honour and appreciate that there is an L&D department at all. How well they regard the function depends on how well the function provides its solutions. What they do care about is having relevant solutions that help them do their job better. That can be done by L&D, and if not directly, be facilitated by L&D to happen.

I’ve kept ‘HR’ in apostrophes because HR covers a broad brush. It includes employee relations, organisation development, culture change, employee engagement, recruitment, L&D, transactional stuff, and so much more. So when we throw out this broad reaching term, we’re often referring to a particular person, who sits in HR, and are too lazy in our thinking to find a better way to articulate our frustration.

If you’re concerned about the question of whether L&D should be part of HR, you are completely focused on the wrong thing.

Creating space to think

I think this is what we’re meant to do in L&D.

We’re not performance consultants. You know who knows about performance? The people doing the job required of them.

There’s a narrative around being performance consultants that I’m really uncomfortable with. I explored this in a previous post where I explored what it is that L&D is for.

I think L&D is about providing people a space to think.

It’s not about content delivery – not necessarily. If it were, work from the likes of Harold Jarche, Jane Hart and John Stepper wouldn’t prove to have value. People want and appreciate and engage in dialogue. When we have dialogue, this is where thinking evolves and learning takes place.

L&D shouldn’t be focused on delivering models, theories or content. Not exclusively. That’s not where the learning occurs. The learning occurs with discussions, depth of thinking and application of the learning.

On a recent programme, I designed in coaching calls to take place after the workshop itself. I did this because one of things we know too well is that any ‘course’ is only effective for the day it’s delivered. After that day of learning, it is highly unlikely someone will continue their application of their learning. Feedback from the delegates completing the coaching has been they’ve valued being able to re-visit their thinking on the topic, with dedicated time and space to think about what they learned, how they’re applying it, and the specific contexts they operate in.

Of course, this sustained learning and reflection can happen in a multitude of ways. Asking delegates to journal / blog about their ongoing learning. Asking delegates to form coaching pairs. Asking delegates to come back together for action learning sets. We’re not short of sustainment activities.

It’s giving people time and space to think. In session as well as ongoing. Models / theories / etc have their place. It’s very rare someone in a direct interaction with someone else remembers the model / theory / other. They are more likely to reflect on what they’ve experienced in a previous situation and act in a similar way. If they’ve been exploring how to think differently / better, they’ll be likely to try a different interaction. That doesn’t tend to come from ‘performance support resource’ or ‘job aid’.

I also get stuck, because there is a place for training. There is a need and a purpose for asking someone to impart their knowledge to others so they can use systems / tools / techniques. If you’re a therapist, an engineer, a physician, a technician, and any other number of jobs, they do require training. Being sat down and taught. There are right and wrong ways.

And this is different to giving people space and time to think. To trust them to arrive at their own answers. To allow them time to reflect on their practice. To offer them support with their thinking.

I think this is what L&D is about.

As a man here’s how I’m currently hearing things

There’s a lot of change happening at pace in social commentary and where we’re going with life. As I see and hear stuff, here’s stuff as I see them.

  • Men suffer from not being able to express their full emotional range and this impacts on their wellbeing and can negatively impact their mental health. I pay a lot of attention to this in myself. How do I express my emotions in ways that are healthy? How do my kids hear and see me deal with my emotions? How do friends know what emotional needs I have? What does my partner know about taking care of me emotionally? How does my manager pay attention to the emotional impact of work on me? I’m not paying attention to these messages because I’m scared of falling foul. I’m paying attention to these messages because I recognise we have developed a language and narrative of what it means to be a man which is unhealthy and harmful.
  • Some people are trans. I’m still learning so much about this space. It’s full of complexity and nuance. Gender dysphoria is a very real challenge and there needs to be much better research into how trans people are supported at whatever stage of transition they’re at.
  • Staying with the trans piece, there’s a lot of hate in this space too. Hatred at trans people and hatred at cis people. The narratives and the arguments being thrown around are damaging to having any kind of quality thinking. It’s hard to square if a lesbian natal woman chooses to only want to be with another lesbian natal woman that that means they’re transphobic for not wanting to be with a trans-woman. It’s hard to square that a trans-woman who has been a victim of domestic violence can not have access to a woman’s refuge if there’s no other safe space for them. There are hard discussions to be had. I want trans people to be able to be who they are. I believe this can be achieved without their rights and needs being diminished and I believe it can be done without diminishing other groups.
  • Women suffer a shitstorm of abuse every fucking day for no other reason than men think they are entitled to them. I just don’t understand that sense of entitlement. It is very possible to talk and have fun with women without that needing to be abusive or violent.
  • There’s a nonsensical set of narratives about not being able to compliment women without claims of harassing them. My dudes, if you don’t recognise when you’re harassing a woman then you are the problem. It is perfectly ok and acceptable to compliment a woman. That is not the same as making unwanted advancements or being sexually aggressive. If you’re doing either of those you’re being offensive and abusive. There’s a world of difference in saying something like “you’re wearing a nice dress today” to “that dress you’re wearing looks sexy”.
  • There’s a narrative about women making men feel uncomfortable with their success. I understand this. The norms on men are that we’re meant to be the bread winners. We’re meant to provide. We are the alpha. Except of course for all those men who willingly abandon their alleged responsibilities leaving it to the women to have to do these things for their families. I am more than comfortable with my partner earning more than me and being more successful than me. It doesn’t diminish my worth as a man and I don’t feel threatened by her. I’m good at what I do, earn a good wage for the work I do and pay for as full a range of things as I can. I’m not competing with my wife, because marriage isn’t a competition. I’m not competing with my women friends because that’s not what friendships are based on. I’m not competing with my male friends. I actually have very open conversations about money and earnings with them so there’s no chance of being competitive because we’re having open and healthy conversations about money.
  • Men’s physical health has always been fraught with keeping a certain muscly type body. I’ve known for a long time that’s not me. I need to be physically healthy and that’s what I pay attention to. I don’t know what medical ailments may come my way and what I don’t to compound my health is a lack of physical activity and health.

On male entitlement

Drunk men trashing an Ikea store as their way of celebrating their nation’s football team winning a match. In any other circumstance we’d call this vandalism. Not for these men, though. It’s just harmless fun. They’re singing songs and fluffing pillows. They’re just happy. Let these men have their fun and enjoy this moment, it doesn’t happen often!

A Twitter conversation where one man tells another man he’s been sexually assaulted in a club. The second man congratulates him for being assaulted and for being fondled by a woman! The first man is stunned at such a response.

A man recounts his experience of hanging out with two women friends on a celebratory night out. Multiple events converge. A march celebrating LGBT community. England winning their match. Drunk men forcibly and threateningly talk to women demanding their attention. The drunk men don’t see it as wrong. They just want to have sex you see. Not because they’re necessarily horny or aroused, but because we’ve built this culture where if you win at something you’re meant to be sexually rewarded. And the friends of the drunk men don’t try and stop their friends. They laugh and encourage them to keep trying to forcibly have the attention of women.

A group of drunk men smash an Uber taxis windscreen. They’ve just won an important football match you see. So the only other outlet if they can’t have sex is to be violent. It’s an urge. A visceral one. So fuck your need to make a living, their male entitlement to celebrate any fucking way they want to means there won’t be any consequences.

Every one of those incidents is a step away from being further violent and damaging property, getting into fights, or raping women.

And no, this isn’t all men. It’s a problem in the UK of alcoholic men. That when they get so drunk, they lose all sense of control and defer to base human behaviour. Their cognitive and rational abilities inhibited, they can’t be responsible for their actions when in that state, can they?

And yes some women do this, it just happens to be men who do this behaviour more, because that’s how they’re groomed to behave. You go out in groups, get drunk in groups, support the group in whatever they do, and never challenge the group if they choose a morally ambiguous path.

But who cares about those things when all you’re doing is getting drunk with friends and having a good time?

On social media is where we see reinforcement of this behaviour happen far too regularly. Many men and women will go out of their way to say things like – Ikea should have shut their store knowing the match was being played on that day. That the women shouldn’t have been going drinking where there are large groups of men present (the need for women safe spaces anyone?). That ambulances shouldn’t attempt to drive through large crowds of drunk people.

Because fuck blaming the perpetrators and shining the spotlight on their behaviour. We have to blame the victims and make sure they feel responsible for what happened to them. That’s all manners of fucked up. You cannot blame someone for being attacked because of the victim.

Each and every time we dismiss male drunken behaviour and their agency as men, we entitle men everywhere to continue with these kinds of dangerous and aggressive behaviour.

It is entirely possible to celebrate and have immense fun without needing to cause damage, be sexually aggressive towards women (or to men), be violent, or any other kind of damaging and harmful behaviour. If you want to get so drunk you become a lout, that’s fine, just don’t be surprised if you act in one of the ways mentioned and get into trouble for them.

It is entirely possible to help boys and men understand how to manage their emotions in healthy ways which don’t need them to have to turn to unhealthy and violent behaviours.

For the sake of clarity, I am very glad England are through to the semi-finals of the 2018 World Cup. It’s an amazing achievement and Gareth Southgate has shown a level of leadership in this sport at a national level we’ve rarely experienced before.

Explaining minimum viable product


In the world of tech and product, there’s a term bandied about called minimum viable product, and often shortened to MVP. On a recent internal programme, one of our product directors gave a presentation on what MVP means.

I think the above image captures it really well about what MVP actually means, and why it gets confused with other development methods.

An MVP is not a fully a realised product that you can present to your client / customers. That’s a Fully Realised Product (capitals my own – not an actual name).

The concept of MVP means you provide iterations of a product, and each iteration is usable. That means the first version is about the bare bones of the usable product i.e. the skateboard above. It’s not about the foundations i.e. the wheel base.

It’s a different way of working, and often MVP is developed in line with an agile approach to project management / product development. Working according to agile principles means development of a quick usable product – which may be flawed in many ways, but allows the user to do something. The difference with traditional development practice is that you don’t tend to have an iterative product, you tend to have a final product which undergoes review.

Working in a MVP way means fundamentally starting from a different place than traditional approaches. An off the shelf product isn’t a MVP – it’s a Readily Made Product (capitals my own – not an actual name) which is customisable. That’s not the same thing. MVP means clearly understanding user / customer / client needs, and within a short space of time providing a prototype or first iteration of a usable product – that usable product is likely not to be something already available. If it was already available, you wouldn’t need to go down the MVP approach. On user feedback, you seek to build and do more for the next iteration – with the next iteration looking and feeling fundamentally different to the previous version e.g. from a skateboard to a bicycle.

Showing your work along the way, working out loud, explaining your design processes, are not MVP – they are Work In Progress (capitals my own – not an actual name). They are good and open practices, and should be clearly understood as separate practices to MVP and agile development.

What the MVP approach allows for is for the client/customer/user to also let you know if you need to do any more or if you’ve done enough for their need. E.g. the bicycle is not only adequate, it exceeds the need and is scalable to all their staff. You can end ‘product development’ at that point and focus on making the product available to all staff and making it a quality product.

Evaluation, is built into the process of MVP because every iteration means you either progress with development, or you halt as necessary because your evaluation from feedback informs you that you’ve done enough.

Here’s a scenario of MVP development in L&D.

You have a brief to develop coaching skills for a management population. The normal approach would be something like:

Identify skills gap > identify business needs > develop workshop > review workshop plan with client > deliver workshop > evaluation > end.

That’s fine, and I’m not suggesting in any way this isn’t useful and/or the right way to do things. It’s clearly not, though, an MVP approach, nor working using agile development.

An MVP approach for this might look like:

Identify skills gap > identify business needs > develop first product e.g. one page explainer about coaching as a management tool > gain feedback > second product e.g. video demonstrating coaching in practice > gain feedback > third product e.g. action learning set > gain feedback > fourth product e.g. 2 day workshop > gain feedback > end.

I’m not advocating L&D adopt MVP or agile methodology, I think it’s important to have clarity on what the range of terminologies out there mean. It’s then up to us as practitioners to figure out which approach we want to adopt and for what purpose.

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.