Is L&D still about command and control?

It’s a loaded question. Heavily skewed to the angle of answering yes. With enough latitude that it could be answered maybe. You’d have to be a brave soul to answer no.

I was listening to some of the Good Practice podcasts recently and two made me think about the above question. One was about how L&D markets itself internally and the other was about how L&D and vendors can work better together. 

It struck me that part of the discussions being had were about how L&D wield this power over vendors, how they choose to act with them, and how they choose to ‘manage’ them. And there’s also something about when we deliver programmes to our intended groups, how we create a narrative which essentially says – nuh nuh nuh nuh nuh this group has this learning available to them and you don’t so ha! 

I’m being facetious, people!

The fast paced changing world of work that is now just commonplace for most people means that all leaders in businesses and organisations need to better understand how to truly collaborate with other teams – internal and external – and how to be inclusive and appreciative in the design of learning solutions.

It’s ok to have learning solutions designed and created for distinct groups. It’s more important to ensure the accompanying narrative doesn’t exclude or make one group feel superior to another. It’s also important to ensure as business leaders ourselves, L&D cultivate and help others see how new work can be achieved.

When we think about inclusive design and appreciative communications, what we need to enable are things like:

  • Co-creation of learning materials so that it’s not seen as L&D who made the thing, but a collaborative effort. Not just identifying SMEs either, but providing a way for people doing the job to be active participants in the design and provision of the learning materials.
  • In our communications helping people understand what’s available for them or how they can access stuff if what you’ve written isn’t immediately available to them.
  • When partnering with external suppliers to ensure they are brought in to feel part of the team, not just order takers.
  • Practising things like openly sharing the work you’re doing with others even if it’s only in development. Creating transparency means others are more likely to have an ongoing interest and build trust in L&D as opposed to a big launch.
  • Inviting active feedback about the programme delivery so that you understand if it’s having the desired performance improvements you’re seeking.
  • Being careful to ensure that the user test group or focus group you invite to test stuff is made up of a diverse group of people – it’s quite easy to dismiss this as being too difficult to do. It’s only difficult if you don’t try.
  • In your communications being aware of and limiting the use of gendered language. It’s easy to describe things in certain ways, and when we do we can unwittingly reinforce stereotypes. The English language is rich and wide in its vocabulary and we should always seeks to phrase things in ways which all people can appreciate. 

As ever, these are just my thoughts. Maybe they spark thoughts for you. If they do, comment below. 

What does creativity in L&D look like for you?

What is L&D if it’s not a creative function? Does ‘training’ need to be creative? What’s wrong with the pedagogical approach to training? What does creativity enable in a learning environment? How do we reconcile being seen as the ‘fun’ team against the perception of not delivering on performance related objectives?

As with many teams, L&D can benefit from creative thinking. But I wonder, how creativity is part of the day to day operation of L&D, as opposed to part of the delivery.

See, if we understand how to enable better thinking, tangential thinking, lateral thinking, idea generation, and all those other things related to creativity, it shouldn’t happen in isolation in a learning event. It has to happen regularly.

Things like:

  • When you have a team meeting, or a 1:1, or the annual performance review, how many of you do this in a meeting room, or something similar, and how many purposefully go outdoors for a walk? That change of environment reduces barriers, encourages natural dialogue, and is conducive to building rapport.
  • When you are designing the strategy for L&D, how many of you sit at your PC and produce spreadsheets, and how many are at a whiteboard creating messy links and drawings? Illustrations, graphics and visual representations are a helpful way to create connections and spark different things that you may have missed in alternate fixed formats.
  • (I can hear it now – oh yeah, I use mindmaps to do that)
  • When you’re about to design a new solution, how do you experiment and try different ways of doing things? Or do you not feel you have the permission? Or have you tried to experiment and it got shot down? Or have you experimented, it didn’t work, and you gave up?
  • When you’re looking for new ideas, how often do you look to completely different fields – or even read about different fields to understand what they’re doing? Completely different fields of work can often raise completely new ways of thinking for what we do in L&D that we may never have considered an option.
  • When you’re challenged about your actual approach to designing and delivering L&D, how many get defensive? How many get curious? How many sulk? How many get collaborative? How many seek to find out more?
  • When you are in a team meeting, and someone suggests something that contradicts you, how do you face up to that humiliation and present it as respect for the other person as opposed to a slight against you?

As L&Ders, we’re probably well known for delivering good and useful learning sessions. And in those sessions, we’re probably well known for being creative about the design and delivery. But as I said above, and in the points above, creativity isn’t something restricted to just one set of stuff – it’s about how we allow for that and cultivate it in many ways so that it becomes a natural and reflexive muscle we can use regularly.

Practical steps for physical and mental health

It’s easy to think in our days of busy-ness that if we’re not feeling the I’ll effects of a poor body or a poor mind, then we must be ok. It’s not logical, but you can follow the reasoning. The human body, though, like any other well functioning system needs sustenance and maintenance. To be well and to be our best selves, we have to not only sustain and maintain we have to cultivate and nurture. A beautiful garden doesn’t just happen by itself. 

There’s theory, there’s evidence, and there is plenty of sage advice on how to do these things. And here’s my take on what we know about practical steps for physical and mental health.

Be physically active

This doesn’t mean go to the gym. What we know is that even if you go for a 20 min walk everyday, that’s good enough to help you feel physically well and maintain good mental health. It’s not a lack of going to the gym or being on the latest diet to reduce weight that’s our biggest problem (although obesity is a problem), it’s mostly just not being active enough. 

Don’t feel like going for a walk? How about doing the hoover around the house? Or cutting the grass (if of course you have a garden)? Or playing a sporty game with friends, family or kids?

I suggest going for a walk because it’s something most of us can do. Especially those of us with regular jobs. And not simply just going to the shops for your lunch, or to the station for your commute. But a purposeful 20 mins to just go for a walk.

Meet with friends / be social

Humans are social beasts. We can’t help but be social. Even though you may prefer the company of yourself most of the time (and lots of people do) at some point you’ll have a need to be with others.

Being with friends and being social serves a fundamental need in us to feel appreciated by others, generate relationships, be with like minded people, and generally feel good about ourselves. 

If you find it hard to sometimes connect with others, maybe find a group or a network you can join. There are loads of them around, and can help you find a regular activity to enjoy with others. And clearly I’m not meaning to engage in illegal or morally questionable activities.

Do one thing to enjoy your time and be happy about it

This can seem like a properly indulgent thing to do. Especially if you have various personal expectations about when you should do something just for yourself.

The truth is, you can take that time to do something for yourself, and the only person who will have any judgement about it is you. If others place judgement on you, that’s there issue not yours.

Doing something where the time just goes and at the end of it you feel rejuvenated, is a personally very fulfilling thing to be able to do. It’s about self-learning. When we learn about ourselves and feel that we’re better as people that’s pretty unbeatable.

Kindness happens without need for validation 

There’s something about the modern age which invites people to share just how kind they are. For some this is done to project an image. For some it’s about genuinely wanting to share without needing validation. For others it’s about being seen to show how good they are.

For all our ages, we know that kindness is another fundamental human behaviour. Sure, to some it can be seen as a failing trait, but when we experience it, it creates connection, it creates happiness, and it affirms who we are as a species.

So, go ahead. Be kind to others. If you share it, fine. If you don’t, that’s fine too. Just be sure your intent is to genuinely help others and not manipulate them for your own purposes.

Sleep well

As long as a condition isn’t getting in the way, try and sleep well. I know people who profess they only need 4 hours sleep a night. Erm. Maybe, but you’re hardly cultivating a healthy lifestyle. If you’re activemy restricting the length of sleep you get, you’re just simply not letting the body be physically and mentally well. You’re filling it with too much stimulation and little time for it to not be active. The body needs considerable down time in order to be at its best. Some people can do well on little sleep. That’s a small minority.

For the rest of us, we need at least 6 hours sleep a night if not 8. I mean that’s not a mandate, do what works for you.

And I’ve got news which might not be great to hear. The experts say you should maintain your routine each day. Yeah that means not sleeping later at the weekends. I’ll admit to not seeing that part through. Although if you have younglings that may be out if your hands anyway.

As always, this is just some ideas and some of it you probably know. There’s plenty I’ve left out and probably more still that I don’t know about. Hope you have a good weekend.

Adapting, change and L&D

There was a narrative a few years back about the changing nature of the world and how it was all VUCA – volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous. This was mostly in relation to organisational change and political change (the Arab Spring was only a few years back). I mean it’s still all that. That hasn’t changed. What we’re also experiencing are unprecedented accelerations in technology and what it’s enabling people to do. And we’re seeing a whole new development of narrative taking place around gender politics and identity politics.

Change is just a constant factor in today’s world. It’s less that we need to be mindful about change fatigue in organisations and in people, and more that we have to develop new sets of skills and attitudes to help people move forward. It’s less about using tried and tested methodologies of change management, and more about building resilience in the system to shift and by virtue of a resilient system, developing the capability of people to stop, change, adapt and lead in new ways like they’ve never been asked before.

In L&D we’re a microcosm of what’s happening in the organisations we’re either part of or working for. And what I see is less of an understanding about the connection between business performance and capability building and more about needing to use the right models and strategies for delivering learning solutions. That’s fine and it’s all good work. But it doesn’t help our business leaders stand up and lead well. Not really. Instead we’ve just replaced the order taking approach of delivering courses or e-learning and replaced it with trying to formalise and design informal learning structures and collaboration experiments. 

None of us have got this right. I know I haven’t. I’m working in a system, part of a system, influencing the system, and a lot of what I deliver is what is needed. It’s not bleeding edge, and we’re not designed as an organisation to be that. 

I started off with a trail of thought about L&D needing to build capacity and capability for resilience in the organisations we’re part of. And now I’m not so sure. I think I’m saying L&D is fundamentally broken and we’re unfit to lead our organisations as they need us to.

Well, that was unexpected. 

How to have discourse on Twitter

This week I’ve been taking some time to enjoy time skiing with the family. It’s been a good break and I’ve been glad to mostly stay away from the news and happenings of the world.

A regular concern of mine in recent months has been the seemingly relentless lack of good form by people commenting on other people’s Twitterings. There are a good many people who take what is said on social media seriously, and when things go left of right, it’s just that much harder to argue that social media continues to be a medium for open debate.

So, as the Internet loves a listicle, here’s one on how we can help each other be better at discourse via Twitter.

1. Recognise that most things on Twitter are just a snapshot of what we know and understand about a person. Just because their bio only states certain things doesn’t mean that’s the entirety of what makes that person. There is always more to the person.

2. If you read something that triggers a reaction in you, that’s not the responsibility of the other person to do anything for you. They’ve written something to share – sometimes that will be to provoke and most times by most users it will be to share their thoughts.

3. Recognise that most people on Twitter are there to be part of a network and a connected world. A good many of us thoroughly enjoy being on Twitter. If the things you’re reading and getting annoyed by are regularly in your timeline, then you need to change either your searching habits or stop following so many accounts where you get updates reinforcing what you believe.

4. If you are reading something that doesn’t work for you, you don’t have to respond with an attack on the person. You are allowed to take the time to understand why you’re reacting like that. If you’re still convinced that you’re right in your assertion, find another way to express yourself that doesn’t involve attacking the person who wrote the tweet.

5. There are trolls. And lots of them. There are also bots. And lots of them too. You can just ignore them completely, mute, block and anything else to get them out of your timeline or notifications.

6. There are people I’ve experienced on Twitter who come across as benevolent ones. And yet they can’t resists getting drawn into arguments or standing up for the crowd. I don’t mistrust their intentions, but I do have little patience for their social outcrys.

7. The current state of world affairs means it’s too easy to comment on things without knowing a full range of facts. We don’t have to respond immediately. We can just allow ourselves times to see what unfolds. A considered response with the facts trumps poor opinion every time.

8. If you see someone being attacked on Twitter, report the attacker. Don’t go after them yourself, cos you’re just increasing the noise from the attacker. Support the victim and help them know they have your support and help. 

9. Surprisingly most trolls and attackers have regular lives and regular jobs like you and me. That doesn’t excuse their online behaviour, but we never really know why someone is behaving so badly when they do. Don’t attack the person. If you know them, maybe check in with them and find out how they’re doing.

10. There are some resilient people on Twitter who don’t give attackers any quarter and it’s great to know people like that are out there. They help us know attackers are unimportant in our lives.

Most people who’ll read this will be in the broad field of HR and L&D. I suspect mostly I’m writing to those who will nod vigorously and agree. That’s all aces, so this is more a call to take the above and not just share it, but consider how we all show up and be present and what kind of example that sets for others. I’m sure I’ve left out other useful advice above, so if you have more to add please do in the comments.

Models, theories and modern learning design

Models and theories are the traditional backbone of L&D. They’ve very much been our go to points for designing solutions, and offering solutions to clients. Most internal people trained through traditional methods will have learned a complete range of models and theories to help them make sense of the human condition and to help them deliver training. Most train the trainer type training, facilitation skills type training, and e-learning design and development revolve around designing against a model or theory.

It’s just the way we were taught how to do things. I think back on all the many different models and theories I’ve had to learn about in my years as an L&D and OD leader and there have been a lot.

And, as Ross Garner said in a recent podcast, no models are perfect representations of the world – even a map is flawed.

Which is probably the one key insight I was never really taught to appreciate in my early days.

And from what I’ve experienced over the years, it’s never really something we’ve been given permission to challenge or understand in other ways.

So, I’ve been adapting my practice to be something less lead by models and theories, and more lead by learning needs and outcomes.

See, what I’ve learned is that models and theories have a place in creating insight into the human condition – but only if you become a practitioner in that world. If not, then why learn about such things at a cursory level? Because that’s the problem most L&D professionals face. We don’t know the depth needed for most models and theories for them to be truly of value to the people we’re meant to be working with. Instead, we’ve just presented a 2×2 grid, or a series of concentric circles, or venn diagrams, or listicles, and using those as premises for where the discussion goes next.


And this is important.

What we know about modern learning means that most of those models and theories are suddenly irrelevant.

Don’t go defending everything you know about the world just yet.

Here’s what we do know about modern learning:

  • because of the ease of technology, and the rapid creation capability of technology, we can create consumable content in minutes as opposed to weeks
  • people really value face to face time when it comes to learning together
  • digital UX means most e-learning is awful to use
  • most people at work want a resource or content to help them do something now, not learn how to do it in 2 months time
  • we can help identify solutions that solve business needs which include a range of options
    • that can be as simple as clear communications
    • it can be as complex as needing a change programme
    • it can be as easy as creating a one page reference guide
    • it can be as involved as needing a development programme

Models and theories may form a part of modern learning solutions. In all likelihood, it’s more about being able to identify relevant solutions for the problems at hand. When I talk with business leaders about what they’re looking to resolve, the elements of the solution I normally propose are:

  • do the working practices support the proposed change?
  • what’s already in place that helps achieve the same outcome?
  • what’s the outcome required?
  • what does the L&D piece actually look like?
    • does it need to be e-learning?
    • could it be video based?
    • what will face to face add?
    • could it be curated resources from online content?
    • is there a compliance need that has to be met?
  • does the team have the capability to get to the end point?

More so – far more so – has been my capacity and capability to enable conversations to happen. Those conversations need to happen in different ways for different people, and in different ways for different teams. As the very wise Julie Drybrough once said “if you put a group of people together, they can’t help but learn from each other”.

I never really learned how to do that – not even through facilitation skills training. It was something I learned about how humans work best together. I attended an absolute range of learning events to really experience the multiple ways we design for conversations to take place. Digital means have enabled some of those conversations to happen in completely new and absorbing ways. This – again – changes human behaviour. So we continue to learn about how people converse with each other, and therefore how they learn.

In this new world of L&D, where modern learning is as much lead by digital means as it is by dialogic based means, we should all get very comfortable with the idea that our go to models and theories may need desperately updating, some have no relevance in digital solution design, and some work just fine and we need to develop better insights into them to be relevant for the face to face sessions we hold.

What impact has psychology had on L&D?

This week I took part in a podcast with the good people at Good Practice. I really enjoy this podcast as the topics they talk about are directly relevant to the L&D profession and I really enjoy the conversational style of the podcasts as well as the production! Thanks to Ross Garner and Owen Ferguson for having me on.

We discussed “What impact has psychology had on L&D” and it was a really good discussion.

Have a listen, and please do comment on our conversation.