>Having the right conversation

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In recent weeks I’ve been training and advising about using coaching as a format to develop staff for first time line managers. I mean line managers should be doing this anyway and that’s why it’s important to stress that coaching is a key technique in their bag of tricks that they should be able to do – Well.

But why is this the case? Why do managers need to bother doing this kind of activity to develop their staff? Why not leave it to the L&Der in the business/organisation to take care of it through training or other initiatives? Because the line manager is nearly always the first port of call for any questions or issues a direct report has. As such, the responsibility of being a line manager means there’s many things to take into account and be mindful of. The best phrase for being a line manager I have heard is they carry the responsibility of pastoral care for their direct reports. I think that captures the whole thing of being a line manager really nicely.

I’ve mentioned this in previous posts that giving feedback is a key part of being a line manager. I’ve not yet written about why coaching is equally important. So here it is. In a recent CIPD learning and talent development survey, coaching still comes out as the top activity line managers can and should do to develop, motivate and engage their staff. All credit to the survey for highlighting this. Often, it’s seen as the responsibility of someone else in the organisation to make this happen – typically the L&Der. But the L&Der’s roles is to to just facilitate and enable the L&D to happen, either through interventions they have prescribed as approrpiate, or by involving leaders across the business to deliver tailored interventions.

Let’s first just be clear about what coaching is and what it can help with. Coaching is a methodology to help a member of staff arrive at their own conclusions. I hate sentences like that. They seem like they’re fluffy when they’re not. Let’s break it down using a model – GROW.
Goal – the first place to start in a coaching conversation is to understand what the coachee wants to get from a coaching conversation/session/relationship. This should be a searching conversation where the coach spends time asking questions about motivations, aims, and understanding what to focus on.
Reality – this is by no means the next step in the process, but it does help to understand other factors to bear in mind. Has the coachee considered the various implications of what they want to achieve? Do they have a plan for achieving their goal? Are they being realistic about achieving their goal and about learning how to achieve their goal?
Options – again, not linear but to be considered. In achieving the goal, what are the various options available to the coachee? Have they looked into various options or are they focusing on once path only? Why have they either chosen path (a) or not considered options (b) (c) and (d)? Do they know what is required of them to achieve their goal? Will they need to engage in other activities in order to achieve their goal?
Will – not necessarily last. What is their actual motivation for doing this activity? Have they thought things through with enough consideration that they can make a decision about what they want to do next? What support do they need? Who will be their ‘go to’ people to help maintain their motivation? Have they considered implications – financially, family, friends, work?
Those are brief paragraphs to provide an overview of how to have the right conversation. When line managers get this right, staff feel valued because they’re being given a chance to talk, be heard, and be supported. They’ll increase their discretionary effort they choose to exercise because they attach value to the organisation courtesy of the efforts of the manager. They’ll talk openly and positively about their organisation in differing ways to people they have regular contact with and contacts they make in their network. They’ll feel like they’re being developed by virtue of the time and effort you are giving them for their personal and professional development.
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>Do we still need traditional CVs?

>Hi all, it’s been a long while since I last blogged. Mostly to do with lack of time. Time off here, looking after kids there, getting courses delivered. You know, life. I am tweeting a lot though – A LOT!

Anyhow, this week I went to the L&D HRD exhibition hosted by the CIPD. By Lord, we do like our acronyms don’t we. It was a good day of conferences, seminars, topic tasters and learning arena sessions. I appreciated some presentations more than others, and that’s partly because I think I’m a bit of a know it all. Partly because I’m quite harsh on presenters. Partly because the content wasn’t anything new. All that aside, I did come away with a lot of food for thought.
One of these is about the use of the traditional CV. In an age when social media and social networking sites are central to how you live your life, the question has to be asked – do we still need traditional CVs? Well let’s first discuss the role of a traditional CV. Your CV should give an immediate insight into your key skills, abilities and experience. That’s always been the tradition. And, you know, include things like: education, qualifications, opening statement, personal details. Sure, fine, great. I’ve said this in a previous post (http://pabial.blogspot.com/2009/12/those-damned-cvs.html) – this tells the potential employer nothing about you as an individual and how you may approach work, your attitude, and your probable fit to the company/organisation you’re about to be part of.
Interviews/assessment centres/recruitment practices are designed to evaluate those things. But that’s once they’ve got passed the CV stage when you’re already committing time and resource to evaluate these candidates further. Wouldn’t it be great to have a pool of 12 potentially great candidates all bringing something to the party none of the other offers, and have a hard discussion choosing who you think is the best of the best bunch?
This is where I think social media plays a part. We’re in a world now where every employer is concerned about making the right choice, the first time. We want our new starters to fly through their probation, get confirmed in post, and ultimately make us money while enjoying the work they do.
At the HRD conference, one of the presentations was about how to get the best out of Generation Y – anyone born roughly after 1980. This generation use technology as part of their daily lives, not thinking about what life might be without them, or even being able to comment on how life used to be without them. The presenter (I forget his name, very bad of me, he runs Unlimited Potential), gave a story where the punchline was from a daughter to her father: “Dad, if I gave a presentation about how to use a fridge, would you want to hear about it?” in response to why she didn’t watch her father deliver a presentation on how to use the internet. Gen Y see modern technology as being a fridge – it’s there, it exists, you use it for what you need and when you’re done you move onto the next thing.
So why’s that important? Because more and more people are using social media and social networking sites to interact and learn about the world on a daily basis:
– In October 2009 LinkedIn had 50million users worldwide http://blog.linkedin.com/2009/10/14/linkedin-50-million-professionals-worldwide/
– Facebook currently has 400million active users http://www.facebook.com/press/info.php?statistics
– Twitter currently has 21.2million unique visitors http://siteanalytics.compete.com/twitter.com/?metric=uv
(above sites all courtesy of http://socialmediastatistics.wikidot.com/)
These are staggering figures. Amazingly staggering. And that’s not a complete picture of the social media space, just a choice of three. What does that tell us? Well here’s some of the things I think are important from just the figures.
It’s accepted now that you can be (and most likely will be) looked up through one of these social networking sites. That means in effect your potential employer has complete sight of what you are likely to bring to their organisation in terms of your: attitude, work ethic, potential fit, and a host of other traits not immediately obvious from your traditional CV.
What does that mean for candidates? They have to either be very deliberate about how they use these social networking sites, or be open to scrutiny from potential employers. As an example, I’m serious about L&D. It’s my life and I love it. However, my twitter feed may not show that as I tend to rant a lot on there, or tweet about work/office/company related things, but not a lot about my passion for L&D. My LinkedIn profile doesn’t say a lot about my work experience, my education or the skills/knowledge/abilities I have as an L&D professional. My blog, is the only place someone would know I care about L&D. Am I ok with that? Yes, I am. Only because I’ve made a very determined choice that I won’t be deliberate about how I’m potentially perceived by future employers. There’s a host of people who will violently disagree with my approach and will recommend that if you want to be serious about your job, future jobs, and your career, then your online presence has to reflect what you want to be.
But what about how employers should use social media to find out about you? I mean, they have to be open, fair, consistent in their approach and not allow prejudices or biases to influence their potential hiring decisions. Well this is a whole other can of worms. My initial thoughts on this centre on the following.
1) If a company wants to find out about you, they have to be open about that from the outset on their job advert/site/promotion. You as a candidate then have the option to either allow that to happen or not.
2) The company has to be explicitly clear about the criteria they have for the job role, and therefore what they are looking to find out about you from the sites you have a profile on.
3) If they choose not to bring you in for interview, there must be a direct piece of feedback that relates to the above, and informs the candidate why they weren’t chosen.
4) Once you’ve been chosen to be brought in to interview, your use of social media has to be part of the equation as that’s part of how you were selected in the first place.
There’s a lot to now consider in the role of recruitment. Recruitment agencies need to be clear about how to advise candidates how they use social media. Employers need to be clear about what’s acceptable and why they may want to search social networking sites. Candidates need to be clear about the information they make available to anyone with internet access. Eventually this will lead to further guidance from governing bodies such as the CIPD, ACAS, legislation and employment law professionals. But my impression is that’s a long way off.
So is there a need for traditional CVs? Yes. Are they the be all and end all of what an employer will use to select you for future roles? No. How do you then decide to act on any of this for the future? Talk to someone who is best placed to advise about any of this. In this day and age, recruitment specialists are not the purveyors of all recruitment best practice. Look around you, you’ll be surrounded by people who use social media in one form or another. They’re the ones to seek input from and in some instances, advice from.

>A great planning tool

>As an L&Der I love learning about different tools and techniques to help groups achieve their goals and objectives. The world of L&D and OD (Organisational Development) cross over immensely and the lines are often blurred where one stops and the other starts. In my experience though the two don’t need to be that disparate. OD is about implementing a new way of doing something, or identifying new processes, or facilitating a group in a discussion. L&D is about improving skills across the workforce. I’ll discuss this in a later blog. For today though I’m focusing on a particular planning tool which really helps focus a groups efforts.

The Impact/Effort matrix is a good tool for helping a group decide on what actions they should undertake, and often in what priority. Let’s explain what it is first, then discuss uses after. Effort is defined as the amount of time/resources you need to put into the task in order for it to be a success. Impact is defined as the potential achievement of a set of objectives. This could be impact to organisation, team or efficiencies.
Effectively you have a 2×2 grid.
1) Bottom left = Low Impact and Low Effort (Think about)
These tasks require little effort but will also have little impact.

2) Top left = High Impact and Low Effort (Quick win)
These tasks will have immediate results and require little effort.
3) Bottom right = Low Impact and High Effort (Forget about)
These tasks will take a lot of effort but the return will be minimal at best.
4) Top right = High Impact and High Effort (Requires planning)
These tasks will produce high return but also require high effort.
This is best used once a group have come together and created a list of tasks they need to action but are unclear about how to prioritise them. Where I have put this tool to good use, within the space of an hour you can see that a team readily identify what needs to happen and the priority associated with each.
You can then plan out the tasks and assign such things as time-frames, potential budget, resources required for completion, and communication plans.
Once you have decided on these, it’s then important to assign responsibilities. It seems like an obvious this to say but so often have I seen that the tasks have been prioritised but Bob thinks Terry is going to do it and it should have been Neil doing it all along.
It can also be effective for time management. If you have a way of initially creating a to-do list, this grid can be used in exactly the same fashion as described to help you prioritise which tasks need to be done so your time is effectively managed. In this scenario you would envisage tasks in 4) should be given the larger portion of time (approximately 60-70%), those in 3) given a fair portion of time (approximately 20-30%) and those in 2) and 1) divided accordingly to what you have available.

>Why aren’t we all highly effective then?

>I’m revising a course I’m due to deliver next week called ‘Making a Personal Impact’. It’s aimed at juniors in the workforce to give them more understanding about how to make a better impression and impact so that they get noticed and become able to move up the corporate ladder. As part of the course I’m doing a piece on what it means to be pro-active and as I was searching the interwebs, I was directed to Stephen Covey’s website http://www.stephencovey.com. He’s the author of the best selling book ‘7 Habits of Highly Effective People’. The book was first published in 1989, has sold over 20 million copies, and has been named the #1 Most Influential Business Book of the Twentieth Century” according to his website.


Let’s fast forward to the here and now. A lot of authors have written about and blog regularly about how to be effective and the latest ten rules for doing so. I take issue with the continuous rise of such things, least of all because they tend not to be evidence based, more anecdotal, and this means there’s no real fix. The better works try to be scientific in their approach but still fall foul of not following an effective or repeatable process. Anyway that’s not what I’m blogging about.
My question today is around why we’re all not conforming to the multitude of theories in existence that tell us how to be successful and/or effective. Well the answer is pretty simple really. The companies and organisations we work in just don’t support these theories. Business 101 tells us that companies are in existence to make money. In order for that to happen, those same businesses look for the kind of people who are willing to put in the time and effort to make things happen. That’s a broad brush comment which is meant to include all manner of behaviours such as selling, collaborating, seeking new business, delivering on time, etc.
Part of that demand for success means sometimes those businesses have to overlook the desirable qualities that are oft quoted as being the corner mark of an effective person. Do you want a CEO who is able to make hard decisions, communicate them out and keep a business surviving, or a CEO who spends time ensuring staff are being cared for, relationships are well maintained, and may miss opportunities to sustain business success? I’m trying to present extremes on purpose.
The problem is the habits of highly effective people are often in conjunction with other behaviours that aren’t quoted or discussed. Some of these highly effective people are task masters. Some are sticklers for discipline. Some are really picky about details. Some just care about big ideas and big promotions. Some just railroad others into accepting their way of thinking. These are all traits which many executives possess but no-one really takes the time to recognise.
One psychometric tool I’ve come across does attempt to redress this. It’s called the Hogan Dark Side and is developed by Psychological Consultancy Ltd. It’s a good tool which encourages seniors to look at what may ‘derail’ them. What this means is, you may have a trait, e.g. gregarious and energetic, and this may be a great strength of yours. There may be circumstances you encounter which inhibit this strength continuously and make this person derail by forcing them to behave in ways that are uncharacteristic and damaging. For example, they start to go out for drinks far too often, during lunch and then after work, they spend too much time talking to colleagues and socialising rather than doing work, they try to get involved in company social events and miss meetings and deadlines.
But that’s just one tool and it’s not used widely enough to be recognised by the wider working world. My concern is that people go out and buy self-help books on personal success and how to be the next millionaire but they’re not being told the full story of what list of traits are not talked about.
To further this line of thinking, I’m going to make a rather bold statement. We wouldn’t have experienced the financial crisis across the world if all those workers in the banking industries truly exhibited the qualities of highly effective individuals, being genuine and not looking for personal financial gain. Instead, those industries promote and expect behaviours along the lines of: look out for yourself, get a big bonus, don’t collaborate, keep information close at hand, amongst others.
So where does this take us? If a company wants its staff to truly be displaying the qualities that seem to be in high demand, it needs to be explicit about that in a variety of different forms. The company should have a set of values that are clear and understandable by all. There needs to be a behavioural competency framework that outlines what’s expected of everyone in a very practical way. There has to be a clear and unbiased promotion process, succession plan and skills matrix. Review periods have to be mandatory and the opportunities for learning and development made available to every member of staff.
I’m not saying all companies are bad at doing this. If anything the Great Place to Work Survey by the FT shows us clearly that there are a lot of companies striving to get it right and perception from their staff show this to be the case. What I am saying is this needs to be built into every company so that we can have the kind of effective business and quality of workforce that we seem to be looking for.

>What digital means for L&D

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Something I’ve been thinking about a lot lately is how digital has completely changed the world. That’s nothing new, it’s been self-evident for the last 5 years with the rise of social networking sites, brands doing more and more of their business on line, customer contact centres having complete on line presence, speeds of internet connectivity now at 50MB, and much more activity that I’m neglecting to mention.

In and of itself this excites me. This has to do with me being a techno geek. Not a true geek that understands jargon, but more to do with being excited about what the technology enables us to do. As was said in a talk I heard recently (by Ian Jindal in a talk about xxx), users of the internet don’t care how it works, they just want it to work so they can get on and do what they enjoy – surfing, buying, chatting, etc.
What is that excites me? I guess just the way technology is advancing so much now that you really can’t imagine life without our mod-cons. I can recall how things used to be done via memo, then fax, then emails, then instant messaging and now real time updates. Other technological advances went from VHS – Videoplus (which I loved by the way!) – DVD players – VHS and DVD in one players and now blu-ray players. Each new thing was more exciting and life made easy than the last. And that trend is only continuing for the better.
So I’m brought back to how it makes a difference in the world of L&D. Well at first glance L&D has tried to keep up with technology. All training executed pretty much through PPT now. Knowledge management systems were being implemented in organisations throughout the 90s. Computer Based Training has been around for many years – technical and behavioural skills. Online learning has been happening for at least the last 4-5 years with more and more people requiring 24/7 access to training materials. Wikis are now being used to be a storage hold of information. Psychometric tests have been available on-line since the turn of the milennia. Looking at this, we’ve done a good job no?
Absolutely we have! But is that what digital is about? I don’t think it should be restricted to it. L&D is one of those professions where if it doesn’t keep up with what technology has to offer, it will fall by the wayside. So what else should we be considering? Well one of the great things about being an online world is the amount of information and data available to us. But why’s that important? You can find information on demographics, political influence, internet usage, community centres, pretty much any statistic you could need, is available somewhere. That’s important to an L&Der because we have to work with current and correct information. It’s what gives us insight into the behaviour of the people we work with which in turn allows us to develop and deliver insightful and effective interventions.
See the essence of an L&Der isn’t about delivering training on Assertiveness Skills. It’s about knowing the behaviours of the person who needs it, what their likely social patterns are driven by, what their work environment means for them, and developing those skills with that individual so they can recognise and make a definite plan about how to be assertive. In part that comes from good questioning and good facilitation from the L&Der. I believe though there’s a wealth of information that digital makes available, that in the absence of that information you could be missing important information which helps you develop your expertise and experience and delivery style.
There’s no replacement for face to face training – regardless of the topic. But we can use a variety of tools at our disposal to engage our audience in a multitude of ways. Create a dedicated company training site, roll out an employee engagement survey, have a Facebook page, Twitter account, yahoogroup. All these (and more) help reach an audience. They also help you as an L&Der be focused on and conscious of trends in the areas you are interested in.
Digital has opened up the possibilities to L&D in a way that like brands have to learn how to engage with their customers, L&Ders have to learn how to hear what people need and want from training. If we’re not listening to those conversations, reading blogs, being on forums, contributing articles, we will lose a rich flow of information.
The best L&Ders are tapped into digital and know they can’t be complacent about such things. Those are the ones you need in your organisation.

>Getting the basics right

>I was able today to help a colleague with an area of work he was struggling with – time management. It’s an oft quoted area of difficulty that junior staff just don’t know how to handle. I was also able to help a colleague think about how to set realistic objectives for team members. What came out from both of these conversations is the importance of getting the basics right. And when I say the basics I really do mean the basics.

In the probation period of any new joiner the onboarding process should ensure a range of things are happening so that person is able to be effective in their job. A lot of that though has to do with the essentials of the job role. We can expect someone to hit the ground running when joining, but if we’re not giving them the right start, how can we expect them to succeed? A person can only be pro-active so much before they’re just facing obstinance and challenges.
So what is this onboarding process all about? Research has shown that an effective onboarding process increases the amount of discretionary effort an employee chooses to exercise. Discretionary effort is defined as the amount of effort an employee chooses to exercise over and above the bare minimum. So, the better the onboarding, the more engaged and productive the employee. Therefore the onboarding process has to be robust, inclusive and wide ranging.
What you’ll find is these suggestions seem to cover trivial things but you’ll be surprised how much of a difference they truly make.
Here are my suggestions for an effective onbaording programme:
Week 1
– orientation of the building including things like facilities department, toilets, canteen, vending machines, exits and entrances to the building.
– meeting everyone in your department and going for a department/team lunch
– meeting people from other departments who are key to their role
– all the technical stuff (PC, phone) set up and ready before they arrive
– showing them things like file structures, networks, intranets, extranets, wikis, etc
– give them an overview of the organisation structure
– meaningful tasks to start getting on with
– arrange a buddy
Week 2
– setting objectives for the probation period
– introducing them to other departments and getting them to arrange their own meetings
– assigned work relevant to their role
– explain company history and values
– talk them through HR processes and L&D plans
Week 3
– weekly meeting to discuss progress and review their learnings to date
– buddy lunch
– arrange possible shadowing of other team members
Week 4
– weekly meeting
– explanation of competency frameworks
– explanation of different business units, how they contribute to the company and how you work with them all
– evaluation of how they are adapting to the work environment and coaching to improve their effectiveness
This is what should happen in the first month. There should be a lot more that happens which you will need to identify. But if you can get these basics right then things such as performance reviews, giving feedback, coaching, all become easier because you’ve already covered these aspects. Conversations can then centre on actual job role, tasks, development, etc.

>L&D to the rescue!

>In one of my earlier posts I mentioned something about a crack L&D team. From a meeting today I have been inspired to talk more about this ninja trained team of L&D professionals.

So first thing is to be clear about what is an L&D professional. In my experience it’s someone who has been exposed to a wide range of training topics and can deliver training on those topics. This takes time. It’s not enough for an L&Der to be a time management trainer. A trainer is someone who does exactly that – trains. An I.T. trainer is pretty restricted to I.T. training. They will be knowledgeable about their specific topic and be mostly restricted to that. But in essence, they are not developing a behaviour, they are developing a technical skillset. Because of that, they will be restricted to being a trainer; unless they of course venture to the L&D side of things. Oh and don’t let the title confuse you. An I.T. consultant isn’t an L&Der. They’re just a fancy trainer.

The other thing to be wary of is to be fooled into thinking that a good trainer can make a good L&Der. No sirree. It is very possible to have someone train well but not make a good L&Der. They can present the information well, answer questions thrown at them, even make it amusing and relevant to your work. But that’s not what L&D is about.

L&D is about a culture of learning and development that is facilitated by the L&Der. That sounds good but what needs to happen? Well you have to have someone who has experience of the learning and development cycle and knows how to make it a reality. That is someone who knows how to carry out a learning needs analysis, how to design an intervention, able to deliver the intervention and finally understand what evaluation is needed to measure the success of the intervention.

In order for that to be a success the L&Der has to have an infectious personality. The last thing you need is someone who believes in L&D but has the personality of a dead toad. I’ve known people like this and for all the money in the world they will never be like Jonathan Ross. So this L&Der must be someone who is able to do the following things well:

1) develop your business acumen – quickly. L&D can only be effective if you truly understand what are the important factors in business success? What is the company strategy? What do the different departments do? What processes are already in place that support L&D? Who are the key supporters of L&D? Who are the ones who just need to be introduced to L&D to be your supporters? Who are the cynics that you need to build rapport with? What are the objectives of the business? How can what you deliver help the business?

2) build rapport with a wide range of people. This is important in so many ways. You’re only going to have a successful L&D function if the business knows who you are, what you’re trying to achieve, and give you the support to do this. As an L&Der it’s vital to be able to deliver an intervention that is received well by the people you’re working with.

3) be knowledgeable about a range of L&D interventions. The beauty of being an L&Der is that you’re not limited to delivering training courses. You have at your diposal other interventions such as workshops, meetings, focus groups, PR & marketing, lunch and learns, and the list can go on. A good L&Der will know how to use a different intervention in order to meet different needs.

4) be a good facilitator. This key skill of an L&Der was taught to me by my first boss. Facilitation skills can help with everything from project management to meeting management to delivering a programme. It’s highly important to be able to understand the subtle nuances of being an effective facilitator and to be able to adapt this skillset for any daily interaction.

5) always seek current trends. As good as an L&Der may be, they have to seek out what’s hot in the world. This is not only true for skills as an L&Der but also to keep aware of what’s happening in the business world, economy and industry. All these things influence what you do as an L&Der and how successful you are likely to be.

Broadly speaking then these are the key things any L&Der should be able to do. I think I rank fairly well across those 5 points. I’ve still got a lot to learn to be better, and that’s something I’m always conscious of.