>You stick to your trade

>This week I’ve been made to think about the value an L&Der has to offer and what a good L&Der should be able to do. This first came from a post I read by Donald Clark where he talked about his experience of Fox’s Glacier Mints. This is rather amusing and rather cutting of his experience of an over enthusiastic trainer who was trying to train a group of people in being Creative. My second thing was from a training day I attended at my company delivered by an external trainer on the topics of Decision Making and Creative Thinking. And my third was from a company initiative I’m trying to push through.

What they all have in common is the value attached to an L&Der. I’ve spoken previously about what an effective L&Der needs to be able to do. What I’m concerned about at the moment is the sea of people out there in the world of work who call themselves trainers, and may fool themselves into thinking they are really good at training, but really have as much success as I do at Fantasy Football.
I’m sure that Bob is highly effective at delivering training on how to use MS PowerPoint 2010 but that doesn’t mean he’s equally able to deliver training on presentation skills. I can use PowerPoint, have used it for 7 years and probably will continue to use it into the future. That doesn’t mean I should deliver training in it though.
Similarly, if a trainer is building their one-person consultancy into a successful brand – and let’s be honest they tend to be one or two people – they should stick to what they know well and do that. Don’t pretend you know enough about a topic you have a passing interest in that you can deliver training on the topic. Just because I have an enthusiasm for tennis doesn’t qualify me to be a professional tennis coach.
I’m confident enough in my ability as an L&Der to recognise when a skillset is beyond my realm and I either need training in that skillset so I can learn how to do it, do it, then once I’ve bagged enough experience deliver training in it, or I seek out a current SME who can deliver it, and work with them to co-create the content and leave them to deliver it.
So what’s my message here? If you trust a trainer to deliver training in Wiring a Plug, then make sure they do that well. If they suggest they can deliver training in Developing Leaders of Tomorrow, either laugh in their face, or politely suggest you’ll go talk to Reed Learning instead.

>You’re a xenophobe, admit it

>I was reminded today about the importance of getting names right. But not only getting names right, being able to look at a name and get an immediate sense of that person’s potential nationality, culture and often their religion.

I’ve been fortunate in the many temp jobs I did while at uni that I was exposed to a lot of people who were from a variety of backgrounds. I also worked in different NHS offices for a time which exposed me to the myriad of names and cultures that came into contact with the NHS. The biggest thing this taught me was the importance of getting names right.
I have never shied away from trying to pronounce a name that was new to me. I’ve always wanted to get it right. And I’ve always wanted to find out more about names – what they mean, where they come from, what culture they are from, and then further questions about the person and their background. It’s one of the things I love about my job. I come into contact with such a variety of people, that understanding names makes interacting with others so much easier.
A lot of names can tell you what nationality a person is, what religion they are part of and in most cases what sex that person is. Indian names for example present all this information in their name. For example, Akshay Kumar is a boy’s name (Akshay), most likely Hindu, most likely Indian (Kumar). Asma Begum is a girl’s name (Asma), most likely Muslim, most likely Bangladeshi (Begum). Anthony McDonald is a boy’s name (Anthony), most likely Christian, most likely Scottish (McDonald). I can tell these things partly because I am Indian but mainly because I have seen and met enough people to notice these things and learn about them.
And trust me, I have had countless versions of my name used and abused – Suhki, Suki, Sucki, Suk, Pabla, Pabila, Pabail, to name just a few. All wrong. I’ve learned to accept that a lot of people are just that thick. I will tell people if they’re consistently making a mistake how my name should be spelled or pronounced.
What pisses me off is when others don’t bother. And I have met far too many people who just haven’t bothered getting names right. They’ll make assumptions about how a name is said, think they’re right and confidently say a name wrong. What complete fucknuts (pardon my language but it really does anger me). And, AND, when told they are saying it wrong, and they are corrected, they still believe they are right.
This doesn’t relate to professionalism or political correctness or diversity or any other unrelated adjective. It’s about courtesy. Plain and simple. It’s horrendous that people are either that ignorant, arrogant, careless, thoughtless and/or rude that they don’t take the time to address someone correctly. Do us all a favour. Admit you’re a xenophobe. Then try and say names right.

>Banter is not wrong

>A good friend of mine, Jim, has gone through a small ordeal which has made me (re)ponder the way we think about Diversity. Jim is a smart guy, and has a quick wit. He’s been with his employer for a number of years now and is working his way through the ranks. In his current post he has a mixed team of people he works with. Now Jim’s not a malicious person in any way but what happened has now given him the name Mud.

Jim enjoys banter – as we all do – with his work colleagues. What he didn’t bank on was someone in his team not appreciating his banter. Jim made a comment and used a euphemism to make it funny. His colleague took offence and decided to address it with Jim. Thankfully it’s not turned into anything serious, but it made me think about how easily behaviours can be misinterpreted.
What worries me is there is a clear uncertainty from employers and employees about what is acceptable in the workplace. Clearly direct and indirect discrimination of any kind is just unacceptable and should be dealt with. And acting in inappropriate ways is clearly unacceptable – butt slapping, shouting, intimidating, etc. But in a lot of everyday occurrences, it’s the non-obvious behaviours which need to be considered.
Think about any of the following: A female employee referring to colleagues using words like ‘honey’, ‘love’, ‘darling’. A male employee walking around the office in cycle clothing (not wrong but certainly not appropriate). An Asian employee displaying an England flag at his desk during an international sports competition. A practising religious person keeping on their desk in view of everyone a copy of their religious text. Are any of these wrong? As any case law specialist will tell you it’s all about the context.
So here’s my context. In a previous post I mentioned Intelligent Behaviours. If staff act intelligently they would see that in most instances a behaviour perceived as inappropriate was actually harmless. It’s when you don’t act intelligently that things go awry. Having an Intelligent Behaviour mindset means you’re not only looking at what was said, but the mannerisms of the person as a whole, their normal interactions, their attitude to work, their attitude to the organisation, their interpersonal skills, all these give you a picture of what that person intended. Bearing that in mind, in most instances you should see no malice intended.
I’m not dismissing those individuals who do allow their prejudices and biases to influence how they work with others. Even they should take the time to think intelligently about what they’re doing. This is about allowing a workplace to have a freedom to act and behave in a way which others are accepting of and appreciate. If your organisation is reticent to do this or thinks this is not talking about the real world, then your organisation has a behaviour problem that rides throughout all levels and you need to make some tough and necessary decisions about how you want to rectify these.
So, banter is not wrong. It’s a very British quality mind, and other cultures will have different cultural norms to be adhered to and respected. The important thing to remember is if you have an issue with what someone has said, think intelligently about the context, not just the words, and more often than not you’ll have a different appreciation to your assumption.

>What’s your third world?

I remember several years ago listening to a talk about successful leaders. He talked about how people in these positions have 3 worlds they live in which provide them with balance.

The first is your family world. This obviously looks very different for everyone, but the key things to bear in mind is the security a family environment provides for an individual. And this is true no matter how you define family. Be it married with kids, civil partnership, foster family, adopted, extended family, or however else you choose to categorise family. A secure family environment means that when you come to work you are able to focus in the main on the work at hand because you know that the family is being cared for and are secure. Difficulties at home mean less focus at work as your energy is already zapped by trying to resolve those.

The second is your world of work. This is obviously where you choose to create an income. There are many pundits who will argue that if you aren’t working in a career you are passionate about you are in the wrong job and you need to move. Now I agree with this to some extent. It’s important to reflect on the practicalities of doing something like this. My guesstimate would argue 20% of the working population are in a position where they can choose to leave a job and move on to better prospects. 50% of the population are working because they have to in order to live. The other 30% are in positions where they’re doing a good job and ambling along well enough, but don’t either have the desire or know how to move on.

As we’re talking about successful people we’ll stay on track with this. Essentially your world of work should be conducive to what you want to achieve. It’s not just about the work you do though. The company’s culture, values, size, structure, your place within it, all play a part in how successful you can be. This means you have to support and be an advocate for your work as well as being recognised for the work you do by the company.

So far so common sense, right? Right. Then, it’s the third place which is of particular interest. Your third place should be where you can be yourself. Cynicism aside of what this may mean for the undesirables of society, this is a truly fascinating thing to explore.

Your third world is where you are able to be yourself without the distraction, interruption and/or restrictions of both family and work. In your third world, you are able to express yourself and enjoy being you. For some this may be stamp collecting, for others being a fan of graphic comics and for others playing golf. The important thing is it doesn’t matter what this third world is, as long as you can be yourself. I’d describe this as geeking out. We all have something that sparks an interest which is ours. That is, you enjoy it, you cherish it, and you enjoy devoting your time to it.

For me this is a mix of multimedia technology and films. This covers a broad range of things from my mobile phone, my home cinema set up, the films I watch, the films I collect, and being immersed in all of these. I enjoy devoting my time to this and it’s something I have in common with my friends that we can get all geeky about. It’s fun, it’s enjoyable, and it’s mine.

The important thing to bear in mind is this does not undermine the other two worlds. Your third world should be a place where you know you can ‘live’ when your family world and world of work are catered for in a balanced effective way. I think the wonderful thing about thinking about success in this way is that it raises a lot of important questions that need to be answered individually, but it provides a great place from which you can aspire to.

Finding that balance is a tough set of decisions you have to balance. And there may well be a need to re-evaluate these as life happens and intervenes in the many ways it can. Through it all though, a perspective such as this allows us to focus on particular aspects of our lives and look at what that means for the other worlds.

Intelligent Behaviours

I’d like to promote a new line of thinking that seems to be in line with the changing world we live in. The digital age promises a lot for the future of society. Access to content has never been greater, speeds for access are now fought for, consumers are consuming more and demanding more, communities are standing up for their rights all across the globe, ideas, thoughts, challenges are being pushed and nurtured right across every member of society in our education systems, places of worship, businesses and any other institution that fosters and develops minds.

This also means that we, as a society, need to embrace a different kind of thinking. I’m calling this Intelligent Behaviours. I had considered calling it Intelligent Psychology but on reflection psychology can be perceived to be limited to the mind – although that’s not true. By calling it Behaviours you can then start to focus on what people are doing as well as inferring their psychological state, as well as taking into account things happening in the economy/society/world, as well as being mindful of other factors such as societal institutions – family/work/education.

And the Intelligent part? Well that’s around our ability to not only discern between right and wrong, good and bad, good and evil, but act in a far more considered manner which can only be described as intelligent. Intelligence isn’t just about thinking critically, analytically, having a deductive mind, observant, or a myriad of other attributes and attitudes. It also encompasses acting on your feelings, emotions, values, beliefs and experiences. Vital to this is intelligence with wisdom, conviction and passion. But importantly, I think, it is about acting in a way which not only serves to inspire behaviour in others, but also sets a constantly evolving benchmark of what it means to act intelligently.

So what is it I think it important about Intelligent Behaviours? In essence I think it hinges on being able to help anyone, in any situation, see past what they think they need to do, challenge themselves to think intelligent and then decide what behaviour will help them achieve this. We might call this coaching/mentoring/counselling/feedback/advice, and they all may play a part in this. Intelligent Behaviours seems to invoke in me a real sense of purpose about the term. And it should develop into a complete philosophy which I will embark on.

This will be the first in a string of blogs where I’ll be developing this concept of Intelligent Behaviours. I hope you’ll stay with me on this path as I think this is an important concept to consider and make available. I also look forward to your thoughts and feedback about this topic.

>Do you have a policy for that?

>The World Cup is round the corner. From 11 June – 11 July, the world will literally be focused on one thing and one thing only. The football. Even I, who has zero interest in the sport, will be following it. And why not! Your country’s reputation is on the world stage and it makes life incredibly interesting. Your workforce will be bantering the entire period, more so than normal. National flags will be flying high. Energy levels will be amazingly high and moods will be swinging all over the show. There will be as much frustration as there will excitement.

And here’s what worries me. HR will announce – we have a policy for situations like this. I hate policies. I hate them with all my heart. They are a disease brought about by a litigious culture to cover your back. If something isn’t going right, a policy will be there to say – I Told You So. How truly uninspiring. Policies serve to only stifle and restrict the workforce. And here’s the nub of it all. We need policies like we need to be told the consequences of killing another human being.
The CIPD today have released this article thinking they’re helping the workforce: http://www.cipd.co.uk/subjects/hrpract/absence/_world_cup_absence_management. It doesn’t help at all. If anything it makes staff reticent to bother with following the World Cup at work at all. I’m not advocating staff should only be allowed to watch their matches of choice, but don’t throw down policies to take away any thought of doing it. Let me unpick some of their suggestions. ‘Swap shift’ – nonsense because most shift workers do those hours because it suits them and their lifestyle. If I work from 6-11 it’s because I have other commitments which suit that arrangement. ‘Unpaid leave’ – really? You want your staff to not turn up for work, and dock their pay because you’re not willing to accommodate them within the workplace? ‘Games and alcohol’ – Oh Lord. If staff haven’t realised they shouldn’t be doing these in excess then you’ve clearly got other issues you need to deal with. ‘Flexible hours’ – start work at 6am so you can watch your 1 1/2 hour match and leave at your normal time of 6pm. And still be productive while you’re at it. The only decent suggestion they have is ‘special screenings’. This makes far too much sense and I love they add this disclosure piece: “however, it should be remembered that not everyone will be interested in watching the football so people should not be made to feel excluded if they don’t want to get involved”.
It’s my one bugbear about HR. At a recent workshop by the Training Journal, one of the speakers – Jack Wills (Chair of the British Institute for Learning and Development), explained how when he has bought companies, one of the first departments he gets rid of is the HR department. Controversial? Yes. But it makes sense. If line managers were doing their job right, HR wouldn’t need to exist. It’s a thought I’ve often had about HR privately (although, obviously, publicly now).
It’s not that I don’t believe HR provide value. It does. But only because line managers have so much to do, that doing people things right is often a nice to have rather than a must do. My issue is typically when something doesn’t go right, HR will default and say “we have a policy for that”. That’s not good enough. HR needs a slap across the face and a firm kicking.
My take on what should happen is to defer to people’s best judgement. Have a framework which makes sense for the business. Promote it. Help people understand it. Encourage and incentivise to make it happen. Give the pull factor. People should never need to be pushed. Provide clear and unmistakable guidance about when things are expected to happen. Have review periods and agree timelines. That’s all basic stuff which needs to happen.
If people don’t adhere to the framework then there’s a simple recompense. Discipline them. Allow people to make sensible, grown up decisions. If they fall foul of failing to meet a deadline, be it on their head with no doubt about the consequence of this.
To keep overheads in check, I do think you need to have an L&D function of sorts, recruitment, compensation and benefits and a legal department. But you don’t need someone saying – due to adverse weather here’s our company policy. Due to global recession, here’s our policy. Due to not completing your timesheet, here’s our policy. Due to being absent from work without permission, here’s our policy. Due to not answering your email on time, here’s our policy. Managers should have the training to help them understand how to deal with each and every one of those situations.
Ultimately HR are an information provider. This is how you complete an appraisal form. This is how you report sickness and absence. This is when you are eligible for further benefits. This is what you need to do to work here. This is how you report on your workforce. This is the number of staff we have in the building today.
But those damned policies are the bane of my life. We’re in an age now where the workforce is more savvy about working life. Policies help to give people an understanding of expectations from the business. But that’s where they should stay. The workforce is intelligent enough – and has information feely available enough – to make a sensible decision. If they choose to go against the norm or transgress the rules, there’s penalties to pay (no pun intended). You cannot empower a workforce by restricting them to act according to rules and processes and policies.

>Do you understand ROI?

>This week I attended my first L&D 2020 workshop courtesy of the Training Journal (http://www.trainingjournal.com). The workshop was focused on the need for L&D to talk and understand the language of business in order to be successful.

The first talk was given by Tony Sheehan from Ashridge Business School (http://www.ashridge.org.uk). This was a great talk about current trends in L&D and where they may well be headed. Some of the highlights for me were around attitudes to L&D and how technology is influencing how people learn. They provided a 10 point sliding scale which was interesting, and I’m hoping to see the results of this survey. The sliding scale had factors such as Theory or Practice, Information or Resources, and I don’t remember the rest. It was fascinating all the same.
We then had a talk from Jack Wills, head of British Institute for Learning and Development (BILD – http://www.thebild.org) about what businesses actually want from L&D. Some keen insights around CEOs looking for profit, return on investment (ROI), and those are the key things. This really helped me to think about am I getting it right when I think about and what I understand about how the business operates.
The final session was with Jane Massy who is the UK leading practitioner in ROI. She is the CEO of abdi (http://www.abdi.eu.com) which is the only certified professional service in the UK who provide consultancy and training on the ROI method headed by Jack Phillips. Now this was the piece de resistance for me. Jane provided in the short time she had a very insightful look into how you can ensure as an organisation that you are working to a disciplined method which guarantees that ROI is at the core of what you do in L&D. Some of my learnings are below.
The first learning I had was about whether or not the L&D initiatives are linked directly to the business plan. I already know this is what an effective L&D function has to do. The learning was whether or not you could confidently draw a line of sight from the activities and initiatives you do in L&D and how they link directly to the business plan. So, I already do the normal stuff like talking with managers regularly, stay abreast of what’s happening across the business, and through general curiosity and keeping my ears alert, I develop a sense of and understanding of what the business needs are. I then draw up a plan, present it to a few people to validate my idea, then run ahead with it. The part I miss (and if I’m honest often) is taking a moment to think how does this new and exciting initiative fit in with the business plan. Learning no.1.
The next learning I had was about if my L&D initiatives focus on what the learner is expected to do, not what they’re expected to learn. Hmm ok this one is a bit tricky. I will design my courses based on what I think the learner needs to learn. But am I looking at what they’re expected to do once the training is complete? I may think I’m focusing on that, and I may be facilitating conversations to that effect, but is that the result I have in mind? I’m not sure. On reflection, it’s not as explicit as it probably should be. Learning no.2.
The third learning I had was about knowing the full cost of sending someone on a course – be it internally or externally. I know about actual costs associated with people attending training, but this certainly wasn’t a focus of mine. I don’t look to factor the opportunity cost, expenses, admin costs, on costs of someone attending training as being the full cost of them attending. And that’s a pretty big oversight. Someone attending a £2000 5 day course may actually be costing the business somewhere in the region of £6000-£7000 – WOW. How did I not think of that before?
What’s the importance of that though? Well essentially, there’s a bigger expectation about the ROI on that person than was initially considered. Initially I may have thought after 2 months of project work, that knowledge gained has been utilised effectively and we have recouped the cost of the training. Actually now I have to think bigger than that. It may be a lot further down the line this may be the result. And what happens if this person leaves? What happens to that knowledge, time and investment made? So there needs to be some follow up activities that ensure we don’t lose that – documented learnings, wikis, blogs, presentations, workshops, etc.
Aren’t I doing that anyway? Again, I’m kind of doing those things, or encouraging staff and managers to do those things. But that’s not explicit and we are not getting the ROI we would expect if people don’t take the time to do these activities. Learning no.3.
So where does this live me? With a very positive attitude to ensuring I don’t forget the importance of ROI and what it means for the business. From looking at the training needs analysis, to the L&D initiatives, to the ROI expected. These are things I could have spoken about before – I can now talk about them more intelligently.