>Are L&D losing the battle?

>In a summary post earlier this week, I outlined the key points from the L&D2020 workshop with the Training Journal. Today I’d like to address some of the points raised from that meeting and voice my thoughts.

The future skill set

So the one over-riding feature about the day was it was all very present based. That’s to say, there was nothing about the future. There was lots about what L&D needs to do today in order to be successful. And I agree with most of the things there. L&D has to be business focused. There’s no two ways about this. Gone are the days you can come bounding in saying “I’ve got a great idea for a training course”, and commence to put everyone through it. But this isn’t anything new. Businesses are moving so fast and agile these days that L&D has to move with the same pace.
I’ve been lucky in that my career to date has exposed me to a lot of business practices and ways of working so that I am confident in my ability to consult the organisation, and provide solutions based on the needs, as opposed to my ego.
There was talk of L&D being ‘T-shaped’ people. There’s many an analogy you could use for what an L&D person needs to be like. It does fundamentally come down to the fact that you have to be able to describe what the business does as well as the CEO. There was a great quote from the day which I strongly believe – “you have to love the business you’re in as much as, if not more than, learning and development”. How true. I quietly believe save the senior management team, I’m one of few people in the business who could accurately describe every function we have, what they do, how they do it, and what their names all are.
No mention of digital

I was surprised there was no mention of digital, social media, Generation Y/Millennials. This was a real missed opportunity. Let’s take each of those things in order.
I’ve spoken about digital in a previous post and would encourage you have a read of that here.
Those of you who follow me on Twitter will know I enjoy social media. There is so much happening in the interwebs that if we aren’t involved in those discussions we’re never going to understand the world we live in. It really is a fundamental shift in human behaviour we cannot ignore.
The possibilities that social media and digital open for L&D is immense. Informal learning as we know it traditionally is nothing compared to what is currently available. And it’s all free. Open source technology means you don’t have to pay for anything and even though some information may need to be paid for, you can guarantee in a short space of time, someone will have found a way to make it free and open for all.
Generation Y/Millennials for those who aren’t sure are those generation of people born in the mid 1980s to early 2000’s. L&Ders haven’t really had to deal with this group in any pro-active way yet, because they’re only really entering the workforce in a significant way now and are on the radar as ones to develop. The challenge here is to not be complacent and think they can be dealt with in the same way as other generations. There are characteristics that it’s worth learning about, but I’m not going into that here.
What this means for L&Ders though is we have to be far more agile and nimble in our approach to L&D as a whole – not just to Gen Y. Individuals will want more focus on their development as they learn they can grow careers quickly and develop skills in their own time. Does that mean the end of training courses 2 days long, residential and expensive? Not necessarily. It means L&Ders (both internal and external professionals) need to really get into the needs of the business, develop a plan and be willing to adapt as they roll it out.
E-learning and social learning tools will be a growing part of that new learning. Open source technology will allow information that was once premium only to suddenly become free and available to all. Even I, who am a hardened face to face L&D believer, am waning to the fact if I don’t learn about what these tools offer, and how to use them effectively, I’ll be screwed.
Is Donald Clark right?

Donald Clark is a blogger who is a harsh critic of the current face of L&D/HR/CIPD and education. He has some hard views about things, and unfortunately he may be right on a lot of them. He reminds me of the heckler in the group who is a harsh cynic, not because he doesn’t buy into the message, he just doesn’t agree with the delivery.
The challenge here is how to prove Donald wrong. Well first I’d like to have him in a room with me. I’ve had enough mistakes of training delivery, delivered Diversity training to production operators at a car manufacturers, and faced the darkest side of cynicism. And through my training career to date, I’m confident I can engage with my audience, learn what their needs are, and ensure they leave my room having learned something. I’d say my batting average is about 80% success rate in being able to do so.
However, a main criticism of Donald’s is his stance on the lack of effective use of technology in delivering a message. And here I fall down. I am a strong believer in the superiority and power of face to face learning over e-learning type events (notice the language I’m purposefully using?). And this is what I need to learn better. How can I hold myself up as a believer in L&D if I’m not utilising the technology available to deliver messages in equally effective ways? Therein lies the nub, which I think is true of many L&Ders in this world.
Is the future bright?

I think the future has a lot of exciting prospects. Coalition government in the UK, new administration in the USA, global recession, China and India on global rise. Digital, ever increasing broadband speeds, social media and new technologies. Climate change, oil spills, being green, corporate social responsibility. All of these things are factors L&Ders have to understand and develop ways of thinking how to provide solutions to these through the businesses we work with.
The stock and trade of what L&Ders do will be the same. Effective management of the L&D cycle. It’s the continual learning we have to engage with that the challenge lies in. Short of going to Roffey Park, paying £0000’s and learning some core skills, I have very few options open to me to develop this growing skill set. There are few ‘learning institutions’ aimed specifically at L&Ders. A lot of what you learn is on the job, through those senior to you, and through trial and error.
I’m confident in my abilities as an L&Der to deliver a message, but as I’ve mentioned above, e-learning and social learning tools are providing so much accessibility to a growing workforce (virtual and static) that us stock and trade L&Ders have to get on that bandwagon or we face a losing battle. And that is a horrid thought for me.
If you’re of the trainer ilk that says I have a great solution and it’s just right for your organisation, you’re old news. You either need to think of 100 variations of that solution, or learn how to develop consultancy skills instead of selling skills.
L&Ders have a great opportunity to help businesses and organisation deliver be successful. As one of the points raised at the workshop, L&D are the best Trojan horses for organisational change. This, I truly believe.
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>The future skill set of L&D part 1

>On Friday I attended a workshop on the future skills needed in L&D. It was hosted by the Training Journal and was part 3 in a series of workshops over the year. I’ve attended 2 so far this year and will be attending the last in November. If you’re in L&D, or have a vested interest in the value of L&D I highly recommend you attend. The next workshop is on the topic of the growing gap between OD and L&D. Sign up here.

Here’s a few things from the day that I thought were important.
Next Generation HR

This was an interesting presentation from Lee Sears (co-founder and director of Bridge) and Sue Stokely (founder of Coach in a Box). If you get a chance to listen to Lee talk on the circuit, I’d highly recommend it, he has an excellent presentation style and delivers a message very well. If you were following my tweets on Friday you may recognise the following learnings I picked up:
  1. The ability of HR needs to rest in identifying business issues not transactional issues
  2. L&OD is no longer about the individual necessarily. It’s about identifying the key movers and players in your business and investing in them.
  3. High quality dialogue should be used as a key change tool over and above ‘models’
  4. High quality HR and L&OD = business savvy + organisational savvy + context savvy
  5. L&OD are the best trojan horses for organisational change
  6. L&OD has become seduced by its own sophistication
  7. L&OD must have fundamental skills in diagnosing business issues and creating interventions that suit these.
  8. The best L&D people are business people first
  9. Greater self awareness does not equal ROI or business change/success
  10. Tomorrow’s leaders need to look at tomorrow’s problems/challenges
  11. Companies need to throw away competency frameworks as they are too restrictive and are only relevant to how your business used to operate, not how it needs to operate in the future.
  12. Sue reinforced the position that learning takes places in the following way – 70% informal, 20% network, 10% formal
The T-Shaped L&D person

Paul Fairhurst (principal consultant in the Institute of Employment Studies consultant team) then came and presented a talk about L&Ders needing to be ‘T-shaped’ people. In essence any good L&Der needs to have a broad understanding of what is happening in the business and a deep knowledge of L&D skills to work to business needs. Key to this is the ability to have consulting skills.
The IES have carried out some global CEO research and uncovered the following emerging themes:
  1. People are finding new ways to learn
  2. Continuous, informal, social learning will grow
  3. New technologies provide opportunities
  4. Informal learning to be recognised (accredited)
  5. Manager and individual responsibilities
  6. Boundaries between L&D and OD will blur
  7. There will be a shift in L&D professionals skill set
Learning for the next decade

Martyn Sloman is a research academic who specialises in learning and development and author of forthcoming e-book on ‘L&D 2020: A Guide for the Next Decade’. He presented a talk about his work with the New Zealand government and an organisation based in Singapore.
His research showed there are some key things an effective L&D person needs to understand and be able to do. First is a list of activities he recommends if you want to make a significant contribution to the organisation:
  • determine the skills needed to deliver value
  • investigate how they are best acquired/developed
  • ask ‘who are the key stakeholders in shaping the learning process’
  • seek to develop a learning culture
  • design, deliver and monitor interventions that promote learning
And you should be able to ask business leaders the following questions (and arguable be able to answer them yourself):
  • what is the nature of the business – how do you compete?
  • are there particular groups of the workforce who are critical to business value? Is there a cluster of workers? What knowledge and skills do they need?
  • how are these key skill required? Is it through: external recruitment, recruitment from within or training?
  • if they are trainable (or learnable) skills how are they trained/learned?
  • to what extent do you compete on knowledge and skills? How does learning and training add strategic business value?
  • looking to the future, what do you see changing on the business skills front?
A snapshot of the market

Francis Marshall gave the last presentation of the day. Francis is managing director of Cegos UK. Cegos have produced their annual international survey on L&d across 2000 employees in France, Germany, Spain and the UK. Unfortunately Francis had the witching hour and half of the delegates had left the workshop at this point (which I might add is very rude – you’re not that busy, don’t kid yourself). As such he raced through his presentation which was a shame as the findings he was presenting were very relevant to the discussion topic. Unfortunately it also means I have less notes and almost zero memory of the key takeaways from his presentation. This is unfair to Francis as it was interesting, just didn’t give the time he was deserved.
I’ve many thoughts about the day’s event and will do Part 2 later in the week. In the meantime if you have thoughts about the above please do let me know.

>Whatever you do, don’t follow best practise

>Here at LBi Towers (my workplace, all opinions my own, blah, etc) we have a theory that best practise is all well and good if you want to identify a ‘standard’ way of doing something. But, if you want to do something amazing, you need to do more than just best practise.

Essentially best practise is about doing a set of actions that result in a desired result. And in most cases that desired result is pretty staid stuff. We want to increase online engagement, we want to improve retention rates, we want to increase brand perception, we want to be an employer of choice. Those are all fair, and in some cases lofty, ambitions. And for the most part, those companies will be advised to do a set of actions to help them achieve those things. And the cycle is reinforced.
So why am I, an L&Der, concerned about best practise? Well, it’s a piece of terminology that has infected both HR and L&D circles so much that I think we’ve both lost our zest and passion for the job we do. Many in the industry follow what has been outlined by ACAS or the CIPD or because they are the alleged experts that guide what we do and how we should do it. For L&D in particular, there is no direct industry body, but that’s something for me to rant about later.
What this has meant for us professionals is we are trying to get companies, in the main, disciplined in the act of following policies and procedures so they do not fall foul of employment tribunals for transgressions they should have avoided. Part of what I’m talking about is reminiscent of a post by a HR professional, delightfully called theHRD, where he blogged about the de-skilling of HR. And also a post I made a while ago on the over-reliance of policies.

Instead what’s happened is a field we now call Organisational Development came out of the bushes and said, Hey! You keep doing your policies, L&D, you keep doing your training, and we’ll get on and do the exciting company wide development stuff like employee engagement and inter-departmental blending and culture development. I’m not begrudging OD professionals what they do – in truth my passion lies more in OD than it does L&D. But what is apparent is HR and in most cases L&D are given shorter remits of work as other ‘specialists’ come in to do the stuff which is not best practise.
These specialists push those boundaries of convention and are lauded for their free thinking and challenging ways. And the truth is they should be applauded for those things. But, and here’s the crux of it, HR and L&D have an equally important responsibility to shout for the same recognition.
It’s not enough that HR manages recruitment, retention, employee relations and policies. It’s not enough that L&D creates a training programme, delivers training, and helps staff feel valued. They need to move beyond those restrictions and show companies that they are better than that. And that’s not by following the best practise of other companies, or your very good friend who is HR director at Google. It’s by identifying which business objectives you can get more involved with that show either HR or L&D can play a more strategic role in the business or organisation. That’s a basic tenet of what should be happening anyway, and I’ll wager 80% of HR professionals aren’t doing this.
In my opinion, the best way to ensure you have someone who is looking beyond best practise is by having a full time in-house resource dedicated to their role. Outsourcing is fine but does not allow the true value of the profession to be realised. I’m fortunate that I have full responsibility for L&D, have no one to steer what I do, am self-reliant enough to get on and do things and have established the credibility of L&D across the agency. It’s taken time, but I’ve done that. If you’re not able to do that, you either need to review the responsibilities of your role, rise to the occasion and make your mark known, or seek to develop yourself so that you can step up and not rely on best practise.

>Tell your bad worker how well they’re doing

>An annoyance of mine in the workplace is managers who don’t manage bad workers. By bad workers I mean the kind of person who thinks they’re doing a good job, but isn’t. They’re just bad at what they do. This may be because they don’t have the required skills, knowledge, aptitude, ability or attitude. However you look at it, they’re just bad at their job.

In a previous post I talked about sacking the manager who thinks they’re doing a good job when they’re not. This is the other side of that coin – dealing with an employee who has no idea they’re not doing a good job, but no-one is telling them. Instead, they’re being told what a good job they’re doing and thereby inflating their sense of self-importance.
I know such a person. Bob is awful at what he does. Bob’s manager though, Berk, isn’t telling him. Instead of trying to deal with Bob’s lack of ability to do a good job, Berk is allowing Bob to just get on with whatever Bob thinks is an effective way of working. This is driving me nuts as Berk is effectively burying his head in the sand staying aloof to the issue of bad work. Meanwhile, Bob is ambling along, being told ‘you’re doing a great job’, where in reality, he isn’t.
I’ve tried to give Berk some feedback about Bob and Bob’s ability to do the job, but I’ve not been listened to. So I have to put up with Bob’s incompetence and air of ‘I know what I’m doing’ when in reality, Bob should not even be here.
Those of you who know me, don’t try figure out who this might be. I know many people in the business I work for this could be true of, and as such this is a message to try and convey the sheer frustration I have at this situation.
If you want some ‘harder’ information about the impact of this bad work here you go:
– workload get spread to the team that should be dealt with by one person
– Bob talks ‘confidently’ about a given topic when they’re actually talking shit
– Bob’s perception of his own workload is mountainous and insurmountable – this means Bob rants and is negative towards others that Bob perceives as being less busy
– when team members learn about Bob’s negativity they in turn feel negative towards Bob and indirectly towards Berk for not managing him
– deadlines are missed, meetings not attended, wrong information being delivered
So, if you are Berk, please deal with Bob’s inability to do the job. If you are Bob, then God help you in your career and life in general.

>Are you behaving intelligently?

>A while back I started this topic about Intelligent Behaviours. I started to talk about two aspects of the title – what it means to be Intelligent and why I chose Behaviours. I’d like to continue that discussion piece to evolve my thoughts and the theory.

In particular I want to focus on the workplace as that has resonance for a lot of people. In my last job I had to do a lot of training on the topic of Diversity. Part of that training was centred on the consequence of acting inappropriately or insensitively towards someone and the process of disciplinary. There was no positive message in there at all. It was all about ‘Don’t do this or else’. There’s two things within this I’d like to tackle.
The first is the delivery of the message. As L&Ders we should be able to encourage a group to reflect on their actions and reach a decision about how they want to act in future. The problem with the delivery style of the training was that it was telling people what they weren’t allowed to do. If the discussion came up about what they could do, it was chance that directed it and nothing else.
However, think about the development of the discussion and training if you get a group to think about behaving intelligently towards their colleagues. In the first instance it’s about recognising what behaviours are appropriate as well as inappropriate. And not just a typical flipchart list of ‘touching’, ‘shouting’, ‘arguing’, etc. That only superficially addresses those behaviours. There needs to be a set of development activities that centre around the skills that enable understanding of those behaviours e.g. active listening, learning about cultural differences, how to ask questions, all things which are key in enabling behaviours to be understood better.
The intelligent piece then focuses on how to act on that learning. And that’s the difficult bit for a lot of people. If you know that you shouldn’t be putting undue pressure on your team, but you aren’t cognisant of your own behaviour how can you act intelligently? You need to take a long look at yourself and either seek feedback or find ways to raise your self-awareness so that you can learn what acting intelligently means for you. If it’s about being professional, in what respect do you need to do this. If it’s about explaining your thinking more, what is it that you think is or is not happening now?
The second piece I’d like to tackle is the focus the company places on this topic. A company has as much responsibility to behave intelligently as does its staff. From the company though it should be less about process and protocol and policies and more about behaving in ways that make people feel valued, and if they’re misbehaving then dealing with that appropriately.
For example, Bob comes into work drunk after every lunch break for a week. Typical action would be to discipline Bob for breaking company policy and being under the influence of alcohol. If he doesn’t improve in 2 weeks he’ll be let go. That’s fine but what a stick approach.
How about a company giving Bob time off from work, fully paid, on the condition that he immediately seeks professional help, paid for by the business, so he can overcome his problem. A timeline is given for 2 weeks to turn it around, and if there’s no satisfactory result, then he will be given a further 2 weeks off work, unpaid, but still has to get help. If there’s still no joy, then you enter into formal proceedings explaining that you’ve offered the support, you’re still committed to helping Bob, and together you will find a way to improve, unfortunately he has to go through a disciplinary. You also have an open forum with the team about how they are dealing with workload and any other stress with the absence of Bob so they are not ostracised.
A company won’t do that though because of the time and investment involved. Instead they’d rather have an unproductive worker, who isn’t dealing with his issue, getting worse, and with the fear of losing his job hanging on his head. His team and manager aren’t dealing with the situation well either and they’re feeling the stress. He leaves, and the post is vacant for 3 months resulting in increased unproductivity. Recruitment fees stack up, you finally find someone, and 3 months after they start they’re finally at an acceptable working level. 8 months down the line of Bob leaving, you’re finally productive again, after a lot of cost to the business. It could have been dealt with in 4 weeks.
I’ve created extreme situations, and this theory is far from infallible. However, it does offer an alternative perspective to how we currently approach problems and issues on a day to day basis. Intelligent Behaviours is about what it suggests. Thinking about how we behave so that we can make intelligent decisions for the benefit of everyone involved.

>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.