Existence, sales and suppliers

I get regularly contacted by various suppliers and vendors to the market who want to sell me their wares. I’m not against it, I understand it’s one way of doing business, and I’m probably one of many thousand being contacted in such ways. In truth I dismiss most of these. If I’m caught on a good day I might agree a chat. I’m nice like that.

While at the CIPD annual conference last week, I wanted to see how I could help the exhibitors be more visible to potential buyers through using the backchannel. I approached five random stands, asked aome questions about why they were there, what they hoped to achieve, and what they stood for as a company.

It was interesting. I got common responses of being a strategic partner, of offering bespoke solutions, of making a difference through their technology. So I challenged them and said they’re not unique. Then I started to hear the stories of what they stood for and why they exist. They were all grateful for what I was trying to support them with, and we had a good few minutes chat.

I won’t really know if it helped them or not. I wasn’t being paid to do it, nor sponsored in any way. I just wanted to use my position as a blogger for the benefit of everyone.

There were two great examples of exhibitors being truly genuine and smart about their offer. The first came from DPG PLC, who were giving people a mug and teaspoon, had people take their photos, abd posted to social media with the #DontBeAMug hashtag. This was great because it allowed them to create a conversation at the conference, create content to share, and engage with people in a fun way.

The second was from People Management. They realised that one of their unique points was that they are a trade journal and we all want to be published in one of those. So they had a stand taking photos of people, created a front page with your photo, and made you feel brilliant about yourself. Smart psychology right there.

What this all showed me was that there are some suppliers to the market who are ahead of the game. They’re out there embracing social technologies and taking bold thinking to innovate who they are and spread their message. I can only applaud this. And in truth what does it create? A story for me to share on this blog about them. Free PR. There’s your return.

What it also showed me was that there are plenty of suppliers to the market who exist just because they exist. They know how to do something well, they can offer comparative and competitive rates, and that’s it. I have no further reason to engage with them.

Which is where I think the usefulness of social media becomes apparent. I don’t mind being contacted for potential sales. But I’m more likely to buy from you (recruit you, recommend you, sell for you) if I have a meaningful connection with you. I’m not suggesting social media is the only way to achieve that, but it certainly helps to facilitate it.

What I think is vital, though, is being absolutely clear why you exist. I don’t think it’s about USP anymore. I think we’ve gone beyond that. I think it’s about value, and what I see as adding value. I give you three examples from my network. The first is of Julie Drybrough, who is doing some really cool work about facilitating dialogue in organisations she works with. The second is Meg Peppin, who is a true OD provocateur and will cut through the bullshit to get to the core of how to help you. The third is Doug Shaw, who is creating some cool creative solutions to everyday problems.

These people understand their value. They understand what they stand for. They use social media to help get their voice heard. This is the space suppliers and exhibitors need to invest their time into.

Being HR brilliant

A while back I wrote about your signature strength. When you understand about yourself that there is something core to your being which drives you and everything you do. It’s not something we give much heed to, because it’s quite the self-indulgent thing to experience. So many day to day things happening, why do I then need to take the time to find my signature strength?

I’d like us to consider this is in the work environment. Last week Laurie Ruettimann wrote about all the contradictory career advice you hear these days. And I wanted to pick up on that. Positive Psychology easily falls into the camp of – yeah, you can only do that when you have nothing else in life to worry about.

If positive psychology is about helping people to live a vibrant life, how can we enable this more at work? The simple answer is, it isn’t likely to happen.

We’re not at work to be our best self. We’re not at work to find our signature strength. We’re certainly not at work to live a vibrant life.

Sure there are some workplaces that are great to work for. Mostly that’s because the company started because of a particular skill, they hired others with those skills, they hired even more who had skills they’d need in the future, and they made money along the way. But what about the production line worker, or the telesales clerk, or the road cleaner? They’re doing the job they have to in order to just get by. Asking them to live a more vibrant life may well result in verbal abuse.

And that’s the challenge. Us lot in HR. We few in OD. We can help support that creation of meaning. There’s been plenty of talk lately in the HR blogosphere about making work better. There are some practitioners out there who are making it happen. We don’t need to hack our way through things to make them better. I think the terminology is interesting and the CIPD have done a grand job of creating a sense of vivre in the day to day thinking of HR pros (who are all active online).

At work these things matter. A person’s pay, the physical layout, being safe from harm, having dignity, and having opportunities to contribute to something more than your work. If we get that right, and we’re the ones who control much of that, people can find their own ways to live vibrant lives.

Tomorrow’s World

Remember that programme? Always about future things that are on the horizon and how life is going to be different. I don’t remember the kind of things they actually showed, but I do remember being impressed by the technology. More so though, it was about the possibilities of what tomorrow could bring. And that, is always exciting.

Fast forward to 2012 and advancements are happening all over the world, and in some respects the corporate world has kept up. How so? Well, look at the changes in presentation formats. Standing and presenting has always been a winner. The aids to support have changed. From slide projectors, to overhead projectors, to PowerPoint, and in more recent times Prezi and pecha kucha presentations.

There have also been advancements in meeting management. The stock and trade boardroom table and meeting has moved to having open space meetings, to all hands meetings, to workshops, to facilitated meetings to appreciative inquiry methods. Those innovations in meetings and group dynamics have largely been a result of organisational development type activities as well as improvements in psychology and understanding team and people dynamics.

Then there’s the stock and trade conferences. Suppliers are asked to exhibit, speakers are asked to provide case studies and consultants are asked to be experts. It worked for a while. Until people decided they needed more and created unconference formats, also known as barcamps and open space events. I know of several fields where they use these formats to engage an audience: HR, Recruitment, Learning and Development, User Experience and Technology geeks. They’ve brought themselves together to create a learning format that creates something highly engaging and collaborative.

Last week, I was part of an unconference and a conference, and I’m left thinking why has the traditional conference not changed its approach. Why are they staying to stock and trade when the new developments create so much opportunity for increased engagement and relevance. At the CIPD HRD conference they’ve done some impressive things to try and improve their format. There’s interactive boards on the floors to help attendees see the conversation happening on Twitter. They trialled a 45 minute unconference discussion. They have tweetups. They have Swap Shops where professionals can exchange skills. And they have free short learning presentations that exhibitors can present some theory and then sell their product. And they have journalists and bloggers present to create buzz (of which I was happily part of and very glad to be too).

But here’s what was missing – learning and development. The conference format is one way with a bit of Q&A thrown in to make it feel interactive. Which isn’t really. With a potential discussion between 60-80 people attending a session, four or five get to ask questions. The only learning that happens is the inferences you make from the speaker’s presentation, and what notes they may (and often not) provide.

What needs to happen is interaction with the content. There were many conference sessions I was sitting in where I desperately wanted to discuss the content but there was just no opportunity to do so. I don’t mean I wanted to discuss with the presenter per se, but the content was certainly of enough interest that more could have been facilitated around it.

Here’s some things that could have happened. The presenters are there anyway for their allotted time. Time can be given later to hold a discussion forum with presenters where you discuss the content. The unconference format lends itself well to this kind of discussion. Attendees can engage in the content they are interested in, and equally learn about other discussions that have taken place. Don’t forget attendees have already paid to attend a session. They’re willing to invest their time for proper development of thinking, which doesn’t happen.

The presentation formats are for too rigid. Why does it have to be a formal presentation, and why does it have to be PowerPoint? I saw no-one and heard of no-one talk about other formats, which is such a shame. Imagine the buzz and engagement around the conference in hearing that Bob from Comapnies R Us delivered a Prezi presentation, or Bella from Organisation Brilliance did the best pecha kucha ever. I want to see and hear that! But instead we have to put up with slides, and videos, and graphics, and fairly boring presentations. “We did this, it amounted to this, you need to consider your organisation, good luck.” I’m being unfair to the many good presenters out there, but there’s just not enough.

There needs to be a much better way of making the content on the day available to the many people not present. Bloggers and journalists help this happen organically and there is a lot of value in that. But what about after? Who’s curating the content? Who’s tracking the conversation? Are presenters encouraged to keep up with the conversations after the event? Are presentations available online and available to be accessed by paying with a tweet for example?

And the exhibitors need some kind of briefing and training from the likes of the CIPD. They need to know what the organisers hopes, objectives, goals, vision are. They need to know what they are and not allowed to do with the attendees. Can they pre-arrange meetings? Can they stop looking bored while waiting for footfall? Can they attend sessions because of the money they’ve paid? Can they do more than plug their products? Are they allowed to collaborate with other exhibitors and do more for each other? I suggested while at HRD that Doug should help both the organisers and exhibitors understand how to stop doing dumb things to customers.

There’s a fair amount here. Some of it I reckon can be useful. Some of it is probably just my own musings. What have I missed?

How to Deploy Social Media Learning Successfully

The last talk I’ve attended has been with Euan Semple, Author of Organisation’s Don’t Tweet, People Do. He started his talk unpacking the title of his own talk which I like as an approach as it shows what a presenter thinks about his own talk and shows a level of self awareness and gives the presenter some real presence and authenticity.

He began by talking about how everything we do is learning. Wehn the advent of elearnign came along, it didn’t make traditional L&D better, it still felt like training in a classroom, because it was one way, sitting at your chair following a lesson plan on the screen instead of a teacher. He described that people don’t work that way, and in particular the web doesn’t work that way. It’s messy and is all over the place. Web users are not passive consumers, they actively take in the content they’re searching for.

Euan started using social tools some 12 years ago with the likes of wikis, blogs, RSS feeds and bulletin boards. They didn’t need approvals to be started and he was even able to do a lot on his own systems within the BBC at the time. The tools grew through usage by the population and natural advocacy until they got to a size where they needed to become something formal.

Even then, the prevailing attitudes were “why do I need to bother with these tools”, and these still persist today. Companies naturally seem to want to bring things back in house and create technological beasts, which just doesn’t make sense. Online, people are creating their own natural learning spaces. on Facebook, people have learning pages and groups, on Google+ there are hangouts, on LinkedIn there are sharing groups (some with up to 600,000 users), YouTube has helped to facilitate learning through things like Khan Academy (name check?).

More and more people are gaining access to free and accessible platforms that they can do things themselves with if they want to. Organisations can’t be responsbile for all learning that happens, but they can allow it to happen. Ideas need to start like trojan mice – start small, see what happens, and if there’s something to it, advocacy will naturally happen and something will grow out of it.

The internet is about globall distributed conversations, and organisations need to allow conversations to happen, not control them. Some people may spout rubbish, and that’s ok, others may spout great content. The myth of “oh but someone will do us irreprable damage” is a good thing as you can find out who the morons are and deal with that behaviour.

As L&D we need to be good at curating content. We can’t manage content, there’s just too much being developed. But we can discern what will be useful for our people. We can create knowledge economies, through which there is a lot of value to be gaines. We can’t capture knowledge, and to think we can is a falsehood. When you use these social tools, you naturally end up leaving a trace of who you are, and that’s valuable in itself.

There is a price of pomposity within organisations. You condition behaviours when you try to direct them and this is something we need to be careful about.

Internal learning is in direct competition with the web. People will only do more and more in the future, and there will only be an evolution of networks. We need to help people act in ways that will help this to happen.

Developing and Deploying Internal Coaches

One of the afternoon sessions was about Developing and Deploying Internal Coaches. Research has shown that coaching in organisations is the second best form of learning (the first being on the job learning). The opportunity for staff development is only limited by the resources the business chooses to invest in a programme like this.

The key to making a programme like this work, is by having a group of coaches who are part of the business and not just from the HR/L&D functions. Simon Dennis from Fujitsu UK & Ireland, helped to reinforce this. He has a full time role in the business, and is a Coaching Ambassador for the UK. This means he does coaching and leads the coaching programme as well as doing his full time role. Fujitsu UK & Ireland are a company of 11000, and they have 45 internal coaches.

Once the idea of having internal coaches was sold, they developed an internal community of people and then developed their own internal model called the Fujitsu Coaching Continuum. Using the company logo (the infinity symbol), they created a process for how to give support and development of coaching. I like this reinforcement of the brand logo matched with creating an internal model. When companies do this well it only creates greater sense of citizenship and connection to the company. The other thing I like about their approach is how they give full training to their coaches and have an internal community of practise who come together and constantly look at what they are doing, how they are doing it, and what they can change/improve to make the coaching experience better for them, and the people begin coached. Usefully, they developed a word language template which helps give ideas on how to explain what language to use when in different parts of the coaching conversation.

Coral Ingleton from Kent County Council talked about how she worked with a partner to create a coaching network internally in the council. They created a network across organisations where reciprocal coaching takes place. Unfortunately she ended up talking more about benefits of coaching as opposed to how it is embedded and deployed. I like the idea that this is reciprocal coaching and not paid. Staff who want to be part of the programme, go through formal qualification process and become part of the network. This network is then available to individuals outside the organisation they work for, so they can be called on to be a coach for anyone requesting it from the network (and by default the organisation you are part of too).

Integrating Technology and Learning

First session on day two of HRD12 is about Integrating Technology and Learning with insight from the BBC on how they do this. Anne Morrison, Director of the BBC Academy explains how they’ve used a variety of technology to do this within the organisation.

This is a fascinating session that covers a good range of content on how the BBC have gone on this journey. They have a suite of internal delivery methods from courses to events to intranets, and open content they are happy to be shared with the industry, for it to be distributed, and using events, festivals, podcasts and social media to help learning to happen.

The types of learning that goes online for them are: information, updates, tips, reminders, simulations and compliance. There is possibility to have cross over of what is covered online and offline, and this is where blended learning often takes place.

They’ve found some really useful things that work well:
– reaching distributed and fragmented audiences
– reaching the industry
– ROI for larger number of users
– tracking and reporting
– brevity
– knowledge and information resources
– sharing experience
– creating scenarios

Interestingly, they leave the content in the hands of the users, and trust users to generate the content that is required. Those using the online sites are also going to be the voice of the user, so the content creation and curation is left with users. I like this a lot. As part of this, they also trust users to develop content in the format that fits best from elearning courses through to podcasts through to social media.

What happened to the people agenda?

While listening to the various talks and hearing from respective speakers at speakers at #HRD12, I’m left with an over-riding thought that will not prove popular. In the main, HR Directors and L&D Directors are not doing enough to move the people agenda beyond boxes being ticked, meeting compliance standards and getting better engagement scores. There are some very good leaders at that level who I respect a great deal. But when you have organisations like the CIPD asking these people to come and talk about their organisations, I’m looking to get some real nuggets of insight into how you’ve positively changed the business. Often, I’m left lacking and thinking what I’m doing is more than enough, and in some cases a lot better than the presented organisation.

This raises a few questions. By what standard are we saying the people agenda is of significant calibre that they should be presented at a conference? Some of the speakers requested to attend shouldn’t be the ones speaking. Send someone else from the organisation who has the charisma, know how and ability to present to a large group of people. Your title does not mean you have the fit or ability to speak. Although I bet someone in your team does.

For all the talk of engaging employees with new fangled technologies, how many senior leaders are actively using the tools available to them to do this engaging? Again, I only know a few who do, and the respect they have is bar none. Where’s all the resistance to usage coming from? What perceptions are they battling with? What barriers are they presenting themselves that they don’t want to take part in the conversation? Allowing your staff to use tools, and having an open approach to engagement is not the end game. You need to be in the thick of it.

One of the presentations I attended was about engaging Gen Y, and I was expecting to hear about how L&D methodologies have changed in their organisations to meet the changing ways of learning and attention being grabbed. I learned a lot about great recruitment strategies, but nothing about the delivery of learning. I learned more about how companies like Skill Pill can enable mobile based learning, and it’s another way to consider delivery. This tells me L&D is not doing enough to be innovative in the way we deliver learning, but also we’re not being challenged sufficiently to really push that boat. I take this personally. I love what I do, and think I deliver learning in ways that are varied and interesting, and I don’t think I’m doing good enough.

We’re in a constantly changing world and that brings with it a lot of opportunity and risk to try new things. So who should be the Chief Creative Officer when one doesn’t exist in your organisation? Who should be the Chief Listening Officer? Who’s being the Chief Story Teller? I would suggest these roles sit with these senior leaders from HR and L&D. We have the space and authority to fulfil those roles, it just seems we’re shy of being responsible for them.

I think there should be an HR Director / L&D Director summit where they discuss the people agenda and finally come up with what they think they’re trying to achieve.