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?

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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.