I’ve got a nerve

I’ve got a nerve.

One of the topics I get all het up about is inclusion. There are plenty of people writing about their experience of being excluded because of various factors. There are plenty of people writing about the need to include people of all ilks, and not discriminate. There are some very smart people moving beyond these conversations and making compelling arguments for the case.

Inclusion. It matters.

I’m fortunate. Very fortunate.

My folks chose to graft and send me to a private school to get a good education in my early years. I got my GCSEs – distinctly not all A’s and B’s. More like C’s and a combination of the rest. That’s not a good thing to making a point of. The private education was meant to do better for me than that with respect to my results. What I did learn about though was things like being independent. I went on school skiing trips, camping trips, week long I.T. camps, trips to the ballet, to Canterbury Cathedral, and more. I learned how to be confident in myself even though I may not have been academically brilliant.

From there, I went on to college to do my ‘A’ Levels in psychology, sociology and french. A year longer than I should have been there, and I got my grades to get me on a bachelors degree in psychology. I enjoyed that subject a lot. And after that, and some wondering whether I was going to go down the educational psychology route, I decided on occupational psychology and got my pass in 2003. I was a straight C student through all that. I didn’t find it easy, and often questioned what I wanted to do.

My family were there through all that. My friends came and went through all that. I also worked in a lot of different part time jobs through all that. I learned a lot about other cultures in that time. Islam, Judaism, Christianity, Sikhi, Hinduism, all became fascinating topic of interest for me. I wasn’t scholarly, but I knew a lot of people from all those religions and actively sought to find out more about them. I even did my undergraduate dissertation on the topic of homosexuality and religion.

I’ve got a nerve.

It wasn’t until I started work life that I was exposed to more. I thought I was fairly good at being sensitive to others and knowing how to behave. Then I met people who were wheelchair bound. I met people who were homosexuals and lesbians. I met people who were challenging poor behaviours at work. I learned slowly that difference exists in the big bad world, and you can choose to either accept people for who they are, or you don’t. I saw that people tended to be better when they were inclusive. I like being inclusive, and don’t like to exclude anyone. Harmony and relationships are important to me. So I take the time to learn more about these other ways of living and what that means for people.

Later in my working career, I started to work in positions where I was having to help others understand more about this topic of diversity. Wow that was hard. I had to learn a lot about my own prejudices and my own behaviours I was exhibiting. That was tough. I had to face up to facts about myself and how I thought about the world. That’s not an easy set of thoughts to own up to. I had to accept I had prejudices against gay people. I had to accept I had prejudices against certain religions. I had to accept I had prejudices against disabled people. Holy crap.

I’ve got a nerve.

Through hard work, I learned that this was just crap. I had to learn how to challenge myself. I had to learn how to value others. Because, you see, I didn’t – not really. I accepted them. I even tolerated them. How very superior, right? How very unintelligent. How very crass and single minded. I don’t think I was ever openly dsicriminatory to anyone. But that wasn’t my issue. I was privately discriminatory.

How do you get past that? How do you stop that kind of thinking?

There’s no silver bullet here people. I can’t point at a particular thing and say “that right this, and that right there” was what helped me. I had to challenge what I knew by talking with others. By talking to people in the know. By reading what I could. By taking time to reflect and find out what was going on in my head.

I’ve got a nerve.

At the same time as all this, I remember learning about being English. That’s a weird thing to say, right? I mean, why would I want to learn that? I grew up in this country, so why wouldn’t I know about the culture I’ve grown up in? Because growing up in a country, and knowing its culture are not the same thing. Things like football, cricket, tea, English breakfast, beer, London Town, music, art, books – all of these things and more, make up what I love about being an English man.

Voting, sarcasm, self-deprecation, politics, schooling, education, the NHS, this is all part of who I am and what I know. Banter – oh my, what would we do without banter! I’ve learned, both through my own and through others mistakes, just how powerful a thing banter can be. It can build relationships, and it can cut people to their core. It is, of course, a British affair and not restricted to the English. And I’ve learned how to use banter as a way of testing boundaries with people. I don’t always get it right, but I do enjoy the conversation.

I’ve got a nerve.

And at some point in the last five years I started to value people. I saw past my prejudices, my biases and my own self-limiting beliefs about others. I saw the folly in that thinking and realised I love the human condition. It’s weird, wonderful, and scary. Difference rules, and we should all strive to be unique. We all need a place to land and a place to thrive. It’s why I blog now. I have a voice to help others find theirs. It’s why I’m so keen on the learning and development field. I learn so much about others that I improve myself. I become a better person because of the people I work with every damn day. We’re all brilliant, and I want to harness that brilliance and share it with everyone.

I’ve got a nerve.

The attribution of attribution theory

Many a year ago, I learned about attribution theory in psychology. It’s an interesting theory which explains what mental process we go through if something good or bad happens in your life. In essence, the theory says, if something bad happens, you tend to look inwardly and attribute the cause to yourself. If something good happens, you tend to look externally and attribute the cause to something else. For example, if you didn’t get the job you applied for, you’re more likely to think “it’s because I wasn’t good enough for the job”. If however, you do get the job you’re more likely to say “it’s because they couldn’t find anyone else”.

There’s more to the theory which can be well read on Wikipedia here. A particular part of the theory which has always fascinated me is the fundamental attribution error. This says that we can be more ready to attribute a cause for behaviour as being a fundamental flaw in someone’s personality as opposed to looking at situational or other factors that may explain it better.

The theory does try and take account of cultural differences, but does this in a broad sense where it talks about individualistic or collectivist cultures. I don’t think that does it justice, as though I live in, and have been born and raised in an individualistic culture, my family culture is collectivist, which seems to be at odds with what the theory suggests. I’d say also that the country you are in bears significantly on how you choose to attribute cause. For example, British culture promotes modesty, American culture promotes success, Indian culture promotes humility, French culture promotes directness. These all influence where we attribute cause of behaviour to.

And then there’s work environments too. Does your company promote a certain style of working? How does it promote its culture? How does it promote its values? What are its values? How does progression and promotion happen? Is there focus on team success or individual success? How are these understood by staff? How are these communicated? How do managers help? Is the recognition process clear and transparent or veiled behind policies? Are there clear motivational goals? Are staff set objectives? These also influence where we attribute cause of behaviour.

So what should we be aiming for? Is it better to look internally or to look externally for cause of behaviour? I don’t think this theory is enough to be able to direct us on that. I think what it offers is a way of thinking about other factors we may consider when thinking about the work environment, and where people attribute behaviours too. Do you understand your staff’s motivation? Do you know where this comes from? Have they had feedback on their performance? Has this been directed to them personally or about actions they’ve undertaken? Have they had coaching  to develop their skills? do they see they can uncover answers for themselves or are reliant on you to direct them? Have they been set clear objectives? Were they set jointly, by the member of staff or by the manager?

Culturally, who are you?

Looking around the office, I notice – physically – up to at least 4 different possible nationalities working in my vicinity. Listening to their voices, I can notice up to 10 different accents. Amongst those accents I notice further delineation of intonations and strength of language. Observing over a week or so, I notice there are distinct patterns of behaviour which I’ve not seen previously. Observing over a greater period of time, I notice distinct working patterns, that I am not sure if I should attribute to culture or to personal performance capabilities.

And that’s where things become interesting. How do I know whether I should attribute a working trait to your cultural way of doing things, or to your actual ability to perform a job? Easy answer is, I don’t. I remember doing a module in a leadership workshop, where the delegates were all European, and all with English as their second language. A key thing they needed to understand about each other is how they communicate with each other. And – importantly – how to understand the intent behind the message. It was a truly fascinating module with incredible insights being shared across the group.

So this week’s Q&A post is all about sharing cultural insights, either personal, or your experience of working with others.

Here’s my insight:

I have both Indian and English culture. This means a mixed bag of how I approach work. I have the very English attitude of being sarcastic and enjoying banter with work colleagues. I fully expect this banter to be witty and challenging. I have a built in love of all things to do with London. Anyone says anything against London, or England, and I’ll be all guns blazing! In work, I will be direct and to the point. Fools are fine, and I have the tolerance of a saint, but I will express annoyance if you continue to be a fool. I fully expect to be promoted for good work, and to be rewarded along the way.

My Indian side means I will always defer to authority. It takes a lot of effort for me to be assertive with management if I don’t think I’m being respected appropriately. I don’t like confrontation and will be diplomatic in pretty much every situation I face. Family values are vital to my being, and I will always put my family above work. (Couple this with English stubbornness, and you get an interesting balance) I have a strong belief in God, but will not and do not see the need to evangelise about this. I will share, readily, food and treats that I bring in for those I work with.

And that’s me. So. What about you?

Is there a bit of Punjabi inside you?

A break from the norm of L&D type posts brings me to wanting to write about my culture. Sparked by some bhangra being played on my way into work this morning! It’s important to immediately clarify that there is a difference between being Sikh, and being Punjabi. Already confused? Sikhi is a religion, and as some of you will know, I am Sikh. Those who practise Sikhi, have defining characteristics such as the clothes they wear, and typically look something like this:

I, clearly, am not a practising Sikh. I hope to be some day, though.

Being Punjabi, though, is quite different. Punjab is a state in North India, with borders on Pakistan, close to the Himalayas and has a population of approximately 80 million.

Historically, Sikhi originated in the Punjab area, and as such many Sikhs are Punjabi. However, being a Punjabi, doesn’t mean you are Sikh. Those living in Punjab are also Hindu, Muslim and Christian. So, the commonality they share is the Punjabi identity.

I want to give you some insight into what it means to me to be Punjabi.

The music. Bhangra. That’s what it’s all about. Traditional bhangra is played on simple instruments such as a tumbi or a dhol. And there’s normally someone who will sing lyrics. The lyrics are normally meant to be quite tongue in cheek, taking a poke at Punjabi stereotypes, and also often about wooing a girl. Lyrics aside, for me, it’s the rhythm produced from the instruments that I love. You grow up learning how to dance to the music, your social circle encourage it, at parties everyone’s doing it, and it’s contagious! Not many artists have managed to break into UK mainstream music except for Punjabi MC, with Mundian To Bach Ke. Since then there have been others, but not in such a big way. Anyway, every time I hear a good bhangra song, I want to dance. It’s dangerous when sitting at my desk when listening to a good song as I’ll be mentally bopping away, trying to refrain from physically doing the same, and trying not to look like I have ants in my pants.

The food. I love Punjabi cuisine. It is awesome! Every part of India has a different style of cooking. Sure they’re all spicy, but they tend to have very different consistencies. Typical Punjabi food tends to be quite thick and/or creamy if it’s curry based, quite dry if it’s meat, and quite spicy if it’s vegetarian. You may recognise saag, tandoori chicken or matar paneer. MMMmmm… A very traditional meal for families on Sunday’s is to have parathas… oh mama. These things can fill you up for a day.

The culture. Punjabi’s are a very social people. Everything is about socialising and needing an excuse to socialise. That’s why parties are so big, not because we know that many people, but because we love being social. Sure there might be alcohol free flowing, but that’s more of a gradual happening over time. It’s all about throwing a big bash to show off how well you can socialise. Cynicism aside, it creates for a wonderful atmosphere where everyone mucks in and enjoys themselves. Even if it’s a home dinner, you can expect 3-4 different families. And in some cases this is a weekly affair!

And those three things are at the heart of why I love being Punjabi. I’ve talked specifically about Punjab here. This isn’t to say the other states in India are vastly different, it’s akin to describing why those from North England differ from those in the Home Counties to those in London to those in West Country.

>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.