Developing Internal Talent

Just been part of a very intersting set of discussions about developing internal talent in organisations. Our two presenters were Nick Pascazio from BBC Technology, and Andy Lancaster from Hanover Housing Association.

Nick started by sharing how they had to develop their technology engneering talent against the backdrop of being the provider for broadcasting the Olympics in 2012. Some further information around this is that they had to move from 3 software courses to 25 across a range of technologies and working methodologies.

They have what they call the BBC Academy, and through that created an interesting set of internal knowledge sharing sessions such as holding events where people come and have an open house talking about topics of interest. This was open to staff and to external people. I’m a fan of this type of intervention and think it’s only a good thing to do. You get natural engagement, good PR, and potentially a recruitment activity.

They created an internal accredited course which would provide the equivalent of gaining a MSc by joining the company. This is interesting as it’s attractive to people who may be interested in advancing their careers, but don’t have the finances to do so and need someone to help sponsor this activity. They also partnered with other organisations and created a buddy programme where they shared top talent with their partners to work on select projects. That’s a great example of collaboration and how it can truly work.

Unsurprisingly, they use a nine box model of mapping talent, which recognises specialism, performance, and leadership talent. This kills me inside. It says “we only recognise certain people in our organisation have talent”. It says we don’t want to invest in all our staff, just the people we like. It says we don’t have the time or resources to be a learning organisation, that’s exclusive to people on this programme. Le sigh.

Also unsurpisingly, they have a strong governance structure. However, this means that it acts as a barrier to market. Nick shared a story that iPlayer was ready for launch but was held up by two years because of governance structures and processes before they could get it to market. This also kills me inside. I understand the purpose of governance, and yet where there is clear innovation happening, the organisation is more concerned in red tape than it is making things happen.

Andy shared a story about how Hanover needed to invest in a £750,000 software project, but the supplier couldn’t offer any trainers to train staff. I loved the start of this presentation where he likened what they went through as an accidental innovation – akin to post-it notes, velcro and teflon. He said they stumbled on an answer which paid dividends in unexpected ways.

Andy shared some interesting thoughts which I think are worth repeating. He said that research shows us that 99.2% of business in the UK have no more than 50 staff. He said that although we’re going through rough and turbulent times, this is probably the most exciting time to be in HR (L&D/OD) as this is when we can be our most innovative and creative. And he shared how many organisations are raising the entry mark of a degree to 2:1 in the UK, because they think this will attract a better calibre of applicant. This all prompts a lot of thought for me which I’ll have to re-visit in a later blog post.

They opened the opportunity to be trainers to all staff across the organisation. He shared that with complex projects like this, involving people to be part of the solution is a great form of engagement and inclusive practice. They essentially asked for volunteers to become trainers for the period of time needed for the project to be delivered. To support them, they would go through seven weeks of intensive training. It was an open application, and they had a lot of applicants from which they selected the people by asking them to do a ten minute training session and interviews. It would be a formal secondment, and they would go back to their original roles once the project was complete. What is key here was having a clear re-integration plan for the person to help them understand how to use their new talents and skills in their original roles.

It worked out well for them. So well in fact that they won an award from Training Journal because of it. How’s that for ROI and ROE? What worked for me in Andy’s presentation (apart from an energetic and very engaging presentation style) was he shared a clear business problem, how they solved it, and what happened along the way. It was a great story that I enjoyed listening to. He shared some thoughts on six keys to talent development:
1) Be confident to trust those ‘within’ before those ‘without’ i.e. look internally for talent before thinking about externally, and explore options
2) Don’t set the selection bar unrealistically high
3) Invest value and reward in the opportunity
4) Ensure mistakes are a welcome part of the learning process
5) Reassure and define what is a ‘bridge too far’
6) Plan the communication, support, reward and have fun!

This was a good session which covered a lot about how a considered and practical appraoch to solving business problems can gain a lot of activity and support from the organisation you may have previously dismissed.

This is your life

Yesterday I spoke about the first steps in developing business acumen in the workplace. Already you can start to see that it’s wrought with an array of challenges simply in defining what does business acumen mean for the business. Simply, it is about helping people to understand the consequence of decisions on the business. From a decision to introduce a work/life balance policy, to introducing fresh fruit to the business, there is always the ripple effect, and there is always a consequence. We can’t plan for every outcome, but we sure can be mindful of making the right decision.

Those first steps were about when introducing new starters to the business. It’s then interesting to look at what’s happening with current people in the business. I’m not talking about learning and development specifically here, I’m talking about developing business acumen across the business. With that in mind, here are some suggestions.

With the prolification of technology in all we do, it’s easy to let staff share knowledge across a variety of platforms. At HRD two years back, I remember Peter Butler, former Director of Learning at BT talk about how they used Sharepoint as a platform to allow anyone to produce videos and upload them about the work they do. At the time I thought, yes that’s brilliant! I think the same now. Give people the opportunity to share knowledge, and they will make the best use of it. By and large, people are good willed, and willing to share what they know. Here within LBi, we have an internal blog which is used by many different departments to share content they find across the interwebs, and creates a good place to find good information and inspiration.

How does that link to making better business decisions? Because by sharing information on what you do, others are better able to understand how you might need to be involved in making something happen, or how you might need to be consulted for something to be effective, or why the idea might need to be refined because you hadn’t considered something. Good business sense?

Expanding on the previous, it’s quite easy these days to also create e-learning modules about different business services. This is really useful as people can go in and access these when they want. They can go quite in depth and allow for better exploration of what a team does, how they produce work, when they should be involved, and what they can do to help collaborate. Sounds quite rosy doesn’t it? Good business sense?

What about the management team, what business guidance are they being given? Let me guess. You put them through management training, and they receive a quarterly update from the Exec on business performance. That’s not developing their business acument. That’s skills training, and cascade of information. What they need is something like this. They need to go through a Finance for non-Financial Managers course. They need to go through a business simulation. I once worked with a company called Profitability, who may not be the best company to have a client relationship with, but by God did they have an awesome two day business acumen exercise to take you through. Truly cuts to the heart of what it means to make good decisions and how they impact business performance.

Do you distinguish between the management team and the leadership team? If so, then the leadership team are likely to be the Exec or the Senior Leadership Team, right? What about these guys? Aren’t they also liable to receive some sort of continuous professional development? They bloody well should, because they’re the ones who are meant to be guiding the business to absolute success. Send them on MBA courses, or get Cranfield School of Management involved to give high quality training. Invest in executive coaches who have steered businesses to success and help guide this team to identifying the right objectives to be focusing on. The value of an external facilitator at this level is quite vital. Sometimes the Exec team in particular can get so caught up in themselves, they lose sight of how to make good business decisions and get wrapped up in politics instead.

Internal knowledge sharing sessions are awesome. I don’t mean team meetings where someone is asked to present something for 20 mins. I mean regular internal business wide presentations that are an hour long, and allow the opportunity to discuss and share some fascinating insights, knowledge, and new thinking that helps to inspire the business to do and try new things. A lot of people in your workplace have their own pet projects they’re working on right now. Some would like to have a pet project. Others didn’t know they could have a pet project. Ultimately, what you’re trying to do is engage the workforce to share what they know. Where’s the business sense in doing this? You never know where a good idea might come from. Any business that has success, finds it because those ideas get surfaced in the right way.

>L&D? That’s not what I do.

>A few things over the last couple of days have inspired me to re-think what I’m trying to achieve professionally. In reading the December issue of Harvard Business Review, a lot of articles in their resonated strongly with me about the need to look at the way a business functions and building the right support networks to help those needs. Be it a wellness programme, how to use social media to engage with your customers, whether or not your staff are allowed to use social media, or looking at what leadership looks like in your organisation, there’s clear discussions that need to be had about the best ways to enable any and all of those.

I shadowed an external trainer yesterday to gain an understanding of what he was helping a group to understand and achieve. The topic matter was straightforward enough and in fact we are well placed as a business to deliver this same topic ourselves internally. He used a few models and exercises to provide context and direction, but it’s nothing new or licensed to the trainer, he just saw a few good models from his career and is using them in training. Nothing wrong with that.

And I watched a video post by Nick Shackleton Jones about Affective Content and how we’re really only open to training when the right motivations are in place. This is a fascinating post about how ineffective learning is – be it traditional stock and trade, or be it e-learning. True learning for most people takes place when the emotional need is highly motivated. For example, when you start a new job, we often describe it as a steep learning curve, because we are literally engaging the brain to learn a new way of behaving. After a given amount of time though, this will plateau and any learning after this point will most likely come from on the job experience.

So what is it I need to be doing? Become a business consultant and advise how an organisation should be structured? Hunt down external trainers who charge obscene amounts of money for training that could be facilitated internally? Wait for employees to self-realise that they need to engage in some learning and then come find me?

Although facetious, those are serious and searching questions. L&D is now no longer about training, or about developing courses, or about how good a facilitator you are. It’s about sharing knowledge. Businesses are so busy in this day that a lot of departments have become siloed and worried about staying alive. Businesses have always been guilty of that in fariness, there just seems to be a greater lens on it at the moment. And that’s where L&D needs to really come into its fore. I don’t know everything, and I shouldn’t know everything, but I do know how to get the knowledge from Bob to Bert. And that’s what I do.