Mistake making

I’m an advocate for helping people to be comfortable with mistake making at work. Mistakes are a fundamental way of learning and always are unpredictable. You can never know you’re going to make a mistake, and when you do you learn vital things which you use to be better next time.

No-one enters the workplace being adept at writing business cases. No-one becomes a great facilitator just because they like people. No-one becomes literate at MS Excel just because they have access to a PC.

We learn, we practise, we make mistakes and we get better (mostly).

I’d like to share some of my own howlers. Because it’s easy to think everything we do is with a clear idea and outcome in mind. And it’s easy to think that every solution is the right answer, when the reality is we can’t ever know if that’s the right answer or not until after the fact.

When I assumed an email would suffice.

In a previous organisation I was tasked with re-designing the whole Corporate Induction process. I’d attended a few, facilitated a few and had a fair idea of what improvements needed to be made. I decided to start the revision process by sending out an email with initial thoughts about small improvements that people could make. I wrote it carefully, praised participation and made it clear this was a first step to further thoughts which I’d be seeking their input on. And I got a second opinion on the email before I sent it.

By the end of the day I was apologising to all concerned for patronising them, for not being considerate of their delivery experience, and for not approaching people personally to talk them through my initial ideas. I had never expected that reaction, and couldn’t have predicted it.

I learned a valuable lesson that day about assuming I understood the culture of an organisation and how to be more inclusive in my thinking.

When I trusted myself to facilitate.

I’m a good facilitator. I care about good facilitation and I care about creating a good learning experience.

I was working with a group of project managers about how to use coaching skills as part of their role. I chose to use the GROW model as a basis for the session and held a number of practise sessions during to create practical learning of the model.

After the session I had feedback from one participant that they didn’t learn anything new, felt as if I was relying on the group to do all the work and provided little in the way of gained knowledge.

I realised I trusted my skills too much, and went into the session unprepared and had poorly designed the session. That one hurt because I let the group down badly. I learned there’s a clear difference between having the skills and doing the preparation.

When I thought it was important to defend.

I was delivering a Diversity and Dignity at Work learning session on behalf of a company. It was mandatory for all staff to go through these sessions, and I delivered a lot of these.

In one session, a delegate started to challenge some of the assertions I was making. I started to get defensive about the content and ended up having an argument about the merits of the session, the content and applicability to all concerned.

I learned an important thing about what listening really means and how to hear beyond the words. The delegate wasn’t against diversity at all, but had issue with the mandatory aspect of the training. I couldn’t hear that at the time though and got caught up in myself and lost sight of the purpose of the session.

I’ve made more mistakes than this. These are just three which have been quite formative for me and in my own learning and development. We can’t get everything right the first time, no matter how experienced or knowledgeable we may be. Mistake making is a fundamental part of learning I have learned to embrace.


Finger on the pulse vs fear of missing out

It’s a noisy world out there, and I tell you I’m finding it harder and harder to not stay tapped in. The fear of missing out is strong in this one.

It makes life hard. I have to consciously stay switched off when I’m with my family. How daft is that? I do it though. For my own sanity. But those thoughts of… “what is being said?”, “what graphic am I missing out on?”, “am I missing out on an important discussion?”. They don’t stop.

Step through to the L&D world and by God are we bombarded with stuff. Engagement this, evalaution that, facilitation here, management training there. There are thoughts being shared aplenty, and it’s relentless. I come across stuff, click the lnks, have about 20 tabs open of stuff I think needs to be read, and then wonder why I have a headache at the end of the day.

So we need space to think, to share thoughts, to share worries and woes. I want to make sure I have my finger on the pulse, else I become redundant. Not in my work, but as an individual. That’s why we’re on social media isn’t it? To be validated? It’s why I blog, right? Because I want to feel like my voice is being heard?

But I haven’t got time for qualifications, or accreditations, or any of that formal gumph. I’d love to dedicate time to formally develop, but I’ve just got too much on. That’s what you think too, isn’t it?

Communities can help in this regard. Looking out for the voices of people I trust and enjoy. They’re the ones who can guide me, ground me, and help me stay true to myself.

I’ll be alright. I’ll make a difference. Some people are just getting on and doing it. Others need to know if it’s the right way to go. I need to know if I’m pushing innovation enough. You want to network. You want to share your experience. I want to learn from you.

Let’s make it happen in one place. On 26th November, L&D Connect (#ldconnect) are coming back together for their third unconference called Bold L&D. It’s a full day this time, and the tickets are available with a twist. You buy one ticket and get to invite another two people for free. There’s a button up over there, or you can click here.

Self Directed Learning

It’s Saturday and I’m thinking about leadership development mid-afternoon. Something about that equation isn’t right.

As an internal practitioner, I’m faced with some challenges. The learning and development I help facilitate needs to be relevant, responsive, and meets people’s myriad of needs. I need to be mindful of how technology can help support learning, and in turn how various vendors are bringing this technology to market. I also need to remain mindful of how our understanding of how learning happens in humans is becoming more and more advanced.

In a recent post I wrote about leadership development not being up to par and how specifically I didn’t know what the answer was.

So let’s make some assumptions for a moment. Front line managers will always need a formal training process which guides them through a journey of self development and improving their general management skills and behaviours. Senior managers tend to be given a more developed version of that training. Directors and Executive teams tend to go for the MBA or Exec coaching approach.

I’m currently putting some thought to how to support our senior managers with their leadership development. What I’m trying to get my head round is how to decide what content, and what delivery methods will work best for them. Content is in abundance in this area, delivery methodologies are varied, and there is the added nuance that their needs will be different. They’re a skilled bunch, this is why they’re at the level they are. They’re keen to receive some development, and are open to ideas. Blank canvas anyone?

Essentially I’m toying around with how to enable an organic form of learning which still meets business needs.

I’m thinking this needs to fall into two camps. One is about the content, and the other is about the delivery choices.

Facilitated Learning

In order for this organic process to work, I’m wondering if there still needs to be some facilitation from me. Do I still need to control what this programme looks like, and remain the arbiter of the realm. I have just as much of an ego as anyone else, and what to be able to say my big brain (hold the jokes folks) came up with the bright idea.

What I’d like to do is the following. I want to hold a session where I present what content could potentially form the programme. We then have an open discussion about which parts are more relevant and require more focus, and which can be self-directed. The parts identified as needing more focus will become a workshop, or a masterclass, or a course. The other areas will be open to self-directed learning process.

I also want to be explicitly clear about what this self-directed learning actually means, and have a discussion about how that learning is captured, shared and available for scrutiny. By scrutiny I don’t mean assessment of the learning, but being able to interrogate what learning actually took place, and how they have noticed a development of their skills, knowledge or behaviour.

The Content

From the content what I’m aiming for is to have an agreed set of topics which everyone wants to receive some formal instruction on. I also want to explore how that topic is delivered. As I’ve alluded, some topics may require a masterclass session. Some may require a full day’s course or workshop. Some topics may even require a formal qualification. There are two important considerations here. The first is that it’s the people identifying what that learning looks like. I just need to present options for making the learning happen. The second is that they identify which parts of the topic require this formal instruction.

Self Directed Learning

This is the piece which I think captures this whole unknown area of ‘social learning’ and ‘content curation’ which is being banded around by many ‘expert’ L&Ders. Once we’ve discovered which content doesn’t require formal instruction, we can then open up the options for what this self directed learning needs to cover. Leading on from there, this naturally becomes an individual choice about how they receive that learning. We (royal) are well aware of the plethora media and content sites available online for a range of learning. Naturally there will also be other (non-digital) options available too – books, journals, coaching, mentoring, etc.

I think it’s important in the context of a programme of learning that even though this self directed learning may ordinarily naturally happen, what I’m trying to go for is making the informal formal. That’s a complete contradiction in terms, but it’s the only way I can think of describing what I’m thinking. The informal learning is respective to the natural learning style of the individual. We agree how they will capture that learning, share it, and make it open for scrutiny. That scrutiny could happen with anyone the person identifies as being someone who could help evaluate if the self directed learning was effective or not.

Logistics and Boundaries

There’s a natural tension here. This organic approach in its truest sense means that there should be no boundaries. Business needs, though, will demand that there is some clarity about the programme’s objectives, a time period it will be complete it, and how we evaluate the effectiveness of this approach.

As far as I’m concerned these aren’t barriers to success. They’re just natural expectations which need to be considered and managed. I’m cool with that.

Is L&D a profit centre?

I got inadvertently drawn into a Twitter chat today where this question was posed:

Tricia Ransom responded with the following:

Which I responded to by saying that I don’t think this will ever happen as long as L&D remains an internal function. The only way it could become a profit centre is if it directly sells its services to external clients of the company.

I could end this post right here, cos that’s pretty much my whole argument. But, well, it’s my blog and I’ll carry on if I want to. So here’s the longer version of the answer.

What I’m not arguing is that L&D doesn’t add value to the business. It very much can and does. I wrote about this some while ago about how the perception of thinking of L&D as being about ‘soft skills’ is a fallacy.

I understand the intent behind Tricia’s message. It’s about saying we need to look at ourselves differently as a function. We need to stop thinking of ourselves as as support function, and start thinking of ourselves as a business critical function. It’s about saying that without L&D happening well, a company won’t survive and won’t innovate. I get all that. None of that, though, means we become a profit centre, because none of that is about bringing in revenue.

As much as I might want it to be the case, nothing I do actually brings in revenue. Not directly. When I facilitate a training session or a workshop or team building event or other learning event, I am using people’s time to develop their skills in some way. That activity will not bring in revenue. It will help make someone different and new happen, but bringing in the cash isn’t an intended outcome.

This is the prime reason why this function is often the first to get cut when times are hard in a business. As I said above, the only way an internal L&D function becomes revenue generating is by selling its services to external clients of the business. But that’s often not the purpose of the function, and if it was, it would require a different business and operation model.

Indeed an internal function can operate like a mini business by logging its activity. You simply log how much time you spend on various activities over a period of a month and by doing so gain some hard information. That information will tell you where you’re spending your time and if it’s value adding or not. It also means you can tighten up certain processes where needed and you make better use of resources because of what you identify. Again, though, none of that means you become revenue generating, you just become a true value adding function.

Your thoughts, arguments and counter-arguments are very welcome.

L&D, Comms and Marketing

There’s a natural meeting of the minds when you bring L&D, Comms and Marketing people together. They’re all trying to achieve behaviour change, albeit for their own devilish purposes. And that behaviour change outcome means these three people can sit down and talk about meaningful ways to make that happen inside a company.

For me, I remember my old boss, Dan. He was telling me to think like a marketer back in 2003. He wasn’t just telling me to think like one, he actively made sure I was exercising that muscle. He was buying books for the team on the subject, he was getting us to be creative about our comms and how we worked with the comms team, and we were actively involved with the marketing team and their efforts.

It helped me to think beyond my role as an L&Der and how through better use of images and words, you can raise awareness that something is afoot, and that there’s a process of thinking and getting to a point where you ask people to make a call to action.

The last session at Learning Live I attended was Craig Taylor’s Course to Campaigns talk. His previous role had a focus on developing e-learning content. One of the last projects he was tasked with was around the compliance training needed to be completed within the company.

As well as doing some good piece of consultation with the subject matter experts across three key subjects, he wanted to explore other ways of effecting desired behaviour change. What emerged for him was to collaborate with suppliers who could bring a different approach to the e-learning solution by asking them to develop ideas on how to market the desired change.

This helped Craig to work with suppliers who wanted to be involved with the project and really do something interesting other than make the e-learning more engaging or better designed or more social.

The simple idea they landed on was in creating two personas of people who would become the core focus of a marketing campaign. One persona would show how to do the right behaviours (better online security), and the other would show what the consequences of not (possible hacking of systems). And on the posters and other online material there would be a link taking you to the e-learning directly.

We can sometimes fall into the trap of thinking we need to go out with a big bang of activity and then things will magically start to happen. Of course, human behaviour doesn’t work this way. Especially in a working environment. We need reminders, we need prodding, we need enticing, because otherwise we’ll forget and move on. At a previous company we called this comparing a fireworks display with a bonfire. The fireworks display is nice for initial awareness but you need to plan for the bonfire for lasting change.

So, my thanks to the LPI team for asking me to be a Live Reporter at Learning Live. As I said last week, content is king and this conference absolutely delivered.

Oh, and if you’re interested Craig is looking for his next role. Why not get in touch with him?