The science of… Learning and Development

HA! I could really fall flat on my face on this one if I don’t get it right. Especially after many of my self-righteous rants over recent weeks. And here it is. The truth about L&D. Let’s dance.

Learning and Development has been around for a long time. You could argue anyone involved in delivering knowledge is an L&Der. You could also argue that L&D is not restricted to sitting in HR. You could argue that L&D should be lead by business leaders. You could argue that L&D is a mickey mouse department in a company. We’re not here to argue who should be involved in L&D. We’re here to discuss the mechanics of providing an effective L&D function.

Business Needs Analysis

Typically referred to as Training Needs Analysis. I’ve left the ‘Training’ piece off the subtitle and called it ‘Business’ as I don’t believe L&D is restricted to ‘training’. Purpose of the function aside, the place to start is by identifying what are the needs of the business. This doesn’t mean looking at the business objectives and then drawing a line of sight to L&D objectives. It also doesn’t mean analysing appraisals to identify what training has been requested.

It’s about looking at the way the business operates and identifying the areas where support is needed to develop further. For example, a production line may be efficient at the number of units it produces in an hour. It may not be efficient though at highlighting issues with machinery and reporting these. Or, a project team may work well according to instruction and direction from the project manager, but may not work well together. Or, an individual in a lone role may know how to network well and spread knowledge through a business but time management may be a crucial issue in delivering projects.

By looking at the way the business operates – and that’s the only objective place you can gain the information – you can confidently target the L&D intervention needed.

Design and Development

So you’ve identified the business need. Then comes designing and developing the appropriate intervention. This sounds like it’s the easy part. But you have to consider so much when designing an intervention. Be it e-learning, blended learning, training course, workshop, facilitated discussion, coaching, mentoring, job shadowing, accreditation, qualification based, or some other form of intervention there are some basics to be considered.

First comes understanding about the way people learn. There’s a lot of research on learning styles, memory (both short term and long term), models about change, the learning process, human behaviour, and it’s all relevant stuff. The intervention has to consider whether or not it has considered these variants, and how it will be inclusive of most if not all of them.

Then comes considering whether or not you’ve actually developed an appropriate intervention. What’s the best way for the group to learn the required skill? Is it what you’ve decided or what the business needs? You may well have a belief that a particular methodology is the best approach, but it may not be appropriate for the group. Take the production line example. Taking them offsite for in-depth case study review and training on risk management may work and be effective, but might be easier if it’s done on the job and with real life management of the situation.

Importantly, the design also includes the collateral. Workbook? Handouts? Deck? Flipcharts? Branding? These are all important and although may go unmissed, if done well add to the learning experience.

Delivery

Ah the best part of the job. Well for me anyway. Standing up and showing off your knowledge and being the centre of attention (not like me at all *coughs*). The person delivering has a lot to learn about how to engage with a group on so many levels.

Do you get body language? Not just eye contact, nodding, pacing, proximity, boredom and obvious behaviours like that. But things like – curious looks, note taking, the tone of voice someone takes, the way one person reacts to another, and more – these are the key behaviours that need to be understood, so that they can be responded to.

Do you get language? It’s easy to miss the essence of what someone is asking if you just take it at face value. Have you listened to the way the question has been phrased? What about how they’re responding verbally to others? And the way they’re commenting on what you’ve said. It’s vital to be tuned in to these things so you know in what direction the conversation needs to be lead.

If it’s a course, then you may also need to consider the use of exercises. Should they be practical? (Yes) Can they be theoretical? (Possibly) What about role plays? (only as a last resort) Should I use case studies (If appropriate) What about theoretical? (Again, if appropriate). The aim of any exercise should be always to raise awareness of a missing skill that needs to be learned. Through the exercise there should be learning that says “this is how you do it”.

Evaluation

The oft missed piece of any training. I blogged about this a couple of weeks ago. Essentially though what you’re looking to confirm is – was the training effective and helped improve a skill or not? Read my previous post for more info as I’ll just be repeating myself.

And that’s the heart of any L&D function right there. I don’t think I’ve missed anything. I may have skimmed over certain bits, but this is all about looking at the science of it. The science piece here is about the process identified above. Pull me up if I’ve missed something and be sure to add your own stuff in the comments.

Posts in this series:

The science of… Assessment Centres
The science of… Psychometrics
The science of… Competency Frameworks
The science of… Ergonomics
The science of… Appraisals
The science of… Occupational Psychology

>The closing gap between OD and L&D

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This week I put up a post about Organisational Development and my learnings from the L&D2020 workshop held by the Training Journal. Today I’d like to let you know about the actual session itself and the topics talked about.
The Benefits of an OD Approach
Linda Holbeche opened the day’s proceedings with an introduction to OD from her research based consultancy the Holbeche Partnership. She spoke about the ability of an organisation to be agile and ensuring the ‘right’ people are focused on the ‘right’ things and engaged in collective effort. To support you also then need the ‘right’ kinds of management and leadership, the ‘right’ business model, processes, structures and systems.
Linda gave some insight into what constitutes a high performing organisation:
– Adaptable and change-able
– Enable innovation and are knowledge rich
– Boundaryless
– Stimulate individuals to higher levels of performance
– Great places to work
– Values based
From the work she has carried out, her research and exeprience, OD applies to:
– Changes in the strategy, structure and/or processes of an entire system
– Based on the application (and transfer) of behavioural science disciplines e.g. group dynamics, leadership, strategy and work design
– An adaptive process for planning and managing change
– The design, implementation and reinforcement of change
– Oriented to organisational effectivneess; supporting organisation improvement and sustaining organisation renewal
At its core, OD has the following humanistic values:
– Democracy and participation
– Openness to lifelong learning and experimentation
– Equity and fairness – the worth of every individual
– Valid information and informed choice
– Enduring respect for the human side of enterprise
Typical OD applications include:
– designing and delivering L&D interventions
– process improvement
– HR’s transformational role
– culture change
– leadership development
– team development
– conflict resolution
– supporting clients in major change and organisation design projects
– generalist system health practitioners; keeping the organisation healthy, ethical and agile to face future challenges
I found Linda’s presentation a good introduction to OD and to provide a lot of context to the range of work that OD includes.
Developing Your OD Agenda
Next we had Martin Saville present a fascinating OD model. Martin is an independent consultant and has his own practice – Martin Saville Consulting. The first point Martin raised is that those work in OD don’t come from a particular background, instead they have a mindset. That mindset is about looking at a complete organisation and finding ways to ensure each part understands that if a piece of work is to be achieved successfully, other relevant parts need to be involved, and if they’re not it has a direct impact on operational effectiveness.
The model he presented is called the Burke-Litwin model which hopefully is presented below clearly.

Okay so apologies for the lack of clarity – my first time trying to add an image to a post (any advice welcome). Essentially you have two broad categories of the way an organisation responds and reacts to change. There are transformational factors which are factors that drive the change. These include – the external environment, mission and strategy, leadership, the organisation culture and individual and organisational performance. Then there are transactional factors which you need in order for the the change to be effective. These include – structure, management practices, work unit, motivation, systems and processes, task requirements and individual and individual needs and values.
Once you take some time to think about an OD challenge you are facing, you can look at the Burke-Litwin model to help you identify what are the factors you’ve considered and which you do need to pay attention to. Martin admitted the model isn’t perfect and excludes some factors such as communication processes but it at least provides a holistic perspective of the factors which will help support and drive change.
The Emergence of the L&OD Function
This presentation was delivered by Lee Sears whom I have spoken about before in the post about the future skillset of L&D. The information he presented was no different to that, and if you’re interested, have a read of the post.
What it did help to do was re-surface his findings of how L&D and OD are becoming more and more entwined. Even though they are separate disciplines, the cross-over is becoming more commonplace, and in fact many HR/L&D/Project Management/Internal Communication specialists are all engaged in activities which are in effect OD, but they’ve just not been exposed to the terminology or processes or structures to help them think of it in that way.
Case Studies
There were some interesting case studies from the civil service and from a housing organisation that offered insights into how OD has helped with real organisational issues. Unfortunately, the decks weren’t available and so I can’t divulge information as it’s history now. From memory though, the housing organisation were reaching a point in their development where a number of mergers and formation of Group status meant OD played an important part in the way very different groups and senior management who had not worked together previously and were now expected to.
The civil service was an interesting case of a department whose resources had been outsourced with the remaining incumbents feeling bereft of responsibility and control over what the outsourcing company was producing and the quality of that work was in question. OD helped to bring this group to accept what their situation is, what they currently do, their responsibilities, and then included the outsourced company in conversations about current and future practices.
Where I’ve not included specific references to materials, all the above is taken from the respective individuals decks and is to be attributed to them directly unless otherwise stated.

>So what is Organisational Development then?

>On Monday I attended the last in the series of the Training Journal workshops entitled L&D2020 the future of workplace learning. This session in particular was about the Closing gap with L&D and OD – Organisational Development. The others that I’ve attended this year have been about understanding how to get ROI from training and the future skillset of L&D. This session was of particular interest to me because I find the world of OD fascinating.

The first question to answer then is what is OD. Here’s the definition from Wikipedia:

Organization development (OD) is a planned, organization-wide effort to increase an organization’s effectiveness and viability. Warren Bennis has referred to OD as a response to change, a complex educational strategy intended to change the beliefs, attitudes, values, and structure of organization so that they can better adapt to new technologies, marketing and challenges, and the dizzying rate of change itself. OD is neither “anything done to better an organization” nor is it “the training function of the organization”; it is a particular kind of change process designed to bring about a particular kind of end result.

That’s a very good definition but it is long-winded. L&D is about the upskilling of staff across technical and behavioural skills. OD has a broader remit than that and is about looking at wider business needs to ensure the business is geared up to deliver on the strategy and KPIs. This can look like a variety of activities and initiatives from Onboarding programmes to employee engagement surveys to talent management programmes to grad programmes to competency framework development. And that’s a shortlist of activities.

Where does OD sit then? More and more it’s the case that OD is its own department and normally reports directly into the CEO. But who is classed as an OD professional? Now this is the interesting piece. Although conventional wisdom may suggest it sits best with HR or L&D, in actuality the people involved in this line of work can come from Operations, Exec, Project Management, Strategy or HR. It’s not about a specific person as such that is best suited to OD but more a mindset.

What yesterday helped me to realise is that I’m good at L&D. I’ve spent the last 8 years of my career perfecting this art and I’m doing a bloody good job of it. If i want to start expanding my role – and that’s what this is about, I need to start developing my understanding of OD theories and methodologies. I have an introductory understanding of some of the methodologies and of the range of activities or initiatives that require an OD approach. I think I’m starting from a good place, and from here on in it’s only about continuing my own learning on this and helping my business with both L&D and OD initiatives.

I’ll be posting another blog this week about the actual session itself and the key messages from the different speakers and case studies.

>Assertiveness is not trainable

>Yesterday I was doing some training in Assertiveness. It’s a topic I personally find really hard to connect with and deliver training on. The main reason for this is there is no way of knowing if the training has been effective or not. I have little doubt about the content I am covering, I have done all the expectation gathering at the beginning of the session, I’ve facilitated complete discussions, but I’m always left feeling flat because there’s no way of testing it.

And I don’t like doing role plays. Role plays have their place in training. I will use them when I think there is no other alternative. But you can’t role play being assertive. It just doesn’t work. You can display the behaviours you think you want your delegates to display, and you can get them to mirror you, but it’s just not the same.
With many other behavioural training, you can readily identify how far someone has come on their learning and understanding of the topic. But with assertiveness it’s really hard to tell. Why?
Because each person’s set of values determines when they think they have been ‘violated’, I can’t peer into your soul and identify ‘yes, you should have been assertive in said situation’. I can raise your awareness on the topic. I can help you identify your ‘bill of rights’. I can help you learn techniques about responding to challenging and difficult people. But I can’t know if you’ll do it.
Attending training on the topic will only ever serve as an awareness raiser. You will never know, without certain follow up activities, if the person has taken their learnings and used them effectively. Those certain follow up activities are dedicated and committed follow up training sessions, one to one coaching (either from line manager or from A N Other), reminder messages about the learnings and follow up discussions. That’s a lot of activity which the best willed L&Der in the world will want to do, but in reality won’t.
Also, being assertive is often part of other things a person wants to achieve. They have too high a workload. Unreasonable requests are put on them. They are a go to person for problems. They are seen to be highly effective at what they do. Yes, being assertive in part in these situations will help, but the skills needs to be used in conjunction with other activities – open discussions, time management, presentation skills, facilitation skills, delegation skills. As such, when talking with delegates about why they want to be assertive it’s because of something else they’re trying to achieve. This is just one piece of the puzzle.
I have tried time and again to come up with activities that can truly ‘test’ whether or not someone has learned the requisite skills and can then be assertive. I’ve not found an answer yet, and I’m still on the hunt.

>Are L&D losing the battle?

>In a summary post earlier this week, I outlined the key points from the L&D2020 workshop with the Training Journal. Today I’d like to address some of the points raised from that meeting and voice my thoughts.

The future skill set

So the one over-riding feature about the day was it was all very present based. That’s to say, there was nothing about the future. There was lots about what L&D needs to do today in order to be successful. And I agree with most of the things there. L&D has to be business focused. There’s no two ways about this. Gone are the days you can come bounding in saying “I’ve got a great idea for a training course”, and commence to put everyone through it. But this isn’t anything new. Businesses are moving so fast and agile these days that L&D has to move with the same pace.
I’ve been lucky in that my career to date has exposed me to a lot of business practices and ways of working so that I am confident in my ability to consult the organisation, and provide solutions based on the needs, as opposed to my ego.
There was talk of L&D being ‘T-shaped’ people. There’s many an analogy you could use for what an L&D person needs to be like. It does fundamentally come down to the fact that you have to be able to describe what the business does as well as the CEO. There was a great quote from the day which I strongly believe – “you have to love the business you’re in as much as, if not more than, learning and development”. How true. I quietly believe save the senior management team, I’m one of few people in the business who could accurately describe every function we have, what they do, how they do it, and what their names all are.
No mention of digital

I was surprised there was no mention of digital, social media, Generation Y/Millennials. This was a real missed opportunity. Let’s take each of those things in order.
I’ve spoken about digital in a previous post and would encourage you have a read of that here.
Those of you who follow me on Twitter will know I enjoy social media. There is so much happening in the interwebs that if we aren’t involved in those discussions we’re never going to understand the world we live in. It really is a fundamental shift in human behaviour we cannot ignore.
The possibilities that social media and digital open for L&D is immense. Informal learning as we know it traditionally is nothing compared to what is currently available. And it’s all free. Open source technology means you don’t have to pay for anything and even though some information may need to be paid for, you can guarantee in a short space of time, someone will have found a way to make it free and open for all.
Generation Y/Millennials for those who aren’t sure are those generation of people born in the mid 1980s to early 2000’s. L&Ders haven’t really had to deal with this group in any pro-active way yet, because they’re only really entering the workforce in a significant way now and are on the radar as ones to develop. The challenge here is to not be complacent and think they can be dealt with in the same way as other generations. There are characteristics that it’s worth learning about, but I’m not going into that here.
What this means for L&Ders though is we have to be far more agile and nimble in our approach to L&D as a whole – not just to Gen Y. Individuals will want more focus on their development as they learn they can grow careers quickly and develop skills in their own time. Does that mean the end of training courses 2 days long, residential and expensive? Not necessarily. It means L&Ders (both internal and external professionals) need to really get into the needs of the business, develop a plan and be willing to adapt as they roll it out.
E-learning and social learning tools will be a growing part of that new learning. Open source technology will allow information that was once premium only to suddenly become free and available to all. Even I, who am a hardened face to face L&D believer, am waning to the fact if I don’t learn about what these tools offer, and how to use them effectively, I’ll be screwed.
Is Donald Clark right?

Donald Clark is a blogger who is a harsh critic of the current face of L&D/HR/CIPD and education. He has some hard views about things, and unfortunately he may be right on a lot of them. He reminds me of the heckler in the group who is a harsh cynic, not because he doesn’t buy into the message, he just doesn’t agree with the delivery.
The challenge here is how to prove Donald wrong. Well first I’d like to have him in a room with me. I’ve had enough mistakes of training delivery, delivered Diversity training to production operators at a car manufacturers, and faced the darkest side of cynicism. And through my training career to date, I’m confident I can engage with my audience, learn what their needs are, and ensure they leave my room having learned something. I’d say my batting average is about 80% success rate in being able to do so.
However, a main criticism of Donald’s is his stance on the lack of effective use of technology in delivering a message. And here I fall down. I am a strong believer in the superiority and power of face to face learning over e-learning type events (notice the language I’m purposefully using?). And this is what I need to learn better. How can I hold myself up as a believer in L&D if I’m not utilising the technology available to deliver messages in equally effective ways? Therein lies the nub, which I think is true of many L&Ders in this world.
Is the future bright?

I think the future has a lot of exciting prospects. Coalition government in the UK, new administration in the USA, global recession, China and India on global rise. Digital, ever increasing broadband speeds, social media and new technologies. Climate change, oil spills, being green, corporate social responsibility. All of these things are factors L&Ders have to understand and develop ways of thinking how to provide solutions to these through the businesses we work with.
The stock and trade of what L&Ders do will be the same. Effective management of the L&D cycle. It’s the continual learning we have to engage with that the challenge lies in. Short of going to Roffey Park, paying £0000’s and learning some core skills, I have very few options open to me to develop this growing skill set. There are few ‘learning institutions’ aimed specifically at L&Ders. A lot of what you learn is on the job, through those senior to you, and through trial and error.
I’m confident in my abilities as an L&Der to deliver a message, but as I’ve mentioned above, e-learning and social learning tools are providing so much accessibility to a growing workforce (virtual and static) that us stock and trade L&Ders have to get on that bandwagon or we face a losing battle. And that is a horrid thought for me.
If you’re of the trainer ilk that says I have a great solution and it’s just right for your organisation, you’re old news. You either need to think of 100 variations of that solution, or learn how to develop consultancy skills instead of selling skills.
L&Ders have a great opportunity to help businesses and organisation deliver be successful. As one of the points raised at the workshop, L&D are the best Trojan horses for organisational change. This, I truly believe.

>Whatever you do, don’t follow best practise

>Here at LBi Towers (my workplace, all opinions my own, blah, etc) we have a theory that best practise is all well and good if you want to identify a ‘standard’ way of doing something. But, if you want to do something amazing, you need to do more than just best practise.

Essentially best practise is about doing a set of actions that result in a desired result. And in most cases that desired result is pretty staid stuff. We want to increase online engagement, we want to improve retention rates, we want to increase brand perception, we want to be an employer of choice. Those are all fair, and in some cases lofty, ambitions. And for the most part, those companies will be advised to do a set of actions to help them achieve those things. And the cycle is reinforced.
So why am I, an L&Der, concerned about best practise? Well, it’s a piece of terminology that has infected both HR and L&D circles so much that I think we’ve both lost our zest and passion for the job we do. Many in the industry follow what has been outlined by ACAS or the CIPD or because they are the alleged experts that guide what we do and how we should do it. For L&D in particular, there is no direct industry body, but that’s something for me to rant about later.
What this has meant for us professionals is we are trying to get companies, in the main, disciplined in the act of following policies and procedures so they do not fall foul of employment tribunals for transgressions they should have avoided. Part of what I’m talking about is reminiscent of a post by a HR professional, delightfully called theHRD, where he blogged about the de-skilling of HR. And also a post I made a while ago on the over-reliance of policies.

Instead what’s happened is a field we now call Organisational Development came out of the bushes and said, Hey! You keep doing your policies, L&D, you keep doing your training, and we’ll get on and do the exciting company wide development stuff like employee engagement and inter-departmental blending and culture development. I’m not begrudging OD professionals what they do – in truth my passion lies more in OD than it does L&D. But what is apparent is HR and in most cases L&D are given shorter remits of work as other ‘specialists’ come in to do the stuff which is not best practise.
These specialists push those boundaries of convention and are lauded for their free thinking and challenging ways. And the truth is they should be applauded for those things. But, and here’s the crux of it, HR and L&D have an equally important responsibility to shout for the same recognition.
It’s not enough that HR manages recruitment, retention, employee relations and policies. It’s not enough that L&D creates a training programme, delivers training, and helps staff feel valued. They need to move beyond those restrictions and show companies that they are better than that. And that’s not by following the best practise of other companies, or your very good friend who is HR director at Google. It’s by identifying which business objectives you can get more involved with that show either HR or L&D can play a more strategic role in the business or organisation. That’s a basic tenet of what should be happening anyway, and I’ll wager 80% of HR professionals aren’t doing this.
In my opinion, the best way to ensure you have someone who is looking beyond best practise is by having a full time in-house resource dedicated to their role. Outsourcing is fine but does not allow the true value of the profession to be realised. I’m fortunate that I have full responsibility for L&D, have no one to steer what I do, am self-reliant enough to get on and do things and have established the credibility of L&D across the agency. It’s taken time, but I’ve done that. If you’re not able to do that, you either need to review the responsibilities of your role, rise to the occasion and make your mark known, or seek to develop yourself so that you can step up and not rely on best practise.

>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.