Is Learning about Performance?

It’s a question I’m just not sure about so I’m going to write and see where it leads me.

What is performance at work?

Performance in the workplace is all about hitting targets or objectives. That’s it.

It’s a managers job to make sure they monitor performance of team members. If there are issues with performance then you put a plan in place to improve things.


Learning at work is the process of taking in new information with the intent that it will give you new skills, knowledge or ability to achieve something. That something could be about negotiations, it could be about assertiveness, it could be about IT systems or it could be a number of other things.

If I learn, I gain a new skill.


Are they therefore reliant on one another?

If I am facilitating a learning session, am I helping someone to improve their performance?

I guess that’s the aim isn’t it?

But that’s not necessarily my focus in the learning session.

My focus in the learning session is to help you achieve a new skill. For application back in your day to day role, yes, but not exclusively.

If you’re on a five day Prince 2 Practitioner training, you’re learning how to use the Prince methodology. Not the application of it necessarily, but certainly how to use the model to effect.

What if you’re on a two day presentation skills session? My aim is to help you deliver a better presentation than you started with. That may or may not be your direct goal back in your day job, but you’ll have the skills to do it.

How about when you do some online learning to learn some core knowledge about changes in legislation or regulation which is fundamental to your job although it may not be used everyday?

And this is where I get stuck with the whole performance thing.

Yes, your learning may improve your performance, but that’s not what I’m an expert in.

I’m an expert in learning principles – be they online or face to face. I can design learning sessions to be awesome, immersive, relevant, technical or compliant. Regardless of the need of the learning, I can design something to meet that need.

I am not an expert in performance. I do not know what targets or objectives are core to you doing a good job. It is not my place to suggest or advise what is a reasonable metric or not. I am not there to ensure you have fair performance measures in place.

Help me out here people. What’s your view?

Positively Emotionally Mindful

Last week at Learning Live, I was quite keen on hearing the talk on Being Brilliant, by Andy Whittaker. His business partner, Andy Cope, has studied positive psychology at PhD level, and so I was quite curious what the talk would help share. Most of my readers are aware I have a keen interest in this topic, and there are a good many practitioners developing this skill, so I enjoy hearing how people describe this field, and what insights they share.

I enjoyed Andy Whittaker’s style. On his Twitter bio, he describes himself as a “frustrated comic”. This came through in his talk, and gave it a lot of levity, and I thought he balanced it quite well in it not becoming a comedy act. He shared some useful insight into how positive psychology is about helping people live happy lives. Remember, traditional psychology is about helping people move from a position of feeling sad to ‘normal’, and positive psychology is about helping people move from ‘normal’ to ‘vibrant’.

Andy shared that in Andy Cope’s research he found that only 2% of people are capable of being happy and vibrant. The rest of us are caught up in life’s regular slog, and we have natural ebbs and flows that mean we experience good or bad days. Whittaker also talked about those people around us who are ‘mood hoovers’. I’ve heard this expression before, and it describes the kind of person that responds to most questions with a healthy dose of cynicism and negativity which leaves you feeling drained and your own mood being lowered. With this, I also found it helpful when he talked about people who are at times ‘too happy’ and don’t know how to keep a bottle on their enthusiasm they’re experiencing.

As I’ve been thinking about it some more, there’s some more aspects which I think are important, and lend itself to thinking about this are of self-development and self-awareness quite keenly.

I recall being on the Emotional Skills and Competence course last year, and how we spoke about the importance of having positive relationships in our lives. By recognising emotions in others, in particular micro-expressions, we can allow ourselves to moderate our own feelings and emotions, and respond in a way which helps us to get the best out of others. As we get to know others more intimately, we may also start to recognise which particular events trigger a certain emotion in the other person, and either we change our behaviour to ensure we don’t do those things (if it elicits a negative response) or we purposefully act in a way to bring out an emotion (if it elicits a positive response).

Remember, all emotions are useful, and they all help us to live a healthy life. Emotions themselves aren’t positive or negative, it’s our reaction to and experience of our own emotions which we interpret as being either positive or negative. For example, I might elicit the emotion of surprise in my wife by buying her an unexpected gift and her response is to give me a kiss. In another example, I might elicit the emotion of surprise by telling her something unexpected which annoys her and she becomes angry with me. (Both fictional I hasten to add!) The emotion of surprise is the same, but the trigger that lead to a subsequent action was different.

In Whittaker’s talk, when he talked about how people can sometimes be unaware of their impact on others, this for me is where we can learn to be skillful by understanding what it means to be emotionally intelligent. We use the information available to us to help us to determine what the other person is likely to be feeling, and then respond in a way which gets the best out of them. Some may argue we do this naturally. I would argue, only some people do this naturally. For many others, it is about learning how to recognise a set of emotions, interpret them, and decide on a course of action.

The final piece for me, which adds to the level of self-awareness we have, is in how we practise the practice of mindfulness. Mindfulness is about being present in the moment, and being aware of all the things your being can intake. Your surroundings, your thoughts, other people, the sounds, the quiet, your breathing, your movements, and so much more. When we can be mindful, truly mindful, we open ourselves to the possibility of opportunities which become immediately present. At the coffee shop, in a queue waiting to be served, where does our attention go, and where does our attitude focus? Do we urge the barrista to be more efficient? Do we see the people talking round a table? Are the food options the ones you want? Is the background music your style? Are you feeling hot or cold? In being mindful about such things, we are more likely to make a better informed decision for what is best for you, and you are more likely to feel positive about the outcome.

Mindfulness for me, then, helps us to understand that we are responsible for our actions. These actions are based on active decisions we have made, and therefore we can either be positive about them or regret them. If we regret them, then this dwells on the mind, and keeps us in a place which is not helpful, and may be harmful to the psyche if prolonged. If we are positive about them, we will be more likely to be positive about other interactions we make as our day continues.

In thinking about these three topics/subjects/ways of thinking, it’s helping me to remain conscious of the many things we learn in the L&D profession, and how we can either be purposeful in our understanding of them, or we blindly take the accepted wisdom.

The future of L&D

Have you had a chance to look at the latest report from the Learning and Performance Institute about the Capability Map of L&D professionals? It makes for interesting reading. You can download a free copy of the summary report here, and if you’re a paying member you can download the full report here.

Here’s what I’ve taken away from the report. L&D will become a dead profession in the next five years unless we undergo radical change. Or thought about another way, L&D has the prime opportunity to position itself as a value adding service to the business.

Either way the future for the profession is highly volatile. I’m not even being sensational about this.

What are L&D professionals good at?
– Managing the learning function – hurrah!
– Live delivery – phew.
– Learning resources – yay!
– Performance improvement – come on!

What are we poor at?
– Business skills and intelligence – financial management, industry awareness, and procurement – oh man, that’s a hard message to hear from all of us who think we’re doing a good job.
– Analysis and strategy – assessment and evaluation, competency management, performance analysis – wait, we’re meant to be advising the business on all these things.
– Learning information and architecture – data interpretation, information architecture – this doesn’t surprise me.

This isn’t my opinion. 983 of you said this.

Learning and Development hasn’t moved on beyond identifying learning needs and developing and designing interventions that meet these needs. It’s stuck. It’s stuck its heels in, and is refusing to accept it needs to change. “We don’t need to change, it’s the culture of the organisation that needs to change,” or “I’m trying to move the organisation to become a learning organisation, and they’re just not ready for the journey”. I hear this a lot.

There are L&D professionals sitting there, right now, all worried about how they can argue the toss with HR about whether or not the Diversity programme should be an e-learning package or face to face delivery. There are L&Ders trying share their knowledge about presentation skills by videoing and giving feedback to the people attending. There are L&Ders who are trying to re-design their e-learning offering to make it more inclusive and accessible. Because that’s what we’re good at doing.

We’ve been sold to. We’ve been sold McDonald’s, when we should be seeking freshly cooked, natural goods to make our own food.

For L&D to be effective in the world of tomorrow here are the things we need to learn and need to learn fast:

User Experience

I don’t mean the UX of going through a learning intervention. I mean the UX of people experiencing your company brand. How do we improve that UX? What does that mean for the way people are working? What does that therefore mean about the skills, knowledge and behaviours they need or use? That then informs about the L&D intervention required.


L&Ders tend to be better at devising engaging, interactve learning interventions which give them high scores on their evaluation forms. What we’re bad at is taking customer data to inform if the L&D intervention made an impact. Forget big data, and ROI evaluation strategies. I’m talking about the basics. If I send someone on a time management course, can I see that the customer has an improved experience of us? That’s the direct link I need to be able to make. I should be able to collect data which either supports or refutes this.

Commercial Acumen

The world we operate in means commerciality is high on everyone’s agenda. Understand the pressures the organisation is facing. Those pressures mean they are natural barriers to people’s learning. If people aren’t learning, they’re not improving. If they’re not improving they won’t be commercially focused. Get under the skin of the organisation. Get all anthropological about the way you operate. That’s where our learning begins and therefore how we devise truly innovative learning interventions.

Collaboration with Suppliers

Gone are the days of partnering with the likes of ASK Europe, or Reed Learning, or Ashridge Business School to deliver your L&D programmes. For any of us to stay relevant, we need to come up with solutions which are exciting, innovative, and fresh. You know what stifles that thinking? Thinking you can come up with a solution by yourself. Or providing a brief and asking suppliers to tender their solution. You know what would be exciting? Sitting in a room with suppliers, and everyone is on equal footing. You jointly discuss the situation, and what is needed for the organisation to move forward. Agreements are then made about who can deliver what. Collaboration rules.

Financial Acumen

What does profit and loss mean? What is a balance sheet? What is the difference between profit and surplus? How do I write a business case? What is CAPEX? What is EBITDA? Fundamental questions about the financial running of a business. This is what gets talked about at senior levels. This is what we need to know better.

When we get reports like this from the likes of the LPI, I get all het up. I think “ah fudge it, I’m going home cos we all suck”. When I’ve had my rant I think, actually this is the time to be excited about the profession. We have such skills and knowledge available to us, and all we have to do is ask. It’s crazy thinking, and it’s so simple. I just need to get up, walk over to some different people and start to ask a different set of questions. Suddenly I’m learning about things I never knew I needed to care about, and actually I can suggest ideas to positively improve the way we do things. Suddenly I’m not the one receiving information at the pace of the organisation, but I’m being pro-active about finding out about the organisation and new opportunities become available.