Thinking About Learning

Well, I’ve been away some weeks and my blog stats have been moving along at snail pace, so let’s get things back on track some, hey what.

The simple question is are you thinking about learning? I mean are you, Dear Line Manager, Dear Chief Executive, Dear Financial Controller, thinking about learning? I’ll tell you what, you’re probably not. Not because you’re not interested, but because you haven’t been told what this means. So here it is, your wake up call. You. Are. Not. Thinking. About. Learning.

Bold statement? Yes. True? Probably. Here’s why. Learning at work is not something which you leave to your L&D department. If you even have an L&D department you’re probably on the first step to helping your staff feel like they’re being invested in, but I’ll bet you just trust them to get on with it. And that, Dear You, is where you’ve fallen and failed.

Thinking about learning at work means you are taking account of what your teams/people are doing, seeing if it’s working and helping them to do better. That means a lot of different things, all of which need to be driven by you. No-one else, you. Is your team not operating efficiently? You need to be the one to identify the inefficiencies and getting things on track. A black belt trained Six Sigma consultant won’t help you change the organisation, you do that. Is your team not developing their negotiation skills and losing work? That’s because you’re allowing someone else to take responsibility of that skill and you’re not dealing with it yourself. Only you can ensure your people are meeting the standards you want to be achieved. Is your team simply poor at time management? Don’t send them on an external training course, sit down with them and find out what’s causing the hold ups and get them sorted out.

Any L&D department/consultant can only do what they do if you’re willing to make change happen. You know all that stuff you read about organisational development and culture change? That’s only lead by one person – YOU. You can bring in whatever expert you want, they can only do a good job if you’re willing to make that change happen. And there are a lot of good managers who believe they can make it happen. The question is, are you one of those that does?

And what can you do if you’re not? Fight for the cause, as they say. Make it happen. Change happens only because we see wrong things happening and we see opportunities for clear development. Bob won’t do it, he’s too busy trusting someone else to do the job for him. You need to make it happen. Get up there, see what needs to be done, who needs to be convinced, and do it. Then, and only then, will you see the change you need to improve things.

So let’s change that questions to a statement. Start thinking about learning.

Invisible Barriers

Often, at work there’s a way to do something. There’s the unspoken rules. The unwritten policy. The unofficial way of working. It reminds me of the story of the monkeys as an analogy for organisational policy design*

Start with a cage containing five monkeys.

Inside the cage, hang a banana on a string and place a set of stairs under it.

Before long, a monkey will go to the stairs and start to climb towards the banana.

As soon as he touches the stairs, spray all of the monkeys with cold water.

After a while, another monkey makes an attempt with the same result – all the monkeys are sprayed with cold water.

Pretty soon, when another monkey tries to climb the stairs, the other monkeys will try to prevent it.

Now, turn off the cold water.

Remove one monkey from the cage and replace it with a new one.

The new monkey sees the banana and wants to climb the stairs.

To his surprise and horror, all of the other monkeys attack him.

After another attempt and attack, he knows that if he tries to climb the stairs, he will be assaulted.

Next, remove another of the original five monkeys and replace it with a new one.

The newcomer goes to the stairs and is attacked.

The previous newcomer takes part in the punishment with enthusiasm.

Again, replace a third original monkey with a new one.

The new one makes it to the stairs and is attacked as well.

Two of the four monkeys that beat him have no idea why they were not permitted to climb the stairs, or why they are participating in the beating of the newest monkey.

After replacing the fourth and fifth original monkeys, all the monkeys that have been sprayed with cold water have been replaced.

Nevertheless, no monkey ever again approaches the stairs.

Why not?

Because as far as they know that’s the way it’s always been around here.

And that’s how company policy begins …

So what happens when you give permission for people to change? Let’s say we took away the spray, and encouraged the monkeys to reach for the bananas by placing them within easy reach independent of the stairs? They still won’t do it. A set of established rules and way of working has already been accepted. To change it is folly. Even when permission has been granted.

And let’s replace one of those monkeys with another new monkey. What would happen when the new monkey – who is blissfully unaware of repercussions just as the others had been – tries to reach for the bananas? He’ll get beaten down. A sad case of events.

That’s why it often takes someone external to the situation to be able to come in and say – why aren’t you acting differently? Why aren’t you doing what is within your control and power? And the responses of “I didn’t know I was allowed to”, “but we’ve always done it that way”, “that’s their responsibility not mine” suddenly all become myths that quickly unravel. All it takes is someone to say – you have permission to change.

*I unashamedly quoted this story from the businessballs.com site

My best piece of delivery

Yesterday I facilitated (shepherded) an all day Induction. In a post I wrote for the Training Journal, I spoke about how this is the one key structured piece of activity any organisation or business just has to get right. It’s the first entry point to the business and makes such a key difference to the performance of the new starter. The day made me think about how this is so important for others that are engaged with a business too. You know, the dirty people – suppliers.

A couple of weeks ago I wrote about the L&D sweet spot and how I designed possibly my most favourite exercise. Today I’d like to share with you what I think was my best ever piece of facilitation. I was given a task of putting together a programme to help our vendors get who we are, how we work and why we work the way we do. I and the manager involved had no idea how this would pan out. We were both shooting in the dark but hoping for the best.

We decided that there needed to be key merchandising, planning and operational managers presenting. The company values had to be shared, as well as the company vision. Organisationally, QVC had come on leaps and bounds in the years that I was there. (Just realised that sounds like I did that. In true fairness the L&D team made it happen. I was part of that team and learned a lot.) So to do this for our vendors didn’t seem like a chore. A lot of the collateral we needed was already to hand. The key presenters already had relationships with a lot of the vendors. The vendors just needed some airtime and some answers.

So we gave them what they asked for. We were open about everything we presented and hid nothing. The result? A programme that runs to this day. I’m confident about sharing this in that it’s been 5 years since I left the company, and the programme has developed since then. But here’s why I loved it. I got to be part of a programme which we had no idea how it would be received. We put together a day full of interaction and information that was bang on for the audience. The relationships with our vendors who attended were stronger as a result. Our merchandisers became far more comfortable talking with our vendors as they now understand company aims and vision.

It may not sound exciting, and indeed is just an Induction for suppliers and vendors. But what makes a day like this exciting is the flavour and enthusiasm you bring to it. We could just as easily have put together a day of presentations that were one-way delivery and left it at that. But we saw this as an opportunity to do so much more and not let the opportunity pass. That’s also why I enjoy the company induction. If this is such an important event – and it is – why leave things at being standard?

#HRD11 final thoughts Part 2

In the last post in a series of learnings from #HRD11, I turn my attention to the interesting world of Organisational Development and Change Management. There’s a lot of jargon and titles thrown around these days when we talk about these topics that it makes my head hurt. OD consultant, change practitioner, change agent, L&OD, frameworks, models, theories, facilitation (I LOVE facilitation, but come on), blah, blah. GO SUCK AN EGG. This is a long post, so you’ve been warned.

It seems to me that we’d all be better off if we took the time to understand what OD and change management are trying to achieve. As an interesting aside, at one of the seminars I attended, we were presented with a case study of the botched redundancy announcement the Armed Forces made to those serving on the front-line. The question was posed, “as change practitioners, what change management would you put into place?”. But that’s not about change management, that’s about internal comms. And that’s arguably a department unto itself, but equally the responsibility of every person in the organisation dealing with internal and external clients on a daily basis.

I think what’s happening is we’re getting blind-sided by people too afraid to look at what the issue is that needs to be addressed and are happy throwing the monkey to someone who may or may not be the best person to deal with the situation. Everything seems to need an OD or Change Management initiative (grr, bloody initiatives). In certain projects you can see how this makes an awful lot of sense. Cutbacks demand hardcore black belt project management types to make the change happen and work hand in hand with OD types who can facilitate the people side of things. But for the most part, most organisations aren’t facing those truly organisational challenges.

For the most part, organisations are facing issues such as: “how’s our employee engagement survey coming along?” “are our internal comms effective?” “we need to refresh our competency frameworks” “Let’s take onboarding and revamp it” “our reward and recognition scheme is out of date” – WAIT, are you thinking what I am? They’re not organisational issues, they’re (mostly) HR issues? So where’s the organisational stuff? You know, the stuff that actually affects… the organisation? For all the above, I don’t believe for a second you need to have dedicated OD/change management types dealing with them. You need someone who understands how to use the skills to deal with them, and those might cross into those fields, but it’s far from being a true OD/change management issue.

So what issues should we be looking at? Have a read of Neil Morrison’s post on this very topic. There’s a piece in there about dealing with ambiguity (interestingly this came up in my post yesterday too). Organisations face truly organisational issues such as “we have to move office because our current one doesn’t suit our needs, and while we’re at it, we’ll be merging 3 offices into one building”. That’s the kind of event where you need someone who can manage that change, facilitate the change and make it happen. Is that OD? Is it Change management? Is it Project Management? As I’ve said before, I don’t think it matters, what matters is it gets done.

But, and here’s the bit I think is key, regardless of which approach you choose to take, the important piece in any of this is the discussion. Not engagement, not communication, but discussion. We’re getting so misplaced with the process (as Neil quite rightly points out) that we forget the discussion is what it’s all about. Actually what happens is, in hindsight we say, “wow, that discussion on the change was bloody amazing, we should have captured that because it was really rich”. And then when the next change comes along, we neglect the discussion again.

That’s the one thing any of your/us OD consultants/change management types need to be able to do. Enable a discussion. And the great thing about thinking about it in this way is that it doesn’t matter who knows best. We can all have a discussion. Some of us just know how to facilitate them in different ways.

So. There you have it. Thanks #HRD11, it was informative and helped me direct my thoughts on certain topics. Let’s dance again sometime. Next year perhaps?

I’m working 90 hours!

Ok, not me. But you are, aren’t you. I mean you’re sat there, feverishly working away. Lots of effort but so little in return. It’s like the inverse Pareto Principle. And you’re looking around you trying to figure out – where am I going wrong?! I have a to-do-list. I prioritise accordingly. I even have support. Why am I getting so little actually accomplished.

This is where I think you need to spin things on their head for a moment. Take a step back. What’s happening around you? Chances are if you’re working so inefficiently, even though you are trying to do the right things, others are probably being inefficient too. So how the hell do you sort that out?

Hello, I’m an OD professional! Previously, where I’ve spoken about what OD does, and who it involves, it’s been all very theoretical. So today, I’m looking to give you a handle on how situations like the above need to get resolved by someone removed from the project/team.

There’s a few things that need to be examined first. What is the purpose of the team? What are they meant to be producing? What are they actually producing? How are they resourced/assigned work? What planning methods are used? What measurement factors determine success? the answers to these questions will give you an initial assessment of current practices. It’s then important to look at what should be happening.

Questions like: What is the potential of the team? What value do they bring to the organisation? How are they supported by other business units? How integrated are they with the organisation? What Exec support do they have? Are they a recognised business unit? Are they a revenue producing unit? These give a perspective on how you want the team to behave and what you want them to achieve.

It then takes someone to look at the answers to the above, and draw up a plan of action. Appropriate presentations, sign off, buy in need to be had, but the plan of action needs to detail how to address the issues at hand. This doesn’t have to be someone concerned with OD necessarily. A manager can do all this, given they have the time and space apart from the team to do it well.

Often, when I’ve been involved in team development sessions, it’s not been about ‘bonding’ or ‘raising morale’. They might be a consequence of what you are taking them away for, but what you’re actually trying to resolve are day to day issues. The way you do it is by creating exercises that involve the team and allowing them to develop the solutions themselves. All the other stuff around: ‘fun’, ‘interactive’, ‘engaging’, ‘bonding’, happen as a matter of course because you’ve already been considerate in your approach.

>It’s my job, I just do it

>So. This week I talk about the closing gap between L&D and OD. Hmm. Here’s what I’ll be talking about.

I’ve been asked to provide a case study of what my experience in the workplace has shown me about this development. It’s quite a simple story really. When I came in to LBi, it had just passed a year of being a newly merged company. My role was initially to provide L&D service to the organisation. This included a range of activity from setting up Interview Skills training, to managing the training budget, to managing our agency CPD activity, and designing and delivering internal training courses. And that about covered a lot of activity in my first year.

My second year saw a lot of the organisational change and development I wanted to get involved in, and had the opportunity to explore. Thankfully, no-one in the business really had an agenda for L&D, so I was fairly free to push the boundaries in the way I thought (and still think) best. So last year saw a lot of activity done in developing a competency framework for the business. This is now being rolled out, but it took a long time to get there. The business has company values which no-one really understood. From there it was a case of defining them into terms staff understood, not PR talk, plain English talk. After that, I worked with each department, and levels within departments to define what the values meant for them, and how their day job reflect the values.

And from this we now have our competency framework. It’s in Version1 at the minute and will be a continual evolving beast. But this was one stage of an organisational initiative which needed to happen. If you look at the Burke-Litwin model of OD, it offers an interesting perspective about factors you need to consider when engaging in, and developing an OD initiative. I know what the organisation culture is in the business, who from the Leadership team needed to be involved, what the purpose of the competency framework was to be, which systems were currently in place to support it, what management practices are currently being carried out, where the motivation lay for the framework, and how it would support organisational and individual performance.

I won’t go into the details of the above, but I’m glad I have the Burke-Litwin model to help me consider if I approached the exercise in the right way. But I think I’m sending you on a bit of a red-herring. All I’ve done is described how I approached an OD task. I’ve not really talked about the closing gap between L&D and OD. So why is this question important? Where does it come from? And what do we hope to achieve from it?

Well, I think the question is important because in an organisation of any size where there is an L&Der of some description, the business can and does see the benefit of having such a person involved fully in providing support to the business, and (at a cynical level) serving to put a face on taking staff development seriously. What an organisation may not, and to my mind, will not realise is the benefit of having someone dedicated to OD. I’ve talked before about who tends to be an OD professional (in my post about what is Organisational Development), where I mention that it can be anyone in a business who has a mindset for dealing with OD issues.

This is not restricted to those in the HR field. Indeed, it’s anyone who identifies a business need, and helps to develop and deliver a solution which improves business performance. In the automotive industry this tends to be the engineers as they are concerned with continuous improvement and lean thinking. In healthcare it tends to be operational staff who want efficient caring of patients. In businesses it tends to be HR.

The L&Der tends to be the one from the HR and other groups, who sees that there’s a need for an organisational initiative. They tend to be the one who knows how to engage with the right people, and in the right way. They tend to be the one who know how to develop a solution and deliver it. They tend to be the one who knows how to roll it out and communicate it to the business. And that’s why there’s a growing questions of where the closing gap comes from.

What does this mean for the future of both the professions? Erm. Do you know the lottery numbers for this Saturday please? This is an academic question which will not be answered any time soon. We just have to wait and see how varying businesses respond to their organisational issues, and how these get answered. There’s an ever growing distinction of roles and responsibilities of every aspect of HR, and this is another in that mix.

For me, for now, it means business as usual. I do L&D, and I do OD in my spare time. Because that’s what’s demanded of me and my role. I enjoy it and find it challenging. There will continue to be L&Ders who find they’re asked to do OD. They won’t be going to a workshop or training course about how to transfer their skills, they’ll just get on and do it. I find the question of the closing gap slightly bizarre and frankly am unperturbed by it. I don’t mean that in an arrogant way. I just don’t see it particularly adds to the profession. It’s a good question for those concerned on the matter, for me it seems another example of navel gazing which could be better time spent elsewhere.