Existence, sales and suppliers

I get regularly contacted by various suppliers and vendors to the market who want to sell me their wares. I’m not against it, I understand it’s one way of doing business, and I’m probably one of many thousand being contacted in such ways. In truth I dismiss most of these. If I’m caught on a good day I might agree a chat. I’m nice like that.

While at the CIPD annual conference last week, I wanted to see how I could help the exhibitors be more visible to potential buyers through using the backchannel. I approached five random stands, asked aome questions about why they were there, what they hoped to achieve, and what they stood for as a company.

It was interesting. I got common responses of being a strategic partner, of offering bespoke solutions, of making a difference through their technology. So I challenged them and said they’re not unique. Then I started to hear the stories of what they stood for and why they exist. They were all grateful for what I was trying to support them with, and we had a good few minutes chat.

I won’t really know if it helped them or not. I wasn’t being paid to do it, nor sponsored in any way. I just wanted to use my position as a blogger for the benefit of everyone.

There were two great examples of exhibitors being truly genuine and smart about their offer. The first came from DPG PLC, who were giving people a mug and teaspoon, had people take their photos, abd posted to social media with the #DontBeAMug hashtag. This was great because it allowed them to create a conversation at the conference, create content to share, and engage with people in a fun way.

The second was from People Management. They realised that one of their unique points was that they are a trade journal and we all want to be published in one of those. So they had a stand taking photos of people, created a front page with your photo, and made you feel brilliant about yourself. Smart psychology right there.

What this all showed me was that there are some suppliers to the market who are ahead of the game. They’re out there embracing social technologies and taking bold thinking to innovate who they are and spread their message. I can only applaud this. And in truth what does it create? A story for me to share on this blog about them. Free PR. There’s your return.

What it also showed me was that there are plenty of suppliers to the market who exist just because they exist. They know how to do something well, they can offer comparative and competitive rates, and that’s it. I have no further reason to engage with them.

Which is where I think the usefulness of social media becomes apparent. I don’t mind being contacted for potential sales. But I’m more likely to buy from you (recruit you, recommend you, sell for you) if I have a meaningful connection with you. I’m not suggesting social media is the only way to achieve that, but it certainly helps to facilitate it.

What I think is vital, though, is being absolutely clear why you exist. I don’t think it’s about USP anymore. I think we’ve gone beyond that. I think it’s about value, and what I see as adding value. I give you three examples from my network. The first is of Julie Drybrough, who is doing some really cool work about facilitating dialogue in organisations she works with. The second is Meg Peppin, who is a true OD provocateur and will cut through the bullshit to get to the core of how to help you. The third is Doug Shaw, who is creating some cool creative solutions to everyday problems.

These people understand their value. They understand what they stand for. They use social media to help get their voice heard. This is the space suppliers and exhibitors need to invest their time into.


Simplifying L&D with efficient use of technology

Tom Bryant, of Colt technologies kicked this session off. Colt have approximately 5000 staff across 23 countries, with a widely dispersed L&D team.

What they had in place were tools such as Microsoft Lync and webex to enable communication to happen. They chose to focus on taking e-learning development in-house using Adobe Captivate. He shares a good point that one key benefit is the agility to adapt/amend content as needed. They created virtual training labs to provide training to engineers across countries. This allowed for on-demand training for engineers when they needed it. There is a need to consider where the use of external partners can help support the L&D training delivery – for example taking off the shelf training in topics such as project management.

Tom makes a good point that people need to be primed in using technology in order that this is to a barrier to learning. The technologies they used were: e-learning, webinars, videoconferencing, training labs, LMS, videos and podcasting.

Interestingly, Tom spoke about getting an external provider to support ROI through the Kirkpatrick levels.

Next up was Niall Gavin. Immediately I appreciate the way he provides his history without the use of words on the slide, instead he provides his contact details.

Niall advocates that in light of challenges First Group are facing, they’re focusing on the customer experience. He also advocates that HR needs to see the people they work with as customers, and we need to improve their experience which has an impact on how we work with customers. I agree with this.

Interestingly, he says that the classroom was the original social learning platform.

Niall makes the point that through their e-learning platform, they decided not to develop their own MS Office training as they could buy this in. They instead chose to focus on business critical software which could be transferred to e-learning. He shares a great story abou how they developed learning for a particular software, only to be told by the IT team it was being upgraded thereby making that development redundant. It’s all about engaging with stakeholders to understand the needs of the organisation.

He shared a good story about how he first came across Twitter some years ago at a learning technologies conference. He saw the potential of it and tasked his team with signing up and seeing what the potential comes from it. They started to hear about how technologies such as webinars were being used, for free. They decided to look for a webinar based technology, and decided to use a system compatible with their internal systems. This ended up not working because it wasn’t robust enough. Lots of great learning being shared here about where things didn’t work, and what happened next.

Good piece from both presenters about practical use of technology to enable learning to happen in different ways.

Dear Bureaucracy

Dear Bureaucracy,

I see that you’re aware of this thing called social media.

Apparently it scares you.

Apparently you don’t know how to deal with it.

There are those of us who are actively talking about things.

After all, we could talk about anything.

Some of us have passion.

Some of us fuel our creativity.

We may even have a rant.

Just not about you.

Or the organisation.

Some of us are talking about the important things.

We’re free.

Some of us collaborate.

Some of us act like a family.

We’re all connected.

We’re concerned about making things better.

We want you to know life is changing.

We want to take you with us.

It’s a journey, and we’ll help you to get there.

I know you’re out there. I can feel you now. I know that you’re afraid… you’re afraid of us. You’re afraid of change. I don’t know the future. I didn’t come here to tell you how this is going to end. I came here to tell you how it’s going to begin. I’m going to hang up this phone, and then I’m going to show these people what you don’t want them to see. I’m going to show them a world without you. A world without rules and controls, without borders or boundaries. A world where anything is possible. Where we go from there is a choice I leave to you.

What happened to the people agenda?

While listening to the various talks and hearing from respective speakers at speakers at #HRD12, I’m left with an over-riding thought that will not prove popular. In the main, HR Directors and L&D Directors are not doing enough to move the people agenda beyond boxes being ticked, meeting compliance standards and getting better engagement scores. There are some very good leaders at that level who I respect a great deal. But when you have organisations like the CIPD asking these people to come and talk about their organisations, I’m looking to get some real nuggets of insight into how you’ve positively changed the business. Often, I’m left lacking and thinking what I’m doing is more than enough, and in some cases a lot better than the presented organisation.

This raises a few questions. By what standard are we saying the people agenda is of significant calibre that they should be presented at a conference? Some of the speakers requested to attend shouldn’t be the ones speaking. Send someone else from the organisation who has the charisma, know how and ability to present to a large group of people. Your title does not mean you have the fit or ability to speak. Although I bet someone in your team does.

For all the talk of engaging employees with new fangled technologies, how many senior leaders are actively using the tools available to them to do this engaging? Again, I only know a few who do, and the respect they have is bar none. Where’s all the resistance to usage coming from? What perceptions are they battling with? What barriers are they presenting themselves that they don’t want to take part in the conversation? Allowing your staff to use tools, and having an open approach to engagement is not the end game. You need to be in the thick of it.

One of the presentations I attended was about engaging Gen Y, and I was expecting to hear about how L&D methodologies have changed in their organisations to meet the changing ways of learning and attention being grabbed. I learned a lot about great recruitment strategies, but nothing about the delivery of learning. I learned more about how companies like Skill Pill can enable mobile based learning, and it’s another way to consider delivery. This tells me L&D is not doing enough to be innovative in the way we deliver learning, but also we’re not being challenged sufficiently to really push that boat. I take this personally. I love what I do, and think I deliver learning in ways that are varied and interesting, and I don’t think I’m doing good enough.

We’re in a constantly changing world and that brings with it a lot of opportunity and risk to try new things. So who should be the Chief Creative Officer when one doesn’t exist in your organisation? Who should be the Chief Listening Officer? Who’s being the Chief Story Teller? I would suggest these roles sit with these senior leaders from HR and L&D. We have the space and authority to fulfil those roles, it just seems we’re shy of being responsible for them.

I think there should be an HR Director / L&D Director summit where they discuss the people agenda and finally come up with what they think they’re trying to achieve.

Learning in the Social Workplace

My first afternoon session is a panel discussion on Learning in the Social Workplace. As it’s a panel, it’s going to be tricky to write some clear notes on this. This post will almost read more like bullet points.

Samantha Hackett from Save the Children spoke first, where the global organisation has 15000 staff. They embarked a change in learning using elearning some years ago. In recent years there’s a need to move to use mobile technology. Using social media to help people talk to other people who are in the same situation. Using tools like LinkedIn to share content quickly and easily. Informal learning happens all the time. Content is readily accessible on the web, and in this kind of organisation it’s about helping to share the knowledge easily and very accessible. Name drops to Moodle by way of a LMS and Skill Pill for creating mobile based learning in bite sized chunks. The attitudes of staff can be the biggest barrier to new learning. There is a future where the SLT are made up of people from their respective countries.

From the RAF, Group Captain Phil Sagar gives his thoughts on how to do more with less in the face of cuts. This piece was quite focused on the technology married with real life learning. Quite impressive, just not easy to capture the key learnings from. Their starting point was about taking a learner centred approach. There are real challenges on keeping information secure where possible, and accessible at the same time. “Gate Keepers” can be a real barrier to encouraging new usage to happen. You have to be open to good ideas in the business in order to move forward.

Rob Jones, Head of Organisational Effectiveness at Crossrail, talks about his personal experience of using social media. “I used to send a tweet, and then sent a text to my friend asking if he saw my tweet”. He’s created friendships, sought information, and has helped him to learn a lot about himself. You have to be in it to win it with social media. Don’t use policy to control social media usage at work, trust your colleagues. We shouldn’t measure what social media brings – we don’t ask about the ROI of the telephone.

The proof is in the pudding

On Tuesday next week, we’re going to be holding the first L&D Connect Unconference. “We” being: Martin Couzins, Debbie Carter, Natasha Stallard, Stella Collins, Margaret Burnside, Doug Shaw and David Goddin. I can’t begin to tell you how excited I am by the event. As of today, there are going to be 30 of us signed up and ready to take part in the conversations. This is quite frankly awesome, unexpected and exciting.

Alison Chisnell has written a post about how friends can help you find your way. This is so true, and I’m so very grateful to the group above for allowing each other and me to make this a reality. I’ve written a post about how the idea for it came into being. But there’s another angle which is interesting to make note of. It all happened through social networking.

I know all of the above people personally. They didn’t necessarily know each other before we started talking, but they sure do now! We’ve used social networks to good effect in helping all of this to happen. We were on Skype when we wanted to do a group chat. We used LinkedIn when we wanted to develop ideas and have ongoing conversations on content, planning and marketing of the event. We’ve used Twitter extensively to get the word out about the event. There have been some blogs written about the event in advance, and a lot of emails flying about personally inviting people to attend. I even recorded a short piece on what the event is about on YouTube!

We’ve had very little in the way of face to face chats and conversations. That’s partly been because we all live in different parts of the UK, and we all obviously have the day job to get on with. So we’ve done pretty brilliantly to self-organise and use the tools available to us to make the day happen. It’s been a great example of collaboration, and giving up time and efforts to make it happen.

The @LnDConnect Twitter account has been used well, and various people have been guest tweeting from it to create engagement and chatter. The LinkedIn Unconference group has been generating a wealth of topics that people want to actively discuss on the day. I think we’ve produced a jolly good showcase of how social media has enabled this event to happen.

Have you booked on to the event? It’s on Tuesday 24th April from 1300-1700 at LBi, on Brick Lane in London. Pass the word around to those you think it might interest. There’s plenty of time to book, and it’s only £50 to get in. Book now!