Saturday, 24 October 2009

Do you want me to listen or to read....?

I attended a couple of days training this week, delivered internally. It was an interesting course and I met some great people. However there was a consistent bug bear for me throughout the course in the way that Powerpoint slides were used.

The web is full of discussions and articles about how to use (or not use) supporting slides for presentations (my favourite site is Presentation Zen). My particular pet hate is when a person stands at the front of a room and feels that they must have a slide behind them full of lines of bullet points or with a diagram so complicated that it needs 20 minutes to explain! Why do I hate this?
  • My style of learning is quite auditory. I like to listen to people tell me something and I like to hear people discuss things so I can hear different points of view. Putting up a visual slide doesn't really do much for me and actually makes it more difficult for me to concentrate on what someone is saying.
  • Do you want me to listen to what the presenter is saying, read the slide or do both? If you put a slide up then I am going to try and read it. When I am doing this then I won't be listening properly to the presenter. If the slide is full of lots of text then it is going to take me a while to read it.
  • The slide should be something that complements the presentation - not something that works against it. Just show something very simple on the slide - perhaps a handful of words or a picture that reinforces what you are saying.
Rant over.......

Sunday, 18 October 2009

Learning that is free....and there's no catch!


I read a great article in the Sunday Times last week that described a variety of learning resources that are available via the internet.....for free. I thought it must be too good to be true so I did some browsing of the sites and wanted to share my thoughts with you.


If you want access to completely free material of a high quality then read on.




This is an offshoot of the Open University that offers a large variety of courses covering a wide variety of subjects ranging from Arts and History to Business and Management to Mathematics and Statistics.....a truly broad curriculum.


The courses are available to download in a variety of formats (although I couldn't find audio of video) and each course has its own discussion forum. A facility to post a video log (vlog) is interesting and you can also create Learning Groups to learn with others wherever they may be. A browse through the Business Management sections found some courses that interested me:







Each course is about 6 hours and divided into various modules and you will find a student rating for each course (most of which have 4 or 5 stars).



You Tube EDU


This is a specific channel on YouTube devoted to educational material. Again you will find a variety of subject areas to choose from including Business, Literature, Law, Science and much more.


The format is the usual YouTube style video clip but there is some interesting material in there. A quick browse revealed some interesting clips:






Again some great material to use as part of a wider learning intervention or simply to learn in an interesting way!





This site, containing actual course material from MIT's course offerings is attracting 1.2m visitors per month. I think it is a really clever move by MIT that promotes their position as a thought leader and reinforces their brand.


There is an absolute plethora of material on the site with a large variety of formats ranging from actual course notes to multi media clips and material. The quality is second to none. The material includes course from the world famous Sloane School of Management including titles such as:






Many of these not only include the actual course material but also video lectures and notes - fantastic!




As part of the iTunes store there is a special section called iTunes U. This contains a massive bank of free material provided by a variety of top educational sources such as Cambridge University, Stanford Business Management School and Oxford University. The format is the usual iTunes format (audio and video) so you can simply download to your iPod to listen to at your convenience. Here are a couple of examples:


- Leading Change: a conversation with Ron Williams

- Managing the Leaders by Dr Mark De Rond

- Let's have less pride and more shame in the work place


Again an incredible library of free resource.


The Sunday Times article had an interesting observation:


A small study by the University of New York in Fredonia claims that downloading a lecture can be more effective than actually attending one in person. Researchers compared 64 students, half of whom attended a lecture and half of whom received it via a podcast. In a subsequent test, those who downloaded the podcast performed better - possibly because a podcast allows you to replay difficult parts as and when you want.


So I really do recommend having a look around these sites - there is some great material out there that is definitely worth exploring.

Tuesday, 13 October 2009

Kolb - is it useful?

I was asked to deliver a short session on Kolb recently which made me think about his models and how useful they are in practice. As I reflected on Kolb's model it made me remember how useful a tool it is for helping think about how people learn.....but of course there is a flip side too...

As a quick recap David Kolb is an Organisational Behaviour Professor who is probably best known for his work on experiental learning. Along with Roger Fry he created a model for learning that is generally known as the Learning Cycle.
I won't go into the detail about how the model works but for me it highlights a useful way of thinking about how people learn. Other sites have described this in some detail and I particularly like this one that shows it in an interactive way.

As well as the Learning Cycle, Kolb put forward 4 learning styles with each style representing a combination of two preferred styles. Kolb came up with the terms Diverging, Assimilating, Converging and Accommodating for these styles - see below.

















Why is this useful?

  • A training course is not the complete answer! I have often heard about how the model can really help design a high quality training course. Using the styles and learning cycle we can create a rich experience that caters for the diferent ways that people learn. All of that is true but for me largely misses the point. Kolb's Learning Cycle shows how people learn in a continuous cycle based on a set of experiences. A training course may provide all of these experiences.....but only at a single point in time. So you may design the most fantastic training course but once people have gone back to their 'day job' how do you help them reflect on what they learned? How do you help them experiment and think about how they will use these new skills? How do you give them a set of experiences in which they can apply and develop further these new skills?

  • Coaching: I think Kolb's model is a useful one to support you as a coach. Clearly coaching has a strong role to play to help people reflect on their experiences but a coach can also help people think about new concepts, how they may apply them etc. In fact a coach has a role to steer people around the cycle many times... (I also think that Action Learning links strongly to Kolb's model too - read more about this here, here and here)

  • Understand your audience: If the only thing the model helps you to do is to think about your audience more and to adapt your approach accordingly.....then that is a good thing. Not everyone learns the same way that you do and you are very likely to have a mix of people in your audience - how will you cater for all of those different styles?

......and the flip side?

For me there are a couple of drawbacks to the model which means that whilst useful I don't think it should be taken to literally.

  • Simplistic: The model of 4 learning styles may be a little simplistic in practice. There may be many other styles that are appropriate to specific situations eg. simply memorising something through repitition. There are many other models on learning styles. For example Honey and Mumford developed Kolb's model further to create their Activist/Reflector/Theorist/Pragmatist model.

  • Realistic: The concept of learning stages doesn't necessarily fit with reality. People may jump around the stages at different times and out of sequence.

  • Evidence: I am not aware of much empirical evidence to back up the model

  • Culture: In my own experience, understanding the culture of your audience can have a huge influence on how you design a learning intervention. Compare a UK audience to a Saudi audience and you have two completely different styles just based on cultural difference.

So, Mr Kolb I like your model and have found it useful to keep my thoughts about learning and development on the straight and narrow - thanks! But it is not something that I use in a literal sense.....but I doubt that you expected people to do that anyway.

Saturday, 25 July 2009

A model for culture change


As a training professional we work hard to make sure we define our learning objectives correctly, we design the course to match the learning styles of our audience and sometimes we even evaluate whether it was all successful. Training can be a powerful lever of change…….but of course it isn’t the only one.

I am currently working with a client where they are looking to achieve a real shift in behaviour…..a culture change. Culture is one of those strange things…..people can usually recognise the culture in which they work or live…..but it can be difficult to describe. Some people say that it is just ‘the way things happen around here’ – which isn’t a bad description. In most organisations a culture just seems to develop over time – sometimes it is highly influenced by a couple of individuals (such as Google) whereas in others it has grown over many many years (IBM, Marks and Spencer etc). Most organisations would say that culture is something that differentiates them from their peers – for good or for bad!

So what happens when the culture in the organisation needs to change? Maybe it has morphed into something where decision making is no longer quick and easy, maybe people just don’t seem to enjoy working there anymore, maybe the organisation is becoming more sensitive to it’s environmental responsibilities….there can be a million different drivers. But how can you change the culture….is it possible? Well actually you can change organisational culture but it takes a huge amount of effort and coordination.

I really like the model shown above that helps understand the things that shape the way people behave in an organisation. Let’s take an example – imagine that the culture of an organisation prevents people from raising issues and concerns because there is a fear of retaliation. Look at the model but work from
right to left….

What is the result? The organisation isn’t performing to it’s potential. Staff turnover is high and motivation levels are low.

What is the impact? People will be exhibiting the behaviour of not raising any issues and concerns they may have. They know what they should do but would rather keep the problem to themselves rather than risk the possibility of some sort of comeback by ‘management’

What is the manifestation? People have a belief that if they raise an issue then there will be a negative personal impact.

What is the shaper? People have this belief because they see role models that reinforce this through their actions. There are no processes that make it easy to raise issues and concerns anonymously. There are no people in the organisation to turn to for advice etc.

The shapers in the model are the important element here. These are the levers that you can pull in order to influence the culture and behaviours that you desire. So let’s revisit the example again but this time moving left to right.

Shapers: Let’s imagine that a series of training interventions were introduced for first level managers on how to create an environment with their people to discuss and raise issues openly. This was coupled with a communication campaign over an extended period that raised awareness and reinforced how important it is. The CEO and other senior managers regularly discuss the subject and even start to hold open session with people as a new forum for discussion. In addition new processes were introduced that enabled people to raise an issue anonymously and new roles were created in the organisation to provide an independent view and even an investigation if required. Competency and performance measures are introduced that encourage new behaviours. People start to ‘test the water’ – they raise an issue and wait to see what happens. If things go OK then they get some confidence back, they talk to their colleagues about their experience…..and the snowball starts to grow.

Manifestation: People’s beliefs have started to change. They now believe that they can raise an issue or concern without there being any negative impact.

Impact: As a result of changed beliefs, people’s behaviour starts to change. Managers are starting to have constructive and open conversations with their staff. You may see the new processes being used as people raise issues. Things start to change in the organisation as a result –maybe some people even get dismissed or disciplined. New people joining the organisation are selected based on a new set of criteria etc

Result: The organisation starts performing better. People are happier in their jobs and staff turnover goes down. The organisation is able to hold onto its talent and can even attract new talent in. As a result of people being listened to real improvements start to take place. Whereas previously people were afraid to raise their concerns about product quality or about a new market venture, the new environment is one where challenge is the norm – in fact the behaviour is encouraged and rewarded.

So it’s about identifying the suite of shapers - the levers you need to pull in order to impact the values and beliefs in the organisation. This is where the skill is – identifying the right levers, implementing them effectively and creating the necessary momentum. That’s the difficult bit and an area where consultants can play a really valuable role…..

Changing Culture..

It's been a few weeks now since my last post....apologies for that. I have been travelling a lot with my work recently and having some great cultural experiences. It would be an under-statementto say that I have developed myself over the past weeks, facing many new challenges in delivering learning to a many diverse audiences including Australia, Saudi Arabia and South Africa.

The work I am involved with at the moment has entailed designing some learning interventions aimed at raising awareness and understanding around a particular subject. It is really the first step for the organisation along a 3 year journey to change their culture. The first step is to get people on board and then comes the difficult bit.....embedding these new behaviours so that they become engrained into everyday working life. I have explored how training can play a role in this here and here.

I particularly like to use something called the commitment curve that is a great tool to have a conversation with a client about culture change. It is shown below:

















I am currently using it to explore the following questions with my client:
  • Where on the curve are you currently. How do you know you are there?
  • Where on the curve do you ultimately want to be. What will be different about being there? What will you see, hear and experience that will be different?
I believe these are really important steps to take before we can even contemplate what kind of interventions may be required to get there.

In my next post I want to explain a culture model that I am using. This is helping me think about the levers we can pull in order to create the desired culture. As you can imagine this is a very difficult undertaking but I think it highlights the fact that it is not just about training people or just about creating new policies and procedures......it is a combination of lots of things.

If you want to find out more about this then keep a look out for my next post.

Thursday, 25 June 2009

Cultural Observations from Down Under…become a Yes Man

The past weeks have been hectic – travelling around Australia doing some work for my client (although I did manage to keep tweeting….). A fairly gruelling schedule delivering a series of intensive training sessions across four cities with an audience that we weren’t expecting to receive us with open arms.

My last posts have referenced how interesting it is to work with new cultures and I continue to be both inspired and grateful for the opportunity to be able to do this. Some cultural observations about working with our Ozzie brethren:


  • There is both a love for all things British and at the same time a strong desire to be independent and different. As a ‘Brit’ it makes working in Australia an interesting challenge, especially if you are looking to introduce new ideas and ways of working…quite a change management challenge. Personally I found the Australian culture to be a mix of UK and US which are in my view are two very different things! Their cities seem to have an US feel to them but their attitudes seem close to the UK.
  • The Australian culture is quite macho and quite hierarchical – sometimes subtly and sometimes very ‘in your face’. A number of our sessions started with people asserting themselves as the leader in the group with many local stories being shared! I made some fascinating observations of people ‘waiting their turn’ to speak and showing respect for the unspoken hierarchy within the group. I know this goes on across all cultures but it was something that stood out for me.
  • I think a lot of people living in the UK think they could just fit straight into the Australian culture……but that’s not true. They can have quite a laid back culture – things will get done and decisions will get made but only when people are ready to do so (reminds me a bit about Spanish culture).
  • In the UK we think we are the world leaders in culture – fashion, music, films….everything. However the Australians have two important (to me) items absolutely sorted – food and sport. I didn’t realise what steak was meant to taste like until last week (I will never be able to eat steak in the UK again). As for sport – the whole country is totally addicted to it. Whilst in Melbourne the Wallabies (National Rugby Union Team) were playing mid week, attracting an audience of 90,000. Two days later and just across town the local Aussie Rules football team were playing a regular league game – and attracted another 80,000 people to watch. Unlike the UK, tickets are very reasonably priced and families are very much encouraged to attend.


If you are an from Oz then I would love your views on the above, and also your own experiences of working with our friends down under if you are from elsewhere. My thanks to everyone I met in my time there – an amazing country and wonderful people.


As an L&D professional it really stretches and develops me by working with different cultures. A training intervention that may be very effective in one culture can be totally ineffective in another. If you want to develop yourself then spread your net wide. Become a ‘Yes Man’ when the opportunity arises – you won’t regret it.

Saturday, 30 May 2009

Thoughts from the Middle East - Part 2

Well, I am back in the UK now following my week in the Middle East. In my last post I was thinking through how I was going to approach this piece of work and the key principles I needed to stick to. So, did it all go according to plan....?

Well, on the whole the visit was a successful one. It is always a fascinating experience working with a new culture but there were a couple of important learning points for me:
  • Investing the effort in defining your learning outcomes up front and ensuring that people buy in to them is hugely beneficial. Even though the way the learning outcomes will be different for this environment we were still able to use them as the driver for the solution we came up with.
  • Getting the right local people involved is critical. More by luck than judgement we had some very influential local people involved in the process. This really opened up the doors and smoothed the way so that we were able to agree upon a solution. Next time I don't want to simply rely on luck.....
  • Taking the time to really understand the local environment and not making assumptions is important. I tried really hard for the first couple of days to put aside what the 'answer' is and just absorb as much of the local culture as I could.
  • Getting the local team to come up with the solution worked really well. I had prepared my thoughts on some potential options and also the criteria by which they should be assessed. This actually facilitated some really valuable discussion that led to them coming up with their own (and better) solution - great result!
Of course the next challenge is to create the solution (and very quickly) but I feel that the hard work is now done. Good learnings for me that will hopefully mean I can do an even better job next time.......which is probably in Australia....watch this space!

Friday, 22 May 2009

Thoughts from the Middle East - Part 1


OK, I have to admit that I’m a little excited today! I am lucky to be in a job that I enjoy – it gives me the challenges I need at work but also enables me to balance it with other things that I enjoy in my life, with my family being the priority. However, right now I am sitting on a plane bound for the Middle East thinking about the week ahead and the challenges it will bring.

I have formally worked in the learning and development world for about 5 years now but been involved in the world of L&D for much longer. In that time I have been engaged in many aspects of L&D ranging from the design and implementation of learning programmes through to talent management and coaching. However this week I have a new challenge and that’s adapting a learning programme so that it can be deployed in a completely different culture.

Working for my current client I have been heavily involved in the creation of a learning programme which is being deployed through a mixture of elearning and ‘classroom’ based sessions. It’s more about raising awareness and building a common level of understanding rather than ‘training’ but it’s really been designed with a ‘Western’ audience in mind (USA, UK, Australia and some parts of Europe).

Deploying this learning programme to a Middle Eastern country just won’t work in it’s current form. Why not?

  • The obvious one is language. Whilst we have translated the course into a number of different languages already, Arabic isn’t one of them. The specifics of the Arabic language bring their own challenges, especially with an elearning course.
  • The main one though is culture. The ‘classroom’ sessions involve exploring and discussing some case scenarios that are designed to challenge people’s thinking and help them understand various perspectives. The simple assumption that this will also work in a Middle Eastern culture is just not true. Whereas in my culture people are used to discussing an issue and then listening to others points of view, this isn’t necessarily the case in a Middle Eastern culture. Here people are brought up to have a strong point of view and it’s a very proud culture – showing that your view isn’t the ‘best’ may not be easy.

So for me there are a couple of important principles that I intend to follow:

  • We spent a long time working through and agreeing the required learning outcomes (knowledge, skills and attitudes). These were the driving force in designing the programme and measuring it’s success. Whilst the way the outcomes are achieved may be different I will be looking to ensure that they are still central to all of our thinking.

  • I need to make sure I really understand the culture and not make any assumptions about what I think will work. Pay attention to the small things as well as the big items!

  • Understand the audience: I intend to spend a significant time understanding the various audiences that will be taking part in the learning programme. What’s different about each of them and what do they have in common. How will I know that what we are suggesting will actually work?

  • Help the local team develop something rather than ‘do it for them’. I think it’s really important that the local team really own the piece of work – after all they are the people that really understand their environment and are the people who will have to deploy it. Picking up someone else’s work is a recipe for failure….

Well, that’s my initial thoughts – I wonder what other factors will come into play……I’ll keep you posted! If you have any advice then that would definitely be welcomed!

Saturday, 16 May 2009

Investing in Skills During a Recession

Everyone who works in the world of learning and developing is witnessing the impact of the current recession. It will be interesting to look back and see which organisations managed to hold their nerve to continue investing in their people during the tough times.

Mike Rake, the chairman of BT made this short video recently to discuss this very point. He is also the chairman of the UK Commission for Employment and Skills who have recently published a report on this called "Ambition 2020: World class skills and jobs for the UK"

The report recommends the government adopt an ambition of being in the top eight countries in the world by 2020, and sets out five key priorities for achieving that aim. They are:
  • Create a clear and integrated cross-government strategy for economic transformation and renewal.
  • Develop a simpler, more agile and demand-led skills and employment system, capable of anticipating and addressing both existing skills needs and emerging industrial opportunities and challenges.
  • Transform individuals' aspirations, maximising motivation and opportunity for everyone to develop their talents.
  • Build employer ambition and capacity to be world-class, capable of competing globally as high skill, high value added organisations.
  • Support better integration of skills into economic development activity in cities and local economic communities.
If Mike Rake is putting his name to it then it's worth taking note.....

Saturday, 9 May 2009

Feedback - food or fodder

Someone said that “feedback is the breakfast of Champions” – it’s a bit of a cliché I suppose but my recent series of posts about feedback hopefully shows that the way it is delivered can have quite an impact – be it positive or negative.

In my work at the moment I have been evaluating some initial feedback from training that is currently being rolled out on a global basis. The audience for the training is large (100,000 people) and diverse so designing an intervention for such an audience has certainly been a challenge. Results so far are encouraging and we are now looking at what we do with the information. The process has made me think about some key learnings that I wanted to share with you:

  • What are you trying to evaluate? For me there are broadly two kinds of things that are useful to evaluate:
    • Did the intervention meet your desired learning outcomes? Assuming you defined some learning outcomes (knowledge, skills and attitude), how will you know if people have achieved them? Without wishing to delve into a debate about evaluation and Kirkpatrick, it is often valuable to ask delegates how well they have met outcomes. For example asking them if they feel confident in their ability to do something new, whether they know where to go for help etc (assuming these are defined learning outcomes).
    • Was the method of delivery appropriate? You will probably be able to tell this from the answers to your first set of questions about learning outcomes. However it is useful to know why….was the course too fast, too slow; was the content pitched at the right level (eg. was it patronising); would they have preferred classroom/elearning; was it relevant etc.

  • How are you trying to collect evaluation data? There are many ways to obtain feedback from your audience and you need to select the most appropriate medium. This could be via a survey (preferably online) but could also include a more qualitative follow up approach via focus groups or one to one interviews (a recommended approach). It is important to always try and get a representative view using some statistics and then some analysis.

  • Look for themes. When faced with a ton of statistics from your survey results it may be quite daunting. However the first activity is to pull out some themes. Start at a high level – did we broadly meet our learning objectives. Then, drill down further – did we meet all the objectives fully, were some met better than others etc. Once you have some themes the next step is to get some qualitative information to validate the ‘why’ – use focus groups, workshops and interviews to explore the themes further.

  • Don’t just focus on the negative. I always find it tempting to look at the negative comments – what didn’t people like, what didn’t work… However it is really important to also understand what worked well…..and why. It is really important to understand the positive items if you are to be able to replicate them again in the future.

  • Make it easy for people to give feedback or provide an incentive. Most people aren’t too keen on providing feedback and often it is the people who have strong feelings (positive or negative) that will provide it. So it’s important to make it as easy as possible for people to contribute their views.
    • Try and collate the feedback as soon after the course/event as possible. The longer you wait the less likely people are to provide it.
    • Give people an incentive for sharing their views. This doesn’t have to be a prize but can be as simple as letting people know how important their views are and how it will help shape future courses/events

  • Follow up with delegates. They took some of their valuable time to share their views with you so the least they deserve is to know what the information will be used for. Provide a summary of the key themes (what worked, what needs some attention) and what actions will specifically be taken as a result. Oh and one other thing – remember to say thanks.

  • Do something with it. There is no point in collating the feedback if you are not going to do anything with it. Sounds obvious – but I have seen feedback ignored on a number of occasions. Even if the message can be hard to swallow you need to take some action. Also remember to pass on any learnings to other parts of your organisation that may find it useful. If people didn’t like an approach to online training in a particular part of the business then this could be valuable information.

I would be very interested to hear your learnings too – if you can find a couple of minutes then please do let me know.

Wednesday, 29 April 2009

Feedback - are you a Cat....?

What's your style of giving feedback....and have you even thought about it?

Are you a Cat?

The Cat is someone who wants to be liked. They don't really like conflict and believe it is really important to build really good relationships with people - that makes for a better working environment, right?

What's it like to be on the receiving end?

It's strange. All of the feedback that the Cat gave you was really positive, he even gave you some good examples. However your rating was 'meets expectations'....that just doesn't seem to make sense. I am not sure if I have done a good job or whether I need to do a bit better.

What's it like to be the Cat?

As the Cat you feel it is important that the person feels good about the feedback. You certainly don't want it to impact your relationship with them. You really want to try and avoid any conflict so it's probably best to avoid those negative thoughts that you might have. If only they knew what you were really thinking - imagine that!

If you are a Cat have a think about the impact you are having.

For some tips and advice on feedback check out these posts:


Saturday, 25 April 2009

Feedback - are your a Parrot....?

What's your style of giving feedback....and have you even thought about it?

Are you a Parrot?

A Parrot is someone who doesn't really have anything original to say about you. In fact they don't really have much to say at all. They seem to have a list of special phrases that they think are insightful.....but are really quite meaningless. For example 'attitude and aptitude gets you altitude..'.

What's it like to be on the receiving end?

Confusing! You were keen to get some feedback from them but it was like talking to a mirror. Whenever you asked for feedback they just seemed to ask back what I thought. When I suggested an area I should focus on they did seem to agree but didn't really provide any advice or suggestions.

What's it like to be the Parrot?

Well as a Parrot this feedback stuff isn't really top of your agenda. You know that the activity has to happen once or twice a year but you would rather get it over and done with quickly if possible. You are sure that people already know what they need to do and anyway that coaching course you were told to attend taught you that it is better for people to find out things for themselves. Sometimes, if I take some time to think about it I can come up with some good examples that might be useful to them....but that's not my job is it?

If you are a Parrot have a think about the impact you are having.

For some tips and advice on feedback check out these posts:


Wednesday, 22 April 2009

Feedback - are you a Bull...?

What's your style of giving feedback....and have you even thought about it?

Are you a Bull?

A bull is someone who likes to 'tell you like it is'. They don't believe in 'skirting the issue' and feel it is their duty to deliver the message loud and clear. They believe that there should be no doubt in your mind about the message being delivered and really can't stand those HR types that just try and dress the message up with corporate speak...

What's it like to be on the receiving end?

Well, if you like to get your feedback in a very direct manner then it's fine. However for most people the messages are often delivered without any empathy or consideration of the emotional impact. For some people it can be quite upsetting and this can be made even worse if the direct message isn't backed up by any solid examples or constructive suggestions as to what needs some focus. Tears can be a common outcome from the feedback session...

What's it like to be the Bull?

As a Bull you think it is really important that people get the feedback that other people may not be capable of delivering. You feel it is your duty to avoid any 'flowering up' of the message - you don't want people to get confused now, do you? If people can't deal with the truth then that's surely their problem isn't it? You have often noticed that people find it hard to deal with the truth and some even seem to get all emotional - you just can't understand that....they should just deal with it and move on.

If you are a Bull have a think about the impact you are having.

For some tips and advice on feedback check out these posts:

Sunday, 19 April 2009

Some irrational thoughts on training and change management

McKinsey have recently published a very interesting paper entitled 'The Irrational Side of Change Management' You will need to have registered on their site to read the full paper but it is well worth it (and free). Thanks to my colleague Simon for pointing me in the right direction.

It provides some very insightful comments about traditional approaches to change management and how it is the practical implementation of the approaches that determine success or failure. It takes the following four conditions required for change and then examines what works and what doesn't:
  • a compelling story
  • role modeling
  • reinforcing mechanisms
  • capability building
All of the insights are essential reading but for Learning and Development professionals I found a couple to be of particular interest.

Let people write their own story:-

This reveals something about human nature: when we choose for ourselves, we are far more committed to the outcome (almost by a factor of five to one). Conventional approaches to change management underestimate this impact. The rational thinker sees it as a waste of time to let others discoverfor themselves what he or she already knows—why not just tell them and be done with it? Unfortunately this approach steals from others the energy needed to drive change that comes through a sense of ownership of the answer.

At BP, to develop a comprehensive training program for frontline leaders, a decision was made to involve every key constituency in the design of the program, giving them a sense of “writing their own lottery ticket.” It took a year and a half to complete the design using this model but was well worth it: now in implementation, the program is the highest rated of its
kind at BP. More than 250 active senior managers from across the business willingly teach the course, and, most important, managers who have been through the training program are consistently ranked higher in performance than those who haven’t, both by their bosses and by the employees who report to them.

Employees are what they think and believe in:-

As managers attempt to drive performance by changing the way employees behave, they all too often neglect the thoughts, feelings, and beliefs that, in turn, drive behavior.

The articles describes a successful training programme that focused on the the mind set of the delegates and helped this determine the most appropriate training approach to help change their behaviour

Good intentions aren't enough:-

Good skill-building programs usually take into account that people learn better by doing than by listening. These programs are replete with interactive simulations and role plays, and commitments are made by participants regarding what they will “practice” back in the workplace. But come Monday morning, very few keep their commitments.

Instead, a “field and forum” approach should be taken, in which classroom training is spread over a series of learning forums and fieldwork is assigned in between. Second, we suggest creating fieldwork assignments that link directly to the day jobs of participants, requiring them to put into practice new mind-sets and skills in ways that are hardwired into their responsibilities. These assignments should have quantifiable, outcome-based measures that indicate levels of competence gained and certification that recognizes and rewards the skills attained.

Some really good practical advice is contained in the paper and these are items that are simple to put into place. For me they have reinforced what I have also seen - both on the receiving end and the delivery end....

Feedback - are you a Hare...?

What's your style of giving feedback....and have you even thought about it?

Are you a Hare?

A Hare is someone who is probably well intentioned but always extremely busy. Allocating some time to give feedback is always on the 'to do' list but other items always seem to push it down in priority - client meetings, that important sales pitch, meeting your own manager etc. The Hare often rearranges feedback sessions at the last minute and may have to cut them short to dash off to something else.

What's it like to be on the receiving end?

Even though the session has been rearranged twice, you are still looking forward to receiving some feedback from the Hare. After all you respect them and believe their feedback will provide some valuable insight. When the Hare does actually arrive it is a whirlwind of rushed messages that you find quite hard to decipher. Although there are some really insightful items you just don't have time to explore them further because the Hare has had to dash off to something else.

You are left feeling like you only have half of the picture and also quite undervalued as you seem to be low on the priority list. Clearly getting on around here means allocating minimal time to this sort of activity.

What's it like to be the Hare?

Well as the Hare you actually feel that feedback is important and have been thinking about what to say for a while. However there always seem to be other things that are more important too. However you always do your best to provide some insightful nuggets and of course they can always follow up with you if they want to know more....... Actually it is quite frustrating being a Hare because you really want to allocate more time to giving the feedback but never seem to be able to......maybe next time.

If you are a Hare have a think about the impact you are having. For some tips and advice on feedback check out these posts:

Thursday, 16 April 2009

Feedback - what's your style...?

I have been on the receiving end of quite a bit of feedback recently as part of our bi-annual performance review process. On the whole I have been impressed with the way the feedback has been provided and people have been prepared to share some really valuable insights. Lots of feedback food for me to consume and consider.

It was really interesting to observe the different styles of the various individuals that provided the feedback and how effective they all are (or aren't). Over the next couple of posts I am going to examine a couple of different styles of feedback delivery to compare their impact and effectiveness. Which one are you....the Hare, the Bull, the Cat, the Parrot.....? If you aren't sure then ask the people who are on the receiving end......they might just give you the feedback YOU need!

I have written about feedback in some previous posts so if you want some general tips then check these out:

Monday, 13 April 2009

Your Favourite Teacher....?

It was the annual parents evening recently for my youngest son so my wife and I trotted up to the school to hear the low down on how he is doing. After crouching down onto the little chairs and sitting around the little table I felt like I had drifted back in time....and even started to get a little nervous myself.

The teacher started to tell us how well our son is doing and also some areas where he needs to focus on. The dreaded SATs exams are approaching and we all know how important it is to get good results......

Actually I was really impressed by how well the teacher really knows my son. He can see him for what he really is and recognises his strengths and works really to hard to help them come to the surface.

I came home thinking that the whole experience has so many links to the corporate world that we all live in:
  • How often is it that we only find out about our performance once a year? Sadly for a lot of people this is not unusual......
  • How may managers really take the time to find the strengths of their people, and then take the next step to make the most of them? Come to think of it how many managers even bother to look for strengths and just focus on those 'development needs'....?
  • How often are we too focused on results and not so much on how we might be able to achieve them. Are we focusing on the catch when we need to work on the throw?
It made me think about all the great teachers I have had in my life so far (...not just at school) and what they did to make me remember them. So this post is dedicated to them and how they have helped to shape my thinking......thanks!

If you have a moment then have a think about the people that have been your great teachers....what did they do and how can you learn from that?

Monday, 6 April 2009

A Carnival of Leadership....

It's carnival time again at Dan McCarthy's Great Leadership blog. Check it out for insightful musings about leadership, management, coaching.....and just about everything for people in a leadership position.

Thanks to Dan for taking the time to put together another great collection.

Sunday, 5 April 2009

Unlearning...stop before you start...

I read an interesting article on the Training Zone site this week that focuses on the need to unlearn old ways before you can really take on board new ideas and techniques.

The ability to continuously change and develop is something that I have experienced and witnessed so many times not just in myself but in my work. It is always interesting to observe people who are stuck in their old ways of working and just stuttering in their ability to move forward.

From a training perspective it is really important for people to be able to take on new ideas so a technique that can help prepare them for this is worth taking note of. Here are some excerts from the article:

"Research in Denmark and the USA sheds new light on how most adults learn. It is based on the old concept of unlearning. As adults, much of the time we need to unlearn what we have picked up in the past before we can properly take on the new learning

At the University of Copenhagen, Professor Avril Einn has been working on the psychological principles behind this approach. "It is rather like having to empty a glass before we can fill it again," says Professor Einn. "Except that is not what actually happens in the brain. It is a mere psychological trick. If we believe we are letting go of old learning then somehow we are more open, more willing and more able to take on the new." This is based on ideas in psychosynthesis. "If you write down on a piece of paper something that has been troubling you and then tear up that paper, or burn it, somehow that symbolic act allows us to let it go. We have conducted research with over 2,000 subjects asking them to symbolically let go of past learning. Some have done this using their imagination, just in their own heads. Some have spoken it out loud. And some have written it down and torn it up."

What is most significant is the second phase of the study. What they have found is that almost every person is able to learn more and faster immediately after taking this preparatory action. On average people are able to learn, remember and use 39% more than was the case in a control group. This is a staggering increase. I have looked over the comprehensive research evidence and I have to say it looks both sound and compelling."

I can remember a leadership course that I developed and delivered with a third party. We gave the delegates the task of writing down some behaviours on a slip of paper and then screwing up the paper and throwing it in the bin. For some it sounded like a stupid gimic but they went along with it. For others they found it quite a difficult task and getting them to part with the piece of paper was quite a challenge.

However I do remember that for all of them it was clear that there was an emotional trigger taking place by undertaking the act. What was more interesting was observing any behaviour change that then took place. Those that grappled more with the parting of their paper typically had a greater change in behaviour....their glass had been emptied and was ready to be filled up with the new learning.

If you are currently designing a learning intervention and are particularly looking for people to take on new ways of thinking or behaving then consider how you will help them unlearn their old ways first....

Saturday, 28 March 2009

Virtual Learning becoming reality....

Virtual Environments such as Second Life clearly have huge potential for use as a learning tool. To date I have only really toyed with the idea but am an ever increasingly interested observer.

This article in Outsourcing Journal really caught my eye because it describes how Ernst & Young are using Second Life to train their auditors. My first reaction was to chuckle at the thought of bright young auditors sitting down at a screen in their pin stripe suits......but then I thought that if it works for an accounting firm who can be very conservative, then this technology is hitting the main stream!

Last year the firm completed a generational study, which pointedly asked Gen Y to list the differences between themselves and the baby boomers. "We learned this group has a greater comfort and confidence with technology," says Michael Hamilton, partner and chief learning and development officer.

The virtual world that has been created simulates a client environment (a cookie manufactuer). As the students move throughout the virtual warehouse, they face many of the real-life issues that may arise in an actual inventory. Students stumbled over cases of flour and other raw materials that appear to have been damaged by moisture. Should they count these as inventory even though they appeared to be unusable? Should the boxes of cookies on the shipping dock waiting for the next day delivery count as inventory? What about the cookies baking in the large ovens? Are they counted as inventory? When the students aredone, they have the opportunity to compare their inventory decisions and the logic surrounding those decisions with those of more experienced auditors

The project team divided the training class in two: half the group took the traditional classroom training, while the other half plugged in their headsets and headed off to Ernst & Young's island on Second Life.

Hamilton says one of the "ah ha" discoveries was that the young auditors who completed a simulated audit in Second Life were slightly less confident than their peers who completed the traditional training. "We suspect the auditors who participated in the traditional instructor-led training had an unwarranted confidence in their ability to conduct a physical inventory count," he reports. "The virtual learners had more anxiety because the simulation demonstrated they could not always anticipate real-world issues. This anxiety caused them to find the right person and ask the right questions. When you are learning a new skill, asking questions is an important part of the learning process" says Hamilton.

Lessons from the Outsourcing Journal:

  • Ernst & Young found 3-D learning better prepared new auditors by giving them real-world experience. It compared the results with new auditors who took a traditional instructor-led class.
  • 3-D learning is a cost-effective alternative to on-site training sessions because it can deliver the two goals of the meeting: training the employees and creating camaraderie and collaboration.
  • 3-D learning captures learning digitally, providing a record of what has been informal, on-the-job training. It is a good tool to capture the knowledge of retiring employees.
  • 3-D learning is a good way for adults to learn because they can retain more knowledge.
  • Don't underestimate the time and effort needed to introduce learners to this new platform. Plan to help your learners through the initial set-up and orientation. Once they've been properly introduced, most enjoy the experience.
  • Consult with others working in this space. Old instructional design approaches simply don't work in the virtual world.
You can view a 3 minute tour of the virtual world here.

I think this is a great example of an organisation experimenting with the technology to achieve a real business objective.

If you want to learn more about virtual worlds then I suggest you also read this article that was published in Elearn Magazine. It provides an excellent introduction to virtual worlds along with some sound advice on taking your first steps.

As L&D professionals it is really important to keep up to date with this kind of technology. Sometimes you need to play with it before you can really see the potential.......so what are you waiting for.....?

Saturday, 21 March 2009

Employee Engagement

With the Credit Crunch in full swing and with more bad news being revealed each week, engaging your employees has to be a top priority for all organisations.

When things are tough people need to hear clear messages from the management team and understand what they need to do to get through it.

B&Q is a largely UK based DIY store that has recently won the Gallup Great Workplace award for employee engagement. Actually this is the 3rd time B&Q have won this award which is quite an achievement.

James K Harter, Gallup’s chief scientist of workplace management and well-being, said: “In good times, employee engagement is the difference between being good and being great and, in bad times, it’s the difference between surviving and not.

“In good times and bad, low engagement reduces performance and profit. And under the present circumstances, many companies can’t afford to let those drop.

It was interesting to note some of the 'tools' that B&Q used to increase employee engagement:
  • They created a forum for meeting and sharing ideas with the CEO
  • They created a consistent communication pack for managers to use with their employees
  • They launched an internal TV station
  • The CEO launched a blog
As you can see this really isn't rocket science but it does require focus, effort....and tenacity.

In earlier posts I have discussed a concept called the Commitment Curve. This is about how to move people to adopt change through a variety of interventions. Communication is certainly a key change lever and B&Q are a great example of this - well done to them.

Saturday, 14 March 2009

Why Do People Succeed....?


Why do people succeed? Is it because they’re smart? Or are they just lucky? Neither. Analyst Richard St. John condenses years of interviews into an unmissable 3-minute slideshow on the real secrets of success.

It's a really simple and funny presentation that could easily be used to kick off a training session as a thought provoker or discussion point.

I hope you like it!

Monday, 9 March 2009

March Leadership Development Carnival

If you are interested in leadership development (of either yourself or other people) then I recommend you hop over to Dan McCarthy's March Leadership Development Carnival.

It really is a collection of high quality articles with content covering coaching, learning and development, goal setting, management.......and loads more.

Dan has kindly included one of my articles too on developing high quality learning - thanks Dan!

Saturday, 7 March 2009

Tapping Talent - The way out of the credit crunch..?

Some interesting research from Accenture recently has highlighted that approximately half of all women and men in the workplace don't think they are being sufficently challenged by their jobs.

What's more interesting is that 76% said they already have the skills to take them to the next level, but they are just not being utilised.

Wow - that's amazing! Think about how much latent talent is there just waiting to be tapped....!!

If we could just help people release even a fraction of that talent then maybe that's the way out of this credit crunch.

....and it is the role of you as a manager that has the most influence on this.

Check out the following posts toget some tips and advice on how to release this potential:
Talent management has a huge role to play in the current climate - do you have the guts to take the lead in your organisation?

Saturday, 28 February 2009

Training as a Change Lever Part 3......moving to adoption

In my previous post on using training as a change lever we looked at how you start to move people up the commitment curve. This is all about raising people's awareness about a change and then starting to develop an understanding. As people start to become more aware then this is a critical time - it is an opportunity for people to become worried "now I understand how this is going to impact me......and I don't like it"

So how can learning and development interventions help people understand why the change is good for them (even if it may be painful) and then how can it move people into adopting the change themselves.......?
Whereas awareness and understanding are about providing a consistent and general view, the next step is about building on this but being more specific about your role.

Whilst it is of course important that people at all levels in the organisation are aware of and understand the change, it is the more senior managers that will initially have significant influence. Once people start thinking about the impact on them and their role they will need to be reassured and given the opportunity to discuss.

If your senior managers aren't equipped with adequate coaching and change management skills then this can really cause more problems and even create further resistence to the change.

What kind of change skills are useful to focus on developing - here are a couple?
      • Give them an understanding of why people resist change. A bit of theory can be useful and help managers spot certain types of behaviour. Point them towards books and papers by John Kotter and you won't go far wrong. My favourite is Leading Change....gold dust.

      • Teach people how to identify and manage stakeholders. Not only is this a great skill to have it is vital to manage change.

      • Help them understand how to move people to take action. Whilst worthy of it's own post (book...library) it is at the heart of any change. If your manager can do this......keep hold of him!
      As well as equiping your managers for the change it is important to provide more role specific training for people. This will really help to equip them with the skills for their specific role. A great technique to help people consider new ways of working and thinking is the use of dilemmas.

      A dilemma is a scenario that people are given to consider, discuss and debate. Typically it will be related to the change and will stimulate lots of discussion. For example if you are trying to introduce a culture of ethical behaviour in an organisation you might create real life scenarios that highlight a number of ethical dilemmas eg. dealing with a conflict of interest, dealing with dishonesty etc. If used well these can be a very powerful development tool and can really help people deal with change. Action Learning Groups, role plays and case studies are all training methods that fit very well with the use of dilemmas. Consider delivering some elearning first and then following up with classroom based discussion and exploration in more detail.

      A final item to consider and one that will help you sustain the change, moving you right up the commitment curve. Look at the existing competencies that exist in the organisation. Do they reflect the required behaviour needed to drive through and sustain the change......it's unlikely of course. Undertaking an exercise that really examines what is needed and how these need to be layered into the competency model is critical to embed change. Again this is worthy of it's own post......so maybe that's one for the future.

      Making Change Stick in an organisation is tough and it is something that I covered on this blog in other posts. So if you want to know more then check out these:







      In the modern corporate world and particularly in the current climate it is important for training professional to really be able to show their worth. Having a set of skills and tecnhiques that can help your organisation deal with change will guarantee you a seat at the top table...good luck!


      Saturday, 21 February 2009

      Twitter progress report.......shows potential but yet to deliver..

      I have been using Twitter for 10 months now so it's time for a review of how we have been performing together......

      It has been amazing to watch how the tool has grown from a niche toy into a huge social networking tool used by such a wide variety of people. I notice now that even Andy Murray, Stephen Fry and Jonathan Ross are using it. With respect to learning and development there are clearly many professionals using it too. This article highlighted 100 learning professionals to follow but I suspect there are many more now.

      When I first started to use Twitter I could think of lots of ways it could be used for real business value - I even posted my thoughts about it. I started to play with it, Tweeting about whatever was on my mind, linking to my blog and also to my nokia sports tracker site. It was interesting and strangely addictive especially as more people started to follow me.

      But how is it being used as a business tool, particularly with respect to Learning and Development? I can see the potential, I really can. Training Time posted some interesting thoughts on this recently and I fully agree with their ideas. It clearly has bags of potential.

      However here are some of the areas that have held our partnership back so far:

      • In the low risk corporate world people are often very reluctant to use a tool such as Twitter. Apart from the name being perceived as 'unprofessional' by some camps there has been some concern in using a tool that might not be there tomorrow (yes I know they should just try it etc but the corporate world doesn't always think like that)
      • Quite often the computers, blackberries and phones that companys provide their people with are 'locked down'. This means people can't add on neat little applications to either their pc or their mobile device. Whilst you can access Twitter via the web it is these little applications such as Twirl that make using it so much more easy and effective - especially to interact with other Tweeters. (My organisation is currently experimenting with a tool called Yammer which is a bit like Twitter but for use within a closed community).
      • Many people just aren't ready for this stuff. If you live in the world of blogging, facebook etc then it is a natural extension of what you already do. Many people don't live in this world and would feel very uncomfortable utilising a tool such as Twitter.

      If you have examples of it being used in earnest in a learning and development context then I would really be interested to know more. In the meantime I will keep tweeting........follow me here