A strategy to reach Strategic

 

Following more and more calls to provide them to the wider workforce, my employer asked me to attend training on three separate Psychometric tools, the last of which I finished a couple of weeks ago. Due to scheduling and the academic financial year-end, I had to complete all three courses in the space of one month. Apart from my dreams now being dominated by distribution curves and large segmented circles this condensed timeframe also provided me with a unique opportunity (for me anyway) to seek targeted 360 feedback from a much wider source group than I would usually attempt – manager, strategic officers, colleagues, indirect-reports, clients, family, friends, coachees.

At the moment I seem to have at least one conversation per week about the benefits of individuals seeking 360 feedback on their performance and development needs, but often fail to abide by my own advice. This glut of tools afforded me the opportunity to think about the future and how my current collection of skills/knowledge/strengths will be able to contribute to that easily or require further development, also which others i need to seek out and add.

Previously I have found the hardest part of any 360 feedback to be the comments that highlight areas I should be looking to develop because, like many others, my initial reaction was to see them as a personal attack. As I have matured emotionally my view has changed and i try (some words still sting) to take the view others have provided me as a map for my development plan and, if not anonymous, thanking them individually for the feedback asking for clarification of what they think I could do to improve.

Whilst most of my strengths were no great surprise to anyone that knows me, there were a couple that seemed to have deepened over the last twelve months bringing home to me how my focus in the workplace has moved towards a much more strategic place. However, my main strengths have always been more people focussed, with me getting the most enthused by that feeling of enabling someone to achieve or develop, which in the Learning and Development field is an obvious bonus and what also helps me to be a good Coach.

The feedback from those closest to me has highlighted that my desire to always be supportive of others can result in a bit of overstretching which if not checked could lead to the danger area of ‘letting others down’ – an event which would have not only negative impact on others opinion of me but also my own opinion of me (always my own harshest critic).

So here’s the crunch, to realise my development desires there is an expectation that I should reduce the amount of direct support I provide and focus more on the organisational (strategic) view, whilst maintaining the drive that I get from providing that direct support. Not always an easy balancing act.

Next steps: After much reflection and discussion I realise that one of the best ways for me to address this is to seek guidance from someone who has already been there. Therefore, as a starting point my next step is to seek out an appropriate mentor and this is where my Personal Learning Network comes into its own, a community full of experienced professionals much further down this road than myself who are hopefully willing and able to offer their mentorship.

Once again I ask you to wish me luck and would welcome any insights you may have to help me in my development journey.

Shhh, don’t tell everyone but I’m #WOL

As part of my new found commitment to engaging more on-line, I thought a good choice for development would be my blogging. Looking at my WordPress account you will see a sparodical mess of content with no consistency of topic, length or validity and if I were share access to my drafts you would find nearly 20 false starts spanning a few years. If I’m going to be serious about my reinvigoration a good way for me is to use this place is for summing-up and reflecting on my week.

In essence I’m going to be Working Out Loud, and am hoping to not only improve my blogging (and drawing) skills but also provide some focus for my reflection.

One of the biggest hurdles though, is my need to present a perfect blog (hence the numerous false starts). Reading an article from PsychologyToday this morning reminded me of how much editing I indulge in; consranrly checking and re-checking spelling, structure, grammar, punctuation and how I need to let that go and just post (See, I resisted the urge to correct consranrly to constantly…..damn it!)

So, here’s hoping that not only can I let go and produce, but at least one person finds this an interesting journey and deicdes to contribute to my thought processes.

Wish me luck!

SoMe 2: the returning

I have been away from the wider social media environment for quite a while. Oh, I may have sent the occaisional random tweet, liked a few things and responded when needed but mainly staying connected with my family/close friends via the book of many faces has been the limit of my digital engagement (and not a great deal of that).

Back in April I realised how much of an impact this absence was having. Yes I was still reading some blogs, tweets and watching the odd vlog but that was all. Following a bout of illness I ended up being home during one of the many power cuts we seemed to suffer in the old house, with no TV/WiFi to distract me and no desire to start a new book. Eventually growing bored of counting wood chips in the very old wallpaper I turned to my phone which thankfully was able to achieve a fairly steady 4G and delved into the twitterverse looking for political satire and “10 things you didn’t know…” lists.

Ten minutes into my browsing I saw a conversation on Change Managment and in a fit of enthusiasim made a comment, resulting in several hours of direct messaging and e-mail sharing, creating a whole new focus for a session I was due to facilitate on my return to work.

This brought home to me the benefits of engaging as opposed to merely lurking and a clear view of how far I had pulled back from my personal learning network. Therefore, since then I have slowly started to return to ‘the conversation’; liking, sharing and commenting at any opportunity, making better use of the other social media tools and increasing not only my pressence but also my enthusiasim. Hence this post and those that follow…..hopefully!

N.B. It is a sign of the awesomeness (yes I did just use that word) of my Personal Learning Network, that they instantly started interacting with me and it was as if I hadn’t been gone.

Wondering whether others have found themselves slipping away from ‘the conversation’ and what it was that brought you back?

Please, tell me a story!

I am a voracious reader of fiction, capable of ploughing through a 400 page book in a day (if on my own and not doing anything else) and have a tendency to remember the content for a very long time. Research and academic texts* on the other hand have always been a struggle, the words running together as I try to transfer the knowledge from the densely filled page to my struggling-to-stay-awake brain.

This difficulty with factual works has had a detrimental effect on my ability to pursue academic recognition, making the writing of a simple assignment into a mountain of Snowdonian proportions.

Everyone I spoke to about the best way to approach research and academic text would recommend the well practiced dip-in method of searching the contents list to find what you wanted and briefly reading that part in isolation. And whilst I eventually taught myself to do this, it was never satisfying to my curiosity and failed to get information to stay in my head for longer than the time taken to finish the assignment.

However, this month brought a breakthrough. Last weekend I finished reading Black Box Thinking: Marginal Gains and the Secrets of High Performance by Matthew Syed which I managed to read cover-to-cover (ok, e-reader page to e-reader page) in a surprisingly short amount of time….for me! Not only did I read it with relative ease but also found it possible to quickly quote and paraphrase it to others in support of my viewpoint.

Which begs the question, why was this text different?

Was it because I find the subject interesting?

Maybe, but I am hugely passionate about Coaching and its benefits yet find it difficult to crack the sheen on many of the accusing spines looking down on me from the bookshelf.

Is it due to the fact that the findings support my own experience (talk about cognitive dissonance)?

Another good reason for sure, but I have at least four publications on leadership in my current line of sight that provide lots of support to my views on that subject and only one of them has been used extensively.

Wait! Of course! It’s the ‘density’ issue, after all it isn’t exactly a massive tome is it?

Possibly, but on my desk is a paperback with no more than 150 pages about another passion of mine (non-work) but I’m struggling to get past page 23.

Do you think it could be because it’s easy to see the real world application?

Interesting idea but, to be fair, most of the good books have case studies and anecdotes that enable us to visualise them in practice so I doubt it’s that.

The question of why this book was really troubling me so revisiting its pages the answer became clear and was something much more revealing about me and how I absorb information.

It’s a story!

The author managed to structure the content so that there is a clear progressive exploration of his findings. Whether by design or happy accident is unclear (I would like to believe it was a deliberate action) but he has managed to hit on the basic premise of a story; take the reader on a journey with a satisfying denouement.

Of course his writing style and use of language, carried over from the day job I’m sure, smooth the passage but in general it is the overall structure that seemed to engage and motivate me. Which in conjunction with the other reasons shown above made this a very accessible read for me.

In Learning and Development circles we talk about the importance of using stories to help people learn and I have read some works where individual sections follow this idea, but it seems to be rare for a whole publication to have an almost narrative flow.

Obviously, each to their own and I’m sure there will be some who find the work fails to engage them, or can not see the route I followed. But for me it worked and has managed to reignite my desire to read more factual texts and that can be no bad thing.

Also, it has reminded me to stop and think about the way we support people through learning and that embracing curation should not preclude us from considering the story we create.

So, this brings me back to my request: when you want me to learn.

Please, tell me a story!

* after a lengthy discussion with my academic and researcher colleagues we were still undecided as to whether Matthew’s book falls easily into either of these categories, but they will suffice for making my point……..maybe!

Image: Once upon a time – Steve Czajka

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Please, tell me a story by David Wallace was written in London, England and is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

Change the game

On 29/05/2015 I had to leave the #ldinsight [1] Twitter chat early, so nearly missed a conversation involving @lellielesley @skanedog @dds180. They were talking about tabletop games and how to use them in learning and development. Luckily, I found chance to revisit the tweets and was able to contribute to the thread before everyone moved on to other discussions.

Obviously, the numerous co-op games [2] available out there are perfect to explore collaboration, planning, dealing with problems, decision making and even delegation/leadership. Once your delegates get past the novelty of (and for some an aversion to) gaming these can produce lots of discussion points for whatever learning points you are trying to focus on.

There is much written on the gamification of learning and how this can help some learners embed the new knowledge or explore areas of potential development. However, it would be wrong to think of this as something new. Most of us learn how to do things as a child via an adult making a game of it (Wondering how many children have had food ‘flown’ into their mouths on imaginary aeroplanes).

As far as work based learning goes, I can remember taking part in a basic board game when attending a training session on Team Work, way back in the (very) late 1980’s. Unfortunately the trainer was not great at converting the session into learning and I got the feeling that he was using it to fill time rather than as a true development opportunity. Looking back at my own use of games in team building I recognise that my first few attempts were very similar to that experience and most of the delegate’s learning probably came from their own interpretation, rather than any insights drawn out by me.

As time moved on I began to think about what it was I wanted to get from the activities and (hopefully) improved the experience for all involved. Over the years I have used numerous different games to aid knowledge and skills development; some designed for the subject, others I’ve manipulated to my learners needs.

Back to the present, and as the tweet chat continued we moved away from learning and development and started to talk about games we enjoy from a personal point of view. It was during this discussion that I mentioned one of my favourites, a card game called Fluxx.

The goal of the game is to collect a specific group of picture cards and the first to achieve this wins. Easy! Not quite. The challenge comes from the fact that the rules change, rapidly. One minute you may be able to pick up 2 cards and play 1 per turn and then suddenly you now have to pick up 4, play them all and only be holding 1 card in your hand. Meanwhile the set of cards you were trying to collect have changed and merely by having one of the old ones in your hand you can receive penalties.

As I was thinking about the game it suddenly dawned on me that this type of rapidly morphing game may be perfect for examining change and how you can plan/adapt to it. In the fast changing world of business (and I include all sectors in that group) we constantly have situations where all the planning we did comes to nothing, as things halt or head off in numerous other directions. There is a danger of panicking in this situation, if we don’t adapt, and everyone is now expected to meet these challenges and keep moving forward.

In a comfy training room, it is very difficult to communicate the accompanying feeling of helplessness these changes can cause and see how people deal with that situation. If used correctly I can see this game providing the adrenaline levels required to show the delegate’s coping mechanisms and applying some thought to the post session questions may provide some interesting insights.

Unfortunately, it’s going to be a couple of months before I get the opportunity to try this out with some learners, but if you decide to give it a go (or have already done so) please let me know about your experiences.

As an aside, @Skanedog shared a link to a funny YouTube video titled “Fluxx in real life”.

[1] #ldinsight is a Twitter chat, co-ordinated by @lndconnect and takes place every Friday between 8am-9am (GMT). If you have any interest in learning and development follow the hashtag and join in.

[2] ‘co-op games’ is short hand for ‘co-operative games’. As the name implies these tend to require two or more players to work together to achieve a goal.

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Change the game by David Wallace was written in London, England and is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

Reinvigoration

Last week saw me publish the first blog I’ve written in nearly three years and I thought I would continue with the momentum and get another out asap. So, what to write about? The obvious choice seemed to be looking at what caused me to stop in the first place and what was the catalyst for my return.

First a bit of scene setting. I set this page up several years ago, when I had this wonderful idea about being able to post up my meandering thoughts on learning and development at least once per month. All the cool kids were doing it, and being a bit of a sheep at the time I decided it was my turn to have a go. In total, I ended up publishing three (less than impressive) blogs with little in the way of a coherent pattern and a penchant for contrived comical asides (some things don’t change).

2011 was a cornerstone year for me; many changes took place and as a result blogging fell to the very bottom of my priority list. The disruption in my personal life continued until very recently, resulting in my disappearance from Twitter, Tumblr, LinkedIn and several other social media tools/discussion forums that I had been regularly contributing to[1]. There was an attempt to return to blogging when I published a short piece about my tweet break, but basically I retreated from my wider social presence.

Throughout the last three years I started new blogs, but they never made it past the draft stage (several being deleted entirely – wish I could remember what they were about). Therefore, as at today I have four published blogs and several in draft format (started at different points over the three years). Not an impressive back catalogue, by anyone’s measure.

However, here I am at 7.55am on a Wednesday morning and already I’ve thought of another two subjects to write about whilst making changes to this post and have tweeted and re-tweeted several times. But why now? What drove this sudden desire to share? Why do little things I see and hear now trigger blog titles to form?

There are numerous differences between my life in 2011 and now: new partner, new employer, new location, new friend group, new smartphone and new personal/professional priorities. And I’m sure that these have all played their small part in reinvigorating my passion for learning and development, and desire to share that with others. But, the majority of these have been in place for at least twelve months, so why has my muse only just decided to return?

I believe that whilst the above changes set the ground work for my new output, it was something else that acted as the catalyst.

My new employer not only talks about development, they put their money where their mouth is and actively encourage employees to seek out learning and development opportunities, providing time/financial support if they feel it is going to be of benefit to them (now or in the future). As a result of this attitude to development I was able to attend the 2015 #CIPDLDShow at the Olympia in London.

My first new blog spoke a little about some of my experience at the show, and I intend writing another couple soon, but the thing that really drove me to return to posting my thoughts on social media was being re-enveloped in a community of supportive professionals. I talked with old contacts and made new ones; held interesting conversations and played silly games; shared information and saw mine shared. The majority of these interactions took place via the twitterverse, which reminded me that one of the reasons I used to tweet so much in the past, was as much for the community as for the learning.

Whilst taking part in a twitter exchange with several people, something I posted garnered a lot of responses, retweets, favouriting and questioning. Despite my best efforts there was no way I could respond to all the questions in the short amount of time I had available and realised that if I just collated all my thoughts in a blog, people could see everything I had to say in one go and post questions/comments that I could respond to at my leisure. This realisation, along with kind words from someone whose opinion I respect (themselves, a prolific blogger and tweeter) seemed to set a fire, and here we are.

So there you have it. Not exactly an earth shattering insight. But what I think it may show, is that engagement can be fleeting and we have to be quick to seize it, both from our personal perspective and as professionals trying to bring learners along with us. Also, we have to remember that sometimes a supportive community of learning can encourage (and hopefully maintain) that engagement.

This is me making the most of my returning interest in all things social. I feel engaged and reinvigorated. What engages you?

[1] It is worth noting that I continued to use Facebook during this period however, that had more to do with maintaining family/friend contacts as I dealt with change and relocation.

Of bingo and bandwagons!

Whilst at the recent CIPD Learning and Development Show [1] (13th & 14 May 2015), I fell into a game of Bulls**t Bingo.

For those unfamiliar with this favourite past-time of regular meeting/conference attendees everywhere, it involves identifying when the speakers use the currently popular buzzwords/phrases/acronyms during their session and highlighting these by quietly saying/tweeting “Bulls**t”. The winner being the person who manages to highlight the most used in a session.

In the past, favourite overused items included: Outside the Box, Unconference, Blue Sky Thinking, Empowerment, Adaptive Technology, etc (You will most likely have your own list).

The overused ones prevalent at this year’s show were: V.U.C.A. [2]; Narrative; Mindfullness; and that old(?) favourite GenY [3].

I imagine that I don’t need to explain any of the above to you, as they are so widespread throughout the learning and development/business world and as with most of their type, tend to be used as a shorthand to describe far larger subjects. In the context of having a quick conversation we rely on shorthand for many concepts and who am I to dismiss this nifty way of shortening the time you have to spend speaking to some people. However, it seems that every time a new one comes along, people rush to hang their hat on it and find (admittedly inventive) ways of taking a talk on one subject and wrapping it around the new ‘buzzword’ (or at the very least they insert it into the title).

Please don’t misunderstand; I’m not challenging the validity of these terms and their use (well, maybe some of them…see below), but the inclusion of them in every presentation/paper begins to smack of opportunism rather than trying to progress the world of LnD.

For example: several of the sessions at this year’s show included ‘Neuroscience’ in their title and purported to provide ways in which we can exploit this area of scientific endeavour to improve student/delegate/employee/[insert your term here] engagement and retention of learning. I sat in on one of these sessions and a contact visited another and we both came away with the same opinion: each session was written around one subject and then shoe-horned into Neuroscience, because that’s the current hot subject for LnD.

Whilst that type of bandwagon jumping is usually harmless in itself, there are some areas that we should probably be a bit more cautious in presenting as the ‘new and improved’ process for helping people learn. A prime example of this is Mindfullness which is being touted as an almost Barnumesque cure-all for a broad selection of issues (e.g. Depression, Anxiety, Obesity, etc) and now presented as the next thing in increasing engagement. The idea is simple, Mindfullness techniques are shown to help people focus better and boost their working memory, so why not use this principle to improve the concentration and retention of learners.

Who can argue with the logic of using this ’empirically evidenced’ technique to support learning? Well, now you mention it….

The problem with anything that receives 100% positive support and promotion is that eventually they are found to be either a little less than the claims or in some cases downright dangerous (e.g. take your pick from a myriad of diets, drugs, exercise regimes and financial schemes). And already the latter is potentially starting to happen with Mindfullness.

This is not an attack on Mindfullness; it is a proven supportive practice, used by professionals to help people with a broad selection of mental health issues. However, the key word here is ‘Professionals’. The people who developed and use this technique are schooled in not only applying supportive programmes, but also in recognising signs that the process being used may be having unwanted side effects.

A quick search on-line starts throwing up article after article talking about the potential dangers of using this method, which I as a mere Learning and Development professional feel fall outside of my scope of expertise. I have colleagues who are trained psychologists and even they feel uncomfortable about using this technique with groups of people and suggest that it should only be practiced by appropriately qualified individuals on a one-to-one basis.

Therefore, I do find it a little disconcerting when people who in the most part only have qualifications that say they can stand-up and present information, are being encouraged to use this potentially life-changing method with large groups of unsuspecting guinea pigs.

Maybe we should be allowing the bandwagon to go by and start following it at a safe distance? Then again, if we do that, I’m not sure what we would put on our bingo cards.

[1] Charted Institute of Personnel and Development – Learning and Development Show

[2] Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity and Ambiguity

[3] Generation Y (otherwise known as Millennials)