They need to #learn… Or maybe… 

There is a framing issue with thinking about organisational capability (and individual capability) that has been troubling me. And that’s the posing of organisational issues as learning needs –  rather than learning needs AND/OR required systemic changes. 

It’s an evolution of the problem of L&D just thinking about their offering in terms of a classroom or online experience. It’s the assumption that the problem associated with a lack of delivery of an action (or behaviour) is a lack of capability or knowledge. 

I don’t have stats. 

I’m just going to say confidently that more times than not – unless the skill is technical – issues are systemic or a combination of required learning and organisational adjustment.  
For example… Our leaders aren’t compassionate. Our leaders aren’t emotionally intelligent. Our leaders don’t care about their people. 

I bet if you found them in the middle of a family crisis most of them are. Because most of them are human. They just don’t feel required or expected to be that in the office. In fact they may feel the opposite. 

So better questions, before we design learning support or interventions, might be 

  • What is getting in the way? 
  • Why aren’t people feeling acting in a different way is legitimate? 
  • Why are they choosing to be different? 
  • And how could we influence that choice?

Because it could be 

  • Process signposts the wrong things 
  • Leaders role model the wrong things 
  • Incentives align to the wrong things
  • Stories abound in the organisation of what happened last time

Attempting to get someone to change their behaviour in a sustained way when the environmental pointers are pushing them away is a frustrating and sometimes impossible journey. 

Asking them what’s getting them in the way often may be a cheaper, faster, better way of getting to the heart of the issue. If you want learning to stick it’s the organisation’s responsibility to make sure it is supported by the organisational systems. 

L&D + supportive culture = sustained change. 

And finally… Would you quantify the below as a success? 

That bridge in happier times

When the Olympics were in London in 2012 I took my daughter up to see the marathon. We arrived at London Bridge station and walked across the sealed off bridge. Sealed off for better reasons. 

Whilst we were crossing it we came across a group of French athletes who had won medals. They were letting people try them on and have their photos taken with them. They were dancing on the bridge and there wasn’t one person who wasn’t smiling or enjoying the moment. I remember thinking how amazing it was to share a moment like that, but also to be able to walk down the middle of London Bridge. 

For those of us too young to really remember life in London in the 70s/80s there is a sobering list of attacks and their impact 

here https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_terrorist_incidents_in_London

  • Harrods
  • Canary Wharf
  • House of Commons
  • The Royal Parks
  • The City 
  • Hotels
  • Shopping centres
  • The Tower of London
  • All the major stations

Almost every symbolic place you can think of suffered at some point. They were closed or damaged. 

The city will recover. It is built upon smiles and scars. Friends and families may never recover. Some things will have changed forever.

I think it’s OK to be scared. I’m scared. I think it’s OK to not know what to do or where to go. I see a lot of messages saying people’s thoughts are with London. London will be fine. 

It’s each other we need to look out for and challenge to stay strong. And stay smart and vigilant. And remember that whilst action is needed, division can only result in more conflict. 

London Bridge in 2012

#workoutloud week. #WOL

It’s Work Out Loud week and you can find a good summary of intent and good practice from Helen Blunden here

For my part I know that with my organisation’s biggest event of the year #CIPDACE16 taking place I’m unlikely to find too many opportunities to share beyond Twitter. 

So I thought I’d share, proactively,  a list of things I haven’t got around to. Some of you may find this list baffling because you are veritable productivity machines. 

Me? I always have more ideas than time and that will probably always be the way. This blog is to give other people in that space some company. 
Here’s what I haven’t done yet

  • Blog on the gig economy, democratisation of the workforce etc explaining that the terminology is unhelpful. I’ll do a little grid, it’ll be great. . . 
  • Publish a blog on Byron Burger and THAT  incident. It was written a month ago
  • Write a book (I have 4 ideas I haven’t progressed) 
  • Publish all the answers to my 50 questions about the #futureofwork. This will be done next week
  • Publish blog on Pokemon Go. Finished two months ago but didn’t want to look too opportunistic
  • Go through every deck I use and add clear referencing for anyone sent them
  • Sent one of my mentees dates for a possibly next meeting (sorry dude) 
  • Completed a full presentation on project management lessons from the production of Jaws
  • Registered as a speaker for the next #DisruptHR

It’s not a to-do list. Like much of life a mixture of failure, prioritisation and good intentions. 

One thing I can commit to though is that in my day job we’ll continue with the Ask Me Anything sessions we’ve been running for the people we support -and being honest in the responses. 

Because Working out Loud isn’t just for just before Christmas. 

Legacy & Ego

I’ve been at the CIPD for just over a year and a half and I’ve reached that point (it happens to everyone on a certain bit of the org chart)  where people start talking to me about the word ‘legacy’. What do I want to leave as my ‘legacy’?

It’s a very leadery thing to talk about legacy. It’s supposed to be very motivational and get you thinking about longer term ambitions. It does, but it also panders horribly to ego.

Unfortunately (or fortunately) I’m very aware that talking about legacy is a dangerous trap. Not because you shouldn’t try to leave sustainable improvements, but because the nature of most of what we do is transient. My guess is that most of what we would hope is our legacy is torn up within 2-3 years or taken in a direction we wouldn’t envisage. The danger is that people try to force too much change associated with their own ego into too short a period. We need to appreciate that we get to write a chapter, we don’t get to finish the book. So that chapter has to be in keeping with what happens either side of it.

Indeed, I once had a month long handover period with my successor and she was, intelligently, tearing my planned legacy up in front of my eyes. I remember wanting to justify each and every decision I had taken to get us to this point – then realising that history had no value. I was just the past. So I helped her.
I think one of the most useful legacies to leave behind is a good team with good ambitions and good values. More capable than what was there before. I also think some ‘breakthrough’ changes are good to tick off too. Creating new norms that last for a while. You just need to realise that they will move on even further when you go. Your legacy is just doing a good job whilst you were in the hotseat – then handing things on to someone else to do a good job too. Legitimise a different way of working then move on.

So if you come into a job and want to change everything –  then appreciate you are tearing up someone’s ‘legacy’. And in turn that will be your work being torn up.

But the impact you have on people? That can endure and ripple far beyond the walls of one organisation. Maybe stop thinking about legacy and start thinking about the decisions you took for the organisation being remembered with respect in years to come. One of the most undervalued things in business remains restraint. It’s not about your legacy, it’s about the organisation’s future.

I had breakfast with Neil Morrison yesterday. These are some thoughts after that, but in no way tie Neil in to my stupidity nor exclude any accidentally smart points from being his. 



Ketchup Bottles & Inequality 

At the end of last week I had the pleasure of attending the CIPD Wales conference. 450 HR professionals getting together to learn and talk about the future. I also had two fried breakfasts in a hotel. 

On the first day I came down for breakfast and, following a reasonably late night, was badly in need of some really bad food. I loaded several fuller than full English breakfasts onto my plate and sat down. I then needed ketchup and went up to where they had a selection of bottles. I sleepily picked up a bottle then returned to my seat to find it was nearly empty. You may wonder why I couldn’t tell – and the answer is that we are good at telling relative weights but not absolute. We have the ability to compare two bottles and work out which one lighter – but picking up and object and accurately guessing weight or capacity is tough. It’s the same with price, something called coherent arbitrariness. William Poundstone’s book is a really interesting read on value and the associated discipline of psychophysics (although I guess if you called it neuropsychophysics it would be more popular these days…).

On the second day I came down and filled my plate with almost as much nutritional badness. I went to the bottles and I lifted them up until the sixth bottle I found of the ten available felt demonstrably heavier. I then watched other diners go and pick up the emptier bottles and then get visibly irritated when they found the bottles to be empty or just shrug it off.

It strikes me that my experience on day 1 left the others diners at a disadvantage on day 2. Not only was I aware of a problem that they weren’t, but I was able to cherry pick possibly the only good option. Leaving all other diners to choose from poorer options. 

1. Within those poorer options there would have been a slightly more full bottle that someone else will have picked up and seen as a triumph if they compared the other bottles -but of course they wouldn’t have checked the other options
2. If they didn’t know the other bottles were empty then they will may well have reasonably assumed that every other person didn’t have a problem getting ketchup. If sauce isn’t a problem for me then it shouldn’t be for you. 

3. They might have tried one bottle, got lucky on their second pick and assumed it just takes minimal effort to get a better result 

This is how inequality works

1. Some people have had less good options before and are able to take steps to rectify it

2. Some people get lucky and assume everyone else had the same opportunity or that it is the norm 

3. Some people only ever, through no fault of their own, know an empty bottle

Interestingly there were no full bottles. Apparently I arrived a generation too late for that. 
(PS, this probably needs work but I think there is something there) 

#OD – Nothing but pragmatic 

It was the CIPD OD Conference yesterday so I got to hang about with some OD types and talk. If you don’t know what OD is then I’m going to let you Google that all by yourself and then once you come up out of the rabbit hole with a big grin in two years we can chat. 

There were a few thoughts I had on the day….

Organisational Development vs L&D was one of the discussions –  as though it was a West Side Story ‘Jets and Sharks’ situation in some organisations. An interesting discussion was where L&D became ‘strategic L&D’ and then OD. My view is they are all needed – and that continuum, if it is one, shouldn’t be viewed as a hierarchy. If your OD and L&D teams can’t find a way to work productively then I’d suggest (brutally but honestly) that they aren’t yet equipped to start talking to anyone else about improvement. Physician – heal thyself… There is an interdependency between OD and learning that means you are fighting yourself if you aren’t able to find common purpose. 

About that common  purpose… One delegate basically suggested that people come to work for money so this ‘shared purpose’ stuff is basically HR and leadership nonsense. Firstly – I respect them saying it out loud and there is some truth in that. Secondly – my belief is that just because people have to come to work for the money doesn’t mean we can’t provide them with more. It doesn’t mean they can’t be helped to find purpose, friendship and satisfaction in work. We still have control there. 

Finally… Pragmatism. OD and L&D are, for me, relentlessly pragmatic disciplines. If you aren’t making a difference then your thinking is worth absolutely nothing. You are the input, you are the catalyst for the output. There are no points available for the ideas that didn’t happen. There is no shareholder, customer or organisational benefit to you navel gazing. Quality thinking only effectively manifests when it becomes action. Or in the words of Mee-Yan Cheung Judge ‘the best theory is that which works in practice’. 

My commitment to this can make me seem an impatient OD practitioner – less reflective and more impulsive than others. That’s probably true – I bring impatience for performance with me. But I figure I’ve always been paid to make a difference and that involves decisions and action. So create thinking environments by all means – but then translate those thoughts into action. 

That’s what OD is… It’s development, not thinking about development. Go do stuff. 

Where is your manager? 

The context 

Yesterday we launched a London wide peer to peer mentoring scheme for the CIPD. It was chaotic and overwhelming and as I wake up this morning there is a good chance to that 40 people will get a mentoring relationship out of the exercise, which would be amazing. Thanks to all the mentors – it was incredible to see you all in there. 

The evening was run a bit like speed dating, so we got to see a host of mentees over the evening and listen to what they wanted to a mentor. 

The bit where I’m annoyed 

What worried me was that most of them just wanted a manager – or what their manager should be providing.

  • I need to get more confidence 
  • I need to understand how to talk to a senior team
  • I need to understand data better
  • I need someone to be on my back constantly to deliver 
  • I’m working in my comfort zone, I need someone to push me

As I listened I became more and more concerned at the level of support afforded to people by their managers. Especially in the SME world, but also in larger organisations. 

It seems I got incredibly lucky in my career because the list of things above are all things I’ve been coached and supported through by my manager at various parts of my career. It’s fair to say I wasn’t allowed to be bad at them. 

And most of the list comprises things that you need to see someone in action (or more regularly than a mentoring relationship tends to be) to support and advise on. 

I’m sure people will benefit from the evening and the relationships formed – but they would benefit even more from some care and investment from their manager each day. A regular meeting with a mentor can’t fill the gap caused by regular neglect. It shouldn’t have to. Managers – up your game.