Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Five (ish) books about performance, learning and working out loud

Rachel Burnham writes: Here are some reviews of recent books I have been reading for work over the last few months – some of them I read because of particular projects I was working on and some because they might be of interest to the students I work with on the CIPD Foundation Certificate in L&D. 

‘Conversations at Work: Promoting a Culture of Conversation in the Changing Workplace’ Tim Baker & Aubrey Warren (2015) Palgrave Macmillan

‘5 Conversations: How to transform trust, engagement and performance at work’ Nick Cowley & Nigel Purse with Lynn Allison (2014) Panoma Press

Both of these books are written against the backdrop of an increasing dissatisfaction with the effectiveness of traditional approaches to performance management and in particular the annual performance review and at the same time an increasing interest in introducing a more informal, frequent and conversational approach to managing performance at work.  There is a lot of overlap between these two books – they are the reason for the 5ish element in the title of this blog. Both books argue for the centrality and value of conversations in the workplace and set out the benefits of this approach to individuals, managers and organisations.   Each book has much to offer in terms of frameworks for different kinds of conversations in the context of a managerial relationship and skills development.  

The Palgrave book has more on barriers to communication and more specific sections on different elements that make up the skills of conversation such as listening, perceptual positions and the art of inquiry.  The Panoma Press book links conversation more broadly into the development of engagement and trust in organisations and so goes beyond performance management and the line manager relationship.

I found myself both in agreement with the basic argument of these two books, but then rather dissatisfied by the way that each book set out a series of specific conversations each with a distinctive focus.  This seemed to over-complicate and introduce almost a ‘management by checklist approach’, rather detracting from their simple central point about the need for more effective conversations in the workplace. 

‘Neuroscience for Learning and Development: How to apply neuroscience & psychology for improved learning & training’ Stella Collins (2016) Kogan Page

Stella Collins very quickly explains that this book is not just looking at what we can learn from neuroscience to improve learning, but much more broadly at lessons from behavioural, cognitive & social psychology.  It is written specifically for an L&D audience and aims to both inform and also to suggest practical actions that can improve the way we design and deliver L&D programmes.

The book is broken down into accessible sections and makes good use of diagrams, mind maps and practical insights from practitioners.  It includes a helpful section to challenge our thinking on how we react when something is labelled neuroscience so that we are able to respond more critically. 

I think this is a very practical addition to the material available on neuroscience and psychology for L&D practitioners and would recommend it enthusiastically.

‘The Mentoring Manual: Your Step by Step Guide to Being a Better Mentor’ Julie Starr (2014) Pearson

I bought this as I had been mentoring a fellow L&D practitioner for a number of months and thought it would help me to reflect on how this mentoring was going and what I could do to be more effective.  And it did.

It is a detailed guide to the whole process of being a mentor or even to setting up and managing a mentoring programme. It is both accessible if you are brand new to mentoring, but also provides enough to get you thinking more deeply if you have already some understanding of mentoring. 

The book is well structured, so that you can either read cover to cover or dip into particular sections that meet a particular need.  There is a very practical section on the various stages of a mentoring relationship including very detailed material on how to structure initial meetings.  My favourite parts of the book though were the sections on principles and on what good mentors do well.

Though at times I felt slightly over ‘checklisted’, I found this a helpful book that got me to do some useful self-questionning.

‘More than Blended Learning: Designing World-Class Learning Interventions’ Clive Shepherd (2015) The More Than Blended Learning Company

This is essentially a guide to designing learning programmes effectively and these days this is always going to include some consideration of how the learning might be blended to be as effective as it possibly can be.  It is both an introduction to designing for those new to the whole process of putting together a programme from start to finish and also provides a challenge to think more broadly about what effective learning programmes involve for those already with some experience of designing.

It has some great case studies with practical examples of how organisations have put programmes together and also considers a broad range of design elements including both learning methods and choice of media.  I also liked the way it looks at the type of learning – skills, knowledge or what Shepherd refers to as ‘big ideas’ such as new approaches.

If you are relatively new to designing L&D programmes or want to design more effectively beyond workshops then this is a good place to start.

‘Working Out Loud – For a better career and life’ John Stepper 2015 Ikigai Press

This is an introduction to the idea and practice of ‘Working Out Loud’ (WOL) – it is almost a course in a book, with practical activities and ideas to get you started.

If you haven’t come across the ‘Working Out Loud’ approach before, it is the practice of sharing either with colleagues or more widely, what you are working on in a spirit of generosity.  This is often done whilst your work is still at the ‘half-baked’ stage, so that you can incorporate ideas and contributions from other people.  And it is also about you contributing to other people’s work.

John Stepper’s approach to Working Out Loud very much links this concept with building a network.  I was a little surprised by how much of the book was about the process of networking through Working Out Loud and the use of social media.  Initially this rather threw me – I hadn’t expected this emphasis on networking.  However, the approach has gradually grown on me and I can see its value.   It very much links to the idea of networking as a tool for learning and so has contributed to my understanding of Personal Learning Networks.   

Whilst some people may find the approach taken by the book to be too instructional, others may find it provides a helpful step by step approach.  If you are new to ‘Working Out Loud’ or want to develop your networking skills this may be just the book to guide you.

So, these are my views on these books – I would love to hear your views. Why not share these by adding a comment?

Rachel Burnham


Burnham L & D Consultancy helps L&D professionals update and refresh their skills.  I am particularly interested in blended learning, the uses of social media for learning, evaluation and anything that improves the impact of learning on performance. 

No comments:

Post a Comment