Thursday, November 13, 2014

Breaking our Complacency!

Rachel Burnham writes: I had the opportunity last week to participate in the CIPD’s Annual Conference in Manchester and took part in a number of excellent sessions on the Thursday.  I have had a week to let my thoughts on those sessions marinate and here is what I have come up with.

One of the sessions I took part in was led by Rasmus Ankersen and was titled ‘Curing Business Complacency: Creating ‘Hunger in Paradise’.  He spoke about the risks of successful businesses becoming complacent and then suddenly finding themselves unable to stay ahead because of leaps forward by other businesses or because of other changes in their environment.   This is familiar territory - the story of how Nokia overlooked the threat from Apple is well known.  More interesting was the story of how SAP looked behind the headlines to realise, in 2010, that their key stats were only superficially telling a success story and had the courage to dig behind this & face up to their reality.  

Ankersen encouraged us to compare ourselves not to someone who makes you look good, but too someone or an organisation that makes you need to stretch.  He described how constraints and scarcity can drive new thinking, which is a topic I have been reflecting on a lot recently.  His overall message being that if it isn’t broke, consider breaking it.

Now, none of those messages were for me particularly new, but they resonated in a new way with me in the light of the two earlier sessions that I had participated in at the CIPD conference.  Both of these were more focused on L&D – the first looked at ‘Creating the Learning Practitioners of the Future’ and had thoughtful sharing of practical experience from both Helena Moore and Andrew Jacobs.  The other session had the almost ‘if-it-is-a-HR-event-then-we-must-have’ compulsory speakers from Google, on this occasion Aimme O’Malley and Steph Fastre, who were most informative and spoke on the subject of ‘Tailoring the Learning Experience: how people data can help’.  Although the session titles didn’t immediately suggest this, there was a coming together of themes from both of these sessions.
For me, Andrew Jacobs, summed it all up by immediately starting his input with a challenge for all of us in L&D ‘if we don’t change in L&D, we will die’.  All of these speakers shared examples of just L&D is changing & being approached differently within their organisations.  

Common themes include:

  • Encouraging curiosity amongst staff and ‘allowing’ access to the information & learning they are interested in, rather than controlling access
  • L&D as curators not teachers;
  • Focusing on supporting a learning ecosystem (Google) or a sustainable environment that supports learning (Jacobs)
  • Rethinking old ways – what we know about learners (Google) evaluation & what we measure (Jacobs – to find out more read Andrew’s blog on ‘The ClotheslineParadox’, which he referred to in the session) 
  • Learners negotiating & directing their own learning (‘Just for me’) or becoming ‘masterful learners’ at Google
  • Importance of learning from/with peers eg 85% of courses are run by fellow Googlers!
  • Learning needs to use methodology that is appropriate - technology is an enabler, but quite low tech can be very effectively used.

Key ideas:
  • ·       L&D as curator rather than controller;
  • ·       The value of informal & social learning; and
  • ·       Enabling work as a learning environment.

Clearly there are organisations who are adopting these ways of working and this is where there is a link with Ankersen’s session.  I think many of the organisations adopting these approaches are facing constraints & scarcity.  Here are the  4 factors which I have identified as influencing the adoption of these new approaches to L&D:
  1. The need to do more with fewer resources – this can either be due to a reduction in the actual resources available, as has been the case in many public sector organisations or because the organisation is growing and so there is a need for an increase in scale as at Google.
  2. Expertise – Again, there are two aspects of this, firstly that the speed of change is such that it is impossible for us in L&D to keep pace with the new learning required.  And secondly, that the range & depth of expertise required throughout the organisation is such that we in L&D struggle to meet the range of needs, if we take the approach that we have to control the learning taking place.
  3. Effectiveness – Learning that is closer to work and learner-led is effective and for example, much reduces the difficulties faced by workshop based learning in being transferred into practice.  New insights from neuroscience and behavioural science are adding to the case.
  4.  Expectations of learners – Our expectations & demands as learners have changed.   The way we interact with the world, with information and with technology means that our expectations are for instant access to information, answers and support when we need it.  We have less wish for spoon feeding (Moore) and more wish for personal direction – though we may want support with this.
If you are working in an organisation that is comparatively well resourced for L&D and where it is possible, just about, for L&D to maintain the illusion of operational expertise and where learners are less demanding – then you may be getting by taking a more traditional course based approach – but for how long?

If you are an L&Der with some decent facilitation skills, who uses interactive learning methods in your face-to-face sessions and who is approachable & available post session to coach & support learners, you may even be getting reasonable results - but for how long?

Let’s shake ourselves out of our complacency now, because if we don’t the future of our organisation is at risk and the future of our profession too.

So here are a couple of steps to take:

Research & reflect on the ideas shared in this blog – why not
  •  read some of Andrew Jacob’s excellent articles on his blog titled ‘Lost and Desperate’ or
  • watch the first episode from Learning Now TV, particularly the interview with Denise Hudson Lawson who talks through how she introduced these sorts of changes or
  •  read Paul Matthews book ‘Informal Learning’ which is a great introduction to using informal learning in the workplace.  He is also interviewed on that first Learning Now TV programme, so you can hear him talk about it too.
But don’t reflect too long!

Start experimenting now – try out some new approaches – run small, fast tryouts and review.  Don’t expect them all to succeed.  The speakers from Google mentioned many times that they are always trying new things out & experimenting and they very often fail.  But you can learn from that and sometimes they will work.

I would very much welcome your comments & responses to these ideas.

Rachel Burnham

Burnham L & D Consultancy helps L&D professionals become even more effective.  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.

Follow me on Twitter @BurnhamLandD