Sunday, November 26, 2017

My Learning from 'The Big Conversation'

Rachel Burnham writes: Way back in the Spring of 2017, I started to have a wild idea about hosting a public policy hackathon via social media.   I have to confess that at the time I wasn’t entirely sure what a ‘hackathon’ was or how you would run one, but I was pretty sure that somewhere in my PLN (personal learning network) there would be someone who did know! 

Aside from my work as an L&D Consultant, I volunteer with CIPD Manchester as a member of the branch committee and specifically as Public Policy Lead.  

I had been noticing for some time reference to increasing incidents of maternity discrimination in the workplace and this had been niggling at me, as an issue that needed exploration.   And I saw this as a topic where lots of HR people would have experience and might be interested in contributing their ideas about why this was happening and what could be done about it.  I speculated that there might be things to be addressed both at a public policy level and at an individual organisational level, so this could be a suitable topic for CIPD Manchester’s public policy work.  As I pondered on the topic, I began to wonder if this might be tackled through some kind of collaborative problem-solving approach ie hackathon.   And out of this the idea for ‘The Big Conversation about Families, Parents and the Workplace’ grew.

I should explain that CIPD Manchester has a five year successful history of public policy work, established by my predecessor as CIPD Manchester Public Policy Lead, Jacqui Woodhouse.   This work involves a panel of HR professionals who meet regularly to discuss and contribute to public policy issues that impact on HR and L&D work in organisations – by public policy we mean any actions of government or governmental bodies (national, local or international) that impact on HR, so changes in employment legislation, skills policy and funding arrangements are all things that we have looked at.  We contribute to consultations from government on such initiatives and have often acted as a focus group to inform policy making by CIPD nationally, Acas and to inform research undertaken by local universities.  Our meetings are sometimes speaker led, but often aren’t and instead are based around us sharing our practical and varying experience of the specific topic being explored.  I often joke that I am usually the person in the room who knows least about the topic in discussion – I see my role as bringing the right people together to talk and listen to each other – this is usually a mix of HR/L&D people and relevant subject matter experts/researchers.

And back in the spring, I was ready to try something different – I wanted us to reach out and involve a wider group of HR professionals, perhaps not just in the Greater Manchester area.  Over the previous year, I was aware that we had attracted participants to our meetings from West Yorkshire, Lancashire,  Merseyside and South Yorkshire, so I knew that there was some interest from wider afield.  I also felt that the time was right for us to initiate something from CIPD Manchester, rather than just respond to requests from CIPD or the other bodies that we are linked to.   We had done this a bit in the past, initiating meetings on the Northern Powerhouse and on the Apprenticeship Levy, but this was a step change.

This is a fairly long blog post, as I want to capture something of the process of how this came about, what was involved and most importantly, what I have learnt from doing it. 

Getting Started

So, I started talking to people about this idea – the branch committee, other public policy advisers based in other branches, HR people I met at other events, people in my PLN and so on.  Gradually the focus of this event widened out to not just focus on maternity discrimination, but childcare, shared parental leave, people with caring responsibilities other than children, flexible working and so on.   

Eventually, in mid-July I really started to focus on this initiative, scheduling some meetings with people who might be able to help.  A key meeting was with Gem Dale, @HR_Gem from The Work Consultancy to help me get my head around what a hackathon using social media might look like – we came up with the idea of a smorgasbord of ways of getting involved – a dedicated blog site, Twitter campaign using the hashtag #CIPDbigconvo, collaboration with any existing Twitter Chats, 24 hour online sprint conversations, with a face to face launch event.  As we were thinking about running this hackathon over an extended period, we decided on an initial campaign to build awareness using a unique visual identity and a series of commissioned blog posts – this would take place in September.  The face to face launch event would be held at the end of September, with the hackathon element taking place over 4 weeks in October.   We then had the good idea of using the CIPD ACE conference, which was taking place in Manchester in early November as a full stop to the initiative and had the idea to apply to run a fringe event at this event to report on ‘The Big Conversation’.

What happened?

We had about 6 weeks from those first detailed discussions in mid-July to early September when we planned to start the Twitter campaign.  I began by writing up a short proposal document to share with all the people who I wanted to get involved.  There was a lot to do, a lot of people to talk to and of course it was the key time for holidays.   I am so used to working in a very light touch way, as a freelancer and as a contributor to networks like L&D Connect, that it is hard to remember that some organisations work at a much slower pace.  Plus, there was paid work to fit into that time as well. 

Some elements went really well – our suggestion to Mark Hendy @markSWHRF for us to collaborate with the regular Twitter Chat (Thursdays 8-9pm) #HRHour met with an enthusiastic positive response and brought about the involvement of the S E Wales branch with ‘The Big Conversation’.  I was able to quickly delegate the formation of questions for that to Mike Shaw @MikeShawLD, a fellow Manchester CIPD member.  Gem Dale took on responsibility for setting up our dedicated blog and I set about commissioning blog articles from contacts in HR and relevant campaigning organisations.    I also took on responsibility for creating a visual image for the initiative, with support from Simon Heath @SimonHeath1, which meant getting my head around some basics in Photoshop.  I also contacted a number of CIPD branches that border Manchester to see if they would like to be involved.   This had a positive response and I offered a webinar briefing to support this involvement –  but on reflection the timing for doing this was poor, as it was right in the middle of the holiday season.  

We got the Twitter campaign launched, but a little later than intended and work started in earnest on planning the launch event for the end of September.   By then I was also handling the scheduling of Tweets and information on LinkedIn to promote the blog and was handling lots of enquiries, comments and offers of blog articles – I put some time into the intiative each day excepting Saturdays.  Ideally, this work would have been split between a number of people.  In the end we published 17 blog articles relating to different aspects of ‘The Big Conversation’ from 13 different authors – Gem and I each contributed a number of blogs.

The launch event took place on Wednesday 27th September and was hosted by Kenworthy’s Chambers.   The event included three short presentations to inform and stimulate conversation: Roz Hampson, from Maternity Action on ‘Pregnancy Discrimination’; Susan Raftery, from Acas on ‘Carers’; and Gem Dale on ‘Flexible working’.  We had about 28 people at the event from across the country – York to London, with good a mix of people from campaign organisations, researchers from universities and HR folk.  I would have liked more people from HR. During the discussions we worked in groups to identify four key themes to explore in the rest of the initiative:
·       Creating the cultures we need
·       Flexible ‘flexible working’ policies for all
·       Changing attitudes and challenging stigma
·       Supporting line managers to manage effectively

The very next night we took over #HRHour and had a very helpful and lively conversation with lots of participation from HR people.  The tweets were gathered together and put into a storify

Originally, we planned to have the Hackathon part of ‘The Big Conversation’ take place on Twitter, but we didn’t feel that we had got enough HR folk involved in the initial stages of the initiative, so we thought that we would try LinkedIn instead.  Our reasoning is that even if a person doesn’t do any other social media they will be on LinkedIn, so that this would be our best chance of involving more HR folk.  I posted the first of the themes and some initial questions into CIPD Manchester group and, but despite encouragement we only had a few contributions and a lot of tumbleweed.   So then, we tried posting the next week’s theme and questions openly on LinkedIn – this was a bit more successful, but by the fourth week even this had gone quiet.    So, the hackathon joint problem-solving element of ‘The Big Conversation’ really didn’t work and we are not sure why.   Perhaps LinkedIn wasn’t the right platform?  We didn’t seem able to generate sufficient momentum with comments and shares to get more people involved.  I noticed that even fellow CIPD Manchester branch committee members mostly didn’t add comments, though they did add likes – I wonder if people felt comfortable having this kind of a conversation in ‘public’ in written form? 

The final fringe event was fast coming up and I realised that we wouldn’t be reporting back, as we had originally planned.  So instead, I planned a 1 hour hackathon style event.  Again, this started with two Ignite presentations (5 mins each, 20 slides, 15 seconds per slide) from Gem Dale and Gary Cookson @Gary_Cookson, one of CIPD Manchester’s Ambassadors to inspire us and getting us thinking about parenthood and flexible working.  Then we moved into four groups, one for each of the themes identified in the launch event and worked through a series of questions over the course of 30 mins, each group working at their own pace.  Each group was facilitated and each group asked to make notes on post-it notes of key points.   The questions were:

  •      What is our ideal situation?
  •      What gets in the way of our progress now? 
  •      What works well today?
  •       What can we do to drive real change?

At the end of this time each group gave a 1 minute report back.   The points written up on the post-it notes were subsequently written up as blog posts and put on ‘The Big Conversation’ blog.  
We had over 30 participants in this event and everyone took part.  The discussions were very focused, with lots of contributions and helpful points raised.    And this was all possible in a session last only 60 minutes and starting at 8am in the morning!   I think it helped that we served breakfast!

Lessons Learnt
Here are some of my reflections on ‘The Big Conversation’:

11.  If I was to do it again, I would start planning earlier.   I think there is a balance to be struck between being fast & agile and involving more people.  Ideally, I would have liked to have had more involvement from more people from CIPD Manchester and other branches and to enable this to happen more time would be needed to allow for people to get involved in an earlier stage and to take things back to committees.   Having said that, a risk with doing this could be that such an initiative doesn’t take place – I know that I have limited time to spend of my voluntary activities and I have a low liking for spending that time in meetings – I have experience through networks such as L&D Connect and #LnDCoWork for making things happen in a light touch way and I know that this can be very effective.  But this may not work to involve more people.

 2.  If I was to do this again, it would be good to involve more people in shaping the initiative.   This links very closely to the time issue and particularly to attempting to set up the initiative over the summer holiday months.   The upside of being slightly less participatory is possibly a greater willingness to try something different out.  The downside is that the initiative would have benefited from having a few more people to share the workload.

 3. One of the challenges of this initiative was finding the people with the right skills (who also had time, were willing to be involved and ideally were NW based).   For example, when it came to splitting responsibilities, there was only one other person in the CIPD Manchester network, who I knew of that had the experience of setting questions and facilitating twitter chats, other than myself.  Fortunately, they said ‘yes’ when asked to take this on.   There were a few more people who had experience of setting up blogs, writing blogs and scheduling tweets, but still there were a very limited number to draw on in this project.   I wonder if we want CIPD branches to work in different ways and take on innovative projects, whether we have the skills capacity in the branch network to do this or whether this is something which needs developing?  It is interesting that many of the skills I drew on for this project were developed outside of the CIPD ‘world’.

  4. It worked well in this initiative to collaborate with other organisations eg Acas, Maternity Action, individual bloggers and existing Twitter Chats eg #HRHour.   We do a lot of collaborative work in CIPD Manchester, which meant I was able to draw on some existing relationships and I think this is a very helpful way of working. 

  5. This initiative was definitely not an event.  It was good to try out something different as a branch.  It is a bit hard to know quite what to call this  – perhaps it was most like a ‘campaign’.   It was really helpful to have created a distinctive visual identity that united all the disparate elements of ‘The Big Conversation’.   

   6. Where we did have events – the launch and the breakfast fringe event at ACE, they weren’t traditional speaker led events.  Whilst we did have speakers at each event, in each case most of the event was highly participatory and got everyone involved and contributing.
   7. It is OK to try something out and it not work.   To my mind, we only partially succeeded at what we intended with ‘The Big Conversation’ – we raised some attention for these issues, we got some HR people involved, we built some partnerships, but we weren’t able to identify many practical examples of what is currently working nor did we really identify the key public policy issues.  We did try out some different approaches to CIPD membership engagement.   Some elements of how we addressed this worked very well.  Some fell flat.   Some elements metamorphed into something a bit different.   This is OK.  Glorious failures, which you learn lots from are a good thing in my book.

So, what next?

I thought that ‘The Big Conversation’ would just be a short term project, but I think that there will be some spin offs.  I know that there are likely to be some further actions as a result of some of the partnerships built – watch this space!

CIPD  announced at the Fringe Event we ran, that they would be running a campaign next year, focusing on ‘Flexible working for all’ which was a key issue that came out both of the launch event and also the #HRHour twitter chat.  So, look out for that and get involved.

And I have a few new wild ideas that I want to try out for CIPD Manchester next year – hold onto your hats!

Thank you
‘The Big Conversation about Families, Parents and the Workplace’ involved lots of people in making it work – thank you to all the people who got involved as bloggers, speakers, stewards, collaborators, tweeters, facilitators, advisers & suggesters.  I particularly want to thank Gem Dale for all her work throughout and without whom this would not have been possible. 

Rachel Burnham

26 November 2017

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

Friday, November 17, 2017

Learning Technologies: What Managers Really Think

Rachel Burnham: Yesterday GoodPractice launched the third in its annual pieces of research into how managers actually approach learning to address the challenges they face in their work.   This year’s report focused on the perceptions of managers in relation to learning and technology.  This is distinct from how effective the learning solution actually is.  As the report says ‘Perception is part of the context we work within: how managers feel about their workplace learning technologies will inevitably have an impact on their use.’

The research was conducted in association with ComRes and involved an online survey of a sample of 521 managers working in businesses with more than 500 people, carried out in the summer of 2017. 

The research focused on two overall questions:
  • ·       What do managers think about the typical learning technologies that might be provided by their organisations?
  • ·       How do they the learning technology provided by the organisations compares with technology they access in their personal life?

Here is my Sketchnote recorded live at the launch event on 16 November 2017:

Rachel Burnham

17 November 2017

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

Sunday, November 12, 2017

Time for a health check-up for L&D?

Rachel Burnham writes: I had the pleasure this Thursday of doing my first Ignite presentation at CIPD’s Annual Conference & Exhibition.  An Ignite presentation is that tricky format, in which you deliver a five minute presentation, with 15 slides each on a timer, so that each slide is only visible for 20 seconds.  It is rather nerve-wracking!! We were asked to present on the theme of the conference ‘Embracing the New World of Work’ in relation to L&D.   I was one of 5 L&Ders presenting in this session and what a lovely mix of presentations, topics and styles we ended up with. Here is a blog version of what I said:

In my work, I help L&D professionals to be even more effective in what they do.  This conference has presented us with lots of challenges for our work as L&D professionals, if we want to enable our organisations to embrace this new world of work.   Through the conference we have been hearing about many changes that are affecting the world of work, from those that are well established such as digitalization and automation, to those that are only just beginning to make an impact, such as artificial intelligence, through the use of algorithms and chatbots.  We experience the use of alogorithms when buying online, when well known retailers make suggestions about what other purchases we might find of interest.  And increasingly we are coming into contact with chatbots who tackle our customer service queries, when interacting with banks and other online service providers.   But this is barely scratching the surface of all the very many different ways that AI can be used in the workplace.  

For example, in L&D itself organisations are beginning to use algorithms to personalize the suggestions for future learning for individual staff.  And chatbots can be used to support learning by answering learners questions and providing individual support to learners.  
But the changes and challenges organisations face are of course not limited to those coming from technology.  Social changes are also making an impact –  for example, Brexit is bringing us lots to get our head around in terms of workforce planning, skills development and recruitment, trading arrangements, implications for social inclusion and so. 

Sometimes, at conferences of this sort, I do confess to getting a bit fed up at continually being exhorted to ‘disrupt HR’ or at the never-ending references to working in a VUCA (volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous) world.  It almost makes me want to scream!  I think this language, this ‘conference-jargon’ can be rather off-putting for many people and actually distance us, from the real challenges that these changes are bringing to the workplace.   I think my favourite of all these off-quoted sound-bites, is that the ‘future is un-evenly distributed’.    This feels much more true to me.

I work with lots of people in L&D, from lots of different sectors and sizes of organisations.   Some of whose organisations are in the midst of these kinds of changes and are working with digitalization or automation or using chatbots and social media for customer interactions and many other changes, but I also work with lots of organisations that have continued to operate with comparatively little change.  And of course the question is how long they can continue to do that?  

Some organisations choose strategies that require investment in skills and adoption of new technologies and new ways of working that lead to high productivity to produce high value in the products and services they offer.  And some chose or drift into strategies that produce low productivity and instead require cost cutting and wringing work out of stressed, long hours working, low paid, vulnerable staff or workers or ‘self-employed’ folk.

I work with L&D people and here too these differences can be found, with some working in teams that are embracing change and working out how to make change work for their organisations and others, whose approach to L&D feels very out-dated –  work primarily face to face, often knowledge-dumping, perhaps just beginning to introduce e-learning.  

But whatever our starting point is in L&D, we need to be reviewing our practice and looking at how we can better work with our organisations to enable them to ‘Embrace this New World of Work’.   So, I have come up with an 8-point checklist to help us review how ‘Fit for Purpose’ our L&D practice is.

1.  We need to understand our organisation and its business

If we want to be effective in L&D we need to really understand our organisation, how it works, how it adds value, the sector it works in and what the competition or other organisations in its field are doing.   The reason we need to understand this, is because there isn’t one right way of doing L&D - what we do in L&D needs to fit with our organisation.  This isn’t a new insight by any stretch of the imagination, but it is key to being effective in L&D and so is worth restating.  

2.  We need to be focusing not just on learning, but learning and performance

I think we need to have big eyes in L&D and by that I mean, we need to be more ambitious.  We need to focus on more than just learning, to have learning and performance as our focus.  This means taking performance consultancy seriously and looking at all the things that get in the way of people being able to do their jobs effectively.   I have written about this before most recently in my blog ‘Learning and Performance Together’.

3.  We need to understand how people learn

This is at the heart of what we have to offer our organisations, a deep understanding of how people learn and of how to help people learn more effectively and change behaviours & habits.  But too often we haven’t kept up-to-date with the research into learning, have been side-tracked by learning myths or held on to old models and theories that have long-been discredited.   We need to make sure that the models, theories and approaches we are using are evidence-based and that we really understand their implications and then we need to build that into our working practices.   

For example, much of what passes as insights from neuroscience for learning at the present time is either neuromyth or very limited in value for practical purposes or actually from cognitive psychology. We often give insufficient attention to the time needed for practice to develop skills and fail to use the insights of spaced practice.  We need to be much clearer about what we are using and why.
We also really, really need to stop using learning styles and other models that have been discredited.   Let’s chuck out that chintz!

4.  We need to have strategies for keeping ourselves up-to-date

With all this change around, we need to make sure that we are really good learners ourselves and have strategies in place for keeping ourselves up-to-date. 

This means that we need to make full use of Continuous Professional Development and reflective working practices as a starting point.  I also think we need to be develop our skills in managing information and Personal Knowledge Mastery (PKM) or personal curation practice – but that is another blog!

A good stepping stone is to make sure you have a really effective network, both in person and online, that can help you learn and stay in touch with new developments – this is often referred to as a Personal Learning Network.  I have blogged about the value of this before ‘Networking: What is aPersonal Learning Network?’
I like the image of a spider in their web - if anything touches that web, it transmits through vibrations in the web directly to the spider and immediately alerts them to what is happening.  And that is what our networks should do for us too!   But we also need to contribute to our networks and share our experiences, so that we add to the collective wisdom available. We need to contribute our small piece and not just take.

5.  We need to sift out what is relevant in developments for our own organisation

In the context of all this change, with the continuous development of new technologies and approaches, it is easy for us in L&D to feel a bit over-whelmed.  And even to feel that if we aren’t making use of all of these developments, then we must be falling down on the job! Sometimes we can hear the message that we ‘ought’ to be trying this or doing that in the output from conferences, exhibitions and social media.

We don’t need to try everything – and there is so much going on that we can’t try out everything!  What we do need to do is be alert and aware and sift out what in new developments might be relevant and useful to our own organisation.  This is where having that deep understanding of our own organisation combines with having a great network, so that we can focus on those developments that can potential might add value to our own organisation and improve performance.

The image I have been using this year, is that we need in L&D to be neither an ostrich with our head in the sand, ignoring developments, nor a magpie, chasing after all that is new and shiny!  Instead we need to find a third way and sift out those few things that may have particular relevance to our own organisation.

6.  We need to make use of pilots to test out developments and learn from them

Once we have identified a development that is worth pursuing for our organisation and done our initial fact finding and research, if it looks relevant, why not run a small pilot?   It is often worth testing out new developments in a small, fast pilot to see how they work in practice and to learn in a relatively low risk way.   A starting point, might be trialing it within the L&D team or with a supportive line manager and their team. 

7.  We need to invest in managers

Effective managers are key to effective organisations.   If we want to raise productivity in our organisations this means tackling the development of managers and particularly first-line managers.    Raising productivity is a key issue in the UK and we need to be paying much more attention to developing confident and effective line managers.   As well as developing skills in people management, we also need to develop effective relationships between L&D and line managers, if we, in L&D want to really make an impact.    For example, line managers are key to the effective transfer of learning or to building learning into work. 

8.  We need to make good use of the Apprenticeship Levy

Finally, when resources are tight in organisations and particularly for L&D, we need to make sure that we make full use of the opportunities provided by the Apprenticeship Levy.  And this is whether we are working in a large organisation contributing to the Levy or in a small organisation, who isn’t required to contribute but who can draw from it. 

So, this is my 8-point checklist to get us thinking about how fit our organisation’s L&D is for purpose.    Why not use it for your own reflections and identify where you can further improve your practice?  I know I will.

Rachel Burnham

12 November 2017

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