#StreetWisdom – life changing L&D?

This could be the most important blog you read this year. Not the best, just the most important. Stick with me.

I dithered over my question

I knew the question that I should ask (but would be uncomfortable) – and I knew the questions it would be more comfortable to ask. I went for the difficult question. We’ll come back to that.

Last Friday I went on the best development event I’ve ever attended. It didn’t involve incredible content delivery, it didn’t require incredibly talented facilitators, it wasn’t high tech blended learning – but it was truly fantastic. I’d like to help more people have similar events. I’d like to help promote Street Wisdom. 

This is part of that promotion, but I’ll also be delivering a few sessions in the near future to help encourage other people to spread the word too. I haven’t joined a cult – although if I have it is a pretty well intentioned cult with very low requirements for entry.

People found answers to some of life’s biggest challenges in 2 hours. If you wrote down a list of the biggest questions life can throw at you – then you would have found a group of 50 people grinning at having resolved them last Friday afternoon.

Short background

At the CIPD L&D show I met a guy called David Pearl. We talked about what I did, what I believed in and he said ‘look, I’ve got a not for profit thing that I do, it’s called Street Wisdom and I think it might be right up your street’. We exchanged details and a couple of days later I got an email with an invitation to a Street Wisdom event and a link to his TED talk. I watched the talk and signed up for Street Wisdom. I had a bit of faith.

In the run up to the event I was asked to think of one question I’d like answered. I toyed around with some career stuff but eventually committed to the big question I’ve been struggling with ‘what can I do to get better prepared for when someone close to me dies of cancer?’. There was no pressure on me to go with a big question, except that answering that one, in particular, seemed most likely to be of benefit to me and my family.

What happened on the day

We met in Trafalgar Square and were allocated to a facilitator. It was a diverse group – differing backgrounds, differing reasons for being there. We had a short introduction to Street Wisdom with particular focus that the intent is that it should become a movement – it isn’t owned by anyone, it is just about making a difference.

For the first hour we were set a series of challenges. Simple, simple challenges designed to get our heads into a space where we would be in a position to solve problems effectively. They were solitary adventures and I’m not revealing them in case losing that sense of unexpected spoils the learning journey for someone else. You don’t need to be scared, they are interesting. You do feel different when doing them.

After that you all get together to share your questions and then head off to see what the street can answer for you. I took photos as visual anchors – you didn’t have to but you weren’t told you couldn’t. I’m sharing about 70% of them, some of them I can’t as they are too personal or refer to other people involved.

I left feeling as in control of myself and my environment as I have done in the last 5 years. I left with things that I was committed enough to that I went home and talked my wife and brother through them. I left with a clear head about a difficult problem that I’ve wrestled with for over 2 years. I left with good things and a hope that I could share the simple techniques that gave me that benefit with others. 

Here we go – these are my resolutions and realisations. Nothing dramatic – but all gained in about an hour of wandering and wondering.

I need to exercise more. Even in the hustle and bustle you can find time to commit to it. Whether it is walking instead of the tube or getting up earlier for a jog, I need to make sure I’m feeling less sluggish and more energetic.


And I need to take more holiday too. I let my free days become cluttered days and don’t get enough genuine time to relax and refresh.


And I have to realise that when I take that time out it won’t always be that the bits all click together like a jigsaw. Some things can’t be solved. I need to be OK with that.


I need to find more opportunities (and plan more opportunities) to have conversations with people that I enjoy. With the people that I’m most glad to catch up with.


Even when things are busy I need to find time to communicate. When I don’t feel like communicating – I still need to do it.


I need to focus more specifically on what my wife and daughter need to make them happy. If we can sort out the three of us then that makes everything else far more manageable.


I need to keep learning and keep seeing new stuff. It gives me energy (as long as I balance it with the need to not clutter that I’ve mentioned above).


I need to make use of the weekends to do cool stuff with family, but also find ways to do that during the week too.


I need to hold it firmly in mind that stuff can always be rebuilt. It just takes time.


I enjoy going to watch sport. Sandro is a Spurs player, so this is my reminder to try and get myself up to watch my club a bit more often.


Most nights I only get a short window of time with my daughter before she goes to bed. It’s up to me to make sure we make the most of that time during the week.


I need to not expend energy on things that don’t matter. I can spend a few months not getting animated about the little annoyances (like people paying a premium for Apple products without checking out alternatives that may be a better value fit for their needs…)


Buy my daughter toys she will cherish and enjoy


Make use of the countryside that we have where we live…


Remember the importance of environment in how I feel. I’m always listening to my IPod, I need to ensure that I’m picking tunes to pick me up.


Take family up on offers of babysitting more often, so my wife and I can have time out and about enjoying London.


Give gifts to people more often. I diverted from my reflections to get this for Simon Heath. If you haven’t read 3 Men in a Boat then you’ve missed out on a lot.


What happens now?

Kate Griffiths-Lambeth, Simon Heath and I will be running one in the near future in London. Let me know if you are interested in taking part. Kate and I have also agreed to do one in Edinburgh. Simon and I thought it might be a good addition to an unconference format.

Most importantly – I’m doing things differently. And that, after all, is what L&D and life is all about. 

For more information head here

Change Advocacy

Change Advocacy

This is my active advocacy for thinking about change and impact.

People Performance Potential

Who advocates change in your organisation? How do they advocate it? Who do they advocate it to?

All important Change Leadership questions but just as important if not more so is the question of what impact is that advocacy having? After all, the purpose of advocacy is to build authentic support for the change(s) you envisage.

We can look to models such as the diffusion of innovations and the tipping point… but often such segmentation characterises peoples current or past advocacy rather than help you understand what more you might need to do next. One way to look more specifically at the dynamics around advocacy is to use a model such as the following :

Change Advocacy Model

Quite simply others experience of our advocacy starts with some level of ignorance (or not knowing what you are advocating) and with increasing levels of interest, belief, support and motivation may progress to becoming…

View original post 1,056 more words

Customer focus, leadership visits and police cars

I’m working up in London a fair bit at the moment and most days I head for sushi at the itsu on Sackville Street. The staff there are warm, welcoming, smiley, prompt, efficient and the store/restaurant always looks great. They remember me, they engage and they never do anything but enhance my day. The food is always lovely and the soup is healthy and great value. They also follow up when people mention them on Twitter…

Last week they had some people bouncing around the store giving them feedback, asking them questions, laughing and joking with them. I asked one of the staff who they were and they said ‘it is a head office visit’ and then they grinned and said ‘so I better pretend that I’m talking to you’. It was a joke because we were both aware that the observation by head office didn’t make any difference to the way I was being treated. They are nice every single day.They didn’t have to fake an experience for Head Office to see – the experience they give comes out of habit and passion.

A week before the itsu visit I had been chatting to someone who works for a large Financial Services firm. They were also due a Head Office visit – so the following things had happened.

  • Desks tidied
  • Meetings rearranged
  • Dress down Friday had been cancelled.

Essentially for the duration of the visit by ‘Head Office’ a fake environment would be created in order for that office to pass muster.

I had a similar experience when I worked in retail (yes, retail) when a Head Office visit to the store I worked in resulted in the following

  • holidays cancelled
  • extra shifts brought in to tidy the store
  • double staffing on the day of the visit to ensure no queues at the tills
  • large scale panic

The knock on effects were that in order to hit staffing budget for the rest of the week after the visit the levels of cover were cut , so you had a superb service if you happened to be there on the same day as the Head Office visit but ‘not just queues, but M&S queues’ for the rest of the week.

There are a number of tools available to better understand culture. I favour Burke Litwin for looking at causality and interrelationships and Johnson and Scholes’ Cultural Web for drawing things on napkins that can readily be communicated. I was once told that making complicated things simple is an important trick and the cultural web does that well.

Or you can just look at what people do differently when leaders are about – and understand how strong the culture really is.

  1. Whether observed or not the team at itsu are committed to doing an excellent job for their customer. Their standards don’t vary based on if they think they can be seen. There were good conversations happening that I heard about how to make things better for customers. There was trust and a desire to get things right. There was energy. Everybody wins
  2. At the FS company there is obviously a level of concern at local management level that if the senior team saw the state of the office as it normally is they would be displeased. That dressing down on a Friday wouldn’t be acceptable. That speaks to a lack of alignment and a lack of trust – also of the emergence of a subculture that isn’t brave enough to exist in the open. The leader that did the visit won’t have been able to learn about how things really operate. Nobody gains
  3. At the retailer the impacts were even worse. Having worked there for several years I can say that the usual commitment to customer was excellent. What I saw was genuine customer detriment being caused by leaders attempting to get closer to the situation. Leaders who created such fear that they disrupted work that they would actually have been proud of. If they had done an unannounced visit normally they would have been relatively pleased but found the odd mistake. If they did an unannounced visit the day after their tour, when staffing levels were down…Everybody loses

I heard a wonderful speech a couple of weeks ago about leaders being treated like police cars on a motorway. People stick slavishly to the speed limit so as not to get in trouble with you. It creates an artificial strip of motorway where the behaviour is different – and then people revert back to breaking the law.

Great leaders and great customer focused cultures operate on the understanding that people should be focused on doing things well, not avoiding getting in trouble. This operates at team as well as organisational level.

  • Ask yourself if your team are the same when you aren’t around (or even ask them…)
  • Ask yourself if you would be happy for a customer to observe your meetings

If the answer to either is ‘no’ then you might just be a police car.



Update: popped into Itsu today and the manager sent this across to say thanks for being so nice about his team 🙂

UKIP and entitlement

I’ve heard two truly great speeches live. One was by Tony Benn and the other was by my A-Level economics teacher. I know this blog is about HR(ish), but some of the noise from UKIP has stirred a memory of that speech by my teacher.

I was lucky enough go to grow up in a part of the country where grammar schools still provide, essentially, a free public school education. It’s worth checking this map to see the uneven distribution of grammar schools in the UK. It’s also a part of the country where a disproportionate amount of people can afford to pay for a public school education anyway.

I went to school in Royal Tunbridge Wells. It was a bit like Hogwarts without the magic. When you are 16 years old it feels like your entitlement. A great education and then a nice life somewhere leafy. The large proportion of my school will have gone on to have good careers in established professions, some will have gone on to senior roles in government, the military and industry. It’s just the way it works.

Except that as I grow older I recognise that the access to power and influence isn’t strongly correlated to people being a worthwhile human beings. In that way it really doesn’t work. It’s not that I went to school with bad people, it’s just that there is a richness or depth of experience that most of us didn’t have access to that you need to truly understand the wider world. We grew up in relative shelter, but with disproportionate influence.

I studied Economics for A-Level, except that I didn’t really study it because I had no work ethic whatsoever. If you ever want evidence of grade inflation it is simply that I got an A when my revision consisted of reading the textbook on the day of the exam, over a cup of tea, whilst playing snooker at my friend Dan’s house. That is how we rolled in Kent.

Achievement, status and effort quite regularly were divorced from each other.

My school used to ‘invite’ individuals who were struggling with Economics to move to study Business Studies instead. Business Studies was easier. The result of this was that I was in a good school, studying economics, where the wheat and chaff (academically) had effectively been sorted. In the room that I studied economics, you had (theoretically) the best of British.

Within a few weeks of starting the term it became clear that you can’t really separate economics and politics. Your view of what a government should do to influence economic behaviour is anchored in your concept of right and your understanding of how and why people act. We didn’t have much to work on in terms of life experience.

On my left sat a chap who has gone on to become an award winning economist. On my right sat the kind of person who now votes UKIP. Let’s run through his mindset.

The following were absolute truths that were recognised about foreigners

  • They were poorly educated
  • They came over here to take our jobs
  • They came over here to sponge off our benefits system
  • They were criminals
  • They weren’t all bad – but you know the ones that I’m talking about.

After one of these diatribes he provided a nice nod to me by saying ‘I’m not talking about you Dave, because you were born in this country, so you are only a bit foreign, and you are in a good school’ – yes, that conversation actually happened. I wasn’t sure whether to say thanks or just ignore it. There was a lot to process.

After about half a term of this mentality being applied to every economic and social problem we discussed our teacher felt moved to give one of the best addresses I have ever heard. It is the kind that I wish popped up more often on Question Time – or just in life more generally.

To protect the guilty we’ll call the individual involved Tarquin. Tarquin had just finished a speech on the economic necessity of closing the borders. This is how I remember the response. I really hope it was as good as I remember it.

“Jesus…just…Jesus Christ young man… you dumbfound me with your prejudice, you really do. I have no fucking idea how kids like you can get an education this good and still end up so stupid, I can’t begin to understand it. You are given access to all this knowledge and privilege and the best you come up with is reasons why other people shouldn’t get access to it? You really are an idiot. Even worst than that you are a bigot. You are a bigoted idiot.


I walked into the staff room the other day and overhead someone talking about bigoted behaviour – so I ambled across and asked them if, just guessing, they were talking about you and they were. You are a known bigot. We have such low expectations of your moral fibre its almost tragic. I know that you justify some of your comments by the fact your father is a banker, as if that is all we need to know, but let me tell you that whilst it might count for something in Tunbridge Wells, it doesn’t dictate right or wrong in the real world. Nobody gives a shit. I’ve seen the real world, it has no resemblance to what you describe as the UK when you open your mouth to give us another taste of your prejudice.


You’ve been studying economics with me for some time now and you are still unable to explain to me how these ‘foreigners’ are both claiming the dole and stealing your jobs and all without being educated enough to do either. I can understand why you, as an idiot, should be concerned about someone with a modicum of sense and ambition stealing your job, but the other folks in this room really shouldn’t worry about that.


I can see you are starting to cry so I’m going to stop talking to you, but I’m also going to ask you not to talk to me until you can give me some semblance of an idea that might make sense in terms of economic theory and the real world. All you offer me currently is that your father taught you to be scared of foreigners and that 6 years of education at this school hasn’t managed to undo that. Next time you speak please offer something that gives me some more confidence in both your intelligence and basic human nature.


If you can’t then just shut up and listen to these other gentlemen. I’ll mark your work fairly, but I have no time for your ideas being circulated in this classroom or elsewhere”

When I hear UKIP talking I hear people with a fear of ‘their’ world being taken over. I hear the voice of people who have just enough power to want to keep other people out of it. Who understand the politics of suspicion and greed. I don’t hear the voice of the people, I hear the fears of people being stoked. I hear the worst of human nature being manipulated. I hear hypocrisy and a sneering aggression. I hear an absence of compassion masked as concern. I hear arguments that didn’t pass muster when I was 16.

I hear nothing that gives me confidence in intelligence or human nature. I hear people who dumbfound me with prejudice.

The fact the traditional party system has left us with a void doesn’t mean we should tolerate it being filled with poison. Or incoherent nonsense.





I’m not crying – an experiment

“If I wait for stormy skies then you won’t know the rain from the tears in my eyes” The Everly Brothers

“you see my smile it’s out of place, look a little bit closer and it’s easy to trace the tracks of my tears” Smokey Robinson and the Miracles

“you wished me well, but you couldn’t tell that I’d been crying’ Roy Orbison

I’ve been carrying out an experiment for the past few months on what it is like to cry whenever you are just a little bit sad

On the 14th March I had laser eye surgery. I paid someone a significant amount of money to prop open my eyes and repeatedly fire lasers at them. I paid someone to do something that in the 60’s would have seemed like a particularly sinister thing for a James Bond villain to threaten. 

The operation was a success and I now have better than 20:20 vision and my eyes are recovering well. One of the side effects of the operation was that for a few months afterwards your eyes aren’t able to create and distribute moisture in the way you would expect. To keep your eyes moist you use ‘artificial tears’ (a bit like fancy eye drops) and things gradually improve until you are back to normal. 

About a fortnight after the operation I got something in my eye and instead of welling up nothing happened. I had to squirt lots of ‘artificial tears’ into them until I could get the object out. It was at this point I realised that I simply couldn’t cry. 

So I thought about the saddest thing I could and attempted to engineer a situation where I might cry. After a few minutes of reflecting on very bad things I had an emotional response and there was no matching physical response. I like experiments, this seemed like too good an opportunity to pass up.

We are conditioned (rightly or wrongly) to keep crying to a minimum. I was now in a position where I could cry in public and nobody would notice. I could be talking to someone in a coffee shop, be crying and the other person wouldn’t be aware – as long as I didn’t sob. As this would be the only time in my life that I’d experience this I thought I’d attempt to puzzle out the situations where I might cry if nobody was aware. 

Context: I cry rarely. When people say ‘but we all know you cried when your first child was born! Everybody does!’. I didn’t. I’m not dead inside, but I have a high degree of self control. I’m don’t do crying. Or so I thought.

I found out how high my level of self control was it was by spending three months ‘ninja crying’ whenever I felt like I might want to.

Here are the situations when I found myself doing ninja crying

  • when I was working away for a few days and my daughter was worried I would forget her
  • when somebody explained a particularly unpleasant experience someone else had put them in
  • watching somebody else cry
  • when I saw a death in a recent blockbuster movie (it wasn’t even particularly well filmed)
  • when I get bad news about things happening to people I care about (primarily family)
  • when I hear about anything happening to children. The recent child abuse cases in the UK make me concerned enough about my daughter to cry
  • when somebody else opens up
  • just sitting on my own in a coffee shop when I thought about some of the above

Of the things I’ve listed above the only one that might normally make me cry is the bad news about people I care about. That means my TSI (tear suppression index) must be particularly high. It’s caused me to reflect on how genuine emotions we put on display are and how much they are simply what we consider to be a societally acceptable reaction to the situation we are in.

When are you making your true feelings ‘go ninja’? Would the world be a better (or worse) place if we all expressed stronger emotions with more regularity? It’s one to ponder.  

Two final points. Kate Griffiths-Lambeth pointed me in the direction of this fascinating article on types of tears and was also present a few weeks ago when I accidentally ate a big chunk of wasabi.

The level of wasabi consumed meant that I did manage to cry…despite medical science suggesting I shouldn’t be able to. We discussed whether starting training events with people eating wasabi to jerk them into alertness might be worth considering… 

The video below is worth a short amount of your time. It will make you realise the ridiculousness of hiding your emotions from others and contains the immortal line ‘my eyes are just a little sweaty today’. It’s so funny it could have you in tears. 

Questioning out loud: Analytics

I’m in a session on HR analytics at the Strategic HR network on ‘Enabling HR’. Nice to see a few folks from Twitter.

Here are the questions being prompted by what I’m hearing from the speaker.

Not saying the speaker is wrong, just these are the questions I’m noting down as we go.

– why focus on cost management rather than the best place to invest. Is cost management more strategic?

-‘what gets measured gets done’ – possibly, but that isn’t necessarily a good thing is it?

-if we need numbers to talk ‘business’ what were we talking before? Does talking about people not count?

-do we need data to punch our weight or do we feel we need something as we are concerned about not punching weight

-if you keep changing your metrics were they wrong before or just wrong at the time?

– do metrics get aligned effectively to brand and values often enough?

-how much of measurement is a defensive measure rather than a value add activity?

-‘all employees like to be held accountable’ – do we tell ourselves that to validate how we manage them?

– do metrics get you closer to customers or further away from real people? Is that the same for customers and employees?



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L+D – the search for relevance

The new CIPD Learning and Development report has been released. You can find it here.

I thought, as an experiment, I’d have a crack at writing my thoughts down as I read it – and we’d see where that took us to. I changed my mind and left you with a summary of the foreword and then some thoughts on how some of the key findings may be interlinked

The Foreword – some thoughts

  • Apparently L&D functions are ‘professionalising’ their approach (which is apparently important due to VUCA and big data is getting more important). Given that L&D professionals have always been paid to do work this raises the question of whether we could be defined as unprofessional before – and what professional standards must be agreed for folk to hit the new definition of ‘professionalism’. Sukh Pabial’s post on entry into the profession is well worth a read
  • Google Glass is described as an available Learning Technology – which given how tricky it is to get hold of feels a bit ambitious.
  • The conclusion that you need to know what works to have impact seems absolutely perfectly sensible. That conclusion cuts through a lot of waffle

The Summary of Key Findings

  • Spending per employee is down 5.6% (£286 down from £303 in 2013). This could be explained by less reliance on external providers for coaching and a reduction in the amount of e-learning used (which often requires an external spend). The trend seems driven by a steep decline in Manufacturing and production L+D spend
  • L&D departments are becoming more business focused – which seems a prudent move when 19% have seen redundancies in the last 12 months
  • The most effective interventions are rated as coaching, in house development and mentoring and buddying
  • The biggest problems impacting leadership capability are lack of confidence to manage underperformance and excessive workload of managers. Also inadequate training crops up…
  • Learning about emerging trends in L&D is regarded as less important for success than business knowledge, commercial acumen and the ability to work collaboratively
  • The use of Kirkpatrick to evaluate ROI has increased (up from 18% usage in 2013 to 33% usage) but a new measure of ‘direct observation of changes in employee behaviour/activity’ which wasn’t included in 2013 is the most common method of testing effectiveness.
  • There is more emphasis on ROI from L+D – but this may be driven out of an attempt to be relevant as, bizarrely, the biggest issue to measuring effectiveness (66%) is that managers and leaders in the business don’t prioritise this.

What is clear from the results is a search, not necessarily for excellence, but initially for relevance. Understandable where there is a downward pressure on cost – let us prove we make a difference.

It paints a picture, for me, of a profession attempting to get closer to the business where it can see the impact if has on people up close. Of a profession attempting to build relationships in order to be able to work with people more closely to get things done – not fussed with finding ways to utilise Google Glass but focused on delivering the core components of coaching, mentoring, talent management and education. A profession focused on supporting line managers and leaders to manage performance more effectively, to manage their workload more effectively (they are linked…) and to give them the training they need to perform.

Sometimes you don’t need anything new – you just need to put what you already have into practice.

Be awesome


It doesn’t mean that ‘new’ isn’t valuable or that progress isn’t important – but progress can happen conversation by conversation and interaction by interaction.  The observation in the foreword was that in order to add value you need to understand what works. Our passion to put new things into our toolkit might easily blind us to the fact we already have the tools to do the job. I love new things – but we all need to ensure we aren’t distracted from what is needed by what is possible.

If all you have is a hammer then everything looks like a nail… but if you need to hit a nail – your trusty hammer is the thing to turn to. Don’t bother with the trip to B&Q.

It seems that the most common understanding of what works for L&D is getting close to the business and then working collaboratively with people until they change behaviours/activity in a demonstrable way. Apparently, whilst we focus more and more on ROI, businesses are actually saying they can’t be bothered with it – but they have some real issues they’d like us to help them solve.

The future is coming – but it might just look very similar to what we had in the past. For now.

I’m well aware there is more than one way to interpret the date – so please comment if you have a different view.