Fish where the fish are #CIPDLD18


I don’t care for your technical language. It has no interest to me. I care for your technical expertise that can help good things happen. I don’t pay you for an invitation to tour your world. I pay you to step into mine.

What do I see

A few weeks ago I spoke to someone who couldn’t get their senior team to back their wellbeing strategy. The senior team were, apparently, just not enlightened enough to recognise the importance of wellbeing. The senior team were, instead, too busy being worried about their teams being pushed to the brink and the danger of burnout and turnover.

I know…

As far as I was concerned the senior team knew what was going on and wanted a solution to a mutually identified problem. They just didn’t care for a conversation about an HR initiative or the dressing that they were being offered. A clear invitation to work with them on wellbeing was there – if they didn’t want to call it ‘wellbeing’ then quite understandably that was their right. It was also the least important thing going on.

They pay for help in their space. They get to choose the language. If you want to call it wellbeing behind the scenes then that’s your choice.

In L&D I’ve seen similar inclinations in the past

“The senior team want to mentor people on X”

Desirable response: Yay, how can we support that?

Actual response: Are you sure they don’t mean coach? We better explain the difference or the organisation is surely doomed

“The senior team want an away day”

Desirable response: I’m glad they want to invest time in their development, we can find a way to support that

Actual response: Didn’t they read our learning strategy where we talk about 70:20:10. Fools. I mock them from on high.

Any invitation to the party should be welcomed. If you want to work in partnership with people in an organisation – and not be somehow special and apart – then contact on their terms matters. If someone you want to get to know asks you to a party the correct response isn’t to say ‘In my expert opinion you are really talking about a get together’. It’s to ask ‘Sure, what can I bring?’

I’m writing this after seeing some exchanges from our Learning Development show yesterday where people were (healthily) challenging the language used within L&D. Making things accessible matters. Making a difference matters. The language probably only matters to practitioners, not beneficiaries. I’m not saying it is never useful, I am saying it should never get in the way.

Fish where the fish are. Don’t sit by the side of the lake shouting at the fish that they just don’t appreciate how much better it is where you have chosen to sit.

Single action bias and HR

In response to uncertain and risky situations, humans have a tendency to focus and simplify their decision making. Individuals responding to a threat are likely to rely on one action, even when it provides only incremental protection or risk reduction and may not be the most effective option.

People often take no further action, presumably because the first one succeeded in reducing their feeling of worry or vulnerability. I’ve seen this happen. This phenomenon is, apparently, called the single action bias Source

(please note I can only find one reference to this, so do your own research if you’d like it to form the basis of your next big life/work decision).

I spent half a day this week taking some colleagues through what I called an ‘Introduction to an Introduction to OD’. We covered some of the intent, some of the terminology and a couple of useful models for helping understand culture and organisations. The most important thing for me to convey was probably the sense of interdependency between different elements of an organisation. If you change an element in isolation it has often unanticipated ramifications. If you fail to think of the system when making a change you will be successful only if lucky.

If you ask someone what change they would like to see in an organisation – and ask them to think what they’d need to do to make that change happen – then one of two things tends to emerge

– they go high level (or vague) with no further support for their position and often stop slightly defeated (‘the culture just needs to change’)

– they go low level (‘we’ll change the process and then people will change their behaviour’)

Their answers often amount to ‘we will do x and y’. Even for desired significant organisational change people often identify just a couple of things to change (often structure or a process) and then stop.

I can understand why.

When you are attempting something significant, maybe something that takes some bravery to deliver, it is easy to think about that one tricky thing is possibly more than can be reasonably expected of you. That bold step can be hard to contemplate in itself.

However it’s rare that anything succeeds in isolation and it’s rare that the thing you change is likely to be the only thing that needs to change to bring improvement. Indeed changing anything in isolation of the broader leadership or environment is often superficial or doomed to fail due to social pressure and expectation trumping your process change.

So keep asking ‘And what else would need to change?’.

Keep asking until you are sick of it.

Keep asking until you have a plan that covers as many elements of the organisation’s make up as possible.

A series of interdependent and supportive moves. A plan so wide ranging that it can’t help but succeed. That’s what you need – not one single action, but the much tougher one coordinated plan.

The Organisational Trailer

The trailer is not the story. The story can’t just be the trailer.

When I was younger you only really saw trailers for most films in the cinema. They were a treat. They tended to be quite short and designed to not give anything away. The concept of the release of a trailer being an ‘event’ is a uniquely modern one – with fans and critics alike examining extended trailers that hint at major plot points or climactic scenes. Indeed the director of the new Star Wars film has actually suggested that fans should consider not watching the trailers at all for fear of spoiling the movie.

The interesting consequence of this level of interest is that, increasingly, the sizzle of the trailer is creating unusual side effects. For instance the trailers for Rogue One and for Justice League both contain scenes which bizarrely aren’t actually in the final movie. You are watching snippets from a film to get you to watch the film that, confusingly, aren’t in that film.

In the case of Suicide Squad rumour has it that so much effort was put into getting the tone of the trailer right that a completely disjointed film was the result. The focus on having funky introductions for a range of characters that would play well in trailers left a fragmented and unfulfilling movie. The problem wasn’t just that the best bits weren’t only shown in the trailer; arguably they were the reason for the rest of the movie being worse.

There is a cautionary tale here about allowing yourself to be distracted from the whole by needing to present parts well. We see it in organisations – and I also see similar from suppliers – that the whizz bang organisational trailer doesn’t match the real end product.

When we buy tech we end up being told that what we saw in the demo isn’t quite in the live version – or not for that price. Indeed I spoke to an organisation recently who have made a massive investment in a system and now feel misled by the reality – despite doing everything sensible in the purchase process. But now they are committed. They bought the ticket and the popcorn and drink and it’s too late to go elsewhere.

When we advertise roles we give them the trailer treatment – snapshots of the awesomeness of working here. Except people aren’t just signing up for the trailer – they are signing up for the Peter Jackson extended version with near infinite extra scenes.

So remember that we are in the business of making movies. Stories that need to command people’s attention over time. Not shallow adverts to fool them into buying.

The trailer is not the story. The story can’t just be the trailer.