L&D, specialism and accessibility

L&D, specialism and accessibility

I love the L&D profession. I know great people doing great work in enabling organisations and people to flourish. I also lament, at times, the profession’s ability to progress its own thinking and activity and a reliance on outmoded methodologies or thinking.

I say ‘lament’ because I don’t think in the time I’ve been involved in the sector I’ve met anyone that I didn’t want to do a good job, but there are things that set apart some of the best folk I’ve come across

Openness to challenge – they are willing to be proved wrong and change their approach and thinking when they get new information. They learn

Critical thinking – it is linked to the above but they poke and prod at ideas and information from different angles. They seek out new information to challenge their thinking and they use logic, rather than just emotion. Importantly they balance their own experiences and external research/evidence.

Breadth of ambition – they want people and organisations to do well. They understand what the organisation they support needs to do to succeed at a level beyond what happens in traditional chalk and talk

A feel for people – they normally can relate to people and get them to open up. They want to help and they find ways to do so – either at an individual or organisational level

They make the complex simple – they don’t use technical or new funky terms to create an aura of credibility. They want to be accessible and relatable to create credibility through results. There’s a depth of knowledge, but it surfaces in accessible forms.

They aren’t all on Twitter/social media – I love Twitter, I learn from people on there the whole time, there is a really good community there. But I know people delivering great results who either hate it or have only a passing interest in it. To anyone saying that you can’t do a good job in this line of work unless you are active on social media I simply say ‘bunkum’

Bravery – they are brave enough to explore, to challenge and to be wrong. Often they aren’t wrong. I’m all for this narrative about failure being occasionally acceptable, but it is still supposed to lead to success (last time I checked)

They love lists – if you have reached this far you might just be brilliant.

Twitter goals and corrupting targets

Twitter goals and corrupting targets

I happened upon a question yesterday night in some tweets by Clare Haynes about whether people have ‘Twitter goals’. I said that I did and that I’d be happy to share – so here we go.

When I started working as an independent I realised that I had a wealth of options open to me as to how I operated and what I tried to achieve.

I could target a certain revenue amount or I could target a certain volume of days etc. If I wasn’t going to advertise then I was probably going to be on social media and if I was on social media I should probably have some quantifiable targets on what that time gave me.

Whilst that may seem like it would have been a smart thing to do I am more aware than most of the corrupting nature of targets, as I worked for the first company the regulators really cracked down on post recession. Targets, particularly ‘stretch targets’ create a tension and fog that changes behaviour and clarity of perception – rarely for the better.

I wanted to work in a different way – the ambition I set myself was to do cool work with cool people that makes a difference. I’m not a salesperson and I can’t do biz dev, so I figured I’d be myself and see what happened.

So instead of stretch targets I set myself ‘worthwhileness measures’ for the business. Numbers/soft measures that I should be able to comfortably hit if I was doing things the right way. And if I didn’t hit them then the activity was probably not worthwhile and I’d stop it or at least have a think about it. I then set myself some ‘audacious goals’ – things I’d be delighted to hit but had no expectation to. I’ve listed them below with the thought process behind them. I hope it’s useful .

Twitter followers – when I first started on Twitter (just over a year ago) I spent quite a bit of time looking at the stats of people I respected and the stats of people that used it in a way that I wouldn’t feel comfortable with. I remember reading a great piece from Mervyn Dinnen where he had analysed the engagement levels of folks with high numbers of followers and some of them may as well have been robots. I wouldn’t make a good robot. Most of the folk that I enjoyed engaging with and learning from had more than 700 followers. As it would only be worthwhile to be on Twitter if other people found me worthwhile I set a target of ‘approaching 700 followers by the end of the first year and 900 by year two’.

I also had some guiding rules that went with the worthwhileness target to keep me honest

  • I’d only follow people who I was interested in
  • I’d only follow back if we had something in common
  • No automation

Blogging stats – I had absolutely no idea what good blogging stats would look like. Sukh and Alistair were kind enough to share some of their numbers to give me context. I wanted to share stuff I was thinking about and not have to chase numbers – but if nobody is reading it then I wasn’t sure what the point was. On the other hand I had no desire to pump out work just because I thought it would land well. I settled on 8000 hits in the first year and 10,000 in the second year. I went for 8000 as it gives a target of 667 hits a month which is a silly number for a target and stops me getting hung up on whether I’m tracking to target each month – as working out percentages of 667 mentally is quite tricky. 10,000 would have felt too obvious and too ‘targety’. I then set myself some guiding rules that went with it, some of them deliberately contrary to the advice you get in the ‘how to write a popular blog’ guides.

  • Write when I feel like it – never write to a schdeule
  • Write about what I feel like – never write about a topic because it will be popular. I have had the odd popular one, but please trust me when I say there are several that sank for every one of those

Sexy blog reaction

  • Splurt the words out without reference to SEO etc
  • Stop it if it stops being fun
  • One person saying ‘that really helped’ justifies writing a post.

I did break my rules for one post just to see what happened, because I like experimenting. If you really want to read about ‘FlappyBird and business’ then feel free.

AND THEN MY AUDACIOUS GOALS – no specific time period, would just be cool

  • Visit Facebook, Google and Innocent
  • Become a published author
  • Keynote a conference
  • Get interviewed on TV (or by mainstream press) as an expert so my family can watch and understand what I do for a living…
  • Get published in a variant of HBR
  • Get a chance to talk to Dan Ariely, Steve Levitt, Malcolm Gladwell and Charles Handy
  • Trend on Twitter

I know some of these may seem like vanity metrics, but they are also reasonable measures of professional recognition and progress. And since they aren’t ‘in plan’ I can just take the opportunities if they come up. No pressure means no change in behaviour. I can just have fun.

Am I advocating this approach for everyone?

No – I’m genuinely just sharing because someone asked and I offered. For the moment I’m experimenting and it is working for me. I’d encourage you to experiment too – but the approach may not work for people with a greater ambition or need for control. I have huge respect for the folk that do genuine thoughtful business development, I just don’t have it in me.

My lack of business orientated targeting may, over time, come to be the reason I fail. It may be naive. For the moment? It feels worthwhile.

Would I try it in an actual company? These days, I might…

Because after all, this is what I’m in it for…


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 🙂

Weighing up Performance 0.2

If you follow my blog you’ll know that I was attempting to pseudogamify my diet. The original post is here http://wp.me/p3wxuY-4e. I’m sort of attempting to apply techniques from the workplace to my quest to be less podgy.

Shortly after I posted the blog I caught a bug (that I’m squarely blaming Perry Timms for) and my exercise had to stop for a week or so. At that point my progress completely stopped and I patted myself on the back for doing so well… and ate a little more than I should.

More specifically, last Friday I consumed 1.5 bottles of Prosecco and 4 beers – having not had a drink for the previous month. This drinking was accompanied by two starters and a main (I randomly chose catfish, I’m putting that down to the drinking) at a very good Vietnamese restaurant. The bill worked out cheaper than I expected http://wp.me/p3wxuY-7H

Channel catfish (Ictalurus punctatus) may be f...

I hadn’t put weight on after this, but I lost momentum. I don’t think this was the original gamified system failing, but it does show what can happen when something is unexpectedly derailed.

Performance Management

Being an HR type the natural thing to do when you lose momentum is to start some form of performance management process. I did this with the help of my wife, we sat down together and agreed weight loss targets for the both of us – and then we chose a reward for hitting our own targets – but let the other person choose the penalty for missing them.

I now have a target and a stretch goal for each two week period and a penalty if I miss target and a reward if I exceed the stretch goal.

It looks like this

  • Weigh in every two weeks (I weigh once a day, but this will be the snapshot)
  • If I lose 2lb in a fortnight, that’s ok
  • If I lose more than 3lb in two consecutive fortnights (or a combined 6lb in a month) I get to go to a sporting event of my choice
  • If I lose less than 2lb in any week I have to drag myself out of bed abnormally early on a Saturday morning and clean the bathrooms in our house – to the exacting standards laid down by my wife

This new approach seems to be working so far. I’ve got as much focus as I had before. I’m now down to 13st 8lb from 14st 13lb and I’ve potentially got an exciting reward lined up.

Parallels to organisations

Performance management isn’t the trendiest of topics, but there are some basic truths that I tried to capture in my approach

  • Rewards are most relevant where the individual has input into them and gets an element of choice. Choice makes us feel in control and control is important to people
  • Keep the timescales for measurement clear, transparent and relevant. Don’t wait for 6 months to have a performance conversation if identifiable pieces of work about being completed each month
  • Any sanctions should be made clear ahead of time and be a reasonable consequence of the lack of change
  • It helps to write it down – within 48 hours my wife had attempted to sneakily lower her target. I had an email where we had logged it to show what we had agreed. Writing things down is important because people remember things differently – particularly under pressure. It isn’t being bureaucratic – it is actually helpful to all involved
  • Reaffirm the positive opportunity as well, rather than just setting penalties
  • Cash rewards have less emotional resonance than an experience (hence the reason I’m not giving myself cash to buy something if I hit target, I’m giving myself an experience I’ll remember)
  • Socialising targets is a good way of building commitment to them

The last point, about socialising of goals and challenges, is often overlooked. If you want to sustain a change (and get others to recognise you are trying and to support you) the best way to do it is to be vulnerable enough to admit to the need to change.

The next time you have a struggling performer, please don’t take them in a quiet room for a chat and think you’ve done your bit because you asked  ‘what help do you need from me?’.

Ask ‘what support can we find you to help you get where you want to be?” or “is there anyone you’d really like to work with – or partner with – to get there faster?”.

The more people supporting them in the change, the more likely they are to succeed.