Reflections from Learning Technologies 2021

Recently I have been spending my evenings in learning mode and reviewing some of the sessions from the 2021 Learning Technologies Conference.

For reference I attended the following sessions:

Beyond Zoom and Teams – Making High Impact Learning Programmes Engaging in a Digital Format – Alan Hiddleston (D2L)

Why 2021 is the Year for Social Learning Emma Layton (Thrive)

What You Need to Know About The State of Skills in 2021 Anthony Wilkey (Degreed)

Developing Memorable Learning Experiences Sergio and Ricardo (Netex Learning)

Developing Learning Habits Celine Mullins (Adaptas)

Learning Analytics from Inception to Maturity Ben Betts (Learning Pool)

Measuring Learning Activity and Demonstrating a Learning Culture Dr Hannah Gore (CCG)

To further embed my learning I have also been sketchnoting the key points which you can find on another blog post here. Below is a summary of the themes I found in each of the sessions:

  • Reskilling is coming and we need to be ready – We all know the world has changed and there was frequent reference to the fact that 50% of employees will need reskilling by 2025. Anthony Wilkey cited research by Degreed that there is a belief that current skills aren’t future proof and that 24% of core skills will be obsolete within one year and that skills on the agenda are a mixture of people and technical skills.
  • The Role of L&D is Changing – It’s not just about design and delivery anymore (whether virtual or classroom) we are now curators and moving into the the world of creating learning experiences. The session from Netex Learning highlighted the role of a Learning Experience Designer as including directing course design and development, determining the content organisation and advising on assessment. Dr Hannah Gore spoke about the need to build ourselves first and equip ourselves in business skills – speak the businesses language and “Claw your way into the boardroom.” In addition L&D objectives should be business objectives – how have they helped develop the business.
  • Learning in the Flow of Work – Learning shouldn’t be a seperate activity to work – it is work. Anthony Wilkey stated that where there is dynamic participation in the learning the retention rate was 75%. Celine Mullins cited the work of Richard Boyatzsis on having to practice new thoughts, behaviours and experiments.
  • Digital isn’t just about Teams, Zoom and Adobe Connect – As Alan Hiddleston pointed out let’s move beyond the virtual live sessions and think about podcasts, videos, documents and self driven workbooks which are more flexible for the end user. Learning at the point of need was a phrase that occurred again and again and in a potential world of hybrid working it can’t always be a workshop 9:30 – 16:00.
  • Learning needs to be personalised – I often talk about the ‘smorgasbord of learning’ where individuals can take a pick and mix approach to learning in a way that suits them best. This idea takes this one step further and highlights the need for a personalised learning journey where learners complete knowledge assessments to check what learning is required. Celine Mullins took this one step further and talked about putting being human into learning and helping people how they learn best which makes the learning more likely to be embedded. This includes identifying our own derailers and limiting beliefs and how we can overcome these.
  • It’s about creating a Learning Culture – Dr Hannah Gore describes this brilliantly as you know when you have it as everyone in the business just accesses the learning and also emphasised that learning is no longer geographic. In a past life I have had regional roles where we used central locations – for some reason I was magnetically attracted to Milton Keynes. The idea of learning accessible as Shakira likes to say ‘Wherever, whenever’ would have been attractive when I was sat in those traffic jams on the M6.
  • Co-Creation is the Key – It’s not just about L&D/OD anymore – the idea of co-creation and User Generated Content (UGC) was spoken of repeatedly. Emma Layton cited some interesting statistics including the fact that 92% of consumers trust recommends. With this in mind UGC is an attractive with the logical conclusion that if a colleagues likes or makes something we are more likely to view. Dr Hannah Gore noted that sharing learning decreases stress as people feel able to step away from work as someone else can pick this up.
  • Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway! – Okay I admit I stole the title from Susan Jeffers books but I think it applies here. Again in Emma Layton’s session she discussed why it makes us nervous including the fact that we might want it to be perfect or not everyone will be comfortable. The clear message here is don’t be afraid to be real and authentic. Personally, I love a short iPhone video which I have used before as testimonials for sessions – people love the idea that this is someone recommending this and better still it is someone they know!
  • Start Simple – In good northern terms ‘Don’t overegg the pudding!’. In the spirit of not waiting for perfection start with articles, links, questions, discussions and move on from there. As Aerosmith once said ‘Life’s a journey not a destination.”
  • Engagement is still key – Netex Learning cited the research of Niels Floor who noted that a good learning experience is positive, has meaning and is human centred. This links to the work Richard Boyatzsis cited by Celine Mullins that if we engage with the parasympathetic nervous system we enter the world of possibility, dreams and optimism meaning that we are more likely to make changes.
  • Find Some Champions and Engage – Having champions in the business makes sense who can spread the word, be a test user group and feedback on how our interventions are hitting the ground. It is interesting to note that as Anthony Wilkey suggested that promoters of L&D are 28% more likely to get promoted, 27% more likely to move to another team and less likely to leave the business.
  • The Role of Managers Remains Crucial – This includes providing feedback, recommending resources and providing opportunities to put the new skills into action. To support this activity we need to provide templates and guides to support.
  • Metrics Remain a Mixed Bag – I love a good metric and a spot of data analysis so this area still continues to be one of huge interest to me so I was interested to hear Ben Betts talk about the fact that 94% of Senior Executives have an interest in learning analytics with 70% having no learning analytic resources – a slight contradiction. He then went on to talk about having a portfolio of evidence that learning has made a difference. In my own experience this has included evaluation data, knowledge uplift data and evidence from manager conversations. In addition it was also interesting to hear that on The Maturity Model most organisations sit between describe (the what’s going on approach) and analyse (why has it occurred) suggesting that implementing this analysis would be a point of difference. My biggest learning here was Dr Hannah Gore who emphasised the need for business outcomes and not vanity metrics to please us.

I want to finish by saying a heartfelt thank you to all the speakers and everyone who attended who made this a really valuable learning experience.

I hope you found my musing useful and what are you going to take away and use?

Learning Technologies Conference 2021 Sketchnotes

For reference I attended the following sessions:

Beyond Zoom and Teams – Making High Impact Learning Programmes Engaging in a Digital Format – Alan Hiddleston (D2L)

Why 2021 is the Year for Social Learning Emma Layton (Thrive)

What You Need to Know About The State of Skills in 2021 Anthony Wilkey (Degreed)

Developing Memorable Learning Experiences Sergio and Ricardo (Netex Learning)

Developing Learning Habits Celine Mullins (Adaptas)

Learning Analytics from Inception to Maturity Ben Betts (Learning Pool)

Sparking Joy

Ever since Marie Kondo introduced the concept of Spark Joy into our everyday language we have been looking at our lives in a slightly different way and not just our possessions. As a consequence of the pandemic a lot more of us are spending time at home and the need to spark some joy into our lives has been increasingly more important.

So here are some thoughts on what sparking the joy means to me.

  • Reconnections  – In the past few weeks I have been reconnecting with people I have worked with in the past and it has been an absolute delight. I confess I make a terrible friend as I get so wrapped up in my strange and crazy life that weeks go by and then I realise I’ve left things slip. To those people who I have been reconnecting with recently I thank you  – for your patience and for embracing me back as thought it was only yesterday we just chatted. I have valued our conversations more than you know and promise to try harder!
  • Connections – So now you know  I have trouble with keeping in touch – however, there are people with whom I have managed it thanks to the magic of WhatsApp! I love the idea of a quick message and sharing a moment – whether it be the copious amounts of snow that have landed in my garden since 2021 began or sharing a joke over my famous packet inspired Spaghetti Carbonara. Either way those interactions bring a smile and sometimes a snort of laughter! Read more about my thoughts about why it’s important to have a friend at work here
  • Great Conversations – Now and again there are conversations you have which challenge our way of thinking which are thought provoking. You know the ones – the ones that are still making us think a few days later as we go about our lives. These all contribute to the rich tapestry that makes up our thinking and helps develop our thought processes – to all those who have contributed to mine I salute you.
  • Unexpected Joy – As I write this it is FA Cup weekend – so I do love a football match of a particular flavour. However, even for me I have watched a lot of the FA Cup and have been captivated by the exploits of the minnows (Marine, Cheltenham, and Chorley) against the big teams. For me it captures the essence of football I remember, and I have found myself cheering on or more likely shouting at the tv screen. Unfortunately for my other half I watch football like I am the manager and can offer plenty of advice and motivation as appropriate!
  • Making the Time – Now I wouldn’t want to suggest that joy needs scheduling, but we do need to make time for it. Whether it’s reading, taking a long bath, or eating maple and bacon crisps! I do realise that last one might be just me….The key is to slow down and take the time and focus on the moment. As an ex-English Lit student I read far too quickly – so I consciously slow down so I take in the words and just enjoy the sensation of peace and quiet. Like a great conversation a good book can stay with you for days – and in that spirit can I recommend Dan Walker’s Remarkable People. Thought provoking reading matter at it’s very best.
  • Blogging – As a natural reflector I think a lot and sometimes I need to get all those thoughts out – usually that’s when I blog. There is no rhythm to it – only when I have something to say. Truly – it does spark some joy when people read it – the numbers aren’t important it’s the fact that people took the time  to read my random thoughts which I find amazing.
  • Music – This for me is a natural source of joy.Who can’t fail to be uplifted by the Spice Girls or Girls Aloud? Is it sometimes accompanied by a little bop around the front room – well I’ll leave you to make up your own mind on that one. More recently I have been enjoying the Everyone’s talking about Jamie soundtrack  with a favourite being Don’t Even Know It (from Everybody’s Talking About Jamie) – YouTube
  • Exercise – Now this is a sentence I never thought I’d write – exercise has been a key part of my lockdown experience whether it has been on my exercise bike or a walk.  For me I find that it helps balance my mood and I’m quite proud of the number of miles I have racked up…
  • Find work that you love – Last Friday the @LnDConnect chat between 8:00 – 9:00 was focused on ‘What will you be doing differently this year?’ This really got me thinking and links to a thought that ‘Do something you love, and you’ll never work another day in your life’. We spend a long time at work, and it can be even longer if it isn’t sparking joy. Take time to think about what sparks joy for you at work – is there enough of it, would you like more of it? And most importantly – go for it!
  • Don’t be afraid to follow Marie Kondo  – One of my favourite expressions is ‘Don’t be afraid to be yourself – everybody else is taken’. Inevitably there will be people who love you, some who are quite frankly indifferent and some who would gladly walk 500 miles to avoid you. Sometimes there are relationships in life which don’t always work out and that’s okay – at work that’s trickier and there are strategies we can adopt to manage these. In our personal lives it’s worth taking the time to think about how much emotional energy we expend with some people – are they bringing joy to our lives?
  • My truth is not yours – All of the above is about what sparks joy for me – but just because it works for me doesn’t mean it will work for you. Try different things and remember that nothing is wrong – if it works for you it just works…

What are you going to do to spark joy?

Brave New World – Some Thoughts on Being the Newbie

Warning – This Blog contains some literary references to justify my three years at University studying Literature

In the past few years I have tended to specialise in Interim/Fixed Term Contract roles which means I get to be a new starter more than most. In this blog I am going to share some thoughts on what I have found helpful when starting a new role – as always I am open to suggestions and if you could get those to me before Monday that would be incredibly useful!

The past is a foreign country, they do things differently there (L.P. Hartley) – You may have been a whizz at Share Point or created amazingly stunning Power Point in your previous role – however it may not be what is required in the new role. Remember you have been hired for your transferable skills but context is everything – get to know the business inside and out – what do they do, how do they do it, does it work? Think about what will work in the new context and make suggestions where appropriate and don’t be too disappointed if they are not all taken on board

O brave new world, that has such people in ‘t! (William Shakespeare) – Get to know your new colleagues both personally and professionally – share some of your own stories and experiences which will help build rapport. I always like to ask people ‘Tell me how you got here?’ when I start in a business – it demonstrates interest and gives you some background on experience and projects that people are working on

Ask lots of questions but avoid repeated Why questions – As the old saying goes ‘There is no such thing as a stupid question’ and asking questions will help you understand much quicker than trying to figure it out on your own which in turn means you can start to contribute. However, I do have a caveat here – it is so easy to fall into the ‘Why do you do this’ trap which if asked repeatedly can feel like a criticism and can lead to your new colleagues feeling like they are justifying actions. Using phrases like ‘Tell me about’, ‘Describe’ is more helpful and will usually give you more information than you asked for

Listen, Listen again and then Listen some more – Inevitably when you are new there is lots and lots of information coming your way. Julie Starr talks about four levels of listening – one of which is deep listening which is concerned with what is both said and unsaid. Use deep listening in your conversations and think of information as individual parts of a jigsaw puzzle which you will be able to put together as you go along in the organisation

Embrace the weirdness – in the nicest possible way! – It is strange being new and there will be times when it will all feel a bit weird – things like how do I get coffee, where are the toilets to new desks, new IT equipment will take time to stick. One of my favourite facts is that you have to do something 21 times for it to become a habit – remember all that stuff was strange in the past – learning to drive, understanding how to use Teams – that has all become second nature – the stuff in your new job will become this way as well.

Deeds not words was to be our permanent motto (Emmeline Pankhurst) – So you have told your new boss you can do the job at interview – once in the role here is your chance to demonstrate it. From all the listening you have been doing offer to get involved in opportunities which will give you chance to showcase your skills and get stuck in to the activity of the team.

You will make mistakes and that’s fine… A couple of years ago I went to a CPD event and one my key takeaways was that if we were brilliant all the time then this would be our normal. There will be moments when you will misstep or not do the right thing – it is part of being human. It’s how you respond which is important – I am a massive fan of fessing up and talking about your plan to resolve it. Take accountability and move on – and if you want some ideas on how to do this have a look at the S.U.M.O – more information on this can be found here I saw this brilliant post (below) on Linked In this week which if nothing else will make you smile…

Build in things to look forward to outside of work – Being new absorbs a lot of emotional energy so make space outside of work for whatever works for you as fun activities – for me that is Man Utd, F1, going for walks and eating crisps. This will give you the space to reflect and also take some time out – leaving you refreshed to go back to work. These things will also help when you feel overwhelmed – more of which below…

Reflect at the end of everyday – I have already talked about the masses of information you will get so to help you organise this start a word document and at the end of everyday jot down a few notes around – what you have learned, any additional questions you might have, what knowledge and skills that you have which could support that activity.

Lastly – some days will be tough – There will be days when nothing makes sense and it will all feel a bit overwhelming – when this happens take a deep breath and remember that you are new and no one expects you to know everything straightaway. Focus on some fun activities outside of work which will help you to go again. One of my favourite videos is below – playing this always works for me – as above whatever works for you

So – these are my thoughts and if you have any to add please let me know. Happy First Days everyone!

Lockdown Communications – Stop, Collaborate and Listen!

As Spandau Ballet once sang “Communication let me down” and often in organisations this key aspect of engagement is often the case.

In the past few weeks I have focused on working in the communication/engagement rather than learning space which has been at times I freely admit a steep learning curve – remember the time I nearly deleted the website or lost half the folders on the site anyone? Fortunately, I have a very patient colleague who specialises in comms who has been on hand to guide me through the communication maze.

It is fair to say that we have been on a journey (cue X Factor/Bake Off – reality TV show of your choice theme music) and whilst there have been some bumps in the road we are inordinately proud of what we have been able to achieve through the use of

  • Regular communication – even my husband knows that Tuesday and Fridays are comms days!
  • Building a Share Point site which is the basis for most of our Coronavirus Communications
  • Weekly conference calls of which the recordings are shared, and people can ask questions on

And in the spirit of sharing here’s some of my key learnings

  • Keep it simple – no links within links – As a previous colleague said to me ‘Just because we could doesn’t mean we should’ It’s very easy to get carried away in the spirit of the moment and use all the bells and whistles and in the spirit of Vanilla Ice – ‘Stop, Collaborate and Listen’.
  • What does it feel like to the end user?
  • How practical is it to maintain? One of our challenges has been links within document which are great when they are published but what do you do when they have moved and what process do you have for re checking these?
  • Use clear Signposting – Here the key questions are
  • How will people know where to find things?
  • Are folders clearly labelled – will they make sense to anyone else? In a past life I frequently delivered training down South and as a confirmed Northerner exiled in Stoke, I often found myself looking at some bemused faces wondering what one earth I was talking about!

One of the things that we have found helpful is to use images consistently both in the email in which the comms are distributed and on the Share Point site which links the two things together.

  • Keep it fresh and innovative – It is very easy to be brilliant and rest on your laurels – once you have the basics in place think about what else can you do. Some things are simpler than others and here are some suggestions to get you started
  • If you are sending our regular communications change the layout to attract people to read
  • Think about using a range of images
  • Consider using dynamic content – for example animation, frequently changed content. In a couple of weeks, it will be Mental Health Awareness week and we are considering a daily topic with frequent content changes.
  • Think about the words you use – ‘Looking After You and Yours – Ultimately communication is about engagement and one of the biggest turn offs can be use of language. Use words that people are comfortable with, that make sense and have a resonance outside the business. ‘Looking After you and Yours’ was suggested by another colleague and perfectly encapsulates what we wanted that page of the site to be about.
  • Focus on design – logic, the way things are laid out – I talked about making it easy for people earlier and this includes the design aspect. Focusing on the simple things like
  1. Grouping similar topics together
  2. Use subheadings to signpost a topic particularly if you have a lot of text heavy information going on
  3. Keep it clear – We have on a Tuesday morning a review of the front page of the site where we discuss what could be removed. This ensures that the page is both dynamic and accessible to people.
  • Keep it personal – Remember that at the end of all this communication there is a person who is not just a someone who does a task. Think about engaging the whole person by
  • Recognising individuals in your communications who have gone above and beyond
  • Highlighting individuals not just for their role but also for what they are doing outside of work – for example fundraising for NHS
  • What do people need to help them outside of work? We have pages on our site which feature gardening and cooking tips and links to the Citizens Advice Bureau and a virtual tour of the Louvre
  • Seek outside feedback – So you have your comms in place – it looks brilliant, people are interacting with it – again this is not a time to rest on your laurels. Seeking feedback from outside the business can give you a fresh perspective and cause you to ask questions that you may not have considered before. Remember that sometimes this process can be painful but particularly in times like these we need to let our ego go and listen to what is being said. Be more Vanilla Ice!
  • Seek feedback from users – In as many different ways and ask as many times as you can without it feeling repetitive. Ways to try this include
  1. Set up a separate email address which enables you collate the feedback quickly and easily – and if you do this always respond to emails
  2. Encourage interaction through competitions with prizes or encouraging people to share their stories
  3. Build in feedback loops to existing process – for example we use a Microsoft form to gather questions for our weekly conference call and at the bottom of the form we ask 3 specific questions to gather feedback
  • Analyse the data and learn from it! Anyone how knows me will know I am a bit of a data nerd – it can tell us so much and inform our decision in an evidenced based way rather than a ‘I think that’s what people need’. I also have a pet hate about people calling L&D pink and fluffy and providing reports which utilise data to make clear recommendations shows a logical objective approach – in another world this would be a business case.

Parallels with learning

My final reflections on my journey into the world of communications is that it has a lot in common with learning

  • In learning we facilitate to make things easy and accessible communications has the same aim – keep it simple and engaging.
  • Rituals such as communicating at the same time, using consistent symbols and images help reinforce the message
  • As with learning engaging people with the message helps it to stick – encourage interactive content rather than reading as a passive experience
  • Ask for feedback and use the data both to demonstrate how you are adding value and for continuous improvement purposes

Thanks for reading and hope you found it useful – onwards and upwards in these crazy times as my Mum always says and as a parting shot, she loves Vanilla Ice!

Reflections on Remote Working in Challenging Times

A group of people in a field

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As have many this week I have been working home for the majority of the week and in this strange and slightly terrifying world we now find ourselves in this looks like it will be the norm for the foreseeable future. I have always thought of myself as the Queen of working from home (self – appointed title!) and you can read about some of my thoughts about it on an old blog –  Avoiding the Pitfalls of Working From Home  and for me the past week has led to some reflection of what has worked well and what I might do differently in the coming weeks

  • Use the tools you have – One of the frustrations of working remotely is the lack of face to face contact which is even more challenging in our current circumstances. We have used Skype messaging and a WhatsApp group to chat – not only about work stuff but also how we are feeling about what is going on and share some funny stuff as well. The best thing about it is that there is no pressure to join in and it is a safe space to have conversations that we would normally have face to face. Even if it is about my using a packet to make spaghetti carbonara!
  • Make sure the tools work for your organisation –  One way or another this week I have been on the receiving end of lots of technology – some that worked really well, some that has worked less well and I intend to blog more about that in the coming weeks. A definition of the word facilitate is to make easy – no-one wants to spend the first 15 mins of an online conference emailing the other participants asking how they got in. It sets you up in the wrong frame of mind before you even start. Check before setting anything up – is it compatible, what are the potential issues and send out clear instructions to all. Best of all find some willing colleagues who have the time and space to practice with you.
  • Don’t forget to schedule to social stuff too – On a Friday we have coffee club and as part of our new routine we have no scheduled a Skype call where we share what we would normally share  – how has the week been, what are our challenges and what we are we doing for the weekend. @AndyLancasterUK shared something similar he is doing with his team

              Although we may not have progress to the dizzy heights on Countdown just making this 

              space for a social chat in our busy days gives us a chance to have that human interaction. To

              get us started I am going to be sharing some useful questions that were shared on Linked In    

              earlier this week Low Threat Questions for Remote Team Workers

  • Be aware of how your colleagues are really feeling – Earlier this week I read a particularly poignant Twitter post from @nataliemself about crying on a Zoom conference call this week. I suspect the coming week will be even more challenging for many people after a separated Mother’s Day and the fresh challenge of home schooling and working at the same time. Give people the space to be their whole selves and remember it is okay not to be okay. Send virtual hugs, offer a listening ear – whatever works best and be present for your colleagues,
  • Find a routine that works for you – Whatever it is – I like to get up, have a coffee, breakfast, do the ironing and feed the birds and then I log on. Quite often I work in the kitchen as this enables me to look at into the garden – although it can get quite lively out there
  • Remember it is okay to step away– Quite often when we are working from home, we think we need to be answering every email and responding to every Skype message straightaway. In the workplace we wouldn’t necessarily be doing that we would go and make a round of brews; we might be chatting about last night’s TV – the same rules apply at home. Don’t put yourself under unnecessary pressure – life is already challenging enough at present let’s not add anything else into the mix
  • Find space for some learning – One of the things that has been so fab about the last week is the generosity of L&D colleagues to share their time and expertise for free. This week I have attended webinars on Digital Learning (as I know have many others) from @stellacollins @YourLPI @WorldofWork_IO and @DonaldHTaylor this week and I will be blogging about what I have learned soon. In the meantime, thank you to everyone involved – it was a great space to take a breath from the day job, pause and reflect – THANK YOU all.
  • Take some exercise – Again this is one of those whatever works for you things. I personally like a walk (remembering social distancing) and I live in an area which has the opportunity to do so given the current restrictions. In addition, I also have an exercise bike and one of my commitments for next week is to make time for this in my week. As the government have been saying this week exercise really supports mental well-being – and who doesn’t feel better after 30 mins of Spice Girls music! If you need some extra motivation why not support my former colleagues at Compton Care and support their Compton Care Virtual Challenge – I know this will help support an extraordinary organisation in what are extraordinary times. 

Whilst I am here I also wanted to give a massive shout out to those who are working in retail and healthcare at the moment – having worked in both I know how demanding recent events have made your work and you all have my utmost thanks and admiration for everything you are doing at the moment. 

Lastly – let’s all take care of each other and ourselves

Until next time – Helen

Reflections on Excellence

A couple of events recently have got me thinking on Excellence – what is it and how do we recognise it

As a starting point John W Gardners states that “Excellence is doing ordinary things extraordinarily well”

This was really brought home to me during a recent Excellent Awards event I attended held at Manchester Museum of Science and Industry Arriving just as the museum shut I watched in awe as the staff set up tables and created the perfect space to celebrate individual achievements in excellence in a small matter of 30 mins. 

And the striving for Excellence hadn’t finished there – during the meal I had to wait for my starter(not a huge amount of time) and when it did arrive I was offered a genuine and friendly apology from a member of staff. In fact the genuine friendliness of the staff was one of the elements which made the evening a huge success even at 1:00 a.m. in the morning one staff member said to me “It has been a pleasure for us hosting this event” – a big WOW moment for me.

The event itself celebrated both individual and team excellence (including an award for one of my lovely new colleagues)  and it was fabulous to see everyone recognised for their achievements with clear summaries shown on the screen outlining the reasons why. If as Aristotle outlines “Excellence is a habit” then these summaries help highlight what excellence looks like in the business and how it is demonstrated. One of my favourite concepts to discuss in ‘Whale Done’ which focuses on positive feedback and in particular the idea that managers should do cheerleading walks – giving positive feedback. The Excellence Awards were an amazing example of this – clear constructive and positive feedback  which celebrated amazing work.

Equally important was the opportunity for both winners and runners up to be on stage and be celebrated  and recognised by their peers.Now I am acutely aware that this recognition in front of others isn’t for everyone – at this years Learning Awards a Management Development Programme I designed and delivered was nominated for People Development Programme of the Year. As part of this activity I was invited to attend the award ceremony which I declined – although as you can see from the image below I did attend virtually

For me – the recognition was enough – my lack of social skills (limited by conversational topics of Man Utd, F1 and Strictly) and my lack of dressy clothes would have made attending the event uncomfortable and dare I say it I would have gone bright red which makes for a really attractive photo! What was important to me and will live long in the memory is the outpouring of texts and messages I received after the programme won the award. Hillary Clinton’s book ‘It Takes a Village’ talks about

“When I am talking about ‘It Takes a Village’ I’m obviously not talking about just about or even about geographical villages any longer, but about the network of relationships and values that connect us and binds us together”

Those networks of relationships are hugely important and I found the support in that moment of overwhelming joy incredible and it had such an emotional impact – I am not ashamed to say I cried a lot of tears on Thursday evening and Friday. The genuineness of the comments and interactions moved me more than any award ever could – thanks to everyone who got in touch. 

It also strikes me that excellence can be subjective i.e. one person’s excellence is another person’s ordinary. Currently on Sunday nights between 18:00 – 20:00 there is a series of texts between me and my mum about the latest Dancing on Ice performances. Usually there is at least one performance where what I think is excellent and what my mum  thinks is excellent will differ – and of course there is the Ice Panel who are suitably more qualified than either of us! Maybe our own version of excellence stems from our own personalities – I am never going to be sold on a romantic skate – as my husband will tell you it’s just not my way. However – give me a routine to a Spice Girls song and I will be away…

As a final thought – in our constant quest for excellence is there a price to pay. In one of my other blogs on Mental Health I have talked about Brian C Hall’s idea that if we were at our best everyday then it becomes ordinary. Maybe there are moments when as someone once suggested to me sometimes good is good enough.

There is also the idea that if we constantly strive for excellence what does that cost us from a personal point of view – it might be the things we miss out on – for me this is reading a good book with a latte, having breakfast at Middleport Pottery on the weekend with my husband or even writing a blog…

So here’s some questions to provoke some thought

  • What does excellence mean to you? How does it look and feel?
  • How can you recognise excellence in others?
  • When is good, good enough?

Here’s to us all being excellent in our own ways….

Ken Blanchard et al Whale Done: The Power of Positive Relationships

Hillary Rodham Clinton It Takes a Village

Reflections on World Mental Health Day 10th October 2019

Recently I have found myself discussing topics with groups around issues related to Resilience, Building Relationships and Building Teams – all of which have set me thinking about the large part Mental Health or as Brian Hall from BHSF puts it Mental Ill Health plays in the workplace.

On World Mental Health Day I found myself at two events which helped clarify my thinking around the topic.

The first was a session I facilitated with a group of care home workers on Resilience where we talked about the emotional toil of the work they do and strategies to help resolve it.

The second was a session I attending in the evening on Organisational Stress at RAF Cosford hosted by @CIPDBlackCountry @IODWestMidlands @CIMAWestMidlands with sessions from @JoCameron and Brian Hall.

Unsurprisingly there were a lot of synergies between the sessions – however, there was definitely some new pieces of learning which made me think

Key Learnings

Jo Cameron Brian Hall
Reasons for stress in accountancy which included 41% related to feeling overworked 33% related to office politics 29% related to feeling undervalued I certainly recognised times when this has led me to feel stressed and I wonder how reflective this is across a number of industries. Teams are not put together on the basis of a e-harmony profile – quite often it is around the roles that they do and if they get on then all is well and good, if not then this can be destructive in the workplace. CIPD survey – 1 in 4 people report that worry has affected their ability to do their job – This does not have to be about the job itself it could be related to debt or changes in personal circumstances for example.
Jo also described burnout as being grey and that our normal response to stress is to go into action mode – almost like we can fix it by doing more but this can lead us into an even more vicious circle as we try and do more and more to fix what is causing the stress in the first place.   40% of people are struggling at work – this to me feel likes a huge number and from a management perspective how much additional productivity could be unleashed if these individuals were supported effectively
  If we were at our best everyday, we would just be average – recently we have been talking on our management development programmes on Bringing Your Best Self to Work and we have been discussing whether you need to and what the impact is.
  In terms of your culture at work how safe is it – if people feel it is unsafe at work they will be stressed. Recently I came across this amazing poem by Phil Wilcox ‘If I should have a workplace’ which to me really reflect the idea of being safe

Hints and Tips

Jo Cameron Brian Hall
Introduce a policy to keep people off social media for half a day – Jo quoted from Matt Haig’s Notes from a Nervous Planet which says we are “Over- stimulated – connected to everyone else’s nervous system” This can lead to us searching for the most number of likes, comparing our lives to everyone else’s and wanting to know the latest news all the time which let’s face it with Brexit on the horizon isn’t exactly cheering.   Allow people room to recuperate and relax – Brian cited the example of pilots in WW2 who went up, came down, had a cup of tea and went straight out again. Even in a moment of national crisis they were allowed room to relax when they were sent off to the bed. My husband reliably informs me that this existed right up until the 90’s when it was known as a beer call!
‘We have to take responsibility for our own time’– often we don’t as we try and squeeze an extra job or task in. Let’s start by building me time in – remember it’s okay to do nothing! Talk to people positively about Mental Health – ask people what’s making you feel great. This enables us to reflect on that and focus on doing more of this.
Lie on the floor – it neutralises the nervous system – Jo did a fabulous demonstration during the session which illustrated how something so simple can make such a difference Teach people to be like palm trees – learn to bend with the storm – I guess the lesson behind this is to know that it is okay to sometimes feel under pressure but to know that it will pass and we can regain our upright demeanour
Slow down your thinking by walking slower and talking slower – Jo and Brian also suggested holding walking meetings to get out more into the environment As a boss ask people how they are and then really listen – sometimes the fact they we don’t ask the question is translated that we don’t care.
Stop using the word manic – if you say you will be  
Try new things 4 times – Jo clearly explained the theory behind this – if you do it once it might not work so doing something four times gives you the opportunity to give the activity a good go. She also added that “All change feels weird – doesn’t mean it is wrong.” which is going to stay with me for a long time especially when talking about change management  
Deal with our micro- stressors – Jo talked about having two hoovers and two phone chargers. Essentially this is concerned with taking away the little things in our lives which cause us stress – for example for me it is not being able to find my L S Lowry cup at work so now I keep it locked in my desk  
Write down your emotions – the very act of writing them down is powerful and enables them to have an outlet  

Some further reflection included

  • Someone from the audience reflected that is you ask someone how they are feeling – usually they will give you facts and figures. It is useful to stop them and get them to focus on their feelings rather than facts
  • For myself I have been reflecting about flexible working recently and the recognition that one size doesn’t fit all – for example for myself given the shift patterns of my other half it often suits me to work weekends and evenings rather than a traditional pattern of Mon – Friday. The key here is that this is what works for me and I am lucky to have a manager who appreciates this.
  • Recently we opened two new training rooms at work which are situated in our glorious gardens – it will be interesting to see the impact that has on our participants as we mentally take them away from their workplace into a more open space. As part of this we have also added garden furniture so when we have activities they can physically go out into the garden as well.

In conclusion – definitely some food for thought to both put into practise and share with my management development groups at work.

Thanks, CIMA, CIPD and IOD for a great event and not forgetting my lovely group at the Care Home who shared their experiences and tool away strategies for building their resilience – an enlightening week!

Reflections on Shame in the Workplace

Last week I attended my ICF North West Coaching event which included a session by Zoe Cohen (Twitter @ZoeatShine) who has undertaken some interesting research into the culture of shame.

This was an area that is completely new to me and it is fair to say it has dominated my thoughts for most of the week as I have consciously and unconsciously thought about how it applies to me and my work in the area of management development and learning.

Below I have included some of my thoughts based on Zoe’s research (which is in Italics) with my observations following.

The Role of the Manager

  • People using the words should and ought often indicate feelings of shame – As managers we should look out for these words and use open questions to explore why feel people feel the way they do rather than letting it go
  • Chon et all (2017) Shame and self-sufficiency – Shamed participants prefer to work and play alone. Perhaps this could be red flag for managers – are there people in the team who prefer this – is there something behind this. It is important to stress that this desire to work and play alone could be triggered by a number of things and we shouldn’t assume that this is driven by shame.
  • It is okay to be vulnerable in a leadership role by saying we don’t know something – As managers and leaders we sometimes feel like we need to know it all when in fact showing vulnerability will build relationships with the team
  • Love is an underutilised word in leadership when in fact in can motivate an extraordinary amount of energy

Personal Feelings of Shame

  • Bene Brown describes shame as a ‘Fear of Disconnection’ – Humans are social animals – we want to belong, and we want to be part of the group. However – it could be that in revealing something about ourselves we become disconnected as part of the group. For example, I rarely watch TV when it is shown – preferring to Sky Plus everything this means that often I can’t join in conversations about what was on TV last night. A minor but telling piece of disconnection in the workplace
  • We develop our own shame script – A lot of my thinking this week has been around what is in my shame script and why it is in there. For example, the number of times I am embarrassed to admit I am a Manchester United fan (not always the most popular team!) who doesn’t live in Manchester. I usually follow this with a very long and complicated explanation as to why this is which I won’t bore you with here. At work I hate to admit that I can’t manage everything that is on my plate as I feel I should be able to – on a bad day this leads to me working a huge number of hours to get everything done. This is an example of When I become aware, I can’t deal with it – that’s when the shame awareness starts
  • We need to discuss shameful experiences otherwise we only have our own lens to see it through – My first blog was all about how we need a friend at work Maybe the added value of this person is that we need someone we can all be open with who will help us see things from another perspective – an individual who won’t judge us and who will be open and honest with us in return.

Shame and Learning

  • Shame is integral to learning – we have to admit we don’t know everything – As an L&D professional I have heard people say, ‘There’s no point in me attending that – I know everything on that topic’. Yet some of the most rewarding experiences I have had as a facilitator have come from people who have been open to learning and able to admit they need support in an area.
  • Cozolino (2013) Stress created by shame inhibits the neuroplasticity that underlies new learning – I often talk about the brain and how we learn with our connections starting off as wool with new learning and then hardening to string as the learning is embedded. It seems remarkable to me that shame can stop this happening and as facilitators we need to be aware of this to say it’s okay not to know something.
  • Coaches not being able to admit to supervisors when something hasn’t worked out because they are “not wanting the supervisor to see that  part of me’ – I think the same could be true of workshops and coaching itself – if people can’t bring what Zoe terms the ‘dark sticky stuff’ to these activities are we then inhibiting the learning? As Zoe went on to talk about Clients who harbour a considerable amount of shame experience negative therapeutic reactions i.e., they resist recovery and maybe even new learning itself.
  • Beneficial to accept change as a normal thing – seeing it as data for a rich reservoir for learning – Change is often feared and flipping it over to a positive will help embrace change – discussing how we feel and how we process the change could lead to people becoming early adopters.

Zoe also suggested a number of things which have been shown to help based on her research which I have included below

  • Develop self-awareness of our shame well – what are the things that make us feel shame and where does that come from?
  • Be tentative and sensitive when talking about shame – people may be reluctant to talk about it – you may have to tease it out
  • Hahn talks about ‘the therapeutic value of acceptance’- let people know it is okay to talk about it
  • From a coaching perspective choosing an independent supervisor and paying for it means we are able to bring shame out into the open
  • Normalise the fact that not everyone gets it right first time by saying things like ‘We’re only human – we’ve all been through it’ or saying ‘I struggle with this too’
  • Welcome and encourage everyone’s contribution – no matter what it is
  • The more we can get a sense of congruence as an adult and become out true selves and share this with the world – the shame melts away

Lastly – thanks to everyone at ICF North West Coaching for hosting a great event and being so welcoming and friendly especially Jo (Twitter @jo_wright_) and Amy who shared with me some interesting insights on healthcare. And of course, massive thanks to Zoe for her insights, openness and thoughtful responses to the questions asked by the group.

For further information

Learnings from #CIPDMCR Cake Camp – Using Tech Well in L&D

Last Monday I travelled to my spiritual home of Manchester to attend a Cake Camp run by CIPD Manchester to learn more about Using Tech well in L&D which is a key part of the strategy for L&D in the business I work in.

So, what’s a Cake Camp?

Well there is cake (and coffee too!) …but it is not the main part of the event. It is a series of facilitated discussions in which a series of facilitators switch tables and discuss a particular aspect of the topic. We were very lucky have the event expertly hosted by @BurnhamLandD and fab table facilitators in @DanielT_LnD @evaadam90 @SallyRhodes97 @fionaleteney

There were lots of great conversations and I have included some of the key learning points from each session below

Daniel Taylor – University of Manchester @DanielT_LnD

For me on the most interesting aspects of what Daniel had to share was around the Managers Essentials website used at the University for HR Policy which was utilised by

  • Empowering Managers to search out policies by making them accessible on a website using informal headings i.e. Time Off, Family
  • Embedding this into the Induction for Managers by using a quiz to check existing knowledge and then demonstrating the website. In addition, this is embedded into training sessions for managers by referring people to it whenever HR Policy is mentioned.
  • The policies are supported by 60 second videos known as lightning talks on different aspects of the policies – made using Smartphone technology

Other key learning points from the session included

  • Using Yammer to share materials
  • Ensuring that whatever you design that it is visually engaging
  • Think about creating Choose Your Own Adventure videos which ask users to make choices and then shows the consequence of those choices
  • Check your analytics to tell you what is working and not working i.e. What are people actually using?

Eva Adam – Cast UK @evaadam90

Eva shared with us lots of useful hints and tips including

  • Technology is the tool not the solution – don’t start with the technology think about how appropriate it is to use for what you need
  • Look at your stakeholder’s return on expectation – what would they like to see?
  • Focus on making L&D metrics the metrics of the business and making sure that the metrics discussion becomes part of the culture
  • Utilising Microsoft forms to gather information on performance – Google forms are very similar in nature as well
  • Introducing a FAQ Chatbot to answer questions on frequently asked HR issues
  • Using a flipped learning approach – where sessions in the classroom are supported by pre-learning to cover the theory and sessions then focused on learning transfer demonstrated within the classroom

Eva had also created a series of useful resources for new starters which included all the questions you want to ask before you start including

  • Where can I eat lunch?
  • What do I wear?
  • Where do I park?

Fiona Leteny Forsway Group @fionaleteney

Fiona shared with us 5 top mistakes businesses make when buying a digital learning system which included

  1. Don’t go it alone– Ask similar organisations what they are using, have a working party to discuss requirements
  2. Don’t have an over inflated requirements list – Inevitably when we implement a new system, we tend to ask people what they would like to see which leads to a long list of needs. Instead Fiona suggests focusing on what you really need to have to make an impact – what are your must have’s
  3. Data – Ensure whatever your system is that your data is right before it goes in to assist with implementation. Decide on what your single source of truth is and utilise this for maximum impact
  4. Integrate your Systems – Make sure your systems can talk to each other – often in organisations there are a series of system who are unable to talk to each other which leads to a duplication of work
  5. Misunderstanding the total cost of ownership of the system – We often assume that the total cost is limited to the fees charge but it can also include
  • Upfront support to embed system
  • Integration costs
  • Training for the system administrator

Sally Rhodes Cap Gemini @SallyRhodes97

Sally shared with us some useful learning points particularly about Management Development (which is my special area of expertise!) around using Microsoft Teams with different cohorts by

  • Creating a separate closed group chat for each cohort
  • Posting links to resources and starting discussion on these to ensure continuous learning
  • Embedding this into the Management Development activity by setting up in the Induction and making this part of the programme rather than a separate task

Other key points from Sally included

  • Learning is not a discrete activity – it is not something we do separately away from the workplace it is something we can do in the workplace
  • Utilise Streams in Office 365 to post resources

Final Thoughts

As you can see there were lots to think about and take away and for me what I am going to put into practice straightaway

  • Meet with our Head of IT to discuss the potential of Streams
  • Share the key learnings with the rest of the L&D team (already done!)
  • Share with our HR team

Thanks to CIPD Manchester and Rachel Burnham for a great event and just for the record the cake was fabulous too!!!