Treading through treacle, summer in the city…

Hot town, summer in the city,
Back of my neck getting dirty and gritty,
Been down, isn’t it a pity
Doesn’t seem to be a shadow in the city
All around, people looking half dead
Walking on the sidewalk, hotter than a match head…

(The Lovin’ Spoonful)

It’s been so hot this summer walking around London, the office, the tube have all felt at times like treading through treacle. The air is heavy and our senses seem less sharp, our pace is slower, we can feel oppressed by the weight of that heat.

It reminded me of moments at work when projects slow down and movement is barely tangible. A way forward can feel elusive or lost. Trying to wade through that treacle becomes dispiriting, de-motivating and strength-sapping just like the trudging around town in the heat.

And then from nowhere, the smell of electricity in the air, a breeze picking up strength, a buzz, a crack of lightning and suddenly the landscape changes. Rain in torrents, parched earth (minds?) drink greedily and in a flash everything changes. Fresh life and air reawakening our senses and restoring our energy, things come back into focus, the heat haze lifts.

So maybe when we’re treading through that treacle the trick is to step back, move away, take some time out – go sit in the park under the bandstand, enjoy a cool drink, talk about something else and wait for the buzz and crackle, it will come…


Image from ‘100 days of summer‘ series by Charles LeBrigand

That jumping off place…


Image by Olfiika, shared under Creative Commons licence.

Fear, excitement, determination, uncertainty mingle. Looking round, observing, eyes focused, heads bowed. Reaching deep inside, finding the courage but fearing what’s ahead…that jumping off point.

I’ve been surrounded by people recently coming to that jumping off point, at home and work. People who’ve reached a crossroads and have to commit one way or the other, to move forwards down one path or to reaffirm and commit to a route already chosen.

I’ve been watching their deliberations and trying to help when they’ve asked by lending an ear being a shoulder to lean on. I’ve watched them struggle to commit to one direction or another, thinking through the options, being led by head and heart. Decisions are such hard, tricky creatures, should I do X or Y?, what will happen if..?

I’m struck by how much we are swayed by our feelings and just how excruciating those choices can feel. Yet we often choose to invest in ‘logical’ decision making processes which focus on facts and data without stopping to listen to our feelings, intuitions, emotions. We write lists of pros and cons, weigh up the risks, talk it out with our nearest or trusted confidantes but we’re trying to predict unknowables.

There’s lots of interesting research on how we make life choices and decisions, if you’re interested try these articles for starters:

The science of decisions 

On decision fatigue and why making decisions late in the day may not be wise 

And positive psychology has a lot to teach us about how our personal actions are central to our sense of self and happiness.

I  think we’re inclined to view these moments of choice as scary, fearful places to be. So much so that sometimes we end up paralysed by the fear of making the wrong choice and remain rooted to the spot, uncomfortable but unsure where to go, which direction to turn. We fear owning decisions that need to be made.

Obviously not all of life’s twists are of our own choosing but even when our calm sea is rippled by external factors, contexts or circumstances we can still own how we react to those changes.

We can jump on the wave, surf it, see where it takes us, or choose to swim for a different shore but if we don’t make a choice we can find ourselves left bobbing at the mercy of the tides, wondering what if, feeling resentful, bitter. I wonder if we reframed this jumping off point as a place of excitement, full of potential and exciting mysteries how different that choice might feel? Is the unknowable really so scary, when we were children the unknowable was exciting, something not to be feared but run towards. If you look up the definition of the term you find this:

Jumping off point › a point from which to start a journey or activity › an idea , example , or piece of information that is used to begin a process or activity…

So when we’re stood in that fearful place, unsure where to go maybe we should remind ourselves that moving off from that jumping off point, making a call, screwing up our courage, will be just one decision in a life full of choices. A journey, a life, is all about choosing your direction of travel, just for now, for this moment. It doesn’t mean you are locked to it forever, whether you’re taking a new route or recommitting to a path you’ve chosen there will always be twists and turns you can’t anticipate. But if we don’t make those choices we can be left battered and bruised, feeling helpless, done to…

I’ve noticed how much happier, more at peace and relaxed people are once they’ve taken an active step to make a decision, to stay or go, to commit or detach, to jump off or jump on. Taking ownership of what you can control  lifts a load off people’s shoulders. I think I know which place I’d rather be in.

The future of learning: Are we equipped for it?

imageI attended a round table discussion co-hosted by the CIPD and Towards Maturity today.

This is one of a series of recent activities which indicate a fresh commitment & willingness on the part of the institute to reach out to its L&D members and, more importantly, to become part of wider discussions about shaping L&D practice for the future.

I really welcome this. L&D felt like the Cinderella of the CIPD when I first joined four years ago and I often found more progressive and challenging mind sets outside rather than within CIPD. I can see this changing, that CIPD is working alongside the LPI, and other formal and informal groupings of folks who have a connection to and interest in developing L&D, is a really great step forward. I’m a firm believer that if you don’t like what your professional body is doing you should get involved to shake things up so I was very happy to give up my holiday deckchair for a morning and come along and contribute to what was a lively and inspiring discussion.

Our themes for the day were:

  • What do today’s leaders expect from L&D and what should they expect?
  • How can we improve L&D alignment to strategic organisational goals?
  • Are we equipped in L&D to respond to changes in the future of work?

There are various outputs which will come from the session as a whole but suffice to say each session was ably kicked off by two speakers drawing on their own experiences to provoke debate. I was asked to tackle the final question and I got to speak after Don Taylor of the LPI which is always a pleasure, I knew we’d be talking the same language. Don’s challenge to business leaders was “If you think learning belongs in the classroom, enjoy the view as your competitors overtake you.” I couldn’t agree more.

In the spirit of working out loud these are my background notes for my part of the session, my main theme was that learning and learners will not wait for L&D to catch up, apply a model, or craft  a theory around their new ways of working and learning. We need to accelerate and expand our capacity quickly before we get bypassed.  Our workforce has changed, we have more part-time workers, more diverse, more transient workers, we work at different times of the day and week and from different places. We use a range of devices and routes to find out about things we need to know for our jobs, we go to the source, we talk to people outside of the business. It isn’t a question of when technology changes the workplace; that’s already happened and will continue to happen. Now it’s a question of how we respond to these changes.

We’ve always been quick to adopt new shiny buzzwords – e and m-learning, MOOCs spring to mind… but less quick to recognise that all the shiny tools will make not one iota of a difference if we don’t understand that how people work and learn has changed, and then we change how we work as professionals accordingly.

The findings from this years CIPD L&D survey and the Towards Maturity Benchmark show a greater desire from our profession to be business aligned and focused on outcomes and impact. But look again at the surveys, especially the LPI capability map and the TM Learner’s Voice, and you’ll also see that L&D in our workplaces remains strongly classroom based, a lot of e-learning is still ‘click next’ and blended learning is not as much of a reality as we’d like to think. This despite the fact that learners are telling us they have changed how they like to learn. In my own organisation we’ve been on a real journey over the last three years and it’s not over yet. Just changing what we offer (from predominantly classroom based L&D to something more fluid and responsive) has been challenging for us and for our colleagues but immensely rewarding. When a community of practice takes hold it it becomes an agent for change, vastly strengthened by the multiple voices within it drawing on their own experience of the work, the practice, the business.

People now have access to a vast range of knowledge, information and learning at their fingertips, at the touch of a keyboard or a screen we can find huge swathes of information, how to videos, toolkits etc. We can personalise our learning and draw it down when we need it. That learning comes in many shapes and sizes from professional qualifications through to amateur You Tube videos, L&D can’t control that flow any more, if we ever could. But we can help business make the most of that flow, find what they need easily and be equipped to critically appraise it. That’s what I want my team to be doing.

Much of how people learn now is informal, social and collaborative. It’s not that expertise is dead, it’s simply that people have ways to access expertise which no longer needs to be mediated and funnelled through formal learning events. In an environment where people can access expertise from across the globe directly with a tweet or a post, why would they wait for the next scheduled course from their L&D team?

I am painting a deliberately bleak picture but our profession needs to change and change rapidly before it gets passed over.

I really believe we have an important role going forward as curators and facilitators of  learning, helping others to share their knowledge, skills and experience. We can be  agents of change but not if we continue to see ourselves as the sole custodians of that knowledge armed to the teeth holding out against attempts to wrest control from us. I wrote in my blog recently that:

I don’t want to be doling out pearls of wisdom from my carefully guarded stash, I want to see people talking to each other about new tools, ideas and ways of working in their teams, at staff meetings, during project work and over lunch. That’s a learning culture, one where a good idea spreads contagiously, where fresh takes on persistent problems are grabbed by the people affected and worked through collaboratively. But it’s challenging in workplaces where training is the norm, where time is pressured and resources are scarce.

We are uniquely placed, with our cross-organisational remit to act as agents for change and to help people to develop curious and enquiring mindsets and skills which enable them to adapt and respond to changes in the workplace and wider society. I want learning in our organisation to be personally owned but organisationally supported (thanks to @andrewljacobs for that phrase if not the acronym it produces!)

We need to ask what we need to do (as individuals and as a professional body)? What do we need to change? What are the sacred cows that we need to let go of? And we need to keep asking these questions. Here are my starters for ten, more great ideas came out in the discussion and will be collated in a white paper:

  • We need to be alert, observe what is happening (or not happening) in our workplaces and outside our workplaces and able to think strategically about what that means for our practice and activities
  • We need to walk the talk, if we think social, informal and collaborative learning is the way of the future we need to be seen to do it ourselves and be able to influence leaders in our businesses to embrace it too.
  • We have to get better at consulting and diagnosis, and where it isn’t appropriate we need to be prepared to challenge requests for ‘training’. We can have an important voice in shaping how work is done at our organisations and influencing change. Providing ‘solutions’ we are comfortable and confident with might be comforting but probably won’t be helping as much as we could.
  • On that note we need to learn to innovate, try new things, be prepared to fail small but think big. And we need to be thinking carefully about how we work alongside senior leadership, managers and staff to ensure that learning and development are woven into everyday work rather than something which is bolted on, has to have time made for it. Curiosity is a mindset and trying new things is a way of demonstrating that curiosity, we have to persuade and influence our colleagues that new approaches are valid.
  • Let’s not adopt technology mindlessly simply because it’s a new and shiny thing that everyone is talking about, but not be afraid to adopt new tools that will support changing cultures of work and learning.
  • And I’d really like it if we stopped guarding everything so zealously between organisations and within organisations. We really need to learn to collaborate and help our colleagues to collaborate to hear different voices, expertise and perspectives.
  • I think we have to get used to the permeability of disciplines and embrace it. Where does OD start and L&D stop? Does it matter? Let’s learn from marketing about how to sell L&D and talk to our comms colleagues about engaging an audience. Let’s get less hung up on whether we’ve got a seat at the table, or what our job titles are, or which department we sit in and concentrate more on what impact we can have.

And if that all seems a bit overwhelming then bite off a little bit of it and get started. You have insights which are valuable to your organisation, demonstrate that.  Be confident but reflective, if you don’t know something learn it, if you’re not sure where to start ask for advice. After all a little role modelling never goes amiss!

Oops I almost forgot, what’s the answer to the question? We agreed it was a work in progress, the report card says we can do better. Here’s just some of the future capability we thought we need to build up as a profession: