Real Life Learning

Tag: Change

When do we know it is time to learn new tricks?

In some of the recent commentary about the sacking of Martin O’Neil from Sunderland Football Club a theme seemed to be that the methods he had always successfully used were no longer working and did not have the same impact.

This has made me reflect on how easy it is as we get older and more experienced in our careers to continue using the skills that worked before. Most professionals will find a method that works in most situations and we are employed for our experience in the past of successfully using that method.

But what happens when it no longer works as well? Do we notice the change? Do we blame circumstances in our context for the lack of result or do we take a big step back and review whether we need to completely overhaul our approach?

This weekend I was at the MOL CIPD tutor conference and another tutor asked me what I thought about Smart Boards. I was fairly negative about their usefulness but the real answer is that I don’t know much about them!  I have never needed to get to grips with them. My old and familiar methods work well, and most of my corporate clients do not have rooms equipped with anything smarter than a projector and a flip-chart. This is a classic example where we can deny that we might need to learn new tricks!

Tips for Refreshing Your Skills

  1.  Be honest about your own evaluation of your practice. Ask yourself if you are getting the same good results as you got a year/a decade ago and be open to exploring the answer.
  2. Do a review of other people in your profession and find out what they are doing and identify any tips from this.
  3. Watch out for all those things you automatically dismiss and revisit those reactions with an open mind. I did a course on Twitter two years ago after dismissing Twitter as unnecessary to my profession, it was a revelation to me. I can see I am going to need to do a similar U Turn on Whiteboards!
  4. Try to make small differences in your existing practices, they might not work but you will find the experience of designing, implementing and reflecting on these changes will make you more consciously competent.
  5. Spend time with children. My nephew is 9 and provides me with valuable insights on the future generation of learners.

What other tips can you add to the top five? How do you keep on top of your skills and keep learning new tricks to future proof your career?

Bradley Wiggins and the Power of the Why Question

Over the Christmas break I have been reading the autobiography of Bradley Wiggins “My Time” which charts his year of winning the Tour de France and the Olympic Time Trial. This has been a brilliant read for me as I love following road and track cycling but I as I reflect on the book I realise there are some great insights for my organisation work.

One of the powerful influences within British Cycling has been the sports scientist Tim Kerrison. He joined the cycling team from a background in performance swimming and had “revolutionised training in Australian swimming” (p.35) As a newcomer to the sport Tim spent a year just observing the cyclists as they went about their training and their racing. Only at the end of the year did he start to set out his training programmes. To create these programmes he asked a lot of Why questions. A big question was why road cyclists do not “cool down” at the end of their races, like other professional sports people would normally do. What became apparent is that there was no real reason apart from no one did it! The Sky team started to introduce “cool downs” and the other professional racing teams have started to follow their lead.

A Year to Observe

What got me thinking was how in organisations I have never known someone to have a year to observe, see the patterns and trends, and ask questions before they start to be expected to deliver the goods. When I have worked with some organisations on developing their induction and have explored how to support senior managers joining I have often shared the useful “Your First 90 Days”  http://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/1591391105 with senior teams and the reaction is often that 90 days of observation is too long! So imagine how a year of observation would go down! Yet without that year some of his observations would not be rooted in discernible patterns and trends, it could just be randomly observed events.

Asking Why

It was by asking why that Tim Kerrison was able to find out which of the observations he had made had a valid reason that perhaps he had not fully grasped and which observations were just because “that’s how we have always done it”. How often do we sit back in organisations and observe our normal processes and rituals and ask why we do that particular task in that particular way? I often use the 5 Why’s Technique http://www.mindtools.com/pages/article/newTMC_5W.htm when I facilitate team events on innovation. It is a technique that people really seem to struggle with and can often get really frustrated about the process. This tells me that we are not that experienced in asking why enough. If only we did what might we uncover.

Being Open to Change

The final aspect that needed to happen was that Bradley Wiggins himself needed to be open to change. He was candid enough to acknowledge that in the past when given a training programme he would adapt it to his own needs based on the belief that he knew better than others what would work. This time he said to Shane Sutton and Tim Kerrison that he would trust them to get his body ready for the challenge ahead “get this machine working for next July”. Often when I work with managers they get frustrated because their efforts to support an employee to improve their performance does not result in the desired end point. This insight shows us that without both parties actively engaged change is not going to happen because individuals can so easily sabotage their own chances of success, often without even realising what they doing. The critical change was that there was trust between both partners and this made it possible to make the type of incremental small changes which are the critical path to the overall success of the British cycling team.

So my learning to take into 2013 for my next management development sessions is:

  • Take Time to Observe
  • Ask Why and challenge the “way we always do things round here” attitude
  • Create a climate of trust so that your employees know that you are acting in their best interests and work with you in partnership.

Making and Influencing Change: Beyond the Shiny Things Approach

One of the disappointing aspects of my profession as a trainer is how so many in our profession (and I include myself at times) get excited by new shiny techniques that promise us to fix one of the big problems in organisations…how do you get people to change behaviour? We seek out techniques that will work quickly and fix the problem so that our organisations can run more smoothly. From an initial pilot study a project can quickly be picked up and implemented across a whole organisation and then a few years later it is forgotten about as the desired change in behaviour has not happened.

It was in this context that I picked up Timothy Wilson’s book “Redirect. The surprising new science of psychological change” http://www.amazon.co.uk/Redirect-Surprising-Science-Psychological-Change/dp/1846142296

The book is a really detailed but readable overview of some of the latest research on various group and individual interventions designed to create positive change. Wilson outlines why many of these interventions have failed, even though they seem at first to make perfect sense.

An example which stood out for me was the “Free Book” project. The idea is that children get rewarded for reading by having a prize that they will get once they have read a certain number of books. For children who were not keen on reading this had a desired effect. Whilst the reward was in place they did read more. But once the reward system stopped their reading went back down to previous levels. The really scary thing was that for children who already did plenty of reading the scheme did not increase their rate of reading but when the scheme was over their level of reading dropped right off! By putting a reward system in place the children had started seeing reading as something that they had to be motivated to do by external rewards and no longer something that they valued themselves.

I reflected on this in terms of the myriad of performance bonus systems that I have seen implemented in the various organisations I have worked in. Many managers I work with love these incentive schemes as they feel that they are able to reward good behaviour with a positive outcome. If you scratch the surface then you quickly realise that all these schemes are doing is introducing a mechanical way of getting us to “do the right thing”. Once the reward changes (and how many incentive schemes are ever that good in a recession?) then the motivation to do the right thing is no longer there.

The key solution that was recommended from the research was something that individuals could easily implement themselves – the story editing techniques. These are defined by Wilson as “a set of techniques designed to redirect people’s narrative about themselves and the social world in a way that leads to lasting changes in behaviour” (p.11, 2011).

You can read more about the story editing technique in this interview with Timothy Wilson

http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=how-to-improve-your-life-with-story-editing

If you are a trainer or change consultant who is bored of the shiny things you might find the book as useful as I did in promoting a more reflective and research based approach to intervening to influence change in organisations.

http://www.amazon.co.uk/Redirect-Surprising-Science-Psychological-Change/dp/1846142296

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