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Adult Learners and Choice – the Snow Question

Any trainer will tell you that when snow starts to fall in the UK your training plans are likely to get put under strain.
Initially there are the messages checking that the course is still running or telling you about delays expected to journeys. Once having got people to the session the next challenge is to keep people focused on the content and not on the snow outside.
One of the things that constantly amuses my European colleagues, particularly in places like Austria and Ukraine, is how a few centimetres of snow can put the entire country into a severe state of emergency. Holding a training session in this context can be a real challenge.
I was faced with this situation in two sessions recently during the January Big Snow event. My client had left it up to me to decide on whether to continue or not as the snow continued to fall outside. I decided to give my groups choices. I explained that I was able to stay until the scheduled close time and was happy to do so but that I knew some of the group would be worried about getting home. I explained what we were going to cover in the course and how they might catch up on this content in other ways. I then simply handed them the choice. They could check in on the transport advice on their phones at breaks and make their own decisions about when they wanted to leave.
I was really conscious that if you are stressing about your journey home you are unlikely to be learning so I explained to the group that I did not want them to feel stressed but equally I did not want them to miss out on the learning from this session. I made it clear that it would be ok if they needed to leave and that this was a choice that they could make for themselves at any point during the day.
On both days the sessions finished at the normal time with the whole group present. Our groups left the building in eerie silence as it seems we were the only groups who took this choice to stay. In other sessions in this period the various organisers made the decision for the group and announced an early finish. This could have been of course because the organisers needed to get home but I wondered how much of it is because we feel we need to “look after” our learners and forget that the principles of adult learning is about giving the learner responsibility for their decisions. Our role is to support, encourage but not to take over. The snow example showed me that learners can often surprise you when you pass over responsibility to them. I really didn’t expect that all the learners would choose to stay. That they choose to stay reinforced how valuable these group sessions are to the learners.

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.

Banish Boring Training

Banish Boring Training Sessions

One of the areas of my work that I love the most is when I meet a trainer who says that they have a programme to design that is on a really challenging topic which they are finding hard to bring to life. A recent example I am working on is Assessing Credit Risk in Professional Practice. I can tell that you are already looking excited about this topic! You probably want to sign up now for me to run the session for your team. But just in case this topic doesn’t fill you with heart felt joy then read on and see how you might approach a seemingly dull subject like this.

If you are already excited and want to book a place check out my clients website!

http://www.cmlawltd.com/contact-us.php

The main challenge that the trainer faces is resisting the feeling that face to face sessions must be used to explain the legislation and guidance. Face to face time is too precious to waste by verbalising what would work as a set of hand-outs or a self-explanatory slide show. We have to move away from the idea that we have to verbalise stuff for it to be learning. I can read a lot quicker than you can talk so just let me get on with the reading or give me an audio podcast to listen to. Please don’t just stand there talking at me!

There are ways you can use the time with people in a room so much more effectively than talking at them..

Tip 1: Separate background knowledge from discussion and stimulation

  • Provide in advance a set of self- explanatory Powerpoint slides to work as a slide show. Avoid using lots of bullets, try using different visuals to bring this material to life.
  • Create an attractive detailed written guide to the legislation and guidance.
  • Create on line learning questionnaires to check knowledge before or after.

Tip 2: Engage people with the topic

  • Its about hearts and minds so find reasons for people to listen. I once used real press releases about breaches in data protection to get people to realise how serious it can be when it all goes wrong.
  • Run a face to face group session which encourages participants to discuss a range of different scenarios and to explore the consequences of breaches in the legislation.
  • Work with the group to generate some tips to create a check list to use when assessing risk
  • Create some fact cards using the information in your hand-out pack and get participants to use these cards to assess typical situations they may face. An example I created for the credit management course was selecting the best search to do when your organisation has no budget for credit checking.

Tip 3: Brief Everyone about the Training

  • Make sure everyone in the organisation knows about the training and what you are planning to cover. This will help to ensure that the right people attend and that they know why they are attending the training.
  • In your publicity talk about the benefits of attending the training, in the case of credit management it will save your organisation taking on a client who never pays their bill!

The most important thing is about the commitment of the leadership to the training, leaders can have a big influence on training being seen as more than just a “one hit, big tick” event. Effective leaders will make sure that the training becomes part of the way that things are done and provides a safe place for practice and follow up to happen. The trainer can do wonderful tricks to make most topics come alive but if the training is not taken seriously in the organisation then there is no return on the investment and this must be the most boring message for organisations to get!

If having read this you want to attend a programme on Credit Risk Assessment for Chambers and Law Firms then you can book a place at

http://www.cmlawltd.com/contact-us.php

www.bellthompson.co.uk

The Only Way is Ethics

*thanks to Bill Moody for this great title!

I have been working a module on business ethics for a client and have been researching materials on business ethics. I have a copy of the “Good Business- Ethics at work” which is produced by the Quakers and Business Group.  I confess to not having studied this with as much vigour as I should, especially as I am actually a Quaker! I have found it to a very challenging guide and am finding lots of gems to help with the leadership module.

The first section is about honesty and integrity and this seems so relevant today as organisations attempt to shore up practices to ensure that a HackGate incident doesn’t happen to them.

The section begins with advice and then queries which are designed to encourage individuals to reflect and review their own practice.

Honesty and Integrity

Advice

The most important word to remember in all business dealings is ‘integrity’. Integrity is essential to developing trust; we know that a person is acting with integrity when he is not moved by opportunist or self-seeking impulses and we can trust his response to a total situation. Integrity involves being open honest, truthful and consistent with your beliefs in all your business dealings.

The whole of business requires trust, faith and goodwill. In the emerging digital economy, establishing trust is a critical factor for success.

Queries                                      

  • Are you honest and truthful in all you say and do?
  • If pressure is brought upon you to lower your standard of integrity are you prepared to resist it?
  • Do you do what you promise, even if it just to return a phone call?

One of the pressures on my integrity is that I am successful at running training workshops but I know that the return on investment on these is poor unless the organisation really embed the learning. Do I refuse to take on training projects unless there is embedding included or do I leave that to my clients to wake up to the waste of learning that goes on? What about you, what do you say about the dilemmas you face and the pressures on your integrity in your world?

Can we learn leadership lessons from the Tour de France

Four  Leadership Lessons from the Tour

When the Tour de France came to London I caught the pro-cycling bug and started to grasp the fundamentals of pro-cycling which until that point I had not fully understood. Like all trainers I use stories and anecdotes to explain my learning points. These stories have to be real and have to come from your own passion so it is only natural that the Tour starts to seep into my leadership and trainer development programmes.

Lesson One: It’s All About the Team

Road racing is a great example of team work. Way better than the examples of football we used to wheel out when I worked in the law sector. In a cycling team you have clearly defined roles both on and off the road. One of the fascinating aspects is each team has a team leader and the job of the rest of the team is to protect and support that person so that they can get a win for the rest of the team. This means a real sacrifice of personal ego and also means “burying yourself” in pure physical effort to get your team leader to the front. Listen to Mark Renshaw talking about his role in supporting Mark Cavendish to get to the front. Mark Renshaw could win a sprint but he clearly defines his job is to support Cavendish and Mark Cavendish will always talk about how the team made it possible for him to achieve his win. This article from the sports Guardian outlines these roles

Tour de France 2011: Inside the Team HTC-Highroad engine room  http://bit.ly/q8QarF

Lesson Two: Support Staff are Essential

The domestiques are a bit like our admin teams in business. They do the jobs which are essential for the smooth running of the operation. They work incredibly hard to provide water and supplies at the right time and place. The difference is that in Pro-Cycling there are no plans to cut the domestiques! The admin team in cycling is not seen as a soft cut option as it is in business. They recognise that without the support of the domestiques the team leaders would not be able to achieve their race wins because they rely on this backroom support to do their job effectively.

Lesson Three: Observational Coaching and Feedback is Key

During the race the riders are given constant observation about performance of their team members and other teams. They agree a strategy at the beginning of the day and then update the strategy as the race develops. The coaching and management team see what is happening and adjust the strategy minute by minute. There is constant follow-up on the plans and how these were implemented by  the riders.

Lesson Four: Set and Monitor your Ethical Standards

Pro-cycling has had a dubious ethical background with high levels of cheating by doping and other methods. This caused challenges for teams finding sponsorship. Now many of the teams such as Garmin, HTC High Road and Sky have established a clear team ethical code which defines expectations of the team members and creates a culture where a cyclist knows that any attempts to use any drugs is just not acceptable. The equivalent of a phone hacking scandal is unlikely to happen in contemporary cycling because the team managers have set a clear code, monitor the team against the code and make the consequences of code violation really clear. Team managers do not write an ethical code and then ignore it.

So 4 lessons, can we learn something from the model? Is sport ever relevant to the organisational world?

Customer Journey Mapping: a large group intervention

Customer Journey Mapping

Customer Journey Mapping is a method of identifying the main processes that a customer meets when they have an interaction with an organisation. By spending time mapping the journey a customer actually takes organisations can make changes to their processes which are based on real customer requirements.

Completed map

Customer Journey Map Sample

There has been a lot of work done in the UK about mapping customer journeys and the Cabinet Office website is a great place to explore different types of journey from the physical journey of customers using Eurostar through to the virtual journey of someone apply to enter the UK as a worker from outside the EU. http://www.cse.cabinetoffice.gov.uk/getDynamicContentAreaSection.do?id=9

My project involved the careers team from a large University in the UK who wanted to know more about what customer journey mapping was about before they could decide whether to use it in practice or not.

The activity I designed was based on some fictional student profiles. These were designed so that the team could explore the journeys of those students who were not current users of the careers service so that they could identify if there were opportunities that were being missed by the service.

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Steps in Facilitation 2 – Images and Metaphors

Preeti distributing image cardsFor the second of my mentoring sessions with Preeti I decided to keep with the subject of data collection and explore a more sophisticated technique to the standard Post It sort we had used in the previous session.

The brain dump onto Post It notes works really well when everyone can easily articulate their thoughts but sometimes you want something deeper to be explored and the conventional brain dump can end up being a mass of slightly meaningless unconnected words.

We explored using visual imagery as a trigger to an initial dialogue and looked at how you might use this in different settings. I used a set of visual cards from St Lukes Resources. http://tiny.cc/stlukescards

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Steps in Facilitation – Collecting Data

I am mentoring a graduate from the Leeds MBA course who wants to learn about facilitation before she returns to India, so I have 2 months to guide her the skills and tactics of facilitation.
 
 

Brainstorming Facilitation

Our initial thoughts

Our first session was about how to use Post It® notes to generate a range individual responses to a question concerning a team/organisation for example: What causes our meetings to overrun? What is helping employees to feel engaged with the business? What do consumers want from our business?

 

 

Once the answers have been recorded and grouped into categories the next task is to clarify the meaning of each item and ensure that they are in the right category. If the meanings of each note is clarified it then become possible to remove any items which are clear duplicates. This discussion is really important because it will start to define what the key priorities are for the group.Having agreed the categories it is often useful to have a reflective dialogue. A dialogue is a listening space where each individual can choose to share their insights so far and any themes that are starting to emerge from the conversations so far. Inexperienced facilitators often miss this stage and move straight onto voting on the issues and this can mean that some of the more complex grey areas remain unexplored.

The next option might be to prioritise the issues and one very simple way of identifying which are the most important issues for the group is by using a technique called Multi Voting. I have tended to use multi coloured dots so that each person can record their vote on each item at the same time and not have to see their score recorded on a chart.

The number of dots can be allocated by taking the total number of categories eg 6 and allocating 6 points to the top choice, 5 to the next point…., this requires 16 dots per person. However if there are more categories than this and lots of people, then this can become very messy in which case it is often recommended that the number of items are divided by 3 and then dots allocated so there is enough to put one dot on 2/3rds of the items. I often propose that a maximum of 3 dots can be placed on each item.

 

Using multi voting and coloured dots

Our attempt at multi voting

I wondered what other facilitators were doing on the topic and I discovered lots of different methods. One other method I liked was from an organisation called Dotmocracy and they have printed sheets you could use. I can see how these could be combined with the post it notes to really gain some insights from larger groups on the issues: http://www.dotmocracy.org/sheets

 

Then I came across this blog discussion on the use of dots and I realised that this was a really big area of debate amongst facilitators. http://www.albany.edu/cpr/gf/resources/Voting_with_dots.html

My conclusions are to stick with a process that makes pragmatic sense at the time and the facilitator will need to make a judgement call. All the attempts to make a science out of the number of dots looked flawed in practice and I am drawn back to the title of Tony Mann’s book: “Facilitation: an art, a science or skill or all three” and would conclude that this is a great example of “all three”

Facilitation Book

Facilitation – an Art, Science, Skill – or all three? Build your expertise in facilitation


Facts, Myths and Misunderstandings in Facilitation and Training

One of the most depressing elements of being involved in the facilitation and training profession is the tendency to over focus on great design skills, making things fun and interactive and a lack of really disciplined critical thinking.

 There is a heavy reliance on “pop” research and this is used without thinking by trainers and facilitators when they are working with groups and when they are training others in their professional area. I have come across a number of facilitators who based their designs on accommodating the four different learning styles identified by Honey and Mumford. Their designs include activities which will appeal to the four different styles. What is concerning about this is that this was not the intention of the learning styles approach in the first place and secondly there is very little researched evidence into the validity of this tool or others that are similar. To read more check out the Learning Skills Network site and download their document:

https://crm.lsnlearning.org.uk/user/order.aspx?code=041540

 Another good site I have come across is Roger Greenaway’s site which is packed with research on facilitation and learning topics. I came across this page when I was preparing some materials for a workshop where we are going to critique the issues of learning styles. This page gives a summary of Kolb Experiential Learning Cycle and then explores critiques of Kolb.

http://reviewing.co.uk/research/experiential.learning.htm

 One of the really exciting elements of my new project to develop an academic pathway in facilitation is the need to do a literature review in the field of facilitation and start to separate out some of the myths from the well researched and documented data. I know this is going to make my practice stronger and I hope will influence others.

Learning from Observations

This week I have been preparing for my new role as a tutor on the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development’s programmes. It has got me really thinking about how people learn to do particular jobs and how formal programmes like this combine with less structured learning experiences that you have on the job. An example of this is how as a trainer you learn how to move from the expert deliverer of set materials to become more of a facilitative trainer who can handle uncertainty in the learning activities like discussions where there is no clear outcome or correct answer. I was exploring this in more depth with a friend of mine who is also working in the field and we were sharing the different elements that had encouraged us to move away from the scripted form of training. For me one important element was having the opportunity very early in my career to watch and to work alongside others.

 

It was the value of observational learning that linked with another conversation I had earlier in the month. A friend of mine works for a health authority and had done some observation and facilitation work with the team who were setting up the incident room for Swine Flu for the authority. They were facing a tough job in challenging circumstances and were in many cases following a set of emergency procedures already laid down. One observation struck me, when they were setting up the incident room they installed a large plasma screen TV. When asked what this was for the managers replied that it was so that they could play BBC News 24 continuously so that the team would be updated about what was happening with swine flu. The fact that they would be supplying the news to the BBC did not seem to strike them as negated the need for a massive TV. Further probing discovered that the managers believed that all incident centres need massive TVs.

 

This learning was not from any real incident centres in the health authority (this was their first one), probing questions established that the team were unconsciously using as their models incident rooms they had seen on TV and in films, all of which featured large scale screens. What is scary about this story is how believable it is, how much of our learning is from watching fictional examples and taking this in without any further critical analysis and then implementing strategies and approaches based on our observations of a ficitionalised situation.

 

It made me realise that valuable as observations are of both real situation and from other sources they are only part of the picture. The discussions that I had with my colleagues after the event, the reading that I did for my professional qualification and my own reflections on the observations all of these lead to the development of what I consider to be my good practice in facilitative training.

 

www.bellthompson.co.uk

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