Learning professionals need to get out of their “bubble” and realise that not everything they have done in the past will be relevant for the future, according to CIPD chief executive Peter Cheese.
Addressing delegates at this month’s CIPD Learning and Development Show, he stressed how learning is key to being an adaptable, successful organisation, and the show was packed with pragmatic insights into how to deliver better learning experiences now, as well as some glimpses into the future.
Quotes from the conference
“It is crucial we build agile organisations and central to agility is learning.” Peter Cheese, chief executive, CIPD
“We need to create a learning culture that enables us to respond more quickly to business needs.” Learning Trends Report 2017, Open University
“Focus on outcomes rather than how to solve the problem.” Daniel Susskind, author of The Future of the Professions
“What was under our noses was not the smell of raw fish but the smell of raw talent.” Ros Hall, training manager, Farne Salmon and Trout
“We need to create a developmental love machine.” Professor Cliff Oswick, chair in Organisation Theory, City University, London
“If you want L&D to be credible it needs to be anchored into your business strategy.” Head of L&D, Securitas Security Services
Launching its Learning Trends Report 2017 at the show, the Open University set out six trends it says will impact on organisational learning. These include learning for the future, learning through social media, productive failure, formative analytics, design thinking and learning from the crowd.
These trends suggest that organisations should focus on embedding learning as a key skill for all employees and that data should be at the heart of learning design. Technology should be used as an enabler for collaboration, which is a prerequisite for innovation and creativity.
The report’s authors urge organisations to design learning that helps employees learn from each other.
“We work in a new learning age of interaction and collaboration, driven by digital technology and an increasing pace of change. Workplace learning needs to reflect that,” the authors say.
One way employers can enable collaboration is to create spaces in which colleagues can learn from each other.
Professor Cliff Oswick and Dr Santi Furnari of City University, London, talked about “reciprocity rings” as a way of enabling collaboration.
A reciprocity ring is made up of 10 to 18 people who come together to ask for help. An individual makes a request for help from the group and then others pitch in with offers of help. Requests need to be specific, meaningful, action-oriented, based on real need and time bound, or SMART.
Furnari says reciprocity rings are effective because they give participants permission to ask for help – something employees often struggle with.
To work, all participants have to ask for help and the process of giving help has to be public. It is also important that people give something without expecting anything immediately in return, although they can be confident that at some point in the future someone will return the favour.
“It is important that everyone makes a request. A key problem is that people tend not to ask for help. It creates a safe space for help. Everyone has to ask for help,” says Furnari.
By using reciprocity rings to focus on development issues, Oswick says organisations can create reciprocal learning networks. By coming together to help each other with development needs, employees can build informal learning networks to share resources.
“Create a group where people feel comfortable asking for help and helping. This becomes a web of connections that engages and energises people. Collaboration does not work when it is forced top down,” says Oswick. Neither does it work if everyone is taking rather than giving. “It has to be based on giving and taking. Just taking won’t work.”
All skills matter
For fish processing company, Farne Salmon and Trout, improved learning and productivity meant ditching personal performance ratings.
Learning and development resources
Rather than focus on annual appraisals, the company embarked on a listening project in order to get a more rounded view of each of its 700 employees.
It wanted to know about all the skills of its employees, not just those they used in the workplace. Managers were trained in how to have effective conversations and all employees were interviewed over a two-year period.
The result? “It was truly amazing what skills we had in the organisation. From footballers, to teachers, to chefs,” says Ros Hall, training manager at the company.
The company analysed all the interview responses and identified a number of benefits for the company. These included revealing candidates for roles in different areas of the business, identifying training needs and finding ways to improve efficiency and productivity.
Employees with teaching skills were used to deliver training, for example, and employees who could speak more than one language were used as translators.
As a follow-up to the initiative, the company shared employee success stories on posters and digital screens around the business and all employees received a personal letter home reflecting on the conversations.
“People could see that there was action from the conversations,” says Anna Nesbit, Farne’s HR business partner. The initiative has helped the business grow from £62m in 2012 to £110m in 2017, and there has been a 12% reduction in labour costs and an increase in productivity.
It has boosted attraction too. More than 700 people applied to work for the company in 2016, despite it being located in the rural Scottish borders.
The one-on-one conversations have helped employees feel more valued and as a result more engaged. “We have to understand that everyone is different. One-to-one conversations helped people feel more valued. This has led to better performance and productivity,” adds Nesbit.
Everyone is a leader
A focus on everyone’s needs, rather than the needs of the few, is reflected in Nigel Paine’s approach to building leadership development programmes.
The author of Building Leadership Development Programmes That Work told delegates that everyone is a leader and that leadership has to be embedded throughout the organisation.
He offered four tips on making leadership development work.
Firstly, focus on leadership, not leaders. “Everybody is a leader. Everybody can make a difference. I think the charismatic leader taking the troops over the hill is long, long gone,” he says.
Secondly, provide context and show what it means to be a leader in your organisation. “A huge amount of leadership development is done without context. It’s kind of vanilla leadership development. It doesn’t mean anything. It’s definitely going to fail. You have to have context. Relate leadership to your people and business challenges,” he adds.
Thirdly, approach leadership as a process not a course. Paine advises: “If you see leadership development as a course that you put people through, and not a process which you begin as an engagement that carries on probably for the rest of their career, you’re wasting your time.”
Finally, ensure there are consequences for non-compliance. “If you’re setting behaviours and values and standards for leadership, it doesn’t mean that the CFO doesn’t have to adhere to that because she’s the CFO – or because we all know she’s a bit of a bully.
“It’s 100% compliance, so that everybody in the organisation knows the standards and the procedures and the attitudes and the guidelines around which they’re being led. No exceptions. And anyone who thinks they are an exception probably shouldn’t be in that organisation.”
For L&D professionals, the message was that the best way to build great learning is to stay relevant and keep learning themselves. As the CIPD’s Peter Cheese says: “We have to invest in ourselves. We have often been the cobbler’s children. We need to keep current and understand how to create great learning experiences.”