Wednesday, 30 January 2008

Interesting Links (January 2008)

As attention focused on annual SMART (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant & Time-based) goal setting - Jon Ingham suggests an alternative framework (particularly for knowledge workers) - MUSIC

Motivational: focused on what would truly inspire the individual to go beyond simply doing his or her job.

Unusual: good performance management systems already stress that performance management objectives should not focus on part of the day jobs, but should reflect new or increased responsibilities or requirements. In performance leadership, we may need to extend this further to ensure that each individual is set objectives that are different to other peoples' or what they have done before.

Sensory: one of the reasons that SMART objectives have been quite useful is that they extend the pyschological priming effect that simply having a clear set of goals provides (just having goals can sometimes be all that is needed to make them happen as the brain starts to unconsciously guide action towards their achievement). But this is even more effective when the goals are supported by thinking about the sensory evidence that would come with their achievement (NLP practitioners will know what I'm talking about here).

Individual: I've already said that goals should be unusual, and it is their focus on each individual, their own particulaly skills, motivations and interests, that provides this.

Congruent: This isn't about people going AWOL, goals still need to relate to the business plan, but they come from the individual and the individual's insight into how they might play the greatest role in delivering the business strategy, than from a piece of paper produced by people at the top of the organisation who don't know the details about what people lower down the organisation do

...could be helpful to re-energise those who have been hearing about SMART for the past decade ?!


Here is a website focused on Talent Management that was recently brought to my attention - from a quick scan there are some interesting articles for HR/L&D colleagues posted here !


Harvard Business School - Working Knowledge start 2008 with an interesting article on 'Does Judgment Trump Experience' providing an executive summary of the current scholarship from Warren Bennis and Noel Tichy.

..... the authors have undertaken the formidable task of describing judgment and how good judgments are formed and carried out, based on observations of successful and unsuccessful leaders. They assert that "making judgment calls (especially about people, strategy, and crises) is the essential job of a leader" and go on to say that "with good judgment, little else matters; without good judgment, nothing else matters."


Many folk provide predictions on the direction of L&D in 2008 - here is one such thought-prokoving article:

"We believe the bigger business issues relating to boomers leaving the workforce is how we will continue to get access to talent and how we will manage that talent. The transformation to a global workforce is already under way. Companies are solving the talent access problem by going global and getting skilled labor wherever it is available. Collaboration and telecommunications technologies allow us to have employees anywhere in the world. So, how do we recruit and train employees in a global workforce? This is the challenge facing the training industry."


For L&D colleagues - the following link provides a helpful glossary of terms relating to e-learning

Wednesday, 23 January 2008

Innovation Health Check: Assessing Your Organization’s Capacity for Breakthrough Thinking (White Paper)

Here is an interesting white-paper from the KT (Kepner-Tregoe) Review
Subscribe to the KT Review

Innovation Health Check: Assessing Your Organization’s Capacity for Breakthrough Thinking by Alan P. Brache, Executive Director, Business Solutions Kepner-Tregoe, Inc.

Diagnose your organization’s innovation environment. By looking at nine key factors, you can diagnose how your organization supports or hinders innovation. Your organization’s capacity for breakthrough thinking is influenced by your strategy, business processes, structure and other variables. By examining these and other key areas, you have the equivalent of a comprehensive physical exam that focuses on your innovation health. Read this article of the other variables is 'Human Capabilities': 'A clear strategy, well-wired workflows, and on-target measures will not compensate for an absence of innovation's raw material: talent'.

The author then expands on the importance of both hiring & development to build this 'raw material' !

For me this article does a good job at identifying a set of key questions relating to assessing Organizational Capability for Innovation - clearly positioning the need to focus on Human Capabilities within this broader context.

Friday, 18 January 2008

People Styles at Work (book review)

I recently read People Styles at Work by Robert & Dorothy Bolton.

This is not a new publication - rather it is the text that supports our basic Interpersonal Skills training in the US.

[this model seems to have attracted more interest in the US than the UK ... and while not particularly robust evidence - it is interesting to see that the US site carries customer reviews of the book, while in the UK they await the first review to be added !]

People Styles (also referred to as The Social Styles Model') was developed ca. 40 years ago by Dr. David Merrill (an industrial psychologist).

'A person's style is his or her pattern of assertive and responsive behavior. The pattern is useful in predicting how the person prefers to work with others.'

While most models of 'psychological types' can be traced back to the foundational work of Carl Jung, the differentiating factor claimed for Social Styles is that it focuses on differences between people's outer behaviours rather than differences in their inner states.

As the quote above highlights - the model (as used by Bolton & Bolton) suggests that this can be focused down to just two dimensions of ASSERTIVENESS and RESPONSIVENESS. Consequently, the Behavioral Inventory (Questionnaire) is a very simple self assessment comprising of 9 questions on each dimension. From this the reader can identify their style as either:

  • ANALYTICAL (less assertive, less responsive)
  • DRIVER (more assertive, less responsive )
  • AMIABLE (less assertive, more responsive)
  • EXPRESSIVE (more assertive, more responsive)

As with other tools such as MBTI there is no 'best' style. Each style has characteristic strengths and weaknesses not shared by the other styles.

As the authors state:

'Whether at work or at home, success and happiness involve relating to others across a chasm of significant behavioural differences. Clearly, if you could figure out how to bridge the gap between yourself and others, you could make your own life - and theirs - much easier, happier, and more productive. That in a nutshell is what this book is about.'

In my view, the authors do a good job in clearly communicating the model, and helping the reader understand some key concepts, such as:
  • how the specific 'Strengths' for each style become specific 'Weaknesses' when overused
  • the different 'Back-up Styles' that tend to emerge in response to excessive stress (typically these behaviours becoming more extreme and inflexible)

The first part of the book focuses on promoting understand of the model and these core concepts. The second part of the book provides clear, step-by-step advice on how to flex your style ('as the key to productive relationships').

In summary, a book of this nature will naturally draw critique of both the author's structuring of information and the model itself. Bolton & Bolton have created a practical and accessible handbook for the Social Styles (People Styles) Model. The value for the reader will however depend on the level of prior exposure to psychological types and related work used in the workplace (be it MBTI, DISC, FIRO, Transactional Analysis, etc). The simplicity of Social Styles provides a helpful starting point to help colleagues understand that not everyone sees the world from the same frame-of-reference as they do ! (ie to build so-called Emotional Intelligence)

As the authors quote:

'The ability to relate well to people has become a critical factor for success in nearly every position in the modern organization'

Saturday, 12 January 2008

Speed Lead (Book Review)

I recently received a copy of the book Speed Lead by Kevan Hall (

This is cited as ‘The practical antidote to corporate complexity’. Hall is the founder & CEO of Global Integration Ltd ( . Hence this book incorporates the experience of ‘consulting and training more than 35,000 people in over 200 of the world’s leading companies in 40+ countries.’

The book explores four areas where simpler ways of working can speed up results:
Ø Cooperation
Ø Communication
Ø Control
Ø Community

The over-riding message in each of these areas is one of needing to ‘unlearn traditional management skills’. This includes:

Ø ‘deciding when not to be a team’
Ø ‘helping people communicate less’
Ø manager success linked to giving up control, and
Ø avoiding ‘too much investment in the wrong types of community’

‘We came to realise that the traditional line management skills that had made us successful early in our careers were holding us back in a more complex world. We learnt new skills ourselves and by working with hundreds of real teams, we evolved different ways of working to reduce and cope with complexity’

The book is indeed a collection of practical ‘common-sense’ (but often not ‘common practice’) advice, and the author highlights that ‘all of the value is in the implementation – it’s not what you know that counts in management, it’s what you do’.

Memorable descriptors and metaphors bring the concepts to life. In the chapter on Coordination, Hall talks about ‘spaghetti teams’ to illustrate the complexity of co-ordinating interconnected work involving eight or more colleagues. This complexity slows down co-ordination, vs. organising work using ‘star groups’ (in situations where interconnectivity of issues can be minimised).

For those seeking ideas relating to promoting increased empowerment within their organisation, the chapters on Control will be interesting reading. A powerful metaphor is offered for ‘breaking the chains of command’.

‘We use the metaphor of a waterline in working with teams to get them to diagnose the balance of control and autonomy that is right for them.’

On ships the waterline represents a clear point at which risk increases. This is variable depending on the conditions, for example: if the cargo is particularly heavy, or the weather becomes much rougher. Hence the point is made that ‘it is even more important to lower the waterline when you can than to raise it when you must.’

The section on Community covers several themes, particularly the balance of ‘loyalty to the centre’ vs. ‘loyalty to the local’; and also the impact of working with a mix of cultural values. Hall emphasizes that ‘understanding that community is different in complex companies can help you stop investing in unnecessary community and focus your time and effort on where it really adds value’.

My main criticism of the text is the narrow focus of the ideas explored in the section on Communication. In my view Hall rightly emphasizes communication as a ‘major time stealer’. As he states:

‘Communication technology has massively amplified our ability to miscommunicate and given us the ability to confuse far larger groups of people in more varied locations. Its immediacy also makes it too easy to fall into the trap of micro-management.’

Unfortunately the book focuses almost exclusively on achieving an appropriate balance between e-mail, phone and face-to-face communications. No mention is made of Web 2.0 technologies – and the speed advantages of appropriately using blogs, wikis, RSS readers etc. in workplace communications.

Given the breadth of advice being provided, I anticipate that all managers will find new ideas to implement within their organisations. The topic of ‘Speed’ is highly relevant in today’s workplace and the concepts presented are highly practical. The book describes the learning journey of the Global Integration Ltd consultants in their unlearning of (over-emphasising) traditional management skills to better cope with the complexity of modern multi-site companies. Consequently, this book will be particularly helpful for challenging the assumptions of leaders who have also relied on a mix of command and team-working in the past.

Monday, 7 January 2008

The Role of the Line Manager in Facilitating Workplace Learning - Part 4 (of 4)

This post concludes my thoughts I'm pulling together ahead of a forthcoming presentation later in the year.

The Role of the Line Manager in Facilitating Workplace Learning - Part 1

The Role of the Line Manager in Facilitating Workplace Learning - Part 2

The Role of the Line Manager in Facilitating Workplace Learning - Part 3

In this section I consider the implications of a learner-centric focus for managers.

CIPD (and others) cite a move from 'training' (an instructor-led content based intervention, leading to desired changes in behaviour) to 'learning' (a self-directed, work-based process leading to increased adaptive capacity).

In the CIPD model (see A Worthwhile Read ) they cite that the implications include:

For the Employer - 'expresses clear commitment to learning as a business driver and ensures that sufficient resources are available'

For the Line Manager - 'Initiates opportunities for individuals to develop and apply their learning at work. Provides on-the-job coaching'

In my view this is a desirable direction for L&D - but needs to be explained further (to these stakeholders) in order to gain the required commitment.

Keeping things simple - I see two main areas driving this change from 'training' to 'learning'

Firstly - the changing psychological contract (or put simply without HR-speak ... the fact that organisations no longer can realistically offer 'a job-for-life').

Secondly - the proliferation of collaboration tools (typically described as Enterprise 2.0 ... Web 2.0 tools in the workplace)

The Changing Psychological Contract:
While organisations can no longer offer a job-for-life, in my view they should strive to keep employees 'employable' it for future roles inside or external to the organisation. This may be viewed as promoting 'a career for life' rather than 'a job for life'.

Organisations can take a lead here - through line manager coaching and the strategic focus of L&D - providing employees with better insights of how they learn (e.g. learning styles), and why they should learn (eg Schein's career anchors). They can also illustrate best practices through sharing inspirational stories of colleagues (or external folk) who have actively managed their own careers.

The Proliferation of Collaboration Tools
Jay Cross provides some great sound-bites on this topic, including:

'In a knowledge era, work & learning become synonymous - and knowledge workers are becoming self-service learners.

....conversation is the most potent educational technology known to man, and Web 2.0 amplifies our conversations'

Hence to thrive on Web 2.0 an employee must be able to:

  • navigate the web to find people and information
  • collaborate
  • express him/herself
  • connect with other people
  • be a productive contributor to groups

There are many consequences for the line manager - not least to build up sufficient personal knowledge of this area to be an enabler rather than barrier to help coach their reports to fully utilise these tools within the workplace.

Thoughts ?!


'In times of change the learner shall inherit the earth, while the learned will be equiped for a world that no longer exists' (James Thurber - humorist)

Thursday, 3 January 2008

The Role of the Line Manager in Facilitating Workplace Learning - Part 3

This post follows on from:

The Role of the Line Manager in Facilitating Workplace Learning - Part 1

The Role of the Line Manager in Facilitating Workplace Learning - Part 2

I have been asked to give a presentation on the above title at an international L&D Conference later in the year.

Consequently, I've started to pull together my initial thoughts on this topic. I plan to use this blog as a mechanism to help pull these ideas together, and (hopefully) to get some feedback from others reading this emergent 'presentation'.

In this part I examine the opportunities for L&D professionals to help to develop the coaching ability of managers

... on the basis that this is a core skill that can be developed through training, and can help managers be more effective at employee development (leading to significantly higher performance).

Using the PDCA cycle (Plan, Do, Check, Act) - this can be helpful to illustrate the integration of training into a broader learning 'loop' of improvement.

PLAN: I believe there is value in championing common coaching frameworks - to be taught systematically to all new people managers. This is actually more important than searching for the 'ultimate' coaching model. Through creating a common language there is greater opportunity for both peer-to-peer, and manager-to-report support (especially in global organisations with ever shifting reporting relationships)

DO: As well as training, consider the opportunities for skills-practice that extend beyond any brief opportunities obtained through role-play in-the-classroom. Company supported mentoring schemes can be a great vehicle for this !

CHECK: Regular monitoring & feedback to managers is critical to maintain a focus (recognise & reward success) on achieving the desired outcomes from applying the coaching skills. Consider the use of regular colleague engagement surveys - that typically explore the extent to which colleagues feel their managers have supported their development in recent months.

ACT: Provide options to go beyond the initial intervention & reinforcement that individuals/departments can act on the data from monitoring. This may take the form of a second 'tier' of training opportunities ...where it may be appropriate to help delegates better understand 'when not to use a coaching style' rather than 'more of the same'.

the final part will consider the implications for managers of an increased self-directed learner-centric focus - created due to shifts in the psychological contract (no longer the expectation of 'a job-for-life'), and enabled by new 'Knowledge Management' technologies.

Tuesday, 1 January 2008

Predictions for 2008

Happy New Year !

Given that it is traditional at this time to make predictions for the forthcoming 12 months - here are mine relating to the L&D Profession.

Firstly - I see 2008 as the year when Web 2.0 tools will start to be integrated into mainstream L&D. Currently I see a massive gap between the knowledge of the early adopters of Web 2.0 technologies and the vast majority of L&D/HR colleagues (and other colleagues in our organisations). For example: just do a quick straw poll on how many colleagues know what an RSS reader is, and how it can improve workplace productivity. In 2007, we started to see the occasional article in CIPD, ASTD and similiar L&D publications 2008 I hope the discussion will increase.

From increased awareness, I anticipate we (as the L&D profession) will start to identify the most beneficial tools for enhanced 'blended' learning (blended - both in the sense of (i) instructor led & 'e-learning'; and also (ii) L&D influenced & manager-influenced workplace learning).

Secondly - given the anticipated ecomonic 'slowdown', I anticipate that 2008 will further differentiate between organisations that see L&D as an investment to navigate the difficult operating climate, and those who dont make this a strategic priority (and hence impose significant financial cuts to L&D activities).

Many L&D professionals are already well skilled in driving value-for-money - through solid management of training services procurement (e.g. leverage of volume discounts with third party vendors), attendance (e.g. ensuring classes run full) and metrics (e.g. demonstrating to line managers their role in securing lasting behavioural change)

I'd anticipate these skills will be ever more important (as well as those more traditionally associated with our profession - e.g. instructional design, learning needs analysis, facilitation).

Thirdly - I see 2008 as a year of increased merging of roles & responsibilities in our HR profession. In 2007 there seemed to be an increasing number of articles highlighting the limitations of the Ulrich model - and the dangers of L&D being a silo (or even separate profession).

The need for the L&D profession to look beyond 'training' to ensure effective workplace learning, and the need for HR business partners to engage (ever more impactfully) with business leaders on both performance management & talent management/development, should help bring HR more closely together.

Hence, for L&D professionals, we need to expertly understand 'Performance Management' and 'Talent Management' strategies, tools & current best practices.

....only the next 12 months will tell !