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Bending into the wind: staying agile in 2017

How can you stay agile and lead a business when it feels like things are falling apart?

As 2016 rolled to a close, many of us heaved a sigh of relief, looking forward to a new year that offered hope of better things after a tumultuous twelve months.

But as you look ahead, have you put much thought into the way your business leaders can support your team through any further difficulties that might come in the aftermath of last year’s political and economic changes? We spend much of our waking lives in the workplace, where the organisational culture impacts the wellbeing of every team member. When that environment is impacted as seriously as we witnessed in 2016, people can lose motivation and morale can be low.

We don’t like to hear words like ‘volatile’, ‘uncertain’, ‘complex’ and ‘ambiguous’ in association with our business plans, but it’s unrealistic not to expect changes in the global landscape to have an impact, whatever the size of your organisation. As specialist consultancy Control Risks commented in December 2016:

“The unexpected US election and Brexit referendum results that caught the world by surprise have tipped the balance to make 2017 one of the most difficult years for business’ strategic decision making since the end of the Cold War.

“The catalysts to international business – geopolitical stability, trade and investment liberalisation and democratisation – are facing erosion.”

Successful leaders know how to restore morale, set goals and tasks that draw teams together, and develop their employees as well as themselves, offering everyone the right opportunities. As currently hard to predict changes make their inevitable marks in the coming months, do your leadership team know how to engage with people (both professionally and personally) in a time of uncertainty, and how to maintain a positive culture that maintains productivity, with plans for future growth?


Women in Leadership: Is the female of the species more human than the male?

Are women in leadership really as different as we’re led to believe?

In recent years, we’ve begun to see an increase – some might say a long overdue increase – in women entering the top positions, bringing with them a new approach to leadership and managing complex business situations in a world that’s currently full of challenge and antagonism.

With a female PM stepping in to guide the country through the response to a controversial referendum, a woman coming close to the top job in the USA and an increase in female CEOs on the world stage, has leadership changed in response?

Many believe that men and women lead differently, focusing on different skills and approaches. But is this down to gender differences, or is it simply a change triggered by necessity when the world as a whole has changed and the way we lead must adapt to suit?

With so much focus on the gender differences, are we blinded to the more complex needs of our team? After all, there are a great many factors that determine who we are – and what makes us unique – other than the sex we individually happen to be. Is categorising your workforce by gender truly going to help you to better connect to them, develop them and get the best from every member of the team?

One area in which people believe women lead differently is in their’ humanity’ – their ‘soft skills’ approach to managing business. But is this, perhaps, less to do with being female and more to do with the proven successes of understanding your employees as complex individuals, and of communicating more openly as a way to create more connected, content and committed workers?


Post-truth or post-trust?

Without trust, there’s no need to assess truth – why leadership behaviours matter

Dictionaries don’t often make headline news, but Oxford Dictionaries Word of the Year is an annual exception – an easy attention-grabbing article that can congratulate itself on seizing the zeitgeist. If newspaper columnists and web editors felt an ironic chill climb their spines as they reported this year’s winner – post-truth – it was probably their relief that the acronym ‘MSM’ (MainStream Media, almost invariably used derogatorily) wasn’t selected instead. Oxford’s definition, however, is worth pondering:

post-truth (adjective) Relating to or denoting circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief.

Before 2016, we weren’t strangers to being urged to ‘believe’, usually in the context of believing in something so vigorously that it would come true. Quite often, the context was celebrity. (As the Guardian pointed out recently, this has also been The Year of The Snowflake, and of delicate princesses of all genders.) 2016 has, as with so many things, turned this power of belief on its head. Believing now trumps – and what other verb could we use? – empirical fact. Forensic science be damned, evidence is now a thing of the past.

Looking back as the year draws to a close, it seems reasonable to ask if this really is the year of ‘post-truth’ or if this is a symptom of something deeper – that this is the year of ‘post-trust’. In one of the year’s most notable quotes back in June, the then Justice Secretary, Michael Gove, declared in a Sky News interview that:

 “[…] people in this country have had enough of experts.”

There was a context, of course: the divisive EU Referendum campaign, in which dismissing all expert opinion may have seemed a quicker route to sealing an argument that presenting a counter-case, but quotes have a habit of resonating even when they’ve been shorn from their original setting. But in courting feeling, emotion and opinion over fact, we run a risk of undermining not just experts but facts themselves: disbelieving something is not the same as disproving it.


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Learning evolution


How we learn is changing – and how we teach must change too

Formal learning has always had – and will always have – a place in L&D, and we will always support the formal learning programmes our clients request. But we also know that people learn in different ways, and that our approach has to be adaptable to support more of them through their learning journey: this is an age of learning evolution. We also appreciate that employees place widely varying value on different learning experiences, and that the training they get is not always the training they might want.

CIPD’s Employee Outlook Autumn 2016 report explored this topic, with interesting findings. While 86% found instructor-led off-the-job training useful/very useful, even higher percentages valued learning from peers, on-the-job training, job rotations and secondments. Looking more specifically at comparisons of value with the types of training actually received, it’s striking that 81% valued blended learning, but only 4% had received it in the last twelve months. Coaching was also valued by 81%, but received by only 8%. (CIPD’s Learning and Development 2015 Annual Survey Report also showed coaching as the only learning method that a higher percentage of respondees reported as effect than reported using regularly, which begs an unanswered question.)

L&D is also, of course, a business function, and economic factors are an important influencing factor on a changing landscape. L&D budgets are under significant pressure in many industries, especially in the public sector: even in the private sector, as many respondents identified budget cuts as increases. A general picture of rising L&D workloads and decreases headcounts emerges, although increased expenditure on learning technologies is widespread. In looking at training that was both received and valued in the Autumn 2016 Employee Outlook report, it is striking to note that 35% received no training at all. When we consider how much support employees are receiving in being effective performers, it is sobering to remember another CIPD report from 2014 – previously commented on here – that showed that 36% of line managers receive no training in how to better perform their vital role.


White Paper: The Learning Transfer Problem


When organisations say they have a learning or training problem, it is likely that what they really have is a learning transfer problem. When people learn, they do so by relating new information to something they already know. This explains why teachers and trainers use examples and case studies, and why they so often say ‘For instance…” Metaphors – which also equate one thing with another – are useful ways to explain too. Which might be why we might the following point in our White Paper: The Problem with Learning Transfer :

“[…] any approach that suggests that learning ceases at the end of the last session of formal learning is akin to suggesting that a marriage ends once the rings have been exchanged.”

Learning Transfer: A Broken Engagement?

Formal learning – whether it takes place in a lecture theatre, a seminar room or on the screen of a smartphone – can achieve only so much. While it delivers new attitudes, skills and knowledge, there are two things it cannot do:

  • Ensure that they are personalised to ensure the understanding of each individual learner
  • Put them into practise.

What Comes After

Learning Transfer is relatively easy to define. In a widely quoted 1988 research article that included an initial ‘model’ that showed the factors that influence it, Timothy Baldwin and Kevin Ford offered the following:

“The generalization of the skills acquired during the training phase to the work environment and the maintenance of those acquired skills over time.”

But decades of research that show that only 5 – 20% of formal learning is ever subsequently transferred demonstrates that achieving it is rather harder, despite not just the huge amounts spent on training but also available evidence that shows how less of this might be wasted.





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