Posts Tagged ‘learning and development’

“Switch it off and switch it back on again”

August 23, 2012

I don’t know about you, but whenever my computer is playing up I’ll spend several frustrating minutes trying to figure out why and fix the problem (which, given my limited knowledge of IT, is unlikely at the best of times). Then I’ll try everyone’s favourite method of switching it off and switching it on again – and voila! It’s amazing how often it kicks back into life like nothing has happened.

You’ll have also heard people say that the brain is like a computer. So what happens if you put those two ideas together?

Like most people, I’ve taken a break over the summer, but this year I’ve done things a little differently.

In the past, even if I went on holiday, I’d take some work with me. If nothing else, while everyone else was eagerly reading the latest pool-side best-seller, I’d read a couple of books on management and leadership before letting myself read for fun.

This year, however, for a full week I consciously chose NOT to think about anything work related. I did this to the extent that if work-related thoughts crept into my mind, I’d consciously switch them off and think about or do something else.

Here are five of the most productive and useful things to have come out of that experiment.

 

1. Guilt lessens as you realise the value of switching off

Many people feel guilty about taking time out and simply allowing themselves to switch off – the self employed in particular, where there’s no one else to take up the slack if you take a break.

However, if you’ve set yourself a clear time frame for switching off, for example “this week, I’m not thinking about anything work related at all”, you’ll feel less guilty in the knowledge that you WILL be tackling these issues in good time. Just not now.

If you start to stress that you’ll forget something important, write it down somewhere, and then put it aside.

Trust me: the world won’t stop if you do.

 

2. You’ll get things into perspective

It’s all too easy to get bogged down in day-to-day matters which do have to be addressed, but which, if you give them too much attention as and when they arise, take up far too much of your focus and time.

I, for one, am often guilty of dealing with things immediately as they arise, in effect treating everything as an emergency and running the risk of faffing about with the small things rather than concentrating on the things that really matter.

Allowing yourself to switch off and, as it were, view some of these things with detachment, gives you a different, clearer perspective on what actually matters.

 

3. You’ll learn new things and make fresh connections

When you deliberately step away from your work you’ll find yourselves doing other things – things that engage and interest you. Even though you’ve deliberately ‘switched off’ from work, you’re not wasting time doing nothing.

Allowing yourself to focus on other things provides valuable opportunities to learn new things which can in the long term prove MUCH more useful than if you’d tried to stay half tuned-in to work.

I’ve been doing a bit of research on creativity and innovation, and one of the most useful things I’ve done in recent months is wander round a few art galleries. Not only was it a relaxing thing to do, it provided food for thought, and I met one or two interesting people who have provided me with valuable insights as to how the artistic process relates to innovation.

 

4. Subconscious works

In essence, when you deliberately switch off from work-related issues, you allow your subconscious to take over and figure it all out for you.

The power of your subconscious is not to be underestimated: it can and will draw upon hidden strengths and forgotten knowledge in order to solve problems, generate new ideas and so on … but it can’t work effectively if your conscious mind is constantly over-riding it. Switching off provides the opportunity for it to work for you. 

My personal example of this relates to a training workshop I’d been asked to develop and deliver at short notice. Instead of fretting in front of the computer screen trying to dredge ideas up from nowhere, I went for a run.

By the time I came back an hour later, I had a clear idea of the content and structure of the workshop, and even some of the props and visuals I was going to use.

There’s no way I’d have come up with the same quality of ideas if I’d tried to force them: it was a case of deliberately doing something else and letting my subconscious do the work.

 

5. When you switch on again

This, my friends, came as perhaps the biggest surprise of all, and is perhaps the most important point: if you take time to switch off, when you switch on again and tune back in to work, you’ll find that during the time you’ve switched off, something has happened.

You’re better able to focus, you have better ideas and you’re more motivated – not in spite of, but BECAUSE you’ve switched off and switched on again.

 

So here’s the thing. Take time to switch off: you don’t have to go on holiday, you can take a ten minute breather. It’s counter intuitive, but sometimes switching off rather than ploughing on can be the most productive thing to do.

 

Leadership skills that EVERYONE should develop # 7 – develop leaders around you.

August 13, 2011

There are many indicators that show how good a leader you are. And if you’ve absorbed all the lessons in my series so far … and put them into practice, you should be getting there yourself. But one more thing that leaders at any level can challenge themselves to ACTIVELY do is to develop leadership skills in others … the key word here being ‘actively’. It’s easy to be so involved in the business of leading (or leading the business) that it’s easy to lose track of who’s climbing the ladder behind you, or to just assume that other leaders are stepping up to the plate behind you.

So here’s what you need to do …

1) Identify and encourage those with leadership potential.
Keep your eyes open for people who demonstrate integrity and leadership capability, not just in terms of their output, but also in terms of their behaviours.

Bear in mind that this capability can manifest itself in many different ways, and some of them might be easier for you to spot than others. By that, I mean it might be easier for you to spot people with similar leadership skills to your own, but possibly less easy to identify people with a different set of leadership  skills to yours (this links back to the point I made in my last post about NOT necessarily valuing your own skills set above others).

I’d strongly suggest that you observe HOW potential future leaders operate, and don’t just look at their achievements on paper.  In the short term, you might find it acceptable to advance someone who, let’s imagine, exceeds their sales target consistently, but takes short cuts and is a little underhand in how they achieve this.

In the longer term though, negative behaviours  – acting without respect or integrity – are likely to result in resentment and stress amongst colleagues, leading to lowered motivation and lower productivity.  And sometimes, as we’ve seen in recent corporate and political history, the consequences can be far worse.

Remember, too, that not everyone sees their own potential, particularly if they are at an early stage in their career. It might be up to you to identify and nurture the leaders of the future.

2) Coach, don’t always instruct.
Coaching in its truest form involves asking the coachee questions that help them to clarify their thoughts, find their own way forward, and take action. It does NOT involve giving training, advice or instructions for them to follow.

Obviously enough, as a leader, you’re going to need to direct people some of the time. But think how empowering it would be if, rather than trying to provide all the answers to a potential leader, you let them define themselves and, coached by you, make their own way forward.

It’s the difference, in simple terms, between saying “I think you ought to do xyz to improve this situation” and saying “what do YOU think you can do to improve the situation?”. Yes, it takes longer to coach someone than to give them the answers … but the impact and the buy-in  and the long term result in terms of building the confidence of future leaders are all much more powerful.

In developing a culture of independence where people are solution focussed rather than coming to you with their problems and expecting you to have the answer, it’s also a strong approach.

3) Become a mentor.
If you’ve reached a level of leadership to which you reckon others might aspire, you could think about offering to be a mentor.  Mentoring differs from coaching, as here you’ll be offering pointers and advice to the person you are mentoring. In effect, you have travelled some way down the path that they wish to follow.

There are plenty of opportunities for you to become a mentor, within larger companies, within enterprise agencies and indeed within the voluntary sector, so seek out opportunities.

A strong mentor can have a profound impact on the leaders of the future, so it’s a great way to ‘put something back’.

4) Provide opportunities for leadership.
It’s worth taking a step back sometimes and allowing someone else to take the leadership reins for a while, perhaps on a specific project or task.  OK, so you might well remain ultimately accountable, but that shouldn’t stop you from allowing others to step forward and test their potential from time to time.

Conversely, it’s worth giving some thought as to whether you might unwittingly be blocking leadership potential in others, perhaps by assuming control too much, or taking too much of a directing approach.

5) Be a role model .
This, I’d argue, is the most important factor of all.  At some level, you ARE a role model for others, whether you’re aware of it or not.  And I’m sure we’ve all come across people in our lives who are BAD role models and who provide an exemplar of what NOT to do and how NOT to treat people. I know I certainly have!

In short, aim to be the leader that you would want to follow. And remember that, while you’re developing leaders of the future, you’re also developing your own abilities to coach, mentor, and lead, and make a genuine difference.

*******

So there we have it – 7 leadership skills that everyone should develop. Of course, there are many more – the ability to motivate people, the ability to think strategically, the ability to prioritise, to make decisions, to communicate effectively and so on.

I’ve tried to scratch beneath the surface at some of the less obvious, more personal ones, and I hope it’s given you some food for thought as you develop your own leadership style and imprint.

7 Leadership skills that EVERYONE should develop: number 6 – leverage others

August 8, 2011

One of the marks of a strong leader is his or her ability to leverage the talents of others in order to reach organisational (and individual) goals. Leadership isn’t about knowing (or doing) it all yourself, it’s about enabling others to learn, grow, contribute and achieve excellence.

1) Know your people
I hardly need to say that unless you know your people, you’re not going to know where their talents lie and therefore you’re not going to be able to leverage them.  How well do you know your team, what motivates them at work, their out-of-work interests and so on?

A participant on a course I was delivering recently told me about a team member of his who was terrified of public speaking. Common enough, you might think. However, the course participant knew that this individual sang in a band in his spare time and regularly performed in local venues at the weekend.

Using the rationale that if you can SING in front of a crowd of people you can speak in front of them too, he coached and encouraged the singer to transfer his skills to the public speaking arena … with conspicuous success.

Had he NOT made the effort to get to know his team, this vital talent – and its link to the workplace – might have been missed.

2) Look beyond the obvious
It’s all too easy to focus on the obvious, to pigeonhole people according to their job title and to assume that, because of the work they do, they’re going to be good … or conversely NOT going to be good … at certain things. Look beyond the obvious, though, for hidden and unexpected talents.

I used to work in an organisation where, in the marketing department, we were frequently required to come up with catchy titles for performances, projects and publications.

Whilst it was well outside his remit, someone who we’d often ask for input was the Finance Officer. Why? Because he had a knack for coming up with great titles and captions and had a way with words.

If we’d pigeonholed him as the number cruncher who held the purse strings (which of course he WAS … but there was more to him than that) we’d have missed out on some great headlines. I’d like to think too that he enjoyed being asked to contribute to something that wasn’t directly linked to his job role, but was still of benefit to the organisation as a whole.

3) Don’t value your skills above everyone else’s
This is a bit of a lesson in self-awareness and humility, both of which have a role to play in leadership. Many people, whether they realise it or not, will place their own skills at a higher value than those of others.

To the creative person who loves coming up with new ideas, the logical pragmatist is “boring and conventional”.  To the strategic realist, someone with strong people skills is “touchy feely”.  To the ‘blue sky’ thinker, the person who needs to establish a context is “stuck in the past”.

If you are to leverage the skills of others successfully, you must recognise them for the values that they bring, and not undervalue them because those values might be different to yours.

At the end of the day, leadership and leveraging the abilities of others isn’t actually about you … it’s about them, and about the business as a whole.

 

Recognising, valuing and leveraging the skills of others is something that requires us all to leave our egos at the door and give ourselves the challenge of looking for people who aren’t just LIKE us and able to ‘fit in’, but who are BETTER than us at a given thing, and who will provide the necessary challenge to move everyone up a notch. And that’s not always as easy as it sounds.

7 Leadership skills that EVERYONE should develop – Number 4: Encourage Learning

July 9, 2011

If you ever get to a stage in your career when you think “I’ve arrived”, you stop learning … and it’s obviously important that leaders at all levels don’t do this. Perhaps more to the point, it’s crucial that leaders act as ROLE MODELS for learning and development, in order to embed it throughout the organisation.

Cynics amongst you might think “Well she would say that –she’s in training and development!”  and I guess there’s an element of truth in that: but I wouldn’t be doing this if I didn’t believe passionately that it’s important, both to individuals and to businesses.

Here are three things to do with learning that I believe that leaders could do better– whatever size of business they’re in.

1) Elevate the status of learning

I’ve written before about whether people approach training to build a person and their skills (i.e. in a positive and proactive sense) or whether they use it to fix problems (i.e. in a remedial, reactive sense).

If training and development are seen as remedial measures, people are less likely to be motivated to learn – either on training courses OR, more importantly, in their own time and in terms of their own personal development. Almost across the board, that whole personal development area is a huge learning opportunity that companies are missing.

As a leader, making it obvious that you yourself are on a learning journey, passing on some of the things you’ve learned and referencing books, courses, online resources and so on will help raise the importance of ongoing learning within the company.

Put bluntly, if you and your people aren’t learning, they’re remaining in ignorance … and that’s not going to bring you a commercial edge.

 2) Condone the enjoyment of learning

Learning is serious business … but it doesn’t have to be a mirthless drudge of lectures, powerpoint presentations and manuals the size of building blocks.

Years of research in both the training and development and education sectors point to the fact that the brain absorbs information (i.e. learns)  through the five senses, amongst other factors, and that by far the most people learn best through auditory, visual AND haptic means.

I was working for an organisation a few years back which approved a very interactive, innovative series of workshops for junior staff, but insisted that senior managers at the same organisation needed a more ‘serious’ approach.

They seemed to somehow be suggesting that once you  get a  ‘senior manager’ plaque on the door, you suddenly lose your sense of humour and personality and more to the point, lose your ability to learn by any other means than didactic instruction.  This of course, contradicts both academic and medical research … to say nothing of common sense. Do senior managers enjoy boring training courses any more than the rest of us?! I doubt it!

Of COURSE content needs to be tailored to the level of the participant group. Delivery methods, though, need to be as engaging as possible in order to be interesting and relevant to learners.

It should be remembered that people learn more when they are relaxed and enjoying themselves. And there’s no age or management limit to that.

 3) Support the implementation of learning

So! Someone comes back from a training course, full of ideas, keen to test out some of their new found skills! What happens next:

a) Hurray! The company already has a learning system in place, and with the full support of their managers and colleagues they successfully build confidence in implementing their new skills until they become habit, modelling positive behaviours and practices in the process.

b) They have a stab at some of the techniques from the course that they’re more comfortable with, stash the course manual in a drawer somewhere, and remember to tick that training course off on their performance management checklist.

c) They try one of their new techniques and their manager /colleague jibes “Oh, well we can see that YOU’VE been on the training course!” leaving them somewhat crestfallen and reluctant to try to implement anything else they’ve learned.

Clearly individual leaders can have an impact on the level and extent to which they provide an environment where learning and trying new skills is the norm, and where practice is monitored and encouraged, and many already do this.

It can be easier, though to assume that people will come back from a training course or other learning intervention and just ‘get on with it’, without recognising how the environment can affect the extent to which this is done.

Leaders who continue to learn inspire others in the organisation to do the same. Leaders who recognise when other people are learning and coach and encourage them to persevere in implementing their newskills are taking HUGE steps to develop a learning culture.

And why bother? In the words of the Chinese proverb  “Learning is like rowing upstream: not to advance is to drop back”.

And who wants their own career, their department or their company to do that?

7 Leadership skills that EVERYONE should develop # 2: self awareness

June 18, 2011

To see ourselves as others see us – wouldn’t that be something? Genuine self awareness, and an ability to understand how others see us and the impact that our actions and behaviours have on others, is an important skill for the leader.

As with so many things, though, balance is the key: understanding how we are perceived by others needs to be balanced by our own confidence and sense of self.

Misalignment of that balance – in either direction – can spell trouble for the leader: whilst as individuals we’ll always judge ourselves on the basis of our intentions, we need to remember that others will be judging us on our behaviours.

Why is self awareness so important? Because it’s the beginning of Emotional Intelligence, and as author Daniel Goleman puts it in his bestseller, this “can matter more than IQ”.

In terms of Emotional Intelligence, self awareness is closely followed by four other factors:

·        Managing your emotions

·        Self motivation

·        Understanding the feelings of others

·        Managing relationships

So how, as a leader, can you become more self aware? Here are 5 top tips:

1) Try to objectively assess your impact

Being objective about our own behaviour is exceptionally difficult, because we’ll rationalise and make excuses for ourselves where things are going wrong.

If your INTENTION has been one thing, but the results are something different, take a close look at yourself and your behaviours to try to understand how you might be coming across.

I came across a stark example of this quite recently. A very senior executive in a global organisation had said his door was ‘always open’, but wondered how it was that few people ever seemed to cross the threshold, unless they were members of the senior management team.

A short while after this conversation, I relayed to him a concern that had come up in the training room, from a couple of participants who shared the same office. His response was to cut me off mid sentence with the response “what do these people want? They need to be empowered and learn to deal with these things!”

Hmm … let’s see, now. Might there be a possibility that staff are thinking, “He SAYS his door is open, but if you go in he’s likely to bite your head off”?

His intention might have been to encourage people to find their own solutions: his behaviour was very easy to interpret as that of someone whose door might be open, but his mind isn’t. The impact was that people DON’T come through his door – it might as well be closed.

2) Be aware of the little things

Self awareness isn’t just about the impact of overt or obvious behaviours – it’s about the little things too.

Imagine a Chief Executive who gives a stunning performance on the platform at the AGM about his optimistic outlook in the coming year. A couple of days later, he steps into a lift and a junior colleague is already there. The junior colleague asks him how things are going. He shakes his head and says “times are tough”.

What’s the understandable interpretation of this, in terms of the truth of the message AND the integrity of the speaker? What message do you think is going to be discussed in the canteen and around the water coolers of Head Office for the next month?!

Non verbal communications and behaviours that take place on an ongoing daily basis need to be considered in the light of self awareness. And actively managed.

3) Have some humility – listen to feedback

For some leaders, this can be a bit of a stumbling block –particularly if they work in (and perhaps perpetuate and enjoy) a culture where hierarchy is important, and where leaders are deemed to be infallible.

Sometimes, it’s necessary to have the humility to just accept feedback, even if you weren’t expecting it. On a recent training course,I offered some impromptu feedback on delegate presentations. One or two commented during the break that they’d not been expecting individual feedback. So?? Will you ignore it, then?

Norman Vincent Peale said that “Most of us would rather be ruined by praise than saved by criticism”. Given that feedback helps to build self awareness, it’s necessary to be open to it.

360 degree reports are another case in point: I’ve done a lot of coaching around 360 degree reports (feedback reports gathered from peers and direct reports as well as managers). Occasionally I’ll come across someone who rates their own abilities far higher than anyone else does – more often it’s the other way round.

If your colleagues are saying one thing and you’re saying another, it’s worth considering the possibility that they can’t ALL be wrong.

4) What if you’re right and they’re wrong?

I was delivering a workshop recently, and one of the participants said “I’ve really tried to understand my impact with this person,but the problem’s not with me, it’s with them”.

If you’ve been objective about really considering what’s going on, this is fair enough. As I say, there’s a balance to be struck between your own sense of self, and the other person’s perception. You could well be right and them wrong. They might even have another agenda and are deliberately misunderstanding you or the situation

If this IS the case, what next?

This is where we have to move on, in terms of Emotional Intelligence, because you still have to manage your relationship with that person – influence them or whatever – in as productive a way as possible. And this will mean remaining self aware and confident.

No one should stop being self aware because they think they’re the one in the right.

5) Don’t be paranoid – impostor syndrome

I’ve already said that balance is the key here, and this is just as valid for leaders who LACK confidence on certain issues.

I worked with a senior leader recently who, whilst acknowledging that her colleagues respected her, felt deeply self conscious about her humble ‘working class’ roots. The fact that she had a strong accent, she felt, was betraying to everyone that she was a local girl made good. She saw this as a weak point, as she worked with a number of people at this senior level who had had better educational opportunities than she’d had, and who spoke with what she perceived to be a more refined accent.

The issue about her accent had taken on far more significance than it deserved. She was starting to feel uncomfortable in her role and to doubt her abilities – feeling like an imposter.

It took a considerable amount of coaching for her to arrive at the conclusion that her accent and background might actually be a source of inspiration for those further down the corporate ladder, who’d had a similar start to her own. In this case, what she saw as a weakness could actually be turned into a considerable strength.

Self awareness is NOT about denting our confidence and bringing us down to the level of other people’s perceptions.  It IS about genuinely evaluating our behaviours, how we come across, and the impact that we have on others, and building on this to develop our own abilities, and our relationships with others.

The leader who is not self aware is sticking their head in the sand … leaving their backside dangerously exposed.

Watch out over the next couple of weeks for the 3rd leadership skill that EVERYONE should develop: personal accountability.

7 Critical Leadership Skills that EVERYONE Should Develop

June 8, 2011

I’ve been privileged and fortunate to work over the years with a large number of people who are either in positions of leadership, who aspire to leadership, or who have had leadership ‘thrust upon them’ and want to develop their skills.

Through observing and working with them, I’ve recognised that there are certain leadership skills that the good ones simply can’t do without.

Over the next few weeks, I’ll be sharing them with you…so here we go with the first one!

LEADERSHIP SKILL #1: LISTENING

Just a quick thing, friends: I’m focussing here specifically on Listening and Leadership – if you’d like to develop your personal listening skills (identifying the mistakes that EVERYBODY makes, and learning how you can avoid them! ) then please have a look at the free download which will be at the Yara website at http://www.yaraconsulting.com within the next few days.

At the risk of stating the obvious, listening is a CRUCIAL skill for leaders to develop. Why? Well, first of all, why not? You don’t seriously think you have all the answers without input from others do you?!

More to the point, listening to people does two important things: it makes the speaker(s) feel valued and understood, both of which contribute to motivation, and indeed to further contribution from that individual or group. Nothing shuts down ideas, input and motivation quicker that people feeling ignored.

Listening also provides you with an insight and perspective that you wouldn’t otherwise have…and for leaders, I can’t overstate how vital this is.

Good leaders listen, and listen to the right people. Learning to do it and learning to do it well is a valuable skill which cannot be neglected.

Listening strategically

By listening strategically, I mean considering carefully to whom or what leaders are listening. Listening in the right direction can potentially have a profound impact on decision making and organisational direction.

There will of course be the usual things that leaders listen to: market factors, shareholders, regulators customers etc etc. However, there are a few other directions in which leaders should turn in order to listen strategically – and some issue of which they must beware.

Beware ‘Groupthink’: listening to the same circle of opinions and the same peer group is limiting. It just is.

If everyone’s in a similar position or has a similar mindset, is listening to each other, where is the challenge coming from exactly? Where’s the raw, external perspective? Where’s the often needed boot up the backside?

Take the blinkers off and get out more, and listen in different directions. Fresh perspective is vital for innovation and growth.

Beware forgetting where you came from: I love those fly-on-the-wall documentaries where the Chief Executive goes back to the factory floor, the call centre, the supermarket checkout or wherever.

They invariably learn a massive amount about their people by observing what they do, listening to them, and living their day to day experiences. Perhaps more to the point in terms of STRATEGIC listening, they gather ideas and customer insight that frequently translates into policy and/or new business.

Don’t just listen up and listen out….listen down as well.

Beware the ticking clock: the world is probably moving faster than many companies can keep up with it. Fads can become trends which become major market forces with frightening speed (take Facebook and social networking as a clear case in point.)

Times are changing so fast, it’s an absolutely necessity to keep an ear to the ground, and I’d venture to suggest that using both formal and informal channels is the only way to maintain a true grasp of what’s going on.

Market research yes. Internal reports, yes. But don’t underestimate the value of taking a few minutes to listen and observe what customers are saying to your front line staff. Listen to what’s going on in other areas of your customers lives. Listen out for apparently random connections in other sectors that could give you a commercial edge.

If you don’t have time for that sort of thing, MAKE time…and then honestly evaluate the return on investment of that time spent vs the information it yielded.

The mistake of thinking you don’t have to listen

For whatever reason, many leaders often appear to feel that they don’t have to listen.

Some undoubtedly feel the pressure of senior management to provide the answers. And some, frankly, seem to think that they have it figured out, have made it, and don’t have to listen any more.

If you’ve ever heard yourself say:

‘People expect us to give them the answers because we’re their leaders’.

‘I’m better informed than most’

‘I don’t have time to gather everyone’s opinions – it would just muddy the waters’

‘I know what I need to do: listening to other people could just derail me’

‘We asked them last year – there’s no point going back to them now…’

‘I’m the leader, it’s my prerogative’ …then watch out.

Leaders can rest assured that the QUICKEST WAY to destroy innovation and ideas, de-motivate people, create cynicism amongst staff and customers alike and undermine corporate and brand values is by either NOT listening to people (both internally and externally)…or by pretending to listen to them and then ignoring what they’ve said.

The bottom line is that genuinely listening – and in more directions than you currently are – will earn you respect, motivate your people (and therefore increase productivity and morale) increase customer understanding and therefore retention, and can lead to profitable ideas and innovations being recognised, captured and implemented.

Establishing forums for listening

There’s no point paying lip service to this sort of ‘strategic listening’: you have to DO something to make it happen.

At a broad brush level, it’s about creating a culture where listening is part of leadership, and where staff feel like active contributors whose ideas and opinions are valued, and this HAS to be role modelled from the very top, otherwise it’s just not going to happen. It’s also about creating and encouraging opportunities to listen in different directions, gathering best practice and ideas from other sectors and areas, ACTUALLY listening to customers, and trying something different…as opposed to just analysing statistics.

Mix it up. Get a fresh perspective. Do something different. Learn from it. Develop yourself. And grow your organisation.

Watch out next week for Critical Leadership Skill #2 – Self Awareness.

How to Learn

November 1, 2010

Yep – sounds like a strange one. What do you mean, “how to learn”? Isn’t it obvious?

Well, yes and no.  Yes, because we’re learning and picking up information all the time and from all sorts of different sources. No, because often we don’t make the connections between what we’re doing / experiencing / seeing / hearing and our lives and work.

When delivering training, I often come across people who will constantly ask for ‘specific company x examples’ of whatever behaviour, leadership style or management theory is being explored. They just don’t seem to be able to make connections between things that happen outwith the workplace and their own lives, work and activities…or maybe it’s too much effort to make those valuable connections. 

The truth is almost ANY behaviour or experience can be relevant to employees at ‘company x’ …if they know how to learn from it.

Building a Learning Organisation

October 7, 2010

Maybe the first question should be “So what exactly IS a ‘Learning Organisation ??” It does, after all , sound like the sort of consultant jargon that’s wheeled out to impress people without fully knowing what it is.

Well, ask yourself this: how much EASIER would managing performance, delivering innovation, creative thinking, analysis and strategy development and generally moving a company forward be if everyone in the organisation was open to a culture of learning and change? If PERSONAL development and continued learning was an accepted norm amongst employees…rather than being signed up for the odd training course?

Happily, there’s been a lot of research in this area (Donald Schon, Chris Argyris, Peter Senge etc etc) which defines far more accurately what we’re talking about here.

From the grass roots perspective of  someone who’s devised and  / or delivered a range of learning programmes in a wide variety of organisations large and small, the obvious factors that an organisation needs to consider are:

TO ELEVATE THE STATUS OF LEARNING:  this requires some leadership from senior management (who, after all, are not omniscient!) …and some sincerity. An ‘I’ve arrived’ mentality at senior level is usually coupled with a ‘do what I say, not what I do’ approach to learning and development, which doesn’t work. People can see right through it, and will copy senior management actions rather than instructions when push comes to shove. 

Disrespect for HR and Learning and Development departments doesn’t help here, neither does a culture where workplace learning is seen as corrective or remedial.

TO CONDONE THE ENJOYMENT OF LEARNING:  I try very hard NOT to work with organisations who insist on a ‘death by powerpoint’ , didactic approach to learning.  I’ve even had one look at some photos from one of my training course and remark that ‘it ought to be toned down a bit – it looks like they’re having too much fun’ .  How boring. How uninspiring. How UNlikely to motivate someone to want to learn and grow more.

YES, the outcomes are serious,and business objectives must be met:  but if people can enjoy and engage with the learning experience, it is more likely to have a lasting impact in the workplace…and lead to continued learning and growth.

SUPPORTING THE IMPLEMENTATION OF LEARNING: this should involve some effort to shift the culture of an organisation. It’s a bit pointless, for example, sending people on creative thinking or assertiveness courses, and then having them come back to a stagnant work environment that tells them to shut up and get on with the same old same old.

So, who really DOES want a culture of learning and growth in their organisation?  Because that could mean some changes in attitude and mindset…

Old Habits…and New Trainers

July 7, 2010

My new trainers arrived earlier this week! Woohoo! Maybe they’ll help me run a bit faster!  Remarking on how bright they looked, I’d hardly noticed that my old trainers were really looking distinctly skanky.

It did take me several days before I actually went running in my new trainers. I kept them nicely wrapped in paper in their box, and looked at them when I walked past from time to time, just to make sure they were still there for when I needed them, and hadn’t been tidied away.  Why? Well, it was raining and I didn’t want to ruin the new ones right away. Also, there was the possibilty that the new shoes might hurt a bit, and I didn’t want to discover that 5 miles away from the house and have to limp all the way back.

After almost a week, on a  suitably sunny morning, I pulled on my  new trainers and headed out for a run. Guess what. They were really rather uncomfortable, and to be honest, didn’t feel as good as the old ones.

I have a choice. Do I get back into my old trainers and keep going until they fall apart….or  persevere with the new – and better quality  – ones until I get used to them?

So. Enough of my smelly trainers. The point is (as if I need spell it out)..

How comfortable are we with our old habits, whether or not they’re working for us?

What excuses do we find for NOT putting new habits and things we’ve learned into practice right away?

How useful are those new trainers if we’re not DOING anything with them?

Do you have new trainers still wrapped in paper in a cupboard somewhere that you’ve not even tried yet?  GET ‘EM OUT AND START RUNNING!

Personal development – 4 essential stages

June 22, 2010

Many corporate programmes focus on setting a goal, and making a plan to achieve it… little realising that if this is a rigid and joyless experience, it’s less likely to be fulfilled.

Many personal development programmes will tell you that you can set your goals and just believe, and somehow your attitude will ensure that magical things will happen to you.

Neither hits the mark completely….which is why we developed the Yara Method. Be prepared to ask yourself some tough questions along the way….

Your Goals: How concrete are they?  Do you really have any idea what your success will look like? Is your success a scene you can visualise…or more of a belief system and a way of life  (like “my goal is to change the world”). It needs to be the first, underpinned by the second.

Your Self Image: What is the voice in your head telling you? Whether it’s right or wrong…is it USEFUL? If not, self discipline yourself to STOP and think positively.

Your Abilities: you could list your known abilities very easily – it’s the unknown that could be the key issue. At what point do your strengths become a weakness, and your weaknesses become an opportunity for personal development or collaboration?

Your Momentum: what’s holding you back: what might trigger you to derail? Is it in your head? Is is something that someone else thinks? Is it an actual barrier?  The obstacle is less likely to trip you up if you are aware of it , can watch out for it, and be tuned in to your own emotions so that you can spot the early signs of demotivation. Be clear about what MOTIVATES you – friends and family, sports, music…whatever. And if you do stumble, don’t beat yourself up about it – get up and carry on. In the words of Churchill ” never never never give up”.