Saturday, December 20, 2014

Learning these days

It is indeed the age of the autodidact and the world is filled with Ekalavyas. It is fascinating to see how they learn - especially on the things that they are motivated about.

There is new fad called the Rainbow Loom that has somewhat taken the kids by storm. This involves making things using special rubber bands which are I think specially manufactured for this purpose. (I say that, because the rubber bands are better in quality than the cheap ones we are used to and have some designs on it - among other things).

There is an entire body of knowledge on the internet on the design of these bands. It has its own jargon - with names for the design. There are a million youtube videos from which they learn. The process is also fueled by somewhat of a social component. The kids talk and show each other the newest designs they have learnt to make and they come home and try out new stuff. All in all it fuels a vicious cycle of learning and creativity.

This is the nature of learning in almost any group exercise - a cycle of positive competition and learning.

There is almost no formal teacher for this process - at least not in the conventional way. There is nobody giving instructions, no curriculum, no framework. Every kid, depending on his or her motivation does what he or she feels like doing.  Of course, only a small fraction of even the known universe is into this.

Predictably, other school kids are into other things, but I am sure the approach is similar.

This is the generation that will enter colleges soon and I suppose some of the earliest entrants of this generation are already in the workforce.

How do we train them. How do we harness that virtuous cycle of positive competition to create a learning organization? How do we ensure that learners stay motivated and keep wanting to outdo, not each other, but themselves? Do we even ensure? Or do we let the process take charge? And if so, what would that process look like?

Notice that in this whole story, there is a notable absence of trainers - there are no trainers - only practitioners. There is also a complete absence of curriculums or structure - it is like a buffet without designated start and end points - users pick what they want, when they want and go about it. Also note the complete lack of goals. I think that is three strikes against any corporate program with its trainers, curriculum and goals.

While, it scares the exalted training community - it is important to bear this thought in mind - that this is the reality. Are we prepared for it? And even if we are, are systems prepared for it? Really? Is it even possible to replicate this? All interesting questions!

Monday, December 15, 2014

Experiential Training Summit

I had a chance to attend the first Experiential Training Summit in Bangalore today - thanks to the good people at Ozone. Organized by Center for Experiential Education, the conference, true to its name was all Experiential.

The keynote by Vijay Padaki was good - only he can pull of what he did - combining esoteric theory into a simple package with timing and wit.

It was followed by workshops - which were real, experiential workshops - where every participant got to do something or other. Whether it was by Satish of Somethings cooking or by Rajeev of Knolskape or by Ashley of Graphic Facilitation or the Pankaj of Center of Creative Leadership or Anirban of Painted Sky.

(I had to miss the last couple of workshops, but they did promise to be interesting - they were on storytelling and theatre).

But that experience made it really worth it. Of course, its obvious that for an experiential training summit, the workshops would be experiential, but to pull it off is something else.

And as an attendee, it was a refreshing conference to attend and I hope they repeat it again next year on a bigger scale

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Building Change

I have written about this before, but, if you want to build change in the organization, would you not use your managers to drive it? I mean, engage an external consultant by all means, but your managers have to lead the charge and your leaders have to be viscerally engaged in the change process.

That means it is not enough if your managers and leaders are certified in a (any) methodology and they regurgitate it. (See here on why that might not be enough.)

But it is an interesting question. On how does one build change? Change culture?

The answer is in the sustenance of the change. What happens at a session is an event. But culture change is not an event. It is a process. A long drawn out process. And it is necessarily led by the leaders. And their reportees. And their reportees. And so on.

A friend was talking about an Indian services company to me. This company sponsors major running events today (yes, go take a guess). In this company, from the top down, the company is into running. The C-suite is into running. They run. They sponsor running programs. Organize running coaching (I think). And their entire company is running. That is one example.

This could not have happened even if they got Milkha Singh or PT Usha (I mean, who is a better running example in India even today?) to give a hundred speeches.

(Aside: When Narendra Modi wields the broom impromptu, he lives the example. When he talks about not being personally being corrupt - he lives the example. Changing a country is a gargantuan task, but you got to give it to the guy - he is taking a stab at it.)

Back to the question. How does one build change?

A few years ago, I was asked this question. Why isn't our business knowledge increasing as a team? The answer was a simple one, really. If my manager discusses metrics, I focus on delivery of metrics. If my manager discusses, ideas, I focus on delivery of ideas. If my manager is not talking about business at all, why the hell will I ever focus on business?

So, you want change. It has to start at the top. You want fitness. Lead the way. A leader who I know and admire 'walks' the talk on fitness.

As you might imagine, I have not put an answer on exactly how. I wish I knew it that simply. But change is tough. And unless you as a leader roll up your sleeves and get into it, nothing will change. 

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Our scores dropped, let us do something

Many moons ago, an organization faced a problem. They had rolled out a survey and the survey showed a drop in some points on some parameter (I can tell you, but I would have to kill you).

And then, with remarkable, alacrity, along came a program that was touted as the solution to all ills related to survey points dropping down.

Consultants were engaged. A master program was created. Supporting technology was conceptualized and all budgets for the project were green lighted. The portal was built. Calendars were cleared out. Sessions were organized. Master trainers were trained and created. These master trainers then spread the message among the minions. They did it. But then real work caught up with them. So, the boxes were ticked. And they went back to work. And the survey happened again. And they waited. With bated breath. For the next survey result. Which came. And the scores stayed there and in some cases, dropped down.

And then the sessions and the trainers were remembered again. And they rolled out the sessions again. And...

Wait. Does that sound familiar?

So, what happens here? Some hypothesis - I do not claim to have a silver bullet.

One, a disconnect at an action level. The leadership has not entirely bought into it. And I do not mean, saying the right things. Yes, the leadership has presumably spoken about it, cut ribbons, supported it, but do they really show it in their actions? And if they don't, their next levels are quick to spot the level of interest or disinterest and thereby act accordingly.

Two, ownership. Is it a KRA for the managers/leaders. If not, they won't do it - because they already have a zillion things to do (a relic of current or past KRAs). Do they see it as their program or as somebody else's program. If is it not theirs, they don't it. Remember - nobody ever washed a rental car.

Three, timing. If you do it as a reactionary measure, like all reactionary measures, it will fade away when the leadership changes. It will fade away when more important work takes over. And people can see reactionary measures by the timing. Oh there is a problem, let us react - you have people running for cover already. BOHICA.

Four, Clarity on what are we going after? Are we going after the numbers or are we going after something more fundamental. The former is a reactionary, short term approach - the latter on the other hand is a bigger change that requires mountains to be moved.

So, to conclude, the sessions did not work because the people who ran it did not believe it and their actions did not show it. Those who ran it ticked their boxes and said, "see we did our bit." Those who facilitated it ticked their boxes and said, "see we did our bit". Thankfully, there was no box for what you believed in.

(Which means, the fundamental underlying problem was lying unsolved).

Friday, December 5, 2014

How do you know you have done something insightful?

For anybody in any service type of function - be it Human Resources, Training, PMO - there are always two ways to do the role.

One is to take that little black book, a pencil and ask, at every table, "Sir, what can I get you?" (Yes, it is exactly what it sounds like - but notice, I did not mention the uniform.)

The slightly sophisticated method around the above is to use some really cool digital stuff to take those orders - like they do in fancy restaurants - where they use blackberry (then) or tablets (now) and that sends the order right into the kitchen. And sometimes they give you these buzzing thingies that even buzz when your order is ready (how cool is that). (But yes, again, it is exactly what it sounds like.)

Variants of the above include when the customer says, there is too much salt in my salad - to take it back and fix it immediately. Or when the customer says, the room is too hot, apologize profusely and talk about other things and hope that works.

Or, as I mentioned in my previous post, deliver insight. Now that is not terribly insightful is it? How do you know that what you did was insightful?

One is post - where you know that something you did is there beyond your time there. Maybe you put together a great learning idea that is worth being used even when you are no longer there - and you left it in a state that it will run regardless of who runs it. Maybe you changed the way they do things by perhaps changing the process or a system. Maybe you created something beautiful that is worth being used long after you are gone. But that does not help does it  - because you have to leave and then see what survived the cleansing.

The other is in the present - when your stakeholder goes, " you are making me think" or "I did not think of it that way" or "That is an interesting way to look at the data, show me what you got". That means, you are delivering insight.

But insight cannot be delivered unless you speak the language of the business, you can push the customer, you have powerful communication skills, know what drives the business etc etc (and you guessed it, these are among the 'challenger' competencies).

The buck stops at the leader

As someone who has led teams and been on teams led by a variety of leaders, I believe that the leader is accountable for anything you see on a team.

Any thing you see on any team, there are only two ways to interpret it. Either the leader wants it that way or the leader is blissfully unaware of what is happening in the team. If there are issues in the team (of any nature), and the leader has not acted to resolve it - it only means that the leader has not done enough to change it or is happy to let the status quo continue. There is no third way at all.

For a short span of time it is possible that the leader may not be aware of certain issues - but the moment she is made aware of it, the leader has to act - decisively. If the leader does not - there are only two possibilities - the leader chooses not to or the leader is not effective.

PV Narasimha Rao, the former Indian Prime Minister once said - Not doing anything is a conscious choice and he was a master tactician - but not everybody is a PVNR and using that as a reason to stay quiet is hardly leadership.

If the team has low credibility, it is because of the leader. (The leader can establish credibility starting with herself).

If the team is not scaling up, it is because of the leader. (The leader has to make right choices in people and hiring). Perhaps the leader wants it that way. (And why would that be, ask yourself)

If the team is not skilled enough, it is because of the leader. (Skill building is no accident). A leader actively builds skills of the team - and never feels insecure about it. Budget or no budget, skill building is an active choice.

If the team has culture issues, it is because of the leader. (Culture follows the path followed by the leader). Show me an insecure team and I will show you an insecure leader. Show me a team that is fraught with internal issues and I will show you a vacillating leader. Show me a team that operates in a silos and I will show you a poor leader. Show me a team that refuses to collaborate, share and be open and I will show you a closed leader.

If the team is stuck doing low value added work, either the leader does not want the team to scale up or the leader is setting the wrong example by taking on the wrong kind of work.

If the team is on every table and asked to make the least contribution - most likely, it is led by a leader who is happy with the team marking its presence in meetings without any significant contribution.

If the team is waiting for work, I will show you a leader who sits at his desk waiting for work.

I can go on and on, but you get the drift - everything in the team good or bad can be traced back to the actions (mostly actions not intention) of the leader.

Yes, the buck does stop at the leader...

Monday, December 1, 2014

The power of insight!

I was reading this fascinating book - The Challenger Sale by Matthew Dixon and Brent Adamson about what makes Sales people successful based on research from CEB and it just struck me that the Challenger profile applies for practically any service job. (And the book does mention that)

But more importantly, in tune with my earlier post on relationship management, the book trashes the point of relationship management and these sentences caught my eye, 

"Personally, I believe that a customer relationship is a result of and not the cause of successful selling. It is a reward that the salesperson earns by creating value." 

"The corollary to being a Relationship builder is to be seen as an order taker in other functional areas" [Quotes from the book]

Nuff said. 

But moving on, in any work we do, it is important that we generate insight - and the Challenger profile of people do exactly that. 

But yes, all in all a fascinating read - for anybody in any field really - though the book is largely about sales...