The power of purpose – building resilience #cipldshow

Olympia looked majestic in the brilliant sunshine this morning and there was a definite buzz around the place and not just from the coffee. This year’s CIPD L&D show is offering a range of different sessions from free tasters in the main exhibition, short Ignite talks to full workshops. Only able to stay for half a day I picked two sessions on leadership, a topic close to my heart. image The importance of being full of purpose and, for leadership teams importantly, that being a shared, collective purpose  was a unifying theme at both sessions. A key message I took away from the opening session from Tim Munden & Nick Pope was the importance of leadership teams learning together, building collective capacity, this really struck a chord with me.

The sum has be more than the total of its parts and that takes work and persistence, dialogue and sometimes dissonance. You have to learn how to work together around the table and out in your organisation. Why then are so many leadership development programmes focused on the individual? Good question.

The second session from Alan Nobbs of the NHS Leadership Academy and Peter Morgan from Caffe Nero demonstrated this again, in both settings the leadership development includes a hefty dose of new, existing or potential leaders learning together, sharing experiences and building insights.

Nick Pope’s comment that you’ll know you’ve achieved collective capacity  when you see your Director of HR talking about business performance or the Director of Operations discussing people strategy at staff meetings really rang through, we have to lead out from our functions, that’s what convinces people we are a team and what shapes a common purpose.

I can’t sign off without giving a shout out for the way resilience is a core feature of the strategy at Unilever, they described an impressive range of activities which they implement to support and strengthen individual, team and organisational wellbeing  (emotional, physical and mental) and it was having an impact, we can all get behind that.

I’ll nuance this a bit if time permits but hopefully it gives a flavour of some of the themes from my Day 1.

What makes a great community for learning & knowledge exchange

I’m a big advocate of the potential for peer led networks and communities to help improve performance, build shared understanding and develop professional practice. I’ve written about this before and I’m looking forward to talking about my experiences of building networks and communities in and beyond the workplace at the Learning Technologies conference at the end of this month. I’ll maybe see some of you there, and if you’re coming along you can also pick my brains at an LT eXchanges session on the 28th Jan.

As Julian Stodd has expressed beautifully in his work on the Social Age, agile learning and community building are key to how we can continue to make sense of our rapidly changing world. We have moved on from (or at least we should have) assuming that the classroom or instruction are always the best route for helping our teams make sense of their work, learn new approaches and develop their practice. Communities, and conversations, whether face to face or online, formal or informal, are critical.

image

Image by Julian Stodd

But where do you start and how can we support communities so that they flourish and grow?

I’ve found networks & communities can be invaluable for empowering staff and appreciating & recognising the expertise already in your organisation. They can also help to expose great work which sometimes get buried within team or departmental silos. I’ve had some really positive experiences watching communities grow and visibly fizz with energy but equally have seen well-intentioned networks and communities start loudly and then fade away.

A sense of shared purpose is important, as is having the right organisational foundations and support, but it’s not always easy especially when everyone is busy and hard pressed for time. Even with the best intentions sometimes communities of practice don’t take off or have the hoped for effect.

I’ll be (attempting!) to tweet the key messages from my slot on the day but I’m really keen to gather other perspectives and experiences for sharing with the audience, I know many of you out there have your own insights and experiences to share so I’m asking for your help, I’d love to know your thoughts on these questions:

  • what makes for a great community of practice?
  • what experiences have you had, good and bad?
  • what advice would you give to someone just starting out with a new community?

image

Image from jarche.com

Do let me know your thoughts in the comments below, I’ll share them on the day (with attribution) and here…

NEW & EXPANDED – Corporate Earthquakes and hacking for change

Hacking often has negative connotations, the anonymous tech wizard stealing your online identity or the scurrilous journalist hacking your voicemail. In light of this it was a bit of a surprise to find myself involved in hacking in 2013. In April last year I signed up for my first hackathon – the CIPD-MIX Hackathon ‘Hacking HR to Build an Adaptability Advantage’. CIPD invited anyone interested in HR, OD and workplace issues to join this process to generate creative ideas for increasing the adaptability of our organisations. Almost 2,000 people signed up from across the globe. We were asked to consider ways in which HR could be the catalyst for increased adaptability and how, as HR practitioners, we could play a role in spearheading change in our organisations. The aim of the hackathon was to create a practical set of bold actions that could then be applied to our own and other organizations. When I signed up for the hack I had no idea what to expect. I’d heard of hacks but must confess I thought they were to do with technology, coding and software. In fact, if you look up ‘hackathon’ on Wikipedia (as I did) this is how it describes the process:

A hackathon (also known as a hack day, hackfest or codefest) is an event in which computer programmers and others involved in software development, including graphic designers, interface designers and project managers, collaborate intensively on software projects. Occasionally, there is a hardware component as well. Hackathons typically last between a day and a week. Some hackathons are intended simply for educational or social purposes, although in many cases the goal is to create usable software.

But as I found out hackathons have moved on, or to be more accurate evolved. Nowadays, hacks are used increasingly outside of tech circles to support innovation and creativity in all types of areas from health services to political activism. Whilst some hacks retain a technological focus, and focus on finding digital solutions, others take a broader approach and are looking for any type of solution technological or otherwise. Some of the most exciting examples I have seen recently have been in public services. NHS Hack Days, which retain the traditional focus on technological solutions, are a great example of the use of the hackathon model for developing public services. What are we really meaning when we talk about hacking an organisation or a process? Well it’s more than simply applying a structured approach to problem solving. It’s also about adopting a certain creative mentality and mindset. It’s what Tanya Snook (aka @spydergrrl) describes as ‘playful cleverness’. I really like this depiction of hacking, she says:

When you seek, in your everyday lives, to deliberately find opportunities to be clever, ethical, to enjoy what you are doing, to seek excellence, you are hacking. Now the key here is that this behaviour is deliberate. Not a happy accident. If you aren’t acting this way deliberately, then we need to change your thinking and behaviour a little bit in order to make this your default MO.

A similar point was made by Catherine Bracey in her TEDCity talk on ‘Why good hackers make good citizens’. For me, hacking is about thinking differently as well as doing things differently. You have to tackle problems and challenges in new and alternative ways to have any hope of solving persistent problems or barriers.

What did my CIPD hackathon look like? Like most hackathons, mine included a series of short sprints. This was managed on a digital platform created by the Management Innovation eXchange and participants were supported by hackathon guides who wrote blogs, took part in hangouts and recorded videos to encourage further our thinking. Interestingly, the concept of Hackathon guides was the most controversial element of the whole process with some participants feeling it created a hierarchical structure of experts which was counter to the spirit of hacking. The hackathon process took place over a twelve week period, for NHS Hack Days it is completed in a much shorter duration. But the basic pattern is the same and you can design the hack duration to meet your needs. I’ll run through the process to give you a sense of what participation involved:

  • First, we were asked to help refine the problem, this was referred to as ‘swarming’ the problem (a lack of organisational adaptability). The 120 barriers to adaptability we came up with were then synthesized in to twelve main ‘enemies of adaptability’.
  • We were then invited to share our ‘moonshots’, descriptions of projects we thought could help to overcome the enemies we had identified.
  • Following this, we completed short mini-sprints commenting on each others ‘moonshots’ and signed up to join hack teams to work up the specific moonshots we were interested in.
  • Then we entered the main sprint. Once in teams we specced out the detail of our hacks working collaboratively in whichever way suited us. As our team was global in membership we made use of Google Drive, mural.ly and email to help share ideas and editing of the hack.
  • The lead author had responsibility for getting the hack into its final shape but it was designed to be a collaborative process from end to end.

I signed up for two hacks and was challenged to think creatively about new and old issues facing the world of work. The title of this post refers to one of those hacks, ‘Corporate Earthquakes‘ led by Alberto Blanco and co-authored by myself, Matt Frost, Stephen Remedios, Conor Moss and Guido Rubio. Our hack focused on using immersive learning techniques to empower organisations to face up to seismic change, in doing so participants gain skills and ways of working for the future which will increase organisational agility to predict, survive and build positively on unexpected change.

The CIPD hackathon created a wide-ranging set of bold, practical hacks that were shared with participants, CIPD members and published for other organizations to try. The final report is here and as you read it you can see how the ideas ranged from the creatively complex to those brilliant in their simplicity (see for example ‘Chuck Out Your Chintz’ led by Gemma Reucroft aka @HRGem). Personally, I found it a great chance to get more familiar with new thinking in HR, OD and L&D and make connections with other people working in those fields. I was exposed to range of brilliant ideas about how to increase organisational adaptability.

So why am I still excited about hackathons, what makes them different to any other form of staff or customer engagement?

I’m excited about the idea of planning an organisational hack in the not too distant future, I think this spirit of ‘playful creativity’ can be used in all shapes and sizes of workplaces to bring employees into the heart of organisational growth and development. Simply I believe hack days and hackathons are one potential antidote to clogged up systems and, more importantly, clogged up thinking (see this excellent blog from @whatsthepont for more on this) .

What I’ve found most exciting about these events is that they move beyond traditional models of public consultation and engagement to inspire people and solutions. You don’t come along to a hack just to comment, complain or have your voice heard, you come to contribute to a solution. At their heart hacks are about a collective coming-together to create progress. What’s so exciting about this model is that it thrives on collaboration and connection, bringing people together from a range of backgrounds, experiences and disciplines and it values everyone’s voice. It’s heady stuff for public engagement.

How often have you been pleasantly surprised or inspired by a colleague’s ideas? Hacking gives you a framework for capturing these ideas and then connecting people from different parts of the organisation to build solutions, grow new projects, develop new approaches. That sounds pretty engaging to me and a more inclusive, connected way to solve problems and create momentum than traditional project teams or committees.

If you can make use of simple digital platforms for sharing the ideas and creating the hack teams all the better. Not everyone in an organisation will necessarily be up for using digital tech to manage the hack so you can either go back to basics and do it without digital tools or, even better in my book, use the process to help a wider group of staff get familiar with sharing their ideas and thoughts digitally. Now that would be a win-win situation as far as I’m concerned…

I’ll leave you with Spydergrrl’s useful list of ways you can start hacking for an agile organisation, and you can hear to her talk about these issues in this video

  • Hack yourself: Redefine barriers as a source of motivation in their own right: instead of being frustrated by “the way things are always done,” challenge yourself to do it differently this time. Use yourself as a guinea pig: Work in a way that is outside your own norm. Challenge yourself to think outside your own box. Do something that scares you. Take a risk.
  • Hack your workspace: make it suit your workstyle (art supplies, toys, blank spaces, whiteboards, room to move, a library, whatever you need). Or better yet, leave it. Grab the equipment from your desk and spontaneously hijack boardrooms for weeks at a time in order to collaborate with your team. Work from home. Work from anywhere, any time.
  • Hack communications: Stop attaching documents to emails. Find creative ways to share knowledge in your team: Do daily stand-up meetings (time them!), use chat. Use visuals to share data. In the office where I currently work, you’ll find whiteboards in common areas, win boards to celebrate team wins, libraries to share resources, outlines/ slides/ diagrams taped up in common team spaces with comment sheets so people can give feedback. We still rely too much on email, but we’re trying.
  • Hack your department: We’re not Google but we can still innovate. We can be strategically agile: we can identify trends, we can see challenges with the way things are done and change them. If the required changes seem too big and too bold, we can start small: take the opportunity to make a minor tweak to a process and see if you make an improvement: Find creative ways to use existing systems, to produce better outcomes. Take a risk. Propose your ideas: go ahead an include your bold idea in your deliverable. Even if it gets removed in the next draft, at least you planted a seed. And if it doesn’t, you may incite change.
  • Hack silos: Begin and end all projects in collaborative spaces: check them for drafts, lessons learned and other information sources to expedite your progress, ask the Twitters, Google solutions from other [organisations] in other countries. Share your learnings organization-wide at project close-out. Crowdsource plans and strategies with internal stakeholders and then test your ideas with counterparts in other organizations. Make internal collaborative tools and sites your default tabs in your web browser and use them every day.
  • Hack your training: If you need to learn a new skill and can’t get the training at work, look for free training resources, meetups or other learning opportunities. Better yet, just do it. Take on projects that stretch your skills and knowledge. Can’t get approval? Do it anyway! Help a colleague with their project in their department. Or form a working group and do it for the whole of the organization.
  • Hack your career: Figure out how to work horizontally in a vertical environment: take a job in another stream or classification to expand the depth of your knowledge. Find a project you just need to be a part of and go be a part of it.
  • Hack your perspective: Empathize with your user. Find opportunities to be the client, not just the implementer. Go sit with a program team for weeks or months to better understand the challenges they face using systems in their day-to-day work. Take an assignment and see how the other half works and lives: If you work in a program, go try out enterprise-level projects. If you work on enterprise projects, go work in a client branch to really understand how enterprise-level decisions impact internal users.
  • Hack your network. Become a reverse mentor; teach an executive to use new tools or just chat with them about the realities of working differently. Join groups that work in another discipline or area of interest. Talk to our counterparts outside the organization to find out how they are solving the same problems.
  • Hack your work. Work differently. Every day.

That’s the key for me, the best thing of all, you don’t need permission for hacking, you can start in small ways with yourself, your mindset or your workspace, your approaches – as Doug Shaw would say:

image

Let us know how it goes…

With special thanks to Andrew Jacobs and others for comments on previous drafts and the rest of my Corporate Earthquakes team.   Photo by sobczak.paul under Creative Commons Attribution licence

Reblogged: Quantitative literacy is a life skill

This blog was first posted here: http://www.natcen.ac.uk/blog/quantitative-literacy-is-a-life-skill October 3rd, 2013

We’ve got a problem with numbers in the UK. From parents browsing school league tables, to voters weighing up the comparative costs of party manifestos, quantitative literacy is a life skill. And nowhere is this truer than in the social sciences; year on year young social scientists graduate without the numerical skills needed to master the age of ‘big data’.

Concern about this deficit has been troubling social science for a number of years and a range of initiatives have sought to address it from the great work being done by the Getstats campaign to the ESRC Quantitative Methods initiative tackling the issue in the social sciences.

Today the Nuffield Foundation, HEFCE and ESRC have raised the stakes and announced a significant investment to address this persistent gap. £19.5 million has been awarded to 15 universities to create a step change in the skills of our next generation of social scientists. The funding will support 15 new Q-Step Centres, additional teaching posts in quantitative methods and targeted university degree programmes which focus on developing quantitative literacy in a range of social science disciplines.

As a major employer of social scientists with a commitment to support the quality of social research in the UK, we welcome this bold move. We are delighted to be working closely with three of the Q-Step Centres at City University London, Cardiff University and the University of Edinburgh. Our researchers will be sharing their expertise and experience of working on some of the most complex quantitative policy research with undergraduate students through lectures, careers workshops and work placements as well as a range of other activities. This role continues our long history of being at the heart of capacity building for social science through NatCen Learning including our past stewardship of the ESRC funded Survey Skills scheme for early career researchers, a current programme working with lecturers to boost their skills in delivering quantitative methods training and our own graduate researcher scheme.

We need to act now to ensure that in ten years time Britain is still producing social scientists who are skilled enough to run complex surveys, communicate with the public effectively, and continue to push the envelope of quantitative methods. We hope it has not come too late.

The Tumblr archives: The Power of the Social (Spring 2013, updated with images Dec 2013)

We’ve been looking at all sorts of digital and social media during a ‘23 things’ programme at my organisation and last week we focused on screencasting and webcasting. I’ve become convinced over time that we’re underestimating the power these, and other, tools have to allow us to make the most of the best learning network we have at our fingertips: each other (or to use the jargon our personal learning/knowledge network). I know many of my colleagues are absolute whizzes at technical things which I have no idea about, rather than going on a training course or receiving a three page ‘how to’ document I’m dreaming of the day that I can encourage them to share their knowledge with me and others with a quick screencast. I know that for simple technical things I’d much prefer that to a long email or a lengthy session taking me away from my desk. This illustration from Julian Stodd sums up the potential of social learning perfectly:

image

I work with a great bunch of committed, smart and interesting people who I’d love to engage with more creatively. In any organisation people’s ideas, brainwaves and reflections are the dynamo which will keep that organisation succeeding in the future. It’s perplexing then that so many companies and organisations are fearful of tools and approaches which could support the sharing of that learning. In a recent blog Harold Jarche argued that we should be aiming for loose hierarchies and strong networks in our quest for personal and organisational learning and I completely concur. Euan Semple’s book ‘Organisations don’t tweet, people do’ should be compulsory reading for all managers, expertly making the case for the social workplace in simple, easy steps.

As an L&D professional this revelation (and it really has felt like a revelation over the last couple of years) means that I’ve had to ‘readjust my set’ as well. Training sessions and workshops have a place in the (hopefully) rich mosaic of blended learning which goes on in the workplace. But we need to be making much more use of the social (both the social tools and the social ethos – sharing, co-creating and learning together) and that means letting go, moving from being the ‘expert on the stage’ to ‘the sage on the side’. All of us need to take some time to start thinking more socially, about how we can become the ‘sage on the side’ for others. As with any learning, walking the walk is the most important thing we can do – moving to a truly social workplace is a process, it doesn’t happen overnight but the journey sure is fun!