Flawed, but willing to turn the ship around…

I’ve been lucky enough to have some down time over the last couple of weeks and in between packing up the house for our impending move to York I’ve had the chance to catch up on some reading. I’ve devoured a fair few novels but what really stopped me in my tracks were two books ostensibly both non-fiction and on leadership. Honestly, usually I pick up books on leadership and by the second or third chapter I need to take a break, there’s something dehumanising about a lot of leadership writing which doesn’t speak to me. Not so these two, both kept me rapt, eagerly turning the page for the next chapter, and importantly both have really made me reflect on my own leadership style and actions. They spoke to me with a persuasive, gentle authority, based on very personal experience and the expertise that comes from the practice of leadership, rather than the practice of theorising about leadership.

flawed but willing

The first was Flawed but Willing: Leading Large Organizations in the Age of Connection by Khurshed Dehnugara. I’ve followed Khurshed on Twitter (@relume1) for some time and have watched videos of him speak so I was really looking forward to reading his second book. It is something very special. In the vast shelves of leadership tomes it stands out as a raw, yet beautiful, evocation of the challenge of leadership in our fragile, socially, connected age. Khurshed has crafted a book which will really speak to you whether you work in a large or small organisation, in the commercial or not for profit sectors. It’s rare I find a leadership book un-put-downable but I read this in one sitting. It’s uniqueness comes from the emotion packed into each page, the stories that are told are not tub-thumping fists on table messages about leadership but gentle, uncertain whispers speaking about inner strength, resilience and a willingness not to have all the answers. The superman/woman myth of so many leadership books is firmly put to bed, in its place the reality of flawed but willing leaders in uncertain times who are learning to listen to others, their environment and their own inner voices to manage the challenges and seize the opportunities they are faced with.

Put simply, it is brilliant and quite unlike any other leadership book I’ve read for a long time, it offers no answers, or models, but instead a series of questions which encourage you, the reader, to stop and reflect on how you act, or react, on who or what you listen to and whether you could do things differently. The emotion weaved into the individual stories is far removed from clinical case studies you typically find and all the more powerful for it.

More than once I found myself completely wrapped up in those stories and carried back to moments in my own career when I’ve faced similar challenges or issues. When I finished it I felt touched and heartened by the message that it’s OK to be flawed but willing, that there is a way to navigate leadership which draws on love, valiance, gentleness, awareness and persistence to create something shared and human. you can read more about Khurshed and his organisation here.

Turn the ship aroundThe second book – Turn the Ship Around!: A True Story of Turning Followers into Leaders by David Marquet (@ldavidmarquet) was, on the surface, a whole different proposition. Marquet writes about his time serving in the US navy and specifically, about his first command as the captain of the Santa Fe a US nuclear submarine and the ‘cast of characters’ he inherited as his crew. He brings the crew and their stories alive by describing his own challenges as he sought to literally to turn the submarine around in reputation, performance and morale. I make a point of keeping my eye out for books from military authors not least because my brother is a long-serving naval officer. We’ve talked about the challenges of leading a crew of hundreds on a ship in the middle of the ocean so I spy books he might enjoy and invariably find myself reading them too. This one caught my eye a while ago when I saw this animation which neatly sums up the story David tells in his book:

 

What David describes is a form of leadership where you return intent and control to people in your organisations, where you subvert the traditional command & control model and find an alternative proposition which engages and empowers people at all levels. He’s talking about a new form of leader-leader leadership not the traditional military leader-follower or even servant leader models favoured by military organisations.  But he’s also not talking holocracy, after all this is a nuclear submarine, but he does argue that older uni-directional command chains can’t manage the complexity of our modern world and workplaces, submarine or not.  Even in that challenging environment with such high stakes he describes how simple changes can produce dramatic results. Most simple of all was a single change from the crew asking for ‘permission to…’ to presenting what they ‘intend to…’ do.

Here is where the two books converge both authors portray the importance of dialogue and context, of listening to each other and working collaboratively. David perfectly captures the futility of not listening and talking to each other when he describes the state of play when he first joined the Santa Fe where orders were given and carried out unwaveringly even if they were poorly judged, where crew unaccustomed to being asked their views, kept their views to themselves. Unlike the first book David does provide a series of steps (yes a model!) for how he achieved the shift aboard the Santa Fe, this simple act of  getting his teams to talk to one another about what they intended to do before carrying it out led to huge changes. I loved how he described the traditional hush of the submarine being gently, slowly replaced by a low-level hubbub of crew members explaining to each other what they were about to do  (he calls this deliberate action and sees it as something which underpins competence), providing valuable checks and balances on each other’s decisions, alternative perspectives and on occasion the few minutes needed to avert a serious mistake. This is ‘working out loud’ writ large. Importantly leaders need to have confidence to let go of their power and sit in whatever discomfort that may bring in the short-term because the end results of empowering others will be worth it. Like Khurshed, David writes that leaders need to let go of their power and control and learn to sit in the discomfort that may bring them in the short-term, to realise the long-term value of letting go. Read more about David here.

I’ll leave you to discover the rest of both books for yourself, I hope you do. Both books are worthy of your time and if you do read them then you’re treating yourself to two great examples of authentic storytelling. Both felt more like novels than non-fiction texts to me and made more of an impact for that reason. I was moved and inspired twice in one week, thanks to both authors who have set me up nicely to enter my new role with a heightened sense of self-awareness and some great ideas for things I can try to inject into my daily practice. If we all recognise we’re flawed we can open ourselves to coming together to turn our own ships around to face wherever they need to head next.

Curating and transferring knowledge & collaborative social learning #CIPDLDshow

A jam-packed session chaired by Julian Stodd (@julianstodd) focused on tacit knowledge in our organisations, how we share it and how we collaborate to create it and create change.  Both presentations were from the medical sector, one, Astra Zeneca operating in a highly regulated manufacturing environment and the second, the NHS IQ team (@NHSIQ)

First up was Roy Davis from Astra Zeneca. Roy described a complex transfer of the manufacturing process of an accentuated influenza vaccine from AZ offices in California to Liverpool. His case study illustrated at a really granular level the difficulties of transferring tacit knowledge, of making visible ‘hidden factories’ which our teams use day in day out to complete their work but may never have shared with anyone. Tacit knowledge and expertise is built over years of doing something, but if that person leaves or the job has to shift to another site/team the lack of explicit, shared knowledge becomes business critical.

Key challenges included the lack of tangible knowledge or training for the team from LiVerpool, the sensitivities of established scientists letting go of a process they had developed and owned for a long time and importantly making that process and knowledge visible. Roy showed lots of the research models and process analysis that was needed to make this knowledge visible but what struck me was how integral the emotional contract was to the success of this project. Getting buy in from the scientists with the knowledge and making sure all of the project team understood the emotional sensitivities of taking over that process was key. And it all had to be focused on the importance (that word purpose came up again 😉) of everyone understanding why doing the project well was critical to the ability of the organisation to achieve its goals of providing safe, live vaccines to  those in need of them. Lots of mind sets needed changing her alongside the careful and precise documentation and exposing if core processes. And I liked the stress on the fact that none of this was accidental and it all hinged on recognition and appreciation being paid to those who were undertaking the work and handing over the knowledge.

The next speakers were Carol Read (@CarolLRead) and Kate Pound (@KateSlater2) both Transformation Fellows of the NHS Horizons Group @NHSIQ. I agree with Julian that some of the most radical OD and change work is being done in the NHS at the moment, some of it by this team. It was a really good presentation.

They described their work creating the School for Health and Care Radicals MOOC, a five week programme, and their new open access The Edge (@theEdgeNHS) collaborative curation platform for encouraging connections, sharing of knowledge and most importantly, change.  I loved their description of their goals as a team including activating the radicals, giving staff permission to change and innovate, and to attempt to jump the gap by skipping five years forward, not going through each stage of innovation but jumping to where you want to be now. Central to the whole project was creating a bottom up drive for change & innovation, empowering staff across the NHS to make a difference and improve patient care. There were five key planks to their strategy (and you can read more about the wider strategy here in this White Paper http://media.nhsiq.nhs.uk/whitepaper/html5/index.html?page=1):

  • activate disrupters, heretics radicals and mavericks
  • lead transformation from the edge
  • change your story
  • curate rather than create  knowledge
  • build bridges to connect the disconnected.

Really passionate and great stuff being done using lots of new approaches, including encouraging people to tell their digital stories.

Attending the MOOC along side NHS staff at all levels and in different clinical and non clinical functions  has given people permission to make change and created a culture of permission for innovation. The #NHSChangeDay has been a great demonstration and beacon for this. Change becomes everyone’s job, not something done to you but something you shape. And what was completely critical to this was creating a community of participants, talking to each other, social and emotional ties and beliefs that unite teams however big in a common purpose. Yes please lots more of this. What a lovely way to end my time at this year’s show, inspired and full of ideas, just how it should be. Fabulous.

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.

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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?

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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…

One small step for L&D, one giant leap for workplace learning…

Have you ever watched a small child learn to stand up and walk? It’s a long process with their first steps preceded by many months of pulling themselves up by the sofa, a random toy, your leg, the cat…the environment may be familiar but the longing to stand and the views from a different height are new and full of potential. Even when they achieve the standing position it takes many more months for them to become consistently stable, hence lots of tumbles, trips and falls. And yes sometimes there are tears but also there are giggles and laughs, and often wide-eyed wonder at how the work looks from their new vantage point. And they will still look for their Mum or Dad, for a stabilising hand, someone to turn to when the path gets rocky or the knee gets scraped. But it’s a journey full of exploration, learning, excitement and practical experience. image Now think about the worst type of learning you’ve experienced at work. All too often we ask people to join us in the classroom for a single one-off ‘hit’ of training, we take them from crawling to walking in one foul swoop and sometimes we don’t even bother to ask if or why they want to learn to walk. For some people that’s a bruising, scary experience and it’s no wonder they fall over when they’re back in their jobs, the learning experience is so ephemeral or awful that the skills, knowledge and behaviours mentioned are half-remembered but rarely acted upon. L&D needs to step up to its role in supporting holistic development rather than just providing training. We should be helping people to identify their goals and needs and responding with a more comprehensive but varied approach. If we want people to learn to walk tall we need to start with small steps (through discussion, listening, bite sized learning, stretch assignments, shadowing), offering a blend of different experiences and resources to support them as they develop their skills and capability. There might be some formal training in there, I’m not evangelical about informal and social learning (just very enthusiastic!). I do think there is a place for workshops and formal training but context & integration have to be key – how will people apply their new skills, how will they pick themselves up and start over again when they tumble? And how can we support them with that (for example by coaching, mentoring, action learning, building networks of peer support) so they’re encouraged to persist, practice and share new skills without reverting to old behaviours or getting stuck where they land.

The biggest small step we can take with our colleagues is to help them see that they can stand on their own two feet when it comes to their ongoing development and that they are able to choose an approach that suits them and the particular issue they are facing. We need to be curating resources people can draw upon at they point they’re needed, building connections and networks, helping people to build their competence at sharing their expertise with others and giving them the confidence to take control of their own development and learning. To use a bit of a hackneyed phrase we need to move from being the sage on the stage to the guide on the side. I’m comfortable with that it feels right to me.

I don’t want to be doling out pearls of wisdom from my carefully guarded stash, I want to see people talking to each other about new tools, ideas and ways of working in their teams, at staff meetings, during project work and over lunch. That’s a learning culture, one where a good idea spreads contagiously, where fresh takes on persistent problems are grabbed by the people affected and worked through collaboratively. But it’s challenging in workplaces where training is the norm, where time is pressured and resources are scarce. It means we need to get out there and talk to our colleagues, understand their work and their goals and then shape our support to meet those needs. We should have been doing this anyway, it’s not rocket science and our world is full of people thinking carefully about how we do this and providing heaps of inspiration about how to do it. To name but two see Jane Hart’s work on learning concierges or Andrew Jacobs on the transformation he’s led at Lambeth Council, he also gave us this list of 50 crazy ideas to change L&D, why not pick one…

image For me it’s been about learning new skills & approaches like digital curation, appreciative inquiry and action learning sets, exploring the role of social platforms like Curatr and Yammer but above all else it’s been about climbing out of the training box and thinking creatively. It’s involved going back to the basics, talking to people and managers about what they need and taking it from there. That means we, (yes that includes you), have to take a long, hard look at ourselves, our own ways of thinking and ways of working. Are you clinging onto something, an approach to ‘training’ or L&D because it’s appropriate or because it feels comfortable? Do you listen to your fellow L&D’ers on these changing practices and think ‘how exciting but it won’t work at my organisation’? If that felt familiar, do you ever stop and ask yourself whether you’ve tried something new in the last six months. If not, why? I’m still learning, still taking those baby steps, tentative and fragile though they may be but it feels good. Sometimes you’ve got to try something new, stumble and persist to be able to walk tall. Will you join me? What small step will you take to transform your practice?

MOOCs, content curation & learning what motivates me!

Over the last three weeks along with 298 other MOOCers I’ve been working my way through a mini-MOOC on how to be an effective digital curator. If you’re not sure what a MOOC is I point you to this BBC article and this post by Steve Wheeler on Massive Open On Line Courses. If you’d like a crash course in digital curation then all the resources from the MOOC are also available now via Sam Burrough here.

When I heard this mini-MOOC was being planned by two of my Twitter network Sam Burrough (@burrough) & Martin Couzins (@martincouzins) I was genuinely excited. This was something to kick off my 2014 CPD, something which interested me & would be helpful in the day job.

When I started out my motivations were to:

  • Finally finish a MOOC – I’ve started two possibly three before and never completed them, I’m a completer-finisher at heart & when I don’t finish things I beat myself up, third time lucky I thought.
  • Learn something about digital curation – I’ve been pulling together & sharing digital content for a few years but I was hoping to get a better framework, a set of guiding principles for an activity which I genuinely enjoy. Curation lets me wander around the thoughts & ideas of a huge range of talented, thought-provoking folk (and stumble over a few cow pats along the way but that’s life digital or not!)
  • Share reflections with like and not like-minded fellow MOOCers and learn from their experiences & insights.
  • Have a bit of light relief from January’s bleakness, KPIs & implementing a new IT system at work.
  • Understand the MOOC approach better, see it from a student’s perspective rather than as a learning professional and evaluate if my cynicism about the grand claims made for them as the saviours of formal education was on target or completely misguided.

Two and a half weeks later, which ironically coincided with possibly the busiest period at work I’ve ever known, I reached Level 7 – the end. Each of the circles on the screenshot below represents a resource to be viewed and commented on, an easy coast it was not.

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The mini-MOOC (mini because it only lasted three weeks not three months like some of the more formal MOOCs do) was provided on the Curatr platform which awards you experience points ‘XPs’ for viewing and commenting on resources, taking quizzes, answering open questions and commenting on other people’s contributions. When you reach a certain Level threshhold you’re invited to reflect on a question for the level, add your thoughts & bingo you’re levelled up to the next stage. You can rush through not comment or contribute, much like any other MOOC, but I saw little evidence of people doing that. Most were commenting, contributing some more extensively than others but there was more cross-commentary & discussion than I’ve seen before.

It’s easy to point to some obvious reasons for that including : The topic, if you’re interested in digital curation you’re already likely to value the thoughts of others and the role of dialogue online. The designers, Sam & Martin are pros they designed an engaging, effective learning journey peppered with well chosen thought provoking content. They also both happen to have a strong online network of people interested in learning design, social learning & collaboration who signed up for the MOOC bringing insights & comment.

And finally, the platform I think I forgot to mention the leaderboards? Jo Cook has blogged about these already but they warrant another mention. One part of the platform shows you leaderboards of people who’ve earned the most points for resources viewed, contributing comments, adding content and voting up other people’s comments. When I first saw it my heart sank. Gamification, I thought… I won’t like that. I could live with levelling up which is based on levels in video game playing but having everyone see where you are on different scoreboards no thank you.

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As is so often the case time makes fools of us. The experience made me realise that far from hating gamification it really motivated me, not as much so getting a reply to a comment or seeing someone using a resource I posted, but it did motivate me. It made me think back to nights playing Scrabble with my Mum, being closeted in my bedroom playing Space Invaders when I was 8 or 9, doing pub quizzes etc etc. and a dawning remembrance that I am extremely competitive. This isn’t a complete shock to me in my mid-40s but I really didn’t expect a MOOC to trigger it or that I’d be learning so much I wouldn’t care if my competitive leanings were obvious to others.

So what did I learn?

That built well, designed carefully & implemented with care a MOOC can be a powerful learning tool. It won’t be a ‘one-size fits all’ cure for every context but I’ve come round to recognising it should have a place in our toolkit for L&D. That gamification works ( this will be old news to some of you!) and it doesn’t have to be complicated or tricky to implement. I’m already thinking about ways to implement elements of it in our work. That the process and platform is only as good as the people in it or on it, this MOOC was made by the huge amount of sharing that went on between people, it buzzed with energy & conversations every time I logged in. Oh and I learnt a heck of a lot about being an effective curator and I’m amazed by how deeply that learning feels embedded already. I said during last weeks t-MOOC that the learning shone through in the quality of the chat and it really did.

So a MOOC that managed to surprise me and keep me motivated draws to an end – oh well we’ll always have #dcurate!

The Tumblr Archives: My first ever post… Social learning in action (first published 19th Feb. 2012)

Social learning is the new ‘buzz’ in learning and development. The role of informal collaborative learning and the rise of social media tools have high currency in topical debates about how we learn. Understandably so, the ‘social’ is everywhere we … Continue reading