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Learning and development - what the last ten years have taught us

Diane Coolican  12 January 2015 15:23:30
 Diane Coolican Managing Director of Redsky Learning looks back at the changes that have taken place in learning and development over the past decade
We’ve come a long way in the last 10 years ago and the learning and development landscape feels very different. The unpredictable and challenging economic environment in which businesses have had to operate has led to some putting training budgets on hold as they focus on the more immediate pressures of hitting monthly targets. A more focused view of their needs has led to a shift in emphasis.

Ten years ago businesses looked to external professionals to help them deliver many and varied development courses, often responding to the latest fads and ad hoc requests from their managers and leaders. It was also the norm to look at external hires to plug skills gaps or parachute in senior managers who had the perceived skills to help businesses achieve ambitious goals. This could be risky and expensive for business owners who had to invest in ‘unproven’ people who may not deliver a strong ROI and had little loyalty to their new employer.

A decade on we see a complete reversal, with the focus now on investing in talent and promoting from within, with organisations working with people they know and trust and who fit their business culture and ethics. Thus, the Talent Development programme was born and is now prolific at all levels, from graduates to board directors.

Another fundamental shift has been the change in emphasis from ‘one size fits all’, off the shelf packages, to bespoke, tailored programmes which fit and reflect the culture, values and personality of an organisation. It’s no longer a case of taking the quick fix route; businesses recognise that specially created learning and development programmes can achieve much more than simply providing new skills and techniques. They can embed and reinforce the values an organisation requires, encourage joint and matrix working, help the organisation move out of a silo mentality, and cascade company goals and strategy down to operational level.

Linked to this, there has been a move away from e-learning. Undoubtedly digital technology has changed the way businesses implement L&D programmes, opening up new doors and making training more instant and accessible via online courses and webinars. However, according to the CIPD Cornerstone Report 2014*, respondents found e-learning to have a bigger gap between use and effectiveness than any other learning and development practice.  

The benefit of being able to learn ‘remotely’ has, perhaps, turned into a disadvantage as we are currently seeing a resurgence in one to one coaching and mentoring. Approaches to mentoring are developing fast, with the emergence of circular mentoring where groups with common issues and challenges come together for shared dialogue and learning; and reverse mentoring where senior staff are mentored by junior colleagues.

This closer form of interaction is also borne out by the trend for partnership working where external providers deliver programmes jointly with an internal HR or learning and development professional.  A more integrated approach embeds learning and enables robust follow up of agreed actions by recipients. The industry itself has forged closer links with other suppliers and nowadays it is not uncommon for several providers to work together. One may deliver a first line programme, while another may manage the middle or senior programme. There are enormous benefits in continually talking to each other to share challenges that different management and leadership levels are facing and exploring ways of supporting each other. This openness was not apparent 10 years ago!

A key change we have seen over the past 10 years is that, in these post-recession times, it is more important than ever to demonstrate return on investment. It is a pre-requisite for any L&D programmes to have clear, measurable outcomes and be able to demonstrate behavioural change and the impact on bottom line profits. Learning and development companies have to embed this approach, as we have at Redsky Learning, where we have developed a robust model for measuring financial and behavioural impact. We use this before any programmes are designed in order to ensure activities will lead to success.

Predictions for the next 10 years bear this approach out, with the CIPD anticipating more emphasis on monitoring, measuring and evaluation training and effectiveness. At Redsky Learning we also anticipate a stronger focus on blended learning, where learning and development activity is more closely aligned with business strategy; as well as a continued focus on developing talent from within.

Blended learning allows employees to take more ownership and responsibility for their learning. It works best when used in collaboration with other learning devices, for example, allowing people to participate in group or organisation wide events such as workshops or master classes but then continuing their learning using other mediums such as self-study or group coaching. This format of training can be more time effective for people who have limited flexibility to attend certain training and development events and it enables individuals to learn at their own pace.

As individual people learn in different ways, Blended Learning has the benefit of giving employees the chance to drive their own learning forward in the ways that fit them best. It does however, require self-discipline as quite often it is down to the individual to select modules which are most relevant for their role and future, without relying on the business to sort it out for them. This is great for Generation Y and Z, who are more focused on their careers and driving their development for themselves.

The next few years will certainly bring further development to the L&D industry. As technology continues to develop, blended learning will too, as there will be more mediums available. As Generation Y and Z are focused on career development, they will inevitably demand more and will grasp opportunities to learn.

One thing is certain, to be successful in 10 years’ time, learning and development providers will need to be ahead of the game, anticipate change, research and develop new models and know and understand the skills leaders need for the future.

Training’s next top model

Teresa Ewington  29 September 2014 01:10:17
‘Great training doesn’t sprinkle on creativity and fun once the serious design is done. It builds it in right from the off. Which means thinking differently about the models and theories you base your design on,’ says The Writer's  head of training, Teresa Ewington.

We all know that training is changing. These days, facts and information are just a finger-swipe away. Training needs to be an experience. Yet, I think too often L&D’s own checklists and processes kill the possibility of designing great experiences.

To give you a comparison – imagine you're off to the movies this weekend. Chances are it's because you've seen a trailer that intrigued you. Imagine if, at the start of the film, the announcer said, ‘By the end of this film you'll be able to describe what happens to the environment when it gets cold, demonstrate how to do a snow angel, and explain the dynamics of trust and betrayal’. And all of a sudden, the fun and magic that’s drawn you to Disney's Frozen has just been lost.

Yet that’s how we see training approached: with course descriptors that drone out every detail. Intro slides full of ‘learning objectives’. ‘Proof of learnings’ that feel like school exams. The models are dictating the form.

And many of these models are old. Most of us probably started our theoretical learning of training with people like Andrew Maslow and his hierarchy of needs. Or maybe you liked Frederick Herzberg’s motivational theory. The work of these men is over 50 years old, and there's still a huge amount of relevance in their thinking and research to today’s world.

I joined The Writer because their training blew me away: it was fresh; inspirational; and, because of this, much more effective. And it turned out the training designers at The Writer had never heard of Herzberg, and wouldn’t know Tuckman’s ‘orming’ model if it jumped up and bit them.

Which got me thinking: What models would sit behind really creative training?

Here are just three. Of course, there are many, many more.

Find your fly
Nudge theory is all about helping people make better choices, by re-framing how they’re presented. So, don’t just shout at people that they should eat more vegetables; find all the ways you can to make choosing vegetables really easy. Like where you put them in the shop. Imagine if fruit was by the tills instead of chocolate, or at eye-level on shelves (where we know people are most likely to look). Or if you want to stop gentlemen peeing all over the floor in public toilets, simply have a picture of a fly stenciled onto every urinal. (It’ll be an irresistible target, and make men more accurate.)

The government’s been interested in nudge theory for a while. If they can attempt to make a whole nation healthier with nudges, surely we can use it to make a workshop more effective. So, look at your objectives – if there’s something really important people need to learn from your session, then find all the ways you can to nudge it. Better still if you get the business involved, to keep those nudges going on around them.

Take this as a prompt to look wider with your research. Look in unobvious places. Check out the latest book releases or TED talks for anything that might be intriguing.

How does your session plan stack up to people’s attention span? You’ll probably already know that research says we’ve got about ten minutes before our brains start to really wander off to the shopping, the kids or the to-do list.

Gary Small is a Professor at the University of California, Los Angeles. He’s leading a group of neuroscientists looking at what the use of computers does to our brains. They’ve found that younger people, who are fully exposed to computer technology, have pathways in their brain that older generations don’t.

What does this mean for us? At the very least it means that making sure your training is snappy, energetic and in bite-size chunks isn’t just ‘nice’; it’s going to become increasingly essential if that’s how our brains are getting wired.

Colour swatch
What's your training space like? If your company surroundings are a little 'greyer' than you'd like, then the training room is where people find colour. If the business is compact then the training space is where they can breathe.

Colour therapy says turquoise inspires good chatter, and it's a colour we associate with safe experiences. Even if you don't have dedicated rooms, you could think about taking out colour boards or posters. Use these for breakout discussions. And if you're really restricted for options, well there's always you. Turquoise shirt anyone? (How’s that for a subtle ‘nudge’?)

That’s just for starters
Those are just three theories that force you to think more creatively about effective training. Find your own; challenge yourself to use them – and bring freshness to your training.

If you do, you’ll see:
·        course titles that are more intriguing and tempting
·        fewer PowerPoint slides with bullet points
·        groups sharing more stories
·        people who are interested and looking forward to the surprises they’ll get in training
·        people spotting connections to their life outside of work
·        trainers being more like ‘guides on an exploration’.

And find ways – lots of them – for people who experience your training to tell you how they found it. Think of it as your audience check-in. When all this works well, you should see your attendance figures go up.

Is there any life left in pyschology? Why it’s time to master neuroscience

Dr. Paul Brown  12 September 2014 19:18:10
Dr Paul Brown was previously Visiting Professor in Organisational Neuroscience at London South Bank University and in Individual and Organisational Psychology, the Nottingham Law School. Now based in Laos, where he was part of the National Science Council in the Office of the Prime Minister, he maintains an international consulting practice in Europe, America and S E Asia.


It is nearly a hundred and fifty since the first psychological laboratory was established in 1879.  At the University of Leipzig its founder, Wilhelm Wundt, the first person to call himself ‘a psychologist’, also started the first academic journal of psychology in 1881.  Much dedicated to reporting experiments on trying to find out if it was possible to have thoughts without images being attached to them, by the time of Wundt’s death in 1920 psychology had become very firmly established as a university discipline.

In 2008/9 there were more than 77,000 undergraduate psychology students in the UK. At around 5% of the total UK student population, it was a number that had doubled through the previous decade. http://www.bps.org.uk/sites/default/files/documents/the_future_of_undergraduate_psychology_in_the_uk.pdf What happened to the half million or so psychology graduates of that decade? Potential financial rewards for such students were low when compared with other disciplines. http://forums.theregister.co.uk/forum/1/2011/06/09/psych_grads_knacked/#c_1087554  Psychology students stay comparatively poor for life, it seems.

Why so?  Why are there no international companies with commensurate salaries that insist on having a main Board a Director of Psychology?  Should not the science of human behaviour be as important as IT, R+D, Engineering and Finance? – to name but some of the disciplines that make a regular claim to a seat at the boardroom table.  And why, come to that, is HR not a certain route to a main board appointment?

The rise of the power of brain imaging technology over the past fifteen years is providing an answer to that. It is, arguably, showing psychology as a purported scientific discipline that failed to understand the centrality of the brain and neurobiology to human behaviour.  That central organ of the human condition, suspended in fluid between the ears, weighing rather less than four pounds but consuming around a quarter of the body’s energy supply, the brain is being investigated as never before but by mainly by neuroscientists not psychologists.  Mamie Bosman of the Strategic Leadership Institute http://www.strategicleadershipinstitute.net/news/how-neuroscience-is-creating-a-brain-new-world/ conveys how in the courts, in the military, in sales, in racism, in the classroom and in leadership, modern neuroscience is giving practical insights into human behaviour with a level of certainty that psychology has completely failed to provide.

There are many other areas in which neuroscience is prompting change and new possibilities, including healthcare, sport, medicine, treatment of mental illness and injuries, cognitive enhancement (improving intellectual performance), treatment of addictions,ethics, philosophy, change management, governance and policy making, communication, entertainment, art, architecture, coaching, relationships, stress management, politics and even agriculture. …..

So what do we make of the psychology that we have known and loved so long?  As a subject more allied to the liberal arts and the social sciences rather than the biological sciences, what is its place in the future?

The outlook is not bright.  

Looking back over the 20th century it is clear that psychology was more a set of belief systems rather than a real science.  As a great observer of the human condition, Freud understood completely that eventually the biology of the brain was the way that human behaviour would be understood but, lacking the tools to observe what was happening in real time, he perversely constructed a model that bore no relation at all to either the structure or function of the brain as it was then known.  There is no Id, Ego or Superego in the brain.  They are metaphors, or articles of faith, not facts.  

Early on in the development of Freudian thinking his disciple, Jung, began to have doubts about the master’s views.  So as happens in religions, Jung had to leave the church of true believers and found his own church.  The question “Are you a Freudian or a Jungian?” was as crucial a question at the dinner tables of north London in the 1970’s as “Are you Catholic or Protestant?” was on the streets of Belfast at the same time.  In each case adherents could be recognised intuitively by a skilled observer without the question needing to be asked.

So twentieth century applied psychology – the stuff by which psychologists other than academics might earn their livings – can now be seen more as a set of psycho-theologies than scientifically-derived understandings of the human condition.  “I’m an analyst / gestalt psychologist / behaviourist / CBT specialist / integrationist / experientialist / etc etc” won’t really do as a way of convincing a sceptical world that a psychologist has useful knowledge; any more than will the professional divisions that have cloaked ignorance in apparent respectability.

New sciences are beginning to spring up around neuroscience.  Connectomics seeks out the pathways of the brain, producing the most remarkable pictures of the way neurons create connections to create pathways in the process.  Optogenetics has the capacity to make little genetic tweaks so that some specified brain cells, like those for smell, will light up and glow when activated.  There is a Japanese fish that is almost transparent.  The optogeneticists can so make part of its nervous system glow that any aspect of study under investigation can be seen lighting up while the fish is swimming around.  Cell biologists have developed epigenetics as they start to understand the way perception and experience instruct the gene how to express itself in behaviour and, remarkably, to transmit life experience genetically.  

So in less than two decades new sciences are developing fast to support the intensity of investigation that the brain now attracts.  In a hundred and twenty-five years psychology has spawned no new sciences to help it in its investigations.  With the advantage of hindsight we can begin to see psychology as a symbiotic science.  Like mistletoe, it feeds off other life systems and only appears to exist independently.

But – and this is where the great gain is to be had for HR and all those professionals, like managers, interested in the capabilities of human beings – neuroscientists are not especially interested in human beings or their behaviours in the real world.  They are fascinated by the brain, not the being.  Those of us fascinated by human beings can turn neuroscientific knowledge into real use.

And then we can develop a real science of human behaviour based on the way leaders manage the brain energies of themselves and others.  The direction of travel is now quite clear.  It is, after all, only human energy efficiently applied to the strategic and operational goals of the organization that produces profit.  And it’s a much better-than-evens bet that neuroscience will tell us much more about how to manage that energy that than psychology has ever done.

Paul is a keynote speaker at the Association for Coaching’s 5th International Conference ‘Journey to Coaching Mastery’ in Budapest, 30 – 31 October 2014 http://www.acconference.com/, where his topic will be Mastering the Brain in Coaching. Early Bird discount available before 30th September.

Minimising the impact of stress in your workplace

Andrew Kinder  8 September 2014 15:24:57
Stress is defined well by the Health and Safety Executive as an ‘adverse reaction people have to excessive pressures or other types of demand placed on them’. Essentially, it’s a set and series of reactions and responses to the subjective pressures experienced by an individual.

It is this subjectivity that is important to consider when looking at how to minimise the impact of stress in the workplace; while one person may feel stressed by a situation or experience, another may not. So, by building an individual’s resilience to situations, experiences and environments that may lead to and cause stress and pressure in the workplace, it is something that can be minimised and to some extent, managed.

Of course, in considering how to minimise the impact of stress in your workplace, it’s important to consider the legal obligations employers have when it comes to managing stress in the workplace.

The Health and Safety at Work Act (1974) remains an important piece of legislation in relation to stress at work, particularly because it highlights that organisations have a duty of care in relation to psychological health as well as physical health. Alongside this, the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations (1999) places a statutory duty on the employer to conduct risk assessments of the workplace, which includes assessing the psychological risks of the workplace and putting in place preventative steps where a risk is known.

Whatever its root cause, though, the impact of stress on organisations and employees is significant and the consequences of not dealing with it can be long-lasting. These might include absence, poor standards of work and performance, a lack of creativity and poor relationships with colleagues in the workplace.

So, where to start? Firstly, it’s important to identify and understand what may be causing stress in your organisation. You may choose to survey employees to ask them how they’re feeling and that factors that they think contribute to pressure on them and their jobs, as well as more formal health and safety risk assessments. The Health and Safety Executive [http://www.hse.gov.uk/stress/standards/downloads.htm], for example, has a number of useful tools and templates to help identify and understand the causes of stress in the workplace.

The responses you receive from employees or audits that help to identify the causes and triggers of stress could point to bullying and harassment, poor line management, unmanageable workloads, inconsiderate deadlines, a negative organisational culture, conflict between colleagues or poor internal communications as triggers. There may also be non-work related contributing factors to stress, such as debt and financial issues, alcohol or drug dependency or marital and childcare problems.

But what if your employees can’t vocalise, pinpoint or discuss the issues that are causing them stress? Where this is the case, stress can go ‘underground’ and make itself apparent through symptoms such as increased levels of regular or unexplained absence, poor concentration, low motivation, anxiousness, frustration, depression, mood swings or isolation from other team members.

It’s in this type of circumstance that services such as employee assistance programmes can provide a channel for employees to seek support and guidance for factors that may be causing them unmanageable stress. But where employees don’t feel able to make direct contact with services such as EAPs themselves, the role of line managers to recognise and support employees who may be suffering from stress becomes increasingly important.

Of course, this intervention can only be effective if line managers (supported by health and safety, occupational health and HR professionals) are equipped with skills to quickly identify the signs and symptoms of work and personal issues that may cause stress and ensuring they’re equipped with the skills to effectively communicate with them. Here, organisations should invest in relevant training and development to empower and enable line managers to hold constructive, two-way dialogue with their employees to ensure appropriate support is offered and made available at an early stage before it becomes a crisis.

Alongside the contribution managers can make to minimise the impact of stress, there are other techniques that organisations can adopt to proactively manage it within the workplace, including:

§        Reviewing employee workloads – encouraging employees and line managers to take the opportunity presented by regular employee appraisals to assess individual and team workloads. Are employees under excessive pressure to get everything done? Do they have the necessary skills to prioritise or delegate their work? Are your expectations as a manager reasonable when it comes to delivery targets? Or do employees not have enough to do and are therefore stressed that their Atalent and ability is not being maximised?

§        Encouraging a culture that promotes a positive work / life balance – in particular, line managers have the opportunity to set a good example when it comes to balancing personal and professional commitments. Team members will take their lead from line managers if they’re burning the midnight oil in the office and stressed about work which – whether it’s intended or not – will put pressure on team members too.

§        Communicating openly with employees – encouraging an organisational culture that encourages people to talk openly about issues and problems they’re having in the workplace is something to be aspired to. Managers should be encouraged to have an ‘open door’ policy and culture that enables employees to raise issues of concern or interest and vocalise problems or concerns they may have. Alongside this, it’s important to ensure employees are aware of the support and resources available to them to manage issues contributing to workplace stress, such as EAP helplines.

It’s pretty much a given that change in the workplace – and our non-work lives, for that matter – is here to stay and may cause stress for individuals so, for organisations as well as employees it’s something that needs addressing. Putting the appropriate support, resources and experts on hand, as recommended here, to support employees and line managers is an essential component of minimising the impact of stress. Alongside this, encouraging ourselves and our colleagues to tackle issues as soon after they present as possible is something that we all should strive to do if we’re to get on top of the issues that are triggering stress.

Andrew Kinder is Chair of the UK Employee Assistance Professionals Association. For more information on UK EAPA go to

Tales of the unexpected

Gary Wyles  1 September 2014 10:00:00

The pace of change is accelerating, in a global economy, with technological advancements, political change and sociological shifts in society, the number of factors which can affect an organisation are growing exponentially.

One of the most widely applied tools for evaluating external influences and the potential impact on an organisation is PESTLE.  It is a useful tool which helps senior leaders to evaluate Political, Economic, Sociological, Technological, Legal and Environmental factors and the impact these might have on an organisation.

PESTLE is typically thought of as a strategic management tool, yet it is just as relevant to the HR team.  External factors can influence how a company plans for them, but a large part of this is how human resources are structured to cope with change and how well prepared the workforce is for it.  Organisational change is never quick, yet external influences can rapidly affect a company.  The way HR responds can have far-reaching consequences and determine whether, over the longer-term, the company is here to stay or a victim of influences beyond our control.  

One sector which has had its fair share of change over the last decade is within the manufacturing and engineering sector.  Over the last decade, it has had to react to cheaper foreign imports, devaluation of the pound, worldwide recession, huge changes in technology, a major switch in political parties and their ethos towards the industry, European legislation, skills shortages, regulation and increasingly challenging environmental targets.  It is true to say, it has its fair share of external influences that can be either an opportunity or significant threat, depending on how they are planned for.

Here are just a few factors which can have far reaching consequences for manufacturers and, if not planned for, can threaten the long-term future of the industry:
Political 2015 potential change of government
Scottish independence
Changes in European parliament
Emergence of Global super-powers
The impact of worldwide politics and civil unrest
Economic Rapid economic growth
Impact of interest rate hikes
Fluctuating currency
Price of raw materials
Rate of inflation
Overseas competition & cheaper imports
Sociological Ageing workforce
Move towards greater work-life balance
Global working
Flexible working
Generational differences and their different expectations
Diversity in work
Global changes and emergence of new markets
Technological Consumerisation of devices
Increased system integration
Social media
Cloud-based technology
Automation and Industry 4.0
Artificial Intelligence
Customer expectation that accompanies technological advances
Legal Environmental regulations
Employment law
WEEE regulations
EU Compliance
Health & Safety
Environmental Energy resources – pricing and availability
Sustainability and recycling
Waste management

This list is designed to help think about external influences, using the PESTLE planning tool.  Many of these eventualities can have a significant effect on the way we structure our human resources and the training and development we need to equip our leaders for change.  However, there are three key areas that HR can focus on in response to any change:  Current Leadership Skills, Plugging the Skills Gap and Employee Well-Being.

Current Leadership Skills

One of the most essential leadership skills in manufacturing will be the ability to recognise and implement change quickly.  Leaders need to plan for prosperity, but prepare for austerity, and have the right skills to cope with both.  They need the ability to balance growth with adequate resources and investment, while at the same time, recognise the tipping point for austerity and have a back-up austerity plan.  Training in resilience, leadership skills, coaching and change management will all be useful for today’s leaders.

Plugging the Skills Gap

One of the biggest issues for manufacturing and its ability to react to change is lack of skills.  In a recent survey, 75% of manufacturers said that they suffered from a skills shortage and 88% thought that this was unlikely to change or even get worse over the coming year.  Lack of skills is especially prevalent in the area of skilled shop floor workers and experienced engineers.  This has become such a problem that 44% of manufacturers have experienced downtime or reduced profitability as a result.

Much of the problem of resourcing can be due to the issue of role creep – as austerity bit, redundancies were made and those engineers remaining were expected to take on more responsibility and up-skill.  This is a temporary fix and now that the economy is on the upward curve, as these skilled engineers move on, it becomes increasingly difficult to recruit new engineers with the same skillset.  Manufacturers, in part, may be responsible for their own lack of skilled engineers, as their expectations for skills are set high.  In order to find the right people, the HR team may need to help managers be more realistic in terms of what skills they can expect from new candidates and also develop a programme to train and develop young people in the industry to help plug the long-term skills gap.

Employee Well-Being

Middle management is also experiencing a high degree of stress as a result of lack of skilled engineers, with many having to roll their sleeves up to avoid downtime, leaving little time for effective planning and resourcing.  Being all things to all people is draining and if not addressed, over the long-term can have serious consequences to morale, well-being, absence and staff turnover.

It can be a catch 22 situation for manufacturers and no doubt to many other industries too.  Scenario planning is clearly important in terms of looking at how external factors might affect an organisation, yet lack of skills can contribute to a lack of time to effectively plan for these eventualities.  

HR departments need to think about the longer-term.  Short-term fixes such as up-skilling the existing workforce may offer a temporary reprieve, but is it the long-term solution in a growing economy?  HR departments need to think much further than the here and now if they are to provide a flexible and resilient workforce capable of coping with the increasingly rapid rate of change.

Gary Wyles - Managing Director

Gary is Managing Director of Festo Limited and has been with the Company for more than 25 years. He is a member of the Institute of Directors and holds the IOD’s ‘Diploma in Company Direction’.

IMore information on the organisation and the training and consulting services available can be found at www.festo-didactic.co.uk.

Engaging the whole person – applying a human perspective to employee motivation

Catherine Nelson  25 August 2014 10:53:32
One of the sad legacies of the Industrial Age is the lingering belief that employees need to be externally motivated to work. Buoyed by the findings of Frederick Taylor and emboldened by the post-second world war baby boom, it is still largely believed that people are inherently unlikely to work on their own.

Many work and HR policies are built on an old industrial paradigm; unless you ‘force’ them, either through carrots (lots of rewards, recognition and incentives), or a stick (punishment, consequences and the threat of dismissal), you will not be able to fully engage each person to achieve the results you need.

This view is still at the core of most employee engagement and motivation plans inside many organisations we’ve worked with. But because it’s such an essential force for happiness and productivity, understanding human motivation is critical to producing individual and ultimately organisational success.

As Daniel Pink so beautifully describes in his book, Drive, there is a third form of human motivation – an intrinsic motivation that human beings possess to work and achieve progress, purely for the love of achievement itself. Certainly external conditions matter, but often their effect is to kill this intrinsic motivation, rather than release it.

At my company we’ve studied human motivation for more than 25 years and we believe it’s time for a change in how we think about engaging people in the workplace. HR departments should be at the heart of this understanding, using their knowledge and influence to drive policy and guide the actions of leaders and managers. They should be the force that promotes holistic motivation as a primary driver of engagement and ultimately results. Great HR leaders recognise the enormous human and bottom line consequences of a disengaged workforce.

But HR departments do not need to motivate people. Rather, their job is to create the conditions where each person’s own internal source of motivation is engaged. The very best leaders and HR teams we’ve worked with create systems and processes that create great clarity, while allowing for autonomy. They create accountability while recognising progress and rewarding success.

For example we group the various human motivational factors into four key areas - physical, spiritual, mental and social/emotional – which mirror the dimensions of human nature. It’s a logical categorisation, which also proves easy for HR departments to consider as they create optimal engagement conditions.  Highlighted more than 25 years ago by Dr. Stephen R. Covey in his acclaimed book The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, these so-called Four Dimensions of Renewal are invaluable when it comes to understanding employee engagement and ensuring energy and motivation levels remain high.

Underlying each dimension is the basic principle that, to achieve maximum effectiveness, all four need to be exercised regularly and consistently, not only by individuals but also by organisations. HR departments can be integral in terms of making this happen.

The first dimension – Physical - is the most tangible. When applied to individuals it relates to the need for them to look after their bodies – to exercise and feed themselves in a way that preserves and enhances their capacity to manage stress, work proactively and feel invigorated to tackle daily tasks and challenges.

By actively and openly considering the physical well-being of their employees, HR departments can make a very positive contribution to individual motivation and reap the rewards within the workplace. While at one level this contribution can include gym provision or healthy food options, in its simplest form it involves being seen to care for employees by providing them with a safe, comfortable working environment.

When applied to organisations, the physical dimension typically relates to compensation. Most motivational theories agree that people need to feel they are being paid fairly in order to be engaged. If they do not, it will dramatically and negatively impact motivation. Once compensation reaches a threshold, however, significant increases only seem to produce modest increases in engagement. Far more motivational is sincere recognition for the work itself, by their leaders and other team members - being acknowledged and valued also ties into our second dimension.

The second dimension – Spiritual – relates to the deep sense of meaning and purpose people achieve from their work. While meaning and purpose can be individual, there are many ways organisations can provide support to help leaders and managers help each employee understand the purpose behind the work they do and tie it more directly to their personal sense of contribution. At the organisational level, the spiritual dimension connects to the mission or vision of the company itself, the core values modelled by leaders and organisational integrity. In practice, this means HR playing its part in ensuring that an appropriate vision/mission is in place, reinforced by values that are applied consistently at all levels.

The Mental dimension is about individuals continuing to learn and develop professionally.

Often absorbed and defined by mental activity during their years of formal education, this dimension is often neglected by people thereafter, but there are many ways it can be re-established through everyday activity in the workplace. HR departments can play a significant role in helping people to develop mentally, through increased learning and development opportunities.

Applied to organisations, this dimension is linked to being a learning organisation, one where change is embraced and knowledge is shared openly and freely. Learning is encouraged. Mistakes are tolerated, with an eye to embracing what the mistakes have taught us rather than covering them up. HR departments can foster this environment by encouraging leaders and managers to reward learning and growth and by equipping them with the skills they need to lead and manage change.

At the individual level, exercising the first three dimensions requires the allocation of time on a daily basis. However, the last dimension – Social/Emotional is different in that it can be exercised frequently through everyday interactions with our colleagues.

The social and emotional dimensions are tied together because quality relationships – and the resulting level of personal security - are primarily forged and manifested by the levels of trust they have with others, including colleagues and customers.

Great cultures are evidenced by strong, healthy relationships at every level and between levels. Great relationships are not manufactured annually, but rather are developed by regular, small deposits into each person’s ‘emotional bank account’. This is a metaphor we use to describe the amount of trust in a relationship. Great relationships have many, frequent deposits, including remembering people’s names, thanking them, being courteous, and speaking to (and about) people respectfully. It means forgiving mistakes and being willing to move on.

Each person needs to learn the skills to build great relationships to be engaged at work. Human beings are social creatures. We want to work with our friends. This aspect of human motivation has been vastly under-rated, with far too many people believing you can sustain toxic relationships and high levels of motivation at the same time. This is simply not the case.  

From an organisational perspective, the social and emotional dimension relates to how as an organisation we value and respect people, all the way from the hiring process, on-boarding, and dealing with challenging issues (including performance issues, potential redundancies and letting people go). Moreover, it relates to what we overlook and tolerate. Afraid of conflict, too many leaders and HR departments avoid dealing with tough and persistent issues (high performers who are violating your core values, for example) hoping they will correct themselves. This is never the case. More often, you are the last to know and your best employees are frustrated by the organisation’s reluctance to act. Good people leave. Others stay – demotivated and disengaged, cynics in their seats.  

Ultimately, high levels of engagement require the development and continuous improvement of all four dimensions at both an individual and organisational level. Any dimension that is neglected will create negative resistance that pushes against effectiveness, development and growth – with a significant impact on motivation levels.

As the late, great Peter Drucker has said: “Culture eats strategy for breakfast, and it’s only when you truly understand what this means that you’ll lead a successful company.” Culture is made of the behaviour of each and every person in your company. If you want to create a great culture that can execute your most important strategies, you need to create high levels of individual effectiveness and engagement, by creating the conditions where people opt in and choose to give their best.

HR departments must be at the heart of this change – they have a crucial role to play in enabling their organisations to shift their focus and to strike the right balance by applying the all-important human touch that will result in more satisfied, loyal and motivated employees.

Catherine Nelson is Vice President, Leadership and Customer Loyalty at FranklinCovey www.franklincovey.co.uk www.7habits.com  

Strategic HR: tapping into a top-down approach

Debbie Rennison, FCIPD  21 August 2014 14:09:17
A long-awaited boom in M&A is coming, says Credit Suisse. Analysts at the investment bank say that it’s time for firms to boost earnings by joining forces with or acquiring others.  Good news for the balance sheet, but potentially a headache for HR. Mergers and acquisitions or a significant shift in business focus mark obvious milestones for a firm to review its organisational development and structure. But are there other times that HR should initiate a review?  What else should firms consider?

At a high level, HR must coordinate with the C-level in order to align its activities with strategic planning. With such close links to the workforce, HR acts as the early warning system for organisational strategy and must facilitate change when the need arises to support the business needs.

Timing is crucial

Pushing into a new line of business or facilitating M&A, are typically clear markers to spark off an organisational review. Instead of waiting for a business shift, HR must evaluate organisational development on an ongoing basis. This avoids disjointed, one-off interventions to temporarily align business strategy.

HR must continuously monitor company values and messages to successfully streamline activities with business goals. This will ensure that they work on both a macro and micro scale. HR can identify patterns and trends through the collection and analysis of data – making it easier to spot potential issues. This data can then be used to provide deeper business insight, reduce costs and streamline business processes. HR can identify potential issues before they impact on strategy through the continued monitoring of organisational alignment. This eliminates the need to ‘initiate’ a review.

Key considerations

HR must consider a number of factors when assessing the effectiveness of organisational structure, whether the prompt is a merger, shift in business focus or an ongoing process. Firstly, it’s important to recognise that organisational development consists of both hard and soft issues. Hard issues can include the defined structure of the organisation including the policies and systems that are in place. Soft issues focus more around the behavioural development of employees; their attitudes towards the company, perception of culture and views around management. HR professionals must look at both sides of the coin and ensure that the hard and soft issues are being managed in line with the firm’s strategy and objectives.

Employee engagement

Organisational development must be led from the C-level in order to ensure maximum reach across the business. It’s crucial that a top-down approach to this is implemented. Company values that are developed behind the closed doors of a boardroom will lack the engagement of the workforce as a whole. Any changes implemented often prove unsustainable and impact negatively across the culture and effectiveness of the company in the long term. Giving HR a voice at the C-level can counter this, ensuring that the workforce is taken into consideration.

Organisations need to create an environment that allows and encourages employees to completely understand the organisation’s objectives. Employees that are completely engaged in these objectives are more motivated towards achieving results that directly benefit the business. HR must read the signs and intervene at the C-level to ensure this is fixed before any company-wide strategies are undertaken.

Learning and development

Learning and development is a key aspect of the soft issues that need to be considered when reviewing organisational structure. This is primarily down to the fact that training and personnel development tend to be linked closely to company culture.

A recent survey commissioned by the business school at Sheffield Hallam University found that corporates often spend large amounts on training that is not directly aligned with their strategic business goals. On top of this, 39% of CEOs suggest not enough training is done in their businesses to achieve their corporate vision. So what’s the answer? The same survey found that middle managers are key in enforcing development programmes that align with the values and strategies of the company.

A tailored approach

One size does not fit all when it comes to hard and soft issues in organisational structure and development. Every firm has a different set of objectives and must tailor its strategy and structure to suit these needs. In industries such as construction and manufacturing many companies look to implement strict organisational structure in order to maintain maximum control and drive efficiency.

Conversely, excessively tight controls can stifle productivity and damage workforce attitudes in businesses and industries that have a heavy emphasis on creativity, free-thinking and innovation. In these cases HR can focus less on a strict hierarchical leadership model. They should implement a culture of openness to improve productivity and creating alignment between the employees and organisational objectives.

Failing to act

Firms that fail to conduct organisation reviews in an ongoing and timely manner risk a company structure out of alignment with policy, culture and employee attitudes. This can have a negative impacts on the business. Motivation and moral of employees will suffer as they feel disconnected from the organisation as a whole. Decision making will be affected as managers lack alignment with other departments and employees, leading to a lack of co-ordination across the business.

It is essential that the structure is flexible, allowing for response to new opportunities and changing environments, particularly in markets that are heavily regulated. Companies must also be able to keep up with the pace of rapidly evolving employment law such as flexible working hours and auto-enrolment. The most damaging impact of poor structure? The cost to the bottom line.

HR plays a central role in organisational development and is inextricably linked to the alignment of company structure and values. Its specific focus must be to create an environment that allows employees to engage with the business through a complete understanding of organisational objectives. Through the effective alignment of people with these objectives, companies can deliver results that will provide a sustainable base for future growth. More importantly – companies can deliver on promises to both shareholders and employees.

About the author
Debbie Rennison is HR Director at MidlandHR (www.midlandhr.co.uk) and a Fellow of the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development

Coaching to embed learning and unleash a collaborative culture

Kate Cooper  18 August 2014 10:39:58
The world of work is complex and constantly changing. Fast paced and high pressured, it places increasingly tough demands on employees throughout organisations. Consequently leaders and managers at all levels need a broad portfolio of management and leadership tools and techniques to do their job effectively.

Coaching is a particularly powerful tool in the modern workplace – one that has proven to be a highly effective way of developing individual and organisational performance by unlocking untapped capability. This key management tool can deliver considerable benefits, helping managers get the most from their teams, boosting employee engagement and developing high performing workplaces.

The stats confirm this. The Institute of Leadership Management (ILM) surveyed learning and development managers and decision makers at 250 large organisations, and some of the most popular reasons for providing coaching are connected with career progression, notably management and leadership development (21%), senior executive development (19%) and progression within the organisation (12%). Coaching is widely used as a development tool. Eighty per cent of the organisations surveyed had used or were using coaching, with a further nine per cent likely to use coaching in the next three years.

The secret to successful coaching? Make every conversation a coaching conversation. Coaching doesn’t have to be a one off activity - to be truly effective it should be carried out on an ongoing basis. Managers must ensure there are frequent opportunities to have coaching interactions with their staff, on both a formal and informal basis.

A coaching conversation is far removed from a one-way interaction in which the manager simply informs the employee of their task. It’s very much a two-way conversation - the manager listens to the employee and provides guided questioning to help them unlock their inner potential. By their very nature, these type of conversations involve more listening than talking and a genuine interest in the other person and willingness to see the world from their point of view. Removing judgement, directions and instructions from as many conversations as possible enables new sorts of relationships to emerge and collaborations to flourish. Managers should take care to use open-ended questioning to encourage the employee to think through their situation and discover for themselves what the best solution might be. Enabling the employee to explore their issues and reach their own conclusion creates an impactful result – the employee feels empowered as they are given the tools and responsibility to manage their own actions. In turn, they feel supported and nurtured, reinforcing their morale and commitment.

ILM’s survey underlines this, revealing that the key perceived benefit of coaching was personal development including; improved self-awareness (43%) and increased confidence (42%). Organisations also use coaching to improve business knowledge and skills in specific areas – 45% of respondents cite this (the second most popular reason for coaching) as a benefit.

However, all good coaches need training. Untrained, inexpert coaching may do more harm than good in many cases, straying into the territory of counselling, for example or defaulting to one to one instruction. To embed coaching capability across an organisation, managers must be equipped with the abilities and training they need to coach effectively and made aware of the powerful results coaching conversations can achieve. Managers should also bear in mind the wider benefits to the organisation. This is one of the reasons why many businesses turn to their own staff to provide effective coaching. Their insider knowledge combined with experience helps them to gain the trust and respect of those they’re coaching. However internal coaches may need to reassure their ‘coachees’ that they operate on a confidential basis and develop their own ways of dealing with questions that might compromise this.

An official accreditation can help to create trust, showing that the employer can have confidence in their coach regardless of what is discussed. Industry recognised qualifications offer a widely recognised and successful framework for training, as well as helping people to understand how the theory can be applied to their role and workplace. Accreditation also gives managers the confidence to know they are dealing with people effectively and enables them to develop skills disseminate to others in the workplace.

The knock-on effect is a gradual change of culture within the organisation – a shift towards a culture where coaching is ongoing, delivering positive effects throughout the business. ILM research shows that organisations wishing to maximise the benefits of coaching should focus on increasing its scope and availability to create a coaching culture that permeates throughout their workforce.

With managers under pressure to do more with less there is a strong focus on team and individual performance. Coaching is an essential development tool for driving organisational success and can transform an individual’s commitment, performance and morale. Many organisations are turning to coaching to help improve performance and we are seeing a shift in role from the “manager as expert” to the “manager as coach”. At its best, coaching addresses personal skills and development, as well as business and work skills. It is about self-awareness and personal confidence, about building leadership ability, and not just job knowledge. Not simply challenging people but encouraging people to challenge themselves.

Kate Cooper is senior advisor at the Institute of Leadership Management (ILM) and is delivering a seminar at the World of Learning Conference & Exhibition, taking place 30 September and 1 October. www.learnevents.com.

To book your delegate place visit www.learnevents.com or call 020 8394 5171. Bookings made before 29 August can save up to 30% off their delegate place.

How Neuroscience can improve Strategic Questioning

Dr. Patricia Riddell and Ian McDermott  11 August 2014 13:01:53
Patricia Riddell, Professor of Applied Neuroscience at the University of Reading, and Ian McDermott, founder and director of International Training Seminars, explore how an understanding of the brain can contribute to developing the art of strategic questioning.

Asking great questions is a skill that underpins our ability to learn and to find out what’s really going on. It is therefore crucial. Neuroscience can help us do this more effectively. Below we outline some of the neuroscience principles critical for success. Much of our work consists in showing individuals and organisations how to apply these, and other skills, in practice. They certainly will make a huge difference if you want people to become better at strategic questioning.

1.        Neuroplasticity is the key to everything else

New challenges require new thinking and new learning. Sometimes this can feel like hard work for all concerned. In our experience many organisations and individuals have outdated and limiting beliefs about what is possible. These derive from an outmoded understanding of the brain and have self-defeating negative consequences.

To take just one example, it’s important for anyone associated with L&D not to fall into the trap of thinking that you can’t teach an old dog new tricks.  On the contrary we now have conclusive evidence that that is precisely what you can do because of the brain’s amazing neuroplasticity.  Over the past few years the old view of the brain as a fixed asset with regions which could be knocked out has changed dramatically.

Neuroplasticity refers to the way that the brain is reorganised as new information, new ideas or new skills are stored.  This happens through forming new neural connections and even new neurons. We now know that this occurs not just during the early years of life but that this process is taking place throughout the whole of your life.

This has huge implications when considering how best to activate the learning – and earning - potential of both individuals and teams. The ability to ask great questions is a skill that can be mastered by individuals with the right motivation and teaching.

So two fundamental questions to consider: in the light of recent neuroscience research do your people need to rethink their ideas about their own and others’ potential capability? Do they know how to build on their own and other’s neuroplasticity?

2.        Linking curiosity to dopamine reward

If you’re not curious you’re not interested. If you’re not interested you’re unlikely to ask really good questions. So fostering curiosity is crucial to developing strategic questioning.

If you want a good example of how to ask questions, just listen to a child.  They are natural questioners who never worry about whether their questions are foolish – their natural curiosity just shines through.  Curiosity directly activates reward – we get a buzz out of finding out new information.  If we were to ask you “Who won six consecutive Wimbledon singles titles in the 1980s?” your reward centres would become more active at the thought of finding out the answer.  So, when you are learning, having a curious approach will not only help you to ask better questions but will also provide you with its own reward.

However, the reward that comes with curiosity can be overwhelmed by a fear of getting the answer wrong.  Most of us have chosen not to ask a question out of fear of humiliation. Often someone else then asks precisely the question you had chosen not to ask - only to be told that this is an excellent question! The reward of asking a good question has gone to someone else because of our fear.  

It is much easier to learn when you are in control of the questioning. So conquering the fear and asking the question has the potential to increase your learning.  This will happen not only because the question will be personalised to you and therefore more memorable, but also because we remember information with an emotional content better -  even when that emotion is anxiety.

Consider this: how is your organisation fostering a rewarding learning culture by encouraging questions? Is your organisation fostering a learning culture by encouraging questions? Do you know how to take the fear and potential humiliation out of asking questions?

3.        Metacognition –  knowing what you don’t know

If you want to ask better questions you need to know about metacognition.  Metacognition refers to what we know about cognition and also how we regulate cognition. Here are a couple of examples of what this means in practice.

Our brains have two powerful evolutionary drives. First, our brains are set up to make sure that we learn the gist of a new concept fast because it could be the key to survival.  However we are not so good at remembering detail. Second, our brains will try to make sense of any new information by generalising from it and applying it across the board to get maximum leverage from this new learning.

An example of this is the way that our brain detects faces in inanimate objects.  Faces are important so we look for them everywhere and see them even when they don’t exist. However, our brains are not so good at checking for counter examples or anomalies – we don’t notice how many times there are no faces!

Ever had the experience of learning something new and thinking you’ve mastered it, only to discover that there were gaps in your understanding?  Understanding metacognition means you’ll know to ask yourself some searching questions about what you really know. One easy way to do this is to consider whether you could teach someone else the new material? If your answer is no, think of the additional information that you would need.  This will allow you to ask the important questions. An added bonus is that these will provide missing details which will improve your recall.

To counteract the brain’s tendency to generalise and not to notice anomalies, develop the habit of asking whether this would work under all conditions?  If you can think of a situation in which a new idea would not work, use this to fashion some incisive questions.

Businesses need to ensure their people know how to put metacognition findings to work and avoid the thinking traps, and these learnings need to be embedded in every team culture.


Achieving a more profound understanding of how the brain works can improve the art of strategic questioning. Strategic questioning requires that we want to learn and believe that we can. It is important that we are curious about what we might learn and this curiosity is reinforced by linking it to the dopamine reward system. Being constructively sceptical helps us to overcome the brain’s natural tendency to make meaning and rush to conclusions.  Even the anxiety around whether we are asking a foolish question can help us to remember the answer more effectively.  

Patricia Riddell is Professor of Applied Neuroscience at the University of Reading. She is partnering with Ian McDermott, Founder of ITS, to discuss ‘Neuroscience and the art of strategic questioning’ at the World of Learning taking place 30 September and 1 October at Birmingham’s NEC.

To take advantage of early booking conference discounts before 29 August, book online at www.learnevents.com or call 020 8394 5171

Learning & Development– a job for the CEO?

Robin Hoyle  25 July 2014 12:12:30
I was intrigued by a short video discussion about reorganising work from Deloitte’s Center for the Edge in the USA, entitled Chief Learning Officers will be the new leaders of organisations.

In it John Hagel and John Seely Brown discuss how learning has become a leadership issue and the intriguing prospect of Chief Learning Officers taking – first of all – a seat on the board and, latterly becoming the CEO of major corporations.

There are two really interesting and refreshing features of this discussion. The first is that the Deloitte Center for the Edge – a team within global professional services firm Deloitte (which undertakes research in order to help senior executives make sense of technological and societal shifts) is clearly of the opinion that learning and capability development really matters.  As John Seely Brown says in the video:  “How to accelerate learning becomes the dominant driver for success… in the hyper competitive world in which we are living.”

His colleague John Hagel agrees: “Scalable learning becomes the critical factor for success”.  Let’s not forget that Deloitte is primarily known as an accountancy business.  If the number crunchers are saying these things, this should be a day of celebration.  That a well-respected, research driven organisation should be underlining the importance of training and learning for future success can only be viewed by those of us in L&D as A Good Thing.

The second refreshing idea is that the business of learning should be high on the agenda of every senior leader.  As John Seely Brown puts it: “The board is there to manage risk.  Today’s risks come from the lack of ability to have accelerated learning more than anything else.”

I have long argued that learning and capability development should be of crucial importance to every senior manager.  If the glossy annual report tells us that ‘People are our most important asset’ – and just about every annual report produced by every company everywhere includes some lip-service-paying comment of this type – then it is too important to be left to a middle manager in the HR team who spends his or her time justifying the meagre resources required to do the job.  

But Hagel and Seely Brown go further, suggesting that the CLO should be a board level Director and, eventually, the CEO.  

I don’t entirely agree that the CLO will become the CEO – neither, I think, do Seely Brown and Hagel.  I suspect this is an attention grabbing headline rather than a realistic projection for the future.  After all, they come from an accountancy company. The Chartered Accountants aren’t going to give up control quite so easily and the Pension Fund managers and bankers wouldn’t be prepared to let them even if they wanted to. But I do think that L&D needs to be the responsibility of a wider team than simply the HR department.  

I would advocate the creation of a board role called Performance Director – loosely based on the CEOs of sporting teams like the successful UK cycling team at the 2012 Olympics.  The Performance Director should be the head of the most important function in the organisation – whether that is sales, marketing, production, customer service or finance.  (I’d like to be a fly on the wall when the big beasts of the boardroom decide which of them can be said to lead the most important function).

However, while this individual should be accountable for continuous capability development, they do not need to be responsible for the strategies and activities which enable it to happen.

Giving other functions responsibility for training and development is not new.  Many in L&D think it is the best approach – that somehow the ‘real’ business disciplines are much more complicated than the people functions. This seems to be based on an idea that while an L&D professional can never develop the required breadth of knowledge to lead another department, the Sales Director or Chief Operating Officer can soon pick up enough knowledge to run the L&D function.  In a world in which formal training is considered less important than informal routes to competence, knowledge of some of the mechanics of skills and knowledge development is considered to be of little value.

I disagree.  I think most L&D or HR people can pretty easily learn about manufacturing, sales or finance.  I see little evidence to suggest that accountants, technical managers or top sellers can quite so easily learn about the people they employ and how to equip them for an often uncertain and rapidly evolving future.  The equipment and facilities they manage come with an instruction manual – the people do not!

Managing the capability improvement side of the business still needs learning professionals who will manage the working environment to optimise performance and learning.  This will include the design and implementation of major initiatives and interventions where these are required.  You never know, some of this might even involve delivering training courses!

While I think that the future capability development of organisations is much too important to be left to L&D professionals alone, it is also too important to be left to amateurs – however well meaning.

Robin Hoyle is the author of Complete Training – from recruitment to retirement  www.complete-training.co.uk  He has been a trainer, learning designer and consultant for the past 28 years and is now Senior Consultant with Learnworks Ltd.  www.learnworks.org.uk

Robin is the Chair of the World of Learning Conference, September 30th to October 1st at the NEC, Birmingham, www.learnevents.com