Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Reflections on #lrnchat: Working as a One-Person Training Department

Each week that I am able to participate in #lrnchat discussion I post a summary of the discussion to my blog. I do this both for my personal development as well as sharing with the Learning and Development Profession at large. This summary is based on my own interpretations of the chat; others who participated may have differing opinions or interpretations of the discussion. I welcome those that do to add your ideas to the comments.

The topic of this week's #lrnchat session was “Working as a one-person training department".  This was a particularly applicable topic for me, as my current role is that of a Department-of-One.

I always find looking at the questions that are used to loosely guide the chat as a nice way to see the overall theme of the chat. Here are the discussion questions that were presented to the group:

Q1) In a one-person Training Dept, how do you ensure you are involved in new initiatives within the organization?
Q2) What are the pros/cons of being a one-person training department?
Q3) What methods/tools do you use to effectively manage your time (in a one-person training dept)?
Q4) In a one-person training dept, how do you combat the problem of familiarity with you and your programs?
Q5) What advice do you have for others in a one-person training department?

Key Learning Points

Working as a Department-of-One has both its benefits and its challenges.  In this chat we discussed what those benefits and challenges are, and we shared ideas on how some of those challenges can be overcome.

Getting Yourself Involved

The discussion started with a focus on how a one-person department can ensure that he or she is involved in new initiatives within the organization.  If there was a consistent theme in this part of the discussion it was this: Being involved isn’t an entitlement; it’s something that must be earned.

So how does a one-person Training Department earn participation?  The best place to start is by showing the value that you bring to the organization.  For the initiatives you are involved in, don’t just show your value, celebrate it.

There’s an old adage: “Don’t Toot Your Own Horn”.  As a former trumpet player, I never understood that; the only horn I wanted to toot was my own, and sharing someone else’s mouthpiece is, well, kinda icky.  But I digress…

When it comes to showing the value you bring an organization, DO toot your own horn.  Don’t assume that people are aware of the contributions you have made to a project.  Take the initiative and make sure the organization, especially the key stakeholders, are aware of the value you bring.  Remember, regardless of the amount of value you bring to an organization, your effective value is non-existent to someone that isn’t aware of it.

One additional thought on this topic: I do believe that an effective Training Department should be involved in all performance-related initiatives.  However, that does not necessarily mean that every new initiative needs support from the Training Department.

Those two statements may seem to conflict.  To explain, I’m going to draw a comparison between Learning and Performance Professionals and Plumbers.  (Feel free to pause a moment to get any toilet-related jokes out of your system)

If I have a flood in my basement, one of the people I might call for assistance is a plumber.  I would expect the plumber to come in, look at the situation and be able to say “Your flood isn’t a plumbing issue; your sump pump system lost power.  You need to contact an electrician”.  I would count on the plumber’s expertise to determine that my issue isn’t related to plumbing.

There are a number of solutions that can be applicable for performance issues; training is just one of them.  It’s important, especially for one-person departments, that the training function be involved in all new initiatives if only to accurately determine that training is not needed.  Without that, the organization runs the risk of the unqualified and grossly overused assessment: “It’s a training issue”.

Pros and Cons of the One-Person Department

From there the discussion moved on to the benefits and challenges of working as a one-person training department.  Having worked as a department head managing a team of 13 and as a department-of-one, I can say without question that the greatest benefit of being a solo practitioner is your autonomy.

When you are the sole decision maker on most topics, the process can often move quicker.  In addition, you often have the opportunity to gain experience and exposure to aspects of the Learning and Development profession that you would be unable to in a larger organization that employs specialists in those areas.

An individual operating as a department-of-one also has a certain amount of control to pave their own path.  If you are ultimately responsible for all aspects of learning and performance at an organization, you are also ultimately responsible for the quality of the experience for the organization’s employees.  That’s generally understood.  What’s lost in that is that you are also ultimately responsible for the quality of the experience you have as an individual.  As a one-person department, you definitely get out of the experience a reflection of what you put into it.

I think some would disagree with that sentiment.  In truth, it’s hard to feel in control of your own destiny when something is assigned to you that ‘must’ be done that you recognize is less important than something that ‘should’ be done.  And yes, circumstances like that do represent a certain lack of control over the quality of your experience… to a point. 

It’s often hard to remember, but while we cannot control everything that happens to us, we can always control how we respond.  If you understand and believe that, then the idea of ‘paving your own path’ makes a lot more sense.

Autonomy is a double-edged sword.  While it is the greatest benefit of a one-person department, it is also its greatest challenge.  For one thing, when you have no dedicated team, your options for brainstorming and sharing ideas are limited. 

You can mitigate this challenge by leveraging social media to find peers to share with.  This is a must-use strategy for today’s learning professionals, regardless of the size of your department.  Still, these relationships cannot offer the same feedback that someone that is living and breathing the organization’s culture might be able to provide. 

In addition, chances are that if you are the only employee in the organization with Learning and Development experience, you are also the only one that understands the nuances and work patterns associated with the role.  It’s this lack of understanding that results in questions like “Here’s something I need you to train on that you’ve never even heard about.  Can you run a workshop on it tomorrow?

The last challenge I’ll discuss is the biggest one for me personally, but it may not be for someone else depending on their goals.   It deals with the question of “What are you looking for in your career?”

If you are looking to advance in a career, where are your internal opportunities if you are the only employee in your function?  You may be able to create organic growth by showing your value and expanding your influence, but this is often dependent on the performance and growth of the entire organization, which is not in your control. 

If you are with an organization in which you do not see the opportunities you would like becoming available in the future, you have two basic options: Be content, or move on.

Time Management for One-Person Departments

From here the discussion moved towards time management techniques, which are critical to a one-person training department.  There is a direct connection between how effectively a one-person department uses his or her time and the value that his or her efforts bring to the organization.  With that in mind, here are some tips anyone can use, and that one-person departments should definitely consider.

Automation is a must for the one-person department, as it’s one of the few ways you can actually ‘gain’ time.  One-Person departments should always keep their finger on the pulse of technology and look at it through the lens of automation.  If there is an opportunity to automate - in a cost-effective manner - something that currently takes up your time being processed manually, jump at the opportunity.

Another way you can actually ‘gain’ time is through delegation.  Some readers may look at that and think I’ve forgotten the ‘one-person’ aspect of the posting, but hear me out.  Remember, the solutions you help develop are not YOUR solutions; they are your STAKEHOLDERS’ solutions.  As such, they have vested interest in working on the project, so get them involved.  It could be as simple as having them complete a form that you set up, or as complex as having them actually write content.  The point is to remember that your subject matter experts can function as de-facto members of the training department if you network and coach them properly.

The last time-saving technique is the most important.  Unfortunately, it’s often the hardest to implement.  In concept, the technique is very simple: Learn to say NO. 

Most people have heard the quote from Peter Drucker, but it bears repeating in this context: “There is nothing so useless as doing efficiently that which should not be done at all.  It’s critical that one-person training departments remember this, as very often, it’s actually NOT a training issue.  Not saying no in those cases wastes your time, the organization’s money, and ultimately does not address the issues that are causing the performance problems.  While not easy, it’s better for all if training departments learn to credibly say no when applicable. 

Familiarity Risk: What is it and What Can I Do About It?
The next area of discussion dealt with how trainers can deal with the challenge of familiarity.  There seemed to be some different interpretations of this question. Does familiarity deal with familiarity of the content or are we referring to learners’ familiarity with our techniques and style? I think both interpretations are valid, and their challenges are something to be aware of. 
Some participants in the chat argued that you can never be too familiar with your content. I disagree.  I think you can never be too familiar and knowledgeable of the subject matter, but you definitely can be too familiar with the content. 
Expanding your subject matter expertise enables you to expand the possibilities for learning.  It enables a facilitator to be in a better position to respond to questions that reach outside the structure of the curriculum – the type of questions that explore possibilities and have a better chance of resulting in growth.
Content includes subject matter, but it usually is restricted by the learning objectives and the time allocated to the initiative.  In truth, the content should be limited to the parts of the subject matter most critical to the overall performance objectives. 
The term ‘content’ isn’t limited to only the subject matter; it also includes the activities and methods used to facilitate learning.  There is risk associated with becoming overly familiar with your content.
Last Saturday I took some time to go to the mall to go Christmas shopping.  As I drove, I suddenly became aware that I had turned off the main road much earlier than I needed to.  I had turned on the street I turn down every day to go to the train station I take to work.  I do it so often that even in a situation where I didn’t need to, I did so almost unconsciously. 
That’s the risk of becoming too familiar with your content: you facilitate on auto-pilot.  I’ve worked with trainers who have said with pride “I’ve done this workshop so many times, I could do it in my sleep”.  For a facilitator, auto-pilot is a very bad thing.
Advice for the One-Person Training Department
The discussion concluded by asking what advice you would give to someone in a one-person training department.  My primary advice would also serve as a warning: If you look at yourself as a one-person department, you’re already behind the 8-ball. 
Networking is a necessity for the one-person training department.  You need to network within your organization to make people aware of your value, and to give them opportunities to use you as a resource.  At the same time, you also need to gauge the skills and willingness of your internal network as potential partners that you may be able to use as resources for the organization’s learning and performance initiatives.
Internal networking is important, but it’s only half of the networking puzzle. A person working as a one-person department must also network externally with learning and development peers outside the organization.  This is important not only for your personal development, but for the benefits of the organization as well.  It’s very easy to get comfortable in your own habits.  Exposing yourself to the learning community at large helps an individual working as a one-person department keep his or her skills sharp, which helps increase the value brought to the organization.
Overall, this was another excellent discussion that offered some great tips for not only the one-person department, but for people that work on teams as well.  For additional tips and perspectives, check out my earlier post, There’s No Such Thing As A One-Person Training Department.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Twas the Night Before Social Media

Just a little (relevant) holiday fun...
Twas the Night Before Social Media

Twas the night before SoMe, and all through land,
Most training was lecture, engagement be damned;
Be it classroom or e-learning, the results disappoint,
and for some reason it all was made with PowerPoint.

The learners were sleeping, or else they were vexed,
by e-learning courses of "read, then click next";
The trainers were talking, then talking some more,
Not realizing the learners felt it all was a chore.

When out of the internet there arose such a thunder,
based on this promise from a new techno wonder;
Knowledge is not locked in an encyclopedia,
Everyone knows Everything, bring on Social Media!”

Some call it Social Media, some say Web 2.0,
There’s really just one thing we all need to know;
The tech makes it easier to make learning full,
and its power is shifting from ‘Push’ over to “Pull’.

There were early adopters, and a number of Champs,
who yearned to break learning out from it's clamps;
"Too long have we suffered,” they started to cheer,
"Give learning to learners, and don't interfere!"

They turned there attention to 'the way things have been',
Then brought up their cross hairs and aimed with a grin...

"Now ADDIE, now Rapid, and the ROI mess,
Now Learning Objectives and of course, LMS!
There was a time for your methods, which has now come to pass,
And as you exit us now, don't let the door hit your... Class."

So they wrote up some rules, using indelible ink,
That listed the terms that make us all drink;
(and if those lines confuse, as if something's not right,
after reading my blog, go check out this site.)

Many would say that the old ways are dead,
But maybe some balance is needed instead;
In truth things may not be quite so absolute,
but the message at the core is hard to refute.

The message in question?  It must be explored,
This brand new technology can not be ignored;
Its one rule is simple, though hard to obey,
"Let go of control and get out of the way!"

Learning is not about what we can teach,
So please kill that lecture and way-to-long speech;
The learners decide if they want to engage,
So it’s time that professionals got on that same page.

Social Media’s a tool that can help with this shift,
For Learning Professionals, it’s really a gift;
These tools can be used for any topic you cover,
If you set up the format as ‘search and discover’.

If there’s one thing that adult learners all seem to dread,
Its training events with the content spoon-fed;
So shift your tactics with an unexpected stunt,
Like converting your content to a scavenger hunt.

But the costs!” I can hear some of you say,
We can’t afford any new tech today”;
Well just take that excuse off your verbal marquee,
As there are plenty of options, and many are FREE!

There’s Twitter, there’s LinkedIn, and of course there’s Facebook,
All of which you can leverage if you just take a look;
Just look through the lens of our chosen vocation,
It’s how we use these tools that’s the key deviation.

So create a structure in which learners can pull,
Though you’ll find that your glass is still only half-full;
Fill the rest by avoiding any regulation,
that places restrictions  and results in negation.

Provide only structure, plus the tools and some tips,
Then try to let learners just write their own scripts;
Then sit back and let their engagement explode,
and nurture the community being built on this road.

I hope you enjoyed this, for I now need to close,
as I only have one more rhyme to compose;
So I’ll close with a wink and a holiday sound bite,
"Happy learning to all, and to all a good-night."

Happy Holidays from Misadventures in Learning!

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Reflections on #lrnchat: Our Own Learning & Development- Past, Present, Future

Each week that I am able to participate in #lrnchat discussion I post a summary of the discussion to my blog. I do this both for my personal development as well as sharing with the Learning and Development Profession at large. This summary is based on my own interpretations of the chat; others who participated may have differing opinions or interpretations of the discussion. I welcome those that do to add your ideas to the comments.

The topic of this week's #lrnchat session was "Our Own Learning & Development: Past, Present, & Future".  The topic and questions were suggested by @craigtaylor74 & @mattiaskareld.

As this week #lrnchat fell on the American holiday of Thanksgiving, participation was lighter than usual and consisted of only the earlier session.
I always find looking at the questions that are used to loosely guide the chat as a nice way to see the overall theme of the chat. Here are the discussion questions that were presented to the group:

Q1) What’s the single biggest piece of “learning” for you over the last 12 months?
Q2) How different is it to the piece of “learning” from the previous 12 months?
Q3) In the next 12 months do you intend to consolidate your “learning” in this area, or move in a new direction?
Q4) How do we maintain a development momentum for ourselves?
Key Learning Points

As we approach the end of another year, it is natural to reflect on the experiences of the past 12 months.  This week's #lrnchat did just that, as the discussion reflected not just on this year’s learning, but also comparing this year’s learnings to what we learned the previous year and what we expect to learn in the future.

The discussion began with a reflection on what our key learning was this year.  Not surprisingly, incorporating and emphasis on using Social Media and Informal Learning dominated the discussion.  This is, in many ways, the future of learning and development.  Incorporating these into your personal tool set and your organization’s performance strategy are critical. 

The discussion then moved towards comparing this learning to the key leaning of the previous 12 months.  Again the themes of Social Media and Informal Learning were present, but there was a key difference between the two time periods.  In the previous year, learning about these things had a feeling of ‘preparing for the future’; learning of the same topics this year had much more urgency, almost as though workplace learning professionals were unaware that the ‘future’ had arrived and were now trying to avoid falling behind the curve.

I think this is an excellent representation of how quickly technology and learning can intersect. Social media and informal learning will only increase this trend.  When you place the control of learning into the learner’s hands, they will determine what has value and its usage will naturally evolve.

The discussion then moved towards the future, wondering if we would continue to focus our learning on what we have in the past, or if we would move towards a new direction.  This was one of those rare #lrnchat moments where there was consensus amongst all.  People may have had different ways of saying it, but ultimately all agreed that what we choose to focus on in our learning is a dynamic target that is always on the move based on changes in individual and organizational need.  

The discussion concluded with sharing of ideas regarding how learning professionals can maintain momentum for their own development.  There were a number of great ideas shared here, many of which can be described as remaining connected to the passion and drive that you feel about the profession.  I think that, especially in corporate environments, it’s very easy to get caught up in the politics and stagnancy of ‘the way things are done’.  I think in an ideal world, developing yourself is completely in sync with the organizational goals. In reality though, it’s often not in complete sync. 

I think it’s critical that learning professionals and professionals in general, always remember to check the direction of both their personal and organizational compasses.  If they are not in relative sync more often than not, performance and satisfaction will suffer.

One of the reasons I enjoy reviewing the transcript of #lrnchat in addition to participating live is that often the common threads that run through most of the discussion become more apparent when reviewing the entire stream.  That was what happened this week for me.  In all the sharing of top learning, there was a theme.  In almost all of the cases, the top learning involved seeing value in something you did not see value in before.  It reminds me much of my early experience with Twitter.  I knew it was there and basically how it worked, but it wasn’t until I saw it’s value that the light bulb went off.

For me the most thought provoking tweet came in the form of the last of the four moderated questions: How do we maintain a development momentum for ourselves?

I have often coached members of my team on the importance of continued development, so the idea of maintaining focus on your own development is part of my DNA.  What struck me about that question was the addition of the word momentum. 

I can develop myself many different ways.  A class here, a book there… it all adds to my development of skills and knowledge.  What momentum implies is increased force and speed, and more importantly, a sense of building and direction.

I think that’s a critical piece of the development paradigm.  Participating in Development activities is good.  Choosing a direction and then setting a strategic development plan to get there is better.

It inspires me to re-ask myself the #lrnchat questions from this discussion, with a few important alterations:

It’s December 31st, 2011, and I’m reflecting on an amazing year of development.
·         Q1) How have I grown in the past 12 months?  What – specifically – is different?
·         Q2) What were the critical learnings that contributed to my development?
·         Q3) What would I need to do to make 2012 even better?

With those questions answered, I have the framework for my 2011 development plan.  Now all I need to do is fill in the gaps.