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The Watercooler: World of Learning blog, day one


blogIn this Watercooler special, Mike Morrison blogs live from the World of Learning Conference and Exhibition. Mike's first day included three fascinating sessions on coaching, informal learning and the intriguingly-entitled innovative approaches to L&D.

Informal Learning

This session was led by Bob Mosher of Learning Guide solutions. Mosher challenged us to consider what we were missing in terms of learning opportunities, both for us as individuals and what learning opportunities were being missed as organisations. Mosher dispelled the myth that Informal Learning was only ad-hoc, he argued that it is real ‘in time’ and just enough to solve the problem or challenge facing the learner.

One of the challenges of selling the Informal Learning approach to the organisations in which we operate is the soft or fluffy perception of the language. Mosher prefers to use the term “Performance Support” when positioning this type of intervention.

Conventional training tends to be an event or series of events with a logical beginning, middle and end. Informal Learning is an ongoing methodology with a small intervention to meet the needs of the learner at the time.

Mosher shared some interesting research about the retention of learning and made a compelling case for continuous informal learning interventions.

Traditionally we have used training or learning interventions under two conditions:

  • 1. when learning for the first time

  • 2. when wanting to learn more
  • This is fine, but in the situations where :

  • 3. individuals try to recall or apply previous learning

  • 4. when things change

  • 5. when things go wrong
  • Then traditional solutions just don’t work. Informal Learning should be equally effective at all five times of learning need. Interesting that when an individual has a need such as in (3) above, often the only solution we offer is (1) or (2) above – in other words we do the same intervention, but often slower and louder! To enhance performance we need to implement new ways of meeting the needs of our learners.

    Innovative approaches to Learning and Development

    In this two-part session Robin Hoyle from Learnworks and Darren Benzani from Lexisnexis Butterworths shared an external and an internal view on innovation in learning and development.

    Hoyle introduced the concept of the “Innovation Hit Parade” where innovation in L&D is often targeted in one of three areas:

  • 1) Technology – the use of technology to introduce or deliver learning in different ways.

  • 2) Multiple application – where a successful programme or product is packaged and taken from a one time use to a wholesale product or solution.

  • 3) Spread the load – where functions outside L&D are involved in the design and delivery – for example coaching, mentoring etc.
  • He pointed to the challenge we have in the sector of 'innovation stickiness'. In training and management we love the 'new shiny things' and often move on before letting new approaches embed themselves effectively. A challenge is for us to use the approach that many marketing firms use – ie the launch is just that the launch – for any solution to be sticky in any environment we need a regular and consistent marketing or communications plan. We need to sell our programmes and initiatives as though we are selling a product – we need to keep the concept in the mind's eyes of our customers.

    Benzani built on these ideas and caught the audience's attention with this opening statement: "Often training budgets are the first to get cut.. but at Lesixnexis the training budget is double next year." Benzani is a strong and firm believer in measurement and evaluation and ensures that any programme his team undertakes appropriate measures (learning and operational) for all activity and has some impressive numbers to show the business just how he and his team add value.

    Interestingly he is proud of the fact that as a function they do not report into HR, but into sales and marketing. He highlighted this structure as being a critical part of the way they operate and puts this down to the success they have and continue to have.

    Using L&D methods for all aspects of talent engagement and retention. Benzani has been instrumental in changing the recruitment process from 80% experience based recruitment to 70% behavioural – they believe they can train the experience into people with talent. They aim for the top 5% and use IQ measures as part of the selection process to ensure this approach.

    A culture of business and learner-led development is important and use their PDP system as part of their reward system, with individuals receiving bonuses for development towards there behavioural framework, with quarterly meetings and three behaviours targeted each time.

    Overall an interesting session, which this short piece cannot do justice.

    Key message: Back to basics – focus on the needs of your customer (the business) and if you are not the best to deliver a particular activity – outsource!

    Developing coaching & mentoring into an invaluable Learning and Development resource

    This session was introduced by Amanda Vickers of Speak First. Vickers started by posing a question to the conference participants – “Can we really create successful coaching cultures?” The session was introduced as a sharing environment in that we as an audience would learn from each other. The layout of the room was cabaret style and on the table with me were two people Volkswagen, one from Network Rail and another from the Environment Agency.

    After mutual introductions, Ian Ballantyne of the Department for International Development (DFID) gave us an overview of the culture and history of the challenges faced by DFID.

    Using interactive question and reporting technology we were asked some questions:
    Where were the audience from?
    49% from the private sector
    41% from the public sector
    4% from consulting firms
    6% independent practitioners

    How often do you coach?
    A part of the way we work day to day – 6%
    Frequently – 31%
    Sometimes – 54%
    Never – 10%

    We were taken through a history of coaching as part of the positioning to demonstrate why this strategy was selected as a culture change vehicle. DFID initially viewed coaching as a universal panacea, however that soon changed and increasingly coaching is being used as an appropriate tool for specific needs. DFID recognise both the manager as a coach and the ability to have internal coaches not in the line structure to support development.

    All coaches are first asked to ‘self select’ then are taken through a robust selection process. Managing expectation of individuals and their line managers in terms of the time commitment was a major focus of both the selection process and the ongoing development programme. The coaching pool in DFID is now on its third group of recruitment, and internal coaches number 20. With each coach offering up to 100 hours of coaching this is a substantial undertaking for the organisation.

    Lessons learnt
    Some of the key points to come from the DFID implementation include:
    1) The importance of the internal sponsor, and keeping them on side and involved continuously.
    2) Manage the expectations of line managers and applicants (to be coaches).
    3) Manage diversity (DFID have a disproportionate number of white, female coaches).
    4) Ongoing recognition for coaching pool members.

    Be aware of evaluation and metrics right from the very beginning to ensure that you know if you are making progress, if you are gaining a return, and measure in terms of metrics and observable behavioural changes.

    Overall an excellent insight to how an organisation has introduced coaching as an internal provision reducing their reliance on external coaches.

    The exhibition

    The exhibition has a great feel and buzz about it, all of the exhibitors I spoke to have had a successful first day and are pleased with the footfall. There are certainly the decision makers here, and the intimate feel of the whole event means that it is a venue where business can and is being done. All of the free presentations seem to have been well attended, so good value for both conference delegates as well as exhibition visitors.

    Let's see what tomorrow brings.

    Mike Morrison is director of RapidBI a learning and consultancy provider specialising in organisational development. See some of the conference photos at


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