Sunday, May 14, 2017

Less Talk, More Action

Rachel Burnham writes: At a large event, like this week’s CIPD L&D Show, everyone has their own experience; their own take on the event, particularly when there are 4 options for every session in the conference, plus an exhibition and stacks of free sessions on the exhibition floor all running concurrently.  It was a great pleasure to be there as part of the CIPD's BlogSquad, reporting from the event, via social media (#cipdldshow).  I do find trying to make sense of an event like this is a bit of a head-spinner and I always benefit from a bit of calm-reflection after the event.   So, here is my take on this year’s Show.

My overall impression this year, is that the focus is more practically focused than previously.   Sure, there were still some big name speakers with big picture narratives and ‘new’ or ‘newish’ things to share, but the emphasis in the sessions I participated in felt more practical, more focused on stuff you can take away and use.   And that was a welcome change for me. 

It felt good, after so many years of hearing about the challenges that L&D faces and the ways that we ‘should’ be changing to respond to those challenges by:  

being more strategically aligned, more agile, modernising learning by making better use of digital and social learning and the latest understandings of neuroscience and how our learners learn and so on (And breathe);   

to focus on ‘how’ we do this!  I know that there are huge differences in our profession in the extent to which we are aware of these challenges and these ‘new’ ways of working.  For some people in our field of L&D these messages almost seem ‘old’ news, whereas for others they are still brand-spanking new, fresh and in some cases quite shocking.   There are still a lot of organisations and a lot of ‘trainers’ still to reach – choosing my language with care and deliberation here! But perhaps a different way of reaching people is to move on from talking about what we ‘should’ be doing and that we ‘should’ be investing in developing our own L&D skills, to just getting on with it.   And that was what this CIPD L&D Conference felt like it was doing, in my experience.

Now, there was still some new research out from Towards Maturity – two new reports to dig into and learn from ‘Driving the New Learning Organisation’ and ‘Work-Based LearningDividend’ and a new set of standards/guidance from BSI for Learning & Development were launched (PD76006) – and I don’t in anyway intend to down play their value and importance and in fact I do plan to write about these in future blogs. But the rest of this blog will focus on the more practical take-aways in the sessions I participated in.  I created Sketchnotes for all of the sessions that I participated in – so do refer to these for more details of each session (I will put the session code in brackets for ease of reference to the Sketchnotes).

Dr Liz Mellon spoke about how we could create ‘agile workforces to thrive in uncertainty’ (D1) – this is distinct from discussions about the need for agile learning, design or even agile L&D functions, which I have written about previously.  She was exploring how whole workforces could be encouraged to work in more agile ways, in order for organisations to be able to cope and indeed succeed in times of change and great uncertainty.   This is a very big topic and one that has been discussed many times before – Liz Mellon’s approach was to focus on three particular elements, under the headings of Stop, Continue and Start.  Step 1 is to take fear out of the system; Step 2 to create a learning culture and Step 3 to become an authentic leader.  It was in this third step that I thought her most interesting points came.  For her being an authentic leader is more than just being yourself – she had a more nuanced message around this than I had heard before in the context of leadership, that it is about being the best version of yourself – the version of yourself that your team, your organisation needs at that moment in time.  Which involves great self-insight; the balancing of some really tricky leadership dilemmas such as around specialist/generalist, instinct and using EQ, inclusion and collaboration; and understanding how your behaviour may contradict eg asking for A but rewarding B in your teams.

In another session, I found Sarah Lindsell from PwC’s insights into ‘Designing a Future-Fit L&D Strategy’ (G2) particularly helpful and rich with her experience – so do check out my Sketchnote from this session. Her starting point was ‘Before you do anything understand your world’ and by this she was getting at that  in-depth understanding of your own organisation, it’s business, its environment, its culture and all the other aspects involved.  That is a good reminder for us all.  Here is a Storify by Donna Hewitson of the Tweets from this session.

One of the major challenges facing L&D teams in the UK at present is how to make the most of the opportunities presented by the introduction of the Apprenticeship Levy this April.  In session (C2) we had the opportunity to hear from a number of organisations with long-term experience of working with apprenticeship schemes for the benefit of their organisation, as well as the individual apprentices.  It was particularly great to hear from a number of apprentices in person about their own experience and its value.  Many of these organisations are offering apprenticeships across all levels and across a number of occupational fields.   All of these organisations had invested in their apprenticeship schemes, both in time, resources and commitment throughout the organisation and as a result were also reaping rewards: such as new ideas brought into the business, highly skilled staff developed, reductions in recruitment costs for staff at intermediate skills levels, career paths established and more.  Two key messages came over to me from this session – firstly that as an organisation you need to really work out what will work best for your organisation and build partnerships with providers (colleges or private training providers) to tailor provision to meet the needs of your business.   Secondly, it is worth going ‘the extra mile’ in terms of the investment in the scheme, as that is when you get these amazing benefits. Here is a Storify by Donna Hewitson of the Tweets from this session.

In another session (F1) that included a great case study, we heard from Jack Phillips about using ROI methodology.  He spoke about how this can help conversations with senior managers and change their perception of L&D from being a cost to seeing it as an investment.  Now hearing about the benefits of working out ROI is not new and if you already have senior managers within an organisation convinced of the value of L&D investment, then this may not be a route you need to go down, but it was great to hear the practical example from EDF Energy shared by Darren Gleave about how they used this methodology and how this impacted on future conversations about L&D and helped to build the credibility of the L&D function.  Here's a Storify from Donna Hewitson of the tweets from this session.

One way that L&D can make an impact on our organisations is by upskilling managers to be more effective.   A particular focus in recent years has been in enabling managers to develop their skills in have effective coaching conversations – this is something that I think can make a massive difference in an organisation and it was the topic for session H2.   Sandra Nixon of QVC and Rhona Howarth of Nestle shared their differing approaches to doing just this and lots of practical insights were shared.   My key takeaway from this was the reminder that if you want to make a real shift in this kind of behavior, you can’t just put on a learning programme, you have to build a whole series of intiatives around the learning to reinforce and support this kind of behavior change.   Here's Helen Amery's live blog of this same session.

Finally, my two favourite sessions were the most practical of all, both filled with helpful tips, shared by practitioners with lots of personal experience in these areas.  These were the session on Webinars (A3) led by Michelle Parry-Slater and Andy Lancaster and the one on Creating Videos using your smartphone led by Dr Mark Davies (E3).   These sessions got us involved and started the process of building skills (as far as is possible with sessions designed for 80 people).  They were inspiring – do take a look at my Sketchnotes, where I tried to capture as many of the tips shared as possible. If you want to build your skills around Webinars or Creating Videos there are some good tips here.  Here is a Storify from Donna Hewitson of the Tweets from the session on creating videos.

I really appreciated this year’s focus on ‘how to’ and ‘practical tips’.  Though many of the sessions were not covering new ground for me, every single one of them gave some additional insight, a reminder, some practical tips and in a few sessions real inspiration.  So now it is definitely time for some action!

Rachel Burnham


Burnham L & D Consultancy helps L&D professionals update and refresh their skills.  I am particularly interested in blended learning, the use of digital skills for learning, evaluation and anything that improves the impact of learning on performance. 

Friday, May 12, 2017

Complete Collection of My Sketchnotes from the CIPD L&D Show 2017

Rachel Burnham writes: I have been fortunate to spend the last two days at the CIPD L&D Show as a member of the BlogSquad.  This is the team of volunteers who report on the conference via social media through Twitter, blogs and video tools (eg Periscope and SnapChat).  During the event my preferred medium is to Sketchnote, which I then photograph and tweet out on the hashtag for the event #cipdldshow, though I also produced a short video, using SnapChat, to capture a flavour of the second day and this is now available on YouTube.  

The conference is fast paced with up to four sessions a day and a number of different options for each of these sessions – all relevant to today’s L&D professionals.  Some sessions such as the ones on webinars and creating your own videos using your mobile phone, which I report on below, were highly practical tips sharing sessions.  Other sessions were more about giving the big picture and sharing stimulating ideas - an excellent example was Dr Liz Mellon’s session on ‘Creating Agile Workforces’.  Whilst others focused on sharing practical experience from organisations - great examples of this were Sarah Lindsell, from PwC, drawing on her experience of creating a ‘Future-Fit L&D Strategy’ and also both speakers in the session on ‘Upskilling your managers to have Effective Coaching Conversations’.    

In addition, there was also the exhibition hall full of stands and lots of free short sessions to attend.   For a flavour of this why not take a look at these two short videos, also produced on SnapChat, by my colleague Mike Shaw – Day 1 and Day 2.   I participated in a session about the launch of the new BSI standards for L&D PD76006 and you will find my Sketchnote about this below.

At this stage, my head is still reeling with the amount of information and ideas bouncing around.  I know it will take me some time to sort through and make some sense out of this.  I will be blogging on my learning and reflections from the Show over the coming days and weeks. 

In the meantime, here are all nine of the Sketchnotes I created live at the Show.

Rachel Burnham


Burnham L & D Consultancy helps L&D professionals update and refresh their skills.  I am particularly interested in blended learning, the use of digital skills for learning, evaluation and anything that improves the impact of learning on performance. 

Monday, May 8, 2017

Getting off the Skills Merry-Go-Round  

 Rachel Burnham writes: The overwhelming key message, from the CIPD’s new report on skills in the UK, is the need for us to get off the ‘skills merry-go-round’ of reports and enquiries into the poor state of the UK’s workforce skills, followed by re-organisation of the various bodies involved, development of ‘here today - gone tomorrow’ policies and initiatives, gradual abandonment of said policies, only for this to be followed in a couple of years by a fresh round hand-wringing and more reports and enquiries, which start a new cycle of poorly thought through re-organisation and policy development.  

The report argues that ‘Bringing stability to the system is paramount. The employer response is almost bound to be sub-optimal given the in-coherence of the policy development process.’   This is pretty strong stuff, coming from the CIPD and gives a sense of just what a mess the whole national skills policy is in.

The report touches on the almost constant state of change in national skills policy and institutional frameworks over the past 30 years – over that time the report reminds us that we have had over 65 Secretaries of State and 11 changes of departmental responsibility.   So, if you feel your head is spinning and can’t quite think who has responsibility for what when you think about recent national skills initiatives, you are not alone!

My involvement in this field goes back over that 30 year period.  For my sins, I was part of a National Advisory Board for the Manpower Services Commission during the time when the Commission oversaw the introduction and then rapid expansion of the Youth Training Scheme (YTS).  This was introduced to provide ‘quality’ training for young people as they started working life, but with the rapid expansion, all aspirations to quality very quickly went out of the window, in the pressure to meet targets for growth – this sounds awfully familiar to the current position around apprenticeships.   I was a youth representative from the British Youth Council at that time and having previously been on a YOP (Youth Opportunities Programme) as a WEEP (Work Experience on Employer’s Premises) was deemed particularly suitable to provide advice on the new youth training scheme.  If you have been involved in any of these programmes you will know how three, four and even five letter abbreviations proliferate! 

CIPD’s new report ‘From‘inadequate’ to ‘outstanding’: Making the UK’s skills system world class’ by Ian Brinkley and Elizabeth Crowley was launched just a couple of weeks ago and is available from the CIPD website.   The report is not for the faint-hearted!   It is not an easy read, but it is all the better for that, as it attempts to honestly make sense of where we are now, why we need to tackle the skills agenda and to put forward some genuinely useful recommendations.  

It is good to see that the report focuses on skills, rather than on just the acquirement of qualifications.  The report identifies that the ‘skills’ it is focusing on are primarily communication skills, numeracy & analytical skills and digital skills, notably using computers to solve problems. It also refers to relating to customers and clients, being caring and being creative.  And the report explains in some detail why the distinction between skills and qualifications is important. Whilst I was pleased to see that the report moved beyond just looking at qualifications, which has been the traditional approach in the UK in policy discussions, I still have concerns that this is too narrow a focus in the skills considered and doesn’t consider the wider range of skills that organisations need for success.  

The report explores the evidence for how we compare internationally on skills development in the UK and also looks at the knotty problem of assessing if we have the skills needed for the requirements of jobs.   There is a long section of the report which examines sometimes conflicted evidence for whether there is under or over qualification in the UK workforce (or possibly both simultaneously).  This is the most difficult part of the report to make sense of because there is no one agreed methodology for assessing this and the different methods in use are giving different pictures.

The report sets out very detailed and thoughtful recommendations on quite a range of areas across this skills agenda from the need for stability, to a need to re-balance emphasis on university education with vocational paths for young people, to the need for quality career guidance.   I think the report is to be commended for these suggestions and the willingness to go beyond easy headlines.

I do have a hesitation.  I still feel some disconnect between the emphasis and language used when skills policy is discussed, as in this report, compared to the ongoing discussions I am involved in about L&D in organisations.   For example, although this report gives a welcome emphasis to skills development, the focus is primarily on qualifications and on ‘training’ to address this development.  So, the approaches to learning within the report, don’t seem to be picking up on current thinking about workplace learning and performance support.  The report does briefly touch on informal learning, and so I would love to explore how much this is just a difference of language or whether there are real differences in emphasis here.   At the same time, I wonder how many people involved in those discussions about modern workplace learning are also thinking about the challenges explored in this report.   It does feel at times as though two very different conversations are being held in parallel, using different language.  I would love to hear from other people on this topic, so do get in touch and let me know what you think. 

If you are interested in finding out more about the issues raised in this report and if you are participating in the CIPD’s L&D Show this week, why not go along to the presentations on the CIPD stand at 15.30 when these issues will be explored.

Rachel Burnham


Burnham L & D Consultancy helps L&D professionals update and refresh their skills.  I am particularly interested in blended learning, the use of digital skills for learning, evaluation and anything that improves the impact of learning on performance.