What’s Missing from ATD ICE?

Searching (Blank Face)

ATD’s annual international conference and expo began yesterday, and I have a feeling it’s missing something (and I’m not necessarily talking about me… although really, what good is a conference without me?).

I’ve been to several ATD conferences and a SHRM Talent Development conference over the past few years and they all seem to be missing something.

The crowds I’ve encountered at the ATD conferences have primarily included instructional designers, training program managers, classroom instructors and some independent consultants. The SHRM conference was primarily HR professionals – business partners, generalists, department heads and consultants.

I imagine it’s similar at major conferences for professionals in coaching or organizational development. On the one hand, it’s to be expected. These conferences, after all, are for specialized segments of the greater human performance field. On the other hand, none of these initiatives can be successful if professionals from across the human performance spectrum don’t have opportunities to cross-pollinate.

Recently, as I got involved in my local ATD chapter, I was given an opportunity to work on an annual program called the Allied Professionals Event, which will take place on June 9th in Seattle. I’m looking forward to it because it is the one night of the year when people from across these specialized areas – learning & development, human resources, coaching and organizational development – can all come together, spend some time networking and discussing what’s on their minds, and then listen to some of the region’s rock star executives in both HR and business operations speak to the impact of human performance initiatives on the people within their organizations.

If you’re in the Seattle area, I’d like to invite you to attend (here is the registration information) and I’d love to hear what you’re working on. If you’re someplace else in this world, I’d love to hear from you – have you found similar opportunities to engage with your counterparts from other areas of the human performance spectrum?

While I know large national conferences are organized for specialized groups that make up their membership, are they completely serving their members’ best interests with such a narrow focus across all conference programming?

What do you think? Agree? Disagree? Let’s hear it in the Comment section.

Know someone who might be interested in this type of initiative, please pass this along!

How to Deflate Even the Best Designed Training Program

balloon

Last week I had an opportunity to help plan a training program for an organization with a large presence across India. I was the only training professional sitting around the table. I was joined by several high ranking officials and some operations staff.

At the beginning of the meeting, I was asked to share my thoughts about good training design. With a flare of theatricality, I took out two balloons and I asked a colleague to inflate the first one.

I held the balloon in my hand, but I did not tie it. I explained that this balloon represented so many training programs. It took some work to inflate. It looked nice. It looked festive. Maybe it even looked fun. Nice, festive and fun are all goals of a balloon, so it looks like we’ve achieved what we wanted, right?

Then I let go of the balloon and it shot up, twisting and turning and floating around the conference room. For a brief moment, I wondered if this was a dignified enough monologue with such high ranking officials in the room, but I pressed ahead.

In the end, all that balloon had was a bunch of hot air and now it’s gone and it’s not really nice or festive or fun. It didn’t really achieve anything.

Then I asked my colleague to inflate the second balloon. I tied it.

This balloon represented what we should aspire to, I said. All of the hard work of inflating the balloon is sustained. We had a plan (to blow up the balloon), we executed the plan for maximum sustainability (we tied it) and if we were to come back tomorrow (ie: follow-up later down the road), we’d still be able to see an inflated balloon!

This is how training programs need to be. Good design. Good execution. And measurable, sustainable results.

Looking around the room, reactions ranged from mild amusement to head nodding to one person asking the question: “Ok, I like it… so how do we keep the balloon inflated?”

In that moment, I felt like a genius. I didn’t just talk about adult learning and training design. I showed what it was. I reached not just for the rational minds of my audience, but also their hearts. And they were in love.

Until halfway through the meeting.

I had my back turned as I wrote something on the white board. And then I heard the sound that everyone who has an older sibling has heard at least once in their lives. It was the distinctive sound of my prized possession, my balloon, being slowly deflated.

My head whipped around. I saw who did it. It was one of the executives! He smiled sheepishly. The room was tense. Everyone wondered what my next move would be.

“That,” I began. “That just shows us that my great opening balloon metaphor wasn’t yet complete. Even if we have amazing design and amazing delivery and amazing follow-up… one senior official or executive can come by on a whim and untie the balloon, letting all the air out and killing any long term impact of the program.”

Without manager (or director or executive) support, even the most well-designed training program is just a bunch of hot air.

 

5 Models to Pull Out of Your Hat on a Moment’s Notice

About 10 years ago, I was sitting in a training session when the facilitator stopped the conversation, drew a diagram on the flipchart, and pivoted into a new conversation so seamlessly, it was like he had designed for the exact conversation we were having. Only, there’s no way he could have possibly known where our conversation would go that day.

A co-worker, awe-struck by how smoothly this facilitator worked through our issues, leaned over to me and whispered: “How amazing is it that this guy simply has a bunch of different models always in the back of his mind and can pull out the right one at exactly the right time?!”

At the time, I was still new to the corporate learning and development space, and in that moment I suddenly had something to aspire to: if I was going to be an effective, credible facilitator, I needed to have an array of models, ideas and theories I could bring into any conversation at a moment’s notice. Following are five models I always keep in my back pocket in case I need them, regardless of the topic:

  • In the event we need to explore a new concept: de Bono’s 6 Hat Thinking Model. Sometimes there is an individual (or group) that is vehemently opposed to a new idea or concept and unless I come up with some type of drastic measure quickly, this resistance can torpedo the entire conversation or project. de Bono’s 6 Hat Thinking Model is a non-threatening way for a group (or individual) to systematically look at an idea or concept from all sides. There is time to talk about the problems with an idea, and time to talk about the merits of the idea, and any data that exists, and any creative ways an idea can be put to use, and the idea within a larger system, and any emotional reasons someone may love or hate an idea.
  • In the event learning isn’t happening as fast as it should: the 4 Stages of Competence. Sometimes there is frustration that learning isn’t happening fast enough or there is disappointment that someone didn’t realize something sooner. The 4 Stage of Competence model is a 2×2 matrix that provides a simple explanation for how learning – in individuals and in organizations – generally happens.

4 Levels of Competence

  • In the event change isn’t happening as fast as it should: the Heath Brothers 3 Keys to Change Management. There are a lot of models for change management. John Kotter’s work is perhaps the most famous. However, I’ve found Kotter’s work to be very “academic” and difficult for audiences who are new to concepts of change management to completely wrap their arms around. Chip and Dan Heath have taken a look at many models of effective change management and boiled effective change management down into three essential elements: making a rational case for change, appealing to people’s core emotions, and providing structure for change to take place.
  • In the event a simple list of barriers and solutions won’t work: the Force-Field Analysis. I feel that simply making a list of barriers and solutions is too simplistic of an activity to really allow people to go back to their offices and get things done. I was introduced to the Force-Field Analysis in my master’s program during a course on strategic planning. A Force-Field Analysis forces an audience to think about all of the things that can drive a new initiative or project or idea forward, and all of the things that can restrain that same initiative or project or idea. Then an audience must discover all of the ways to remove or mitigate those “restraining forces” and come up with a specific action plan to address each restraining force.
  • In the event someone says “Why can’t we just tell them what they need to know?!”: a 4-step instructional design model. Simply telling someone does nothing to ensure they’ll retain it or use it later. There are many instructional design models out there, the most prevalent is ADDIE (which I argue is more of a project management model than instructional design model). This is the 4-step model I’ve come to embrace: 1) introduce content through some type of anchor activity, 2) provide the actual content, 3) offer an opportunity for application in the training environment and 4) provide learners specific ideas and ways they can use this content in the future. I honestly don’t know who came up with this model, but I’ve found it to be easy to explain to SMEs and effective in engaging audiences.

What are some of the models, tips, tools and tricks you keep in your back pocket when you’re facilitating? I’d love to hear about them in the comments section.

Death of an Avocado Tree

Have you ever been frustrated when a great idea of yours fizzled?  In hindsight, do you think it was missing any of the keys to successful change (listed below)?

The Avocado Tree

Last October my mother-in-law and my 5-year-old daughter got very excited about a science experiment.  They put an avocado pit into a cup of water and then observed what happened next.  My daughter was fascinated by the idea of a tree sprouting out of the ping pong ball-sized pit that came out of the middle of an avocado.

My mother-in-law eventually went home, but we continued to see changes occur. Little by little, the pit cracked open and a new plant began to emerge.  After several months, we transferred the growing plant from its original home in a cup of water to a pot filled with dirt.

At first, we watered it regularly.  Leaves began to grow out of the stem.

Then other things came up. The end of the school year. Camping trips. Vacation.

Interest in the avocado plant waned. Remembering to move it to a spot so that the sun didn’t scorch it as the summer took hold and remembering to water it regularly just wasn’t as interesting as other, newer stuff in our lives.

Less than a year later, this…

Avocado Plant (Alive)

…turned into this…

Avocado Plant (Dead)

This weekend I walked by the dead stick, and three thoughts struck me:

  1. If this is how we care for new little living things, we’re definitely not ready for a puppy!
  2. There’s no doubt in my mind that if my mother-in-law lived closer, this plant would still be alive.
  3. This is an incredible metaphor for way too many new initiatives at work.

Translating the Metaphor

How could this avocado plant have eventually flourished and survived long enough to become a tree?  Its best hope would have been for our family to have treated this like any other change initiative.

In his book The Heart of Change (and in pretty much any other book he’s written), John Kotter outlines 8 keys to successful change initiatives:

  1. Increase urgency: With so many other distractions, allocating time on the avocado plant wasn’t really a priority for anyone.  And once we transplanted it into a pot with soil and had to water it, nobody had a sense of urgency about keeping up with it.  Which is similar to that new, shiny online training academy; with all the day-to-day work to be done, does anyone really have time to keep signing up for courses and completing them?
  2. Build the guiding team: Once my mother-in-law left, nobody was really in charge of continuing to labor over the plant.  If a change initiative depends wholly on one person, it may never grow to maturity.
  3. Get the vision right: Was this a one-time science experiment? Or did we really want to grow a tree? And was that training on the new performance management system a one-time event?  Or were people expected to actually do      something with it when they left the training room?
  4. Communicate for buy-in: Most everyone in our house thought the experiment was neat… and as long as someone else took care of it, it might make a fine tree someday. It may have been helpful if the ultimate vision was shared and if expectations around workload had been agreed upon.
  5. Empower action: My mother-in-law initiated the project.  I watered it for a while.  But my daughter – who was clearly enthusiastic about the project – was never included in the caretaking of the plant.  When there are willing      supporters, they should be involved and empowered to take control.
  6. Create short-term wins:  It was fun and exciting to see a stem sprout from the seed.  And then to see leaves sprout from the stem.  But then new developments took longer and there was no more excitement.  Would this thing ever      turn into an actual tree?! And while we’re speaking of short-term wins, who cares if I complete one course or seven courses or thirty courses in that new elearning system?  When can I finish my learning and just be good enough?
  7. Don’t let up: Yeah, watering the plant should have been routine.  But we stopped.  And it died.  Perhaps if we had someone reminding us on a daily basis or sending us a watering schedule, even if from afar, it would still be alive today.
  8. Make change stick: Ultimately, John Kotter suggests the true sign of successful change is when it becomes part of the daily routine.  Our poor little avocado plant, like so many other ideas that were once new and exciting, never made it that far.

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