Archive for the ‘engagement’ category

The Melbourne Cup: it’s not about the horses!

2 November 2010

I was invited to a Melbourne Cup business lunch today. (Thanks C.S., that was very generous!)

Shocking wins the 2009 Melbourne CupIn Australia the Melbourne Cup is affectionately known as “the race that stops a nation”.

As a cultural event, I imagine it’s similar to America’s Kentucky Derby and England’s Epsom Derby.

Every year, however, more and more cynics seem to come out of the woodwork. They range from the “I don’t believe in gambling” crowd to statisticians who bemoan the nation’s lost productivity.

These people are oblivious to the fact that the Melbourne Cup is not about the horses.

Even if you don’t buy into the nationalism of the event, I hope you can appreciate its true value.

Picture this: In every state except Victoria (where Melbourne Cup Day is a public holiday) the race is a workplace event. The ladies wear a lovely dress with a hat or a fascinator. The men wear a smart suit and a tie. Someone will run a sweep. The boss will take us out to lunch, or we’ll organise a barbeque. Or if we’re lucky, one of our business partners will invite us to a swanky restaurant.

Oh, and we’ll watch a bunch of horses run around for a few minutes.

Everyone gets excited, all our gazes transfix to the TV until the first nose crosses the finish line.

Some of us win, most of us lose, while others deconstruct the “shoulda”, “coulda”, “woulda” – but didn’t.

And guess what: it’s fun.

Everyone’s smiling, chatting, laughing and generally having a good time. How often does that happen at work?

If you want to analyse it in terms of management science, why not consider:

Colleagues• engagement
• reward and recognition
• team building
• breaking down silos
• relationship management
• peer-to-peer networking
• social learning

…the list goes on.

But lost productivity?

Give me a break!

Style counsel

9 August 2010

Sometimes I am a contrarian thinker.

Not because I enjoy antagonism – I don’t. I just don’t trust the echo chamber.

And the echo chamber has been giving learning styles a beating.

So I ask you: is that beating warranted?

The theory

VAK is perhaps the most popular model of learning styles used in the corporate sector today:

  • V stands for “Visual”. These people learn best by seeing.

  • Eye

  • A stands for “Auditory”. These people learn best by listening.
    I would suggest they also like talking.

  • Ear

  • K stands for “Kinaesthetic “. These people learn best by touching and feeling. They are doers.

  • Hand

Relatively recently, some theorists have added an “R” to the model (VARK) to represent people who learn best by reading and writing.

It is important to note that all learners exhibit a mixture of V, A, R & K learning styles. One, though, is usually dominant.

The challenge

Critics of the theory don’t seem to challenge the existence of learning styles, but rather what the instructor does about them.

Conventional wisdom dictates that if the learner is primarily visual, you should show them lots of pictures. If the learner is primarily auditory, you should talk to them and open up discussion. If the learner is primarily kinaesthetic, you should give them opportunities to practice and “have a go”.

But an increasing number of educationalists disagree. They maintain that the nature of the knowledge that is to be learned will not necessarily match the style of the learner. For example:

  1. Teaching someone the shape of a country – Obviously this must be done by showing the learner the shape, regardless of whether or not they are a visual learner.

  2. The shape of Australia drawn on a blackboard

  3. Teaching someone to ride a bike – Obviously this must be done by getting the learner onto the seat and pushing the peddles, regardless of whether or not they are a kinaesthetic learner.

  4. Father helps his daughter get onto a bike

In other words, your teaching style should be informed by the nature of the content, not the learning style of your audience.

I think this is short sighted.

The counter challenge

I agree that to teach someone the shape of a country, you should show them that shape. No argument there.

However, I’m prepared to go further for non-visual learners:

  • For auditory learners, I suggest talking about the shape. Suppose the country is Australia; describe the Gulf of Carpentaria at the top end, which sweeps up to the northern tip at Cape York; then invite the learner to describe similar observations.

  • For kinaesthetic learners, I suggest doing something with the shape. Give them a globe or an atlas and challenge them to find it. Give them some Lego and ask them to build it.

Australia on a globe of the world

Same goes for teaching non-kinaesthetic learners how to ride a bike:

  • For visual learners, I suggest demonstrating how to ride the bike. Let them see how it’s done before they give it a go.

  • For auditory learners, I suggest talking to them both before and as they ride. Give them plenty of hints and tips. Provide continual instructions.

Father teaching his daughter to ride a bike

My point is: while the nature of the content may dictate the dominant teaching style, that doesn’t mean you can’t accommodate apparently incompatible learning styles. It just takes a bit of imagination.

The evidence, or lack thereof

Of course I haven’t undertaken an exhaustive review of the literature. After all, I have a day job!

However, the research I have read about thus far has underwhelmed me, and the notion that a lack of evidence somehow invalidates the theory really grates me.

I would love to see a statistically rigorous experiment based on the country and bike scenarios – a study that investigates the learning of both knowledge and skills, cross randomised to cover the various combinations of teaching and learning styles.

Until a corpus of solid science convinces me otherwise, I shall remain open minded.

Are we missing the point?

If the matching of teaching styles to learning styles is shown categorically to have no significant effect on learning outcomes, that’s fine – but I would counsel against throwing VAK out the window.

At the very least, a learning style represents a personal preference.

If you can accommodate your learner’s preference, then you are going to boost their enjoyment of the learning experience. That’s called engagement, and it’s sorely missing from a lot of workplace training.

Think about it: if you marry your pedagogy to your content, who does that suit?

It sure ain’t learner centered.
 

Shades of green

22 June 2010

Environmental sustainability.

It’s a term that seems to be bandied around a lot lately.

Many companies have it stated as one of their “core values” – but do they really mean it?

Businessman holding crystal globe

It’s easy to display the words on your website, print them on a pretty brochure, and even rattle them off during an induction.

But it’s a whole different kettle of fish to integrate their meaning and intent into your strategic plan.

In other words, to walk the talk.

Academic insight

In the second part of my 2-part interview with Dr David Bubna-Litic, Senior Lecturer in Strategic Management at the University of Technology, Sydney, I posed the following questions.

Again I have recorded his answers for you to review:

PlayDoes the L&D department have an obligation to facilitate the learning of the corporation’s values among its employees?

PlaySo if an insurance company defines environmental sustainability as a core value, should its L&D department organise workshops on green issues?

PlayHow about controversial issues such as climate change and nuclear energy – should the company adopt one political agenda over another?

If you have trouble playing the files, right-click each link and “Save Target As…”.

My take

It’s clear to me that a company that claims a corporate value such as environmental sustainability has an ethical obligation to translate it into action. Values are more than words; they represent behaviour.

Green piggy bankThe irony of pretenders like Enron is that, if the corporation is true to its values, it can reap significant financial rewards.

For example, a manufacturing company that reduces its electricity consumption will no doubt enjoy a corresponding cost saving; a finance company that offers socially responsible investments may attract a new demographic of customer; a multinational that installs a web conferencing system instead of criss-crossing the globe by airliner will no longer need to fund relentless air fares, hotel bills and meal allowances.

The role of the L&D Department

It is also clear to me that the L&D Department has a professional obligation to facilitate the learning of the corporation’s values among its employees.

Since those values provide the context for how the company operates in the marketplace, any ignorance of them is – at best – unprofessional, but probably more accurately, incompetent.

The thin green line

In dealing with politically contentious issues such as climate change, the organisation must be wary of straying into partisanship.

No matter how much we wish it wasn’t so, some of our colleagues just don’t agree with our point of view. So if the corporation were to adopt one political agenda over another, I for one would consider it ethically unacceptable.

I suggest that instead of taking sides, the company errs on the side of caution. For example, it doesn’t need to say things like:

Acme Corporation knows that climate change is real.

That is almost intentionally divisive.

Chess pieces opposing each other

Instead, why not go for:

Acme Corporation is committed to an environmentally sustainable future. While we are unsure as to whether human activity contributes to climate change, we are taking the precaution of reducing our carbon emissions and expanding our portfolio in the renewable energy sector.

That is much more inclusive!

Chess pieces mingling

As the elephant in the room will tell you, there’s no point in disengaging some of your employees.

That would be to the detriment of everyone.

The elephant in the room

15 June 2010

Does spirituality belong in the workplace?

This may sound like a fluffy question, but unless your employees are cyborgs, it’s also a relevant one.

Cyborg

Of course we are human, and that means every single one of us brings our personal beliefs, goals, needs and values into the workplace.

This poses a challenge for corporations.

The secularisation of government and industry (at least in the West) has promoted the suppression and exclusion of anything remotely related to religion, including spirituality.

Yet we are human. For many of us, our sense of spirituality provides the context for everything that we do. We can’t put it in a box during business hours and wear it like a hat on our way home.

We wouldn’t even want to. That’s the point.

The challenge for secular organisations is how to deal with it.

Academic insight

Spirituality and Corporate Social Responsibility: Interpenetrating WorldsI recently had the opportunity to discuss this topic with one of Australia’s leading thinkers: Dr David Bubna-Litic, Senior Lecturer in Strategic Management at the University of Technology, Sydney, and Editor of Spirituality and Corporate Social Responsibility: Interpenetrating Worlds.

I posed four rather pointed questions to David, and I have recorded his answers for your review:

PlayDoes spirituality belong in the workplace?

PlayDoes an employer have an obligation to support the spirituality of its employees?

PlayShould the L&D department facilitate spiritual learning?

PlayIs spirituality grounded in a belief in God?

If you have trouble playing the files, right-click each link and “Save Target As…”.
 
My take

Bank teller upsellingIt’s clear to me that a corporation that supports the spirituality of its employees can get buckets in return in the form of engagement, motivation and performance.

However, the goals and values of the individual may not always align with the goals and values of the company.

This might happen, for example, when the company decides to upsell products rather than service the real needs of its customers.

David adds:

It is also important to recognise that spirituality has a broad horizon and when a company is open to encouraging its employees to deeply engage with their lives at work, they may bring new concerns to the job. In such cases, the company must be open to dialogue about its strategic direction in different ways, for example, building on a more relational approach to its stakeholders.

A company may find the benefits of spiritual engagement arise in intangible ways, such as stakeholder loyalty; however, creating expectations and enlivening employees needs to be genuine, otherwise the same employees may be equally motivated to seek a more fulfilling role elsewhere.

Meanwhile, the conflict between personal and corporate values can damage both parties. A disengaged worker is unlikely to be a high performer!

The “R” word

It is also clear to me that spirituality and religion are not necessarily the same thing. You can be a highly spiritual person without aligning yourself to any church or god.

However, I am acutely aware of the fact that, for many people, spirituality and religion are the same thing. Religion provides the moral and existential framework within which they live their lives.

Elephant

So if a corporation commits itself to supporting the spirituality of its employees, it must inevitably deal with the “R” word.

David adds:

Times have changed and recently, interfaith dialogue has emerged as an important vehicle by which traditionally adversarial religious groups are learning to build understanding and harmony.

The multicultural dimension

In an increasingly multicultural society like the one I live in, not everyone is Christian. Nor is everyone atheist. There are Hindus, Sikhs, Muslims, Jews, Buddhists, Agnostics… the number of spiritual labels in the workplace is as long as a piece of string.

Colleagues

This presents a series of dilemmas to the secular organisation:

Does it promote religious activity or ignore it?

If it funds a Christmas party, must it also fund a Ramadan festival?
How about a Passover feast?

Is it a double standard to relabel the Christmas party and Easter holidays, yet celebrate Pooram or Loy Krathong as a “diversity” initiative?

The corporation can’t be all things to all people; but by the same token, it can’t be some things to some people. It has to be egalitarian.

My personal opinion is that a secular organisation should support, accommodate and tolerate all religious affiliations, but not own them.

It can’t afford to.