Tag: leadership

Semantics, semantics

I dislike grammar jokes, pedants, and Oxford commas.

That’s my jovial way to end a year that will be remembered as a tough one for a long time to come.

I found blogging a welcome distraction, so much so that in addition to my annual list of e-learning conferences in Australia (which took a beating!) I churned out no fewer than ten thought pieces.

My joke at the start of this summary is a nod to the theme of semantics, which I maintain are important in the L&D profession. Because it is with shared meaning that we do our best work.

I invite you to share your own views on each piece, so feel free to drop me a like and contribute a comment or two…

A vintage poster depicting a group of dogs of different breeds

I hope you find my articulations helpful.

In the meantime, I wish that for you and your family the Christmas season will be a time of healing, rest and renewal.

The leader’s new clothes

From $7 billion to nearly $14 billion.

That’s how much the spend on leadership training by American corporations grew over the preceding 15 years, according to Kaiser and Curphy in their 2013 paper Leadership development: The failure of an industry and the opportunity for consulting psychologists.

Over that same period we witnessed the bursting of the dot-com bubble, the implosion of Enron, and of course the Global Financial Crisis. While the causes of these unfortunate events are complicated, our leaders were evidently ill-equipped to prevent them.

Despite the billions of dollars’ worth of training invested in them.

Undressed mannequins in a shop window

For a long time I felt like the child who could see the emperor wasn’t wearing any clothes. Then Jeffrey Pfeffer visited Sydney.

Pfeffer is the Professor of Organizational Behavior at Stanford University’s Graduate School of Business. He was promoting a book he had published, Leadership BS: Fixing Workplaces and Careers One Truth at a Time, in which he states what I (and no doubt many others) had been thinking: leadership training is largely ineffective.

At a breakfast seminar I attended, the professor demonstrated how decades of development had no positive impact on metrics such as employee engagement, job satisfaction, leader tenure, or leader performance. He posited numerous reasons for this, all of them compelling.

Today I’d humbly like to add one more to the mix: I believe managers get “leadership” training when what they really need is “management” training.

They’re entreated to be best practice before they even know what to do. It’s the classic putting of the cart before the horse.

For example, the managers in an organisation might attend a workshop on providing effective feedback, leveraging myriad models and partaking in roleplays; when what they really need to know is they should be having an hour-long 1:1 conversation with each of their team members every fortnight.

Other examples include training in unconscious bias, emotional intelligence and strategic thinking; yet they don’t know how to hire new staff, process parental leave, or write a quarterly business plan. Worse still, many won’t realise they’re expected to do any of that until the horse has bolted.

I’m not suggesting leadership training is unimportant. On the contrary it’s critical. What I am saying is that it’s illogical to buy our managers diamond cufflinks when they don’t yet own a shirt.

At this juncture I think semantics are important. I propose the following:

  • Management training is what to do and how to do it.
  • Leadership training is how to do it better.

In other words, management training is the nuts & bolts. The foundation. It’s what our expectations are of you in this role, and how to execute those expectations – timelines, processes, systems, etc. It focuses on minimum performance to ensure it gets done.

In contrast, leadership training drives high performance. Now you’ve got the fundamentals under your belt, here’s how to broaden diversity when hiring new staff. Here’s how to motivate and engage your team. Here’s how to identify opportunities for innovation and growth.

$14 billion is a lot of money. Let’s invest it in a new wardrobe, starting with the underwear.

Educate everyone

My all-time favourite example of augmented reality has been reinvented.

When I first saw BMW’s augmented reality glasses on YouTube over 8 years ago, I was excited. It heralded a new dawn in educational technology. A golden age in which learning & performance would be transformed.

Then… nothing.

For years afterwards, augmented reality seemed to be trapped in the mystical realm of what it “could” do in the future. Indeed it offered amazing potential, but with too few examples of the technology in use, not much reality was really being augmented.

More recently, Google Glass has been making in-roads, though I consider it more of a data display device than an AR headset. And Microsoft’s work on HoloLens is truly inspiring, but it’s not quite ready yet.

Then… BOOM!

At the 2016 Consumer Electronics Show, Hyundai unveiled its Virtual Guide. Overnight, the Korean boffins made BMW’s augmented reality glasses a reality for the rest of us.

Now, I use the term “overnight” with poetic licence. Hyundai actually unveiled its AR app in the previous year. And yes, there have been other practical applications of AR done by other companies. Heck, they’re not even the first car maker to do it.

But all that is moot, because the point is this is the first time in a long time that I’ve been impressed by a mainstream brand. To me, Hyundai stands out from the myriad other car makers as a leader – not only in innovation, but also in customer service.

I compare them to Honda, for example, whose Civic can’t even play the songs on my Samsung smartphone.

Surprised koala

Hyundai’s app prompted me to consider the relationship between e-learning and marketing in the corporate domain.

Traditionally, e-learning (along with the rest of L&D) is inward focused; its specialists are charged with developing the capability of the organisation’s employees. In contrast, marketing is outward focused; its specialists are charged with attracting more customers.

Indeed there has been consideration of combining marketing with e-learning to promote and motivate employee development, but how about the reverse? How about combining e-learning with marketing to engage customers?

As Hyundai has demonstrated, e-learning can be used as a vehicle to establish a leadership position for the brand. Yet it can do more.

Consider an insurance company. Like cars, this is another sector that is usually considered boring by the general public and faces stiff competition. How about another TV advertisement featuring a loving family and a dog and… yawn… sorry, I can’t be bothered finishing this sentence.

Instead, how about a customer education strategy that teaches the public the fundamentals of insurance, providing a clear explanation of the concept, untangling its mind-boggling options and variations, ultimately helping regular folks like you and me make better decisions about our finances.

The strategy might involve a YouTube channel, an expert-authored blog, a moderated discussion forum, a free webinar series, a corporate MOOC… all open to the public.

Could someone consume your wonderful content and buy their insurance from someone else? Of course, some people base their purchasing decisions solely on price. But many don’t. With the trust and goodwill your education generates, I’d wager that plenty of prospective customers will prefer the brand that empowered them.

At the very least, you’d attract more customers with an education strategy than without one.

So don’t just educate your staff. Educate everyone.

A question of leadership development

A provocative question was posed at the latest Learning Cafe:

Does the learning department spend disproportionate effort on leadership development?

Colleagues holding question mark signs in front of their faces

To me, it makes good business sense to facilitate the development of effective leaders in the organisation. Leadership is a driver of culture, which in turn is a driver of engagement, which in turn is a driver of performance.

While I support the philosophy of leadership development, however, I have doubts over some of the interventions that are deployed under that banner. The eye-watering costs and time associated with formal leadership training should be carefully evaluated in terms of ROI.

So I don’t challenge whether substantial resources should be assigned to leadership development, but rather how they should be assigned. There is plenty of scope for informal learning solutions (for example) which are less time and money hungry – and arguably more effective!

Having said that, I think the effort assigned to developing leadership skills can be disproportionate in comparison to managerial skills. All too frequently, “leaders” are promoted due to their technical expertise, but they have never managed anyone in their life. Somehow we expect them to magically transform into Super Boss, but that’s not going to happen. What these people need is Management 101 – a no-nonsense explanation of their new responsibilities and accountabilities, and the corresponding skillset to fulfil them.

Thrown Under the Bus coffee mug

Do you agree with me? Review the opinions of other practitioners – and voice your own – at the Learning Cafe blog.

Who owns the photocopiers?

Debra Ellis asked recently: Does social media belong in Marketing or Customer Service?

I replied whimsically that the way I see it, asking who in the organisation owns social media is a bit like asking who owns the photocopiers.

Marketing and Customer Service – not to mention others such as Media Relations – each have their own contribution to make for the success of the group. So why wouldn’t they take charge of their respective social media initiatives? (Just like they take care of their own photocopying.)Various pegs in their right holes

Of course they should work together to maximise impact, but the point is:

Marketing should market and Customer Service should serve.

Ignorance is bliss

Time and time again I have seen new ideas (such as leveraging social media) stall in the corporate sector. Some call it analysis paralysis.

No one wants to stick their head out or, alternatively, dig in and do the dirty work. So they sit on the merry-go-round of meetings and proposals and committees and reviews and research and meetings…

Occasionally, someone highly pertinent to the conversation (yet inexplicably left out of the loop) will have the guts to give it a go – all the while blissfully ignoring protocol.

And it’s probably successful because it aligns to purpose.

On purpose

Who owns the photocopiers? Who cares!

They are tools that are used to achieve goals.

If using a photocopier is integral to your role, then use one. And if you don’t have one, then get one.

If you need authority or approval, get it. If you need advice, get it. If you need training, get it.

Do your job!