No skill, knowledge or experience is ever wasted

experience

It took me a long time to fully commit to a specific career. I am one of those people who like variety in a job – the opportunity to do many different things. I needed to find a multi-disciplinary career that would allow me to pull from my many strengths both within existing knowledge and skills.

As a Liberal Arts major, I honed my skills in communication – both verbal and written; analysis; interpretation, critical thinking; problem solving; cross-culture issues and an understanding of human nature. How do I parlay all of that into a job? That was the million-dollar question that would take me on a journey of discovery. On this journey, I learned about myself – what I liked in a job, the content I would like to work on, how I want to feel about my job, how I liked to work and the settings where I can thrive.

The Liberal Arts are often looked down upon as a waste of time. This point of view is unfortunate. In order to have a “dream team”, you need to have people with different perspectives, different ways of thinking, and different skill sets. Although you may have a team member with a bright idea, you also need a team member who can then convert that bright idea into a strategy, into a communication piece, into a branding and marketing project etc.  

My Liberal Arts degree trained me in applied knowledge, the ability to synthesize information, look for context clues to flesh out an argument and increase understanding.  I learned about people and culture, society, communities, social issues, history and human nature/behavior. All these skills and knowledge have come in handy in my current profession as a Learning and Development professional.

I entered the Learning and Development (L&D) discipline because I wanted to make a difference in the workplace – improving workplace performance and contributing to the personal and professional development of employees. This profession is multi-disciplinary because it pulls from many other disciplines e.g. sociology, psychology, communications, marketing, branding, history, technology, etc. I am using many of my skills from my Liberal Arts background and skills I honed as an administrator throughout most of my working life. In this profession, I wear many hats: organization specialist, communication specialist, project manager, instructional designer, facilitator, analyst, coach, mentor, to name a few.

I now know for sure that no skill or experience is ever wasted. We can transfer existing knowledge and skills to other jobs/careers and other areas of our lives.

It does not matter how you begin but what you acquire along the way. The whole is greater than the sum of its parts.

 

 

The power of a vision board

 

vision bd

“Without a vision the people perish” (Proverbs 29:18). I’m not overly religious but this biblical quote sums up the consequences of not having a clear vision of whatever it is you are trying to achieve. We all have goals of some sort either personal and/or professional. It is easy to create a goal – we may mull it over every once in a while, write it down, or discuss with family and friends. However, implementing the goal takes time, effort and persistence.  The implementation phase is usually the part in the goal process that proves the most difficult. 

The key to having your desired goal(s) top of mind is to have it in your face at all times – a constant reminder of what you are working towards – what you are trying to achieve. For those people who are visual learners this task is right up your alley but for those non-visuals it may take some effort to get going but it can be a very effective tool.

So, how do you get started? Here’s a very simple process:

1.       Define your goals. Decide and confirm what they are

2.       Write them down in order of importance and put a timeline beside each one

3.       Find pictures that match each goal – pictures that show where you want to go, what you want to achieve etc.

4.       Get construction paper and organize your pictures with labels in any fashion that appeals to you

5.       Post your board in a frequently visited spot or a place in your home – a place where you have to look at it often, for example attached to the fridge.

The vision board is effective because it serves as a passive motivator to keep working towards your goal — keep saving, keep studying, keep learning, keep exercising etc. This process also trains the mind to believe that you can achieve. It also moves the goal from being a general concept to something real – a tangible.

Many times we sabotage our own success especially with self-doubt and excuses. There are many clichés that serve the purpose of giving ourselves a boost when we get discouraged – “Believe in yourself”; “If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again” are two that come to mind. Whatever it takes, the key is to achieve that goal. A daily visual reminder can help keep you motivated and on track to finally crossing that goal off the list. Isn’t that the point?

 

 

 

Your name Inc.

There has been a lot of talk about personal branding. It took a while for me to fully understand the concept of having a personal brand. I finally get it! I recently transitioned personal brand 2full time into a new career in the learning and development (L&D) field and in the process inadvertently utilized and realized this concept.

So, what does it mean to have a personal brand? I stumbled upon a blog via Strategy magazine called “the future is female and other lessons” where the author describes it beautifully. The Blog has a heading labelled You are a Brand (and so am I) where she cites: “take care of your personal brand the same way you take care of a client’s brand; people have to buy into you as a person before they buy into what you’re trying to sell them. Think of yourself as a company with a brand. I know, it defies our usual thinking about ourselves. Put your name here ______ Inc. For example, my name is Tricia Thompson so my company is Tricia Thompson Inc. How do you want people to see you? Relate to you? What kind of footprint do you want to leave behind? How do you want your reputation to precede you? Food for thought.

Let me get back to how I inadvertently used my personal brand. I have been pursuing a career in learning and development for some time. My experience in my pursuit is that it is a tough field to break into without credible experience. In the interim, I volunteered as an adult ESL tutor and as an adult literacy advocate with organizations that reflected my passions and values such as Frontier College and West Neighbourhood House. In addition to volunteering, I also created a personal website and started this Blog as a “show and tell” to showcase my thought leadership and background in learning and development. In addition, I continued to be an active member of The Institute for Performance and Learning which represents workplace learning professionals in Canada. On Twitter, among others, I followed The Institute, Articulate which is an e-learning tool and community, The Muse which is a personal/professional development site etc. Let me include LinkedIn for good measure here as well. I crafted my profile closely towards all the work I did previously and presently which related to L&D. Are you getting the picture yet? My digital footprint, my associations, my online presence and community presence all pointed to L&D. So, when a position opened up in my current company, the hiring manager did not have to question my passion and transferable skills because I had already put breadcrumbs down which left a visible trail towards my goal.

There are many high profile personalities who do the personal brand thing really well. At the moment, Donald Trump comes to mind mostly because of the impending US election as I write this. Now, I am no fan of Trump but he has crafted his personal brand to a “T”. You really have to give credit to a man whose name has cachet. Trump is known for real estate. The man gets paid a pretty penny for having his name attached to buildings even though he may not be the owner of those buildings. That’s having a strong, cashable brand.

Remember your company and your brand in all that you do. Your brand should reflect your values, philosophies, passions and desires. It is important to reflect your brand consistently across all platforms. People should know what you are about even before the first handshake.

Evaluation: uncool but worth it

smile sheet

Evaluation is a gift. This is the rationale a fellow training consultant usually gives to trainees at the end of her sessions. Compared to e-learning, designing training programs and delivering training, evaluation is the least exciting and “sexy” in the training world. However, it is a very valuable exercise. Evaluation is needed on both sides of the training scale – trainees need to provide feedback on the session to indicate whether their needs were met. The trainer also needs to assess whether the session was effective and prepare to implement changes if needed.

The evaluation card given to trainees is often called a “smile sheet” which presupposes all favourable responses. Often favourable responses are not the case.  Did you like the trainer’s delivery style?  Did you like the content?  Was the presentation useful?  These are examples of questions that a trainer would like to know after a session. Some trainees though take the feedback to a whole other level. They complain about the food or lack of food, the coffee, the length of time in the training etc. As annoying as it can be to read some of the unnecessary gripes, I think having them also sheds some light into the kind of participants you had at the session. Maybe they were hostages meaning they were forced to attend due to compliance issues or a manager’s request. You can never please “hostages” in any given session.

On the flip side, I don’t know a single trainer who gets up in the morning and attends a training session with the intention of boring trainees to death or delivering content that is not useful or effective. Yes, sometimes we attend sessions that are boring, ineffective and useless but I don’t think it was on purpose. I can be challenged on this!

In this age, data is big business and data analytics has picked up steam in the buzz words department. Data mining and analysis is worth its weight in gold in this business climate. Companies can use the data to see trends, market to target populations, increase products and service offerings etc. Very valuable. The evaluation exercise is in the same vein. Trainers need the data to adjust training sessions – determine what to start, stop or continue doing with the learners’ needs in mind. A training session is only effective if the expected outcome is realized.

So, yes, I agree with my colleague that evaluation is a gift. You cannot change what you do not measure.

 

Learning and development in the age of disruptive technology

VR

The taxi industry was left reeling with the advent of Uber and similarly, AirBnB wreaked havoc on the hotel industry. Welcome to the age of disruptive technologies! I attended a webinar recently on Blended Learning 2.0 – Media and Methods. This webinar focused on the next generation of blended learning which included media and methods such as mobile learning, interactive PDF’s, gamification and social media. This got me thinking, what’s the next disruptive thing in the world of learning and development? What will the “Uber” be in learning and development?

Technology changes at a rapid pace and we keep pushing the envelope on the next great thing that will supposedly improve our lives and that we will not be able to do without. Think augmented reality, virtual reality or artificial intelligence or the rising of the various “BOTS” – not just your mere robots. Industries that question the status quo, take giant leaps in innovation and development and push the boundaries continue to lead and be at the forefront of change.

As learning and development professionals, we are always on the hunt for new and fresh ideas that will motivate, engage and delight our learners. Although the idea or the tool may be cutting edge, it is important that it fits the needs of the learner and the desired outcome. Simply put, the application must be right for you i.e. the organization, the budget, the learner, the right solution.

I don’t know if we’ve reached the threshold of innovation and disruptive technologies within L&D. We’ve come a long way from using transparencies and flipcharts with markers.  We’ve now evolved to m-learning, e-learning, asynchronous and synchronous methods within e-learning, blended learning, social media and numerous applications within new forms of media. Whatever that new “thing” is going to be, one thing is certain, there is no one size fits all within L&D.

 

Why you learn the way you do

 

learning style

We all have our own sense of style – fashion, décor, hairstyles. Our sense of style sets us apart from the masses – makes us unique in our own way. For the avant-garde, the sense of style is even more heightened and dramatic.

When it comes to how we learn, it is no different in terms of our style. Your learning style is the method by which you take in and retain knowledge.  There are many variations of learning styles but for purposes of this blog, I’ll use the acronym VARK – Visual, Auditory, Read/Write, Kinesthetic.

learning styles

 

As Training/Learning and Development Specialists, when we design and deliver programs, we have to appeal to a broad range within our audience base. We need to take the various learning styles into account.

Visual (V): Do you find that you remember information if presented as a graphic e.g. maps, graphs, flow charts? You are a visual learner.

Aural/Auditory (A): Do you have a preference for information that is spoken or heard e.g. podcasts, webchat, lectures? You are an auditory learner.

Read/Write (R): Do you prefer information that is displayed as words e.g. text-based materials, dictionaries? If you prefer reading and writing in all forms, you are a read/write learner.

Kinesthetic (K): Do you have a preference for doing things e.g. demonstrations, simulations, practicing, applications? You are a kinesthetic learner.

Of course, many of us, have multiple intelligences and we do not fall neatly in any one category. Personally, I am a visual and kinesthetic learner – I retain knowledge by pictures and hands on exercises.

What kind of learner are you?

Learning retention

I hear and I forget

                I see and I remember

                                I do and I understand

-Confucius

 

We retain:

10% of what we read  reading

20% of what we hear hear

30% of what we see see

50% of what we hear and seeeareye

70% of what we say say

90% of what we say and do mouthhands

Robert Kornikau and Frank McElroy

 

Is orientation a waste of time?

 

orientation

 

Picture this. It is the first day of your new job. You are all excited to get started and showcase your talents. You arrive at work bright and early and check in at the security desk as a new employee. The security guard prevents you from entering without an access card. You wait and wait but no one comes to greet you for at least one hour. Then you arrive at your desk only to discover that your manager is on vacation and there is no direction on what to do. This was my experience a few years ago on day one of my new job at a media company. I languished alone in the atrium of this building – a cavernous structure – watching people come and go. No one was prepared for my arrival, there was no one to greet me and show me around and worst of all, no orientation program which would have solved the first-day angst experienced by most new employees.

Needless to say, I could have walked out and not look back. Reason prevailed. I persevered and ended up working for this organization for five years. That whole experience tainted my view of the organization but created a development opportunity for me.  I saw an area that was lacking and made gains in introducing improvements. Also, I was able to calm the nagging voice in my head that kept telling me that a career in training and development was my next move.

Fast forward seven years later. I am now working at a financial services company that values being the employer of choice. It provides training and career development plus numerous learning opportunities. I was very pleased to have a two-hour orientation session on day one. This session gave me the tools and knowledge to navigate the campus, the corporate systems, get an overview of the strategy and structure and to know who to call for what and when. Armed with these nuggets of information, I felt I could just jump right in and start making my contribution to the company without wasting time. Now, orientation did not cover every little thing. I still had to do some research into my specific area –   for example, discovering my team; getting acquainted with the content etc.

Some people may argue that orientation is a waste of time. As you can tell, I disagree. If done right, it is a very useful and effective way to begin tenure at any organization. After all, the intent of a company is to retain its talent. The journey does not stop at receiving an offer letter – the audition process continues well after the three or six-month probationary period.

So yes, the orientation session is not only an effective tool for the company but also for employees. Use it to start the relationship off on the right track.

L&D as a competitive edge

Learning and development (L&D) typically rank among the top five “wants” on employee satisfaction surveys. Employees are keen to develop both personally and professionally. Yet, when times get tough, the learning and development department is the first on the chopping block. This comes at the expense of employee engagement, being the employer of choice and commanding a competitive edge in the marketplace.

With the changing employee demographic – from Generation X and Y to Millennials – the current workforce looks for career development, career opportunities and continuous learning. According to a report from Aon Hewitt, 2014 Trends in Global Employee Engagement, the top drivers of engagement are: brand which includes company reputation and corporate social responsibility; leadership which includes senior leadership, and performance which speaks to career opportunities and learning & development.business competing

A company’s greatest asset is its people resources. Having an engaged, knowledgeable and skilled workforce is not only good for the bottom line but also good for competing for top talent.  Company loyalty is not what it used to be so employees today are looking for organizations that will invest in their success. This is a driver for retention. What is the ROI on this investment? Employees who remain – less turnover, employees who advance and become brand ambassadors and employees who are invested in the company’s earning potential. After all, a company is only as good as its people.