Monthly Archives: April 2013

The one where it’s OZ not OD

Last post from the ‘Democratising Learning’ conference I promise.

During the group discussion on the barriers to creating meaningful learning organisations the conversation moved to what was stopping the individual ‘going for it’. The answer that came up from nearly everyone was fear/lack of courage. On sitting and reflecting on both the conversation and the conference as a whole I came to the conclusion that there was no better analogy (and the spark for a wry smile) for the requirements of an OD professional than Dorothy’s companions in the Wizard of Oz…

The Lion

The Lion of course needed courage. You could argue that the OD professional doesn’t need courage but I would argue that not every challenge made either to the organisation or individual leaders can be ‘laid off’ with someone for support or necessarily would work if it was supported. The individual needs at times to just have the courage to act – to make the challenge and attempt to change the status quo.

The Scarecrow

The Scarecrow of course needed a brain. Whether it’s to understand the specifics of the variety of business disciplines we need to interact with, the agility to pick up a given situation or strategy quickly enough to be effective or to be able to understand how any intervention will affect the entire system I would say that intelligence (in it’s many forms) are a prerequisite for OD.

The Tin Man

The Tin Man needed a heart. When I say an OD professional needs heart I’m not necessarily advocating either a) that they wear it on their sleeves or b) that it is the guiding force in every action BUT understanding that the consequences of many of things we do have real impacts on real people should be factored in to the way we operate. The other requirement for heart is more to emotional intelligence – understanding the ‘why’ people do things and using that to grow understanding of motivation and agendas I believe will make the way we operate far more effective.

If this all seems very lightweight I did say it would spark a wry smile and there was a much more grown up discussion on a similar topic at the CIPD conference last year, my take on which you can find here. Saying that, whether you work in OD, have OD accountabilities or work with OD professionals stop for a moment and ask yourself, if they all had courage, brains and heart and used them in the right balance, would they/you be more effective?

P.S. I have thought of all red shoe, yellow brick road and friends of Dorothy gags and have ceased to find any of them funny 😉



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The one with recognition at last

I’ve never seen myself as particularly forward thinking. I can generally see what’s going on around me and make sense of it but in terms of the larger changes and trends I’ve never really had that much game.

The one exception to this was with intrapreneurs. Actually when I first understood the concept of intrapreneurship I didn’t know there was a word to describe it. I could just recognise traits and behaviour in others and knew they were operating differently to the norm.

When I first started trying to research intraprenuership a few years ago the challenge I faced (and the reason this blog started) was in finding people who considered themselves intrapreneurs. In my quest I happened upon the remains of Jimmy Hoffa, the lost city of Atlantis and the secret formula for Frosties – all of which were easier to find than people who considered themselves intrapreneurs*

What I found interesting at that time was it was easier to find people who knew people they considered intrapreneurs and it was the recognition and suggestion of others that allowed the individual to even entertain the thought. Even then they were often resistant to the idea that they were operating differently. They often ascribed it to ‘just a project I was given’ or ‘some luck I had in getting it done’. The term is still not widely used or understood, often, it appears to me being used as a derivation of entrepreneur for those who aren’t brave enough to go it alone.

It was therefore with surpise and a smile on my face that I read a post on Sir Richard Branson’s entrepeneurship blog about an awards programme he’s supporting along with Ashoka, an organisation that supports social entrepreneurship and who run the ‘league of intrapreneurs’. You can find more from reading the Virgin blog I read here.

The awards scheme recognised achievement in social intrapreneurship in such large corporates as GSK and Shell and as Branson put it, “Social intrapreneurs are demonstrating to the world how business can be a force for good”. Amen to that!

I love the fact that the opportunity that intrapreneurs offer to organisations is starting to gain more recognition (and let’s face it with Branson attached it’ll get publicity) and that large corporates are seeing these people not as rogues and mavericks but as people who can operate differently to the benefit of the organisation. It’s also great that Virgin are using the fascination in Sir Richard’s entrepeneurial achievements as a way to grow the understanding of intrapreneurship – Bravo!

*I did not actually find any of these things

P.S. Thanks to Rob Harrison for directing me to the blog post

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The one where four is quite enough

So I attended a conference about learning…yes, the one I wrote about yesterday. The company hosting the event develops simulations for learning (they’re called Ososim) and their Technical Wizard in Chief (this may not be his actual job title) stood up in the afternoon to talk about complexity with specific reference to software development.

I don’t mind admitting that when I heard what was coming I started to tune out and thought this may be an excellent opportunity to catch up with my work e-mail…until I started to actually pay attention.

He opened with an anecdote about aeroplanes which went something along the lines of, in the case of emergency what was the thing a Captain would want to hear from his 1st Officer – “Captain, we have a problem with engine 43”. The notion being that in an aircraft with 44 engines, a problem with one of them would be so insignificant as to not challenge the safety of the aircraft.

He then went on to debunk his own anecdote as he pointed out that in terms of risk and complexity an aircraft engine is pretty much as high as it gets and that going from the 2 or 4 that are standard to 44 would be adding exponential risk to the aircraft and the passengers thus defeating the point.

Can you guess on a scale of 1-10 how interested I am in the complexity of software development? The answer is an integer below 0. But…it did start the grey matter whirring about the notion that in protecting ourselves from risk often we add complexity that in fact increases the risk.

Stop for a moment and think about the last time you had any form of significant crisis involving HR in your organisation… What was the response?

I’ll bet you a pound that it involved a new process, a new policy, something that needed signing, a briefing, some form of sheep dip training… Am I close?

So you’ve introduced another control mechanism and responded to problem by reducing the empowerment your employees feel another notch and also created something that you can miss out on in the future thus creating more work (which may or may not  add value) for HR to obsess over.

I suppose my point here is if control is anything more than an illusion are we really trying to maintain it by introducing more complexity and more process which actually serve to hinder the organisation and it’s employees? Go into your organisation today (or tomorrow) and look at the policies and procedures you have and to each one ask, “is this the 43rd engine?” – you may find yourself building a different type of aircraft.

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The one where we’re fiddling while Rome learns

So you’ve all heard the one where the Finance Director asks the CEO, “what if we invest in our people and they all leave?” to which the CEO retorts, “what if we don’t and they stay?” I don’t know who started it but it beautifully sums up the paradox faced by every organisation in considering how and when to invest in their people.

A few weeks ago I attended an event entitled “Democratising Learning” hosted by an emerging business in the learning simulation space Ososim attended by a load of Heads of L&D and OD from a variety of organisations.

The speakers (well at least the first two) were preeminent, London Business School professor Lynda Gratton and former Schools Minster Lord Knight of Weymouth. You can find Professor Gratton’s slides here which are worth a read to see the work she’s done on emerging global trends and the perceived people priorities businesses face. You can find Lord Knight’s slides here and he makes some interesting points about the role of technology in learning and how technology has really driven fundamental changes in less developed parts of the world.

The speakers in the afternoon were myself and Perry Timms and as we didn’t use slides I can say you missed a great show!!

One of the discussions held in break out was what the learning organisation of tomorrow looked like and the summary of the responses looks something like this: (thanks to Leon at Ososim for the summary)

  • Accessible to all
  • Tech savvy
  • Bottom up
  • Collaborative
  • Learning as part of working
  • Covert not overt
  • Sharing across boundaries
  • More than internal
  • Empowering…personal choice
  • Informal and flexible
  • Open, innovative and dynamic
  • Team based…peer to peer
  • Fast, forgiving and fun
  • Focussed on skills, behaviours and application
  • Engaging, inspiring and brave

The next discussion topic was what barriers existed to creating this new learning organisation and the classics appeared feared/lack of courage, resource, funding, buy in, support, resistance, etc, etc and we all moved on and had a biscuit.

The day was really enjoyable and I met some great new people (and reconnected with some I hadn’t seen for a while) but I came away from the day with a lingering notion that we were missing the whole point.

Learning is being democratised whether a bunch of suits sit in a room and decide it or not. People are learning informally and across boundaries. Teams are finding their own learning. Peer groups are using whatever tools available to them to share and challenge each other and let’s face it people are voting with their feet if their work isn’t giving them an opportunity to learn.

A great example from the organisation I work in just last week – we’ve employed 20 new apprentices and before we could get them together to ensure to help them start supporting each other and sharing they’ve already formed a private group on a social network and are communicating with each other. Way ahead of us!

As much as technology is disrupting organisations (and the rest of the world) I can’t help thinking that what we were discussing was not the democratisation of learning but actually the democratisation of learning investment – two very different subjects. I can’t help reflecting that those in our organisations who really want to learn and drive their own careers won’t wait for ‘the machine’ to catch up with them they’ll just get on and find ways to do it whilst the rest of us are writing slide packs to reassure the FD that investing in our people is the right thing to do.



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