Critical Thinking - Symposium Learning

May 18, 2022

Reading Time: 2 minutes

In the past months I designed multiple bespoke training programmes dedicated to the role of the Manager in this new brave world of distributed teams.

I have 2 key considerations stemming from the experience

  1. Management training programmes created to primarily fit organisational ambitions tend to receive fewer positive reviews
  2. Managers want a Tool Kit –a short cut on how to use the techniques described on LinkedIn, HBR and other sources readily available.

Usually I am engaged by Lead HR business partners: after the first few conversations I design the programme and get approval by senior management. Once the programme content is generated and the training is rolled out.

Most of my trainings begin with a contracting exercise: as an workplace educator I need to secure that the expectations of the attendees match the content.

Over 80% of the answers to “What you want from this training?” begin with “How to” followed by action words like “prevent, ensure, facilitate.” Managers are asking for bullet pointed actions that can be applied in very specific situations. I often refer to it as requiring “a recipe book” with ingredients and sequential order of action.

Common topics listed by Managers when discussing Hybrid/Distributed/Flexible Teams

  • Practical skills
  • How to use time on site/off site
  • How to foster collaboration
  • How to integrate new staff

Managers are interested on how to convince people to return to the workplace, less how to foster the new culture of hybrid workplace. Managers are struggling in supporting remotely new colleagues and may not find clarification in models of asynchronous communication.

Managers can read the blogpost by Daniel Goleman independently with their morning coffee – but they want to know how Empathy actually manifest itself in a disciplinary meeting over Zoom.

When a learning facilitator becomes too normative however, the manager risks to apply any of the shared tricks out of context and generate resistance rather than results.

The challenge as a content creator is to provide an array of novel examples and techniques that a manager can use and that also fit with the organisation’s ambition of enhancing skills and promoting critical thinking.

I suggest to organisation to run focused Training Need Analysis that detect these demands before the audience joins the Training. Collecting employees’ insight is always a challenge and organisations might need to engage in multiple training analysis– however, it is a wise investment.

Action based learning objectives are best achieved via internal coaching and mentoring or during workshop focusing on experiential role-play. Breakout rooms or small focus group discussion tend to be insufficient to provide hands on knowledge. It is crucial for the learner to know where these insight can be gained.

To bridge the challenge, I ask all attendees to prepare by completing a 10 mins of reflecting journaling and to answers 2 questions

  1. What do you know already about the topic?
  2. What problems are you trying to solve?

The managers who engage gain confidence when their knowledge is validated (they read the same research!) and can present to the trainer real life scenario to be used as foundations for the “how to” guidance needed – generating solutions while engaging with critical thinking content.

March 30, 2021

Reading Time: 3 minutes

Interaction with specialist trainer gives the highest level of assurance that the training courses selected address the real learning needs of managers. While e-learning makes vast and high-quality content easily accessible, blended learning offers calibration by expanding and clarifying on leadership needs.

What is Blended Learning

Blended learning can be generically defined as a structured learning interaction between learners, subject contents and a learning facilitator. 

Technology-mediated education includes synchronous learning, when students and instructors have a real-time interaction as well as asynchronous learning, when the learner has independent and autonomous access to subject matter content from digital resources like videos, case studies as well as the traditional text books. 

Blended Learning and E-Learning

Independent access to digital content is often simplified by the term e- learning. E-learning makes vast and high-quality content easily available to learners by removing obstacles of time and place. Thanks to is affordability it has been used extensive for workplace learning: from tactical skillsets like Data Analytics to more complex subjects such as leadership and motivation.

The advantage of e-learning is the variety and quality of method of delivery of content when compared to traditional text books. Webinars and videos tutorials are engaging and are powerful resources, often of brief length, that focus on specific aspect of the programmes helping the learner’s understanding. Gamification allows a learner to interact independently with the content, to experiment and it dynamically supports the prerequisite of repetition as a learning tool. Both video and gamification provide the learner with instruments to experience knowledge progression and reward systems which support engagement with the subject matter. 

The disadvantage of e-learning is the one-sidedness of the experience. As e-learning that does not include real time interaction with the author, e-leaning offers extremely limited opportunity to relate the content with the specific supervisor’s learning needs. Most digital content is generic and not necessarily beneficial to the leader’s progression.

Assurance that the training courses address the real learning needs is best achieved via interaction with a specialist trainer. Most subjects require contextualisation and specifically for leadership and management trainings this is grounded in a two-way process of communication. The facilitator has the ability to calibrate the content by expanding, simplifying, paraphrasing, reducing and clarifying key learning points by anticipating the learning needs based on observation and interaction. When a learner has direct contact with an expert trainer opportunity of deep learning, which translates in behavioural change, can occur.

Organisations therefore must provide hybrid learning educational plans and give to the learners the opportunity to access high quality and quantity of content via e-learning as well as to benefit from interaction with subject matters experts. 

Blended learning programmes combine effectively and seamlessly expert know-how with e-learning content and gamification programs.  

How to Create a Blended Learning Plan

To build appropriate blended learning plans, an organisation can

  1. Invest in an e-learning library for all managers and encourage completion of programmes 
  2. Engage specialised trainers to supervise the creation of the library and selection of the content.
  3. Invest in building case studies repositories personalised to the specific industry and size of the organisation
  4. Encourage leaders exchange of feedback on e-learning programmes offered.
  5. Create opportunity for practice with support by expert trainer in application of the knowledge 
  6. Offer Virtual and/or In Person real time sessions with expert trainers to expand on specific subjects 
  7. Recommend Mentoring Programmes with experts in the leadership subject matters 
  8. Assess regularly effectiveness by appraising key business performances and employee engagement.

The leaner supervisor will access high quantity of content and diversity of points of view while being guided in self-reflection by experts. Trainers encourage motivation to progress further in the learning journey and identify specific learning blockages in a timely manner.

Leadership and Performance Management rely on the enhancement of specific skills which cannot be fully explored via e-learning resources. Organisations must pay sufficient attention to how key competencies such as Emotional Intelligence, Change Management and Diversity are acquired and ensure that contextualisation is made available. 

March 2, 2021

Reading Time: 3 minutes

Are we discussing sufficiently about the personal biases we bring to the workplace? The limited reaction to the resignation of KPMG chairman 2 weeks ago seems to suggest we actually don’t.
Bias is non-useful knowledge that we carry in the workplace. Learning how to break the link is a crucial first step to allow for new behaviours to occur.

I was expecting hundreds of posts in the past 15 days covering the leaked statement by KPMG UK Chairman about the ineffectiveness of unconscious bias training.
Instead, I was welcomed by a surprising silence.

The #unconsciousbias and # bias Google Searches give little fresh results, and so did searchers on LinkedIn and Twitter posts.

According to the HBR article in 2019 “(..) research also shows that bias prevention programs rarely deliver. And some companies don’t invest in them at all.” Article from Mail Online talks about how unconscious bias might make things worse; article form the Telegraphs reports that also the English Civil Service has stopped receiving trainings on this topic.

Plenty of debates, training and programmes are offered on inclusion, diversity equality and equity. Actions and strategies to support a diverse workforce, recruitment practices and promotion are published. As a modern workforce we seem to have clear the strategy that by simply adding perspective and diversity we can create innovation.

However, do we really understand perspective without the concept of bias? Are we focusing our efforts on how to be inclusive leaving out the why we seek exclusion?

Bias is a powerful decision-making tool that our evolution has fine-tuned to provide immediate and tangible results. Bias is knowledge – knowledge that we have acquired as we matured from childhood into adults. It is the knowledge we have attained without reflecting on its accuracy by implicitly trusting the source. Bias is what our parents believed the world to be and this includes social and economic class, religion choices, cultural interests.

Our cultural zeitgeist informs our bias.

Unconscious bias is cumulative unrevised knowledge – knowledge for which we no longer trace back the ultimate source.

The fact that they are unaware or disinterred on how we have come to a decision is framed as unconscious – even if the real term that best describes it is covert or unabridged.

Unconscious Bias Trainings are revisions of choices and actions in the workplace – like CV selection – that aim to bring to attention how some of our choices stem can from our biased. The trainings aim to show how this bias replaces our free choices – age stereotyping for specific job roles.

To provide employees with learning opportunities on how past knowledge influences decisions at work and, subsequentially, with information on how to move past them is an important step to accomplish.

Why then Mr. Michaels and other Senior managers believe that such learning opportunities are ineffective?

It can be argued that a shared learning experience that exposes prejudice is not the most favourable way as we would naturally feel embarrassed. By not engaging with the discovery openly the opportunity for learning (and change) is missed.

Some trainings bring forward prejudices that impact our choices outside the work place. Values and morality impact the private self – only practical workplace examples should be given of when bias happen.

A key challenge for organisations is to support employees and managers to more forward and make decisions in “unbiased” as well as effective and timely manners. It is not enough to recognise once preference when delegating which might be based on a pre-conceived notion of skills and aptitudes. It is also necessary to know what else can be used to make choices and take action. If bias is an implicit error of judgement and my decisions lack equilibrium – we then need to learn what equilibrium is.

From what I read I understand that Bill Michael’s resignations from KPMG is linked to a series of comments made in the course of the same company meeting, not only to those referred to Unconscious Bias Training.

FT reports his words to be “There is no such thing as unconscious bias (…) because after every single unconscious bias training that has ever been done, nothing’s ever improved. So unless you care, you actually won’t change (…)

And there is some truth in that caring to change is a key component of all form of learning and the understanding that bias is personal and that common workplace do not strive if the workforce is extremely homogenous and sharing the same values.

The key of unconscious training is to bring to the individual attention the link there is between one’s own values and bias in the workplace.

Once the unplanned link and broken further earning on empathy, decision-making will sustain the will to change and stamp out the fear that naturally comes when realising that not all the knowledge we have acquired is actually useful.

To progress your self – education

January 30, 2021

Reading Time: 3 minutes

A selected a Question & Answer featured in a leading magazine and myattempt to provide constructive answers. 

The objective of Q&A? To build a dynamic relation between speakers & audience.

What is the biggest challenge you’ve faced in your career?

Answering the question in the time of the Covid-19 pandemic one feels compelled to answer isolation. However, like many others, I do find a sense of purpose in this time of physical distance. The biggest challenge I’ve faced as a people manager was the opening and closing of calls centres in Europe. Closing a centre in Dublin while transferring operations to a newly created centre in Romania was very demanding: to guide a team and give it  a sense of purpose, while making oneself redundant, took a lot of effort and empathy.  I then had to do the same 3 more times. Each time I had to renew my sense of professional drive and find more than financial benefit for the organisation as a motivator

What’s the best career advice you’ve ever received?

I feel I have never really received clear and direct career advice – plenty of interesting encounters that have directly, or indirectly, made an impact. I became a Trainer thanks to one of those: as I was looking for the next adventure, the Call Centre manager suggested a course in Train the Trainer. I completed a 3- day course at Jefferson Institute in Donnybrook, back in 1999. It completely changed me: I had found my vocation.

And the worst?

The worst episode relates to my professional dress code: just weeks after I began my journey as a freelance trainer, I attended an event in Bank of Ireland and I stood close to the buffet table. I wore a white shirt and a pair of black trousers – a quite distinctive professional uniform, I though. While there I was asked for coffee: milk no sugar! I answered “I take it just black” and the unfortunate attendee was immediately aware of the mistaken identity and apologised. Since then I  no longer wear white shirts!  and I am confident that his networking skills have greatly improved.

Who do you most admire?

Teachers and university professors. The responsibility they carry is enormous. Knowledge is very powerful and, when mis-used, it can be very damaging – even more than ignorance. Teachers and professors are seen as the foundation of what we believe to be true. Things that we learn in early education will remain with us forever. To hold such a role in somebody’s life is admirable.

Who or what has been the biggest influence on your career?

Might sound a naïve answer, but I must answer: my father. His work ethics and etiquette still guide me today. Those include the simple motto “be on time and do your best.” And when it is time to go home, get changed and go. Very simple but very effective. This helps me today to be present when at work and present when at home. Clear and simple boundaries essential when working freelance.

What practical things do you do to help your personal development?

I attend course every year. Would it be a diploma or a certificate.  My husband says I like my “gold stars” and that I collect them. But as an educator, I believe that to be able to actively learn something new is the best personal development I can engage in. Learn directly how new tools are used and how those effect the learning, how group dynamic in a course can develop. To be a good educator I must allow others to educate me.

What location do you return to for a sense of calm and time out?

The physical location is the library room in my home, in North Dublin. We have space for music, writing, game boards and a beautiful window over a park. We see trees and a lot of sky. My mental location  a view over water. Glendalough, Shannon River or SeaPoint – near the James Joyce tower. Very important mental image in this time of travelling restrictions.

What’s your biggest flaw?

I am relentless. A dear friend of mine once told me that I will never know how to feel content, as I profess that there is always room for improvement.

What aspect of yourself or your behaviour do you privately admire?

Courage – I am a very courageous person. Many aspects of my life have been scary and, even though I felt frightened and nervous, courage and willingness to move forward have helped me to overcome obstacles. This “trained” courage is now integral part of my being.

How about an unfulfilled goal you don’t tell anyone about?

Learning to play the piano. My husband many years ago bought me a keyboard and now it is used by my daughters for their junior piano lessons. I still believe that one day I will learn how to play music and allow myself to express emotions and ideas without letters but my sound.

What are you most proud of in your life?

My knowledge. It is something I actively and constantly work on and it is enough to see the two bookshelves I have in my home to understand how proud I am of what I “know”. I hope I will be remembered as a polymath.

Inspired by “Life Lessons” Irish Times Magazine, Spring 2020