Thursday, November 09, 2017

Monday, July 03, 2017

"Social Technologies in Business"

Know what happens when a bunch of your friends get together and assemble the best compilation ever of thinking in the social-social media-collaborative learning-knowledge management-narrating work realms? This book.

My interest in social learning and working out loud grew from my own wonderful experience as a participant in a vibrant community of practice. We mentored one another, shared what we learned, and even took turns demonstrating new ideas and skills in order to get feedback about how to make them better. We found ways of circumventing silos and transferring tacit knowledge, problems our employing organizations had struggled with for years. The burning question remains: How do we help all workers, and their organizations, reap the benefits of such sharing and support?

De Clercq and her team come at this with multiple perspectives and real-world experience. Those needing an introduction or a good amalgamation will find it here, in clear, concise writing organized in easily-digestible bits. Social Technologies in Business offers something for everyone: answers to objections, ideas for getting started, a review of tools, methods for implementation, case studies with “stealable” concepts.  I especially appreciate the realistic view: there’s honest discussion about barriers and failure factors, warnings about things not to do, and the reality of endeavoring to engage in enterprise-wide anything. This is an excellent resource for those hoping to influence and maybe even help transform their organizations. And the host of contributing voices, including Simon Terry,  Paul Miller, and Mathias Vermeulen, is credible.  De Clercq holds a special place in my heart for sharing my own opposition to Digital Detox. (Well, that, and the fact that she has publicly referred to me as “the Pippi Longstocking of L&D”, as there is no greater compliment.)

Some key takeaways?
-Don’t blame technology
-Have a strategy
-Being social is a mindset, not a tool
-Don’t start by fighting
-Less is more: As Charles Jennings has noted, the point is to extract learning from work, not impose more work

Beautifully designed and eminently readable, Social Technologies in Business is a winner for those seeking to understand and implement use of social tools and approaches in their practice and their workplaces. 

Monday, May 15, 2017

Designing for Learner Success: First, Do No Harm

eLearning designers and developers spend a lot of time on assessments, particularly things like quizzes and knowledge checks and tests. It’s easy to fall into blame-the-learner mode when they don’t do well: I often hear everything from “they aren’t paying attention” and “they allow distractions like email and phones” to “no one reads anything.” But sometimes, easily fixed design issues are the culprits. Some things to look at are overload and extraneous information, the dreaded "wall of words", wrong information (yes, really), and the one-size-fits-all approach. See this month's Learning Solutions column for details. 

Monday, March 06, 2017

Maker Party! Show Your Work

so this happened the night of March 4. We were looking for a way to bring our more interesting friends together so hit on this:   
                Kent & Kelly: Birthday Twins!
A party with a twist: Makers only! We’re inviting friends who create: tie-dyers, artists, writers, musicians, welders, woodworkers, those who have started businesses. People with a passion or interest they have put into practice. 

             PLEASE bring something for show and tell (and to sell, if you like). Just bring some samples of your work, or something to perform, and tell us something about it: why it's a passion, how you do it, what you wish others knew about it, how you learned it, whatever. Nothing formal. 

       Speaking of Making: This will be a GRILLED CHEESE EXTRAVAGANZA with a make-your-own bar to exceed your wildest dreams. Come hungry! 
I've done a lot with ideas around working out loud over the years and if there’s one thing I’ve learned it’s that people love to talk about their work. Not their jobs, necessarily, but their work. But “What do you do?” is not a good question. Better? “Tell us about something you love about your work, or a hobby to which you’ve devoted a lot of time and energy:  How do you do what you do? How did you learn to do it? What was the biggest obstacle?” 
Everyone had a different approach to what they wanted to share.

Process: “It puts me in a flow state.” We had a wonderful opening 10-minute-ish presentation from a friend whose tie dye hobby has turned into a cottage business. Supplementing her talk with samples, she gave us a fascinating look at her process, from creating new designs to blending colors to a new interest in the ice dying technique that produces gorgeous watercolor-esque effects.   

Interest: It’s a response to an industry problem. Wendy Gates Corbett talked more about her impetus and outcomes.  In response to so much bad PowerPoint in our business (L&D) she started Refresher Training LLC. Wendy takes slide decks and other training resources and reworks them into more engaging, effective materials. Check her site for great before-and-after examples. 

Go where the questions are; be open to showing the work people want to see: My Gang of Ukes bandmate Mitchell kindly came to sing with me but had a couple other things to offer. After years of working for other people he quit his job last week and on Saturday opened Performance Print Services, a digital printing company here in Durham NC. It was fun to hear about someone launching a lifelong dream, but the group kept getting sidetracked with questions about a gift Mitchell brought: A dozen beautiful eggs from his girlfriend’s brood of chickens. People had lots of questions for him. My 2 takeaways: Chickens that lay colored eggs lay the same color all their lives. And newly laid, unwashed eggs are coated with “bloom” that keeps them fresh without refrigeration.

Life Shift Drives Work. Sterling Fulton talked about the career path that led her to write her values-based life planning guide; she’s also behind the new site and events for Love in Action, designed to help overcome "isms". Her partner Dana Wallace Gower is also an author specializing in a faith-based view of career management. 

Lifelong Learning Path. Artist Michael Snipes (right) shared his learning path, including bartering work product for painting lessons, while Cipher Art’s Kelly Johnston talked more about process and how she works with collages to build a narrative. One thing she had to work through: a confidence problem fed by her lack of formal training.  

Her samples (below) included some work with her artistic collaborator, graphic artist Sarah Beard.  
Sarah works full-time as a packaging designer but in her spare time does a bit of other work as Cornbread Creative – lately a t-shirt-a-day project, with proceeds going to different causes -- as well as some work with Kelly.  We also heard from a friend who does gorgeous woodworking, another who discussed her interest in modern culture and political activism, and another who manages a local brewpub.   
Among the takeaways here: the local community college has resources available to artists and hobbyists, including wood lathes and glass blowing and pottery kilns.

Another takeaway: Of the people who offer online resources and samples, there was far more use of Facebook and Instagram than traditional websites.

Bunny Ears.  The evening closed with a friend’s child, Grace (age "five and two-thirds"),  who “plans on building a home for homeless people and needs to learn how to get money to help people.” She asked if she might share something with the group and showed us what she learned that day: How to tie her shoes. (Photo below by Sarah Beard.)  Then everyone had birthday cake and ice cream while Mitchell and I played “I Wanna Be Sedated” and “The Time Warp” on our ukuleles. 

The Makers party went even better than I’d hoped.  Talk was lively and happy; those who brought items for sale ended up as often as not bartering for an item with someone else. Many people found additional areas for connection or people with similar values or political interests. It turned out Kristi’s political activism dovetailed with things Sterling is working on. Sarah’s mom once raised the same kind of chickens as Mitchell’s girlfriend. Wendy and Sterling already knew each other, which I didn’t know. Sarah and Kelly had once met Linda and Heath, and their dog Dottie, at the pub Ari runs. 

I’d organized the party as a Facebook Event, which provides a separate Facebook page with space for guests to post and comment, and people are still talking about the party and to each other today. I didn’t really do a formal presentation about my work but reiterated what I said above: People love to talk about their work, and being enthusiastic and excited to show it off is interesting to others, too. Give people time and space for it, let them choose aspects they want to discuss, and ask questions besides, “So where do you work?”

We had a great night and if the idea appeals to you I’d say go for it. Some advice? 

  • Party-wise this was excellent. People were at ease, there was a lot of non-awkward non-forced conversation, and some did a bit of business or made good connections. Many found other shared areas of interest or other links.
  • It wasn’t really planned this way but 10 short (5 to 10 minute) presentations, with a dinner break, was just about enough, and took us from 6 pm to 11ish.   So I'd say don't go bigger than 10 couples. 
  • Mix it up! Don't just choose people from your own line of work. Bringing in people with eclectic interests helps everyone expand their surface area. 
  •  Everything is better with grilled cheese.  And a corgi.

Grace & Mitchell: 

Tuesday, August 09, 2016

What Does Social Learning Look Like? Pokémon GO

This month's "Nuts & Bolts" column examines social learning as it happens naturally, organically, as people go about their day:
It’s not about ‘doing social.’ It’s about supporting workers as they work by giving them the time and the right space to talk about it. It’s about listening. And it’s about using social tools to support conversations and performance already in progress.
upporting workers as they work by giving them the time and the right space to talk about it. It’s about listening. And it’s about uScenario A: An international company rolls out a new product. The trainers are thrilled with it and, despite some technical glitches, eagerly hop on to learn more about it. There isn’t much user support, so understanding more about specifics of the product proves to be a collaborative proposition. Trainers working with the product run into each other and talk, sometimes teaming up to work together.
The company hasn’t provided any collaboration tools, so the trainers across locations begin talking in places like Facebook groups, Google communities, and Reddit. They share tips via text posts as well as screenshots, audio commentary, and video clips. A few create video tutorials about product features or shortcuts.
Something like a community of practice—in which people work together to get better with the product—develops, showing hallmarks like a common vocabulary, accountability to the effort and each other, and in-jokes. There’s fun and energy around conversations. Master trainers emerge: Some commenters try to game the system but are mostly shut down by the other trainers. Some post wrong information, but it’s caught and corrected. The company keeps an eye on the activity and announces it will make adjustments to the product based on feedback gleaned from the community.
Scenario B: An international company rolls out a new product. The trainers are thrilled with it and, despite some technical glitches, eagerly hop on to learn more about it. The company sets up an internal social platform that allows for text posts and photo attachments.
Trainers are assigned to “communities”—separate discussion areas—based on their geographic location. The initial post on all forums is a disclaimer from HR advising trainers of guidelines for participating in discussions and reminding them of company communication policies. Each forum has a designated manager who facilitates conversation by supporting, redirecting, and if necessary deleting comments.
Few people participate, and when they do they’re usually just posting a hint or two, complaining about a problem, or asking for help. Responses are sporadic, and back-and-forth conversation is minimal. People report glitches and offer ideas for improving the product, but the developers are not members of the communities, so the feedback never reaches them.
Scenario B describes most failed initiatives at companies attempting to “do” social.
Scenario A is … Pokémon Go.*

You can access the rest of this article at Learning Solutions Magazine .

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Transforming Classroom to Online: What's the Reality?

“When you’re looking at ‘converting’ classroom training to an online format, try to actually get to the classroom event. Get clear on what really goes on there, as opposed to what you might hear in a meeting or via document review. Talk to the trainers or facilitators who run classroom events, and ask them about any tricks or special adaptations they might employ. Then work on ways to bring the richness—and maybe even fun—to the worker’s online experience.”
Though I rarely do traditional classroom work now, I’m still around it all the time, as it’s what my co-workers do all day, every day. Our halls are full of people here to attend classes. I hear them before sessions and during breaks, talking to one another or on phones calling home or back to the office. Often they are enjoying the class they’re in. And often they complain that the sessions are good, but not quite realistic, or not always relevant to their needs. In the classroom, a good trainer can adjust on the fly, a luxury not available to the eLearning designer. This month's column explores some common issues and ideas for overcoming them.

What's Happening in the Classroom? 
When we're in the classroom this is how we work on customer service skills for van drivers.  Can you guess why? What happens in the classroom is sometimes worth knowing. 

Compared to other service providers, a van driver’s situation is unique in a few ways:
  • The driver always has his or her back to the customer
  • The driver makes eye contact through quick glances in a mirror
  • If there’s a problem, the driver has to get the van off the road, to a safe spot, and notify a dispatcher about the issue
Want more? You can access the full article at: 

Monday, June 27, 2016

Temple Grandin Keynoting Training 2017: San Diego, January 30

I speak at many conferences and over the years have been lucky to see -- and often meet-- some remarkable presenters. I am thrilled  that Training Magazine has booked Temple Grandin to keynote Training 2017.

Wikipedia: "... an autistic American professor of animal science at Colorado State University, world-renowned autism spokesperson and consultant to the livestock industry on animal behavior. She is widely celebrated as one of the first individuals on the autism spectrum to publicly share insights from her personal experience of autism. She is also the inventor of the "hug box", a device to calm those on the autism spectrum. In the 2010 Time 100, an annual list of the one hundred most influential people in the world, she was named in the "Heroes" category."

From the online conference brochure: 

Dr. Temple Grandin is a professor of animal science at Colorado State University. Her achievements are remarkable given at age two she had all the signs of severe autism. Many hours of therapy, and intensive teaching enabled Temple to speak. Mentoring by her high school science teacher and her aunt motivated her to study and pursue a career as a scientist and livestock equipment designer.

She obtained her B.A. at Franklin Pierce College and has received honorary doctorates from McGill University, University of Illinois, Texas A&M, Carnegie Mellon University, and Duke University.

She has published hundreds of technical articles, and 12 books including "Thinking in Pictures", "The Way I See It", and "The Autistic Brain".

HBO has made a movie about her life starring Claire Danes. The movie received seven Emmy awards, a Golden Globe, and a Peabody Award.

In 2011, Temple was inducted into the Cowgirl Hall of Fame.

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Positive Deviance in L&D

A follower who'd attended my "Tips for the Positive Deviant" webinar asked on her Facebook page how ideas around Positive Deviance (PD) might be applied specifically to L&D. I answered in this month's Nuts & Bolts column
“In every group there is a minority of people who find better solutions to the challenges at hand. … Even though they have access to exactly the same resources as the rest of the group, their uncommon practices or behaviors allow them to flourish.”—Jerry Sternin
While “positive deviance” is a fun, alluring term, it’s not about just breaking rules. The “deviance” must have a positive outcome. It’s not quite just innovation or creative thinking, though those can certainly be part of it. It’s not just a random act of kindness, like paying for the coffee of the next customer in line. It’s more about deploying uncommon but successful behaviors or strategies to achieve some better result.
While there are individual positive deviants who work alone, a key factor is working with the community to surface, spread, and sustain solutions rather than try to force outside-in answers—as is so often the case with training. … Leveraging social tools and workplace communities, and encouraging people to show their work, can help to surface and spread solutions and to sustain application of new learning to the workplace.
In 1990, Jerry Sternin, director of Save the Children in Vietnam, was tasked with finding a sustainable solution for overcoming the problem of child malnutrition. At the time, 65 percent of the children under age five in Vietnamese villages were malnourished. Prior attempts to implement solutions—such as supplemental feeding programs—did not succeed for long. Along with his wife, Monique, Jerry looked at a question that researchers were working on at Tufts: “Why, with all resources being equal, are some children in a community not malnourished?” Working in four communities, the Sternins turned to the members of poor villages who seemed to overcome the malnutrition problem and have healthier children. There emerged a group of positive deviants, the families who, despite identical resources, were able to achieve better outcomes through doing things others did not. It turned out those families were giving more frequent meals than was the custom, and were feeding items—such as brine shrimp and crab—considered inappropriate for young children.

It isn’t about imposing solutions, but helping the community surface the solution it already has

You know the drill: Organization has a problem. Organization brings in “experts” to study the problem, devise a solution, run a pilot (which may mean a training program), and then leave. Organization members quickly revert back to old behaviors.
The solution in Vietnam was sustained precisely because the solution was not just imposed on the villagers. The Sternins didn’t go around lecturing about feeding more frequent meals and unusual foods. They leveraged the help of community members—the mothers of the healthier children—in working directly with other families to spread the different practices. Ultimately, the initiative cut childhood malnutrition by two-thirds because the families sustained the change.

A quick start? Flip the question

As you saw with the Sternins, a key behavior of positive deviants is their ability to reframe the question. Instead of asking, “Why are so many children malnourished?,” they asked: “Why are these other children not malnourished?”
Other examples:
  • Not “How can we stop distracted driving?” but “How can we make cars safer?” Even inexpensive new cars have sensors that prevent following too closely and that offer help with staying in lanes.
  • Not “How can we get money?” but “What can we do with no money?”
  • Not “How can we force people to finish courses?” but “How can we make the courses more interesting and worthwhile?”
Years ago, I was working with a hospital for adults with developmental disabilities, where I supervised the staff who taught emergency response courses. All workers were required to be regularly recertified in standard first aid, and we had a terrible time getting this done. In most instances, the ever-present nursing staff handled emergencies, so other staff did not perceive recertification as a high priority. Getting people to class involved a lot of foot-dragging, endless floor-coverage issues, last-minute cancellations, and even threats. One of my staff suggested that we start adding on infant and child CPR at the end of the training day. It didn’t cost us anything, as we already had staff and equipment to do it, and by trimming down breaks we didn’t extend the day by much. It solved our attendance problem overnight, as the training was suddenly seen as more valuable to the parents and grandparents who constituted a huge proportion of our audience.
The related field of appreciative inquiry offers similar flip-the-question approaches but is more specific, asking us to look for and build on the positive case or “outlier.” Is there someone in the community already exhibiting the desired behavior? What is enabling them to outperform? What resources are they tapping into that others are not?
  • Not “Why are staph infections so high in the hospital?” but “Why are staph infections lower on the third floor?”
  • Not “Why are sales down in Regions 6 and 9?” but “Why are sales up in Region 4?”
  • Not “Why do so few graduates of our leadership academy get promoted?” but “Why did these seven graduates get promoted?”
  • Why is the accident rate lower in _______? Why is the turnover rate lower in ______? Why are there fewer ethics complaints about ______ division?
For more on key characteristics of positive deviants, and ideas for applying PD principles to L&D, see this month's Nuts and Bolts column in Learning Solutions Magazine. 

Friday, April 15, 2016

Webinars? About That Whiteboard...

From this month's Nuts & Bolts column:

I’ve been working in virtual classrooms since 2003, back when I first met Insync Training’s Jennifer Hofmann, who pretty much invented using virtual meeting software to support instruction. My job involves a workforce with many issues: geography, availability/coverage, and work shifts. These are frequently compounded by a lack of travel funds for moving people or instructors around for face-to-face training events. I saw so much potential for the technology then that I shifted nearly all my live instruction work to the virtual classroom.
Of course, it didn’t take long for the technology to be leveraged for the worst possible applications: One thousand people enrolled in the name of “efficiency,” with presenters only pushing slides while disabling collaboration tools like whiteboard annotation, participant text chat, and breakout rooms. As with the struggle to differentiate “presentation” from “training,” I tried to distinguish better use of—and my approach to—virtual classroom-based instruction with language like “live online session.” Let’s face it: There’s nothing positive about the word “webinar.”
Over the years I’ve developed or picked up a lot of little tricks for making the environment more collaborative and engaging and thought I’d share some of what I learned. This month I’ll talk a bit about using the whiteboard as a working space instead of just a screen for displaying slides.

You can read the complete article here

Tuesday, March 01, 2016

Read Up!

I thought I knew a lot about my field—I’d been there a decade, after all, and was a voracious reader of trade journals and business books (back then it was EQ and the tail end of the TQM movement) and a member of a very active community of practice (CoP) for trainers. But grad school, in what I recall as often exhilarating moments, also introduced me to a whole world of academic writing I didn’t know existed. There were studies that shed light on my unease with popular things like personality type-assessments. There was a whole body of literature that explained my sense of breathing better air when at a CoP gathering. There were research-based explanations from Richard Mayer that helped me articulate—finally—why we didn’t want to narrate every word in every online learning program. There were entire books on evaluating training programs and initiatives—like those beloved and institutionalized by my then-employer without any real rationale—and not just single classes. While I’m not interested in arguing about whether people need to get degrees to work effectively, I would argue that a practitioner can benefit from learning more about the academic work in their chosen field.

To start?

I spend a lot of time in online conversations, most often on Twitter, and I love that this puts me in the path of other, often newer, practitioners. I’m still surprised when they are surprised to hear that there is, for instance, a pile of empirical studies on the topic of “learning styles” or extensive academic, research-based discussion of the role and value (or not) of a community “lurker.” So in the spirit of “Nuts and Bolts,” here are some ideas for exploration:

This is an excerpt from an article that appeared in Learning Solutions Magazine.
You can read the rest here

Friday, February 26, 2016

What Did You Learn Today?

I've written quite a bit over the past few years about a certain disconnect we have with our learners. We tend to think about "Learning" with a capital "L", as some rather abstracted high-minded pursuit, a lifelong systematic interconnected journey of brain enrichment. (Heck, I have a doctorate in that. Don't get me started.) But the rest of the world thinks about "learning" as "solving a problem" or "getting an answer" or "figuring it out" or "looking it up". And really, even those of us in the business are bad for not always paying attention to our own learning -- we handle an issue or task and then move on to the next thing.  

So: Lots of credit to #lrnchat founder Marcia Conner and her team, who years ago set the question "What did you learn today?" as the opener for every #lrnchat. It's a nice little warmup conversation starter sort of thing, meant to be answered in just 140 characters. I especially love that it helps, in a rapid-fire chat that as often as not includes new people or people who otherwise aren't very tightly connected, give just a bit of insight into the human behind the Twitter account: what interests them, what energizes them, what they struggle with. Also what expertise or specialty they might have.  And whether they're funny. Or exasperated.

Answering "What did you learn today?"  can also serve as a great, quick way to show your work/work out loud.  My own organization had great success with this some years back when I convinced then-management to change a line item on our weekly reports from "Research" to "What did you learn this week?" Not only were people working out loud a bit more, but the question helped teach them to reflect on their own learning and to better recognize it when it happened.

Here are some answers from the February 25 #lrnchat

Answering "What did you learn today?" can help generate conversation and connection (the fun "baby goats" comment got a lot of attention). I do a workshop on "music and learning" so was interested in what Tricia was saying. And "What did you learn today?" can help you tie conversations together or help people find additional resources: as I told Kim Maston, the March 17 scheduled #lrnchat topic is "resilience" so that might be of special interest to him. It can also point to an organizational problem, or an issue in the industry, or maybe something with which many others will empathize: 

Answering "What did you learn today?" has been valuable for me, personally, too: I'm a #lrnchat moderator and try to participate every week. I know the question is coming. Still, I sometimes struggle to answer it. While I'm sure I must have learned something new-- even if just some factoid from reading -- I have found that can get lost in the clutter of a busy day, Knowing the question is coming forces me to think back over the past few days, and I can always find something-- something-- to say in answer.  Answering the question helps to sharpen the saw. (Interested in reflective practice in general? See this article from a couple years back.)

We've recently started including the wrap-up question, "What did you learn tonight?" or "What will you do differently as a result of this #lrnchat?" (or some variation on that theme) to encourage our community to think intentionally about their learning and growth. As one of the other #lrnchat moderators, Jeannette Campos, says, "This can make learning less accidental. It's also a signal of commitment; we're sharing our plans and intentions with a group.  This is the power of learning with and through a community. Because if we aren't learning, what's the point?" 

So: Come to #lrnchat (Thursdays 8:30 pm ET, 5:30 pm PT, Friday 12:30 pm AEDT) and tell us what you learned that day. Or put the question on a post-it stuck to your office light switch and ask yourself as you leave at the end of the day. Or include the answer  in whatever TPS-reportish document you submit. Just take a minute to answer it. You might find it energizing, or challenging, or funny, or at least satisfying in an I-did-that kind of way. Do whatever you can to build a bit of reflection into your practice and workday regardless of what kind of work you do. Among other things, it will help build mindfulness and awareness of your learning.

By the way: They're all good and it's not a contest, but my favorite answer lately to "What did you learn today?" came from my fellow #lrnchat moderator Kelly Smith:

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

"Show Your Work": The Kazoomaker (#wolweek)

... so I belong to a ukulele band, The Gang of Ukes, and am often called on to double on kazoo. 

While I have a bunch of metal and plastic kazoos, including the extra-loud Kazoobie Wazoogle and the trumpet (the keys move! They don't change the sound, but they move!), 

I thought it was time to buy a "real" one, with better tone and more control. Kazoos are folk instruments and there are still a few craftspeople around who make them from wood, from scratch. Thanks to Google and Facebook I found "Doc" Kazoo, proprietor of the Great Aswego Ukulele Factory .  After a few emails back and forth (I wanted something for a lanyard or pocket, not a harmonica holder), I chose the model I wanted and placed my order for a custom kazoo, which per notes on the website I assumed would take awhile to make. That was at 7 am on Monday, November 8.

By lunchtime Doc had my new kazoo roughed in. 

at 6 pm he had the kazoo smoothed and started waxing (it protects the inside from moisture): 

A few minutes later, at the end of his day, he posted a photo of my mostly-finished kazoo:

...and showed off his day's work: Mine wasn't his only project. 

I was surprised by Doc's alacrity and loved all the unexpected personal attention and frequent updates. I also loved watching the process and seeing how Doc spent his day. In talking about Show Your Work I often ask audiences how working out loud benefits organizations, individuals. I never thought to ask how it benefits the customer, in this case by showing the time and care that a craftsman puts into even a simple product. 

My new kazoo arrived on Saturday, November 14 and I'm very pleased with the tone, volume, and better control it has compareed to toy models. I'm headed to Toronto today to speak at the Institute for Performance and Learning Conference and am wondering if it's the sort of thing I want to have to explain to the Immigration guards. Perhaps I'll just pack a plastic one. 

Want to know more? See Doc's YouTube channel for factory tours, listening samples, and kazoo model comparisons.

And finally, in the event you've never seen a real kazoomaster at work, check out this video from Rhiannon Giddens and the Carolina Chocolate Drops: 

Words to live by: "You can be clueless, but don't be kazooless." ~ Doc Kazoo

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Everything I Know About HR I Learned From My Corgi

Ok, I am not necessarily equating animal and human behavior. Except sort of. 

Tongue mostly in cheek here.


I have a corgi who’s one of the smartest dogs I ever met.  Earlier this year I had a serendipitous meeting with a fellow who owns a small farm, which he uses as a dog training facility. His specialty is herding: he provides sheep and ducks and fenced spaces in which to work them, and rents the space and his counsel to area dog owners.

So one day last January I drove the corgi over to the farm completely clueless as to what to expect. I figured he’d want to chase the sheep around until he got tired. My husband was worried he might try to hurt them. Talk about inaccurate expectations.

From the moment we pulled into the driveway our dog, Thomas,  was on high alert, corgi ears at full staff. The owner/handler turned him loose in a pen of sheep and it was… magical. My little dog took control, rounded the sheep up, and moved them from one end of the field to the other. If one tried to break ranks the corgi would run around to put him back with the flock.  He and the handler had some secret mostly silent language they both understood.  Thomas was born to do this.

Really: Corgis are herding dogs and the instinct in his case is clearly strong. I knew this on some level: Whenever we have people over I’ll notice that everyone is standing in the kitchen without realizing he put them there.  He sits to one side keeping an eye on us all.

So: If you need someone to herd sheep, hire a herder.  But be careful of stereotypes: some corgis think this is a fun game and the sheep don’t take them seriously.  Meantime, there are videos of rabbits and cats herding quite capably.  The fellow who owns the farm offers regular herding instinct testing  for any dog that comes to visit; it’s not that hard to see whether a critter is inclined to do this. Meantime, back in organization land, we often can’t get past interview questions like, “Tell us about your ability to herd sheep, Bob.”  We need to do better at creating meaningful work sample tasks/inbaskets  to assess an applicant’s ability. And we need to quit hiring unqualified turkeys and then asking the training department to spend 10 years trying to teach them to herd sheep.

On our first visit Thomas performed beyond our expectations. There was no training, no preparation,  no orientation/onboarding/qualifying/certification.  Since then there’s been some fine-tuning.   The handler helped him move from  something more like “chasing sheep”  to  what is clearly “managing sheep”:  

"Thomas, keep them in the corner so I can pull some of this wool off." 

And  in a metaphor for Leadership101, Thomas did have to learn the hard way that you can’t guide ducks by biting at their tailfeathers. He wants to do this well and shows visible satisfaction and delight at performing better, often going back for another round even when the rest of us are taking a break. Training works when a learner wants to do something but doesn’t know how. 

Learning is Social
Some of Thomas’s best lessons come from the farm’s resident work dog, Flicker the Amazing Border Collie. Her first job every morning is going out alone (no supervisor or handler) to the big pasture, rounding up the sheep, and bringing them the several hundred yards through gates, past the pond, and into the training pen to start the work day. On his fourth visit my corgi on his own went along with her to see how this was done.  Next weekend he’ll help her.  Learning is social.

Thomas watches Flicker closely when she works. Every now and then at home we catch him crouched down against the living room wall, stretched out, head low, eyes alert – imitating his border collie mentor.  When Thomas started visiting the farm Flicker regarded him as another incompetent novice in need of her help. But he's done good work with her, and proven himself; he became a full community member the day the ultra-achieving border collie started hanging out with him.

This experience has shown me what pure intrinsic motivation looks like. When he’s herding, the corgi is completely uninterested in pats on the head or “good boy!” or even tasty treats.  We have to drag him away when he exhausts himself, tongue nearly hitting the ground, and he pouts all the way home. His reward for herding is… to get to do it some more.  I feel that way when I’m in the zone on a good design project, or when researching a new topic that excites me. You have likely felt that way, too.  We can’t expect it every day,  but we should get to experience it often enough to make the rest of what we do less drudgery or routine. Giving people more opportunities for peak moments will help get peak performance.

Okay, then.
When we’re out at the farm other people stop to watch my dog. To see a good performer at work, clearly finding joy in a task (even a hard physical one) is a delight.  We need to do better at targeted hiring, and at creating realistic work samples in the interview phase.   We need to bring people in who are more in need of fine-tuning than complete revamping. We need to find the tasks workers want to perform for their own sake – and give them more opportunities for that.  We need to give people access to mentors and communities with good workers to emulate.  Many L&D practitioners are connected to organizational HR offices. Take a lesson from the corgi in helping to inform your work.