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Engaging the Disengaged

bored-meeting-art1 400x265One third of us go into work each day disengaged.

And 75% of businesses use employee surveys as their only engagement activity.

With figures like that, the picture looks bleak.  So how do we go about Engaging the Disengaged?

But Tanith Dodge, Director of HR at Marks & Spencer had more positive things to share as well – aside from the fun facts that M&S sell a pair of pants per second and all the hosiery they sell would stretch to Hong Kong and back.

Various activities at M&S have lead to reduced absence, higher engagement, increased overall performance in stores and massive cost savings.  Making the link between engagement and performance, there was a £104 million sales difference between the top and bottom scorers on employee engagement.


You can see why the David MacLeod taskforce has been set up – we’ve been talking about the importance of this for decades, yet still the statistics are shocking.  We are not getting this right and we are paying the price in our business performance.

How focused are we on changing that position?  How are we keeping that focus alive after years of working on it?  What can we learn from case studies like M&S to find things that work for our businesses?

And as we shift the focus from always asking in HR what we can do for our people, let’s ask: What do our people want – and what will they do to get it?


  • Employee engagement delivers results – we have the proof
  • We know engagement is something we cannot achieve with surveys, so we want managers who show interest in their teams, and naturally stir up passion and action
  • The challenge for us then is what more can we be doing to facilitate higher engagement in our leaders and teams?

M&S has some great examples of things that work, but the same things won’t necessarily work for different companies.  The challenge is to find what works well for us

Further Reading

The David MacLeod taskforce continues to work on getting this message across and finding ways to convince leaders they need to do something differently.

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Finding Your Inner Emoji

emojipeopleWhat will be the impact of this curious language?  🙂 

The fastest growing language of modern times is not English or Mandarin – it is the language of emoji. The emoji, taken from the Japanese word for e-character, has only been around for a few short years, but is increasingly adopted as a universal method of communication.

The reasons behind its popularity are not surprising. Emojis represent concepts and emotions much more simply than words and take far less time for the brain to decode.

Pictures transcend language barriers and allow us to communicate quickly about things that are important to us. In a modern society characterized by increasingly short attention spans, the emoji can be an answer to the question of how to do or say more with less.

Indeed, the rise of the emoji actually takes us back full-circle to our anthropological origins, where our ancestors made survival decisions based on instant visual stimuli.  So what might this mean for a learning environment? 😕

The fact that using visual images helps learners to process information more quickly and/or easily is nothing new. Whilst words are technically also images, reading is a translation process and so takes much longer for the brain to process than a well-chosen image.  In fact, according to research by 3M we can process visuals 60,000 times faster than text.

However, the emoji reminds us how powerful very simple images can be in putting an important message across quickly and to a mass audience. We see with our brains, via pattern recognition, which is why we tend to be able see very familiar patterns such as faces in everyday objects.  So, the image that we are projecting does not have to be very precise, it just needs to trigger a pattern recognition in the brain.

The challenge for most learning providers is that as a younger workforce moves into the marketplace, we’ll need to communicate with them in a way that we’re not used to.  How many workshops have you designed using emojis?  😯

Whilst the effectiveness of the emoji in personal, informal communication is relatively well understood, its application as a tool for business is less so, but help is at hand.  Many large brands have begun experimenting with emojis as a marketing tool, as emojis can help brands humanise themselves by adding an emotional layer to their communications.

For example, Domino’s have created a service that allows a customer to order a pizza by texting a pizza emoji.  The World Wide Fund for Nature also used the panda face emoji to raise awareness about endangered species, and this was designed to encourage those who regularly use emojis of pandas to donate to its conservation efforts.

The key challenge will be how to translate the work being done with emojis in a marketing context, to work being done in an L&D context.  It’s quite clear that emojis offer the L&D world a way to increase engagement and trigger deeper emotions and conversations, but only if they are highly relevant to your message and your target audience.  😎

As the world’s understanding of Visual Literacy grows, we’ll be keeping a close eye on the rise of this new form of language.  As the age of our workforce changes and the young people of today bring fresh forms of communication into the workplace, it would be wise for us to be already able to speak their language.

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Choose to Speak Freely

the-broken-chain1-400x265How choosing to Speak Freely could liberate the Business World from Business Speak

We were in awe at a recent conference at the lack of business speak.  You know the stuff – business management language that covers a multitude of honest facts and feelings.

Through speakers that simply shared deeply personal experiences and revelations, the delegates made more rapid progress through their own journeys.

As we see with many communication models, it is when we hit the level of authenticity, honesty and integrity that comes with sharing personal feelings and emotions, that we cut through the business language barrier and connect.  We engage and make progress.

We always find in our internal team meetings, discussions with businesses and coaching sessions with clients, that when we talk about real concerns, we make greater and faster progress.

Totem Gummi Bears

How are you feeling now about that decision you need to make?  About that phone call you’ve been putting off for a while?  How are you feeling generally about your work today?  This week?

Who could you speak to about these feelings?  And in my personal experience, whoever springs to mind as the person you definitely could not talk to, they are a great person to start with.  This is not about a moaning session or a lying down on a couch type conversation.  This is about being open in a professional environment.  Sharing things like,

“This phone call I need to make.  I’m having some concerns about how to start the conversation.  I’m nervous that…. What do you think?  Any suggestions?”

“This project I’m working on – I’m so passionate about the outcome that I want to make sure everything is done right.  I’m concerned that not everyone is on board.  At the last meeting I thought I saw a lot of apathy.  I’m now becoming uncomfortable with the idea of leading a project team that’s not interested.  What do you think?”

What are you feeling?

What could you share?

And what we strongly suspect is that it’s fear that holds us back from speaking freely.  The main issue with fear is that it stops us from taking action and from making changes.

Jelly Bean Diversity

So if we’re happy for things to continue just as they are, we’re probably ok listening to those fears.

What if we’re not happy to continue?  What if we want to see a change?  What if the call to change is so strong, we can’t bear the idea of leaving things as they are?

The phrase “face your fear” can sound a bit scary really.  So perhaps we’re better off starting with, what’s the big fear anyway?  Would I really get fired for pointing out that the business decision we’re about to make could see us losing money?

Would I really be seen as pathetic for pointing out that I’m nervous about something that most other people are probably nervous about too?

What’s the worst that could happen?  And if that actually happened, would that be so bad?

Have a think about what you want to change, what fears may stop you, and what could make it easier for you to side-step those fears.

A really useful read is Susan Jeffers’ Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway.  In this book she points out that fear is not an insurmountable problem, it is an educational problem and, “by re-educating the mind, you can accept fear as simply a fact of life rather than a barrier to success.”

Feel The Fear And Do It Anyway: How to Turn Your Fear and Indecision into Confidence and Action by [Jeffers, Susan]

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Learning Technologies Event Pt.2

LT-Totem 400x265Part 2 of our little jaunt to the Learning Technologies event

In case you missed the first part, you can find it here.

Blame Taylor

We can all be guilty of thinking that problems can be addressed with a one-size-fits-all solution.  With an elearning course or even a blended learning journey – it’s “we design, you consume.”  Saffron Interactive spoke at the event of Taylorism – the principles of management devised by Frederick Taylor (not to be confused with the fandom of Taylor Swift!).

Taylorism worked really well in the early 1900s manufacturing world, where working out the most efficient and effective way of doing something, then teaching everyone else to do just that, in that way, gave great results.  As decades, technology, lifestyles, attitudes and ways of working have moved on, Taylorism has all but disappeared, except, this speaker argued, in L&D.

That sounds rather harsh – are we really saying that L&D teams sit in a dark room working out what people need to know and how they should learn it, then force out that model for consumption?  There have certainly been examples of this, but we see plenty of examples of the opposite too: L&D professionals working with people to identify the root cause of an issue and generate solutions together that suit each person.  There is also the challenge of making individually-tailored learning and problem-solving solutions scalable.  We can’t deliver something bespoke to every person in a global corporation, can we?

Totem Lollipops


One suggestion of how this individually tailored approach might work was from Saffron Interactive.  They seem to have taken what works well in the consumer world – YouTube channels and iPod history – and presented the idea of playlists for learning.  This works particularly well if your online learning system is a curated set of user-generated insights, on top of the L&D-generated material.  The idea is that an individual’s line manager would look at the content and suggest a playlist for someone in their team.

You would hope that playlist would be based on the individual’s recent reviews, goals, strengths and development needs – as well as interest areas.  Then the manager has been directly involved in the development journey and encourages the individual to use the content recommended.  When the individual looks through that playlist, views content, rates it as useful, adds their comments, recommends it to others in their team – there we start to see the level of engagement with learning we might dream of.

Work problems not learning needs

But does all this miss the point, that we don’t think we need learning?  Another study conducted by Scott Bradbury highlighted that managers are highly confident in their abilities as people managers.  They consider that they have plenty of experience – and it’s this experience that is most beneficial when someone faces an issue, not external best practice insight or learning.  Now that’s a challenge: If someone doesn’t think they need any development, why would they choose to login to a learning system at all?

Perhaps this brings all of these considerations back to the overall trend in learning and development: We need to be helping people with their work challenges, not offering them learning.  Rather than a “leadership programme” we need to be offering “what to do when you’re pushed to deliver more with less.”  So does that mean you should stop all elearning?

That seems a bit drastic considering the content could be useful.  But certainly there is a need to reposition what’s on the system as helping with challenges rather than giving learning.  And if your system is mostly used for compliance training, there is a far wider question to be explored about the culture of the organisation and the behaviour that is encouraged – is it in line with, or counter to the content of the compliance training?

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Learning Technologies Event Pt.1

Totem-LT-Logo1 400x265“Stop your elearning!”  Wait, what?

There was plenty of myth busting going on at the Learning Technologies event, some well-founded and others perhaps a bit too harsh.

“Forget 70:20:10, there’s no empirical evidence for it” was on the harsh side, given that the idea of 70:20:10 was never published as a proven theory for how we learn, more a sensible approach for supporting learning in the workplace.

“Stop putting compliance training online, it doesn’t work” may be one we need to pay attention to.  We saw the bankers of 2008 (who it has been pointed out will have all completed their compliance training) following a set of behaviours that were certainly not in line with that training.

And the 2012 HBR article stating that “diversity training doesn’t work” made some very good points about emphasising difference rather than developing good communication skills and understanding.

But should we stop providing elearning altogether?  Here we’ll explore the different evidence and theories on why elearning doesn’t achieve what we want it to, and consider some recommendations for L&D teams as a result.

Just Google it – obviously!

A few firms have carried out research to understand where and how people learn when they need to.  A key point here was to ask people what they do when they face a challenge they don’t know how to work through – as that’s a more relevant question than “how do you learn?”  Ask the latter question and people think back to education, not everyday life skills.

Good Practice shared their finding that the most frequent things managers do when they face a new challenge are to have a conversation with their colleagues and do an internet search.  Looking at in-house online learning or resources was 5th on the list.  Considering an internal or external face-to-face course came 10th and 11th on the list.

Why is that?  Why don’t people use the resources L&D have provided for them?  The suggestion, from both further data and anecdote, was that we all want to use things that are quick, easy and relevant.  In fact ease of use was the greatest determining factor in deciding what or who to go to for help (not how useful the insight might be!).  Isn’t it easier to ask someone, or Google it, than it is to log in to the company LMS, search for a course and find the specific aspect relevant to the particular challenge faced?

Good Practice recommended a test for your elearning, intranet or LMS: Ask someone to think of a challenge they might face at work, then time them finding something that will help them with that on your system.  Now time them finding a pair of shoes they would like and getting to the point of purchase.

That’s the difference perhaps summed up most beautifully: Our experiences as consumers teach us to expect everything to be easy to find, relevant to our needs and quick to buy.  Our experiences with company learning systems and intranets is that they’re hard to navigate through, it’s difficult to find what we want and it’s slow.

There’s a further update from this remarkable event and it can be found here!

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How The Giver Gains

hand-holding-400x265Positive Psychology and how the giver gains.

Traditionally we have been brought up to believe that if we work hard, we achieve more and then we might get the things we want and be happy.  But research over the past 12 years into the life habits and thinking of people who are successful, happy and fulfilled in all aspects of their lives reveals that we have this the wrong way round.

This research shows very clearly that the happiest people – or those that live fulfilled lives and have achieved consistently – they worked on being happy first.  It is only when we take time to be grateful for what we already have, appreciate the strengths we have and look for the good around us that we start to spot opportunities.  We start to be more pro-active and find that better things come our way.

We go into crisis situations (because life still happens!) with a calm knowledge that no matter how bad it gets, we will survive and we will be ok.

You may not be surprised, after all there have been motivational speakers and Far East philosophies producing the same recommendations for decades and centuries.  The difference is, some people actually do something with that knowledge and understanding.

What can I get?  Or what can I give?

Givers’ Gain has become the motto for many small business groups because they find that people in business who are helpful and bring new customers to me – tend to in return gain even more.  By giving, they end up gaining.  This is again not a new way of thinking.  Far East philosophies, karma – these messages have been around for a long time.

Perhaps what’s new is that we now understand a bit better why this works.  For a start, giving feels good – so we actually gain at the time of giving, not just when someone does something nice for us in return.  The same part of the brain that lights up when we receive a treasured gift is activated when we do things for other people.  So that’s a great start – it feels good to give.

Then add on top of that how good the other person feels when they return the favour – or give something to us.  This is why it is great to start with giving – we feel good, other people feel good and ultimately we’re likely to gain in the long run too.

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Being Happy

totem-3happy-400x265Make It Work For You!

There is a lot of research and a range of postulations about the nature of happiness out there.   Some people say that it is just a hedonistic pursuit and unrealistic or certainly unlikely to be sustainable.

Others suggest that being happy has a real impact on what you do in the workplace.  Our review highlights three characteristics that are seemingly common to published theories and conceptualisations of happiness:

  1. Positive relationships – that help to create an enjoyable and productive environment
  2. Personal growth – that help increase our competence and ability to deal with challenges
  3. Positive mind-set – creating our lens and helping us to get the most out of every situation

Our happiness appears to really impact our productivity and the contributions that we make at work plus it creates a sense of inner harmony and peace so developing these three areas will be worth it.

Positive relationships are characterised by trust.  We can build trust with people by developing: credibility – showing skill and dedication to our activity; respect – acknowledging others’ input and viewpoints; and fairness – by treating people consistently and explaining the reasons for our actions.

Unsurprisingly, we have these fabulous articles on trust here and here!

Personal growth is about developing our skills and competence as well as fulfilling our potential.  So we can look for opportunities to develop ourselves and enhance our skills.   There are so many ways we can do that but taking a step back and understanding the purpose in what we are doing can help bring some growth and fulfilment to even the smallest of tasks.

That step back is also part of the lens or mind-set that we have.  Your mind-set can change how you interpret the world so that even troublesome situations or repetitive tasks can contribute to our happiness.   Dedicating ourselves to constant learning, recognising our own personal impact on our current context and challenging ourselves to see the bigger picture are all signals of a positive mind-set.

So if you’re not feeling too happy at work today, reflect on those three factors:

  • What interactions have you had today? How can you make them more positive?
  • Can you identify what you have done to develop today? What have you learnt?
  • Could you interpret things differently? What has been your personal impact today?
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