Tuesday, 20 September 2016

Giving Voice

I've been been banging on about 'customer voice' for a while now, particularly in terms of Learning & Development and the places where we meet and discuss improving what we do. I've said for some time that the danger is that we talk to ourselves in an echo chamber, second guessing what works and what doesn't, without the input of either the commissioners of our work or the recipients.  We may very well do that within our individual service provision, but we rarely hear it in open debate with and from our customers. And it's the 'critical friend's' opinion that's missing, in my view.

I was reminded of this by a couple of personal and unrelated experiences recently where my voice was heard and I was able to influence outcomes.

Where I live, alongside a busy rail line, we have a small plot of land behind our garden, owned by Network Rail. In July we were advised that they planned to build a new electricity sub-station, comprising some four different structures and ancillary equipment, directly behind our fence line and overlooking our gardens and rear living rooms, and which we would overlook from our upper floor bedroom. Three properties were going to be directly affected, our's being the middle. No planning permission was required apparently, as it's their own land. However, we wrote to the Council and NWR itself and raised our objections, were invited to a neighbours' open evening and discussed the impacts with them and their contractors at some length. And there was the first hint that perhaps this wasn't a huge behemoth riding roughshod over their neighbours - they brought plans and talked us through them, they put personable, knowledgeable and articulate people forward to engage us in discussion and they listened to our concerns. Maybe this wasn't quite the fait accompli that we feared.

(As it happens, the build didn't start on the previously advised date and we never got any explanation). And then, last week, out of the blue, we received an email advising that they had taken many of our concerns on board and offering a second, revised plan, moving the structures away from our boundary and putting the largest of them furthest away from us. And we were invited to meet again to discuss the amended plan. We had that meeting this morning and, whilst there is little doubt that the sub-station will still be built, I was surprised at how amenable and creative the contractors were prepared to be in further working to soften the landscaping and visual impacts. We'll see how this all plays out in reality, but I am pleasantly surprised at how we have been seen and heard in this process, when they could so easily have just gone ahead without consideration of or discussion with their neighbours.
My other experience of customer voice being heard was today, when I switched our energy supplier via a comparison website which did all the hard work for me. By entering our post-code and our current use and expenditure on gas and electricity, the website was able to offer a range of alternative suppliers and charge plans, all of which showed larger to smaller savings over a year, and on a month-by-month basis. Actually making the switch was just as easy, merely adding a few more details, and they take care of everything for you.

So here's a great example of the customer being able to exercise informed choice in what was once a complex supplier market and convoluted process, enabled by the application of user-friendly technology.

Customers, consumers, passengers, neighbours, clients, learners, stakeholders - call them what you will in whatever field - nowadays expect and deserve to be heard and to have their needs and requirements met in hassle-free, relevant and personal ways. What are the implications for L&D? Are we listening? And, as importantly, are we capable of flexing accordingly?

Tuesday, 13 September 2016

It's Permissable

Last week, I attended the excellent two day 'LearningLive' conference in London, hosted by the Learning and Performance Institute - great sessions, great speakers (especially the two - yes TWO - keynotes, Elliot Masie and Richard Wiseman), great company, conversations, dinner and learning. 

If you were an attendee yourself or if follow me or any of my PLN (Personal Learning Network) on Twitter and other social media you may have noticed - or indeed, contributed to - a lot of the resulting online sharing and comment. I won't re-present that stuff to you here. If you wish to access a comprehensive curation of the event, then follow this link to David Kelly's excellent blog site The 2016 Learning Live Backchannel: Curated Resources #LearningLive

No, what I wanted to talk about was something that's been very much part of my live learning (see what I did there?) recently, and was a recurring theme in many of the discussions in and out of the conference sessions - that of 'permission'. Who thinks they need it, and from whom? For what? Why do so many of us think that we need permission to do stuff or to do stuff differently? Is it the way we've been brought up? Educated? Trained? Inducted? Managed? And what would happen if we didn't seek permission, but went ahead anyway and sought forgiveness afterwards? What's the worst the could happen? Could we even be using not having permission as an excuse not to try, but to play it safe?

Many conversations at the conference revolved around changing our approach to learning and development, by applying technology, by developing new skills and by changing the relationships between the traditional provider/methodologies and the emerging self-aware, self-managing learner. For me, a  recurring and resonant theme throughout was about what permissions we feel we need to have to be able to choose and follow the paths of change.

I've been giving these questions a lot of thought recently, as I have allowed myself to start considering the possibility of no longer pursuing full - albeit self - employment, and perhaps even semi-retiring. Regular readers and other friends will be aware of my turbulent year last year, with heart surgery, followed by redundancy and my subsequent setting up of an independent L&D/Learning Technologies consultancy.  To cut a long story short, I found that my heart wasn't in it, that I didn't feel able to put in the hard work that was required to make a viable and growing business of it, but that I had to press on, despite how I felt.  But I also felt that I needed permission to take the decision to slow down, to take my pensions, and to try other things - permission from my wife, my children, my friends, my peers, ex-colleagues, PLN, clients and other professional associations.

Well guess what? They all - to a person - gave me their blessing, their permission, to follow my heart. And in opening myself up to sharing my thinking about a future without the pressure to 'do stuff' and 'make money', it turns out the only individual who's permission was being withheld was myself. It was my own perceptions of self-worth, credibility, usefulness which was holding me back. I am so grateful to my family, but also to my friends and PLN for the conversations we have had recently online and face to face at last week's conference. I know it's going to be OK; different, but OK.

Always needing permission to do stuff, or to stop doing stuff, or to do stuff differently stifles enthusiasm and creativity. But working out loud, sharing ideas and exploring possibilities, looking up and asking 'what if...?' opens up a world of opportunities. Maybe Learning & Development should give itself permission to at least try to do that.

P.S: I'm not burning all my bridges tho'. I continue to be fascinated by L&D, LearnTech and social media, just not to the exclusion of everything else. I'll still turn up at the tweetchats, the conferences and the unconferences. I'll still be mouthing off in social media. I may be doing more writing. I'm continuing to work with my existing clients and am open to any other opportunities which emerge.