Creativity, innovation and HR

So, day one at HR Tech World London has whizzed by. It’s late, I have my feet up and I am reflecting on what I saw and heard today. In fact, I have actually already had some time to reflect because many of the conversations I’ve had today have involved discussing the conference sessions and what stood out for myself and other attendees.

Unsurprisingly, a lot of this buzz centred on the opening keynote from Sir Ken Robinson. With a background in learning, I have heard much tale of Sir Ken but am one of the few not to have watched his TED talk (over 44 million views and counting) or seen him speak elsewhere. Not something I’ve achieved on purpose, it had just never happened for some reason. So I went with an open mind to his session on ‘leading a culture of innovation’. It’s immediately obvious why he is a popular speaker, he is very engaging and funny with only a small handful of slides to illustrate key points.

He began by talking about how people are infinitely creative and talented, even when they don’t think they really are. His aim is to understand the ‘depth of human talent’ and how cultural backdrops – like where we work – affect the ability of that talent to shine. He then discussed how organisations struggle to stay creative – therefore finding it hard to innovate – and therefore finding it hard, in the end, to stay going. The average lifespan of a company has halved to 30 years in the last four decades he says.

And here’s where the session could have taken a HR-specific turn but unfortunately for me, didn’t. The rest of his talk used some interesting examples to show creativity in action both in terms of art and problem solving. But as is often the case with keynotes, didn’t offer up any real practical advice for fostering a culture of innovation beyond the importance of leadership and a nice reframe of the traditional organisation chart (below).

For me though, the elephant in the room (full of HR professionals) was exploring what the role of HR is in creating a culture of creativity and innovation that helps organisations not just survive, but thrive. As Sir Ken stated, many individuals do not see themselves as creative. Some project that onto others as the art experiment demonstrates, where the Chinese couldn’t initially see disabled people as having creative ability. And to my mind, HR falls into this category. I don’t think it’s unfair to say that HR isn’t generally perceived as being a creative discipline. But is this doing HR a disservice? Has it in fact got potential to be far more creative and have a role in leading from the front when it comes to an organisational culture of creativity and innovation?

Alternatively, maybe the perception is right and HR isn’t inherently creative. But maybe that’s OK. Because HR’s role in this culture of innovation could be in hiring the right people, it might be in managing and nurturing their talent effectively, it might be incentivising creativity with the right rewards, or it might be providing learning opportunities to hone skills in creativity. Any or all of these could be the key to this Utopian organisation that Sir Ken referenced – one which is innovative, keeps reinventing itself and ultimately, stands the test of time.

I feel this could have been an interesting debate and whilst I appreciate that Sir Ken clearly isn’t a HR professional so probably just isn’t interested in that level of detail, I think that so many discussions could have been started from this point if it was made more explicitly in the opening session of the day. It was still an entertaining keynote and one which sparked lots of thinking and conversation throughout the day. Maybe that’s one for a panel discussion or for follow up at HR Tech World in Amsterdam in the Autumn.

I’ll be reflecting on other sessions in later posts but if you were there or following the live stream, what were your thoughts on Sir Ken’s session? And how do you feel about a) HR as a creative discipline and b) HR as a driver for organisational creativity and innovation? Let me know in the comments.

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What’s new in HR technology?

This week sees HR Tech World land in London, an event I’ll be attending for the third time on home turf. I’m looking forward to some interesting and challenging sessions to mirror the ‘interesting’ and certainly challenging times we find ourselves living and working in. Against a backdrop of so much political and economic turmoil, HR surely has a more important role than ever in terms of people’s working lives. Many of us are by turns concerned about our future at work, disillusioned or disengaged…and maybe some are excited about what’s to come too (here’s hoping).

The agenda though is optimistic and looks towards the new, and how technology can be a force for good that helps support HR and by extension our organisations and our people. There is talk of innovation (with a keynote from Sir Ken Robinson), driving change (closing keynote from Baroness Karren Brady), positive disruption and digitally-led transformation. There are case studies galore from the likes of Centrica, Sainsbury’s, BAE Systems, Novo Nordisk and Expedia. And even a brilliantly titled session on ‘making learning sexy’ – I am so going to that one. Again, I am encouraged to see a women in tech panel featured on the main stage so kudos to the organisers for that (interestingly there is a man involved on the panel too). I’ll also be stalking some of my favourite speakers/writers whilst they’re in town, so look out Heidi Spirgi, Euan Semple and Jason Averbook.

Unsurprisingly, the spectre of Brexit looms large as the UK and Europe wait with breath that is bated for Article 50 to be triggered. The excellent Dr. Daniel Thorniley will be exploring the implications of Brexit for HR in his session on the main stage. I saw him speak in Paris in 2016 and he was incredibly forthright and uncompromising so I’m looking forward to hearing his thoughts in the current climate. The analysts I work with at Fosway are also looking to get beyond the hype with new research into the impact of Brexit on HR. This short survey takes just a few minutes to complete and you can still take part here to share how the current situation is impacting your recruitment, retention, training and future investment.

disruptHR once again gives HR leaders the opportunity to rub shoulders with the next generation of HR technology solutions and entrepreneurs. Fellow blog squad member Faye Holland is in charge of proceedings and previews the action here.

The Fosway team will be on hand at Stand 414 to share more insights on our ongoing research with HRN and CEO David Wilson be delving into the (fairly shocking) data on customer experience of HR technology in practice in his session on day two. I’ll also be cramming in as many sessions as I can and bringing you the action via #HRTechWorld.

See you there or online.

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The punchline: learning for impact and performance

Last week, two things happened within a few hours of each other. (Well actually, an incredible number of things happened last week but Learning Technologies always means one of my busiest times of the year.) But the two things I refer to bear referencing in relation to each other because they form the punchline -for me – of what the event is really all about.

In the last session of the conference, David Perring succeeded in rousing some tired attendees in his session on ‘showing the impact of learning, painlessly (almost!)’ He asked some challenging questions around who finds measuring learning impact painful (more than half the room), who thinks they are good at evaluation (one or two cautious hands in the hair) and should we resign Kirkpatrick to the dustbin (OK maybe that’s not a tough one, the answer was a resounding yes!) He argues that evaluation is not as important as making a measurable impact. ‘Learning should be a strategic investment to drive performance and to build business capability. But how do you measure the impact it really has or maximise that impact?’ One of the keys is to stop thinking of learning as a one-off event. Start considering longer – even ongoing – learning experiences and the picture shifts beyond Kirkpatrick levels 1 and 2. Start thinking about goals such as ensuring proper engagement with learners, improving the design of current learning solutions and even being able to demonstrate the value of learning investment to senior management. He encouraged us to put values against key measures like cost reduction, sales increases, productivity rises. Value isn’t about outputs, it’s about impact and supporting the winder goals of the organisation. You can view his slides here with some useful questions and models that will get you thinking about more than just happy sheets.

Demonstrating the impact of learning

Just a few short hours later, I found myself at The Dorchester for the 21st annual Learning Awards hosted by the Learning and Performance Institute. I was lucky enough to sit down with Managing Director, Ed Monk, before the event where we discussed the importance of recognising, not just clever or innovative learning initiatives – but actual business impact.

He believes that L&D is often an unsung hero in organisations, so the awards is about giving credit for what they do because ‘learning can change lives’. The awards have evolved since their inception in 1996 (originally the Institute of IT Training awards). As well as the obvious shift away from IT training, they are now much more focused on how learning affects the performance of individuals and their organisations. Anyone who wants to win an award is faced with a tough panel of judges – headed up by chairs Colin Steed and Nigel Paine – drilling into the detail on how learning has made an impact in this way.

Monk feels passionately about sharing stories of the winners through the LPI’s member network, its events like Learning Live and this year, with interviews from Learning Now TV. ‘A big part of our mission is about inspiring and motivating others. Every winner’s story has takeaways that can be used in different organisations to deliver learning that makes a difference. The affect on the winners themselves can be sensational – I’ve seen it transform careers and encourage even greater achievements as they continue on their own learning journeys’ he commented.

You can view the full list of the 2017 winners here. And I can report it was indeed an inspiring evening. From seeing the excellent work done by GoodPractice recognised in External Solution of the Year, the delighted team at Dell pile onto the stage as one, the demonstrable results delivered by Villeroy & Bosch with very little infrastructure and resources, to CLO of the year Naomi Lockwood thanking her team and crediting her colleagues with so much of her success, and seeing Nick Shackleton-Jones bestowed with the prestigious Colin Corder award. There is something for everyone in L&D to take inspiration from in the list of winners and finalists.

For me, this is why we all attend industry conferences and trade shows – to find out what we can potentially achieve and evaluate new ways of delivering that. Everyone in L&D is trying to make a difference and if their lens is focused on impacting the right areas as described by David Perring and as recognised by the LPI, then learning has the power to be truly transformational.

Footnote: The LPI also does a huge amount for the very worthwhile charity, Dreamflight. Seeing Paralympian Liz Johnson – previously a child who benefited from this incredible journey – talk about how it helped give her confidence and ultimately become a gold medallist, is still one of the most memorable speeches I’ve ever seen. Between a charity auction and countless generous donations from attendees, thousands of pounds were raised on the night. If you can spare a few bob, you can donate vis their website and if you’ve only got a tenner, brighten up your office with one of the excellent LPI charity calendars.  

All photos courtesy of olgamanzano via Flickr and the official photos of the Learning Awards 2017.

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Is the future of L&D already here?

Three days isn’t really long enough to reflect on everything that I saw and heard at Learning Technologies 2017 last week, but whilst things are fresh in my mind I wanted to capture some immediate takeaways.

The stand out session for me was from the keynote speaker on day one, Thimon de Jong. You can hear my immediate thoughts in this interview with Martin Couzins straight afterwards. Even though the talk was not about L&D specifically there was so much that resonated with me, especially with reference to the Digital Learning Realities research that Fosway has been conducting in partnership with Learning Technologies. This isn’t a plug – it genuinely gave me lots of reasons to be cheerful. I often leave keynote talks from futurist type speakers, or look at the gap between what’s being talked about on the conference floor versus the exhibition, and feel a bit depressed. But this talk combined with the initial results from the research indicates, to me at least, that L&D knows where it needs to go.

‘You know me’

Thimon talked about a ‘you know me’ culture. One where we want companies to respect our privacy, but conversely to exploit the data they have on us to create tailored experiences based on our preferences that speak to us in a more personalised way. That might be as a customer of Vodafone, or it might be as a learner within your own organisation. Consumer-facing organisations are improving at this all the time and it’s a trend that needs to happen internally as well as externally. The digital realities research bears out an understanding from L&D professionals (1,060 at the time these particular numbers were crunched) that they key drivers for digital learning are increasing availability (87%), speed of learning (84%) and learner engagement (83%). All of which point to a need for creating ‘better’ learning experiences.

The numbers also demonstrate an increasing focus on the importance of analytics. And it is the artificial intelligence and algorithms which drive analytics that give us a realistic hope of being able to deliver personalised learning experiences en masse. Netflix is so often cited as an example of an experience that learning should aspire to that I now eye-roll whenever I hear it. But interestingly, Thimon told us that there are over 300 people working in the in AI department at Netflix….that’s a serious amount of human intervention in what’s purportedly ‘artificial’ intelligence right there! The average L&D team clearly can’t compete with that! However, if we continue this emerging trend of treating learners like consumers – much as Thimon referenced – then getting a grip of analytics, and learning how to apply the insights it provides us with, is a key step in getting the right content to the right people at the right time.

And the reason this made me cheerful (or at least not depressed) is that L&D seems to recognise this – and there is lots of decent technology out there that can help us act on it. This isn’t about looking ahead at how virtual reality might one day land in the average organisation. This is about something we can start doing now to improve what L&D does.

In L&D we trust

The second part of Thimon’s talk which also resonated, was a discussion on trust. The internet is so full of information, but he questions how we determine what’s fact and what’s opinion. In the current climate of ‘fake news’ this could hardly be more timely. But focusing back in on L&D again, we know that learners don’t just get their information from the learning department these days. Everyone has access to Google (even if it’s via their personal phones rather than company systems) but sifting through what’s fact and what’s opinion, which videos are worth watching and which sources are worth reading can be hard work. This is where the evolution of L&D’s role kicks in.

The excellent Lloyds TSB case study session from Richard Clayton and Angela Sweeney talked about how they successfully began surfacing relevant content to the right people at the right time based on internal ‘demand plans’ carefully crafted with each business department. They worked out what was needed and by whom, and how best to filter that content through to their learners (whilst making some incredible cost savings). Later on, Tobias Kiefer of EY went one step further and explored the concept of ‘Own Your Own Learning’. My tweet on where this leaves the L&D department seemed to strike a chord, because where does this leave L&D?

Kiefer believes L&D needs to become ‘challengers, storytellers, curators, eonomists and data analysts – a list to which Andrew Jacobs (quite rightly in my opinion) added engineers (there still needs to be some infrastructure). ‘By thinking of how we can make ourselves obsolete, we can generate the value the business has always been expecting from us’ Kiefer said. I’m not sure I agree with this 100% but changing the focus from trying to be the last word in where/how learn in an organisation, to one of providing access, filtering, tailoring and nudging is one I can get on board with.

Coming back to Thimon’s point, L&D has to establish itself as a trustworthy source. And coming back to the research, it’s not only about providing content and resources that are accurate and useful – but providing them in ways that are easily available, contextual and engaging are all part of building that trust with learners.

This all makes me feel optimistic because my sense is L&D has grasped that this is the direction of travel. And the technology needed to support it is already out there. It’s not about stuff that’s super expensive or out of reach (although I’m sure you could spend a lot if you have the budget). And that makes me think it’s eminently achievable in the not too far distant future.

More on Learning Technologies 2017 to follow…


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The who, what, where and when of Learning Technologies 2017

Following my previous post on the Learning Technologies 2017 social team, here are the details on who’s covering what, where and when. Our contributors will be working hard to share insights and key takeaways from every single session of the conference. Remember, we use individual session hashtags so you can hone in on the specifics of certain topics or presentations. So, if you particularly want to know what John Stepper has to say (and from the pre-event buzz, many of you do!) then you can just search #T1S5. All session tags are detailed below (we don’t have specific tags for the keynotes because SO many people share from these that you can just follow the overall #LT17UK hashtag and keep up). Contributors’ Twitter handles are shown below – check the previous post for details if you don’t already follow them.

Note, for the first time this year there will be lunchtime sessions running during the conference. These have their own hashtags and will be worth following although, as with the keynotes, we don’t have designated coverage for these sessions.

Day one: Keynote: 09.30 – 10.40: Future change – living and learning in the connected society, Thimon de Jong

Thimon de Jong runs a think tank specialising in future human behaviour, societal change and business strategy. He is an experienced keynote presenter and leadership trainer and has worked for clients like Morgan Stanley and Vodafone. In this year’s opening keynote, he will share an inspiring blend of research eye opening business cases from around the world that will help you reframe and possibly reinvent your work in learning.

Day one: 11.10 – 12.20

Day one: 12.20 – 13.50 – Lunchtime

Day one: 13.50 – 15.00

Day one: 15.30 – 16.40

Day two: Keynote: 09.30 – 10.40: Story for learning and learning from story, Deborah Frances-White

Deborah Frances-White is a comedian, screenwriter and executive coach. Her corporate clients include Facebook, PWC and JP Morgan. Her keynote will explore why too much training is simply dispensing information – often in fun and palatable ways – but when information isn’t ordered in narrative it is easier to disengage and far more difficult to retain. Discover how the most sophisticated content or dry facts can be presented as a compelling and gripping story.

Day two: 11.10 – 12.20

Day two: 12.20 – 13.50 – Lunchtime

Day two: 13.50 – 15.00

Day two: 15.30 – 16.40

Excitingly this year, we’ll be interviewing speakers on video and capturing the reflections of the social media team on their key takeaways. I’m excited about getting into the detail and helping share new ideas and insights in more different ways. For the full conference programme and to pick which sessions you’d like to tune into, click here. There is also a programme of seminars in the exhibition which is full to bursting. So place your bets, choose your sessions and I look forward to seeing you there or online – learning Glastonbury awaits!

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14 key people and four useful things you need to know about Learning Technologies 2017

The build up to Learning Technologies 2017 is now well underway. As social chair of the event, I’m pleased to bring you everything you need to know to make the most of the event whether you are attending in person or following from afar.

The backchannel
As ever, the place to have eyes on is the main conference hashtag #LT17UK. This is used on all conference tweets and is used by exhibitors and attendees of the Learning Technologies part of the exhibition. It’s a great way of tapping into people to meet, things to read and what to see before the event, not just during. There is also the Learning and Skills hashtag #LAS17UK but if you’re following the conference, then tune in via #LT17UK. In order to help cut through the sheer volume of tweets, we use individual session hashtags as well as the one for the overall event e.g. Welcome to this session on the future of technology #LT17UK #T1S1. The details of the hashtags for each session will be published in a follow-up post. In addition to tweets, there will be blog posts, LinkedIn updates, graphic summaries and videos.

The 2017 team
Here are the people that will be capturing the action and reflecting on what they’ve heard at the conference. If you’re not already connected with these experienced L&D folk, this is a unique opportunity to make some new connections and expand your network as well as the chance to tune into all the action.

Susie Finch – @susiefinch
Sam Taylor – @samt_el
Alistair Cockroft – @acockroft
Kim Edwards – @kimsedwards
Michelle Parry-Slater – @MiPS1608
Ollie Gardener – @olliegardener
Joan Keevill – @Designs_JoanK
Krystyna Gadd – @krystynagadd
Sam Burrough – @samburrough
Stephen Walsh – @stephentwalsh
Steve Rayson – @steverayson
Julie Drybrough – @fuchsia_blue

(And me – @kategraham23)

Also, don’t forget to follow:

Don Taylor (Conference Chairman) – @DonaldHTaylor
Learning Technologies official feed – @LT17UK
Learning and Skills official feed – @LAS17UK

My next post will detail who is covering which sessions.

Captured for posterity

In addition to the tweets which are somewhat transient, we’re capturing many of the conference speakers on video this year. Barbara Thompson will be finding out more about their thinking delving into some of the detail from their sessions. Be sure to follow Barbara via @CaribThompson and look out for the opportunity to ask the experts your questions via Twitter. All videos will be shared online after the event.

What else is going on?




towards-maturity-exchangesMore to come on the session details soon and as always, if you have any feedback or thoughts on how we can make the most of this learning opportunity, let me know.


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Recognising the brave and the bold of learning technology


Tonight, myself, my colleagues and 800 close friends (ahem) will descend on London for the annual Learning Technologies Awards. They started life more than 10 years ago as the E-learning Awards and I have been involved with these awards as an entrant, a collaborator, ghost writer and for the last five years, a judge.

For 2016, I judged two categories, chairing one and a panel member on another. Having sifted through an impressive number of entries in the summer, the shortlisted entrants all presented during an informative, exhilarating and exhausting two days at The Oval in September. I meant to write this post back then but it feels appropriate on the day of the award ceremony to share it now. Because my over-riding reflection from those two days was how inspiring the dedicated learning professionals are that I saw passionately present their work.

I saw L&D people who are fighting the good fight, trying to evolve what their people do and how they learn – often without much support or buy-in from the broader organisation (at least initially), frequently without much budget and sometimes pitched against much greater forces than themselves – the economy, mergers and acquisitions, the law, the list goes on. One presentation even showed a video interview with a rather grumpy colleague in another department talking about how he didn’t like e-learning and thought the whole project was a terrible idea….then a later interview in which he’d completely changed his mind! What all those shortlisted have in common is such enthusiasm for what they do, motivated (in my opinion) by a desire to help others learn, develop and hopefully, progress.

I also witnessed some fantastic partnerships between suppliers of learning technology and their customers. Almost all the suppliers stood back and let their customers tell their story, often watching with real pride on their faces. Sounds cheesy but it’s clear that these good relationships are at least partially responsible for their success.

There’s also resourcefulness, innovation, technical know-how and brains in abundance. On occasions during the judging process I felt really quite humbled by people’s commitment and vision around what they’re trying to achieve. And that’s really important. The best practice examples we’ll see on the back of these awards are almost all focused on an organisational goal that’s far bigger than just completion rates.

I obviously can’t talk about specifics before the results are announced. But the decisions in both my categories were pretty agonising.  Whether or not those shortlisted win a gong tonight (cliche alert) they’re all winners really. And when their stories are shared far and wide, the lessons are about more than just fancy technology. They’re about solving business challenges within a specific context in a way that works for them. And they’re about being brave and about being bold. I applaud you all from behind my desk and look forward to being able to do so in person this evening.

If you’d like to keep up to date with the winners, I’ll be live tweeting the ceremony and the hashtag is #LT16Awards. See you there or online.

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