David Smith – you’re not alone!

I’ve searched my house and there’s definitely only one. I’ve visited every home in my street and not yet found another. My local medical centre has a few. I believe there are three at the University of Sheffield. My paternal grandfather was one, but he shuffled off his coil long before I was born, and resides in Rice Lane Cemetery in Liverpool. Widening the search, The UK has at least 410 whereas The USA has almost 500. I’m referring to individuals with one distinguishing feature – who share the name Philip Green.

“What’s in a name”, asks Juliet. “That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.” It might smell not so sweet if the name you were given at birth is Philip Green, Adolf Hitler, Harvey Weinstein or Donald Trump and you’re “out there” on social media.

According to the web there are 410 people with the name Philip Green living in the UK. The UK Electoral Roll online found 70 Birth Records, 312 Marriage Records and 86 Deceased Records. This seems to suggest that 18 of my namesakes came to the UK only to die, and some might have been serial bigamists.

Perhaps I’m misinterpreting those results. I feel much more confident about John Smith. In the United States he shares his name with 47,458 others. Also competing for recognition are 1,032 James Bonds, 109 Harry Potters, 462 George Bushes, and 33 Emily Dickinsons. Beyond the song by Johnny Cash (34 Americans) very few parents have named their son Sue (source). Even so 1% of Americans named Philip seem to be women! The web makes it easy to find the most fascinating global data. For example, David Smith is the most common name in the UK at the moment, hence my mischievous title.

The USA is home to 323,300 people with the first name Philip and more than half a million with the last name Green. Put the two together and there are 496 living, breathing souls in the U.S.A who will turn around and answer when you call the name “Philip Green”.

Now it’s true that I have a shared bank account, 50% ownership of a house, and use of a car that is registered to my wife. But the online world has given me ownership of a few things to which no-one else on earth can lay claim. They include my National Insurance, Passport and NHS numbers, various email addresses and the unique identifiers that are granted me by social media and which are prefixed with a hashtag by Twitter.

Look for me and you will find that I am not any other Philip Green. Don’t confuse me with an Irish sports commentator. He had an “e” on the end of his name whereas I’m as green as the grass. Besides poor Mr Greene met his maker in 2011 at the age of 91.

I am not the composer Philip Green who was born in 1911 and wrote the score for more than 150 movies. I’m not a character from Star Trek either; he was a colonel and had an extra “l” in his first name.

I’m not Philip Palmer Green the celebrated computational biologist, nor am I Philip Green the author and American political satirist. He’s 19 years older than I am, but I got to Twitter first!

I am definitely not Sir Philip Nigel Ross Green. I’m not a twin. I’ve never owned a yacht. I am not privileged to sport an honorific. I’ve never run a retail chain. I didn’t go to school or shul in Surrey. What is more, (just in case HMRC are reading this), I have not forgotten to declare £3.7 billion on my self-assessment and I’m not collecting a fee for this writing. There are other “do-not’s” “did-not’s and have-not’s I could list, but I’d prefer not to risk action for defamation of a knight bachelor. I make no apologies for beating him to the name on Twitter as he’s younger than me by a full 2 years, 3 months and 7 days.

I like my name. Philip is taken from the Greek language and translates into “lover of horses”. I plead innocence on this count. Green is… well green, like the grass and The Danube despite rumours to the contrary.

And so, to finish my sermon, I’d like to offer a word of sympathy and guidance to all you plain ordinary folk out there who labour under such names as Jeremy Corbyn or Teresa May. My advice to you is even if you mean to use the hashtag #jeremycorbenbutnottheleaderofthelabourparty@twitter.com or yesimcalledteresamaybutIvotelabourandicannotdance@facebook.com, then it’s probably prudent to stay away from social media, at least until after the next General Election and Brexit.


Back in the UK there were over 63,000 unique baby names registered in 2017, but there were more than ten times as many births as there were names to fit them. If you are one of those parents who called your boy Oliver, then you’d be well-advised to secure his email address and identities on social media without further delay as he’s competing with 6,258 babies given the same name in that year alone. The stats didn’t show me but I can’t help but wonder at how many also have the surnames Twist, Cromwell or Hardy.

In the same year a happy decline in the popularity of the name Philip has continued. From its zenith in the early 1950s (wonder who inspired that) to its decline in the 1990s, it’s perilously close to being overtaken by Gerald. It’s probably safe to predict that it won’t hit the heights that Harry and Oliver are currently enjoying; not unless Barcelona or Real Madrid sign up a Philip who goes on to win them the European Cup. Nor will it get anywhere near Liam, Noah, Elijah, Logan or Mason which are currently in the ascendant.

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Jacqueline Du Pré

Christopher Nupen’s 30th anniversary tribute to Jacqueline Du Pré (televised last night on BBC) seemed to me to be more like a wake than a documentary. It was a kind of cut-and-paste from earlier films in which Music’s pantheon spoke of how much they loved and respected her. But we already knew that. What was missing for me was some insight into the woman and her great genius. Her inspirational qualities and her humanity were alluded to. So too was something of her vulnerability. None of these however were explored and the film left me wanting more. I’m listening to her play Saint Saëns as I write. She deserves a better tribute than this rehash documentary after 30 years in my opinion.

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Hats or Flags?

How one killer question highlighted the difference between consultancy and training design

I received a sharp reminder today of how easy it is to lose sight of a need when you’re focussing on a solution.
I’ve been designing learning solutions for many years, but I admit I am still prone from time to time to slip into the pitfall of solutioneering.
I’ve been spending too long at a desk, remote from the people and performance I’m attempting to modify. In short I’ve been shamelessly breaking my own rules.
I began to be impressed by my own surge of creativity. I would cause my group of learners each to take part in co-facilitating a face-to-face session. The roles of timekeeper, recorder, keeper-of-the-flame (and so on) would be shared amongst members of the group and rotated at the end of each session. I’d use some device to make it clear to me and the group who had assumed which role. The device had to be culturally neutral but easy to see from across the room. I chewed on the end of my pen and pondered. Then Christopher, a retired occupational psychologist hove into view and I said, “Hi Chris; hats on heads or flags on tables? What do you think will work best?” I was thinking flags on tables. Immediately Chris asked the single most important question after “Who’s it for?” and “What do they need to be doing?” And I’m guessing you would like me to tell you what he asked, but I’m not going to make it that easy for you, If I do, I shall be acting like a trainer and I prefer to assume the role of a facilitator. So you tell me – what was the question he asked, and which solution did I finally prefer?

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You are the product – when writing your c.v.

I have been helping a friend to update his CV.

Writing CVs has never been my part of my professional service however in the course of my work I have read and indeed written many CVs myself.

I believe there are three basic questions one should ask before writing a CV:

  1. what’s it for?
  2. who will read it?
  3. how will it come to them?

These questions seem to me to be very important because they may lead to the understandable conclusion that one CV is not sufficient. Most people need different versions for different purposes. The questions of what it is for and how it will come to the reader are crucial.

If you are offering your CV in response to a published job vacancy then it has to do just three things, but it has to do them better than any other candidate’s cv. Together with its accompanying letter it must deliver three punchy and confident messages:

  1. you need it
  2. I’ve got it
  3. let’s get together.

So you might say something like:

“You need a confident and senior professional who has a well-established reputation in community development in the non-governmental sector, can speak Spanish and English and has some medical qualification.”

 The important point here is to resist emphasising qualifications or qualities that you have if they do not seem to be relevant or interesting to the readers or their organisation. An obvious and simple but effective trick is to reuse words in the person’s own published goals, aims or job advertisement.

“Since 1969 I have made important contributions to the work of 6 organisations  in the etc., etc., etc.”

And then you’d finish with something like:

“I am happy to talk with you face-to-face, by phone or online so that we can explore how we might work together to support your aims in …. [whatever they’ve said they are].

“When are you available in the coming period and would you prefer to meet remotely or in person?”

Many people recoil in horror at such a cocksure and assumptive statement but fortune favours the brave.  You have to ask yourself, do I want a job or do I want to display my sensitivity and restraint? Be sure that the main aim of a c.v. in job-searching is to get you in front of people to state your case in person. If you are diffident and restrained I believe you are less likely to achieve that aim.

If your cv is speculative and you’ve broadcast it to any potential employer within a region or industry sector, then do whatever you can to demonstrate your interest in THEIR needs rather than in YOUR need for employment. So you might begin with a well-researched statement such as:

“Since 2009, report after report has found that South-East Asia will depend upon a highly motivated and well-organised workforce if it is to…. etc. etc.”


“The year has hardly begun and yet already there have been three avoidable incidents in …”


“The world of learning and development has changed beyond recognition and yet still it lacks…”

And then of course you go on to emphasise how your own experience, knowledge, skills and personal qualities make you an ideal solution to the stated problem.

Of course, some c.v.s are never really meant to be read at all. They might be used even after the person has already been selected. They serve as a kind of talisman to suggest that the person building the company, team or project has used some due diligence in selecting the people. Or they may be like an insurance policy so that if someone really screws up badly their sponsor can avoid blame. For these types of c.v. more detail is preferred to less.

Once you are clear about the purpose and the audience, it is useful to apply some basic principles to the CV itself.

Always be truthful.

If you lie on your CV you may get away with it. But if your little exaggeration is uncovered, it is a position from which you may never recover trust or credibility, and it might even result in serious punitive consequences.

Truth is good; modesty is not.

In the real world modesty may be an admirable trait, but in a CV it is unhelpful. If it makes you feel uncomfortable to “blow your own trumpet” then I suggest you ask your greatest admirer to write your CV for you.

Keep it brief 

There is no doubt that the best c.v.’s I have evaluated in the past where those that focused on matching qualities and accomplishments to the role being sought. They were a good fit for the culture of the organisation that was being approached. The worst ones were those which simply copied-and-pasted role profiles or job descriptions and didn’t even bother to change the grammar and syntax to make it person-centred. You cannot include everything so I try to think of words I might like spoken as my epitaph or written on my tombstone. As for the chronology, I think it is a mistake to have huge amounts of detail about jobs you did a decade or more in the past. A general summary is surely enough unless you did something really exceptional like win an Oscar, a Gold Medal or a Nobel Prize.

Use a structure that is fit for purpose

Personally I like to begin with top qualities and then main accomplishments followed by a chronology. I refer to myself in the third person rather than “I”, and so I begin with something like “Phil is a well-qualified and mature person who has made a major contribution in the world of learning and development.”

Focus on real accomplishments

Every cv will tell you that its author is an outstanding leader, a creative designer, an analytical thinker etc., but where is the evidence, and how will it resonate with the person who is reading it? It’s probably not enough to say I led and managed the implementation of this project or of that organisation’s goals and objectives. People are far more impressed with product than with process.

“The project was completed on time, but before my input it had suffered several months of costly delay.”

“My approach to project tracking has been praised and adopted by numerous other teams.”

“Not only did my work comply with international standards, it was published as a case study in how to make best use of volunteers in child-centred community development”

“I met standards with complete consistency so that I was accepted as a peer coach and used as a model of excellence and reliability.”

“Participants in my People and Culture initiative recorded some of the highest levels of satisfaction ever measured by an organisation in this sector.”

“The evaluation I did in 9 countries was widely regarded as fair, perceptive and accurate. Everyone accepted it and it has led to process improvement in a number of key areas.”

Quality check it

You deserve everything you get (or rather fail to get) if on the one hand you stress how you always pay close attention to detail and then demonstrate it by loading your cv with spelling mistakes, grammatical errors and careless layout. it is always useful to get someone else to read it after you finished. Whenever you review your own script there is a high risk of seeing not what is actually on the page, but what you intended to put there.

Good luck

I’ll finish with a disclaimer. These ideas are mine and mine alone. I’ve not lifted them from a textbook and I’m not an acknowledged expert in c.v. writing. If you see something you like then feel free to apply it. But please don’t sue me if my personal observations fail to comply with the wisdom of experts and worst of all if you don’t get the job! Be prepared to put some time and effort into your c.v. and make sure it is very persuasive and shows exactly what you will bring to an employment. Don’t let it become (in marketing parlance) a feature-dump. You are selling a product and the product is you. As with any product the consumer is far more interested in benefits and advantages than in features.

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The Dirty Dozen – 12 hot tips to guarantee your webinar will fail

Since retiring from full-time employment, I have found more time to watch and reflect on practices that previously formed much of my own working life. It is all too easy to slip into hypercritical mode when you observe the work of others. Even so the onlooker sees most of the game (ask any England football striker and you will know that is true.)

Recently I’ve attended a number of webinars. In part they were a diversion, to fill some idle time in my retirement schedule. In the main they provided an opportunity for me to check on the current state of an art to which the very gifted Don Taylor introduced me many years ago, and about which I have written and spoken at some length since.

WebEx arrived in 1995. A decade later, in 2006 when Saba acquired Centra the notion of a “virtual” classroom passed into corporate consciousness. After so many years one might expect this technology to have reached a level of maturity, but I am sad to report that this seems not to be the case. All too often the presenter, host or facilitator behaves in a disingenuous manner, as if dealing with a fascinating but arcane tool that they’ve never seen before.

How long do you imagine your patience would last if people used the phone as a novice, speaking into the wrong end, pressing buttons indiscriminately, proclaiming, “Wow! I can hear your voice!” or cutting you off mid-sentence? I lose my patience and feel disappointed when I come across the same innocence and insouciance when people use webinar tools. Sadly it happens all too often that users display profound ignorance of how to make this useful and powerful medium work.

Of course some examples have some merit; some have lots of merit, but I am moved to report on some common failings. If you recognise your own event, then I make no apology for speaking as I find. I do so with the aim of helping you to preserve your personal credibility and avoid reputational damage to your sponsors or employers in the future. Web-conferencing is not new; webinars are ubiquitous and the tools are fairly easy to master. There really is no excuse now for professionals to treat them as alien and unfamiliar platforms.

So to conclude, here is my Dirty Dozen – 12 top tips to guarantee your webinar will fail. I’ve not plucked them from thin air; they arise from actual examples I’ve endured during the past 5 weeks. They are the antithesis of a well-prepared, well-run webinar. It’s your call.

1) Forget to send invitations to all who want or need them

2) Follow up with an Eleventh Hour reminder to attend!

3) Fail to send joining instructions to show the agenda, to explain how and when people should join and what to expect

4) Start late

5) Neglect to mute your microphone so people hear furious typing, muttering, teaspoon stirring or even nose-blowing (yes, it really did happen in one session) as you prepare yourself and your session

6) Suppress the chat channel so participants cannot send messages to you or to one another

7) Promise fun and interaction but deliver dull page-turning using slides

8) Spend the first 15 minutes presenting your personal and corporate credentials

9) Have the session host control the slides by saying aloud to them “next slide please”

10) Talk too fast in a monotone and without a pause

11) Speak in a surprised tone to convey the idea that you really didn’t think this was going to work

12) Open one or more back channels using media such as Twitter, Facebook, Whatsapp or LinkedIn, but neglect to monitor them

I could go on and on (I probably have), but I think that gets the main irritants off my chest. It probably ensures that the number of invitations I get in my mailbox will decrease too, but I hope not. I’m always willing to offer feedback and help people to improve their performance. Finally if you are interested in the history of video-conferencing then I recommend this well-informed summary and timeline from Nefsis. See you online!


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Pixie Dust, and Why I Cheated in my Exam

Trainers love pixie dust, and the moment you quote a number – especially a highly specific number (not “just half” but a very precise 55%) you turn theory into science. Albert Mehrabian’s work done in 1972 is widely quoted to “prove” that 55% is communicated by our facial expression and body language, 38% is in the tone of voice and just 7% in the actual words themselves.

Trainers, in particular love to quote these numbers. Numbers carry a ring of authority. Did you know, for example, that the maximum attention span for auditory information is 12 minutes? How do you know? I read it in Phil Green’s blog.

Common sense and experience tell you that it is nonsense to interpret Mehrabian’s proposition as “the words don’t matter; concentrate on energy and passion and regulate your body language and you are bound to get your message across”. And yet that is precisely what some people think the research means. As a result, sales trainers, presenters, lecturers etc., are advised not to worry too much about the content of a message (after all you can think on your feet), but to rehearse and hone the style and the passion of the delivery.

One member of a training group in which I was a delegate, Kate, gave the example of her getting by on holiday with no common language. I warmed to Kate and trusted her sincerity as soon as I heard her speak for the first time, so I’m sure that tone and body language are influential. Nor do I doubt the honesty of her account or the depth of her belief, but I have also heard people  say, “I lay awake all night for an hour or so yesterday”. Memory can be very selective. Context matters, too; in a shop overseas, for example, she would have been able to use gesture to point out objects, and those objects stood for language. Also if she could magically view a video of her entire holiday I think even Kate might be very surprised at how much actual language was used. Although it was in a foreign tongue, there are many words with common or similar roots amongst languages in Europe and beyond, and they give clues to meaning. Moreover, if the words carry only 7% of the meaning, why would anyone ever bother to learn a foreign language? Why do Greek and Spanish waiters typically speak English?As for the “theory”, Mehrabian himself has said repeatedly that was “NOT WHAT I MEANT!” He was interested in the cognitive dissonance that happens when a person says one thing but means another, for example when a teenager exhales a long-suffering “yessssss” in agreement to a parental demand that they don’t really commit to. The professor said his work showed that there was some significance in the counterpoint between the words, tone and non-verbal cues ONLY when someone is expressing feelings and emotions. He found and reported on no effect in any other context.

There are two very compelling and entertaining clips on YouTube that may convince you if I have failed to do so.



I’m not trying to be smart-assed, but I have spent my working life dealing with the unlearning people have to do when they have been sold a pup or some fabulous pop-psychology that later let them down.

But to finish, there is something I have to confess. It’s about that training group I mentioned. I’d taken part because in that half day training, I saw the promise of some value. I do a bit of training myself, and have trained hundreds of trainers in my career. On this occasion I was pleased to be trained by Dean, whose skills are up there with the best. It was not his fault that Albert’s numbers came into the curriculum. He did a very professional job, and I’ve nicked some of his best ideas. No, the biggest problem was with the award. After 2.5 hours of serious engagement and thinking, came the promise of an actual qualification, and I can now proudly put some new letters after my name. In order to gain the qualification, I had to pass a multiple choice quiz. Guess how I answered the question about the 7%. So like the guy in the poem “snake”, I have something to expiate – a pettiness!

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Plain English questions for analysis

In Part One of this posting I referred to Robin Hoyle’s 6 A’s and Clive Shepherd’s 20 areas of enquiry, Here I offer a selection of some of the questions I have typically asked of a client.

I don’t always ask all of the questions, but I am always alert and listening. Lots of information comes spontaneously. Whether or not they are a response to a specific question, I aim to record all answers and I look for patterns and links that might lead to a “cocktail” of solutions in the right places. The classifications of “Learner, Learning and Logistics” which Clive has quoted are a nice, simple way of beginning the necessary sorting and grouping of factors that affect performance. After many years of using it I still find Mager and Pipe’s worksheets and flowcharts to be invaluable. Another tool I’ve found useful in this context is MHI Global’s (formerly Huthwaite) consultative selling method, known as SPIN (Situation, Problem, Implication, Need”.

Plain English Questions for Analysis.

My own favourite opening question is “Why are we here?”, but there are always many alternative ways of phrasing the same question. I’ve used “What are trying to achieve?” “What’s up?” “What are you trying to accomplish here?” “What’s going on?” “What seems to be the problem?” “Tell me your story.” Then I hold in my head the poem by Kipling, that is so well-loved and often quoted by trainers and sales managers:

“I Keep six honest serving-men (They taught me all I knew);
Their names are What and Why and When and How and Where and Who.”

(Rudyard Kipling, From The Elephant’s Child.)

I work as I might with a jigsaw, looking for things that have a common colour or shape – here is a “what”, there is a “how”, here is a “who”, etc. Some questions I might never ask, and I’m always ready to invent new ones. My aim is to complete a framework like the border on a jigsaw, and then to fill in a picture with no pieces missing. My notes are almost always more like a mind-map or a picture than a text.

Before you read the questions I have found to be most productive, I stress that there is no standard system for asking these questions, and they are absolutely not to be asked in a fixed order. I also have in mind the wisdom of sales trainers who would remind me that I have one mouth and two ears and that I should use them in those same proportions
(2 listening : 1 speaking) when I’m engaged in diagnosis.

A short selection of typical “Plain English” questions for analysis


What seems to be a problem or needs to change?
What do you need to see happening that’s not happening now?
What do you think is the consequence of that?
What is the scale of the “problem”?
What will be the biggest advantages of making the change?
What will “finish” look like?
What will we hear people say?
What will we see people doing in a different way?
What do you believe is stopping people from meeting the standards you need them to meet?
What solutions have you already tried?
What happens if we do nothing about it?


Why is it a problem?
Why should we invest time, effort and resources in this?
Why is this the right time to deal with it?
Why should I get involved?
Why has the problem not been fixed before now?


When is the problem most likely to reveal itself?
When is the problem most inconvenient?
When is it least inconvenient?
When do we need the change to be initiated?
When do we need the change to be complete?


How well are people doing?
How do you know?
How can we get reliable, objective and scientific evidence of the current situation and how it affects the business?
How much is under-performance hurting?
How will we prevent matters from slipping back to as they were?
How can we win support for making a change?
How will we know that the change has happened?
How will you know when any problems have been fixed (what will you be seeing, hearing, measuring etc.)
How could the change be made apart from through Training?
How were people trained to do the task in the first place?


Where does the need for change appear most obvious?
Where have we dealt with this kind of situation before?
Where can we see the accounts of others who’ve already done what we’re considering doing?
Where might we find a new slant on this, for example in another organisation, sector, profession or domain?
Where might we find people whose work already meets the standard we want from everyone?


Whose performance needs to change?
Who’s involved?
Who’s at the heart of this (problem, change, vision etc.)?
Who is accountable for the current situation?
Who is responsible for it?
Who are the “high performers?”
Who are the “low performers?”
Who are the witting contributors?
Who might be unwitting contributors?
Who is most affected?
Who is losing sleep over this?
Who stands to gain most from making the change?
Who might block the change?
Who might champion the change?
Who has the capacity to supply resources, people or information that will help me to understand the situation and change it?

To conclude

Use your ears and eyes to seek out how things are. If you must use your mouth then know that you will achieve the best rapport and so get the best results when all talk is just natural conversation. Empathy is a key ingredient that makes it possible to reach a high level of trust, confidence and effectiveness. Step into the shoes of your customer and experience their world at first hand, feeling their pride and their pain. If you don’t care about uncovering the real reasons behind an apparent training need, then you might as well pack up and go and do something more useful elsewhere.

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Plain English is just as important in Analysis as it is in the Design and Development of learning solutions.

In the past few days two things crossed my desk and set me thinking.The first was a blog by my good friend and colleague Clive Shepherd. He wrote:

“As a learning professional, it’s absolutely vital when you’re taking a brief from a project sponsor that you ask the right questions and are persistent in making sure you get a clear and satisfactory answer”

The second was a link to a short video by the excellent and down-to-earth Robin Hoyle who has managed to distil the entire process of setting a learning and development into 6 A’s. Robin’s A’s form the framework of a strategy; they stand for:


I won’t elaborate on this – you can hear the man himself explaining them if you follow this link.

What I like is the simplicity of these two pieces of advice. Both are sincerely striving to simplify a thought process that is anything but simple.

Clive proposed a list of essential questions for analysis.

Arranged in a logical order the questions are set within four headings:

  1. Need
  2. Learning requirement
  3. Learners
  4. Logistics.

(It is heartening to see one of my own attempts at simplification – the 3 L’s – used in earnest in this way and forming the basis of the analysis phase for the More Than Blended Learning design model.)

To set a strategy that works, or to solve a defined problem it’s not good enough to be driven by your own whims, aspirations or prejudices. You need to get at the nuts-and-bolts realities of the organisation you are serving. It is rather a good strategy to ask some rather good questions. Clive’s list and Robin’s A’s seem to cover the right areas of enquiry, but what are the “right questions” to ask, and does it matter how you ask them?

First on Clive’s list is the question:

What goal is this intervention intended to support?

Followed swiftly by:

What does this target population need to be doing in the future that it may not be doing now if this goal is to be achieved?

Robin’s first A is Aim and his second is Audience.

Picture yourself as a busy manager, a nuts-and-bolts pragmatist, fretting over some kind of problem or challenge at work. How will it feel if smart consultants arrive with their clipboards and a script, and begin to sound as though they are reading from a textbook with a foot firmly wedged in your door? Terms such as performance requirement and target population and intervention may be very precious to us as L&D pros, but perhaps there is a risk that we might be using them as “thieves’ cant” to prevent the non-professional from fully understanding what it is we are trying to do on their behalf. Even deceptively simply words such as aim and audience are loaded with a special meaning that may not match what is in the heads of our clients and customers. Ask any two managers to define the word “aim” and there is every chance you’ll get three different answers!

I like plain words and simple models; they make it easy for me to understand complex ideas and manage complicated procedures such as “Needs Analysis.” Above all they help me to get on the same wavelength as the people I believe I am trying to help through learning and development strategies and products. I have seen both Clive and Robin at work, and I have heard them speaking about their beliefs and approaches. The magic they perform is definitely not all about running through a list of prepared questions. Nor is it truly about persistence – a double edged sword that can leave a blunt gash in a relationship if it crosses the line over to dogmatism and nuisance!

Onlookers often see more of the game than the players do. Clues are there to be found, but we shouldn’t expect them to emerge naturally just because we ask a set of questions, especially if those questions are too formal or rigid in style and tone. Robin and Clive are highly experienced and respected analysts. What they do is quite subtle. It may be difficult to notice and describe, and so it’s not that easy for a novice to copy. Somewhere in the things that a manager has to say to them, or perhaps on the walls, in the choice of books on the client’s shelves, in the working environment there are clues as to what makes a business or part of a business tick, and to what might be getting in the way. Whether someone does, or does not offer you refreshments can reveal more about the deep beliefs and values of a team than anything pressed in aspic or etched in stone on the walls.

a bloodhound is a different beast from a dog-in-a-manger

I often think of a performance consultant as a soft, sentimental gumshoe detective, seeking out all the clues; going where the action is, sniffing the air and making genuine attempts to sense the real factors that shape what’s going on. But beware – a bloodhound is a different beast from a dog-in-a-manger. It is important to remove from your mind any preconceptions about either the problem or the solution.

I am not arguing against checklists, but I do feel there is some risk that the questions themselves might direct the lines of enquiry along pre-drawn lines. There is also a risk that an analyst/designer is so focused on their own questions that they neglect to listen with an open mind, in a forensic manner and with proper attention to the answers. I know many well-shod consultants, who make a good living with their models and matrices, balanced scorecards Johari windows and the like. The tools that have always served me best are a seeing eye, two very well pinned-back ears and some good plain English.

In the 1970s TV detective series “Columbo” the lead character would make some telling remark after the prime suspect thought the conversation was over. Typically he would tart to walk away, and when the suspect felt relaxed and relieved, the detective would turn back and say, “just one more thing.” What followed was always very revealing. In performance consultancy too, some of the best are “pick-up” and “follow-on” questions, and the “Columbo Close”. And that’s where I’ll finish for now – with a classic “Columbo Close”. Here it comes:

“Oh by the way – did I mention that I have a good store of my own favourite questions for analysis? I’ll sort through a selection and share then as Part Two of this posting.”

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Instructional objectives have some practical use and come from a process known as “needs analysis”.

ListeningInstructional objectives have some practical use and come from a process known as “needs analysis”. That is the last of 12 truisms that have influenced how I have been doing my work as a learning and performance consultant over a number of years. I hope you will feel free to support it with a book reference, a personal experience or a case study, or knock it down using similar sources of evidence.

I have devoted a good deal of energy to persuading people that instructional objectives have some practical use. I strongly believe that they are not a tick-in-the box requirement, an unnecessary chore or a lucky charm. I regard them as the most fundamental part of specifying learning from which all other considerations must issue. The process of analysis is not one thing but many, each of which can influence instruction and testing, and so frame and shape a learning experience.

I see measurable or observable objectives as the bridge between what a learner takes from the content of a course and what has to be tested. Without them there is bound to be a large amount of irrelevant course material and learners will lack the sense of priority that will enable them to focus their efforts.

I don’t include detailed lists of objectives in what the learner sees, but I always make them explicit because I feel sure that when learners know the general purpose of a task and the standard they need to attain in completing it, their confidence improves and anxiety decreases.

It may be useful to include formal objectives to help to explain very complex learning materials, but not for simple, assignments that are easy to understand and follow.

It is certainly easier to write precise objectives for concrete, observable tasks than for abstract or academic content or for activity that aims to manipulate attitudes and emotions, but nowhere can I find the suggestion that objectives are more useful in one domain than another.

A widely-recognised behavioural model for framing objectives is Mager and Pipe’s performance – conditions – standard, although many do not associate it with that source.  I find it works well to simplify it a little in plain English using the template “You’re going to do this… so you’ll need this… and here is how we’ll know you’ve done it.”

So let me conclude this journey around the truisms I’ve encountered over the past several years by setting a final set of 9 straw man statements for you to craft into a permanent figure or blow into dust.

  1. Course objectives come from analysis
  2. Analysis takes many forms – goal analysis, performance-gap analysis, stakeholder analysis, audience analysis, feasibility analysis, organisational analysis (readiness to adopt and support), content analysis, job analysis, task analysis
  3. In combination these forms of analysis provide objectives that form the basis for designing, developing and implementing instruction and assessment, and for quantifying and valuing the results they deliver. The effectiveness, fitness and efficiency of a learning strategy, materials or course rely upon this.
  4. The quality of a learning program is in direct proportion to the adequacy of its objectives. It is barely possible to develop a relevant course and adequately test its users without a proper analysis of needs.
  5. It is quite common to find courses and learning materials where the content does not match the stated objectives.
  6. Some trainers and designers misuse objectives by displaying them as a kind of decoration, makeweight or rubber-stamping of course design.
  7. Course with unclear objectives usually contain irrelevant information or omit vital information.
  8. Without clear objectives you cannot create valid and reliable assessments.
  9. Every objective in a programme of learning should be assessed in some way.

Thank you for staying with me during this journey through my 12 truisms. When you are ready for the next dozen, please let me know.

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You can lead a horse to water and you can make it drink

It is possible to interest people in taking up new methods and media in learning. That is the eleventh of 12 truisms that have influenced how I have been doing my work as a learning and performance consultant over a number of years. I hope you will feel free to support it with a book reference, a personal experience or a case study, or knock it down using similar sources of evidence.

The whole industry of eLearning and online learning is predicated on the belief that it is possible to interest people in taking up new methods and media in learning, but is that a safe assumption? Managers, training providers and learners themselves can all influence the rate at which a sponsoring organisation might adopt new and innovative materials and programs. From the very first hint that an instructional project is under development, suppliers and buyers should be working out how to encourage users and all relevant stakeholders to advocate and work with the new materials.

A pessimistic view shows people often reject ideas and resources that have been put together outside the immediate ambit – a kind of “not invented here” complex. Another cliché is that you can lead a horse to water, but you cannot make it drink. An antidote to resistance and rejection is to involve all influential stakeholders, and that includes potential users, in the analysis and design phases of distinctive new items and approaches.

It is prudent to treat an innovation in learning as you would any other change in the normal procedures of an organisation, with a Change Management Plan and Process and a suitable person to lead it. That Change Champion has to fully empathise with the organisation that is facing the change and needs to demonstrate the following 7 things beyond question:

  1. That the new approach, materials or equipment are better than any old ones they might replace
  2. That they add extra value to those that remain and they fit easily amongst them
  3. research and evaluation shows the innovation will bring advantages
  4. there is a clear and logical plan for implementation and adoption
  5. the innovation satisfies a recognised need of the prospective user
  6. it is intended to be a long term solution and not merely a short-term whim
  7. users have the skills necessary to work with the innovation or can easily acquire those skills.

It is vital to focus on users and their needs rather than on the innovative solution itself. Managers must know at least as much about what’s going to happen as they do, must explain and perhaps justify it to users and show it can be shaped to their particular needs.

A Change Management process must move users progressively from one state to another, first by raising their awareness, then by arousing curiosity, helping them to a clear and accurate vision of what the change will look like, giving them opportunity to practise and finally providing support and feedback as they use it.

So if all of these initiatives are in place, it is safe to assume that you can make your horses drink. Do you think that is true or is it a flight of fancy? Please use the form below to contribute your views and experiences.

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