Sunday, May 11, 2014

ASTD ICE - Day 3

Ah, the final day of the conference... well, for me anyway. I had to leave a day early unfortunately, but at least I was able to keep up with some of the sessions I missed via other attendees and their livetweeting. All hail Twitter, allower of distance conference attendance!

1) Keynote: General Stan McChrystal
Tying in to the conference theme of change, McChrystal talked about the vital need to adapt. As an example, he pointed to a famous plane crash that happened despite great flying conditions, a functional airplane, lots of safety equipment, and a competent crew.

This seems like the least likely set up for a tragic plane crash story, and yet the crash happened anyway. Why, you might ask? Because of a combination of too many new and complex safety features (which caused confusion) and insufficient crew communication skills (which made the confusion even worse). Things changed with how the plane functioned and how the crew needed to work together, the crew hadn't adapted to this change, and a sad, but likely preventable, crash happened as a result.

So what does this mean to us? The rate of change has accelerated, which makes it hard for us to keep up, but all the more important for us to learn how to adapt to. Unfortunately, we have an adaptability gap... a big difference between how much we're currently adapting and how much we actually need to adapt. But McChrystal says there are three key ways to learn to bridge that gap, so we can learn to adapt at the speed life is actually moving and learn from the experience.

The first part of this bridge is avoiding predictive hubris. Predictive hubris is the feeling that you can always use the same rules over and over to predict what's going to happen. In the rapidly changing world McChrystal described, though, often the rules we think we know can suddenly get shifted, or even thrown out the window entirely. What we need to do is give people the ability to quickly move with this change and figure out what the new rules of the game are, all without having to depend on someone else to tell them what do do.

In the case of the air crash I mentioned earlier, after it happened airlines realized they needed to become more adaptable. To do this, crews were trained on adaptability, situational awareness, and flexibility so they could become better at dealing with unexpected situations. And do you know what happened as a result? Airline safety skyrocketed.

The second part is shared consciousness. Sure, rapid change is tricky, but if you build bonds of trust and common purpose in your teams, that shared pool of knowledge can do amazing things and adapt quickly. That trust and knowledge can make it easier to understand how each person in the team needs to react when change happens, which makes it smoother and faster for the overall team to change.

The final piece is empowered execution. Teams where people feel micromanaged and/or unable to affect change end up being unable to adapt effectively. Empowering execution gives people the ability to do things themselves and to take ownership of their work. That means they'll be more likely to directly point out (and even fix) issues they see and be emotionally invested in the work, both of which lead to better results.

2) Build Your Company Tribe: Engaging Employees Through Online Collaboration
Speaker: Andi Campbell
This session was a case study on how LAZ Parking, a company that specializes in parking lots, leveraged an internal social network for training and collaboration.

LAZ Parking wanted to encourage employees to collaborate and feel connected to each other. That said, with 7800 employees working at 1900 locations across 24 states, sharing between employees was more than a bit tricky. Sure, in-person collaboration was limited, but LAZ Parking realized that there was another option: an internal social network.

In doing some initial analysis of this idea, LAZ Parking realized they had not one, but two ideal target markets for a social network: all employees (for general sharing) and participants in their management training program (for more specialized sharing). And so, rather than try and make one social network try and be all things to all people, they instead set up two separate networks: one for each target audience.

Here's a peek at one of the social sites they created
Both networks functioned relatively the same way. Like a simplified Facebook, they showed posts in a reverse chronological order, and let people share status updates, photos, and other user-created content. The company-wide site focused on sharing community-building content, like team photos and events. The site for the manager training program, on the other hand, focused more on tying in to course assignments and discussions, allowing users to learn from each other. What was great is that because LAZ Parking smartly made two different social networks, neither one got diluted. Both were able to focus on their core goals, which helped them resonate with the people who used them.

So, overall both sites were considered to be successes. But LAZ Parking is the first to say that social networks like this aren't a one-size-fits-all tool. They attributed much of their success to their company culture. They already had a positive work culture with a lot of trust, which made it much easier to get people to feel comfortable sharing with each other. I can't imagine this would have worked nearly as well in a toxic work environment. They also took their learners and corporate culture into account when designing how their social networks would function. A different audience might require a very different set up in order to work well in that workplace.

3) Sweet Caroline! A Super Set List for Sensational Learning Sessions!
Speaker: Rick Lozano
So this was my last session of the conference and, with its high-energy and practical message, it was quite possibly the perfect way to end my time at ASTD ICE.

Like the stand up comedy session I saw the day before, this was another session that talked about what we in L&D can learn from another set of professionals. In this case, the title tells you all you need to know about what other career we'd be learning from: professional musicians. Here are the main points of the session, in handy dandy photo format!

I *could* recap his main points, but this is even better: the recap Lozano made himself.
While I quite enjoyed the entire session, there was one point Lozano made that really stuck with me: that it's so important to find ways to connect the things we're passionate about outside of L&D to the work we do inside of L&D. Sure, it would have been easy for Lozano to keep his music life separate from his work life. I mean, it's not immediately apparent how they connect and that's definitely the approach many people take to their work life and their personal life. But no, he made the intuitive leap that helped him see how the skills he built as a musician and performer could actually complement and enhance his abilities as a trainer and facilitator. 

When you can find ways to leverage one skill to improve another, that makes your work stronger. But when you can also find ways to combine two things that you love, and to not have to live as though your passions are completely separate, that does even more. It means you don't have to pretend that your life is segmented off into completely unconnected portions, and you can instead work in a way that's authentic to everything you care about. That's some pretty powerful stuff when it comes to helping you feel excited about the work you do everyday.

Sure, not everyone is a professional musician, so we're not all going to pull our inspiration from our work onstage, but we all have things we care about outside of work that, when you do a bit of digging, can actually connect to our work in L&D. Maybe you're passionate about coaching your kid's sports team, and you leverage that to help you lead projects at work. Perhaps you enjoy scrapbooking, so you use the layout skills you learned from that to create beautiful and effective PowerPoint presentations and class materials. Maybe you're like me and you've found a way to turn your nerdy love of gadgets and software into a role where you show others the ways tech can help make training more effective. Where ever your passions are, find a way to tap into them to fuel your work and your passion about that work.

And with that came the end to my time at ASTD ICE. I was sad to have missed the last day of the conference, but at least I got to see the Twitter backchannel coverage of the rebranding announcement while I waited at the airport for my flight home. My thoughts on that? Well, other people have covered it with more historical perspective than I ever could (I quite liked David Kelly's take on it) but I will say this: this early on there's no way to really know what the what the long-term ramifications of the change will be. I, for one, am definitely interested in seeing what comes of it.

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