Be Future Ready – Themes from Professional Development Keynote

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This is a summary of key themes of the keynote presentation I delivered at the 2018 Administrative Professionals Conference at University of Wollongong.  The overall theme of the conference was ‘Be Future Ready.’  This summary will be used in an internal publication reporting on the conference.

Ongoing change is normal in today’s workplace, with much of it being driven by advances in technology.  We have entered the 4th Industrial Revolution where computers and robotics are replacing or supplementing work done by human brains.  Digital technology has already changed the way many products and services are purchased and delivered, and has radically altered industries including banking, travel, music and movies.

All occupations will be impacted by automation and people will increasingly interact with digital assistants and other forms of Artificial Intelligence to get their work done.  Besides being able to work effectively with technology, social skills which are difficult for computers and robots to replicate are becoming increasingly important – such as empathy, compassion, listening, influencing and leading people.

The employment relationship is also changing with more people being engaged on temporary contracts and short-term projects or tasks rather than being permanently employed.  Many of the conference participants indicated that they have already worked in this way as part of the ‘gig economy.’

To keep our skills relevant and be future ready in an environment of ongoing change and increasing competition for work roles it is imperative that we take charge of our own learning.  This requires us to shift our mindset to learning continuously as we work rather than expecting training courses to be adequate to maintain our skills.  Michelle explored ways of doing this by learning from yourself, from resources and others.

Michelle invited participants to recap key content from her session and access further information on learning strategies, resources and tools in the ‘Michelle Works Out Loud’ page on her website.  Everyone is welcome to follow these posts and join the conversation using #futurereadylearning on LinkedIn or Twitter.

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Future Ready Learning #futureadylearning

Toady, 15 Feb 2018, I’m speaking on ways of taking charge of your own learning at a professional development conference for Administrative Professionals at the University of Wollongong.  The conference theme is ‘Be Future Ready’ which I’ve aligned with using the notion of Future Ready Learning.

The first half of my keynote focusses on the WHY – what’s changing in the world of work and why it is now imperative for people to take charge of their own learning.  I then provide a high level overview of three approaches to stop waiting for the training bus and getting on your bike to head off on your own or with others to learn for yourself.  These are learning from yourself, from resources, and from others.

In 30 minutes I barely have time to touch the surface of the range of ways people can engage in continuous learning.  So I’m inviting the session participants to continue the conversation with me by connecting with me on LinkedIn or following me on Twitter.  Over the coming fortnight I’ll be posting more about some of the learning approaches and resources I introduce in my keynote so that people can explore them further.  I will make posts here on my ‘Michelle Works Out Loud’ page, and share them on my feed on both LinkedIn and Twitter with the hashtag #futurereadylearning so that you can search for them on either platform.

If you are one of the people who attended the University of Wollongong session please let me know via the comments below and/or by messaging me on LinkedIn or Twitter.  It’s great to see you following up on the session and eager to take charge of your own learning.

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Thoughts on Thought Leadership

Last year I was part of Thought Leaders Business School.  I undertook this program to help me figure out how to build an independent business practice where I help others whom I want to choose to work with to create value in my field based on my expertise, insight and experience.  However, I didn’t tell a lot of people I was undertaking it.  I felt uncomfortable about the ‘Thought Leader’ part of the title.  I was concerned that because I was undertaking the program it would sound like I was wanting to claim the title of ‘Thought Leader’ for myself.  It’s a label that has a lot of negative connotations if someone applies it to themselves, and it made me cringe a little.

A recent post by Helen Blunden titled You Are Not a Thought Leader touched a nerve with me.  She described how she had “begun to tire of the self-claimed accolades of “thought leadership” ” which she characterises as being about people building a following through publishing and speaking in order to gain credibility and a reputation in their field.  I had to read her post a few times to get beyond my emotional reaction and see that it is the superficial reputation-building through slick marketing that she is criticising.  Her response is for people to build credibility through action, and to let their body of work and the impact that it makes on others be the basis of their reputation.

I agree with Helen’s view that credibility and reputation need to be earned through valuable contribution.  However, we live in a society with a bias to action and we struggle to make enough time and space to think.  The success of Nancy Kline’s book series ‘Time To Think’ is indicative of how we struggle to create conditions conducive to thinking.  There are people who make the time and effort to think deeply in a way that challenges the status quo who make a valuable contribution and impact upon others.  Harold Jarche’s body of work on Personal Knowledge Mastery and Jane Hart’s on Modern Workplace Learning are examples of this.

A month after Helen’s post I came Dr Liz Alexander’s perspective on thought leadership.  This was via one of Tanmay Vora’s wonderful sketch-notes, which he created after interviewing Dr Alexander about her book on thought leadership.  Her definition of a thought leader is someone who disrupts others habitual approaches to issues that concern organisations, industries or society at large.  Like Helen, she asserts that if you are calling yourself a thought leader you most likely are not one.  “It is other’s assessment based on your ability to shift their thinking.”

I’ll leave you to read Tanmay’s interview with Dr Alexander for yourself.  What struck a chord with me was the spirit of intent she ascribes to thought leadership – that it’s about curiousity, courage, and challenging established points of view in order to provoke meaningful change.  Ironically, this is a spirit I see in Helen.  It is also a description that would make me comfortable to one day truly earn in the eyes of others.

(Please have no doubt that this post is not a disguised plea for others to tell me I am a thought leader.  Think of it more as a post exploring my aspiration to become a much better thinker in my field so that I may be part of a network of people who are contributing to positive change.)

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Anecdotally Speaking – a Podcast to Improve your Business Storytelling

A good story engages people emotionally, and is a great way to inspire and influence people.  As Connie Malamed, one of my favourite Learning and Development authors, outlined back in 2011, stories can make learning more effective.  In the domain of workplace learning, it’s not only learning experience designers and facilitators who could benefit from improving their storytelling skills.  As we adopt more socially connected approaches to workplace learning the ability for people to tell stories effectively will enhance the sharing of knowledge and experience in networks.

Anecdotally Speaking is a new podcast that will help you to improve your storytelling in business settings.  In this podcast Shawn Callahan and Mark Schenk from Anecdote share great stories that you can tell and, even more importantly, why they work and when to tell them.  Shawn and Mark founded Anecdote in 2004 and have been focussed on helping learners to develop the skills to share stories ever since.

After listening to the first three podcasts I’m confident to recommend it as a ‘must listen’ resource for not only leaders, but anyone involved in learning or seeking to influence others through storytelling.

Shawn and Mark are excellent storytelling role models.  In each episode one of the them tells a story, then they discuss why the features of the story or the way it was told that make it effective.  They also suggest contexts in which the story could be used.  Even if you choose not to use the specific stories that they share, their discussion provides guidance as to what to look for in a good story and will help you to craft and tell your own.  They make their points clearly and concisely, with a little humour.

I enjoy the conversational tone of the podcast and the (mild) Aussie accents – at least they sound mild to me as a fellow Aussie.  At approximately 15 minutes per episode this podcast is a convenient length, and will readily hold your attention.

Listening to this podcast is a great, free way to improve your storytelling skills and repertoire,

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Peer Mentoring Inaugural Session

Today I had my inaugural peer mentoring session with an industry colleague (who I shall refer to as my ‘peer’ for the remainder of this post).  I met my peer when I attended a one day course he facilitated several years ago, and I subsequently engaged him for some coaching.  We remained in contact when the coaching arrangement ended and continued to meet informally face-to-face two to three times a year.  We both work independently, with some overlap in our professional circles although our service offerings are quite distinct from one another.  Apart from the common challenges and opportunities of working independently, we have discovered an affinity in values and outlook that has created trust and a sense of mutual support.  In a way we have been informally mentoring each other for at least a year.  As we considered how to stay in touch during my 2018 travels I recalled the positive experience I’d previously had peer mentoring with a colleague who lived remotely from me, and suggested that we enter a similar arrangement.

Expectations

The key thing we did in today’s session was to discuss our expectations of our mentoring arrangement and how we could best support each other.  My key need is for accountability to help me achieve my most important goals.  I have always found that telling someone else I will do something increases the likelihood that I will get it done.  Having said this, I tend to take on too much and would like my peer to challenge me regarding whether I am taking on more than I can deliver in a given period.  (One action I accepted from my peer today is to prepare a project plan for Quarter 1 to check my capacity to achieve all my goals, and ensure that I’m allocating regular time to business development activities.)  My final expectation is that my peer will help point out blind spots in my thinking, particularly those that could undermine achievement of my goals.

Structure – A Light Touch

We’ve agreed to meet for one hour each month via videoconference.  While we didn’t explicitly discuss allocation of time or agree a specific agenda, we did agree to check in at the start of the session regarding the progress we each made on the goals / tasks we nominated as most important in our previous session.  I expect we will then spend roughly equal time in the ‘mentee’ role using each other as a sounding board on whatever issue or question we each want to explore.  It’s up to each of us to take personal notes during the session.

We did not make any explicit agreement as to how we would stay connected between sessions.  However, given our existing relationship I expect we will exchange some messages or emails to provide each other updates and share resources.

The confidentiality of our discussions is essential, and has always been the case between us.  We did acknowledge this briefly today, even though it was already understood between us.

Monthly Priorities

Before today’s session I sent my written vision statement and goals for both 2018 and the first quarter of the year to my peer.  My peer has committed to send me his written goals this week.  We identified our key goals and tasks for the coming month as a means of increasing our accountability for achieving these.

My work priorities in the coming month are to:

1)  Deliver a keynote presentation I’m delivering to an internal professional development conference at University of Wollongong on 15 February on the topic of ‘future-proofing yourself.’  The objective of the presentation is to motivate participants to actively manage their own learning and provide them with practical ways of doing this.  I need to complete preparation and practice for this session.

2)  Commence facilitation of the Australian Institute of Training and Development (AITD) Social and Collaborative Learning Essentials course online on 21 February.  This is the first time I’ve facilitated this eight week course so need to familiarise myself with the content and be ready to deliver several webinars and facilitate the on-line interaction in Curatr.

What Mentoring Arrangements Do You Have?

Mentoring arrangements can take many forms, and I’m curious as to what others have in place and what works well for you.  Please post a comment to explore this question.

Note that if you are a member of the AITD note that applications for their mentoring program are open until 16 February 2018.  I have participated as both a mentee and mentor in this program and found it very valuable.

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Quality and Impact – Making it Personal

I moved out of my apartment two days ago.  One of the last things I did to prepare for my year on the road was to give away my fridge.  I gave it away for free to a stranger by posting it on Gumtree (an Australian based trading site).  Despite it being a very busy week I made the effort to clean the fridge thoroughly before it was collected.  I removed every shelf and washed it, wiped all the inside and outside surfaces, cleaned every food crumb from the seals.  I imagined how much the person receiving the fridge would appreciate that it was clean and ready to use.   When the task was complete I silently thanked the fridge for the service it had provided me (I really did – it has been part of my ritual of letting go of most of my material possessions over the past two months).

I won’t pretend to have been fully present while cleaning the fridge.  I was thinking about why it was important to me to clean the fridge.  In part it was personal pride and wanting to make a good impression on the new owner.  The Golden Rule was also in operation – treating the new owner as I would like to be treated.  However, my sense of connection with this chore went beyond that.  I was reminded of two books that have influenced how I approach both everyday activities and my work.

In my early twenties I read Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance by Robert M. Pirsig for the first time.  Using the narrative of a fictional 17 day motorbike journey, Pirsig explores the meaning and concept of quality.  It was probably my first exposure to mindfulness – to being fully present with a task or activity (despite my mind wandering while I cleaned the fridge).  I recall being struck by the extent to which the main character was in the moment with not only the task of maintaining his motorbike, but other experiences on his journey.  He was also intensely interested in the detail of things he was working with.  I’m unsure whether the book shaped my values or resonated with existing values.  What it clarified and solidified for me is a sense of care and connection with the projects and tasks that I take on.  If I take things on I want to do them well and put a lot of effort into being of service and delivering valuable outcomes in my work.

Linchpin by Seth Godin is the second book I was reminded of.  I read this more recently, shortly after it’s release in 2011.  The central idea in Linchpin is that anyone can make a significant impact regardless of their position, how much they like their job, or any other factor.  Linchpin is about the impact of looking for the opportunity to make a difference, to make a contribution of some sort simply because you want to bring your best self to the things you do.  Every now and then I get great service in a shop, or a bus driver that drives extra-smoothly and greets passengers in a friendly way, or coffee that has clearly been made with care and attention to detail.  In a world where most service is ordinary it’s not hard to stand out simply by caring about what you do and seeking to do it well.  An attitude like this creates opportunities.

The themes of these two books are similar, although expressed in different ways.  I felt content as I looked at the clean fridge and thought about what it symbolised.

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Opening Space for People to Tell Their Story

One of my goals in 2018 is to find a new town to live in as I travel around the east coast of Australia.  I’ll be covering a lot of territory with my daughter, driving from place to place and staying in Airbnb accomodation for eleven months.  Our plan is to stay in most places one week – occasionally a little less, and occasionally a little more.  I’ve been thinking about how we can learn about life in the towns we visit and figure out what it might be like living there.  One of the most important ways we can do this is to talk to local people and create the space for them to tell us their stories about their life in the town.

Thinking about how to elicit people’s stories reminded me of a day I spent with Laura Overton of Towards Maturity in early November 2017.  She was visiting Sydney, and I introduced her to two Learning and Development colleagues that I had worked with previously.  During our conversations with these two people I learned new things about them as a result of the way Laura opened up the space for them to tell their story.  She was genuinely curious and had no agenda other than to listen and find out how they thought and worked, and what influenced them.  I was so impressed that I made a video about this experience, and am sharing it on my Working Out Loud page for the first time today.

 

 

 

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Using Way Of Life App to Build my Routines

I’m working on embedding updated daily and weekly routine.  During 2017 I created a checklist in Excel to remind me of actions I wanted to build into my routine and to track completion.  At the start of the year I tracked completion directly in Excel, but found this inconvenient and my tracking was haphazard.  Then I moved to printing out the template and keeping it by my bed where I would manually check it off before bedtime.  This had the disadvantages of:

  1. not being mobile as I wasn’t carrying the checklist with me so couldn’t use it to prompt action during the day,
  2. reminding me of what I had not done immediately prior to going to sleep which was creating mental traffic when I should have been calming down for sleep, and
  3. slower manual calculation of completion statistics and trend tracking over time.

Manual tracking in bullet journal

When I started using a bullet journal in October I glued a hard copy of the template into the bullet journal.  I also used my bullet journal to list most important daily tasks so carried it with me and referred to it frequently during the day.  This addressed the first two disadvantages of having the printed list standalone, but not the third disadvantage which related to manual tracking versus electronic tracking.

In preparation for my year on the road (which starts in one week from publishing this post) I decided to stop using my bullet journal two weeks ago.  I had previously used an app called Way of Life to help build and track my Personal Knowledge Management (PKM) and Networking routine.

Routine list in Way of Life

It was very quick for me to set up a list of the activities on my routine checklist in the app and I was able to start tracking them immediately on my iPhone.  I track completion progressively during the day using a visual interface.  Every item on the list is marked as done (green), not done (red), or skipped (grey).  The skipped entry is useful for actions with a weekly frequency rather than daily frequency.  Whenever I reach three consecutive days of ‘done’ against an action I get visual and audible feedback – reinforcement of maintaining a good ‘run rate’.  Skipped days are not counted in this run rate tracking.  While I like getting this feedback this feature can be turned off.

I can view completion trends over time in the app.  Time interval for this graphical reporting can be set at  6 weeks, 12 weeks, 6 months, 9 months, 1 year or 2 years.  The trend can be viewed for either all actions on my list or specific actions.  A image of the graph can be sent via email, but I don’t think the data can be exported for further manipulation outside of the app.

Reporting Options

 

One disadvantage of the app is that if I delete an action from my checklist I lose the data associated with it.  Hence there is an element of transience which I’m

While I’m only in my second week of using the app again I notice that I am completing more of the actions in my routine list.  Combined with ease of use and mobility this means the app is working to help me get into regular habits with my routine and fine tune it over time.

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Onboarding Program Components – A Diagram

Yesterday I facilitated a design workshop for an induction program.  The group I worked with are learning coordinators in Supply Chain at a beverages manufacturer.  Each participant works at a different production or distribution site.  Every site currently has it’s own approach to induction of new operators.  Some of the coordinators recently started updating their induction program and materials, but were working on this independently for their individual sites.  An opportunity was identified to develop a common program, and I was asked to facilitate a workshop to kickstart the design process.

I asked the manager who engaged me what induction meant in the organisation, what was in scope of the Supply Chain induction program, and how it integrated with others aspects of the on-boarding process.  As this was unclear one of the workshop objectives was to clarify what elements the on-boarding program the coordinators were responsible to design and deliver.

I was hoping to find an article or resource on the internet that clearly defined on-boarding, induction and orientation, and the relationship between them.  I found a fairly common view about on-boarding, but substantial variation in what constituted induction and orientation.  Rather than spend a lot of time explaining the terminology in words I created the diagram below to present on-boarding as a process spanning many weeks or months consisting of a series of steps and components including induction and orientation activities.  Not all components in the diagram are included in on-boarding by all organisations.  In particular, the development of role specific foundation skills is often separate to on-boarding.

 

Onboarding – Potential Components

After presenting the diagram I walked through examples of on-boarding programs and activities from a range of organisations.  This illustrated what the potential components consisted of and how different organisations integrate them.

The group was then able to refer to the diagram to define which components were currently part of on-boarding in their organisation, what else should be in place, and which they were responsible to develop and/or deliver.  It also helped them to identify what components needed to be well integrated to create a coherent end-to-end on-boarding process for new starters.

 

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Sort Your Task List by Start Date

Smart Work by Dermot Crowley

Last week I read Demot Crowley’s book Smart Work, which he describes as a practical productivity book.  He uses a systems approach to the challenge of organising yourself in the digital workplace.  His system consists of:

  • centralising your actions
  • organising your inputs and
  • realising your outcomes (i.e. ensuring you are putting energy and effort into the things that are highest value to you).

The structure of the system (and the book) is logical and easy to follow.  It is written clearly and offers practical tips.  I especially appreciated the emphasis on keeping things simple.  A simple system or process is easier to follow and maintain.  I’ve tried following David Allen’s ‘Getting Things Done’ system, and found it too much effort to maintain.  On the other hand, Dermot’s approach strikes the right balance of practicality and relatively low effort with ensuring that you’ve got all your task inputs and actions captured and under control.

While I already have a reasonable solid, effective system in place for my personal planning and productivity, I’m constantly looking for minor improvements.  I was able to skim Dermot’s book and find a number of useful tweaks, especially in the ‘tech tips’ section at the end of each chapter.

One improvement that I’ve implemented is to organise my task list by start date.  I use 2Do as my electronic task management tool.  The default order for task display is due date.  I was using this default and got out of the habit of entering a start date for each task.  In order to figure out what to work on each day I needed to scan through all tasks due in the coming 1-2 weeks, mentally constructing a Gantt chart in my head.  I would use priority flags to identify the tasks I wanted to work on every day.  The flags would be used for a secondary sort of task display order.  Obviously this process had more steps, effort and time for daily task management than was necessary.  Based on Dermot’s tip I assigned a start date to all open tasks (as well as due date) and I now display tasks in start date order.  It’s much simpler and quicker for me to identify what to work on each day.

Consistent with my goal of a short daily dispatch I’m leaving this post with one key tip today.  I’m sure more productivity posts will appear in dispatches.  If your current approach to managing the flood of incoming tasks, emails, messages and meetings isn’t working well for you, I recommend you read and apply Dermot’s book.

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