Michelle Ockers

Continuously learning and supporting others to learn

Homepage: http://michelleockers.wordpress.com

‘Speed’ Mentoring – My Responses

AITD Mentor Qs.pngI’ve participated in the mentoring program run by the Australian Institute of Training and Development for the past two years – first as a mentee, then a mentor.  Last night was the end of program celebration event in Sydney, which Neil Von Heupt facilitated.  Neil ran a ‘speed’ mentoring activity.  Each mentee had a two minute conversation with each mentor to discuss their response to the three questions on the flipchart below.


The mentors were not forewarned of this activity, so our responses were very ‘top of mind.’  With the possible exception of the first question, my responses would be unsurprising to anyone who had worked with me in the past two years.

Most important aspect of my work

My gut reply to this when asked was ‘conversations.’  It’s not what I expected, and if I’d had more time to think about my response I may have crafted a different response.  However, I think it’s true and is at the heart of much of my professional practice and development.  I find it vital to talk with others to help me reflect, solve problems, ideate, explore, strategise and plan.  As an Learning and Development leader, having a performance consulting conversations with people who ask for a ‘program’ or ‘course’ helps in identifying underlying causes of performance gaps and appropriate solutions (which may not require training).  Conversation is also at the heart of social learning.

I’d like to acknowledge the influence of Harold Jarche in shaping my awareness of the power of conversation in learning  – fittingly, through two very memorable conversations we have had at Edutech conference in 2015 and on a Skype call earlier this year.


In conversation with Simon Terry at Edutech 2015 – photo taken by Harold Jarche

Favourite tool for L&D

As a personal and professional development tool, it’s definitely Twitter for me.  It’s turned my learning on it’s head since I started actively using it three years ago by enabling me to access people to engage with in a mutually beneficial interchange of sharing resources, ideas and experiences.  It’s one place where I have useful conversations.  Need more convincing?  Read what others have to say about Twitter as a development tool.


Hot career tip

Make time for reflection using whatever method suits you.  It’s vital to make sense of your experience, figure out what’s working and what you’d like to improve, and to inform your future actions.  I do a daily reflection in Evernote using a list of prompter questions on this linked list.  I write a dot point answer to those that seem relevant.  At the end of the week I then use the weekly reflection questions in my list to draw out key themes.  When I have the capacity I also blog about my work.

Which leads me to my second hot career tip – Work Out Loud.  In essence this is what I do on my blog.  Make your work and working processes visible to others – both when it’s a work in progress and when it’s complete.  Search on social media platforms or an internet search tool (#WOL #showyourwork and #WOLWeek) for a wide range of examples of how you can make your work visible.  Follow Jane Bozarth who provides practical guidance and examples to help you get started simply and quickly.

To maximise the career benefits of making your work visible, adopt the expanded Working Out Loud practice using the Working Out Loud Circle Guides.  Adopting Working Out Loud has radically altered my professional development, enabled me to build a contribution-based network, and created many opportunities.

Your Turn

How would you respond to these three questions?  Post a reply below or share your response on Twitter with #LNDcareertips

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#WOLWeek Day 3 – Make A Contribution

International Working Out Loud Week (#WOLWeek) is 7-13 November 2016. I’m using it as an opportunity to promote Working Out Loud (WOL) and give my own practices a boost by following the 7 days worth of actions to get you started working out loud.


Image source: WOLWeek.wordpress.com

My Purpose

On #WOLWeek Day 1 I blogged about my current WOL Circle goal:

“to clearly explain the impact of knowledge and expertise on Australian organisations.”

Todays Contribution

Today’s #WOLWeek challenge is to “take the time to make a contribution to another person who is connected to your purpose.”  The day is drawing to a close.  While I have made contributions to others today, I have not made one specifically to someone connected to my purpose.  So today’s post is a reflection on my contributions during the eight weeks of my current WOL Circle as I worked towards this goal.

My Contributions During Current WOL Circle

My purpose is fairly specific in it’s Australian focus, and I did not start with well-developed relationships with relevant people. Most people have an online presence of some kind so I started searching for people I had met at Knowledge Management Australia conference to see if I could find an online social media account, a blog, or other online content they’d published.

When I found people on LinkedIn I sent them a personalised invitation reminding them of our prior contact, and identifying our area of common interest.  If I found them on Twitter I followed them and sent a short tweet with a similar message.  Following someone on social media and making a short introduction gives the simple, unobtrusive gift of acknowledgement.  Where I was able to find content they had published online I looked at it and, if I found it valuable, I liked it, commented on it, or shared it online with a brief statement about the content.  The intent of these small contributions is to move the relationship forward just a little, to make them aware of me, and extend a light invitation to engage without imposing an obligation.

One person did start a dialogue with me via email, and I was able to make further contributions by commenting on their work and asking questions about it.  I asked if they were aware of Australian case studies or research relevant to my goal.  They recommended a global study that contained some Australian data, and suggested I join the AusKm forum and post my question there.  I’m going to leave this thread of the story there for now as it leads into #WOLWeek Day 5: Share A Need.

On reflection, during my current WOL Circle I’ve not moved beyond simple contributions.  This has impeded my progress toward my goal.  I’ve been very busy recently with significant changes, including resigning from a job to commence working independently, moving house, and time off work during school holidays.  I’ve struggled to maintain a habit of keeping an eye on what relevant people are sharing online, reading longer content that they have published or referred to me, and identifying contributions I could be making.  Nonetheless, I have made progress – which I shall summarise in tomorrow’s WOLWeek post.

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#WOLWeek Day 2 -Make a Connection

International Working Out Loud Week (#WOLWeek) is 7-13 November 2016. I’m using it as an opportunity to promote Working Out Loud (WOL) and give my own practices a boost by following the 7 days worth of actions to get you started working out loud.


Image source: WOLWeek.wordpress.com

My Purpose

On #WOLWeek Day 1 I blogged about my current WOL Circle goal:

“to clearly explain the impact of knowledge and expertise on Australian organisations.”

I shared links this to my Day 1 post on Twitter, LinkedIn and Google+.  I also sent targeted tweets to people in my network that I knew have an interest in knowledge management.  One of these people, Ben McMann, recommended two Australians that I could connect with:

Ben McMann Tweet.png

Today’s New Connections

Today I looked at the Twitter accounts of the people he recommended, skimmed through their recent tweets, and visited their blog sites.  This gave me a sense of their interests and what we have in common.  I asked myself whether I could see myself engaging in a conversation with them where I have the potential to learn something and/or to make a contribution to them.  Based on this initial screening I followed them.

While following someone on social media is a good first step, and an easy thing to do, it’s a superficial form of connection.  So I took one additional small step – I sent them each an introductory tweet.

WOLWeek Day 2 b.png


Each tweet included a brief message about something specific I had noticed on their Twitter profile or blog.  These messages are an invitation to engage with me – to build our relationship a little through conversation.  (For more on the idea of depth of connections and gradually building intimacy with people in your network you can look at the ‘Intimacy Levels’ exercise in the Week 2 Working Out Loud Circle Guide.)

Will these two new people I have connected with help me to achieve the goal I shared yesterday?  Will I be able to make a valuable contribution of some sort to them?  I don’t know yet.  I never do when I first add someone to my network.  It’s the first step in a process of discovery which may go nowhere, or may result in new opportunities I had never imagined – either with these people, or others that they lead me to.  That’s the mystery and joy of engaging in a network.

Connections for my Current WOL Circle

Yesterday I mentioned that I am currently in Week 8 of a 12-week Working Out Loud Circle.  In Week 1 after you share your goal you start building a relationship list, which is simply a list of people or organisations related to your goal.  You aim to identify ten people or organisations – either those you already know, or new ones.

I started my list with people and organisations I already knew, many from the Knowledge Management Australia conference which I attended in September 2016.  These were either people I had not known very long or were aware of but had not connected with.  Even where I did know them, my level of intimacy with them was low.  My challenge then was to introduce myself to these people in a meaningful way.  This required that I exercise empathy – to do a little research about them, and think about what their interests may be, and how it could be of value to them to be connected with me.  Over several weeks I reached out lightly to the people on my list.  In some instances they did not reply.  In others they did, but the interaction stalled.  In three cases the ongoing dialogue around my goal has been rich and led me either directly or through others in their network to resources that are directly relevant to my goal.

I hope that I have been able to contribute to these people along the way – which will be the topic of my Day 3 #WOLWeek post tomorrow: Make A Contribution.

Further resources:

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#WOLWeek Day 1 – Share a Purpose

International Working Out Loud Week (#WOLWeek) is 7-13 November 2016. I’m using it as an opportunity to promote Working Out Loud (WOL) and give my own practices a boost by following the 7 days worth of actions to get you started working out loud.


Image source: WOLWeek.wordpress.com

Day 1 – Share a Purpose

I am currently in a Working Out Loud Circle.  A Circle is run over 12 weeks.  In week 1 each person in a Circle sets an individual goal that they will work towards.  The goal orients your WOL activities over the 12-week period.  It doesn’t need to be perfect, and there is scope to modify or change over time.  It also doesn’t need to be a SMART goal.  The main criteria are that it is something you care about, and you can make progress towards in 12 weeks.

My goal is:

“to clearly explain the impact of knowledge and expertise on Australian organisations.”

Over the past three years I have worked inside an Australian organisation on improving knowledge sharing.  The opportunity to do this arose as a series of business performance challenges and risks were raised with me in my capacity as a Learning and Development Manager.

For example, a business continuity risk was identified in key operational systems due to the departure of key subject matter experts from the organisation, movement of people internally through job roles, and imminent retirement of some long-tenured employees.  This had an impact on current performance and was one factor contributing to under-utilisation of system functionality, hence missed opportunities to use the systems to help run the business as effectively and efficiently as possible.


Image source:  theinstitute.ieee.org

Why I Care About This

Another example was in the maitnenance and engineering function.  The role of engineers had changed over the previous 10-20 years, reducing the natural opportunity for engineers to develop deep understanding of equipment and line design in manufacutring as they worked.  Consequently, this knowledge was concentrated in a small number of long-tenured engineers.  There was a need to spread this knowledge more broadly to sustain and improve trouble-shooting and capability to develop and impelemnt equipment and line modifications in conjunction with third parties.  There was also a need to improve maintenance management and practices across Australian sites in order to improve production line efficiency.  Knowledge sharing was identified as one strategy to achieve these goals.

So, my experience with a single organisation provides me with the ability to explain the impact of knowledge in this organisation.  I am now working independently and would like to do more work to help Australian organisations improve performance through better knowledge sharing.  To help create opportunities to do this I would like to be able to clearly explain how knowledge impacts organisations using specific Australian examples / case studies and research / data.

How I’m Sharing my Purpose

I’m in week 8 of my Circle.  While I have asked some individuals and one Australian knowledge management community (Australian Society for Knowledge Management forum) for help to find relevant Australian case studies and data, I have not actually shared my overall goal outside of my WOL Circle.  So, today I’m sharing it on my blog which I will post on Twitter and LinkedIn.  I have a Knowledge Management list on my Twitter account, and will share this post with selected individuals on this list.

Further resources:

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My Plan for Working Out Loud Week (#WOLWeek) 7-13 Nov 2016

Working out loud is an approach to building relationships that can help you in some way. It’s a practice that combines conventional wisdom about relationships with modern ways to reach and engage people. When you work out loud, you feel good and empowered at the same time.

 – John Stepper, The 5 Elements of Working Out Loud (revisited)

International Working Out Loud Week 7-13 November 2016 offers an opportunity to explore and/or strengthen your Working Out Loud (WOL) practices.  I was looking for a way to use WOL Week to both promote this powerful approach and give my own practices a boost.  I needed to look no further than the official website where I found 7 Days worth of actions to get you started Working Out Loud. 


Image source: WOLWeek.wordpress.com

I’m currently participating in a Working Out Loud Circle.  This is my fourth.  I find the accountability created by being in a circle valuable in helping me work purposefully towards a goal, especially where I need new knowledge and to build my network to achieve the goal.  One aspiration I’ve never met is to make a regular blog posts for the 12-week period of a Circle.  That’s about to change!

My Plan

During WOL Week I will do the following every day:

1)  Take the action suggested for that day; and

2)  Publish a short blog post about what I have done during my current WOL Circle in regard to that action, and the impact of taking that action.

What will you do in WOL Week?

I’d love to know your plans – please post a comment or tweet me.

Further resources:

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Why I Left a Job I Really Enjoyed to Work Independently

I recently finished working at Coca-Cola Amatil (CCA). Those of you who have follow me on social media or read my blog know that I really enjoyed my job. So you may be wondering why I have decided to return to working independently.

The Job I Enjoyed

In November 2011 I started a 6-week contract with CCA to design a national approach to capability development in Supply Chain.  One thing led to another and I joined CCA in early 2012 as an employee to lead the Supply Chain Technical Academy.  At the time a completely decentralised model was in place for technical capability development with an independent, inconsistent approach in different locations. CCA had invested heavily in a range of equipment and platforms, and wanted to ensure that their capability to use these was sustained and improved. The introduced a robust national approach to developing core technical capabilities via blended learning utilising the 70:20:10 framework.


Australian Institute of Training and Development Awards to CCA Supply Chain

In early 2014 the Supply Chain business strategy changed. We updated our capability strategy to maintain alignment and strengthen governance. We also explicitly added continuous workplace learning to our strategy, which we defined as ongoing learning outside of structured programs. To execute this strategy we set about modernising our Learning & Development approach and capabilities.


Finalist – 2015 AITD L&D Professional of the Year

My time at CCA was a period of significant professional growth – due both to my work experience and self-directed learning. In 2014 I transformed my professional development, as described in, and symbolised by, this blog. I have developed a strong global Personal Learning Network (PLN), adopted Personal Knowledge Mastery (PKM) and Working Out Loud (WOL) practices. This enabled me to step-up my strategic leadership and implement modern approaches to workplace learning. One business challenge I became particularly interested in is improving the use of knowledge and expertise to improve business performance.

At CCA I had the opportunity to be innovate. I felt I could make a positive difference to the daily work experience of people across the organisation. My role was a vehicle to impact individual, team and organisational performance. I worked with people I liked who were professional, reliable, and cared about what they did. For the most part I did work I enjoyed that gave me a sense of meaning and contribution. However, over time my strengths and interests shifted – and I wasn’t able to find a way to focus on those within CCA.

Why I am now Working Independently

Having realised that it was time to move on, I could have looked for another corporate role. Instead I have chosen to return to working independently. Here are the reasons for this choice.

1)  To focus on work that plays to my strengths and interests – I want to pursue projects that focus on the things I am really good at and that bring me the most satisfaction. In a corporate job I would be in a weaker position to say ‘no’ to elements of the role that don’t meet this criteria. Working for myself increases my position to choose what I work on.

2)  To have greater impact. Working independently extends my reach. My personal vision statement includes the aspiration: “I make a positive difference and leave people, places and organisations in a better state than I found them.” Working with more people and organisations increases my opportunity to make an impact.

3)  To learn even more. When I last worked independently I found that working with a range of organisations accelerated my learning. I get to see what is working well and what could be improved in every project or task I work on. My capacity to create value constantly increases through exposure to a variety of organisations.

4)  To be valued more – As my external profile increased through networking, writing, and speaking, people from other organisations sought me out. They wanted to know more about what I did and how I did it, or to use me as a sounding board for their work challenges and opportunities. This tells me that I have knowledge and experience that I can contribute to others in a range of organisations. As an employee people inside your organisation often value your contributions less because you are one of them and not an external expert.

As an aside, why do people leave it until someone’s farewell to say ‘thank you’ for your contribution and tell you what they appreciated about your work?   Tell a colleague today what you value about their work and thank them.

5)  To improve my productivity – I don’t need to spell this one out in detail – less corporate administration, less organisational politics, fewer distractions and interruptions, less commuting. I’m very good at organising myself and find it easy to focus when working independently.

6) To improve my lifestyle – I want greater flexibility to work when I want in the way I want. Working independently increases my capacity to create balance across the many roles in my life. Another consideration is that while I am still energetic and passionate about my work, I am closer to semi-retirement than high school graduation. I am in a better position to create ongoing income sources working for myself than for an organisation.


What I Will Miss Most

The thing I will miss most is the daily camaraderie and energy of my Academy colleagues. They are professional, reliable, willing to take a risk and try new things, and have a growth mindset. They supported, encouraged, challenged, guided, inspired and motivated me.

What About You?

What is your current work situation? Do you work for yourself, or are you considering this option? Why? Leave a comment to share your experience and thoughts on working independently versus being an employee.

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Leadership – Themes from PSK Performance Fishbowl Discussion

On 31 August 2016 I had the good fortune of moderating a discussion on leadership.  The event was a Fishbowl discussion organised by Trent Rosen of PSK Performance, and was held in Sydney.  Trent had gathered an excellent set of panellists with relevant experience and expertise.

Nigel PaineNigel was the Head of Learning and Development with the BBC.  He now does a lot  of work with coaching consulting speaking.

Commodore Lee Goddard – Commodore Goddard (who asked to be called Lee during the discussion) commands Surface Force for the Royal Australian Navy.  Based in Sydney, he commands Sydney 18 warships and 3500 people.

Cameron Clyne – Cameron is the Chair of Australian Rugby Union and ex-CEO of the National Australia Bank.

I was a little disappointed that there were no female leaders on the panel.  However there was a really amazing diversity and depth of experience.  One of the things I was really impressed with was just how down to earth and all three panellists were.

You can view my reflection on the discussion in video format or read the (slightly polished up) transcript below.

fishbowl-formatThe format was called a Fishbowl.  I sat at the front with the three panellists and there was an empty ‘hot seat’ at the end of the panellists’ row.  The participants were in curved rows facing the panellists.  If a participant wanted to join the discussion they could come and sit in hot seat.  Although I did the introductions and had a set of questions, the success of this format is to get people into the hot seat to ask their own questions.


fishbowl-layoutWe had a good flow of conversation and range of questions asked. I’m going to share some of the key themes that came up.  Views expressed below are my understanding of those expressed by the panellists.

Resilience came up quickly.  A leader cannot have an off day, and behaviour under stress is the key to good leadership.  A key part of building leadership is self-awareness.  In order to build leadership you’ve got to know yourself.  In an organisational context, the organisation has to understand itself as well in order to build leadership.

Visibility came out as a theme, particularly from Cameron.  In his role as CEO at the National Australia Bank he said that information flow was critical.  He wanted people to be able to tell him what was going on.  To achieve this you need to strip away the hierarchy.

Fishbowl 1.jpg

Nigel raised accountability and support.  They are complementary – you have to support people and give them time to develop as leaders, and you also have to hold them accountable.

In regard to time, we talked a lot about behaviour change and forming habits.  Developing leadership takes time.  There’s no quick fix – you can’t just send people on a workshop for two days, a week or two weeks and expect that they come back its leaders.

As a leader its important to role model behaviours you expect of other leaders.  Also, be aware that you will get from others the standard of behaviour that ‘you walk by.’  This relates to setting standards and holding people accountable to them.  Related to role modelling is that people expect you to ‘act the part,’ to carry and conduct yourself as a leader.  The conversation again returned to not having an off day – which is mostly about being resilient and managing yourself, which requires self-awareness (a recurring theme in the discussion).

Not only do others need to see you as a leader, you need to see yourself as a leader.  Cameron told a story about something a coach said to him when he became CEO of NAB at the age of 40, at start of the Global Financial Crisis.  His coach told him that he needed to ‘promote’ himself, meaning he needed to see himself as a senior leader before others would.

Fishbowl 2.jpg

Nigel shared a lesson – he had to learn to coach others to solve their problems rather than solve the problems for them.

There was a question about developing trust in the online environment as a leader.  I thought that Lee’s answer was the best of the panellists.  He blew away some myths about the military, pointing out that the military is always at the forefront of technology, which includes and the online world is not different.  He made the point that the virtual world consists of people and that, in fact, virtual / online has made communication and leadership more personal.  I would have loved the opportunity to discuss this point for longer.

Some specific questions caught my attention.

First was the old chestnut about middle management being a blocking point for change.  Terms commonly used to refer to this ‘group’ include ‘the Iron Curtain’ and ‘Permafrost.’  The common view is the you can’t change to flow down beyond middle management.  Cameron made the point that this is not a homogeneous group and you need multiple approaches for different kinds of middle managers.  You also need to understand the m as individuals.  There was a great quote from Lee Goddard about co-creation – “Do leadership with people not to people.”

I asked whether Learning and Development (L&D) as a function is relevant to leadership development.  I asked this question because the discussion had focussed on how a leader can develop themselves and other people’s leadership, but L&D had not been mentioned.  It is a clear ‘yes’ for the military who invest a lot of time for each leader in leadership development every year.  However, there were some question marks from the other panellists.  Nigel’s point that it’s up to L&D to be relevant aligned with Cameron’s view that L&D should be integral to, and aligned with, the organisation.  Although it was a bit sad, Cameron got a laugh when he said that he’s been in organisations where he wondered whether L&D was actually part of the same organisation.

A question on how sport is relevant to business got three very different responses.  Nigel told a story to illustrate that lessons relevant to business could be derived from sports.  The example he gave was the British 2012 Olympics Cycling team who focussed on finding 1% improvements. Lee spoke about the importance of sport to well-being and participating in sport to get to know your people.  Cameron noted that in both sport and business, skill alone is not enough to success – there has to be a mindset for success.

Fishbowl 3.jpg

Thank you Trent Rosen from PSK Performance for trusting me to moderate the Fishbowl discussion.  It was a great experience both of the format and nature of the conversation that it generated, and in tapping into the experience of the three panellists.  The only regret I have is that it wasn’t a lot longer because there were so many more topics we could have covered, and we could have delved deeper into the questions and themes that were raised.

Did you watch the video?  If so, you may have noticed that the body of it was in portrait orientation rather than landscape.  This is because I shot it in SnapChat to do a quick reflection shortly after the event and decided that I would use this footage rather than shoot it again.  Many of you may not have seen SnapChat video before – let me know what you think of this style of video.

Please leave a comment or questions on the content of this post below.  If you were at the event I’m curious if you got something different from the discussion – let’s continue the conversation.


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