Prospecting for gold

L&D and HR professionals often anticipate L&D conferences and exhibitions with relish.

But, like a gold prospector, if you want to get the best out of the experience you need to be equipped to find those few flakes of gold.

One recipe for success can be a very clear understanding of what you want. Meetings, new understandings, insights, applications? - or simply time off from the usual cut and thrust to get some special self-development?

It's like shopping with a prepared shopping list that may be all you want and that will tick all the boxes. To continue our gold prospector metaphor, you know where a few flakes are located, you plan how to get them and that's what you get. No more - no less.

But what if you go for more a 'free flow' approach? Spending time in an 'Alice through the looking glass world', where no one questions the value of learning. In this world, all learning is good and all you need to decide is how many of their products you want … by when.

I would argue that you still need a plan if you want to 'grab that gold'.

Here's a challenge for you; whether you're an in-house provider or external consultant, what can you use or see that could enhance your offering to your customers?

What might address some of those perennial issues about for example pre event discussion and post event action between learner and manager? What might make an event that you arrange more memorable? What online resources are available that could add to the total learning experience?

What thoughts, ideas and insights can you catch when you're there? Is there a blog or tweet that you can create as a result that will help you and your standing with current and potential clients?

And how are you going to bring this 'stuff' back - so that you can reflect, distill and process it all to something useful and real?

Log them on your phone, tablet or notebook perhaps.

Otherwise it might just be a plastic bag filled with leaflets, brochures, the odd freebie and faint memories that will quickly mean nothing more than a recollection of wandering around with sore feet and being hectored into making a purchase.

There's gold in them thar conference hills - but you've got to go equipped!

Nostalgia's not the cure for UK plc's people skills ills

Apart from tourists, Hadlow Road Station at Wilaston, near Chester, is deserted. A casualty of British Rail's line closures in the late 20thcentury, it's now been restored as a museum piece and tribute to 1952 - nostalgically viewed as the last flowering of rail's halcyon days.

There's a plaque on the station which tells visitors: 'Stop a moment and imagine… it is 1952. The train will soon be in - you hear its whistle… Behind you, businessmen and shoppers, on their way to the city move aside for a porter pulling a trolley load of mail and country produce. From inside comes the sound of jingling coins and the thud of the date stamp as the clerk issues tickets. A late-comer rushes onto the platform and the train steams in. Today, the station, restored and furnished, is much as it was on that day in 1952. Only travellers and staff are missing.'

Actually, travellers, staff and trains are missing.

It is, of course, perfectly human to indulge in nostalgia. When those of us of a certain age were all younger, things might not have been perfect but we thought we understood them and we survived them - because we're still here. We had the optimism and confidence of youth. Our future life, work and career had possibilities.

Today, there are people in their 20s and 30s around the country who've never had jobs - and may never get jobs either. Work-based nostalgia is obviously not what it was.

It's not entirely these young people's fault that they don't work. They don't have the skills employers need. Employers are reluctant, nowadays, to take on surplus labour on the off-chance that their business will expand. Rising unemployment, along with other changing economic conditions, is prompting employers to retreat to their position before the Industrial Training Boards (ITBs) began operating in the late 1960s. Employers disliked the ITBs because they had statutory powers to make them train their staff or pay for not training but poaching skilled staff as required.

Without any moral or statutory need to develop staff, employers can - in the current labour market conditions - recruit staff with the skills they want. They can then spend their money investing not in people skills through learning and development (L&D) but in the latest technology, which promises to give their business an edge or at least safeguard the competitive edge they feel they already have.

Technology's both attractive and doesn't answer back but, as we keep being told, 'people buy people, not products'. If employers - 'UK plc' - want to compete effectively, especially in the increasingly competitive world markets, they'll need employees with world class skills. That'll mean having to help them develop those world class skills - via L&D - because world class skills don't just 'mysteriously appear'. They must be developed - perhaps via MT&D.

We're all encouraged to see problems and challenges as opportunities. The only thing is, though, that sometimes there are insoluble opportunities - rather like attracting a real train (doing real work) back to Hadlow Road Station at Wilaston.

Experienced advice endorses ancient wisdom

It's comforting when contemporary opinion seems to echo the wisdom of the ancients. Advice in the book of Psalms - revered by at least three world religions - is 'Don't put your trust in human leaders; no human being can save you.' (Psalm 146: 3)

This seems to have been borne out in the assessment of the leading personalities who have been enlisted to help the Government in recent years. These high profile leaders include James Caan, Mary Portas, Carol Vorderman, Jamie Oliver, Lord Sugar, Tanya Byron and Loyd Grossman

Caan was asked to help Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg launch Open Doors, a government initiative aimed at boosting social mobility. He wrote an article saying children should 'find their own way' in life but was accused of hypocrisy after it emerged that both of his daughters work for his companies.

Portas was signed up last year by David Cameron to lead a government review on the 'future of the High Street' - which resulted in 'Portas Pilot' towns receiving £1.2m to spend on regenerating some of Britain's most run-down High Streets. Twelve months on, ten of the 12 Portas Pilot towns have seen a fall in the number of occupied retail units, according to research by BBC Radio 4's You and Yours. Shop vacancies have gone down in seven towns but, overall, more shops have closed than opened.

Vorderman produced a report on the state of maths teaching in English schools but, by the time it was published, in August 2011, the Government had changed. Oliver was made an 'advisor' on school dinners in 2005 but his services were apparently spurned by the coalition, last year, in favour of Henry Dimbleby and John Vincent, founders of the restaurant chain Leon.

Lord Sugar became Gordon Brown's business and enterprise tsar in the 2009 cabinet reshuffle - only to be 'fired' by David Cameron. Byron, a TV psychologist, led a government inquiry into the effect of violent videos and internet porn on children. Her first report, in 2008, led to the formation of the UK Council for Child Internet Safety - a group of more than 200 organisations across the government, industry, law enforcement, academia and charity sectors. Grossman became the hospital food tsar but, earlier this year, he confessed that 'there has not yet been a noticeable change in the way hospital food is produced, prepared, cooked and served.'

While there appear to be mixed results - at best - from the gurus, there's a lot to be said for seeking and taking advice from less high-profile, dedicated and experienced professionals. They are, perhaps, less concerned with their egos - and, thus, more inclined to listen to others than give their opinions. As the Egyptian writer, Naguib Mahfouz, once said: "You can tell whether a man is clever by his answers. You can tell whether a man is wise by his questions."

This means they're more likely to invest time and trouble to get a shared-view and so catch conflict before it kills your organisation's performance.

If you'd like to deal with conflict in your business so that it can be more successful, you'll find that MT&D will be delighted to help you. MT&D doesn't do 'ego' but it does do effective and efficient advice and guidance on all aspects of employee engagement - to help everyone connected with your organisation to excel.

A High Street fight back needs HR help

In the current challenging economic times, high streets around the country have been witnessing shops closing. In recent months even some of the 'bargain basement' type stores have gone from some high streets - giving rise to the thoughts that (a) the tough times are still very much with us and (b) people must be deserting the high street to increasingly buy online.

However, according to figures published by the BBC, consumers spent more than £311bn last year - and some 90% of that money was still being spent in physical rather than virtual stores. In fact, a number of online retailers - including Oak Furniture Land, which began life as a successful eBay trader in 2003 - have opened branches on Britain's high streets to meet their customers' demand for a physical presence. Although an internet-only retailer from 2003 to 2009, Oak Furniture Land now has over 40 shops, employs over 600 people and has plans to expand its physical retailing presence over the next three years.

While everyone will be pleased to see Britain's high streets reverting to being full - not only of people but of shops and shoppers, this has some implications for those in the corporate HR and learning and development (L&D) sectors.

For one thing, there are recruitment and selection issues - when choosing the right people for these jobs. Thanks to the state of the job market, some younger people may never have had a job before. They need to be given a chance to be productive but they'll have issues - including being able to adapt to corporate life - which need to be addressed if these people are to be effective and efficient workers.

Moreover, those who've had previous jobs and who're recruited as part of the high street expansion may have other issues that must be addressed. These could include helping them to recover any lost confidence - in their abilities and in corporate life.

Whatever aspect of HR or learning and development that you examine, moving from online to high street retailing brings people-related challenges. If employers want to 'get it right' from the start, they need to get appropriate recruitment and selection, as well as L&D policies, strategies and procedures in place. And, just as you wouldn't start - and continue to run - a business without having a professional to look after the accounts, so you should take professional advice and guidance when it comes to the HR and L&D functions.

If you'd like your retailing business to be successful, you might like to talk to MT&D. We'd be delighted to help you.

MT&D at Top Roundtable HR Discussion

MT&D's Roger Mayo has taken part - by invitation - in a Roundtable discussion involving top HR decison makers on 'How to transform UK skills in the next seven years'. The event which took place at the Commonwealth Club in London, was organised by Training Journal (TJ), in association with learndirect, and chaired by Elizabeth Eyre, TJ's editor.

The discussion focused on key emerging issues and challenges facing HR departments in terms of the skills of the UK workforce. In particular, it examined what can be done by the Government, business and employees themselves to ensure that they can respond to these challenges effectively.

In 2006, Lord Leitch produced a report for the Government, outlining what needed to be done to make the skills of the UK workforce among the best in the world by 2020. This year marks the halfway point in making that goal a reality. Seven years on since the report was first published, roles of HR, learning and development have continued to change exponentially. Businesses in the UK are competing globally for the best talent while having to cope with an uncertain economic climate. Technology also continues to transform business processes and interactions with customers.

TJ is publishing a feature article on the outcome of this Roundtable but a summary of these discussions is available on the TJ website: and on YouTube:

According to Roger: "It was both intersting and stimulating to take part in the discussion with people representing Lloyds Bank Group, the Houses of Parliamennt, the CIPD and the Learning and Performance Institute.

"I believe that young people today have a huge amount to contribute to the workplace. As HR and Learning and Development professionals we should keep on challenging ourselves to ask what each employee can do to help themselves - and us - in our organisation."

Back up!

It's a cry that makes you think of someone using suitable hand gestures who is confronted by a large vehicle moving towards a blocked way.

But this is the business 'back up' plan that we should all have. It's our 'Plan B' - before we get so busy doing things. It's the 'what if?'
questions you need to ask before the heady rush of being excited by the thrill of achievement.

It's that checklist you always have, the consideration of the risk
element in decision-making, the disaster scenario and 'what ifs?' that can keep you awake at night and which we need to prepare for. But this blog post is no cry to take out insurance. Simply, we need to always to have a 'Plan B' because 'Plan A' won't always work in the timeframe, within cost and to quality constraints.

We all know this.

Except, that is, the retailer M&S, which proudly proclaims 'because
there is no Plan B' after a list of aspirations for Plan A.

If you drive on Britain's road networks, you can read this on the back of M&S's trucks - and you can see it at

Did M&S share this sentiment with an M&S truck driver who got his
lorry firmly wedged in York's Micklegate Bar recently? If so - he had a good defence.

Back up? Back up!

We believe there should always be a Plan B.

Even if you're M&S.

The luxury of failure

In a recent edition of The Washington Post, Kathleen Parker writes about the benefits - even the necessity - of failure. Despite our
society being obsessed with success, she says, sometimes we have to fail in order to succeed.

'The truth is, you usually have to fail to succeed,' she writes. 'No one emerges at the top. Even those born lucky eventually get a turn on the wheel of misfortune. Anyone with a résumé of accomplishments also has a résumé of failures, humiliations and setbacks.

'Steve Jobs was fired by the company he co-founded. Yet it was during this period of exile that he picked up a little computer graphics company later called Pixar Animation Studios, the sale of which made
him a billionaire.

'This is to say, to fail is human. To resurrect oneself is an act of courage.

'A history of human failure would make for a long and interesting read, yet we prefer books about success… It's not the thing attained that matters; it's the journey that gives us life. The act of creation - the struggle - far exceeds the pleasure of the thing created.'

She quotes JK Rowling, as saying: "Failure taught me things about myself that I could have learned no other way."

Ms Parker concludes: 'If we agree that wisdom and confidence and a better Apple are gifts of failure, then why are we so afraid to allow our children to experience it? In a culture where failure is not well-enough understood as necessary to growth… then no one gets wiser or
better. And a nation populated by such people may not survive.'

This article takes a very narrow view of success. At MT&D we believe all sorts of people can achieve success in whatever they do - they don't have to walk in the glare of public life to have the success that is intrinsic to life itself.

Success comes from doing the yet undone and reaching the target currently out of reach but potentially within your grasp. And this success is there for everyone. Success can be a very small
but very important step or change.

And while we can't protect people from failure, through coaching and learning we help them re-frame their experiences and perceptions so they can move forward and adopt more successful strategies and

The power of 3

Why is it that we know the rule of three - that people tend to easily remember three things - but put three people together in charge of something and it tends not to work?

When you come out of an appraisal you'll probably only remember three things. It's the same with presentations. Which is why effective appraisers and presenters shape their input to accommodate this rule. Got four things? - cut one out. Great orators - Churchill, Disraeli and Patton inspired using this rule. Even Caesar said: "Veni, vidi, vici!" and yet he was part of the first great Triumvirate ruling Rome - and that ended in tears...blood sweat and tears.

So what is with a threesome that goes wrong? Do two always combine against one? There's a lot of hearsay evidence that three leaders does not work. The concept clearly evokes personal pain in some of those that speak so strongly against it.

Maybe that's why this is coming to you from M...and not T&D

The fun in learning

Georgi Lozanov is a pathfinder in designing pleasurable learning that appeals to all the senses He is also a major contributor to the concept ofAccelerated Learning.This approachdemonstrably improves acquisition and retention of learning. The use of music to influence the emotional and mental state of learners is an important component of this approach.

Recently, researchers atthe Neuro at McGill University have now
indicated how important music, and even the anticipation of music, is in releasing dopamine - a pleasure-giving chemical in the brain usually associated with food, drugs and sex.

The team at the Neuro measured dopamine release in response to music that elicited "chills"; changes in skin conductance, heart rate, breathing, and temperature that were correlated with pleasurability ratings of the music.

When we run learning events we always include music - often as a background when delegates are working on their own or in groups.
It's more acceptable than drugs or sex in the classroom - and cheaper than food.