Archives for May 2014

What are Mobile Learning’s Benefits, Challenges and Future?

I recently interviewed Peter Phillips, CEO of Unicorn Training Group, in the UK about his thoughts on mobile learning and where it is taking businesses and professional development.

Bill Brandon: Peter, thank you for the opportunity to speak with you about the business benefits of mobile learning. The website for Unicorn Training Group covers an impressive range of solutions, including mobile. Tell us about your company.

Peter Phillips: Unicorn started 26 years ago as a face-to-face training company. We’ve always been interested in how to apply technology to enhance learning, but from the perspective of being a training company, not a technology company getting into the learning market. We really are all about how to make the learning experience better and more effective.

Probably 80 percent of our clients are in the insurance, banking, and financial services vertical. We work with professional bodies, particularly in the UK— such as CII (Chartered Insurance Institute) and the CFA (Chartered Financial Analysts) (who are bigger in the US than in the UK). Most of what we do is mainly specialist areas and technical training for the financial sector including continuing professional development (CPD) and compliance.

We are a solutions company. We have an enterprise learning-management platform called SkillsServe, which we’re very proud of. We provide a range of off-the-shelf content, most of it directly relevant to the financial sector. We also build custom content for our clients and generally deliver solutions that involve some combination of custom and off-the-shelf. The custom content is likely to be hosted on our platform.

Increasingly, mobile is a big factor in what we do. It’s interesting—you can see it partly just as a natural evolution. Mobile brings all sorts of new opportunities and challenges—it is actually changing the game, and perhaps to a greater extent than some of those evolutions of the past.

Web-Based or Native?

Bill Brandon: Are you developing web-based solutions or native apps for mobile?

Peter Phillips: We’re very much on the web-based solutions side, for several reasons. Of course, it’s much cheaper and easier to develop web solutions. We do have a couple of native apps, but most of our clients and their learners are still at their desks on PCs. It would be premature for many of our clients to be delivering on a mobile app. Certainly in the States and the UK most of our learners have online access most of the time, when they’re at home or travelling, as well as at work.

It’s also really important to be able to sync back to the LMS; the nature of our clients is that they want the content tracked and reported, to allocate training to learners and so on, so that they know that competence gaps are being filled and that they’re meeting their compliance requirements.

Benefits of Mobile Learning

Bill Brandon: What do you see as the particular strengths and benefits of mobile for learning?

Peter Phillips: At the Learning Solutions Conference in Orlando this year, several speakers addressed the forgetting curve. It’s not enough to just douse people once a year with compliance training, on money laundering or the like, and expect that everything will be all right. In fact, in 30 days or so they probably will have forgotten nearly all of it.

If you want to make sure your training is continuously effective, and that you don’t get compliance issues down the road, which of course for a bank is incredibly expensive with fines of millions and millions of dollars, you really need to be reinforcing your learning on a regular basis. Mobile is a very good way of doing that.

With mobile, you can push short chunks of learning, little texts, little assessments, little case studies, to people on a spaced basis. These short, sharp, spaced interventions have actually proven much more effective in some of the research that Will Thalheimer has done. Mobile is ideal for delivering them.

Portability is another very obvious one—the fact that people can sit on the train and learn on the way to work, or can do a little bit of learning at home. They don’t have to be at their desktop. That’s a big core advantage of mobile, by definition.

The real benefits are yet to come. I think the Experience API (xAPI) has got great potential and has only scratched the surface so far. The opportunity to report learning experiences across a much wider range of activities than just eLearning is really quite exciting. eLearning has

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been almost in a silo—companies did their eLearning “here” and their face-to-face training “there.”

Now it’s more about learning than eLearning—everything is going online or has an online element to it and begins to link across different types of experience. To collect information on experiences, using mobile platforms, is going to be a real game changer in the long term.

More and more of our clients want diagnostic testing, so they can focus on where their needs really are. By finding out up front about gaps between the competency required for a job and the competencies that an individual currently has, an organization can then focus the learning to fill that gap. Mobile can deliver the testing, deliver quick interventions, and xAPI can capture relevant related experiences.

Another big benefit of the mobile revolution is user-generated content and collaborative learning. People out in the field who know their job really well can pass on some of that information to others in the business. They can record something (information, example, demonstration), publish it as a short video on YouTube, and post that into their learning group. These things weren’t possible just three or four years ago.

Gamification is the other hot trend of the moment. I’m not quite sure where that will lead us. Gamification gets support from the fact that we now have smartphones and tablets and we all play games on them. I think this changes people’s perceptions: now when they go into an eLearning experience, they can be hopeful that it might actually be amusing or interesting or entertaining as well as supporting learning.

It’s going to be less and less possible for instructional designers to get away with the boring, text-heavy page-turners of the past. People will expect to be genuinely engaged. Mobile has a big part to play in opening up new possibilities and in changing mindsets.

Factors That Reduce Organizational Resistance to Mobile Learning

Bill Brandon: What drives adoption of mobile learning?

Peter Phillips: There are verticals where there are dispersed workforces, branch networks, retail operations, and large numbers of employees out in the field. In those situations, mobile has been adopted much quicker than in banking and insurance.

Even so, those in the boardroom, who have been the first to demand the latest up-to-date tablets and smartphones, drive a surprising amount of the demand. When they get those, they want there to be something on them they can do. They are often the ones who have pushed the reluctant IT departments to enable mobile.

Many organizations have sales teams who rely on mobile to support their calls on prospects and clients. And finally, everyone also has their personal tablets and smartphones, and they bring them in to work.

The short answer is that organizations are being pushed from the roots to not resist mobile.

Impediments to Mobile Learning You May Not Have Considered

Bill Brandon: What would you say are important impediments to implementing mobile learning?

Peter Phillips: Change management is a bigger challenge for some groups than others. We often have better luck with L&D than with departments that focus on compliance.

Mobile is a different mindset, isn’t it? In our case, we are very often dealing with, not HR, but compliance directors and compliance officers. They can be particularly challenging, because they want everything tied down and recorded and controlled from the center. It requires quite a change of mindset for them to accept that learners are responsible people and that they can have an input to their own learning.

Another factor is organizations that are still on IE7 and IE8. Anything you design for HTML5 will not work with the older browsers.

Bill Brandon: Is security part of the concern that your clients have about apps?

Peter Phillips: Yes, very much so. And not just with apps, but with mobile platforms generally. The big banks, which are very security conscious for obvious reasons, are quite reluctant as you can imagine. It’s not just paranoia; security of data is very important to them. It’s very important that learner records are secure and behind the firewalls. So they have been quite slow to allow bring your own device or to issue iPads or other tablets to their staff.

Security has become a bigger and bigger issue. We have to do penetrating testing and security audits on our platforms and systems on a regular basis. This has definitely held back the pace at which mobile has become a platform for learning in the corporate sector.

Dealing with Resistance

Bill Brandon: Do you find that referring to that strategy of using mobile for reinforcement is effective in dealing with the reluctance of the compliance officers?

Peter Phillips: It’s helping. Compliance officers are not the easiest people to get to change. Just think about the nature of their job. If L&D can measure the effectiveness of the training, that makes it much easier to go back to the compliance officers and say, look, we can show you that if you do it this way you’re going to get better results than if you just do the once-a-year refresher. It’s a slow gradual process of persuasion.

To be fair, it’s easy to generalize. There are some financial companies, particularly the smaller ones, which are lighter on their feet and way ahead of the pack.

Authoring Tools

Bill Brandon: Which authoring packages are you using to produce mobile learning?

Storyline has become our core tool for conventional eLearning, which is still most of what we do. It enables us to convert Flash courses to run on mobile platforms and still have engaging, attractive, high-quality graphics and animation. In developing for the iPad, by using templates and themes, we can build in Storyline very quickly to meet small budgets and tight deadlines.

If a client wants something a bit more clever, creative, or innovative, it’s got the power to do that as well, and we’ve produced some really nice stuff for those clients. You can deliver it onto mobile platforms, with some limitations. Articulate gives responsive support and has a strong user community. I do think Storyline is less appropriate for mobile phones.

There are other tools that we use as well. Certainly if we’re building a native app we wouldn’t use Storyline. We use PhoneGap and HTML5 for those. Captivate is a very good tool, and we use Lectora where the clients have wanted us to. We rather like iSpring for the PowerPoint conversions.

Want More?

At the eLearning Guild’s mLearnCon Mobile Learning Conference & Expo 2014 in San Diego this June 24 – 26, you can see actual examples of these applications and more, learn from mLearning experts, and talk to developers and colleagues who are successfully implementing mobile learning.

Reprinted from Learning Solutions Magazine

5 Soft Skills Critical to Future Performance

Creativity is emerging as the most important leadership quality for success. The business world is shifting from exclusively valuing left-brain skills, such as subject expertise and technical competency, to seeking individuals with right-brain skills, such as adaptability and imagination.

America is moving out of the Information Age and into the Conceptual Age, where creative thinking will become as essential as logical thinking.

According to Daniel Pink, who coined the term “Conceptual Age,” three catalysts are responsible for the era change: Asian outsourcing, automation, and abundance. For the Western workforce to compete with inexpensive overseas labor, automated computers, and technology, and demand for products that move beyond function to enhancing the meaning of our lives, we must develop right-brain skills.

Desireable Skills

There’s been evidence that the Conceptual Age already is well under way. For decades, big organizations that have benefited from analytical and functional left-brain aptitudes are now finding themselves in need of softer, right-brain skills. Fiscal responsibility and global knowledge no longer are sufficient to maintain competitive advantage.

So which soft skills will employees and organizations need in the coming years? They are the skills that empower organizations to challenge the status quo and look into the future. They turn employees into visionaries and help them seek new growth opportunities. They enable organizations to anticipate the blessings and burdens of change. The book, Kill the Company, explores the five most critical skills of the Conceptual Age—and simple ways to cultivate them.

Future Skill #1: Strategic Imagination

Today’s employees are so mired in busywork that their ability to visualize the bigger picture has atrophied. But tomorrow’s employees and leaders must learn to “dream with purpose,” which means actively imagining future possibilities and creating scenarios to act on them.

To imagine how things can be done differently, we need to think differently. This means breaking our routine and introducing new sources of information. Take a different route to work. Go to a concert or show that’s outside your usual repertoire. Get your information from a different news source. Invite unusual suspects to your next meeting.

Spur your employees toward strategic imagination by providing resources that fuel future thinking, such as Innovation Watch, Trend Watching, and TED Talks. Follow up by inviting them to envision their business unit in the year 2020. Ask them to draw their vision—create a magazine cover or an org chart, for example—and then lead a discussion about the myriad perspectives informing their collective vision.

Future Skill #2: Provocative Inquiry

Transformative power lies in asking questions that make us rethink the obvious, and the ability to ask smart and often unsettling questions is known as provocative inquiry. One of my favorites is “What business are we in anyway?” When Starbucks asked itself this question, the answer was transformative: “We aren’t in the coffee business serving people. We’re in the people business serving coffee.”

A provocative inquiry often begins with how, which, why, or if, and is specific without limiting imagination. A provocative version of “Who has an idea for improving our product or service?” would be “If we hosted a forum called ‘How Our Products and Services Are Terrible,’ what topics would be on the main stage?” An equally effective version is “Which two things could our competitors do to render our product or services irrelevant?”

Spark inquiry by sending team members a handful of questions such as “What are the unshakable beliefs about client or customer needs in our industry—what if the opposite were true?” and “If you had five minutes with our CEO, what would you ask that would make her rethink our business?”

By encouraging curiosity, you set the stage for dialogue that supports solutions and innovation.

Future Skill #3: Creative Problem Solving

To survive the fierce competition of the Conceptual Age, employees will need creative problem-solving skills: the application of best practices from unexpected sources to create fresh solutions. Inventor James Dyson exemplified this skill when he applied the mechanics of a local sawmill—a giant cyclone-shaped dust collector—to a household vacuum. The result? The bestselling vacuum in the United Kingdom.

Hone this reflex in employees at your next meeting by using an exercise called RE:think. Offer people an everyday object (for example, a paper clip or scissors) and ask them to pretend they’ve never encountered it before. What does this new product do? What are its benefits and how would they position it? Such activities will strengthen your team’s ability to approach problems in unconventional ways.

Another method for cultivating creative problem solving is called “forced connections.” Introduce it in a stalled brainstorm—which typically happens after 20 minutes of ideation—by asking the group to select a random item in the room, such as a pen. Ask for five or more characteristics of the object (blue, detachable cap, pocketsize) and write these on a whiteboard.

Now choose three of these characteristics to apply to your initial brainstorm topic: Is there a market for a pocketsize version of your product? Is there value in a detachable component? These prompts will stretch your thinking in unpredictable—and often productive—directions.

Future Skill #4: Agility

Change is the only constant, which means a Plan B—and C, D, and E—are truly critical. Quick thinking and resourcefulness in the face of unexpected situations is the very definition of agility. Individuals who confidently handle unforeseen scenarios will become extraordinarily valuable in the Conceptual Age.

A recent example of agility in action is Nissan. As other automakers responded to rising oil costs and environmental concerns by branching into hybrid vehicles, CEO Carlos Ghosn guided Nissan down a different, more expensive and time-consuming path.

Despite the industry’s lack of electric-car technology and skepticism from all sides, Nissan debuted the world’s first affordable electric car in 2011. The Nissan Leaf launched as the only zero-emissions car on the market and has since received numerous global awards.

Cultivate an agile mindset by leading your teams through a “wild card” scenario. Using a current project, ask the group to present a brief project plan. Then break into smaller teams and challenge each to succeed despite wild cards such as 50 percent less budget, or half the research and development time, or severely restrained resources or technology.

Planning for success under constraint helps employees gain agility and prepare for change before it is forced on them.

Future Skill #5: Resilience

Building on agility, employees also will need to demonstrate resilience, which translates to tenacity and courage in the face of obstacles. Tim Westergren, founder of Pandora, is the very portrait of resilience.

His idea for streaming radio unfortunately coincided with the dot-com crash, which meant investors were scarce. During a three-year period, he pitched Pandora to 300 venture capitalists—all of whom rejected the idea. Instead of giving up, he worked for years without pay and convinced others to do the same. Eventually, funding was secured and Pandora went public in 2011, closing its first day of trading with a market cap of $2.8 billion.

Teach your teams resilience by practicing the art of “impossible to possible.” Ask groups to write answers to these questions: What would a customer say we should do for them but never would? What would make us the industry leader—although hell would have to freeze over for it to happen? What impossible thing would make your job infinitely better?

Then, ask teams to swap lists and find a way to turn their list of impossible things into possibilities. I assure you that people will rise to the challenge. This exercise truly awakens the competitive spirit and gives rise to a solution-driven mindset.

As we seek to transform our cultures to compete in the Conceptual Age, our employees and leaders must demonstrate more than knowledge or technical expertise; they must cultivate new skill sets. The valued leaders and successful employees of the Conceptual Age will be firing on all cylinders—and many will involve right-brain functions. To avoid extinction, we must fuel the kind of daily future thinking that will enable our teams to conceptualize—and handle—the demands of a new era.

15 Interview Questions to Hire Employees with Tomorrow’s Skills

The list below, compiled by highly effective and creative business leaders, offers interview questions for determining a candidate’s capacity for success in the Conceptual Era.

Strategic imagination questions

  • What systems, methodologies, or protocols were changed at your current or previous job as a result of your suggestions? How did these changes benefit the organization?
  • What inspires you?
  • What new customer segments will emerge in five years? How will customers five years from now discover our product?

Provocative inquiry questions

  • What would our target market say about our offerings compared with the leading competitor’s offerings?
  • If you came onboard and needed to hire a group of innovators for this company, what traits would you look for?
  • What two things could our competitors do to make our product or services irrelevant?

Creative problem-solving questions

  • What steps do you take when you need to make an immediate decision but there’s little data available?
  • Share an example of when you tried to solve a problem with a totally different approach than what is traditionally used. What was the result?
  • In which situations do you seek the help of others to make decisions?

Agility questions

  • What do you do when priorities shift quickly? Give an example.
  • Share an example of a time when there was a decision to be made and procedures were not in place. What did you do? What was the outcome?
  • Tell me about a decision you made when you were under pressure.

Resilience questions

  • Share an example of when you failed at something. How did you then proceed?
  • When you are considering a new idea but unsure of an outcome, what do you do?
  • You’ve presented a great idea to management but they’re not buying in. What’s your response?

About the Author:

Lisa Bodell is the founder and CEO of futurethink, an internationally recognized innovation research and training firm. Lisa founded her company on the principle that with the right knowledge and tools, everyone has the power to innovate. As a leading innovator and cognitive learning expert, she has devised training programs for hundreds of innovators at leading companies such as 3M, GE, and Johnson & Johnson.

Reprinted from T&D Magazine


How to Stand Out from the Crowd

Being successful both professionally and personally is very much dependent on our ability to develop deep and meaningful relationships. Happiness and heartbreak are determined more by the quality of our relationships than anything else.

When someone “stands out” in a uniquely positive way, what has transpired over time that has earned him or her respect and admiration? Why has our relationship with that person become so important to us?

In our book, “Be Your Own Brand,” my co-author and I outline three characteristics common to those who conjure up powerful images in the minds of others. In other words, they have strong personal brands.

Distinctive: Strong brands stand for something—they have a point of view. Your brand becomes strong when you decide what you believe in—your values—and commit to acting on those beliefs. The result: character and integrity.

Relevant: Strong brands focus on and connect to what others see as important. You attract attention from others when they determine that you care about them—that what’s important to them is important to you.

The result: You become the brand of choice—the “go to” person.

Consistent: Strong brands repeatedly exhibit behaviors that build trust and credibility. As people cannot see inside of us, they make judgments based on our actions, not our intentions. The result: Your reputation attracts other powerful relationships into your life.

The myth of building a strong personal brand is that you have to pretend to be something other than yourself. Nothing could be further from the truth. The way to make a distinctive, positive impression on someone else is to ensure that who you are, what you say you are, and what that person experiences from you are the same time and time again.

About the Author:

David McNally, CPAE, is the CEO (Chief Encouragement Officer) of TransForm Corporation. Elected to the Speakers Hall of Fame by the National Speakers Association (NSA), McNally is the author of the bestselling books, “Even Eagles Need a Push—Learning to Soar in a Changing World,” “The Eagle’s Secret—Success Strategies for Thriving at Work and in Life,” and “The Push—Unleashing the Power of

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Encouragement.” For more information, visit

Reprinted from Training Magazine

The Upside of Negative Thinking

Imagine a CEO giving a speech to a group of employees that — because of recent woeful business results — could help salvage the morale of the company and steer the ship back in the right direction.

The executive, following the recent trend in overly positive business thinking, prepares with a pep talk. “Stay positive. Everything is going to be great. There is no way I can fail.”

The executive envisions a successful path, reciting every word with perfect elocution, rallying the audience with confidence about the business prospects that lay ahead.

Then, the executive steps to the podium, prepared to deliver that first sentence — and freezes.
Problems quickly escalate. The words envisioned suddenly escape. Dryness of mouth halts clear speech. Things don’t go as planned.

Positive psychology — the idea that constantly envisioning positive outcomes will ultimately lead to success — has grown in recent years as the self-help topic du jour in business. And there is plenty of legitimate research to back the trend.

But on the other side of the coin are experts proclaiming the power of negative thinking, the idea that embracing potential failures can result in better preparedness and better outcomes.

If the executive preparing his or her speech had focused on all of those negative possibilities instead of staying overly optimistic, this thinking goes, perhaps he or she would have been better prepared to handle the things that ultimately went wrong.

Note cards might have been prepared; a glass of water would have been brought on stage. Conscious pessimism beforehand might have led to a more positive outcome.

Negative Problem-Solving

One of the biggest champions of the power of negative thinking is author and Guardian columnist Oliver Burkeman. In his book, “The Antidote: Happiness for People Who Can’t Stand Positive Thinking,” Burkeman contends that negative thinking is the most effective problem-solving strategy.

“Focusing on the worst-case scenario is a way to deal with anxiety,” Burkeman said. “If you prepare for the things that go wrong or focus carefully on failures, you will succeed more. It is not so much deliberately thinking a negative thought as it is more about actively focusing on bad scenarios.”

Burkeman’s argument is based upon techniques used by the Stoic philosophers of ancient Greece and Rome. He said the Stoics used “negative visualization,” a process involving contemplating the loss of friends, loved ones and significant possessions to gain a greater appreciation for what one has.

Burkeman applies this thinking to celebrities who say that when they hit “rock bottom” it was the best thing that ever happened to them.

“It’s cliche, but that idea that once you are crushed to the ground, you don’t need to live your life in fear of what would happen if you crashed to the ground because you have done it,” Burkeman said. “You can apply that to whatever context. Once you are open about stuff, you don’t have to deny all of the bad things that can happen.”

Burkeman said embracing the negatives of a situation and facing failure head on will ultimately produce a more satisfying way of life.

“If you try to persuade yourself that everything is perfect and wonderful, often you will fail,” he said. “But even if you succeed, you will have to keep replenishing that you are trying to maintain this state of high excitement and happiness, and the moment that anything bad happens you lose everything you have built up. That is a very fragile and brittle way to go through life.”

Although the strategy of negative thinking has been thought of as a way to navigate through life’s problems, it has not been universally adapted by organizations as the best way to think about achieving success in business.

Burkeman attributed this to companies being so focused on generating results that employees are hesitant to act on new and creative ideas; they believe that their corporate culture will punish them for not instantly producing a positive outcome.

Targeting the Source

Companies may not be completely at fault. Part of the problem might begin with our upbringing.
Seymour Adler, a partner in the talent solutions practice at human resources consultancy Aon Hewitt, said the problems with a lack of negative thinking in the workplace begin when we’re young.

“It is important to recognize that our general culture creates a feel-good environment that believes so strongly in positive feedback, such as making sure that every kid gets a trophy,” Adler said. “We get so concerned with producing results that it really gets in the way of organizational performance. We are such an upbeat society, or pretend to be, that the advantages or benefits of negative emotion can be hidden.”

Adler said companies fail to realize that negative emotion can have a really positive effect. He said when people fail to embrace negativity or anxiety, they are denying themselves the opportunity to find the source of their problems and, as a result, will be prone to making the same mistakes.

“Negative emotions are more likely to focus people on the trees rather than the forest,” he said. “When bad stuff is happening, narrowing on the root cause is a very functional and good thing. If I’m a manager, a leader or an employee, and I start to get a little nervous or worried, that’s a signal that my emotional system is sending me to be cautious, to be careful to not make a wrong move that can potentially harm me or my team or my organization.”

Even those who resolutely embrace positive psychology say a pinch of negativity is a key ingredient. “Life is about targeting problems and leveraging the opportunities that come from those problems,” said Kathyrn Cramer, a psychologist and author of the book “Lead Positive: What Highly Effective Leaders See, Say and Do.” “You need to see the opportunities that are more hidden and the possibilities that really make up how you create your life,” she said.

Still, even as Cramer acknowledges the merits of negative thinking, she finds positivity to be more productive.

“I want to show people who are sick of being negative that there are tools and processes they can use to retrain their brain and be more positive,” she said.

When Safe Is Dangerous

Others say remaining overly positive and not acknowledging the possibility of failure is a dangerous mix for organizations.

Megan McArdle, a journalist who has written about economics for The Economist and The Atlantic and is the author of “The Up Side of Down,” points to the financial crisis as an example of institutions failing to acknowledge when failure is possible and how such oversight can lead to larger problems.

“People thought it was impossible to have another Great Depression, which is why we nearly had another Great Depression,” McArdle said. “People were acting like

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it couldn’t happen and that it was safe to buy houses at inflated prices and that it was safe to make those loans. They were implicitly assuming that having another Great Depression was just impossible; because of that we got into too much debt and it made it very possible.”

Not considering the worst-case scenario left banks with a disaster and no immediate plan for remedy. This oversight was due in large part to banks’ inability to do what McArdle describes as “failing well.”

“Failure doesn’t feel good; if it did we would never stop doing things that don’t work,” she said. “However, trial and error is the most powerful force in the universe.”

Yet some corporate cultures fail to embrace proper trial and error tactics because employees are scared to try new things in fear of upsetting bosses. Meanwhile, executives may be beholden to conservative business strategies in fear that bold plans with larger risk of failure might spook shareholders, resulting in diminishing stock value.

According to McArdle, this type of corporate culture is crippling.

“If you have a culture that shoots the messenger, they are going to try and do as little as possible, because if they do something they might get it wrong,” she said. “If you are competing in a world economy, you cannot be the sort of company that just sits there and collects royalty checks once every three months. Now you have created a corporate culture that is setting you up to fail big instead of failing in little ways [that lead toward] greater success.”

In a strange way, the power of positive thinking may only be valuable when the proper doses of negativity are added in. And for the blend to result in long-term success, organizations must ultimately embrace negativity as much as they do positivity.

“The change must come from both the leadership and employees,” McArdle said. “If it doesn’t, they will be left with a risk-averse company that totally destroys its own profitability. You cannot avoid failure just so you can be safe. There is no place as dangerous as safe.”

Reprinted from Talent Management magazine

How to Make Time for Career Conversations

Over the course of a career, talent managers may have attended a time-management or priority-setting workshop during which an instructor piles rocks into a vessel and asks participants the typical trick question: Is it full?

Then pebbles are poured in, filling the space between the bigger rocks, and the question is repeated. Finally, sand is added to occupy the small spaces among the pebbles, making the point that setting the big priorities first allows one to then accomplish many other smaller ones.

The same idea must apply to talent development, right?


Today’s managers and leaders operate in a pressure-cooker environment, rich with priorities, activities and expectations, but impoverished in time and resources. Their plates are piled high with mission-critical tasks — or the rocks — and short- and long-term goals — the pebbles. The space remaining is occupied with other responsibilities as assigned — the sand.

Sprinkle anything more atop this overflowing plate, and you’ll likely see it fall right off. Or worse, it may shift the delicate balance that’s been struck, causing the larger and more significant things to go tumbling.

So, how are busy leaders expected to add talent development — or anything, for that matter — to these already full plates? The truth is they can’t. And that is a very good thing for talent development.

The frenetic and full environment that is today’s workplace offers an opportunity to completely reconceive and rebrand talent development. No longer must it be limited to a task or activity. Instead, talent development can now be something much broader and more pervasive.

For talent development to thrive, it cannot exist as even an extra grain of salt sprinkled atop the overflowing plates of overwhelming responsibilities. It must instead become a spirit that is brought to every activity that leaders engage in, an intention that’s infused into every interaction, or the objective that envelops every relationship.

In essence, talent development must cease to exist as a separate and distinct activity and become a driving force that pervades everything else leaders do. It also must be baked right into the routine work rather than layered on top.

And as lofty and grand as this goal may sound, the way to make it happen is simple.

Effective leaders who have discovered the power of this more ephemeral approach come to talent development with a different mindset — one that’s based upon the belief that dialogue offers a powerful springboard for development, that transparency can drive tremendous learning and that learning is everywhere.

Development Via Dialogue

One of the most pervasive features of today’s business landscape is conversation. Through conversation, deals are made, innovations are identified, savings are found and development happens.

Effective leaders allow development to find a home in all of the dialogue in which they engage. They understand the power of these small moments with others and leverage each to its fullest extent, taking advantage of seemingly insignificant moments and infusing them with the opportunity for greater awareness, reflection, insight and potential action. Examples include:

  • A passing comment about a tough customer is a chance to talk briefly about how the customer base is changing, what customers expect today, how that may change in the future and the implications for the organization and individual.
  • A project review is an opportunity to explore strengths, skills and opportunities for growth.
  • A mistake is the perfect excuse to talk about lessons learned; how they can be applied in different contexts to different challenges; and alternate approaches to enhance future success.

Rethinking dialogue and seeing it as a vehicle for talent development allows busy managers to redeploy the time they are already spending in conversation, inspire insights that can spark change and demonstrate the possibilities for learning every moment of every day.

Transparency Equals Teaching

Today’s workers are more educated and resourceful than at any time in history. Many can connect the dots for themselves, in turn translating events, occurrences and information into valuable learning. But they need visibility to these things to make that happen.

Too frequently, managers see their role as a filter, screen or buffer between reality and their employees. In a well-intentioned effort to help their busy staffs manage their own overflowing plates, leaders may block out or hoard information that could contribute to development.

Imagine what smart workers could accomplish with regular access to:

  • Information about how the business is really performing.
  • The specific rationale for why someone is being promoted or recognized.
  • Candid reasons for organizational changes.
  • What’s next on the horizon.

It likely takes leaders more time to figure out how to redact, sanitize, edit, spin and repackage these messages for their employees. Eliminating this step not only enhances transparency, but it may also remove a stone or pebble for busy managers themselves.

But transparency can play out in another way for astute, development-oriented leaders. In years gone by, a manager was tasked with leading the performance of his or her team or department and nothing more. Today, most managers are “working” managers, meaning they are responsible for turning out deliverables of their own in addition to supervising others. This also adds to the overflowing nature of their plates.

The working part of the manager’s role offers another chance for transparency. Rather than performing their tasks undercover, leaders may want to make the work they do more overt. Those around them can pick up cues and skills when leaders share what they do and why.

Allowing others to shadow or ride along, narrate a task, offer insights into the rationale for certain steps, and share missteps and mistakes related to one’s own work can be a powerful model and learning tool.

Yet, this sort of transparency doesn’t add anything to a manager’s workload. It simply recasts the tasks and responsibilities that already exist and extends them beyond individual output by creating fodder for powerful employee-led learning.

Leverage a Learning Lens

One final time-neutral strategy for busy managers who want to enable development of others involves adopting a new view of work. These leaders naturally help others grow by instilling the discipline associated with milking each experience for every drop of development available.

They know that successes, struggles and seemingly insignificant moments in the day can activate learning by just drawing it out with a few quick questions:

  • What did you learn from that?
  • What does that mean to you?
  • What will you do in the future as a result?

By looking through the learning lens, a leader models and helps others develop the ability to transform experiences into insights and use life as a learning lab. And looking through this lens doesn’t involve an additional “to-do” or meeting on the calendar. It’s simply a different way of operating and making the most of each interaction and event encountered.

In the end, doable and durable talent development — the kind able to withstand the wear and pressure of today’s workforce demands — cannot be considered an “activity.” It’s a mindset that permeates a manager’s approach to work.

It’s a spirit that pervades the countless events and tasks a leader engages in every day. It’s an intention that’s brought to every interaction. And it’s the way even the busiest managers can make their most profound contribution to the organization — by developing talent.

Reprinted from Talent Management magazine.


Webinar Recording : Before and After: How to Make AMAZING Slides… Fast! with Mike Parkinson

webinar with play button

Watch graphics guru, Mike Parkinson as he transform bad slides into amazing slides in real time. See actual before and after examples and learn how to do it yourself. Learn what makes a slide a failure and see how to fix it… fast. Using tools, tips and tricks, Mike demonstrates how to turn bullets into compelling graphics, improve templates, and enhance content.

After watching this PresentationXpert session, you will be able to:                             Before and After wtih Frame
1) Identify why a slide is bad (or great)
2) Turn bad slides into amazing slides
3) Transform bullets into graphics
4) Make your slides more memorable
5) Objectively validate that your slides will be successful
6) Save time and money


mike with space


Mike Parkinson of Billion Dollar Graphics brings a wealth of experience and talent to today’s webinar. He really understands  the power of graphics. You will see him transform simple PowerPoint graphics into powerful visuals that make a statement. Mike has authored several books on presentation graphics and created several resources that any of us can used to enhance any PowerPoint presentation.





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