The burnout monkey trap

Burnout is getting a lot of press in Belgium these days, given the new legislation stating that employers must do something about it. But what can they do? Isn’t burnout just another monkey trap that needs what Charlie Sheen would call a “blink to cure the brain”?

 

Having just subscribed for the Epsilon ForumPlus 2014 conference, my interest in burnout is rekindled (pun intended). I will be following 4 sessions on well-being at work, burnout and flow. I’m intrigued to see what speakers have to say about decreasing the risk of burnout in the workplace.

Recently, I was invited to complete a survey about burnout by a well-known actor in the Belgian HR sector. Questions like “Do you think there is more stress in the workplace today?” and “Do you think remote and mobile working increase stress in the workplace?” seemed odd to me. Maybe I missed the point, but isn’t stress something that is in people rather than the workplace? Or, as the American Institute of Stress says: “we create our own stress because of faulty perceptions you can learn to correct”.

 

Isn’t burnout just another monkey trap?

 

If you want to catch a monkey, but some food in a hole or a jar rooted to the floor. The monkey comes along to get the food and reaches in. When grabbing the food, the monkey forms a fist. And due to the size of its fist, the monkey cannot get its hand out of the jar again. The monkey will not let go of the food in the jar. He has trapped himself. The hunter waits for the monkey to die, or captures it.

Other blog posts have already talked about the analogy between the monkey trap and addiction. And if you think the monkey trap is just a myth, watch this video.

 

I’m just wondering: If burnout is like the monkey trap should we be blaming the forest, the jar or the food? Or should we be blaming the monkey? Should we be trying to change the organisation or conditions of work, putting a stop to flexi-time and homeworking and banning email after 6pm on a Friday? Of course, if the work conditions and employers are unlawful or simply unacceptable, that does need to be changed. But isn’t it more necessary to help our employees better understand why they seek to hold onto their “monkey food” through their burnout disposed behaviour and how to let go of it?

I’m not saying that this will be easy and I’m certainly not belittling burnout. I just don’t think that the organisational solution to stress and burnout reduction should be to take away anything that might cause harm to the people susceptible to burnout. It is easy to rehab when you are in rehab. But people will fall off the wagon when they are back in the real new world of work. Should employers change everything in the environment to suit dysfunctional employees (yes, I did just say that! Whoops!) ? Or should they help people to better deal with their own private monkey traps?

 

And while we are not on the subject: Is burnout a bad thing anyway? It costs companies money and productivity, and it’s no fun for the burnout “victim”, but it may also be a fantastic opportunity to replace an unhealthy flame with something more sustainable, satisfying and healthy for the employee. (More on that later)

 

So, what can the employer do?

 

My own expertise being limited to one person in a non-corporate environment and without a complete vision on the law, this short list of actions is no more than a first brainstorm for employers to consider:

  • Be willing to help
  • Look out for people who show unsustainable behaviour and attitudes towards work
  • Create better dialogue better dialogue between employer/employee; make the “person of confidence” worth confiding in
  • Educate those at risk on the impact of their behaviour and attitudes
  • Help employees to find structure and limits in their approach to work
  • If necessary, help employees to reorient towards more satisfying and fulfilling work

…hopefully, I will hear more ideas at the ForumPlus conference on the 6th November.

See you there?

 

 

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Le cerveau: Maitre d’apprentissage souvent négligé

Depuis quelques années déjà, les neuroscientifiques sont présents lors des conférences de l’ASTD. Cette année encore, armés de leurs études et statistiques, ils nous ont bombardés d’informations sur l’importance du rôle du cerveau dans l’apprentissage. Souvent difficiles à comprendre, leurs présentations hypra-factuelles ont néanmoins eu un bel impact. Cette année, ASTD a créé un nouveau chemin menant à la science de l’apprentissage ; et même les conférenciers dans d’autres disciplines ont régulièrement fait référence à « ce que dit la recherche sur le cerveau » par rapport au changement, la gestion, la formation, l’énergie, etc.

 

David Rock et Josh Davis du « NeuroLeadership Institute » ont une fois de plus remplis les salles lors de leurs conférences sur les thèmes de la mémoire et du coaching. De mon point de vue, ces deux conférences ont été nettement plus abordables, moins factuelles et plus centrées sur le message clé suivant : si vous souhaitez réellement créer de l’apprentissage ou du changement, vous devez prendre en compte le cerveau. Il faut être conscient du son fonctionnement et appliquer 10 conseils pratiques.

 

Josh Davis et le rôle de notre hippocampe

 

D’après Davis, la plupart des formations ne sont pas efficaces. Il accepte bien sûr qu’entre 9h et 17h nous sommes capables d’acquérir beaucoup d’idées pertinentes. Et nous, les formateurs, nous avons tous vu des participants motivés à la fin d’une journée et remplis d’objectifs positifs pour le futur. Néanmoins, si l’on n’a pas correctement activé l’hippocampe du cerveau, ces mêmes participants ne feront rien de leurs bonnes intentions et oublieront une grande partie des idées apprises.

 

L’hippocampe est responsable des connexions neuronales qui créent la mémoire et les habitudes. Il gère notre attention, joue un rôle dans nos émotions et génère des liens entre différentes parties du cerveau. En tant que formateurs, nous pouvons intégrer 5 points spécifiques dans nos activités afin que les participants bénéficient des bienfaits de l’hippocampe :

  • Nous devons faire en sorte que l’attention des participants n’est pas divisée. Un formateur dynamique qui pense que les participants peuvent faire plusieurs choses à la fois pendant longtemps a tort. Ceux-ci s’amusent peut-être ; ils ne voient pas passer le temps. Cependant, ils n’intègrent pas les nouvelles idées aussi bien qu’un participant qui ne fait qu’une chose à la fois pour une durée de 20 minutes maximum.
  • La métacognition renforce les liens entre les neurones. Par exemple, nous avons plus de chances de retenir un nouveau mot si on l’aborde de multiples façons (Comment l’épèle-t-on ? A quoi ressemble-t-il sur le papier ? Comment bouge notre bouche quand on le dit ?). Nous devons donc intégrer dans nos formations des moments où les participants réfléchissent à comment ils réfléchissent.
  • Les fameux moments de « ah-ha » dans les formations ont une réelle importance. L’émotion liée à la satisfaction d’avoir (enfin) compris la matière renforce notre capacité à se rappeler cette information plus tard. Lâcher des participants dans une expérience un peu frustrante qui les oblige à trouver la clé peut fortement stimuler l’hippocampe. Mais attention, une frustration trop longue ou trop émotionnelle aura l’effet inverse.
  • Pendant les formations, si l’on veut suffisamment ancrer une nouvelle idée, il faut intégrer des moments de récupération de ces idées. N’attendez pas trop longtemps pour vérifier si les participants sont capables de se rappeler ce qu’ils ont vu. Un quiz ludique une heure plus tard peut renforcer nos nouvelles connexions neuronales pour le futur.
  • Enfin, il faut créer de l’espace dans le processus d’apprentissage. Un changement de lieu, un moment de relaxation, voire même du sommeil ou de l’exercice peuvent rafraîchir le cerveau, augmenter notre créativité et ancrer les nouvelles idées.

 

 

David Rock et le coaching réussi

Fondateur et CEO du « NeuroLeadership Institute », David Rock est considéré comme une des stars des conférences d’ASTD. Et le travail des coaches ne le satisfait pas.

 

D’après Rock, seulement 1 coaching sur 20 est réussi. Le coach pense que le travail est efficace, mais si la neuroscience est négligée, notre comportement ne change pas, les nouvelles habitudes ne s’ancrent pas et la performance n’est pas améliorée. Pour réussir, il faut créer « un état vers » qui peut nous ouvrir à des moments de réelle compréhension. Sans ces moments, il n’y aura pas d’action ni de nouvelles habitudes.

 

Pour nous protéger, le cerveau doit constamment décider si l’on peut aller vers quelque chose, ou s’il est mieux de l’éviter. Même si la possibilité d’être mangé par un prédateur n’existe plus, notre cerveau est quand même prêt à courir, se cacher ou se battre contre ce qu’il perçoit comme un danger. Un coach qui veut captiver et stimuler le cerveau de son interlocuteur doit veiller à faire 5 choses, que Rock nous présente sous forme de son « SCARF » :

  • Chacun de nous veut se sentir sûr de son propre « statut » (S). Au début de nos activités de coaching, nous devons renforcer cette idée de statut. Nous ne pouvons pas nous permettre d’attaquer l’autre. Même suggérer que la personne a « un problème » ou qu’elle « ne réussit pas » peut créer un manque d’estime de soi. Il faut présenter le coaching comme une approche positive et renforcer l’idée que la personne a tout ce qu’il lui faut pour réussir.
  • La « certitude » (C) dans nos activités de coaching met le cerveau à l’aise. Simplement bien annoncer la durée du coaching, la manière dont nous allons travailler et ce que l’autre peut attendre de nous peut augmenter cette certitude. La clarté à chaque moment est cruciale.
  • Le cerveau ne veut pas se sentir coincé contre un mur ou poussé dans une direction ou l’autre. « L’autonomie » (A) de la personne doit être renforcée par le coach. C’est celle-ci qui va trouver ses propres solutions. C’est elle aussi qui décidera que faire et qui prendra la responsabilité pour le changement.
  • Un sentiment « connexion » (ang : relatedness – R) entre coach et personne coachée se base sur la compréhension et l’empathie. Le coach qui pose des questions ouvertes, laisse s’exprimer l’autre et l’écoute activement a plus de chance de créer le sentiment que « l’on se comprend ». De plus, même si tout le monde pourrait coacher quelqu’un, un coach avec de l’expérience et un vécu de la situation pourrait être perçu comme plus sympathique et plus « comme moi ».
  • La « justesse » (ang : fairness – F) est primordiale dans le succès du coaching. Si la personne coachée sent qu’elle n’est pas comprise ou, pire, que ce qui se passe n’est pas juste, elle va vouloir s’en fuir. Donner le temps à l’autre pour s’exprimer, être correct dans ce qui est dit et bien faire la distinction entre « avis » et « faits » peut créer plus de justesse dans le processus.

 

Depuis la conférence, mon propre travail en tant que formateur et coach a déjà changé. Partant de l’hypothèse que Davis, Rock et les neuroscientifiques ont raison, je veille à implémenter les idées évoquées ci-dessus. J’attends avec impatience de voir les résultats !

 

@dan_steer

ASTD2014 summary: Remember the brain, revamp training and sharpen the saw

2 weeks ago, I was once again on full-DAN-speed at the ASTD International Conference and Exhibition. This time, the stomping-ground was Washington DC with over 9000 attendees coming to hear 250 speakers from 57 countries.

Having attended now 3 years in-a-row, I decided not to spend too much time on learning agility, why mobile is awesome, or why L+D needs to change its approach and pretty-much ignored the fact that its all about going social and that we musn’t forget the 70:20:10 model if we want to unleash learning…  I agree with those messages and I think they are valuable. But there’s only so much you can hear about it in a conference.

(If you want to read about those topics, check out the tabs on ASTD2013 and TK14)

 

 

What I did get out of ASTD2014 was all about bringing more brain-power and general awesomeness to my own training and work/life balance…

 

I’ve been training for over 12 years. My clients say I do a great job and I’m sure I am doing something right. But at ASTD2014, I got some really valuable information about how to improve. Having been back at training work for a few weeks now, I’ve already been putting things (slowly) into place. I find that this has made me feel a lot better about what I am doing and brought a lot more energy to my training process. I have my fingers crossed that it is actually having more impact :-)

 

 

Don’t forget how the brain works if you want to create better learning.

In previous conference years, I found the stuff on neuro-ccience to be filled with too much data. I can see that there is a lot to learn about how the brain works, but have always left wondering what is the concrete take-away from all that data.

This year, A(S)TD had created a new learning track on “The Science of Learning” – so I figured its not just a trend and I must be the only one not yet seeing the point. I found that the sessions were more accessible and outlined more the bottom-line and key points:

  • Josh Davis told us that if you want to make learning stick, you have to work with the hippocampus. I have been trying to reduce session time on specific topics or activity types to smaller chunks of 20 minutes and have been experimenting with associative-thinking to reinforce memory.
  • Between those sessions, I have tried to create some energy microbursts to refresh people. I used to be a little suspicious of doing random things in a training room (example: Brain-Gym). I thought they had no added-value to the content/topic. But I have seen that a deliberately timed mini-joke moment between activities and a little bit of movement can re-boost participants. Also, instead of simply asking participants to summarise what they learnt in a session, I have tried getting them to close their eyes and imagine saying it to a loved-one. Apparently, this positive emotion will reinforce the new ideas in the brain.
  • I have worked harder to formalise meta-cognition moments in training, sometimes using simple tools like ChatterPix (that I have advertised in my own session on social-media for formal learning) to ask participants to think about how they are learning. I am also experimenting with other memory-techniques related to use of multiple senses.
  • I have worked more on repetition and spacing across several training days to help reinforce the links between learning points. This has been done with formal (but fun) quizzing on content and intro/wrap of sessions that remind general purpose and structure of the training.
  • David Rock mentioned in his session on coaching that having a little more personal reflection time in the learning process helped to reinforce the learning in question. I went back to an old strategy of asking training participants to write a “personal promise” at the end of day 1. They like it (I didn’t think they would).
  • My own experiments with Mind Palaces has proven to be lots of fun over the last week and I realise that I AM able to remember huge amounts of precise and well-ordered ideas and information. I will be blogging on the application of this to training in the near future..

 

 

Over the summer, I will be working on turning formal learning (training) into story-based sessions. And revamping my materials.

As you know, I’ve experimented a lot with social media for training – this year I again presented this topic at ASTD. I told the participants I was an “experimentor” and that even when I didn’t know what results I would get, I was willing to try. * After ASTD2014, I have plenty of new ideas and I’m looking forward to taking the time this summer to get started on revamping my training activities and materials…

  • I found both Katie Stroud’s session on “Converting Learning in Story” and Anders Gronstedt’s session on “Transmedia Storytelling” to be really inspiring. I already tend to use little chunks of personal story in training to get my point across. In the future, I will try to fully integrate a thin-red-line of story into the learning process (see Katie Stroud post) and then think of different ways to bring this across via diverse training activities. I think using a blend of media before, during and after training, as well as actual story-telling, participant discussion around stories/characters (and maybe even sock-puppets!) might bring added-value by working on emotion, creativity and memory.
  • I have already used video to introduce training or to share a key learning point (example: Awesome Communication tip number 1) and I am satisfied with the results. I plan to further revamp my training materials in 2 ways using video + the Aurasma augmented reality app : The first thing is to take the time to create short videos that summarise main learning points and make these augmented-reality-scannable in my materials (as I showed in session ASTD2014 M115); my second idea is to ask participants to make these short videos themselves during training and then integrate THOSE videos into their own materials using Aurasma. Personalised video-enhanced training materials??!! Awesome! I will blog on this later.
  • I have always made an effort to focus my key training messages on the 3 most important questions. Following Sally Hogshead’s fun session on personal branding and personality, I think I am going to look for ways to get participants to be more mindful this themselves and to look at how they can communicate and position these key messages for themselves and others during and after training. I want to find some way to integrate that into their own personal materials and learning/memory process. Instead of them focussing on the facts of what has been learnt, I will encourage them at all times to rebrand their learning points. Blog to follow…

 

* As a side-note, it turns out I am more than an “experimentor”. Read this post on creating your own personal anthem to find out what Sally Hogshead taught me at ASTD.

 

 

Finally, I am thinking more about work-life balance and trying to “sharpen the saw”.

One of the things I like most about the A(S)TD conferences is the key-note speeches. Many people find them less informative than the concurrent sessions, but I like them. Even if this year we had the special surprise of an American military general talking to an international audience about “killing the bad guys” (!!), the main points of Huffington and Caroll’s keynotes were excellent. I am trying to keep them in mind back home in Sombreffe:

  • As a hyper-connected super-speedy worksaholic guy, I sometimes get swept away in the digital movement of information and constant actions. Arianna Huffington told us her burn-out story and encouraged us to shut-down and tune-out if we want to thrive. Having plenty to say myself about burn-out causes, symptoms and positive action, and being already tired from the travel and conference action, I found it very important to listen well to her speech. Despite fiercely blogging the A(S)TD sessions for Kluwer during the conference, since returning I have made an effort to slow-down and do one thing at a time. I’m even getting a little more sleep and garden time.
  • Kevin Caroll was impossible to blog, so no link here! Talking at a million miles an hour, he told us his personal story of opportunity, growth and play. Again, I was inspired. Caroll suggested that if we try to follow our own path, we can only go to good places. As someone who tends to try a lot to please everyone else, I’ve been trying to relax a little more both at work and home. I already see that I (and training participants) are having more fun at work. At home, I make a huge effort to bring play-breaks into my days. More time throwing a frisbee with the girls, more games in the house and trying to turn everything into a little bit more fun. Feels good! And surprisingly, I seem to be getting random opportunities for conference work thrown at me left, right and centre. It seems if you relax a little, the Universe gives you what you want..

 

So voila, my summary of ASTD2014. I’m already impatient for Florida next year :-)

 

ps – I did also follow an awesome session from Jane Bozarth on the value of showing your work and how to do it but couldn’t see how to fit it in this summary. Love you Jane!

 

 

 

 

Video tools, apps and tips

It’s the final concurrent session of ASTD2014, we are going to make a video. It should be easy, (almost) free, relevant and successful. Bring it on Stacy Bodenner!

 

So, your CEO comes to you and says “Make me a film for our 30th anniversary”. You have a USB microphone, a webcam and $300… *

20140507-134525.jpg
* I’m secretly hoping to beat this budget, but frankly, it’s not much of a cost to off-set if you will make more than one film

 

Tools you might want

 

What apps or software can I make video with?

  • ScreenR allows you to capture whatever is on your PC screen + add audio. Easy and intuitive.
  • MS PowerPoint if you just want to convert your PPT slides into simple video – make it less text-driven and feel free to use some animation. Click on “send to”..
  • Vine app if 6 seconds is enough for you
  • Animoto app if you want to use videos (Vine included) and photos already on a smartphone or tablet
  • MS Movie Maker (free on MS) allows you to trim video, add photos, sound and transitions
  • Garage Band if you want to make your own music. It’s easy, even if you are not a musician and don’t have instruments. Honestly! Cost about $6. Or just get on Creative Commons for a list of free legal music sources
  • If you want a a full editing suite at about $12 on ipad, try Pinnacle (formally known as Avid Studio)

 

Little tips

  • Make a storyboard in advance to think about what you want to show and say
  • Use the rule of thirds for set-up of your picture frames
  • Avoid having light coming through windows onto your subject’s face
  • You can use MS PPT slides to make logo images or backgrounds or transition slides
  • Render your video in the highest possible quality
  • Keep your videos short … 30 to 90 seconds
  • Take the time to add some title or closing text

 

See also my tips from Matt Pierce at ASTD2013

Thanks for reading!

 

Techniques to engage people when you facilitate change

Dutch actor, coach, trainer and speaker Juanita Coble kicks off session #W110 on change and the importance of engaging people in the process. Welcome to ASTD2014 day 4…

 

According to Coble, Neuroscience tells us that when people are uncertain, they move into an “away state”. This accounts for many of the negative reactions to whatever change is going on.

20140507-093443.jpg

 

Starting with a role-play, Coble took the stage as an actress, playing the role of interim director, Mrs Smith. “She” wouldn’t answer my questions, “she” was very direct, seemed to think she knew it all and was overly positive, but in a strange fake way. Telling us a story about making lemonade, “she” just talked, talked, talked…

Following Coble’s stage moment, session participants were invited to play a role and discuss their reactions to the change with “colleagues”. My character (who I will call “John”) saw it coming. He had already been looking around and had an interview planned for a new job. Other participants played other roles (although I still don’t know what instructions they received).

 

Thinking about one of our own changes, Coble asked us to make notes in answer to 3 different questions: “What has to go?”, “What should stay” and “What is needed?”

As the session moved on, participants were really encouraged to express their feelings about those things. For the “go” things, we wrote them on a piece of paper, crunched them up and threw them at the speaker (I was thinking of Mrs Smith :-) screaming “good riddance”. For the “should stays”, we simply discussed with our neighbours.

For the “what is needed?” question, we were invited to think of a “happy ending” to the change story. This could be more or less creative, either a literal ending to the story or a more figurative, romantic, novel ending. For my own “home-selling” change story, I thought about some kind of fairy-godmother coming to me in the night to reassure about how things we’re go. When our speaker asked me what my story-ending was, I told her. She asked me how I could get that. I answered. She asked me what I was going to do about it. The “coaching approach” got me thinking for myself and really helped me to identify the real problem going on.

 

How do you convince leadership that this kind of dialogue is necessary?

Coble says that the proof is already there from NeuroScience. Davis and Rock from the NeuroLeadership Institute told us that people need “certainty” and “relatedness” (as well as other things) to be able to really integrate new change and new learning. If they don’t feel sure about things, or feel misunderstood, they will probably not get onboard. If they don’t do some “metacognition” (thinking about thinking) it won’t be anchored as it should be.

I have heard many people say that “coaching is a luxury we can’t afford”, yet the benefits of getting people to think for themselves have been widely documented and include better retention, satisfaction, creativity, responsibility…

 

What other things can we do to get people involved in the change process, or to facilitate sessions when change is happening?

A distinction must be made between involving people in initiating and defining the change, and helping them to face a change that is going to happen in a certain way. During the session, I was mostly focussing on the second type: How can you get people onboard for a predefined change, getting them engaged and responsible?

Coble gave a list of several options and we brainstormed more:

  • Use of social-media platforms to create discussion and sharing
  • On the job training
  • Classical discussions, one-or-one or in group meetings, really taking the time necessary
  • Rehearsal sessions with managers, helping them play-out the communication with people role-playing different reactions
  • Role-play
  • Multi-platform communications
  • Sound fragment dilemmas – essentially this involves recording the change-agents involved if defining the change as they explain what’s going on as they think about the change and drive the process forward. Those who are “following” the change are then invited to listen to those recordings as podcasts to get more insight on the feelings and motivation of others. I see no reason why this could not be done for recordings of anyone in the organisation, as this would help everyone to get a better sense of what is going on with others.
  • Fast-forward theatre – the idea of having actors come in to play scenes showing what things look like in the future, when the change is properly completed
  • Corporate “family constellations” which I do not feel I can do justice to in text on this blog. Please follow the link.

 

We then focused on one other specific technique that got my attention

A friend and colleague of mine, Oisin Varian, has occasionally talked to me about the value of visualisation techniques. In today’s session, I experienced the power of this first hand. Juanita Coble asked us to close our eyes and think about a future 10 years from now, when our own personal “change example” is properly completed.

With a few guiding words from the speaker, I imagine myself coming home one day from work (new home), opening the door and seeing my eldest daughter (now 18) on the sofa, talking to a friendly looking boy. My other 2 daughters were in the kitchen with their mother, doing homework, chatting and making food. I walked in relaxed and smiling and greeted everyone at the start of the evening. As I did this visualisation exercise, I started to yawn and relaxed the tension that had been in my shoulders all morning. Now, admittedly, I have been very tired at the end of 4 days of conferencing, but as I saw this new environment and my family, I had a tear of happiness in my eye.

Coble then asked “future Dan” to imagine he was looking back at himself today and think about what he would say to him about the change. My answer? “Relax. Don’t worry about all the details. Stop running around trying to make it all perfect. What you are going to get is nothing like you can possibly imagine today, and it’s going to be great.” I yawned some more.

I found this exercise very powerful and listening to other participants saying what they would say to themselves from the future, I could see that this technique wasn’t only working for me. Many people were feeling more (self) understood and self-assured. They also named quite clearly what it was they needed to focus on in the current moment of (difficult) change.

 

Put all these techniques together in a good way and you can create engagement

I believe that. We all know as managers and trainers that we have to take time to listen to people when facilitating change. Coble gave us the tools. First class session.

 

See also:

 

 

How to convert your learning into story, step-by-step

Following a sweet true-story-based and lovely introduction from Aaron Stroud, his wife Katie takes the stage to tell us about story for learning during session W202 of ASTD2014. She said that when she researched the topic herself, she found a lot of information about the importance of story and it’s benefits, but not much about how to actually go about developing a story for learning purposes. I’m glad to hear this, because I had the same experience. Of course, I have lots of little story-examples that I occasionally use to illustrate a point in training. They work well, people remember them and they can create some thought, humour and emotion. But what I want from this session is to find out HOW to turn a process of learning activities into a thin-red line that can enhance the learning experience across the training…

 

Katie started by telling her own rags to riches story * When listening, I was drawn to hear more and I started to like her more. (My neighbour said it didn’t really do anything for her). Stroud said that story activates the brain. It touches the senses and emotions. Because more of the brain is activated, it is more likely to be remembers and integrated.

* There are many other types of story (boy meets girls, Hero’s Journey …) which we are not necessarily going to see here.

 

To start making your story, you need first to define the problem in story-terms

  • Background – my story is about an IT consultancy company. People have strong technical skills, but they aren’t capturing new opportunities that arise for time-to-time.
  • Setting – in my world, the employees of this company are distant from their own company colleagues. They work on client-sites. The client’s building is very quiet, badly lit and “dry”. The workers on the client site don’t really talk to each other much.
  • Conflict (the problem that stops us from success) – there is no time to talk, our hero is nervous and introverted. He doesn’t feel connected to or supported by his company while he is at his client-site. He doesn’t really feel like he can “win” or grow. He is unsure about how to proceed.
  • Climax (the reward moment, when it all works out)
  • Resolution

 

Then add detail about the suffering that is going on in the story

  • Place it – where does the problem happen? My hero is at his desk, “hiding behind his computer”.
  • Define it – what exactly is the problem. My guy gets a question from someone (his client) that he wasn’t expecting. It’s not part of his job and he feels uncomfortable dealing with it. Given his slightly introverted nature, it feels like unwelcome noise in his ears. “Please leave me alone to work”, he thinks.
  • Scope it – what is the extent of this problem? For my guy, it’s not the first time he has felt like this. In fact, it happens in other social scenarios too. When he is with his few own good friends, everything is fine (albeit a bit geeky!). But when he has to talk to strangers (or a girl!) he doesn’t really know what to say.
  • Solve it – define how it would be if everything was fine. My hero would breathe gently, relax, smile and look up (come out) from his computer to give his full attention to the client get to know what’s going on and then be able to confidently send an email to his business development manager detailing the situation, values and needs of the client.

 

Now define the characters

  • Hero – the person in the story that is going through the problem and will come out differently at the end. He may also save a victim. My guy is Paul. He is an IT developer. He is usually quite quiet and tends to feel most comfortable with people he knows, talking about things he understands well. He has been working for 5 years since school and doesn’t feel like a “high-potential”.
  • Victim – the one who is really “dying” in the situation. He needs help. He may even be attacked by a villain. I thought about a “rubbish guy who has no friends”. He always eats alone. He will never grow in his function. Our hero doesn’t want to end up like him in 5 more years.
  • Supporting characters – the other people in the environment that have some kind of impact in the story (or competence problem/solution). I have the onsite client who is a normal business man who just wants good solutions. Friendly, to the normal extent. We have the client receptionist who is a nice young lady who has all the kinds of skills that our her ones, but doesn’t need them in her work. And we have an extrovert sales-guy from our hero’s firm, who is pushing (in a nice way) for more leads.
  • Villain – the person (or “thing”) who has the behaviours that are going no to hinder the hero in his quest for success. In my story, this is the IT developer from a competing company. He’s not a bad guy at all, but if our hero doesn’t achieve his goal, this guy will.

 

Katie proposes that you don’t use real people from your business in the story, but focus on character types, personalities, (in)competence etc.. There are some classic personality types you can bear in mind: Dominating people, passive people, manipulators… She also noted that you don’t need to literally translate the story. In my case, I could have taken the story entirely out of the IT world and just used a “boy meets girl, but can’t get to know her” story as an analogy. Given the wish to integrate this story into a training with an existing client in the IT sector, I preferred to “keep it real”.

 

Choose the story model you need to make your point

With the background in mind, each story has to have 4 phases: Setting, conflict, climax and resolution. But they don’t have to be presented in that order, or in the same way. There are 4 models ways to proceed.

  • The first model under consideration is used for introducing something new in your training, like a skill or attitude. Here you need to focus on the climax phase at the beginning of the story. You talk about the moment when the problem is being solved. This will help to introduce the behaviours and attitude required to achieve success. Of course, in this story model, we may go back in time to the status-quo as the story/training evolves.
  • For technical skills training, you need to put a lot of time into characters early. This will create more empathy from the learners. How you proceed through the story phases noted above is flexible from there on.
  • If you are trying to get better adoption of something new (process, solution, tools) where there is resistance, you need to focus on the resolution phase first. This will help to build the feeling of potential benefits (of the new thing) for the learner and build an image of a better world when the change is completed. Yo ur can compare this to the visualisation exercise seen in Juanita Coble’s session.
  • If your issue is creating memory, you need to focus first more on the territory of the story (background and setting), using good memory-enhancing skills. If you can do this in a visual way like Hans Rosling does, you’ll definitely achieve this!

 

Can everyone create a good story?

Having gone through the exercises in the session, I have the feeling that there may be one major barrier for instructional designers and trainers to actually get started with this. Personally, I am loving it and finding it very easy. I like new ideas, I find it easy to think of analogies, be a little out of the box and go through the steps. But not everyone can do this, or like it. * During the session, many participants were asking closed (yes/no) questions to the speaker. For example: “Could the villain be “time” rather than a person?” The fact that they didn’t just say “I think the villain could be time, rather than a person” seemed implied to me that people were feeling uncertain about their ideas, needing reassurance.

* Interestingly, whilst taking us throughout the steps, Katie used story to introduce us to a friend of hers (Eric) who hates to learn new things and finds it difficult to do what she asks. He suffers, he pulls his hair out and doesn’t know what to do. Very clever meta-approach to her session!

 

OK, so where exactly is THE story?

If you read this blog and think I still don’t have a story, you may have missed the point. We are not writing a novel here. No-one in a learning environment today would read it if we did that anyway! We are also not talking about making a full “Who moved my cheese?” type training workshop, bade exclusively on the story. The story IS the characters, the setting, the conflict, climax and resolution. How and when you present during training it is up to you:

  • Occasionally, you might actually tell a part of the story as an introduction to a training moment
  • You might have a PowerPoint slide with one of the characters + a speech-bubble mentioning a problem he or she has, which you use this to generate discussion about the required approach to the situation
  • You might do a role-play at one moment where the trainer or a participant plays one of the characters so that another participant can show us how the hero should act
  • You could implement some of the ideas from Anders Gronstedt’s session on TransMedia Storytelling

 

…and if you do the things and do them well, you will have a thin-red-story-based-line which learning participants can relate to, may feel emotional about, are more likely to remember and more likely to learn from.

 

Good luck!
D

 

 

What’s in a name? How name change works

ASTD has announced that it is changing its name to ATD: “The Association for Talent Development”. Having started my working career in the international branding agency Nomen, I was particularly interested in the news and reactions by members. To be immediately clear on my opinion, I think it is a good change and hope it will be as best executed as possible over the coming period.

 

The process for a name change is lengthy, costly and massively important to any business organisation. The name must reflect the brand and achieve whatever business goals necessary.

 

It all starts with a good naming brief

The first step is to create a well structured briefing that outlines the brand (image) that the name must communicate. In the case of A(S)TD, I assume there were two major requirements in order to enlarge the scope of the association: Remove the “American” and reduce the immediate and exclusive focus on “Training”. In the case of A(S)TD, these 2 requirements seem very sensible to me. As our industry has evolved, we all understand that learning is more than training. Given the international scope of the organisation (as proven by the 9000+ international attendees at this year’s conference) it also seems natural to want to reflect that in the brand. The other semantic requirements are unknown to me, but may include things like “performance driven”, “giving a sense of prestige”, “connected and collaborative”, “focussing on human potential”, “focused on results” etc etc..

Today I have heard from various conference attendees the new name does not say what it ought to. More on this later.

 

There are other considerations that must be included in the briefing that are common to all name creation including who must understand the brand, specific language or length requirements, where and how it will be used, fit with other names in the brand portfolio, differentiation from competitors etc… It is important the right people are involved in creating the naming brief, in order that the name does what it must across the business. Involvement can also help with adoption of the new name and smoothing the change process.

Today I have heard complaints that the focus on “talent” does not fit with other A(S)TD brands related to “workforce development” and “training design and delivery”. I also heard disappointment that other people were not consulted, to illicit their opinion. As I understood it, the board, communications and marketing departments worked in close collaboration with the branding agency.

 

Name creation is an art in itself

The creative phase for name creation begins with a team of people who look for different possible ways to evoke the brand in words. Normally, this phase is not initially restricted by specific conditions like type or length of name. A creative team is charged with looking for descriptions and associations that can communicate what was laid out in the brief, then turning them into names. At this point, various creation strategies can be considered, including use of patronymics (“Johnson and Johnson”) and 4 other specific types of name structure:

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A(S)TD has chosen to use descriptive dictionary terms for the name. The biggest value of (staying with) this choice is in search-engine optimisation and comprehension across international languages. In principle, given the choice to stay with a simple English name, most languages will at least understand the name and it will yield search results. People in our profession do not search for random associative made-up terms. They search for terms that mean something to them, eg “association”, “learning”, “talent”, “training”, “development”.

 

In a more creative brainstorming activity, the focus is first on associations and analogy, looking for other ways to say what must be communicated. A variety of creative techniques are used. Out of this creative phase, many names are created that will be immediately filtered out in the selection phase, as they obviously do not fit to the briefing requirements.

Suggestions made in the conference backchannel today range from “The Intergalactic Association of Doing Everything” to “Global Performance Insititute”.

 

Not every name you create actually works

In the first selection phase, some clients immediately fall in love with a name; others see a direction that they like that must be further elaborated by the creative team.

When arriving at a shortlist of names, the second selection phase begins. Here, names are subjected to consideration by a panel of native-speaking people from the target languages to ensure they are understood as required, can be sufficiently pronounced, do not give the wrong “feeling” and do not say something bad for other language speakers.

Some years ago, Toyota famously created the brand name “MR2″. When pronounced in French, this can be heard as either “merde” (shit) or emmerdeur (someone who makes things difficult or “stirs shit”). When I heard the name for our organisation, I could imagine that all 3 words were reasonably international, translating well in terms of core meaning.

 

Although the order of filtering activities may differ, a cost-conscious branding agency will now conduct a domain-name availability search to see if the name (or acceptable iterations) are available for use with required root domains (.com .org etc). Until the release of “creative root domains” this exercise restricted choices enormously. Almost anything you can think of in the descriptive dictionary category of names is almost always gone or else it is far too long. It is amazing to me that A(S)TD was able to secure TD.org as the chances of even getting a 2,3,4 letter word are almost impossible. Its a shame that ATD.org was not available.

At this point, having ruled out names that cannot work, it is time for final elaboration of what is left, if anything. Here, the actual target audience is shown the name and market research is conducted to see if the name really works or not.

When I heard the name, I was extremely pleased that the scope of our activities had been enlarged to the level of “talent”. In continental Europe, many HR Directors were some years ago rebranded as “Talent Directors”; HR itself became “Talent Management”. Speaking with many American colleagues, I was surprised by their reaction. They told me that “talent” evokes for them the idea of fickle Hollywood movie stars. I also heard many people saying the focus should not have been on the people, but on the business results (“performance”). And finally, people complained that their opinion was not solicited.

 

Even when it works, you may not be able to use it

When the final shortlist of names has been chosen, legal and trademarking issues need to be considered. The aim of trademark registration is to protect the brand name from unfair use by other organisations.

A first search is done to see if any other organisations in relevant sectors or geographic regions are using the name itself or any close resemblance. “Resemblance” includes partially comparable words and even synonyms. This search is difficult, lengthy and costly, and must be done by legal professionals to ensure that no subsequent legal action will be taken against the company using the new name. The basic argument is: You cannot use a name that is the same as or too close to another that has been sufficiently used (or registered) by another similar company in the region you want to register your name in. If you did, you would unfairly profit from the brand-loyalty and goodwill built-up for that name by the other company. Business names can be registered in multiple domains and regions and the cost is relative to the level of protection requested.

In the case of A(S)TD, it must have been costly and difficult to find, research and protect the new name. The chances of your name NOT being used in a similar way is much lower when you are using descriptive dictionary words. These chances are further reduced when the name must be registered across multiple geographical regions.

 

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..and when you have a name, you have a change process to do

All change is likely to causes problems, and take time and expertise. The same is true for a name, particularly so because names carry a strong sense of identity and precedence. Imagine if you had to change your own name..

Without considering logo and design issues (by the way, I love the logo… ask me why!) the name change process requires a massive amount of communication and administration. Marketing collateral like websites, print and merchandising will need to be changed and a choice must be made between replacing all iterations of the old name, removing all old-name content, or doing nothing. People need to be informed and the transition needs to be managed, from email signatures to letterheads and PPT templates.

 

But the hardest part of the change is getting people to adopt the new name and love it.

I have heard concerns about the financial implications of the rebrand for the chapters, as well as uncertainty about timings and process. Although people have been told that that information will arrive very quickly, I also heard complaints that it was not provided in advance to more people; people most directly affected.

 

In any change, some people will love it quickly and some will hate it forever. Some people will try it out immediately and others will need more time. The longer the history with “what was the case”, the less likely people will love what is new. Much has been written and taught about change management with regard to this phenomenon. And the ASTD name has a rich history! There are always complaints when a strong brand changes identity and any complaints today are therefore credit to the strength of the A(S)TD brand.

Complaints here include those who say that many opportunities were missed to announce the change to a limited group of early-adopters or influential people outside of the A(S)TD central offices. This could have helped to ease the pain of transition and could have created a bigger pool of supporters to promote the new name to others, following the full-on official announcement.

 

But whatever happens next, the new name is here to stay

Like a new-born arriving in a family, everything can go a little crazy. People can get moody or excited, and everyone needs support to adapt. Complaints like those noted above happen every time. But as the transition takes place over time, if the staff at A(S)TD help those affected to see the value, administrate the change and use the name well, in some time everyone will forget there was ever another name.

And whatever you think, it is there and we all have a choice to be positive or negative.

Welcome to ATD!

 

Thanks for reading,
D

ps Is someone going to refund the ASTD t-shirt I bought on Sunday?

 

 

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