L&D Blog » 6 Things the Best Firms Are Doing to Give Learning Impact!

Developing and implementing a learning and development plan is only half the story – you also have to show that your learning is having a real impact within your organization.

And there’s more to that than just gathering some data, picking out a few metrics, and pointing to “success” on paper.

Over the past five months, talent management and learning specialists RedThread Research have surveyed more than 40 L&D leaders about their strategies for measuring and analyzing employee development.

And earlier this week, RedThread shared their findings with us during our webinar, “Having Learning Impact vs. Showing Learning Impact.”

RedThread co-founder and principal analyst, Dani Johnson, highlighted six practices that leading organizations follow to demonstrate what they do to encourage and deliver employee development, and the impact it has on their organizations.

1. Understand Your Business Goals

In order to carry out your L&D strategy successfully, it’s important that leaders are aware of, and understand, their organization’s overall aims.

There are three basic questions that more evolved organizations need to ask about setting clear business goals:

1. Business direction: how will L&D affect the business goals?

2. How success is measured: how does the organization measure business goals?

3. Collaboration is key: who do you need to collaborate with in order to ensure that this is successful?

2. Consider All the Levers of Learning Impact

RedThread found that there are six “levers” to learning, and in order to enable learning in the workplace, L&D leaders should be using them all.

  • Plan: how are we helping employees to plan their own development?
  • Discover: how do we help employees to find what they need?
  • Consume: what channels do we provide for delivering learning content and experiences?
  • Experiment: how do we enable experimentation with new knowledge and skills?
  • Connect: are we connecting employees with each other in the right ways? 
  • Perform: how do we help people to learn while doing their job? 

3. Make Your Metrics, Choose Data

Many organizations default to the metrics that their learning technology offers them. But RedThread found that more evolved organizations determined their own metrics and chose their own data sources. 

There is often confusion between data and metrics, and in order to choose the right measurements for your organization, you need to understand the differences between the two. 

There are four main characteristics that you can use to define metrics:

  • Contextual: metrics aren’t just numbers on a screen. There has to be context as to why they’re chosen.
  • Deliberate: they are chosen deliberately to tie into a particular measure of success.
  • Calculated: metrics can be analyzed to determine their value, and how or where they should be applied.
  • Directional: metrics are used to measure success, so understanding which way you want your metrics to move is really important.

Choosing your data sources is important too, so don’t just round up the usual suspects – look for data that will help you tell your story.

4. Choose Leading and Lagging Indicators

L&D leaders also highlighted the importance of using indicators to predict and explain trends in data. These kinds of indicators can be split into two types: leading indicators and lagging indicators.

Lagging indicators are used to confirm long-term trends, as significant changes in a company generally occur before trends in the market.

Leading indicators are often predictive in nature, and can offer valuable information to help organizations to adjust or change.

5. Be Consistent

When it comes to collecting data, consistency is key. The L&D leaders highlighted two factors to keep in mind to help keep your data consistent.

First, even if you’re collecting the right metrics, they aren’t always immediately useful. Make sure that you collect them consistently over time, so you can refer to them at the moment of need. 

Second, make sure that you’re standardizing your results. Collect and format data in the same way across your organization.

6. Illustrate Your Story

When you’re telling your data story, present it in the most engaging, compelling way. Here are three things that top L&D leaders consider when delivering their information.

Be graphic: a picture is worth a thousand words, so grab people’s attention with a great visual display. Use charts and diagrams and images, not just facts and figures.

Know your audience: think about who you’re presenting to, and make sure you’re talking about the data points that are important to them.

Focus: it can sometimes be tempting to include everything, but not all data is relevant to everyone. Make sure that you only use data that helps to make your point, or tells your story.

Want to learn more? Download the full webinar and slides here, or visit the RedThread Research to see the full report.

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Looking back, looking ahead: Customers are driving capabilities for their business and people

On stage at Microsoft Inspire 2019, Judson Althoff, Microsoft executive vice president, and Unilever’s Dave Penrith, chief engineer, demo a digital twin of Unilever’s Valinhos, Brazil, factory on a computer animation created by Microsoft Studios.

This week in Las Vegas, at Microsoft Inspire, our annual partner event, I had several conversations about  the year we’ve had and what is next for the industry, including opportunities to bring the latest innovations to our mutual customers. Together we are building incredible momentum, truly transforming industries and redefining the art of what is possible. As we move into this new fiscal year, I am particularly energized by the traction I see with open cloud engagements – and the collaborative nature of our partnerships with companies across the world.

This morning’s news of our extensive and multi-year strategic collaboration with AT&T is another example of partnering to deliver unique solutions for our mutual customers, leveraging the strength of AT&T’s network and our cloud expertise. We expect our customers to benefit across a range of scenarios where 5G can enable critical near-instantaneous communications across industries. For example, imagine a first responder using AI-powered live voice translation to quickly communicate with someone in need who speaks a different language. Microsoft will be AT&T’s preferred cloud provider for non-network applications on Microsoft Azure and support AT&T as it consolidates its data center infrastructure and operations. In addition, AT&T will provide most of its workforce with robust cloud-based productivity and collaboration tools with Microsoft 365.

Unilever, a company whose products touch 2.5 billion consumers every day, also made a big impression this week at Microsoft Inspire. Dave Penrith, chief engineer at Unilever, joined me onstage to showcase how digital is empowering the company’s nearly 155,000 employees globally to do their best work with Microsoft 365 (including Teams and Yammer). Unilever is also building custom apps that harness real-time insights from data with PowerApps and Power BI and using Azure IoT’s digital twin technology to represent the physical production lines in its Valinhos Dove factory to digitize its supply chain network.

Of course, Microsoft Inspire is just one moment in time. Over the past 12 months, we’ve made headway across a diverse set of customers and industries.

Earlier this year, in the health care industry, we announced a seven-year, strategic cloud partnership with Walgreens Boots Alliance (WBA). WBA will harness the power of Microsoft Azure, Microsoft’s cloud and AI platform, Microsoft 365, health industry investments and new retail solutions with WBA’s customer reach, convenient locations, outpatient health care services and industry expertise to make health care delivery more personal, affordable and accessible for people around the world. Most recently, UCLA Health shared how they are moving to our cloud to help speed research and improve patient care, and our new multi-year strategic alliance with Providence St. Joseph Health will harness the power of Azure and AI to deploy next-generation solutions in health care and power their employees with Microsoft 365 and Teams.

These are just some of the recent examples that highlight Microsoft’s customer-first approach. In fact, the world’s leading companies choose Azure for their mission-critical workloads, including more than 95 percent of the Fortune 500. In addition, this year we shared stories with retail industry leaders like Walmart, Kroger, Gap, Inc., Albertsons Companies, Starbucks, Neiman Marcus and Coles, and in the automotive industry with Daimler, BMW, Volkswagen and Renault Nissan Mitsubishi. With manufacturing, Airbus demonstrated how HoloLens and mixed reality are helping double its life-to-date aircraft production while improving quality, safety and security.

We continue to invest in technology partnerships to ensure Microsoft’s cloud is the best platform for our customers not only to access all their data, but to understand, process and act on that data to innovate.  Microsoft’s open cloud approach has been demonstrated time and again. We continue to advance our Open Data Initiative with SAP and Adobe, including progress announced earlier this year empowers customers like Coke, Unilever, Walmart and HP to build data models that meet their enterprise needs. In the past quarter, we announced a strategic partnership with Dell Technologies to provide customers with a fully native, supported and certified VMware experience on Microsoft Azure and the ability to extend Microsoft 365 and Windows Virtual Desktop. We announced a cloud interoperability partnership with Oracle using Azure services like Analytics and AI, and are continuing our work with Red Hat to make its extensive portfolio of technologies available on Azure. Plus, we announced last week that Service Now, running on Microsoft Azure, will enable enterprise customers in certain highly regulated industries, such as government, to accelerate their digital transformation and drive new levels of insights and innovation.

It is humbling to see all the ways our customers and partners are embracing technology. Whether large or small, companies are driving new experiences and solutions across every industry, redefining innovation and creating impactful change for the future of their businesses and employees. Their journeys are powerful, and we are fortunate to have the opportunity to be their trusted partners along the way.

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#WorkTrends: Ask These Questions to Change the Employee Experience

It seems kind of crazy that “employee experience” has only now become a buzzword in our industry. I mean, don’t we all want to work in the best environment possible?

But even if it’s taken a while to make it into the lexicon, the concept of employee experience is here to stay. So how does HR build the best experience possible for employees? To find out, we spoke to longtime HR practitioner and problem-solver Mary Faulkner, senior adviser at consulting firm Inflexion Advisors. She walked us through a few questions we all need to ask ourselves to make sure that our organizations have the best employee experience possible.

Listen to the full conversation or read the recap below. Subscribe so you never miss an episode.

Are You Trying to Solve Employee Experience Just Using Tech?

As we have discussed many times on #WorkTrends, HR tech is in a boom era. It’s an era we’ll be telling our grandchildren about — though, in all fairness, they’ll probably wonder how exactly we got to talking about that.

But in all seriousness, there are numerous technological solutions out there that enhance employee experience, from platform-agnostic software suites to AI-powered continuing education tools. However, Faulkner cautions that HR shouldn’t see technological solutions as the be-all, end-all. “It is not a replacement for human touch,” she says.

Instead, focus on more tangible elements in the workplace — for example, make sure you have pay equality and that your employees are being paid fairly. Also, take stock of your physical environment. Make sure your office has good furniture and convenient parking. Check to make sure common areas such as restrooms are clean. It sounds basic, but these touches go a long way toward creating a better employee experience. “If you’re not thinking through those basic things then all the tech in the world is not going to improve your employees’ experience,” Faulkner says.

Do You Have Bright Shiny Object Syndrome?

Bright Shiny Object Syndrome: Odds are, you’ve seen it even if you haven’t come down with it yourself.

Business leaders and HR practitioners contract Bright Shiny Object Syndrome after attending a conference or reading an empowering book — or perhaps after listening to an amazing episode of #WorkTrends! Symptoms include irrational excitement and proposals of new “solutions,” without regard for need or practicality.

What can you do to counter it? First, slow down before you do any purchasing or implementation, even if the solution actually is something that will work for your organization. “Think about what your overall strategy is and what your overall approach is,” Faulkner says. Discuss your plans with the stakeholders involved, and implement a testing phase to correct and weed out mistakes and pain points. Doing so will ensure a smooth transition, and also lead to a better employee experience.

Are You on the Same Page with Everyone Who Works on Employee Experience?

Rome wasn’t built in a day, and employee experience isn’t either.

So make sure HR isn’t working in a silo when it comes to the topic of employee experience. Faulkner says every department needs to be working on employee experience, but that each needs to coordinate to ensure they’re committed to delivering on the same principles. “I think it’s something that needs to be thought about — thoughtfully,” she says. “And if we could all work together to be thoughtful about how we do this, it’s going to be great.”


Resources Mentioned in This Episode

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L&D Success Stories Shared at Networking Event

Flying the flag for L&D can be a lonely and thankless task in some organizations. So, it’s all the more inspiring to hear success stories from passionate advocates of corporate learning.

On July 3, Mind Tools hosted its second L&D networking event. More than 35 fellow L&D practitioners joined them on the top floor of London’s iconic Gherkin building to share and discuss their own success stories.

I’m pleased to bring you the event’s highlights, as well as some key takeaways and practical tips from each speaker.

The informative and interactive session was titled “Successful Learning Transformation: How to Meet the Needs of the On-Demand Consumer Learner Generation.” It was designed to showcase insights from the new, groundbreaking research conducted by Mind Tools and expert learning analysts, Towards Maturity.

Mind Tools CEO Ollie Craddock introduced the morning, and along with Towards Maturity’s Chief Insight Officer Jane Daly, explored L&D’s perceptions of their learners in 2019. They revealed the divide that exists between the perceptions of L&D staff and those of their learners. And they questioned whether or not L&D practitioners are meeting those learners’ needs.

After this session, two of Mind Tools’ most respected clients in the U.K. joined Ollie and Jane in a fireside chat to discuss the biggest issues that L&D practitioners face when their learners don’t have the time to learn.

The Lineup

Taking part in the event were:

  • Jyoti Ghai and Grace Francis L&D specialists at Heathrow Airport, the second busiest airport in the world, and the busiest airport in Europe. Heathrow handled a record 80.1 million passengers in 2018. 
  • Ciara Lennon-Smith HR Coordinator at Rothesay Life a leading life insurer, established in 2007.

The questions asked by moderators Ollie and Jane were:

Does Your Organization Encourage Self-Directed Learning?

In response to this question, Jyoti outlined the challenges that the airport faces: their complex, multi-operational workforce runs on shift hours, making it difficult to offer employees face-to-face learning opportunities. As a result, the need for self-directed and on-demand learning is a must.

As a company, they have started their journey to develop a self-driven learning culture through their internal campaign, “Inspire to Grow.” The objective is to encourage people to be more proactive, stay curious and take control of their own learning success.

Does Your Organization Encourage, and Provide Time For, Reflection?

Grace admitted that currently, Heathrow doesn’t plan in time for colleagues to reflect. However, the company’s face-to-face learning programs actively encourage learners to reflect in different ways, even if they don’t insist on it.

“As part of our campaign we are going to start encouraging people to build ‘time to grow’ into their diaries so that they can have recognized, protected and undisturbed time for self-directed learning or reflection.”

Can You Give Examples of How to Adapt Learning to the Needs of Your Organization?

Ciara kicked off this discussion by describing the success of launching Mind Tools within Rothesay.

“We looked at performance review time and goal setting, which was a huge driver for people accessing Mind Tools content.

We split the learning population into cohorts and targeted people specifically, rather than company-wide. This included launch emails, and offering shorter training courses over three sessions rather than full days. 

We now also offer increased lunchtime sessions so that they are more accessible, utilizing the feedback we have received to market our resources.”

As Jyoti explained, when Heathrow launched Mind Tools internally, they found that there were two issues they needed to address.

“The first was myth-busting about career development, and the second was giving line managers the tools and resources they need to do their job. 

There was lots of feedback about line managers not being adequately prepared to line manage people – with this in mind we created two custom pages and mapped resources that would help these objectives.” 

Grace has found the results from Mind Tools invaluable.

“We use the data that we get back from Mind Tools and our other platforms to help us to adapt our learning offering. It gives us an insight into what people are looking for, so we can adapt materials and resources according to those needs.” 

Can You Provide Examples on How You Engage Your Learners Through Marketing Campaigns?

Ciara outlined the importance of keeping Mind Tools content at the forefront of thinking for the learners at Rothesay.

“We ran a campaign during Learning at Work Week, in which we had a huge drive towards Mind Tools content, along with our other training providers. Our intranet is gaining increased views, so to that effect, we have built dedicated landing pages around learning.

In addition to this, we have added some promotional banners on the site to remind everyone about the importance of self-development.”

Ciara also discussed the importance of continually testing campaigns and gathering feedback for the future.

“We have been focusing our campaigns around specific seasonal internal events, such as performance reviews and goal setting. This has seen great results in comparison to blanket emails at all times of the year.”

Grace and Jyoti provided five top tips on keeping learning fresh at Heathrow:

  1. Set clear objectives and goals for the campaign. What are you trying to achieve?
  2. Ensure materials look professional and on brand. Become friends with your marketing and design team!
  3. Launch with a big bang. Use a “hook” if you can, such as Learning at Work Week, or a similar event.
  4. Continue the drum beats. Set up lunch-and-learn drop-ins to maintain momentum. 
  5. Don’t just rely on digital. Talk to the business! Create ambassadors and create some energy. Excitement is contagious!

Thank You

I’d like to personally thank all of our speakers for sharing their insightful stories with us.

No matter where in the world your business is based, you can benefit from Mind Tools Corporate solutions, too. Subscribe to our free email newsletter or visit the Mind Tools Corporate home page to find out more.

We will be looking to host more of these networking events, so keep an eye out for more information!

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Are Your Performance Metrics Doing Harm? Time to Take a Step Back

“Analytics”, “data mining”, “big data”, “key metrics” – one way or another, data is regularly lauded as the solution to every problem that a business faces.

However, as I wrote in my last blog post, not everything is always as it appears in the world of data. Sometimes it pays to take a step back and consider if your key performance metrics are actually a help or hindrance.

Here are a few things to keep in mind when analysing your data.

Management Information vs. Data Analysis

First of all, it’s important that you separate management information (or MI) and data analysis.

MI is a record of fixed data sets, allowing managers to see and track changes over time (for example, a weekly stats report). Whereas data analysis is about digging deeper into the figures, looking for patterns and anomalies to predict future change. Essentially, MI says, “This is where we are,” and data analysis says, “This is where we could be.”

Think of MI as looking directly through the windshield of your car at what’s in front of you, and data analysis as looking at various possible routes on your satnav app.

There is an important place for them both. However, automating MI will free up your analysts to start modeling ways your company can innovate for the future. (There are many automation services you can use, including Power BI, Oracle and Tableau.)

The Danger of Stand-Alone Metrics

Are there certain stats and figures in your company that are consistently highlighted, either for marketing purposes or as benchmarks?

If so, it’s worth regularly putting them under the microscope. You need to make sure they are accurate and are sending your company in the right direction.

Take the following example: “In five years time, we will have 500,000 customers.” Chasing this metric at the cost of all others could have potentially damaging consequences.

Have you considered other relevant metrics? What is the average transaction value? What are your retention rates? Customer satisfaction levels? And that’s not even mentioning wider considerations like the company’s contribution to society and the environment.

Again, an automated MI program can help here: they can provide an engaging and easy to understand data dashboard for all employees to use. Be sure to include a range of relevant data points that your colleagues can refer to. This can stop your company from focusing on just the traditional metrics.

Embrace the Inconsistent

There can be a certain comfort in the weekly stats report. Like clockwork, everyone gets the same report confirming that all is well with “that” sacred number (for example, total sales, page views, etc.) and things are progressing as predicted.

But should this be the case in a business that dares to innovate and search for new ways to gain a competitive advantage?

There’s always the temptation to say “we’ve had a great week” and leave it there. But being shackled to particular metrics, with the assumption that they’ll grow in a predictable fashion, is potentially dangerous.

However, if you take the time to really analyze the data, you may find a few surprises. It may show that there’s a new audience of customers you can market to, or that a bottleneck is hampering capacity. When you take time to dig deeper, you may find whole new areas of opportunity. “We’ve had a great week” could quite easily turn into “we’ve had a great month.”

Whenever you make new discoveries about your industry, my recommendation is to document and share this information around the team. This may form part of a toolkit of ways to boost performance at times when you really need it.

Traditional Metrics: a Ticking Time Bomb?

Without innovation, the continued growth of the sacred metric may not be guaranteed.

In fact, if you’re solely focused on sales metrics, for example, this may have a detrimental effect on your business and lower your return on investment.

As a business makes more sales, it might start to find that its current processes and “infrastructure” struggle to handle the demands of a growing customer base. Therefore, technically the cost of securing each sale grows as your company creaks under the pressure. This is commonly known as the “law of diminishing returns” – the economics equivalent of “too many cooks spoil the broth.”

The graph below shows how this might negatively affect a restaurant business.

If the restaurant keeps hiring more staff to serve more tables, over time this tactic can become increasingly inefficient. They may need a bigger restaurant space, or a bigger kitchen, or more serving stations.

Traditional metrics, like total sales figures (or tables served, as in the example above) can let the company down, hiding the real challenges that the business faces.

By taking a step back and assessing the bigger picture, you can focus on finding innovative solutions to the happy problems of increased demand.

Knowledge Is Power

Taking a step back myself, the key takeaways from this blog are the following:

  • Don’t work for your metrics, make your metrics work for you.
  • Make sure that the metrics ingrained in your company culture are suitable, sensible and wide-ranging.
  • Innovation is essential. So never be afraid to change those metrics: if you’ve made new discoveries in your data, they could take your company in a successful new direction!
  • In fact, sticking dogmatically to a narrow range of metrics could be dangerous for your company in the long run, as you miss opportunities and succumb to the law of diminishing returns.

With comprehensive MI and rigorous analysis of data, your team may well discover exciting new horizons for your company to explore.

James’ Recommended Resources

Public resources

Using Data and Analytics Wisely in an Age of Fake News (Blog)

Premium resources

Jain and Sharma’s BADIR™ Framework (Article)

Data and Information Management (Article)

Behind Every Good Decision: How Anyone Can Use Business Analytics to Turn Data Into Profitable Insight (Book Insight Podcast)

Mind Tools is a U.K.-based company, that serves more than 25 million learners, offering on-demand management, leadership and career skills training to individuals and organizations. With Mind Tools’ customized corporate learning solutions, your organization will have access to all our premium resources, including expert interview and book insight podcasts, interactive quizzes, and learning streams.

Book a demo with a member of our team to find out more.

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L&D Blog » Mind Tools Review of the 2019 CIPD Festival of Work

We’ve packed away our stand, headed back to Mind Tools HQ, and now it’s time to reflect on a busy, informative and exciting two days at the 2019 CIPD Festival of Work!

The CIPD is the professional body for HR and people development, and is dedicated to “championing better work and working lives.” Its Festival of Work conference and exhibition at Olympia London was billed as the world’s largest celebration of people at work.

The event attracted more than 10,000 visitors, 160 speakers and 250 exhibitors – including a handpicked team from Mind Tools! We were delighted to demonstrate our Corporate offering to L&D leaders from the U.K. and around the globe.

We were also pleased to showcase our latest white paper, “Challenging Perceptions: Optimizing Performance by Aligning With the Needs of the Consumer Learner.” The report was a joint venture with our Emerald Learning partners, Towards Maturity – watch this space for a downloadable version that will be available soon!

The white paper takes a deep dive into learner behavior, and explores how today’s learners feel about learning at work.

One of the key findings is the massive divide between the perceptions of L&D practitioners and those of their learners. Drawing on lessons from top-performing organizations, the paper identifies the key learning expectations L&D practitioners need to meet, and the changes that will likely have the biggest impact on bridging the divide that may exist in your organization.

Festival of Work: An Immersive Event

The Festival of Work had lots to offer the delegates, exhibitors and visitors. For example, in the Innovation Village, a number of organizations demonstrated the latest innovations in L&D. And in the Well-Being Village, visitors could take part in mindfulness tasters, yoga sessions, and even spend time chilling with canine companions in the Nestle Purina dogs area.

The Future Role of Technology

Embracing technology in the workplace (without forgetting the human element) was one of the most popular themes of the event.

The opening keynote address was given by Garry Kasparov, a chess grandmaster and former world champion, and current chairman of the Human Rights Foundation.

He spoke about how the future of work is human and machine working together. This was followed by a panel with Garry and other prominent experts, to discuss good work and the future of jobs in a changing economic landscape.

Festival of Work Free Learning Program

In addition to the 75+ sessions on the main stages, CIPD also ran free learning events throughout the Festival of Work.

On the L&D Stage, our colleagues at GoodPractice delivered a presentation around the evolution of 70:20:10, a learning and development model that suggests a proportional breakdown of how people learn effectively.

In the session, they discussed insights, gathered from L&D practitioners working in leading organizations, about how they use 70:20:10 within their businesses.

For the uninitiated, 70:20:10 describes an ideal balance between different ways of learning and developing in the workplace:

  • 70 percent by “experience,” through day-to-day tasks, challenges and practice.
  • 20 percent by “exposure,” through social learning, in person or online.
  • 10 percent by “education,” through formal learning including courses.

GoodPractice managing director Owen Ferguson explored the model with some important health warnings about the research methodology of 70:20:10.

He pointed out that L&D has a difficult job to do in terms of positioning and communicating 70:20:10, as there is a risk that people view it as “something extra,” or that L&D is pushing its responsibility out to managers and employees in the guise of 70:20:10.

As well as speaking and exhibiting at the event, GoodPractice also celebrated the third birthday of its podcast by doing a live show from London.

This special podcast featured Michelle Parry-Slater, founder of Kairos Modern Learning; Gemma Critchley, Head of Technology & Innovation for Learning at Aviva; and Andy Lancaster, head of Learning & Development Content at the CIPD. They discussed the past, present and future of learning. Listen to the live podcast on the GoodPractice website, here.

See You at the 2020 Festival of Work!

We’d like to say a huge thank you to everyone who visited the Mind Tools stand at the CIPD Festival of Work this year. We hope to see you again in 2020!

If you missed us at the event, but you’d like to find out more about our offering, request a demo today and discover how Mind Tools can help you and your organization.

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L&D Blog » Progress Not Perfection

Do you push too hard for perfection? Perhaps you struggle to get started on tasks, waiting for inspiration to arrive. Or maybe the projects you lead tend to miss their deadlines, while you and your people dissect and debate the details at length.

If so, chances are you’re making perfection your priority – at the expense of progress.

Long ago, British Prime Minister Winston Churchill warned against that very clearly: “Perfection is the enemy of progress.”

Today, Seth Godin, a successful entrepreneur, author and teacher, preaches that “waiting for perfect is never as smart as making progress.” The writer and leadership guru, Simon Sinek, agrees: “Progress is more important than perfection,” he says.

The Rise of Perfectionism

It’s easy to get caught up in the cult of perfectionism. A 2017 study by social psychologist Dr Thomas Curran analyzed data from over 40,000 people at colleges in the U.S., Canada and the U.K. It concluded that the drive for perfectionism is increasing.

Another study, by clinical psychologists at Dalhousie University, involved around 25,000 people, aged between 15 and 49. It showed that perfectionism has increased significantly in the last 30 years.

The Problem With Pursuing “Perfect”

In psychology, a perfectionist is defined as someone who maintains excessively high performance standards. They refuse to accept anything less than flawlessness.

But it’s an approach that’s unrealistic and unattainable. It’s a fast track to failure and unhappiness. To make matters even worse, perfectionists are often highly self-critical, and excessively concerned with the opinions of others.

Perfectionism can also lead to procrastination. You put things off because you’re waiting for the perfect idea, or for the timing to be spot-on. But while you’re busy deciding how to achieve your goals, deadlines sail by!

Many perfectionists focus on avoiding failure at all costs. They view mistakes as failures, and that leads to a fear of taking any risks at all. In the most popular TED Talk of all time, creativity expert Sir Ken Robinson says, “If you’re not prepared to be wrong, you’ll never come up with anything original.” Perfectionism breeds fear of being wrong, and fear kills creativity.

Pushed to its extreme, perfectionism can ultimately affect a person’s sense of self-worth. If nothing we do is good enough, we can easily start thinking that we’re not good enough, too.

What to Do If You’re a Perfectionist

It’s always important to have high standards. But if your pursuit of perfect is getting in the way of progress, here are seven tips that might help:

1. Be clear about your objective.

From the very start, make sure you know what you’re aiming to achieve.

Let’s say you’re preparing a presentation to the C-suite. Do you find yourself spending an inordinate amount of time fussing over the fonts for your PowerPoint slides?

If so, ask yourself what your objective is. Is it to dazzle people with your graphic design prowess? Or do you need to get their approval for a major initiative?

Being clear about your ultimate objective from the beginning will boost your success at each stage of a project.

2. Develop a bias for action.

When you’re stuck because you fear your work might not be flawless, or you don’t have the perfect right answer, don’t procrastinate. Perfection can lead to inaction.

Stop looking for the perfect way to do something – and just do it! Start, then improve along the way. This might not come naturally, but it’s achievable if you make it your intention.

3. Stop nitpicking.

Be ruthless about dealing with distractions. Precision is important, but you also need to step back and see the big picture. Ask yourself what other priorities are being missed while you’re busy focusing on insignificant details.

Any strength can easily become a liability if it’s taken too far, and perfectionists tend to obsess over every minor detail. Learn to let go of the small things so that you can focus on what matters most.

4. Refrain from excessive checking.

Be alert to anything that might threaten progress – including excessive caution. Yes, you need to check the key details. But don’t do so at the expense of efficiency and momentum.

Do you delay sending important emails because it takes you too long to find the perfect words? Does your team miss key deadlines because they’re double-checking documents and doing endless rewrites? Behaviors like these can make projects slow down, or stall completely.

Don’t sabotage yourself by “second guessing” every choice you make. After you’ve done a reasonable amount of checking, press “send” and move on.

5. Boost your sense of certainty.

One of my clients – I’ll call her Nadia – got a promotion recently. In her new role, she became progressively more anxious about impressing others. She worked extremely long hours, aiming for perfection in everything she did.

Nadia’s approach started to affect her sleep. She ended up getting only four hours of sleep most nights. “I need to show them that I deserve the promotion,” she confided.

People often seek perfection because they’re insecure. It seemed to me that Nadia had a dangerous mix of perfectionism and Impostor Syndrome!

In her book, “The Anxiety Toolkit,” psychologist Alice Boyes provides a tool for keeping your standards high, but avoiding perfectionism.

She advises that we shift our thinking from a performance focus to a mastery focus. Then, our aim to pursue high standards becomes less about proving ourselves to others, and more about gaining and using new skills. Instead of reinforcing our sense of insecurity, we start boosting our self-confidence.

6. Be vigilant about Parkinson’s Law.

Parkinson’s Law states that work expands to fill the time available.

Say you have two weeks to complete a report. You should set yourself an artificial deadline to finish it, and submit it then – rather than waiting until the end of the two weeks. If you try to use all the time you’ve got, you’ll likely continue writing and rewriting your work, to the point where you’re getting “diminishing returns.”

Do your due diligence, set a realistic deadline – and then (to paraphrase Seth Godin), “Ship it already!”

7. Be fair to others.

When you’re leading others, it’s easy to say, “Do as I do.” However, holding others accountable to your own personal standards may not be practical. You can still demand excellence from your team, but don’t confuse excellence with perfectionism.

Excellence is attainable, while perfectionism places an unfair burden on people to achieve impossible standards.

Perfectionism slows down the team, ramps up the stress, and puts overall performance at serious risk.


Cut yourself some slack. Tempering perfectionism for the sake of progress doesn’t mean giving up on excellence.

It’s not about being careless. You’re just setting realistic and achievable standards of performance. The focus is on continuous improvement – not on some distant possibility of perfection.

Focus on knowing when something is good enough, so that you can move on. Ultimately, you need to recognize that progress trumps perfection every time.

How Mind Tools Can Help

Mind Tools has a wide range of resources to help you tackle all the issues raised above.

Read our article on perfectionism to understand and address this condition as a whole. We also have a step-by-step guide to managing perfectionists.

If you think procrastination is a particular issue for you, why not start with our quiz, Are You a Procrastinator? And, if it turns out that you are… don’t put off doing something about it! We’ve got a great video guide to overcoming procrastination.

Not sure if you’re up to the challenges you face at work? Boost your confidence with our article on beating Impostor Syndrome.

And to maximize progress, we’ve got valuable resources for boosting engagement, increasing motivation, and setting the right level of conscientiousness – to get the best from yourself, and from everyone else on your team.

How do you deal with perfectionism and procrastination? Share your experiences in the Comments, below.

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L&D Blog » Mind Tools at ATD 2019

This May, Mind Tools was proud to take part in the ATD International Conference & Exposition in Washington, D.C., the world’s largest event for talent development and learning professionals.

ATD 2019 attracted more than 10,000 delegates to the Walter E. Washington Convention Center. We were delighted to be there to share our Corporate offering with L&D leaders from around the globe.

As well as exhibiting at the event, our CEO, Oliver Craddock, gave a joint presentation with the Chief Insight Officer at Towards Maturity, Jane Daly. They discussed the new white paper we’ve worked on together, “Challenging Perceptions: Optimizing Performance by Aligning With the Needs of the Consumer Learner.”

Our Client Success Manager, Ricky Patel (second right in the photograph above) was part of the Mind Tools team in Washington. Ricky gave me his take on ATD 2019.

Inspiring Speakers

“There were so many great speakers this year,” Ricky told me. “They ranged from business giants and leaders of industry to media superstars like Eric Whitacre and Oprah Winfrey.”

In between meeting people at the Mind Tools stand, and exploring the event for himself, Ricky got the chance to hear the keynote speech given by entrepreneur and best-selling author Seth Godin.

“He said we’re living in revolutionary times,” Ricky recalled. “As artificial intelligence advances, many roles are already being replaced by technology. So, to future-proof our careers, we need to let our human skills shine.

“Seth explained that it’s qualities like empathy, creativity and insight that distinguish us from the artificial intelligence we create. It’s our ‘human skills,’ or ‘useful skills’ (also known as ‘soft skills’) that will help us to make change happen, make an impact, and make ‘art,’ whatever type of organization we’re in.”

So how do we nurture those skills – in ourselves, and in our people?

Ricky noted that Seth Godin emphasized the word “development.”

“He’s passionate about people getting ongoing opportunities to learn and grow, and the inspiration to keep challenging themselves. With the right resources, they’ll actively choose to learn, keep doing it – and enjoy it!”

Liberated learning is a key theme in Seth Godin’s book, ‘The Icarus Deception,’ and Ricky heard Seth explore the idea further during his ATD address.

“He got us to rethink the whole Icarus story from Greek myth. Yes, Icarus’s father told him not to fly too close to the sun. But he also warned against flying too low, because staying close to the ocean is even more dangerous! And we’ll all fail in the end if we continually play it safe.

“Conformity no longer equates with comfort. In order to soar, we need to be brave innovators, continually pushing the boundaries. Our people need leaders who support that, and the right tools to drive their own learning.”

Key Themes

ATD 2019 gave Ricky the opportunity to speak directly with a wide range of L&D practitioners. He was keen to hear about their L&D strategies, and to discuss the sort of learning solutions they’re looking for.

A common conversation was about the challenges faced by L&D teams to meet their learners’ needs. “And that gave me the chance to talk about our latest white paper,” Ricky said.

“In ‘Challenging Perceptions,’ we explore what L&D professionals think their learners need – but also what those individual learners have to say. And there are some big differences!

“The data shows that L&D practitioners tend to be much more critical of their organizations’ efforts than the learners themselves. For example, only 45 percent of L&D practitioners say that L&D is discussed as part of a performance review or appraisal, whereas 68 percent of learners say that it is!

“And, although only 26 percent of L&D practitioners say self-directed learning is common in their organization, 86 percent of learners say they’re actually learning all the time, as part of their everyday work.”

The white paper takes a detailed look at these and other key differences in people’s perceptions. Crucially, it also explores how we can challenge them.

“Lots of people were talking about that at ATD,” Ricky recalled. “L&D teams are eager to discover how their learners really think and feel – and then to use those insights to engage and inspire them. They know it’s going to be a key step toward creating a culture of learning that’s right for today’s learners.”

See For Yourself

Keen to read the research in full? Our white paper will be available for download soon, so watch this space to get your copy for free!

See You Soon!

We’d like to say a big thank you to everyone who visited the Mind Tools stand at ATD 2019. We hope to see you again next year!

If you missed us in Washington, why not join us at the CIPD Festival of Work 2019, on June 12 and 13 at Olympia in London? It’s actually three events in one: the Learning and Development show, the HR Software and Recruitment show, and the new Future of Work show. Come to meet us, and discover why so many organizations use Mind Tools to engage their people in learning that works!

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Proud Parent of a Hustler

Proud parents everywhere use their vehicular rear-ends to shout-out their Honor Roll offspring. Others like to mention extracurricular activities like Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, and little All-Stars who play games with balls. Me? All that stuff is great. But I want people to know that I’m the proud parent of a hustler!

That’s right! While other kids are playing video games probably, or on Snapchat maybe, my boy is hustling. He’s a little businessman. He’s taking risks. He’s finding opportunities and breaking them wide open. Sometimes he is nickle-ing or even dime-ing. My boy is only in middle school, but he’s already making coin.

ABH (Always Be Huslting)

Hustling is a skill, no doubt. It’s a skill that most of us 9-to-5ers sadly do not have. We’re so used to someone else paying us to work that we may not even know how to hustle. It’s uncomfortable.

But I believe that hustling is the most future-proof skill in the world. Technology will never make it redundant. You heard it here first. This is why I’m proud that my kid is a hustler.

So what is my middle school son doing to get ahead, you ask? He’s selling candy bars in middle school!

Yeah, that’s right. Middle school, it turns out, is a huge untapped candy bar market. I didn’t realize this myself. It’s not something I would have thought about, because I’m just a corporate drone. This is all my boy’s intuition. It’s his opportunity, and he’s figured out how to exploit it.

A Deep Dive on the Middle School Candy Bar Market

The middle school candy bar market is truly massive. Here’s how it works: You see, kids like candy bars. Meanwhile, parents are understandably reluctant to send their kids to school with a lunch pail full of Snickers. This is where the opportunity comes in.

It may not seem obvious to everyone, but this is easy stuff. It’s like printing money. All you need to do is to head over to your local CVS or Rite Aid, where they often have high-quality candy bars on sale. Find the biggest discounts. Don’t just buy your favorite candy bars, buy the ones with the heaviest discounts. It should be 30% to 50% off.

by Joe Wolf on Flickr

Buy as many of those discounted candy bars as you can afford with your allowance or your birthday money. My son doesn’t have an allowance (aka “basic income”), so please don’t think that’s a requirement here – it’s not!

This is a risk of course, because you’ll lose your shorts if those candy bars melt or are crushed in your backpack before you can unload them. You need to be careful with the merchandise.

Next, bring your candy bars to school, mark them up, and let the sales begin. My son finds that a 75% to 100% markup is the sweet spot. After the big discounts he got at CVS, even a 100% markup is a reasonable price for the middle school market. Go much higher, and you lose some customers.

Most middle school kids are happy to buy a candy bar per day – every day, if they can. They have seemingly endless appetites for those things. At the same time, many middle schoolers have allowances burning holes in their pockets. They’re like noveau-rich; they don’t know how to manage their wealth.

All this adds up to a corporate marketer’s dream – the middle school candy bar market. It’s juicy, and my boy is all-in!

Rules & Regulations

Now, my 13 year-old son doesn’t have the resources to compete with the ground game of big corporate sales & marketing teams like Hershey’s, Mars, or Nestle. They have skills, experience, and deep resources, and they salivate at the middle school candy bar market.

Fortunately, for my son, he doesn’t have to compete with them. This is where school rules come to his aid.

See, most middle schools have rules preventing the sale of candy bars and other junk food on school property. If you’re a middle schooler just looking to buy a candy bar with your allowance, these rules can be understandably frustrating.

But the rules are also generally effective at keeping the big corporate marketing teams off campus (other than the Girl Scouts, of course – they’ve found a loophole with their ubiquitous cookies…).

This creates an opportunity for a young hustler. You’ve got an eager, captive audience, and no competition (other than the Girl Scouts). What else can a hustler possibly want?

Skirting The Rules

What my son has found in his ventures is that most teachers don’t really care if you’re selling a few candy bars here or there, so long as you keep it quiet. They know it happens, and they don’t want to get involved. The teachers just need some plausible deniability. So don’t cause any controversies. Don’t rock the boat, and you’ll be fine…. these are real life skills here!

So teachers are no problem. But what about the parents? Lots of proud parents don’t want their children buying candy bars at school. This is why schools have rules against it.

I get it. I wouldn’t want my kid buying candy bars at school either. Fortunately, he doesn’t… he sells them 🙂

And do I think it’s a good idea to encourage my son to break school rules? You bet I do! Full stop. There is a place for rules and for authority, but I want my children to challenge them when appropriate. Some rules are OK to break. Some authorities should be questioned. A young man needs to learn to think for himself in today’s world, rather than just follow the rules.

The Ultimate Extracurricular Activity

Hustling is the ultimate extracurricular activity for your high-achieving child. It an essential, future-proof skill that will pay dividends for decades. You might do better studying software engineering, but it’s always a good idea to have a side hustle too. And amazingly, they don’t teach a wink of this to all those Honor Roll students. I cannot understand why not.

So when I found out my son was selling candy bars at school, I was a bit overcome with pride. He found the opportunity, took the risk, and is making bank – about $15 per week – all on his own. No, it’s not enough to retire on, but it’s a damn good start. It’s more than I made until I was about 20. Good job little buddy! I’m the proud parent of a hustler!


Jojo Bob

Title Photo by Found Animal Foundation on Flickr

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