Thursday, October 15, 2015

Everything I Know About HR I Learned From My Corgi

Ok, I am not necessarily equating animal and human behavior. Except sort of. 

Tongue mostly in cheek here.


I have a corgi who’s one of the smartest dogs I ever met.  Earlier this year I had a serendipitous meeting with a fellow who owns a small farm, which he uses as a dog training facility. His specialty is herding: he provides sheep and ducks and fenced spaces in which to work them, and rents the space and his counsel to area dog owners.

So one day last January I drove the corgi over to the farm completely clueless as to what to expect. I figured he’d want to chase the sheep around until he got tired. My husband was worried he might try to hurt them. Talk about inaccurate expectations.

From the moment we pulled into the driveway our dog, Thomas,  was on high alert, corgi ears at full staff. The owner/handler turned him loose in a pen of sheep and it was… magical. My little dog took control, rounded the sheep up, and moved them from one end of the field to the other. If one tried to break ranks the corgi would run around to put him back with the flock.  He and the handler had some secret mostly silent language they both understood.  Thomas was born to do this.

Really: Corgis are herding dogs and the instinct in his case is clearly strong. I knew this on some level: Whenever we have people over I’ll notice that everyone is standing in the kitchen without realizing he put them there.  He sits to one side keeping an eye on us all.

So: If you need someone to herd sheep, hire a herder.  But be careful of stereotypes: some corgis think this is a fun game and the sheep don’t take them seriously.  Meantime, there are videos of rabbits and cats herding quite capably.  The fellow who owns the farm offers regular herding instinct testing  for any dog that comes to visit; it’s not that hard to see whether a critter is inclined to do this. Meantime, back in organization land, we often can’t get past interview questions like, “Tell us about your ability to herd sheep, Bob.”  We need to do better at creating meaningful work sample tasks/inbaskets  to assess an applicant’s ability. And we need to quit hiring unqualified turkeys and then asking the training department to spend 10 years trying to teach them to herd sheep.

On our first visit Thomas performed beyond our expectations. There was no training, no preparation,  no orientation/onboarding/qualifying/certification.  Since then there’s been some fine-tuning.   The handler helped him move from  something more like “chasing sheep”  to  what is clearly “managing sheep”:  

"Thomas, keep them in the corner so I can pull some of this wool off." 

And  in a metaphor for Leadership101, Thomas did have to learn the hard way that you can’t guide ducks by biting at their tailfeathers. He wants to do this well and shows visible satisfaction and delight at performing better, often going back for another round even when the rest of us are taking a break. Training works when a learner wants to do something but doesn’t know how. 

Learning is Social
Some of Thomas’s best lessons come from the farm’s resident work dog, Flicker the Amazing Border Collie. Her first job every morning is going out alone (no supervisor or handler) to the big pasture, rounding up the sheep, and bringing them the several hundred yards through gates, past the pond, and into the training pen to start the work day. On his fourth visit my corgi on his own went along with her to see how this was done.  Next weekend he’ll help her.  Learning is social.

Thomas watches Flicker closely when she works. Every now and then at home we catch him crouched down against the living room wall, stretched out, head low, eyes alert – imitating his border collie mentor.  When Thomas started visiting the farm Flicker regarded him as another incompetent novice in need of her help. But he's done good work with her, and proven himself; he became a full community member the day the ultra-achieving border collie started hanging out with him.

This experience has shown me what pure intrinsic motivation looks like. When he’s herding, the corgi is completely uninterested in pats on the head or “good boy!” or even tasty treats.  We have to drag him away when he exhausts himself, tongue nearly hitting the ground, and he pouts all the way home. His reward for herding is… to get to do it some more.  I feel that way when I’m in the zone on a good design project, or when researching a new topic that excites me. You have likely felt that way, too.  We can’t expect it every day,  but we should get to experience it often enough to make the rest of what we do less drudgery or routine. Giving people more opportunities for peak moments will help get peak performance.

Okay, then.
When we’re out at the farm other people stop to watch my dog. To see a good performer at work, clearly finding joy in a task (even a hard physical one) is a delight.  We need to do better at targeted hiring, and at creating realistic work samples in the interview phase.   We need to bring people in who are more in need of fine-tuning than complete revamping. We need to find the tasks workers want to perform for their own sake – and give them more opportunities for that.  We need to give people access to mentors and communities with good workers to emulate.  Many L&D practitioners are connected to organizational HR offices. Take a lesson from the corgi in helping to inform your work. 

Thursday, October 01, 2015

Re-Ignited! DevLearn Session Recap

Devlearn Session 614 Recap
Re-ignited! Revisiting the Innovative World of Learning
David Kelly, Cammy Bean, Jeannette Campos, & Jane Bozarth 

I've done a few Devlearn Ignite! sessions over the years. As the one in 2011 turned into my newest book, Show Your Work, I am always eager to see where these will go.  And there’s no greater pleasure than getting to work with David Kelly, Cammy Bean, and Jeannette Campos. Last year's "Ignite! Meme-ing the Future of Learning" was such a hit we were asked to revisit it. 

A couple of things:
1. Nothing’s is more challenging than creating an Ignite! presentation. 20 slides X 20 seconds each demands really clear thinking and ruthless editing.  I’m not complaining, though: it’s a great exercise.
2. As if creating an Ignite! presentation isn’t challenging enough, we were asked to use only internet memes on the  slides.

This year I focused mostly on the ways work and workers will change. Some points:

We’ll see more jobs automated. Not just mechanical tasks, either: Pharmacists, bookkeepers, and drivers stand to be replaced by robots.

We’ll see bureaucracy and bureaucratic structures fade away:

The employment contract will change. People will be more involved in part-time, self-employed, contractor work. There will be renewed interest in making rather than just consuming.

Wearables will inform us about everything from nutrition to our moods: 

It’s an exciting time for L&D:

 Where do you see L&D going? 

Don’t miss posts from the other DevLearn bloggers! 

Music is Becoming Social Again (#DevLearn)

During this week's "Ukulele Learning" sessions at Devlearn 2015 my copresenter Shawn Rosler showed a chart with whole, quarter, and eighth notes and asked who had ever struggled to learn music this way. A lot of hands went up, accompanied by some headshaking and grimacing. He then led us on a fun activity based on this image.

One of the takeways for participants, I hope, is that learning music can be fun, especially when shared. 

Not all that many years ago, before Mr. Edison invented his wax cylinder, music was something you had to go somewhere to hear unless you played an instrument yourself. Churches had pianos and organs, and communities had local gatherings of musicians both impromptu and planned, amateur and professional. People gathered together to listen and play. It was social. Then mass produced records brought teenager dance parties and whatnot, and if you listened to records at home, well, others heard them. 

In the 1980s music took a turn with the advent of "personal listening" devices like the Walkman. It was great for not subjecting others to your musical taste, but it also shut out those who might be interested. 

Now, with the proliferation of new tools, music is becoming social again.  Songs you listen to can be auto-published by products like Spotify. Others can like it, share it, be reminded of a favorite song, or go check out something new themselves.  You can create collaborative playlists. You can share playlists.  

A wonderful recent development: As the ukulele becomes more popular, more and more open ukulele jams are popping up in cities and even suburbs everywhere. They typically welcome novice players, usually offer something in the way of introductory lessons or support -- sometimes just the promise of starting with easy 3-chord songs-- and are usually filled with amateurs just wanting to gather and play and be happy. 

One of my favorite aspects of the uke jams are the way they are age-agnostic. Jams I've been to welcome and even embrace young players. Here's a guy who comes to my local (Durham, NC) jam and stays as late as his dad will let him:

And here's a first-person video from a fellow relearning after many years:

One of his YouTube-based teachers: 

Music is a great mood lifter and memory-enhancer and helps increase the brain's neuroplasticity, important as we age. Take up an instrument. If you already play, find a way to share it more. Find a community. Have fun!