Archive for the 'Mentoring' Category

Schools aren’t teaching innovation? Parents to the Rescue

In part of this interview, Godin asserts that our school system is designed to develop factory workers and that we should be angry about this.  How do we change schools? Or should we even try? It’s awfully hard to change institutions. You can make your best shot, but maybe it’s better to take on the challenge of building more innovative minds on a smaller scale.

I think there are things that parents can do outside of school and at home to help model innovative and collaborative behavior to their children.

1.) Try learning new things. Make taking a class or even a workshop part of your family activities. I remember my mother actually taking cooking classes, macrame, even public speaking. Both my brother and I were often dropped off at the community center to take a crafting or nature class during the summer months. We often looked forward to doing this.

2.) If you’re failing at household tasks… point it out.  Not everyone is Martha Stewart perfect at the things they do. You don’t have to engage in huge creative projects.  Build a small pond, arrange your picture frames, experiment with colors when you knit a mitten.  If it doesn’t work out… it’s okay. I meet so many adults who are so afraid of doing things wrong they get so wrapped up in making things perfect. They’re not really paying attention to what they’re doing along the way or how they got there. This neurotic compunction to make things look just right seems like excessive self-flagellation to me. Modeling this neurosis for our children can stunt their willingness to experiment or try new things.

3.) Tinker, tinker, tinker. My father-in-law owns a machine shop so it isn’t surprising that he found a way to make his car run with propane during the Oil Crisis in the 70’s. It’s also not surprising that he now has two sons who aren’t afraid to creatively solve design problems or develop tools or products. My husband eschewed the customary IKEA setups when designing our kitchen and instead designed a the layout in 3D in Blender to fit our odd shaped pre 1950’s house. My brother-in-law designed a built a salt-water tank with specialized lighting that mimics sunlight in a reef setting specific to a part of a globe. Don’t ask how and why… he just did.

4.) Work with other adults on a project where you’re solving a creative problem. I remember people coming to my house as a child to work out problems with my dad. Whether it was building a deck or fixing the car. Working together to piece a quilt and even solve out the design with others is a perfect opportunity to demonstrate this ability to work with other adults to solve a creative problem.

Now I’m only providing a few suggestions here, but you probably get the picture. Children are keen to pick up on adult behaviors and when you’re modeling the type of ‘compliance’ Godin refers to or even fear of trying new things, there’s a good chance that they’ll be influenced by it.

Can your Workplace Adopt/Embrace the Informal Learning Concept?

Many, many moons ago I wrote a post on Knowledge Management Systems that illustrated Marc Rosenberg’s KM model. This model depicts an organization that has a truly integrated system of sharing knowledge that includes formal training and an ongoing mentoring system for it’s employees. This model includes use of social media to connect employees.  Since I wrote this post, the use of social media online for both connecting and learning has exploded. Many more company executives (though not as many as there could be) are now schooled on the finer points of using social media as promotional vehicles as well as within the organization to enhance employee learning and knowledge.

Recently, On his blog, Jay Cross presented an adapted version of Jane Hart’s 5-Stage Model of the Evolution of Workplace Learning.

Here’s the visual that illustrates this.

From (Jay Cross)

As Cross points out in his post, the more familiar your workers are with online networking tools and media,  the more they can readily use social networking support to improve their learning and skills.   You need to be able to assess where your audience of learners skill lies in the following areas: Web/Tech Expertise and Social Networking Familiarity.

From (Jay Cross)

Going back to the “5 Stages” illustration shown above, the newbies or novices to the workplace, culture, organization, or system would be FIRST guided to the LMS where formal learning can take place (your essentials such as terms of service, legal information, safety, organization mission, organizational structure, job skills, compliance training, etc.). If you need to track learning in a blended model (both face to face and online), you can use the LMS to keep track of who’s completed what training as they come into your workplace or program.

In the grand old days when most training was done in face to face sessions complete with massive binders and glossy handouts, training really only took place at the beginning and employees or trainees were expected to absorb what they could from the training. If they couldn’t remember everything that was okay because they had their gigantic binders as a print reference.  This system works when the nature of the work can be completely documented in print and is static. In other words, nothing changes about the nature of the job and there are NO variables.

Some workplaces assign ‘buddies’ or coaches to new employees. It’s often part of the work coach’s job to model or teach these learning behaviors to their employees. At one entry-level job I had many years ago, I remember my work coach or mentor telling me something as basic and obvious, as “There’s no such thing as a stupid question.” In sharing this with me she was essentially letting me know, “It’s safe to ask questions here. We’d rather you do things right or learn by asking, and we won’t punish you for what you don’t know.”

Can you imagine what would happen if this guy afraid to ask questions about his job?

A truly rich “Informal Learning” environment can provide learners with the support they need to deal with variables NOT covered in formal training. And here’s the big “But,” you have to teach effective mentoring behaviors to all staff and reinforce these behaviors as much as possible. The informal learning model explicitly sets the expectation that learning and workplace improvement inherently part of the work culture. Employees must see it as part of their job responsibility to take  the new guy under their wing. The sooner you get the newbie up and flying the sooner everyone can be productive and creative. Managers and employees can build checklists of knowledge, skills and ‘tribal knowledge’ that new employees need to know. These lists and even ad hoc information can be shared during social or work activity.

But Informal Learning isn’t just what you’d learn about your fellow employees from washroom or smoking break talk. Informal Learning can happen via chat and discussion forums. The other day a work colleague and myself noted that we both got ourselves unstuck from work-related ‘problems’ by looking up similar situations or issues in professional forums online. It’s just as easy to set up an internal online work chat or forum.

I’ve seen some older employees cringe at the words “Informal Learning.” Many of the more ‘traditional’ workplaces place a lot of value on formal learning (lectures, lessons, face to face training, etc.)  because that’s the people, are used to.  I think  the key to building a truly learning rich environment and workplace is to highlight where social learning is really happening naturally and successfully and then introduce less familiar methods of leveraging informal learning. But again, if your company or organization doesn’t have a clear definition of what it means to learn effectively (outside of formal training) the concept of Informal Learning will be a hard sell. Maybe it’s just a matter of re-branding it or camouflaging it.  As for the acceptance of learning via social media… Maybe we just have to wait until the technologies that propel Informal and Social Learning (forums, chat, wikis, etc.) become more commonplace and accepted by the majority.  It will happen, eventually 🙂

Why Susie Doesn’t Want to Go into IT

Well, the first thing I thought was… Susie doesn’t want to go into IT, because most IT jobs are being outsourced, but seriously, many girls are not considering careers in technology or are tuning out from subjects dealing with technology simply because they perceive the world of tech and computers as being the Realm of the Nerds (Not all girls feel this way; obviously I don’t). At least some of the literature on tech ed for females asserts that the nerd factor is a deterrent for female interest in tech, mathematics and science fields.

I recently ran across this paper from California State University that addresses girls lack of interest in tech. According to the author’s research boys are more likely to be found working with computers than girls and parents of boys purchase computers for their children more than parents of girls? More, girls still tend to think of technology fields and subjects as more of a masculine domain. It seems to be a backward assumption, but statistics are telling us otherwise.

So what do we do to reverse this trend of girls’ lack of interest in science and tech?

I liked what this paper has to say about getting girls more engaged in technology projects, or simply that teachers and educators should appeal to what many girls are interested in their early adolescent and teen years like building relationships and social networks: “Technology production and broadcasing via blogs or podcasting, offers effective ways for girls to express themselves creatively.”

I can see or imagine the following activities:

  • A project that involves teaching girls how to code xml to set up their own podcasting site. They choose their own topics and decide to share about the things they are interested in.
  • Or how about learning simple javascript to build features on a topical webpage on crafts or the arts
  • Maybe developing a simple discussion forum for girls issues in a class
  • Girls can be engaged to start an anti-cyber-bullying campaign within their school
  • Girls become involved in building computers and servers for charity centers or even their own schools

More, I can see where the parents or educators who lead these activities need to structure them so that they are team dependent activities. Honestly, I think kids today have a leg up on understanding how to work more effectively in teams than we did. Perhaps all those reality T.V. shows that focus on team competition and activities are actually worth something. I’m not sure the Baby Boomer and Silent Generation teachers really understood how to teach team or group activities effectively. I remember having teachers that would avoid group learning because they really preferred sitting up in front of the classroom and lecturing.
Additional Resources for Getting Girls Engaged in Tech/Resources for Science Ed for Women:

My mind map for “Engaging Girls in Technology”


SALT Conference Lecture – Mobile Training Multimedia Training

I will be posting my notes periodically to the lectures that I attend at the SALT conference. Please note, I do not attend conferences for a living I just happened to be presenting at this one. I will post my lecture slides to this site as well as post and ‘audio-enhanced’ version later when I get the chance. Please note: as with the Distance Learning Conference notes, I will post my initial impressions and then later edit the post with a more detailed reflection.

Mobile Training

Presenters: Tom Held and Daniel Mika Govar


Terrific presentation!

These guys did a wonderful job of presenting a few examples of training application for both podcasting and mobile hand-held devices. Essentially, they had more experienced workers share stories (on video/audio) of accidents that happened as part of safety education. This delivery method embodies two things about mobile learning which are important to me:

1.) The content has to be real/and delivered from people/peers in the industry who are explaining real-life experience

2.)The content is reviewable when I have the time to access it.

The second example they shared was of a employee customer-service training program for a hotel company they contracted with which they shared with employees using the Sony PSP. Luckily the had the budget and were able purchase 200 PSPs. Here’s the wonderful thing about this training. They were able to deliver it to employees nationwide, without requiring them to travel to a face to face training. As the presenters noted this actually can help your training budget if you’re having to train to an audience that doesn’t stay in positions too long, therefore, the ROI for having them travel to face to face training is not so good.

I didn’t get to ask them this, but I would like to know if live-mentoring from more experienced employees was actually part of this training process. It’s one thing to provide the video and training via video but how can you get actually people with experience providing feedback.

Demise of Powerpoint and Boss Science

Great post on Presentation Zen on how Powerpoint should be considered completely obsolete.

An article on:
The psychopathology of the modern American corporate leader.

I love the photo supposedly representative of the psychopathic boss.dudeneedshelp.jpg

Colin Powell’s 12 Lessons in Leadership

Colin Powell is one of my heroes.

Smart Lemming posted a summary of his lessons in leadership, and some of these really hit a chord with me.

I learned that #1 (Never be afraid to make people mad) is crucial. Most of my life I’ve been what’s know as an individual contributor or a “Worker Bee.” I’ve never led people before. I’ve seen evidence of Powell’s caution about “Trying to be nice to everybody will only invite mediocrity and compromise your goals as a leader.” But on the other hand I’ve seen the consequence of the opposite extreme of consistently being ‘not-so-nice.’ These consequences include:

  • Lack of willingness in others to partner with you or even ‘trust’ you
  • Borgia-like internal relations amongst your team members or within your entire organization if leaders with this tendency become the norm

I believe that perhaps leaders should temper #1 and develop the intuition and skill of knowing when to use that “Not-so-nice” card. Though I would agree that it may be necessary to be “not-so-nice” regularly on a temporary basis, as long as your people know why and there’s a really good reason for doing so.

# 2 – The [day] soldiers stop bring their problems to you is the day when you have stopped leading them. In some groups that this might be the case. It’s often seen as a weakness to bring up problems. Or bearers of bad news, usually are chastised for not bringing up-beat news. In some dysfunctional groups there is also the unspoken law that if you bring up a problem, then you own it. It’s easier to do this than have the leader guiding his team to prioritize the problems and then work together to solve them as a team.

# 7 – Keep looking below surface appearances: “Don’t assume that today’s realities will continue tomorrow in a tidy, linear, and predictable fashion.” In order to achieve order in business we often assume that we need to develop crisply organized schedules and procedures and goose-step to them as precisely as possible. I’ve been a part of too many projects that always assumed the best-case scenario and not planned for likely contingencies. What’s up with that? Maybe it ties into that whole idea of always having to paint a rosy picture for management. I do notice in the corporate world, that sometimes the guys who talk like weathermen forecasting great weather usually get the ear of management and upper management. Refer to image of the guy in suspenders from Creating Passionate User’s post (When only the glib win, we all loose). He looks like he talks like a weatherman.

Are you ‘weatherman’ or ‘reflective Asian guy?’

It’s easy to read this top 10 lists and think… okay now I know what it takes to be a ‘great’ leader, but it takes courage and ‘chops’ to really live this way. I have to ask myself sometimes… am I just happier being a worker bee? Do I have what it takes to be a decent leader let alone a great one. In some societies (maybe Lion prides) I’d be instant prey for saying (writing) this aloud, but I do think that it’s a question any leader should ask themselves every now and then to take account of what they’re good at and what they need to work on.

Just a thought from the peanut gallery.

A case for peer coaching


The image above represents map of  a Knowledge Management (KM)  model based on the KM model developed by Marc Rosenberg.  Recently, as part of effort to seek out individuals who have attempted to make some effort at promoting peer coaching, I had a pleasure of being able to talk to someone who was actively working on developing a KM system that tried to encompass several aspects of a Rosenberg-type model including mentoring, expertise-mapping, information repository (documentation, and communities and networks).

What was inspiring about this KM model in action was that this group really embraced the value of providing human connections or a map to expertise to new employees to help get them ramped up as quickly as possible. Sometimes, especially with technical or enterprise systems groups, management can make the erroneous assumption that employees can learn simply from documentation and training materials.  Sometimes it may even be implied that reviewing the procedures only once should be sufficient enough.  Though what they fail to take into account is that you need human interaction and guidance.  Sometimes in order to provide this human guidance, business groups believe that they need instructor led training sessions. However,  I.L. training is costly to develop and execute, not to mention it’s often logistically impossible to meet new-hires needs in a timely fashion.  Providing Peer coaches may help bridge the gap that IL training doesn’t meet in a timely fashion.

But who should play the role of a peer coach?  The answer is: everyone in the group once they’ve gained working experience can be trained as a peer coach.  This means they should have both solid technical skills and excellent understanding of the group’s workings/business process. The organization can immediately train or develop each individual as a coach. In fact, coaching can be a modeled skill that is encouraged by both example and as part of an organizations ‘cultural charter’ or ‘working agreements.’ In my first years at Intel I worked for a group that tried to espouse this in many ways. I saw this in the manager who asked me “what I could do better next time” instead of telling me what I did wrong in planning an event.  I also witnessed this coaching culture in the admin who encouraged a peer to ask questions by firmly stating that there were ‘no stupid’ questions.

There will be some managers who might argue that their people shouldn’t take too much time out of their own work to train others.  However, advocates for peer coaching/training points to the rewards and return on investment for such peer support systems that include:

  • People will start to to find their own answers
  • People will become more resourceful
  • People will  start to integrate a coaching approach into their behavior
  • Training and desktop procedures are supplemented with human guidance
  • Improvement of Morale of overall workforce (people seem to feel better about their work when they are supported and when they know where they they fit within that organization

In another life and job (here at work), I’ve experienced a wonderful training program in the past that teaches factory and tech staff on the job teaching skills.   I’m actually quite in awe of the practicality of this program as well as it’s success.  So it’s just as possible to provide coaching skills no matter what job role or organization you’re in, but you’ve got to believe in it and buy into it’s value. Also, it would require a lot of strong leadership and support (leaders who model the behavior as well as openly espouse the value of true-teamwork).  I’m trying to develop a plan for incorporating peer coaching into a big, big training intervention plan.  I’d like eventually to do a Captivate slide show with audio and be able to podcast it. So here’s my first draft.

 From a human being’s standpoint here’s a proposal/scenario:

  • Jill is newly hired to a enterprise finance group whose processes and documentation on processes/procedure is vast.  She has some experience in use of SAP finance applications, however, this particular group she is hired into has a number of customizations to the tool that she’s not familiar with.
  • Jim has been assigned to Jill as her integration buddy, but he also puts Jill in contact with other individuals in the group who have expertise in other processes.
  • Jim provides Jill with standard coaching on how to use the current training documentation resources and performance support library to find answers on questions she may have on the processes. He also coaches her to ask others questions on items or issues that have no documentation.
  • Jill now has a support network of people whom she can ping about issues she discovers in the business process. Two weeks after being on the job she feels positive about being there because she feels supported by a group of peers, and because she’s been given tools to be self-sufficient in learning about her tasks.
  • Marty, the groups manager feels very strongly about approaching the ramp up of new employees as a team.  He values the idea of the organization acting as a team and also sees the benefits of informal learning. He’s had his entire group attend peer coaching training developed by a training professional named Carrie from a training support group in the company.  The coaching training includes generic coaching skills review. He and his staff have worked with Carrie in Training to make sure that all materials are in a consolidated place for reference or are easily searchable by employees from their group intranet site.
  • Marty’s group participates in User Group forums on a monthly basis. These forums record issues/gaps which need to be addressed by training or in documentation. The group devises a plan for updating the information in the group’s Business Process Wiki.  This wiki is meant as a living supplement to the formalized training on the tools and processes.  The group takes communal responsibility for updating the wiki where they see fit.   When revisions need to be made to the formal training materials, Carrie can use the wiki content as it’s organized per the business process model to supplement the training when necessary. She may have to interview the end users to determine some of the causes/needs for adjusting the training.

Mentoring and coaching: why bother with the touchy feely?

 Ever work in a group that had this attitude toward training?

  • “I can’t bother training someone new. I don’t have the time.”
  • “This isn’t my responsibility to help someone else learn their job.”
  • “My employees should be able to just learn their work on the job. That’s why I hired them.”

I’ve been asked too look at the possibility of implementing some type of implementation of a coaching/mentoring mini-program for a series of trainings. My first inclination and hunch told me that this type of program goes beyond just providing documentation and a package that can be passed on in an organization. It takes  the following:

  1. The organization has bought into the definition and cultural value of coaching and mentoring
  2. The organization much clearly identify the responsibilities of  both mentors and mentees to all parties, and these parties must understand and agree to these responsibilities.
  3. All particpants (mentors and especially mentees) must identify learning goals or job role mastery of tasks/procedures. Also, they must be held accountable for these goals order to track the success of the mentoring/coaching program.
  4. The organization takes ownership for holding identified mentors and mentees responsible for achieving their goals.

It was just a hunch because I was worried that speaking to the idea of mentoring was only paying lipservice to the idea, and actually accomplishing success with such a package.

After reviewing some resources on the topics of both coaching and mentoring, some of my initial hunches were verified.  A coaching program is more than just providing a buddy packet to a new hire and assigning him or her a buddy.  In order to be even moderately effective, any formal coaching, mentoring or buddy program must have the buy in and support of management and employees within a group.  This means that all or most members of the org must understand and believe in the benefits of coaching. Contrary to the sentiments expressed above, the following attitudes must somehow be engendered in both staff and and management:

  • “It’s our team responsibility to make sure new folks are brought up to speed.”
  • “Faster they get on the job the faster we get to move forward.”
  • “My employees are human, and humans need to learn from other humans.”

In most cases a coaching program is even more effective if management mandates participation.  To provide training to use buddy materials and just leave managers and employees to carry on, will not insure adoption of the program. Management has to send a clear message that when assigned a buddy both the coach and the buddy have expectations for integration success.

More, from understanding my own experience being a peer coach and work or being in a situation where I was being coached,  I learned that it’s important not only to have a personal connection with whomever is coaching you,  you need to have goals for learning skills set up. These goals can be part of your normal employee development plan.

In the world where I work, mentoring and coaching are often seen as ‘soft-skills’ training which is not essential to successful job competency.  I work in the world where “Concrete” is king. If you don’t have a list of measurable ROI for putting efforts into anything, then don’t bother.  I’ve been trying to find ways to creatively show and demonstrate that building these ‘soft’ relationships is key to achieving ‘productivity’ quickly.  However, I’ve come to the conclusion… that if the leader of the group doesn’t ‘buy it,’ then you’re in for an uphill battle all the way through.


The Mentor’s Guide: Facilitating Effective Learning Relationships. Lois J. Zachary (c) 2000. Jossey-Bass

Everyone Needs a Mentor: Fostering Talent in Your Organization.  David Clutterbuck (c) 2004. CIPD Enterprises.

Coaching Basics. Lisa Haneberg. (C) 2006. ASTD.

Improving Employee Performance Through Appraisal and Coaching, Second Edition. Donald L. Kirkpatrick AMACOM (c) 2005


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