Archive for May, 2011

Losing Equilibrium and gaining learning

Tuesday, May 24th, 2011

I was running a coaching session with a senior executive a couple of weeks ago and they got angry at me. In fact, I can’t remember anyone getting quite that angry with me for quite a while. I think the last time was when I was running a session with an intentional affective methodology. It involved some powerful music to demonstrate the potential impact of poorly delivered feedback, and then how to deal with a recipient’s negative emotions.

On this occasion, however, they were very different circumstances. The coachee has given me permission to talk about the experience in my blog, but I will not go into specifics. Suffice to say I asked a question, they answered it and then there was a realisation as to how uncomfortable they were with the particular value they realised that they held. And, not unexpectedly, they got angry at me. And it was ‘at’ me rather than ‘with’ me.

Half an hour later, everything was fine – no, it was better than fine. They had accessed some powerful learning, our relationship had developed further and I had a real sense of achievement. And it was all down to the Adult Learning Cycle (ALC).

This is a model that is little known about as far as I can see. Having Googled “Adult Learning Cycle”, I got pages of Kolb’s Experiential Learning Cycle (ELC). And whilst the two can be linked, they are very different. Having then Googled “Adult Learning Cycle Taylor”, I got a few hits in amongst all the ELCs. That’s because the model was developed – reasonably recently, in 1987 – by Marilyn Taylor.

Similarly to the ELC, the ALC has four stages. It is usually drawn in the form of a circular clock face with arrows pointing in a clockwise direction between each of the stages – and the stages are Equilibrium (12 o’clock), Disorientation (3 o’clock), Exploration (6 o’clock) and Re-orientation (9 o’clock). If that doesn’t help you picture it, here’s a link to a blog by a guy called Harold Jarche who has skills I do not have – he managed to create and post a diagram of it!

Going back to my coaching session, we had started happily in Equilibrium. What happened when I asked the question and my coachee suddenly realised about their potentially limiting value, was they moved quickly into Disorientation. It’s not a comfortable place to be for the person experiencing it. The coachee isn’t expecting it and so they can become confused, anxious – or angry at the source. And in a coaching situation, the source is often initially seen as the coach as they asked the question that prompted it. Hence why I said earlier that they were angry ‘at’ me rather than ‘with’ me.

Most people experiencing this want to get back to Equilibrium as quickly as possible – because it’s more comfortable there. Furthermore, they didn’t expect it, they’ve been caught by surprise and can feel vulnerable. If they do that, they ‘short circuit’ the model (by missing out the Exploration stage), and gain no learning.

This is the point at which the coach needs to support the individual, help them with their self-esteem and work with them regarding their motivation to explore the issue. The more that can be elicited from the Exploration of the matter, the more learning there will be. What was driving the Disorientation? What were the reasons for it being so impactive?

Once the Exploration has been completed, the Reorientation is where the coachee reflects on their findings and starts to make sense of it all. In the specific example of a couple of weeks ago, my coachee decided to change some of their work practices and prioritise aspects of work differently due to the learning. And then they are back in Equilibrium – but a slightly different person from the one they were when they were last in Equilibrium.

Due to the emotions involved, individuals working through the whole of the Adult Learning Cycle are often emotionally drained. It is worth helping them understand what they have been through – and the model really helps – so that they can see it is not an unusual process, and that it is how we can develop deep learning. Having said that, I generally only spend a short time on it at that point, and spend a longer time on it when we next meet – when they are less tired. If the person understands the process, there is more potential for them to be able to work themselves through such issues in the future – or assist other people.

It really is a great model. And as Taylor herself explained, “In my experience, many more learners are at the threshold of change than realize this fact. Even those who start out saying, ‘I just want a piece of paper’ or ‘I need this for my job’ often find that what they really wanted was to look at their life choices in new ways”.

So really, you never know when it’s going to happen!


PS – if you want to watch a vlog I have made about the Adult Learning Cycle (including a diagram!) as a result of experiences in the Grand Canyon, please click here


7 Steps to L&D Heaven

Saturday, May 14th, 2011

In my last post I outlined seven questions that I always use when determining exactly what a client’s needs are. I said in this post I would explain why I use – and document – these questions, and why I think they are important.

The basis for them is that in my experience a little time spent at this stage pays dividends later in the process. This is because sometimes clients:

  • Spend too little time critically thinking about their true learning requirements.
  • Do not appreciate the true cost of the investment in people’s development that they are asking for.
  • Have no ownership of the rest of the process if not involved from the start and – importantly for the L&D provider – no accountability if it doesn’t achieve what it was supposed to achieve.

What is the identified performance need? Too often clients only want to talk in terms of a solution, and that solution is often a course. This is understandable to some degree as they are busy people and it will often seem relatively straight forward to them. This question, and any subsequent clarification questions, are intended to take us back to basics. This will help me to build a product or solution based on a firm foundation of a properly identified need.

Why is a solution required (how will it add value, and what would happen if it did not exist)? By asking this, I am ensuring that the learning is required – in other words, once completed, the person will be able to add additional value to the organisation. They will have new skills. It helps us start to identify what the intended return on investment (ROI) will be. If the client is unable to specify how it will add value, is it really a development need that the organisation should support?

How will the solution improve the organisation’s performance against its identified goals? Not only do we need to ensure that the person will be able to add value after completing their learning, we must ensure that this value is what the organisation currently values – is it a company priority? The majority of L&D functions receive more requests than they can handle – identifying which will support current organisational priorities is one way of prioritising them.

Which organisational competencies does the solution aim to address and to what level? This enables the solution to be linked to any relevant competency frameworks or appraisal process. In ascertaining the correct level, it enables the L&D professional who takes responsibility for designed the solution to be able to pitch it at the appropriate level.  If the eventual solution is publicised more widely, it also assists other clients to understand the level of the event.

What are the target staff groups /  teams / Departments for this solution? We have to ensure that the target audience is the correct audience to deliver this business improvement. As we all know, there are some people who try to get on courses for the sake of going on a course (and others who we can never get near one!). This question is intended to help me critically examine exactly who should be receiving it – thus offering it to all who have the need, yet not making it available to those who will not be able to use it to add organisational value.

How will the effectiveness of the solution be measured in the workplace? This links back to the return on investment (ROI) seed which we planted earlier in the conversation.  We need to clearly specify this so that anyone involved in the delivery and receipt of the solution is clear as to how they will add value. Also, so that the evaluator can check the effectiveness of the solution in the future. For example, let’s say the solution is in the contact centre environment, and it is intended to reduce a team of advisors’ Average Handling Times (AHT) and their Transfer Rates for calls to the contact centre. We need to measure these in terms of the average length of calls and percentage transfer rate prior to the interventions so that we have the base data. At a given time after the delivery of the solution, we can then measure again and quantify whether the required improvements have been made, and if so by how much – which can then be converted to a monetary value relatively easily. If this measurement, or the decision on how to measure, is not undertaken at the start of the process, we cannot quantify the success of the intervention.

What are the clearly stated, measurable objectives for the solution? This will usually  need to be completed by the L&D specialist as our clients are unlikely to be familiar with Bloom’s Taxonomies of learning, and in particular the levels.  Objectives need to be measurable so we need to ensure we use words that can be evaluated against. This means that when we say, “By the end of the session delegates will be able to …”, we should avoid words like ‘understand’ or ‘comprend’. Instead, we should use words such as ‘outline’ (Knowledge), ‘explain’ (Comprehension) and ‘apply’ (Application).

Finally, we need our sponsor to sign off a documentary record of what we have agreed. It can sometimes feel a little onerous to do this, and sponsors may be reluctant to engage in this process – if this happens I start to be a little concerned. Having them sign off the process is all about them agreeing that the answers to the questions are correct, and that the description of the need, the way it will be measured and the proposed learning objectives are all recorded accurately. If there are disagreements, then amendments can be made. If not, it can be agreed, signed and then passed to L&D professionals in order for them to suggest and develop appropriate solutions.

And the potential for significant added value will be greatly increased!