Are you ready to adopt social learning?

Are you and your organisation ready to take up the educational ‘phenomenon’ that is sweeping around the globe? Social learning is one of those buzz phrases that so many of us seem keen to adopt for fear that missing out would see us finger-pointed into a corner of humiliation.

OK, I’ll be honest with you, social learning is nothing new. In the workplace colleagues have been learning from one another at the drinks machine, break areas, hallways and in meeting rooms from day dot.

However, digital platforms are the thing that are propelling social forward. Twitter is a perfect example of this:

Connections need not be a million miles away.

Connections need not be a million miles away.

Vicky makes a very good point here; social media gives us an opportunity to connect with people who we may have never met before but may have a raft of knowledge to pass on – yet some of these people could only be a stones throw away from us.

I’m sure many of you know of my admiration for social media and the desire to learn something new. I enjoy learning, yet very little of my schooling is done in what some would see as a working bubble of a 9-5. In fact hardly any of my learning these days is done within a traditional classroom environment and I think this is becoming the general shift for many of us.

“The more talented people we have, the more we can accomplish, so we should make a habit of helping one another all of the time.”

It seems that our approach to learning is gradually changing – although some of us may not recognise it just yet. It’s far too easy to highlight to your manager, or your manager to you, that you’ve some personal development that’s required and to put your name forward for a new course. But why? Surely there’s someone across your office, in the next building or working out on site that has the answers to the questions you ask? And why is it we make a habit of going to a recognised trainer or senior colleague? Thom Bartley makes a great point in this post that the knowledge and experience we seek could just as easily be from a new colleague as someone who epitomises a part of the office furniture. So why not go to them – after all most of us use digital networks for referrals in our everyday lives.

Not convinced?

Think about your next holiday; do you go straight to the travel agent and go with the first break the advisor suggests? If you’ve not been to the destination before it’s highly unlikely. Chances are you’ll head over to websites such as Trip Advisor to check out the thoughts of like-minded travellers and see what they have to say.

Now, think about your next online purchase from a site such as Amazon. You think you know the product you want but then notice the average rating is less than 3 stars – the likelihood is you’ll not be buying that after all. So instead you look for something rated as 4 or 5 stars, you want products with reviews that match your needs and answer those questions that the product’s details seem to have over-looked.

If you’ve experienced either of these two scenarios then you’ve got the basic concept of how digital social learning can work for you.

Learning can be delivered in a variety of ways.

Learning can be delivered in a variety of ways.

Through online communities we can pick and choose what we want to learn and where we go to for that information. We can rate and comment on resources and contribute in determining what’s the most important and effective learning for us. We can add and share the best learning content, we can learn where we want, when we want and at a pace that suits us best.

So, here at Bromford we’re taking the next steps to provide our colleagues with a platform which we believe will help colleagues in their learning. We’re offering a blended approach to their personal development; videos, e-learning, podcasts, how-to-guides – a wide range of styles. And to bring all of this learning together, and for colleagues to share in their experiences, we’ve integrated a social learning community within the site.

“One size fits all is great when you’re buying a pair of gloves, but that just doesn’t work for learning.”

The great benefit of a social learning platform is that it organises the learning process by collecting information and making it accessible to all through communities. Once collected and shared the information can be used to determine behavior, establish rankings, popularity, value, usefulness and help shape future learning content.

We all respond to different styles of learning – so what we’re doing with the communities is providing an alternative path to colleagues’ personal development, a platform for sharing and discussing learning and best practice from the people who know our business best; our colleagues.

A Chic approach to success

Chic at Glastonbury 2013

Chic at Glastonbury 2013

Glastonbury, arguably the world’s largest festival, came to a close last weekend with veteran rockers The Rolling Stones drawing the curtains on an estimated 135,000 fans. I’ve not yet seen all of the coverage but did catch a couple of performances from the Friday night and one band stood out for me by a country mile.

Chic played on the West Holts Stage to a packed crowd, belting through a series of hits such as Everybody Dance, Good Times and Le Freak. But what surprised me most was the back-catalogue of hits and interludes that followed. These included (amongst others):

Let’s Dance – David Bowie
The Sugarhill Gang – Rappers Delight
Like a Virgin – Madonna
We Are Family – Sister Sledge
I’m Coming Out – Diana Ross
Get Lucky – Daft Punk

Not only was I taken aback by the songs they performed but even more so that I came to learn that all of these hits were either personally written or co-written by Chic frontman; Nile Rodgers.

After I’d finished dancing and prancing around my living room I took a seat (and a breath) on the sofa next to my daughter and reflected on what I’d just witnessed. Yes the music, dancing and costumes were brilliant. The sound and lighting looked great too, and a special mention goes to the larger than life Welshman in the crowd, pint of beer in hand, who happily sang along to Chic’s version of Madonna’s Like a Virgin. But I’d now started to think about what I could learn from Nile Rodgers’ genius.

Although I’ve dabbled in DJ’ing and attended plenty of concerts and nightclubs in my time I am by no means a musical expert but, having watched that performance and learnt a little more about Chic, I realised I could apply something from them to my career. Chic have demonstrated brilliantly that you don’t need to be constantly blinded by the media limelight to be at the top of your game; leadership and influence come in a range of guises.

Nile Rodgers and Bernard Edwards, some 30+ years ago

Nile Rodgers and Bernard Edwards, some 30+ years ago

For Nile Rodgers and Chic it was about being part of a collective; a production team that has this inspired ability to work with a whole host of individuals to deliver a series of successful hits, the world over.

These guys have built a résumé for themselves that is not only glittered with some astonishing personal achievements but one that is adorned by some of music’s greats; some of the best in business who simply have to work with them – not just them with they.

You see, to be successful in business it’s not always about being the Rolling Stones of Glastonbury who (deservedly so) took all of the pre-festival headlines, it’s as very much about; the consistent performer; the team-player; the flexible approach; the diverse talent; the innovative architect; the relentless trainee.

So for this valuable lesson; Nile Rodgers and Chic, I thank you.

United Leadership (part 1)

“Innnn West Midlands Wolves, born and raised, in a playground is where I spent most of my days…”

OK, it doesn’t have the same impact as the opening theme tune to the Fresh Prince of Bel Air but having seen Will Smith bring the song alive again on Graham Norton recently people like me, who grew up watching the exploits of Will and Carlton, couldn’t hide the goose bumps and feel good factor whilst watching it.

The same has to be said for football fans watching Manchester United dominate the English game, and for a short period Europe too, over the past 20 years or so. And it’s in no small thanks to the living legend that is Sir Alex Ferguson that the Red Devils rode this successful train for so many years.

On the 6th June 2013 I rode a short train journey of my own, from Wolverhampton up to Manchester, to attend a brilliant session organised by HouseMark and facilitated by the Manchester United Foundation on what it takes to build a high performance team through teamwork and leadership.

John Shiels delivered the session, CEO of the Foundation, who has worked with Manchester United for the past 7 years – so it’s fair to say this guy has some first hand experience of this club and what it takes to taste this success and, just as importantly, to maintain it.

You don’t need me to tell you just how big Manchester United are. With an annual turnover of over £330million they are more than just a football club, they are a brand – a very large brand – but one with a very expensive shop window. So to survive they need owners who do not throw money at it – their finances needs to be properly invested. They do things on purpose – not by accident. Some of the new kids on the block throw money at the shop window, but that doesn’t guarantee them longevity. It’s not just about today or tomorrow, it’s about building the foundations for a successful future.

This wasn’t a one-on-one session by the way, I went along with my colleague Josie and we represented Bromford in a room of 20 or so other Housing professionals. So, why would we be interested in what a football club has to say? Well, there are some significant leadership examples for us all here, applicable across many businesses, not just football or housing. There’s a lot to fit in, lots of stories to tell, so I’ll share some of the highlights of the day with you in two parts. This is part one.

Think BIG

To succeed in business your vision has to be big – mediocre is not good enough. When he joined the club as manager 26 years ago, Sir Alex wanted to beat the 18 league titles that Liverpool Football Club had won – it seemed an impossible task at the time but having recently stepped down from the helm he leaves the role with the club having won 20 league titles – when he joined Manchester United they’d only won 7!

Sir Alex Ferguson Stand

Have a shared vision

To continue in these successes, like any other business, there has to be succession planning at United. So, who have they brought in as Sir Alex’s successor – a manager with a track record for winning trophies, right? Wrong. They’ve appointed their new manager (David Moyes) because he had remained consistent throughout his last post at Everton (12 years as manager), had kept them in the top flight of football during his time and built a very good team and structure within a club who had very little investment in the transfer market (Manchester United spent £48m in 2012/13) and City (£76m in 2011/12). So, United have reflected their faith in him with a 6 year contract – a long time in football terms – because it’s all about creating stability and having a shared vision to build success.

Never stop learning

When you look at today’s top footballers, most of whom are multi-millionaires, how do you keep them focused when money is not a driver? It’s about knowing the individual’s needs and working with them to achieve their goals. John told us a story about Ryan Giggs – for those of you who don’t know him he’s the most decorated player in English football of all time (and still playing at the top level at the ripe old-age of 39). The club were looking for a volunteer to help out on a training session with some young kids one afternoon, and when the first team were asked that morning who could be available Ryan was the first to raise his hand, although he did explain that he couldn’t make it for the 1pm start as he had a prior engagement. When he did arrive shortly after 1.30pm the coach asked why he was late. Ryan explained that he was taking swimming lessons! Despite being a tuned athlete, fit as a fiddle, and still performing at the highest level Ryan wanted to do more, but it didn’t stop there. Ryan is learning to swim as he’s training to become a triathlete, amazing! If you want to be the best you’ve got to keep pushing yourself.

Create a positive environment

We often hear stories of how United bounce back in games where defeat seems to be staring them straight in the face. During the 2012/13 season there were 14 times where United came from behind to win the game, but they can’t always be victorious. John told us how, after seeing United lose one particular game, he got to see them warming down shortly after. Some players were seen laughing and joking – which he couldn’t understand. Why was this? Because they need to be focused on the next game; they had quickly put the loss behind them and were now preparing themselves physically and mentally for the next challenge. John said:

“Manchester United are better at losing than winning!”

Performance is key; get the performance right and the right result will follow.

Sir Alex rant

Communicate effectively

Some of you reading this may already be familiar with the model that effective communication is:

7% words

38% tone

55% body language

The power of body language is emphasised in this great story: United were having a bad day and weren’t playing particularly well in one of their home games. So, at half-time the manager came out first – before all the players – something he doesn’t normally do. He went over to the loudest section of fans (the Stretford end) and worked up the crowd by throwing his hands into the air and applauding them – he’s now got their attention. With the entire crowd watching him he now walks to the linesmen and follows them onto the pitch. He makes his way towards the referee to have a word with him, pointing his finger and looking typically animated. Nobody knows what is said but through his body language has communicated to 76,000 fans that there could be a problem and that “we need to do something here”. The second-half began shortly after; the fans got behind the team in rip-roaring fashion and united went on to win the game. Enough said – or in this case – hardly anything at all!

Learn from mistakes

Experience is about learning from the mistakes that have gone before, Manchester United are no different.

Great people like to be challenged, and that’s exactly what happened in the close season of 2011/12. Manchester United had just won their final game 1-0 meaning that Manchester City had to win their game to clinch the title; 27 seconds after United’s game finished City scored to win 2-1 and claimed the title. The following day was United’s player of the year awards and the body language around the room said it all. Sir Alex stood up to addresses the room saying something along the lines of:

“That was yesterday, we’re Manchester United and we will learn from that – I’ll go away and sharpen my saw and we’ll come back and win.”

Sir Bobby and Bryan Robson addressed the room too and said some similar things to that of the manager – all of a sudden the mood in the room was transformed. The United culture instilled. The following season United went on to romp the title beating their City rivals by an 11 point margin. Inspired by the top and believed in from the bottom.

I hope you enjoyed part 1. Keep checking back, or enter your email address at the top of the page, to hear more stories in part 2 and what Sir Alex meant by ‘sharpening his saw’.

*Part 2 is now available by clicking here

Does the classroom make you smarter?

Blackboard b2s

A couple of week’s ago I became a student once again for the first time since my days of University almost 12 years ago. This was also the first time I’d had to sit any exams since I was 17 years old as, having chosen to study Design, my degree was more of a practical style examination.

The week long course came as a result of my place in our Talent Academy and one of the commitments from Bromford was to enrich my personal development plan. Having spent the last 18 months working on the Home Rewards Club I wanted to further my knowledge of Project Management so it was suggested that I should immerse myself into the world of PRINCE2.

To say the week was intense is probably my biggest ever understatement. The 6am get ups I was fine with. Public Transport by way of bus and train each morning and every evening wasn’t too bad; the fact I could check in with my emails (don’t get me started on those) using Virgin’s free on-board Wi-Fi was great. The homework wasn’t pleasant but it allowed me to reflect on the day and put some of the learning into some of the mock exams we’d been set, so yes, I was OK with that too. But, (there’s always a ‘but’ isn’t there?!) the 8 hour long classroom environment just didn’t do it for me.

As I mentioned earlier; my last experience of education outside of the workplace was in my University days where energy was in abundance, creativity was the norm, teamwork was essential and thinking outside the box was encouraged – in fact just like my workplace! So to be sat behind a desk for hours on end, nose in book and where the infamous ‘death by power-point’ was portrayed – you can probably sense that this wasn’t overly stimulating.

Don’t get me wrong I totally get PRINCE2; I get its Principles and its Themes and I understand why it’s considered as the leading method in project management – the world over. It brings together considerations for all types of project, no matter what the size, and if used correctly and widespread will instil a common language of project terminology throughout your organisation. But, (there it is again!) I’m not sure that the week long course was necessarily the best use of time on this occasion. Perhaps just a couple of days getting to grips with the ‘Foundation’ element would have been sufficient.

PRINCE2 themes

We are very fortunate to have an extremely experienced Project Manager here at Bromford; Barry Hodge. Spending time working alongside Barry and under his close supervision I would deem as being a far more worthy approach to learning about the curriculum. Barry will know his audience far greater than any external speaker would; he can put his own unique style of delivery into any training and engage with the room with some real-life examples of how PRINCE2 projects can be applied here at Bromford – I see this as bringing the whole experience alive.

Where I’m going with all of this can be summarised in this fab quote:

“Going to college doesn’t make you smart it will teach you to memorise things from books. Real knowledge comes from experience”

So, if you’re thinking of expanding your knowledge – I encourage you to do it, but I would ask that you first think about what experience you have within your organisation before committing yourself to an external source – and realise your inner talent.

Power to the people

Image

I’m a big fan of coffee and need a regular fix throughout my working day (ask my colleagues) and it was thanks to me making a round (yes, I do make them!) that I had the opportunity to hear a fantastic story from a colleague in my office.

‘C’ came to Bromford having worked in a family business for 20years, is a parent and has a wealth of knowledge in repair handling and contractor management – surely an easy choice for the panel when she came for a role in our Customer Contact Team, right? Well, what if I told you ‘C’ had almost no computer knowledge before the job interview – had never browsed the internet, doesn’t use social media and had never sent an email! Maybe the decision isn’t quite so easy now, is it?

Well, the decision was made to give ‘C’ a job who has now been with Bromford for close to 2 years. Recruiting for the role came in the shape of an assessment day where a series of questions and activities allow Bromford to look at the personalities and interpersonal skills of the candidates. For a position in our Contact Centre life skills are very important and ‘C’ had plenty of experience to offer. The team knew that computer skills could be learnt if the right person was appointed and were pleased to find that once ‘C’ had been successful in getting the role they had enrolled for a local IT course, which they attended in their own time at weekends, to help gain the skills and confidence for using a computer.

I asked one of the Team Leaders, who was one of the assessors on the day, a couple of questions about the appointment:

 

Q. “Was there anything that ‘C’ did that may them really stand out in the assessment day?”

A. “We knew that ‘C’ had lots of skills that they could bring to the team and that ‘C’ was very organised and logical in their way of dealing with issues.  ‘C’ came across well and showed that they were a good team player.”

                                               

Q. “How does ‘C’ perform in their role?”

A “‘C’ is consistent with their approach to the role, although not one of the highest call takers, ‘C’ is one of the highest performing for ‘Call Resolution’ meaning that they will own a call and resolve. ‘C’ really does try very hard to resolve an issue for the customer even if it means staying late – this shows in their call resolution figures. I have always said that if ever I needed to sit at anyone’s desk to answer the ‘phones I would definitely choose ‘C’s’. ‘C’ has every piece of information you could possibly need on their desk, very organised!!!”

 

So, in a world that has gone digital crazy where you can remote record to your TV from your mobile phone, order your groceries from the palm of your hand and follow Lady Gaga in the comfort of your own living room, don’t get thinking that those who’ve yet to be accustomed to this lifestyle have nothing to offer. The way in which housing organisations are recruiting is changing. Life skills and life experience cannot be taught, nor can having the right attitude. You can’t program a feeling or compassion, not just yet anyway! So, give power to the people. Let people like ‘C’ have a place in your organisation; if you can give them the computer skills they need to do the job they will probably offer your business a whole lot more in return.

Define your timeline.

Right then, the first thing I’d like you to do is take a blank piece of paper and a pen (or an iPad and stylus, if that’s your thing), and draw a wavy line from the top-left corner to the bottom-right. Go back to where you started the line and make a small dash coming from it. From here I want you to write where your life journey began – a small reference to your family. Making your way down the line continue to make small dashes marking each with significant milestones in your life where someone or something has had a major impact on your life or career. Mine looks something like this:

Image

Why is it I’m asking you to do this? Well, it’s something I’ve never thought of doing before but it was introduced to the group during the launch of Bromford’s Talent Academy by the fantastic Jeff Grout. For around half an hour Jeff took us on his journey, noting key points and his influential milestones along the way. Working within our tables we were each asked to discuss key moments of our own with one person from each group to be elected to share there’s with the room. We heard some incredible stories; funny, sad, motivational, tear-jerking – but all with a fundamental message of inspirational benefits.

So, who has been the biggest influence on me? It was somebody who’s always been there but who I’ve never really recognised as being quite so inspirational in my life until now; my sister.

From an early age my interest in Art quickly becomes apparent and it was Lynn who supported me with this, giving me tips and ideas on how to get the best out of a composition and create a sense of three-dimension through the clever use of shading. My parents would encourage me to do my homework as soon as I came in from school but instead I chose to play out until dusk and then scramble home on my BMX to get it done before bed – and it was Lynn who would often stay up with me to help get it finished. After successfully completing my GCSE’s she made a big fuss of me and celebrated by inviting me to stay over at her house and get pizza and a DVD.  Don’t get me wrong, we didn’t have the perfect of relationships (I know this story is painting a picture that’s quite the contrary) but trust me, we had our tiffs and squabbles!

After passing my A-Levels I made the decision to go on to University, our Dad wasn’t convinced by the idea but it was Lynn who persuaded him this was a good thing if I wanted to progress with a career in design. So at 22 I came out with my degree but no whiff of a job in design – was my dad right after all?

After short spells working in a supermarket and banking, Lynn prompted me to apply for a job working within Bromford. I’d never heard of them before, had no desire to work within housing and didn’t see myself working in a call centre for the rest of my life but figured that if Lynn had several years’ service already here, it can’t be such a bad place.

Yet to pass my driving test I relied on lifts, so very often Lynn would pick me up in the morning and drop me home each night (she never accepted a penny from me). When she wasn’t available she would arrange for some of her colleagues who lived close by to ferry me to and fro! Thanks to Katie and Marg for this.

Fast forward to 2012 and I’m not far off completing 9 years at Bromford – not bad for somebody with no desire to work in Housing who’d never heard of the organisation before, eh?! Working in the Customer Service Centre was a brilliant time for me. It had its ups and downs but gave me an appreciation for the frontline service of a business and how it impacts with many, many people and services within a business – especially the people we are all here for, our customers. From here I went on to work within the Asset Management Team – helping to deliver the repairs that were issued by the team in my previous role – which then leads me to where I am today; the Neighbourhoods Team.

Everybody takes risks in life; one of my biggest ones was to come into housing with no experience. So was it a wasted degree, far from it! My confidence grew, people skills matured, ability to work with others became more natural, my creativity and innovative mind honed and I’ve now taken these into my role as Project Manager today. But if it wasn’t for the influential figure of my sister I’m certain I wouldn’t be where I am, nor who I am, today.

It’s been quite a journey for me so far but one with plenty more mileage in it yet and much more learning to absorb. To finish I quote Mahatma Ghandi (a favourite of Mick Kent too):

“Live as if you were to die tomorrow. Learn as if you were to live forever.”

 

As part of our Talent Academy we’ve all been asked to share our journey, this is just the start of mine and I’d love to hear yours too…

The Masterplan

I’ve been blogging for a couple of months now and felt the timing was right to give you a whirlwind tour into my life and how I’ve ended up doing what I do today.

From an early age I loved to draw, I’d always be picking up pad and pen to scribble and copy pictures of my favourite football player or character from Transformers. So I applied this enthusiasm into my education and pursued a career in Art & Design. I studied through my GCSE’s, took A-Levels, plodded through a year at Art College and then came away from University with a degree – all of which led me to a career in social housing, eventually!

When I was 21 I had to seek my own housing options and was made up to be offered my first Housing Association property. It was a comfortable 2 bedroom flat which I shared with my girlfriend and we furnished it with hand-me-downs from family. Over time we started to replace a few bits and pieces with things we were able to buy for ourselves and with help from our friends and parents we decorated throughout, adding new fixtures and fittings along the way. I wasn’t brilliant with DIY (my wife will tell you I’m still not) but we had help from others where and when they could spare us the time. I was happy, I had a girlfriend (who is now the very same wife who criticises my DIY attempts), a flat I could call my home and a university degree – although sadly I’d been unable to secure a job, hearing the constant sound of; “we love your work but we’re looking for somebody with a little more experience”.

Throughout school and university I worked in a hotel kitchen washing dishes and mopping floors. I worked in a warehouse order-picking for a major high-street supermarket and tried my hand working in a call centre for a high-street bank. I then came to learn about Bromford back in 2003 when I took up the opportunity to work in the Customer Service Centre. I’d hoped that this would give me the vital office experience that I craved to help me with those set-backs I’d had pursuing my career in Graphic Design. In honesty I saw a job with Bromford as more of a stepping stone for me, a chance to earn some valuable office experience that I could use in future job interviews – little did I know that Bromford would actually shape my career path!

As I’m about to turn into my 33rd year of youth I look back over these experiences and wonder whether all of these were in fact all part of the master plan for me. In my spare time I love listening to music and followed Oasis over the years, I share with you below some lyrics from their track ‘The Masterplan’:

“I’m not saying right is wrong

It’s up to us to make

The best of all things that come our way

And all the things that came have past

The answer’s in the looking glass

There’s four and twenty million doors

Down life’s endless corridor”

I’m not asking you to go reciting the words of Noel Gallagher but I do wonder whether my future was already mapped out for me and if in fact my longing for a career in Art & Design was just my creative bloods getting flowing for something beyond graphics and drawing. Those job application refusals; were they because I was never destined to follow that path and instead my longing for ‘office experience’ was me bedding myself into an organisation I’d grow to love? Me opening the door to my very own Social Housing home for 5 years; was this to give me a taste of what it’s about, to learn from those experiences that I would then take with me to use in my job today?

I look at my past not pondering over the things that could have been but instead to learn from the experiences. It was unbeknown to me at the time but I do now firmly believe that these were in fact my windows of opportunity, corridors of choices and doorways to success. If then my future has already been mapped out for me perhaps I’m just making decisions that are leading me to an inevitable outcome – if we are all part of a master plan, I’m making the most out of mine.