Further Focus on Future Talent (Part 2)

This post was originally found on my business blog and has been reposted here in May 2015.

My last post Focussing on Future Talent gave an overview of my morning at the Future Talent Now conference on 9th July. Here is the follow up to that post giving a recap of the afternoon’s sessions.

After lunch, Rushanara Ali MP, the Shadow Minister for Education stepped up to the stage to deliver a speech on ‘Developing an inclusive approach to future talent’. Considering my interest in inclusion and the skills agenda, I had high hopes for this session but was left disappointed and turned off by the party political rhetoric and pre-scripted nature of her speech. Rushanara spoke about some important issues including the lack of social mobility within our society and the need for meaningful vocational pathways into the world of work (ironic considering her degree in PPE from Oxford), but her politics and delivery overshadowed the key messages. Unfortunately I don’t think she was helped by the post-lunch slump in energy and it did feel like some of the buzz had escaped through the glass ceiling at the Opera House.

Alex Lowe from Google was next. I would confess to being a Google fan girl, so perhaps I’m biased, but I enjoyed the session even if it did seem like a sales pitch to some. Alex talked about some of the key trends in workplace technology and how employers need to keep up with changes such as the rising number of people searching for jobs on mobiles or the arrival of digital natives in the workplace. Alex Lowe also showed a fantastic video from Heineken really illustrating the power of social media to tell stories to engage with your employees and potential hires. A useful introduction to the world of collaborative technology, I think this was an important session.

Before the afternoon break, Marc de Leyritz gave some of his insights into good leadership. I sadly can’t remember the exact thread of Marc’s speech and it seems people were too busy listening to actually tweet, so I can’t rely on the twitter feed to fill me in, but I know he spoke about authenticity and humility, both qualities I expect in the best leaders. I think he also spoke about how the outside image, may not always be the same as the inside one. This is another session I would like to watch again, so I could reflect upon it some more.

Matthew Hancock MP, then minister for Skills and Enterprise, now Minister of State for Business and Enterprise, was the second politican of the day to stand up behind the lectern and deliver a pre-prepared speech. Less party-political than Rushanara Ali, but delivered with all the passion of a potato, his speech on ‘Fostering inspiration in young people about their future employment’ was less than inspiring. Largely a collection of sound bites, he did talk about the importance of employers engaging with young people and some great work in this space by organisations such as Movement to Work and Plotr. He spoke about positive changes within education, which include the inclusion of post-school outcomes in league tables. He also talked about the return of the apprenticeship and how they will be a route to success for young people. It was good to get a sense that progress is being made, but it would be nice to hear someone speak about these issues with passion and deep knowledge and understanding, rather than another politican parroting a dull speech with little substance.

The panel discussion with CEO of Changeboard and Plotr, Jim Carrick-Birtwell, the CIPD’s Katerina Rudiger, who leads the Learning to Work Campaign and Kirstie Mackey, who is head of Barclays’ LifeSkills programme, seemed to end up being less a panel discussion and more a basic introduction into the three different programmes, with each speaker talking in turn. However it was interesting to hear about some of the great work being done to tackle issues related to employability and careers advice for young people and although I was already aware of all three programmes, I am glad more is being done to raise awareness of these resources.

Finally the day was brought to a close with a round of “thank yous” to those involved and most people headed upstairs and onto the balcony for an opportunity to network and discuss the highlights of the day. I left a while later and headed towards my train, weary but excited about the opportunities to make an impact upon these issues.

Overall, I found the day really engaging and inspiring. These are often words which get over-used when talking about events like these, but it really was one of the best events I’ve been to.

I do think the afternoon was let down a little by the two politicians. The room lost its buzz after Rushanara Ali and struggled to get it back during the rest of the afternoon. I really think both MPs could learn a lot from the other speakers about how to deliver an engaging keynote without having to resort to a script. Someone on the LinkedIn group suggested that I shouldn’t bash the politicians because they need to be engaged in the debate and at least they came. My response to that was I agree they need to be at these events – they are elected and paid to do just this, but I didn’t see them engaging in the debate. They both turned up to deliver a pre-prepared speech full of sound-bites and party political campaigning and then left. When they were asked questions at the end of their session, finally having a chance to show they are listening and engaged, one was visibly shaken by it and the other just dodged around the subject. I suggested it might be nice to organise a panel discussion at future events in the format of Question Time, with politicians banned from using pre-prepared notes, taking challenging questions from the floor. Then they would have no choice but to truly listen and engage with the topic. I expect this actually could scare them off though!

That aside, the day really got me thinking about the big challenges around youth unemployment and the mis-match between employer expectations and young people’s skills. I realised how interesting I find working in this area. Prior to leaving Accenture earlier this year, I worked on the Skills to Succeed team and was involved with the Movement to Work campaign and also conducted research alongside e-skills UK, thinking about how the IT industry could encourage young people (digital natives) into careers in technology. Some of this work is now being brought to life with the foundation of The Tech Partnership by a number of leading technology employers. I find this hugely exciting and hope this is another sign that employers will be playing a greater role in helping young people into the world of work in future.

Diversity at Google

This post was originally found on my business blog and has been reposted here in May 2015.

Last week Google published their diversity figures, sparking a lot of debate about diversity (or rather lack of) in technology companies, particularly those in Silicon Valley.

The company posted a message from Laszlo Block (Senior VP in People Operations) on the Google blog reflecting upon the current situation, alongside the figures and a new microsite focused on their diversity initiatives.

We’ve always been reluctant to publish numbers about the diversity of our workforce at Google. We now realize we were wrong, and that it’s time to be candid about the issues. Put simply, Google is not where we want to be when it comes to diversity, and it’s hard to address these kinds of challenges if you’re not prepared to discuss them openly, and with the facts – Laszlo Block

This step puts Google ahead of their Silicon Valley peers in the debate about diversity and I do feel they should be admired for this honesty when they were aware the figures would not reflect well on the company. However, there are issues with the figures and the discussions they have sparked.

Google have successfully opened up the discussion. They have got people talking about the gender gap, STEM education and ethnicity. However, I have been disappointed by the narrow focus of debate. The figures do not paint the whole picture. People are not defined simply by their gender or ethnicity. Inclusion and diversity is not just about individual characteristics or basic demographics. It’s about culture in the company, the industry and society as a whole. Workplace inclusion should focus on whether staff feel able to be themselves at work. It is about fostering collaboration and innovation through difference of experience and thought. It is about people as individuals with a diverse range of experiences, personalities and characteristics. We need to shift the debate from individual demographics to encouraging a wider view on inclusion and diversity, which considers all aspects of a person’s identity and the company’s culture.

The irony is, I think if Google looked at diversity from an inclusion perspective, they may actually be doing better than they think. Their culture encourages collaboration and innovation and employees are able to express their own interests through their 20% projects. Their employer brand is enviable, well respected for their benefits, training and other workplace policies. I imagine the figures for some other protected characteristics may be more representative of the general population than perhaps the gender or ethnicity measures are. I also expect there is a relatively, liberal, open and accepting culture, bearing in mind the social and educational background of a lot of their staff and the fact that open discussion and debate is encouraged. Google have employee resource groups for a huge range of characteristics – not just a women’s network, but groups for older googlers (greyglers), LGBT (gayglers), people with disabilities, veterans and more. People can express their identities through these communities. Google may well be more diverse than it realises. Of course without working there I cannot vouch for any of this – it is speculation, but I think comments in a blog post by “a lady googler”, Angela Watson Strong suggest this may indeed be the case.

I think Google handles diversity better than any other company or organization in which I’ve ever worked— including “progressive” organizations. – Angela Watson Strong

So my takeaway from the Google Diversity debate? Don’t just focus on how many women or people from ethnic minorities you recruit. Focus on creating a culture which embraces the individual, allows people to thrive and encourages collaboration and you will make a much bigger impact upon maximising the power that diverse teams can have upon innovation and performance in your organisation.

CIPD L&D Show 2014 Thoughts

This post was originally found on my business blog and has been reposted here in May 2015.

I had a fantastic time this week at the CIPD L&D Show and have enjoyed tweeting my reaction over the last couple of days. You can read my live tweets from the show over on twitter – @lellielesley. I hope to gather the key highlights together on storify soon.

Sadly the first day felt a little disappointing. Some of the workshop sessions did not live up to high expectations and I was a little disappointed by the lack of innovation on show. There was a lot of good practice, but nothing which really struck me as truly innovative or impressive. It was all a bit predictable.

Thankfully I was revitalised by the CIPD and #LDConnect tweetup on Wednesday evening. Meeting fellow learning and development professionals who share my passion for innovation, social learning and collaboration was energising and I had some really interesting conversations. I was not the only person there who had recently left the corporate world to embark upon self-employment and it was also good to share experiences and learn from others who had gone it alone a long time ago. Overall, it was clear there was a supportive community and I hope to develop stronger links within this community in future.

I went into Day 2 feeling re-energised and hoping it would deliver beyond my expectations. Thankfully it did.

The day got off to a great start with an inspiring session from Google. Their culture embodies everything which I am passionate about at work – innovation, collaboration and authenticity. People are encouraged to be themselves and to follow their passions. They are a social organisation, learning from each other. The session was really interesting and it was great to hear about the scientific approaches Google apply to encouraging collaboration – the idea that the dinner queue needs to be an exact length to encourage employees to talk to each other was fascinating.

After this, I enjoyed a session from Visa and Telefonica on their early talent programmes. It was great to hear practical examples of how Visa have made their apprenticeship programmes work for them and it was nice to see two organisations presenting a coherent presentation together, rather than two separate case studies delivered without any thought to how the presentation should work as a whole.

The final session I attended was focussed on one of my favourite subjects – social learning and technology, looking at how two organisations (Bromford Group and SantaFe Group) had introduced enterprise social media for learning. I was particularly impressed by Michelle Parry-Slater’s presentation as it was clear from the energy and enthusiasm in her voice that she shared my passion for this way of learning. The platform she introduced, Fuse looks to have a lot of potential and I hope to learn more about it in future.

After this, I found myself stood in front of a camera crew talking about my career and thoughts upon my CIPD student membership as part of a series of members videos they were filming. I volunteered to take part on a whim after the CIPD put out a request for participants on twitter, but once I actually got in front of the camera I was starting to regret that decision. Hopefully the final video will be worth it.

The journey home was a long and tiring one, but my head was buzzing with ideas about the future of learning and development and all the exciting things I had learnt. I can’t wait to put some of these ideas into practice.