A Quiet Word To HR Managers

The relationship between HR professionals and their Learning counterparts is an intriguing one.  The two can share the same office, same hours, and even sing side-by-side at their colleague’s birthday celebrations, but despite this common ground a gap often exists in the relationship that hinders progressive collaboration from taking place.  This gap is rarely as obvious as what sometimes exists between say Front Office and Housekeeping, but excluding the very best HR/Learning environments, it is nonetheless usually there.

When such a gap exists, the consequences are usually greater on the Learning professional as more often than not, they will be the junior person in the relationship.  These consequences will vary, but can include reduced engagement; lower productivity; and limited career growth.  With these such implications, the wider effect is that the hotel will invariably gain less value out of the Learning function.

So what then can a HR Manager do to get the most out of their Learning colleague, and maximize their output for the benefit of the enterprise?

  1. Be Genuinely Interested in Their Work

I have worked with a number of HR professionals who demonstrate the belief that the role of a Learning person is to host orientation programs; run a couple of basic customer service related sessions; and make sure compliance trainings are completed on time.  If that is all a hotel wants from the function, then well, they will retain only average Learning professionals, and drive away any ambitious individual who could have been of greater value.

To expect more from a Learning colleague, and to get more from the individual, then show an interest in what they do.  As simple as it sounds, ask them what they are working on; what challenges they have; what they are most proud of with their work; and where they need guidance.  Go and sit in, and even participate in their sessions – this doesn’t mean every single session, but for 10 minutes every now and then, go there with a view to support, encourage and give feedback.  For particularly less experienced Learning professionals, this can make a significantly positive difference to know that their boss is actually interested in their work.

If you are not knowledgeable on what the Learning function genuinely should be then fill this knowledge gap with the diligence that you would show towards any other part of the HR function – Payroll, Labor Law, Employee Engagement, etc.  Understand the difference between a trainer, presenter, and facilitator (this is important!); research how to develop learning programs; and build up an awareness of different approaches to training – essentially do whatever it takes to make sure that you expect more from a Learning colleague then orientation, basic sessions and compliance.

The added three-pronged bonus of showing more interest in the Learning function is that it will result in you being better equipped to select the right candidates for future Learning positions; allow you to  more effectively hold your Learning employee accountable; and, because you are knowledgeable, will result in you being a manager who your Learning person can approach with confidence when they need guidance.

2. Respect The Learning Function

Connected to the value of showing due interest, is the importance of demonstrating respect for the Learning function.  Sometimes when we indicate a lack of knowledge and/or interest in another person’s work, this can be perceived accurately or inaccurately as a lack of respect.

Relating this to Learning, I once had a HR Manager tell me that they only needed a junior Learning person in their hotel because they could get the F&B Manager to develop learning programs for all staff.   Disturbingly, the nomination of the F&B Manager was a random selection – not because of any specific qualities the individual possessed.

How exactly the F&B Manager was ever going to find the time to do this I never quite worked out, but the observation that essentially anyone else could design Learning programs best served to highlight the individuals’ lack of knowledge, and respect for the Learning function.

If it were suggested that the same F&B Manager look after the payroll or recruitment function for the entire hotel, then the HR Manager would most likely have passed out in horror.  A more balanced approach for this HR Manager to have would be to demonstrate equal respect to all aspects of HR because to develop great Learning programs for an entire hotel takes time; (good luck in getting a manager in operations discovering that) research; and often a good level of innovation.  It is not a function to pass onto to randomly selected individuals.

So respect the Learning function and the value of the role – if you can do this, then getting a more advanced performance out of your Learning colleague will invariably become a more likely result.

3. Challenge & Accountability

If the HRM is not challenging their Learning colleague with suitable targets, and is not holding them accountable for the quality of their work, then their Learning colleague can become overly comfortable in what they are doing, or not doing.

To prevent this, challenge the Learning professional with accountability-based questions such as what are your targets for this week? This month? This year?  What are the learning outcomes that you are working towards? What have you developed this month? Who have you developed this week and how?  How have you contributed to the business this quarter?  What will you try differently with your induction plans and Orientations?  Tell me about a learning program you are developing that doesn’t involve PowerPoint?  What best practices in developing people are you researching right now to improve what we are doing here?  What non-hospitality industries are you looking into to broaden our horizons?

Asking such questions will of course not guarantee results, but if the right person has been selected for the role it will guide them to think more deeply about what they can achieve for the hotel, and what they can do to develop employees.  Without such challenges, if the Learning person lacks sufficient self-motivation, then the likelihood is that they will develop the habit of doing the bare minimum in the Learning function.   Once this happens, then your company’s Learning function risks becoming an after-thought in the businesses’ mindset – an implication that can see many years passing by before the lost ground is regained.

4. Develop Them

For most Learning colleagues to be able to best develop the employees of their hotel, they first will need to see a positive future for themselves with the company. Helping Hand

This is an approach I find to be fundamental to getting the most out of a Learning professional.  If your Learning employee is indeed junior in status to you, then take the obvious responsibility to develop the individual, and make them feel as though they have a career worth pursuing with your company.  If you instead put the Learning person in a corner and show minimal interest in them and their work, then you can hardly be surprised when they (a) do not produce amazing work; (b) display low levels of engagement; and/or (c) move on to a competitor.

So work with them to develop their basic training skills; their presentation style; their facilitation skills; and their program development abilities.  Involve them in HR specific tasks such as interviewing and selection; budgeting; manning levels; discipline discussions – anything that will broaden their knowledge levels; their involvement with the HR team; and indeed, their future career options.

This last point is one that is particularly important, as the number of Learning professionals in hotels that genuinely desire a long-term career purely in Learning is in my experience not a high number.  For most individuals in the field, Learning is a temporary step while they pursue other options – often in HR specific.  If the individual doesn’t feel that they are being developed, then their ability to develop others (i.e. Do their job) is invariably significantly comprised.

5. Work With Them 

Not disregarding the heavy workload of HR Managers, creating the chance to work directly with your Learning colleague can have a terrific impact on the individual, and their future output.

Examples of working directly together can be through collaborating to co-facilitate a learning session; reshaping the orientation program; or even on a HR specific task such as reducing employee turnover. To do such activities once, maybe twice a year will not only allow you to directly observe their capabilities and weaknesses (or ‘development areas’ for those that don’t like the ‘W’ word); but more powerfully, provide stimulus to your Learning employee because it provides them with the opportunity to work directly with a manager who sees them as a colleague worth working with, and not as a distant subordinate placed in a small corner of the HR office.

6. Involve Them

If the set-up of your Department means that HR and Learning are part of the same team, then as basic as it sounds, make the Learning members feel that they are actually part of the entire unit.  Many times I have seen HR Managers conduct briefings and meetings with the HR specific members of the team, whilst the Learning person/people sit outside the briefing room.  Now occasionally there might be a legitimate reason for doing this, but when it happens regularly, the HR Manager is unwittingly (I hope) communicating to the Learning person that ‘you are not part of the team.’

The very best HR leader I have worked with was outstanding at creating an environment where HR and Learning were together not just in the sense of sharing in a physical space, but in having a collective mindset.  Results, forecasts, achievements, challenges, and social activities were consistently shared between the entire team, which contributed to a sense of being in this together.

If a HR manager can create this sense of involvement rather than one of separation then having a Learning employee working cohesively with their HR counterparts becomes much more likely to eventuate.

The advice I have provided here implies that it is purely the role of the HR Manager to build the gap between HR and Learning.  It is clearly not.  It is a two-way relationship that the Learning professional must contribute equally to.  But if you, as a HR Manager are the leader of the Department, it will almost always be up to you to take the lead to get the most out of the Learning function. Neglect this leadership role, and the learning function in your hotel risks becoming a token gesture only.


What RUN DMC vs Jason Nevin Taught Me About The Individual’s Responsibility To Learn

In their 1997 classic remix song ‘It’s Like That,’ Run DMC vs Jason Nevin beat out a line of ‘the next time someone’s teaching why don’t you get taught.’

I think of this line pretty much every single week as I observe individuals apply their different approaches to learning. For all the considerable (and warranted) focus on the strategies and techniques of learning professionals, what about the role and responsibilities of the individual professional, or student for that matter, to actually learn when they have the opportunity to do just that…?

I am intrigued and at times exasperated at the passive approaches people often take to learning.   There appears to be an increasingly sit-back methodology to learning whereby people take zero notes; ask few questions; and fail to contribute to what could be challenging and worthwhile discussions.  When all three habits take place, individuals, and even entire organizations are most likely on a slow-track to mediocrity when it comes to self-development.

Often these same individuals will come to me weeks or months later complaining that they have learnt nothing in their job or from their studies.  Are they perhaps expecting someone to crack open their head, and spoon-feed some mystical learning into their brain?

This passive approach to learning is further compounded by the increasing habit of learners to be distracted by social media, and their phones.  The fleeting to prolonged glance down to check emails; messages; or their social media sacrifices their own learning, no matter how much people proclaim their ability to multi-task.  This action is worse when coming from senior people, for it creates a negative example for junior staff to follow, and risks providing the impression that the learning activity warrants token attention only.

So learners it’s time to step up and play your part with five fundamentals to increase what you gain from a learning activity.

  1. Be Purposeful – Before going into a learning activity, set yourself up with a learning purpose. Ask yourself what you would like to learn from the activity – about yourself; the topic; the facilitator; your colleagues – anything.   Having a purpose assists in developing an intent to learn, and can then assist you in being more active in the learning as you now head towards a specific target.
  2. Be Prepared – Walk into any learning session with a pen and notebook. They might be old-school, but their combined relevance remains true.  Obviously they allow for the taking of notes that then enhance (if reviewed later) the consolidation of knowledge.  But also, by striding into a learning activity with pen and notebook also sends a message of intent to your colleagues and to the facilitator that you have come to learn something.  Some will take notes on their phones or other devices, but if you lack the discipline to not be distracted by emails and social media then stick with the pen and paper.
  3. Be Vocally Curious – Ask Questions. Damn it ask questions. Questions assisting in holding facilitator accountable; draw out sometimes bonus information; and open doors to knowledge that silence otherwise will keep closed.
  4. Be a Contributor – Group discussions with peers remain one of the most powerful forums to learn in. So contribute to discussions when the opportunity arises, and if you have an opinion, or an experience that is relevant to the topic, then speak up.  Doing this not only hones communication skills, but contributes to the learning of others, who perhaps had not considered the perspective that you offer up.
  5. Drop Your Inhibitions – Inhibitions in a learner do much to prevent active learning from taking place, and in many cases it is the fear of the opinions of peers that create negative questions in the mind of the individual.

If I am the only one taking notes, what will people think?  What if I make a comment and it is ‘wrong’ or people disagree with me?  What if I ask a question and everyone else knows the answer to it? If I sit at the front will I be targeted by the facilitator for participation?  Will people think I am a ‘nerd?’

This concern of sitting towards the front stems back to our junior schooling days where the general perception is that the ‘cool kids’ sit at the back, and as we evolve (hopefully) into adults, for some individuals this concern of where they are sitting remains a higher priority than actually learning

Such thoughts and questions can paralyze individuals from participating.  I have seen individuals walk in with a note book and pen, and see them want to write, but look around, observe nobody else is writing, and put their pen back down.

It certainly is not easy to remove such inhibitions, but having the grit to push through when such questions enter your mind, can result in a significant step to enhancing your own learning, and of those around you.

And a final note to managers.  if you are a manager then your responsibilities to the learning environment, and the culture of learning are even more pronounced.  Put your technology away and give your full focus to the learning activity in front of you.  If you are unable to do this then your half-dedication is likely to do more harm than good; if the trainer is of high quality then fantastic, you can learn much. But if the trainer is not brilliant, which will often happen, then your role as a senior figure is even more important – the questions you can ask to draw out information, and the insights you offer to guide discussion can increase the value of any session, and allow others to walk away from the session having learnt more then what otherwise would have occurred.

Run DMC vs Jason Nevin.  They might now be the most obvious of educators, but their words from all those years ago ring true.  Whatever the learning activity is that you are taking part in, professional, educational, or personal, it’s up to you to make sure that you are actually putting yourself in a position where you can indeed get taught…


Learning & The Reverse Gear

‘We learn each day.’

I hear such a sentiment frequently, and confess the need to fight my desire to squirm whenever it is said to me.  Often the people saying this to me will contradict this statement through performance and actions which instead indicate that they stopped learning and developing a long time ago.  For me, if the mind of an individual is closed; distracted; or just not aware; then even the best learning and training experiences can be wasted.  When this happens, the best case scenario is the individual will stay static with their learning.  And in the world of learning, if you are static, you might as well be in reverse gear.

So why me as another blogger? And why focus on the field of Learning?

Well I am fortunate enough to have found and established a career in the hospitality field that I am passionate about.  This career has taken me across the world, and provided me with opportunities to study formally and informally the field of Learning.  Through these opportunities my interest in Learning, especially in professional workplaces, has been sparked,  and equipped me with the skills and knowledge to be able to comment on the topic with some level of awareness.

Encouraging learning; observing learning; observing resistance to learning – even the failure to learn; it all intrigues me.  What creates effective and suitable challenging learning environments and relationships, and what works against learning from actually taking place?

What about Learning/Training professionals?  What are their responsibilities to themselves, their own development, and of course their audience?

From a corporate level, what separates the small number of companies that embrace a culture of Learning, from the standard variety that outwardly preach the importance of Learning, but in reality place it far down the list of priorities, and fail to genuinely understand the concept of Learning?

And what of the individual learner themselves?  What are their responsibilities; their habits; and what makes their differences such a tremendous challenge (and opportunity) for Learning professionals to overcome?

So I am looking forward to expressing my thoughts on these many questions, and more, and hopefully contributing to public thought on what to me, is a fascinating, and globally relevant topic.