Monday, December 29, 2014

How to Find the Right Mentors?

If there is one investment that you can make for yourself in the new year, let it be this one: find yourself a mentor or two...

I admit it is not easy to find a mentor. Are you looking for 'The One'? When it comes to mentoring, more than one is better. Don't be afraid to identify and select your mentors based on your needs and goals and the characteristics you admire in them.

If you are ready and willing to be mentored, here are some ways to find the right mentors:

1) Look in places outside your organization perhaps in formal or informal professional groups or associations or community and social settings such as voluntary organizations. You and your probable mentors already have things in common if you are a part of the same group.

2) Search for good mentors in your online personal learning network. Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook and Google+ are all wonderful resources to find the right mentor for your specific situation. Look for people who can guide and people who can inspire.

3) Family members in similar industries or even different industries can be mentors too. If you have someone in your family that you admire, ask them to be your mentor and create a structured process to interact with them. 

4) Consider a mentor younger than you. I am a mentor for my parents who are keen to jump on the whole social media bandwagon but don't know where to start. Peers can be great mentors too.

5) Become a mentor to understand what it takes to find the 'right' one. If you know what it takes, you are more likely to find and interact with people that have the same values regarding mentoring.

Hope you are able to find your mentors in the new year and be a great one for someone else. It is a give and take after all. 

Sunday, November 23, 2014

My Experience at CAPLA 2014 Recognizing Learning Conference

I recently participated and presented in the '2014 Recognizing Learning Conference' organized by CAPLA (The Canadian Association for Prior  Learning Assessment) in Ottawa, Canada, November 2 – 4, 2014This was my first time attending a CAPLA conference and I can say that I was impressed with all the intellectual capital that gathered inside the beautiful Fairmont Chateau Laurier. The conference gave participants a chance to reflect about and discuss various elements of PLAR and how it is relevant for all stakeholders including learners, institutions and countries. 

PLAR/RPL stands for Prior Learning Assessment and Recognition of Prior Learning. PLAR provides an opportunity for learners to identify and gain recognition for existing learning - what they already know and can do. This learning may be formal, informal or experiential. The recognition may be in the form of credits in a course or program or educational or experiential equivalency. Prior learning can be assessed in many ways including portfolio of evidence, tests and challenge exams, competency discussions and interviews and hands-on demonstrations. More recently, the concepts of using e-portfolios and open badges to recognize prior learning is a hot-topic.

It was a fantastic conference with a great line-up of speakers. All the sessions were extremely engaging and insightful. But some sessions especially stood out for me including:

 - Keynote by Ellis Edgars from from Haida Gwaii who participated in the Aboriginal University Bridging Program at Vancouver Island University and created a portfolio based on his prior learning, and returned home to Haida Gwaii with a renewed desire to connect with his culture and community.
 - Roundtable on Removing the Canadian Experience Barrier – Recognizing Experience, Facilitating Learning by Hon. Jean Augustine, PC, CM, Fairness Commissioner, Office of the Fairness Commissioner; Gillian Pichler, Director, Registration, Association of Professional Engineers and Geoscientists of British Columbia;Sam DiGiandomenico, Registrar, Ontario Association of Certified Engineering Technicians and Technologists; Priya Bhatia, Manager, Licensing and Accreditation, Law Society of Upper Canada
 - Open Badges and the Recognition of Learning by Don Presant, Learning Agents (you can see some of his work on open badges here)
 - Where did I learn that?” Exploring and Recognizing Random Learning: the 4th learning type by Frank Vandenburg

I co-presented a session on "Assessing the Employability of Immigrants in Skilled Trades" with Nigel Lloyd, CamProf Inc and Eva Schausberger, CamProf Inc  with inputs from Jim Tallman, North Pacific Training & Performance Inc. 

My top 5 take-aways from the CAPLA conference were:

  1. For all employable workforce, PLAR/RPL can help provide alternate career paths and new ways of utilizing existing skills and competencies. 
  2. For immigrants to Canada, using PLAR/RPL principles can help remove some of the  barriers associated with existing requirements of Canadian experience. 
  3. PLAR/RPL practitioners need to embrace digital tools and technology and encourage the use of e-portfolios and open badges as a way of recognizing learning and motivating learners to quickly move along pre-defined career pathways.
  4. PLAR/RPL principles are as good as the systems and processes that support it. The roles and responsibilities of advisor, assessor and administrator/facilitator are key to the delivery of quality RPL services.
  5. Design and development of competency-based training curricula/learning systems is critical to the success of PLAR/RPL initiatives. What really matters for PLAR is that learning is demonstrable; that the learner can do what they know. 
As an instructional designer, I have a role to play in the success of PLAR/RPL initiatives. I strive to design and develop learning systems that focus on performance and help learners demonstrate a specific set of competencies. With that I am hoping that learners, institutions and countries can focus on competencies and not course titles. 

Monday, July 28, 2014

How to See the Obvious?

We often ignore the obvious. We don't want to. But we just can't see it.
If you don't know of this video, watch the Monkey Business Illusion:

This video and the study by Dan Simons, the co-author of the famous book The Invisible Gorilla offers very interesting insights. 

So, how can we see the obvious that's not always obvious?

Here are a few strategies that have helped me look beyond what I can see:

1) Use specific techniques to analyze the current situation. When you look at a situation from different perspectives, new information comes to the surface. Use techniques such as Five Why's, Fish Bone Analysis, Six Hats, Lateral Thinking etc. and work with different perspectives.

2) Step back and review the situation. As you review, specifically look for what's not obvious. Be critical. You may need to do this several times. 

3) Discuss the situation with others. Get others to ask you questions about what you know about the situation. As you answer, more information will come to the surface but more importantly, gaps in your existing knowledge will be exposed. 

4) Share your work and thought process with others. Sharing your work with others is a natural and easy way to identify the strengths and weakness in your solution/assessment of the situation. As you share the facts that are available to you, more information that you previously did not have access to might be revealed. Others may share their views and approaches and that might be helpful as well.

5) Visualize the problem and the solution. Visualize it in your mind but more importantly on paper - use drawings or mind mapping tools. As you visualize, certain things that were not obvious previously may jump at you. 

6) Make notes. I have found that reflecting and summarizing key points/aspects about a situation makes me more mindful of what's available and what's required. This is similar to visualizing but is perhaps quicker and simpler.

7) Step away from the situation for some time. This is different from stepping back. Stepping away means to not think about it anymore, atleast consciously. I try and sleep over things. I can't say that I always wake up with a eureka moment but sometimes, this helps in making other layers of information more accessible.

The next three strategies are more useful from a long-term perspective:

8) Try to familiarize yourself with the unfamiliar. One of the reasons why we are unable to 'see' what's in front of us is our ability to string together what's familiar and ignore or not see the unfamiliar. Therefore, to observe more carefully, I try and expose myself to the unfamiliar. This includes diverse interests and activities that I wouldn't pursue normally. Or it may be as simple as exposing myself to news or books that discuss topics that are unfamiliar. The idea is to let my brain wrap itself around differences, anomalies and unusual things.

9) Meet and interact with people that are very different from you. Meeting like-minded people might be great for professional networking but you will reap more benefits regarding self-awareness and mindfulness by meeting people who don't think like you. When you interact with people who are fundamentally different from you, there is scope to gain new perspectives and to start 'thinking' differently. 

10) Try and eliminate filters. We all have filters. These are based on our nature and our nurturing process including our family and friends who impact the way we see, hear and observe things. The more conscious we become of these filters, the easier it is to try and remove them as we analyze a situation. One way to do this is to say, 'If another person, say X (who is different from you), would see this situation, what would be her analysis?' These filters could be underlying myths or misconceptions or judgments that we make about things and people and we may do it unconsciously, all the time. This is a tough one because sometimes we don't realize that we have a filter.

Do you have any strategies to see the obvious? 

"There is nothing more deceptive than an obvious fact. Arthur Conan Doyle

Monday, April 28, 2014

The 7 Habits of Awesome Consultants

In my previous post, I wrote about the 7 Habits of Awesome Clients
All relationships are give and take. Therefore, a good client is only as good as the consultant. 

Here are the 7 Habits of Awesome Consultants:

1. Understand Client NeedsAll awesome consultants focus on client needs and existing problems instead of trying to sell 'readymade' solutions. They use emotional intelligence to empathise with clients and understand things from the client's perspective to ask the right questions. They are customer-focussed, speak the client's language and capture both explicit and implicit needs.

2. Demonstrate Competence - All awesome consultants are trained for and competent at their job and use their expertise to meet client needs. They are lifelong learners and build varied experience with each engagement. They demonstrate their competence by educating their clients and providing unique insights to enable clients to make more informed decisions. 

3. Communicate Effectively - All awesome consultants communicate with clients 
and keep the process transparent. They are good listeners and inform and collaborate to get to the desired end result. They are able to explain complex ideas in simple terms. They are not afraid to say 'no' and are able to communicate bad news. They are honest and objective and act as a 'trusted advisor' for their clients.

4. Add Value and Build Trust - All awesome consultants are confident about what they bring to the table and show how they add value to the work. They meet and exceed expectations and are motivated to ensure that their clients succeed. They demonstrate integrity and professionalism and gain the trust of clients. They are passionate about sharing their knowledge and go beyond the scope of work for the current project.

5. Are Proactive and Innovative - All awesome consultants are proactive and anticipate possible problems. They are resourceful and are able to solve challenges. In doing so, they are innovative and are open to ideas and new ways of doing things. They listen to their clients attentively and are willing to take risks, be convinced by good reasoning and want to innovate.

6. Committed to Quality - All awesome consultants are quality conscious and show their commitment to quality by investing the right time and skills required to meet the desired goals including timelines and key deliverables. They use effective and efficient systems and processes and have rigorous quality assurance systems to always deliver the best to their clients.

7. Build Relationships - All awesome consultants value their clients and the work they do. They speak well for their clients and look to build long-term relationships. 
They have a positive attitude about the relationship and stay engaged and connected with their clients long after the project has been completed.

“My greatest strength as a consultant is to be ignorant and ask a few questions.” Peter Drucker

Monday, March 31, 2014

The 7 Habits of Awesome Clients

Like everything else in this world, all clients are not created equal. There are some not-so-good clients, some great clients and some awesome clients. So, what makes an awesome client? 

Here is my version of "The 7 Habits of Awesome Clients":

1. Share Vision - All awesome clients have a clear vision of what they want done and they share it with all stakeholders. This vision is supported by specific goals, budget, timelines and scope of work.

2. Enable Communication - All awesome clients enable two-way communication. They seek regular updates about the work and  offer a single point of contact who is responsive and provides inputs and feedback on time, every time. 

3. Respect Expertise - All awesome clients understand the process and seek a view of how things are progressing. They are collaborative and respect the expertise of the partner to make the right choices along the way.

4. Trust Advice - All awesome clients look for a partner who they can trust to get the work done. Awesome clients seek advice, pay well for the right expertise and think of the partner as a trusted advisor.

5. Are Innovative - All awesome clients are open to ideas and new ways of doing things. They listen to partners attentively and are willing to take risks, be convinced by good reasoning and want to innovate.

6. Committed to Quality - All awesome clients know that cheap doesn't get quality. They are quality conscious and show their commitment to quality through appropriate budgets, timelines and processes.

7. Build Relationships - All awesome clients value their partners and the work they do. They speak well for their partners and look to build long-term relationships. 

Friday, February 28, 2014

Working in Groups

I regularly participate in #lrnchat

From their website: "#lrnchat is an online chat over the social messaging service Twitter. #lrnchat is on Thursdays at 8:30-9:30pm ET/5:30-6:30pm PT. Participants are people interested in the topic of learning from one another and who want to discuss how to help other people learn in formal, informal, social and mobile ways. The official Twitter account is @lrnchat"

For the week of February 20, the topic for #lrnchat was "Working in Groups".
Here are some of the questions that we discussed as a group and my responses to each question. 

@lrnchat: Q1) In groups you participate in, what makes them work better? #lrnchat
  • A1) Trust, collaboration, clear goals and willingness to convince or be convinced #lrnchat
  • A1) I work best within groups that work towards a common goal and leave their roles and egos outside the room! #lrnchat

@lrnchat Q2) What leads to better group performance? #lrnchat
  • A2) Goals, specific timelines, planning key deliverables and establishing communication protocols = better performance #lrnchat
  • A2) Taking calculated risks, allowing everyone to ‘shine’ and investing in that moment/effort completely = better performance
  • A2) Recognizing and appreciating diversity and finding a way to make different skills and talent count = better group performance 
  • A2) Lack of clear communication is perhaps the weakest link in a group performance. Not a weak person but a weak process. #lrnchat

@lrnchat: Q3) What impedes group problem-solving? #lrnchat
  • A3) When groups start to solve ‘people’ rather than ‘problems’!  #lrnchat
  • A3) “Solutions” impede problem solving. The group should not arrive with solutions instead they must generate them together. #lrnchat

@lrnchat: Q4) How does emotional intelligence help working in groups? #lrnchat
  • A4) Emotional intelligence can help in better communication and in understanding the fine print :)  #lrnchat
  • A4) Emotional intelligence can also help the group moderator add some organized chaos to the discussion. #sayyestothemess #lrnchat

@lrnchat: Q5) What other practices foster group problem-solving? #lrnchat
  • A5) Time, attention, abilities, processes, spaces, roles and responsibilities and communication foster group problem solving #lrnchat
  • A5) Trust, fun, appreciation, recognition and implementation of the solutions fosters continued positive performance #lrnchat
  • A5) Leaving the problems and discussions in the room and not bringing it back to work or home fosters group problem solving #lrnchat

@lrnchat: Q6) How can better group problem-solving be facilitated? #lrnchat
  • A6) Facilitator must stay neutral and objective and have a structured process to help group arrive at solutions #lrnchat
  • A6) Read this somewhere: Facilitators must be in control, but not controlling #lrnchat

If you like the questions and my responses, you can check out the transcript for the complete chat. There were some fantastic insights shared by the group. You are welcome to join us next time! There's lots to learn and share.

Monday, January 13, 2014

What Makes Me Happy At Work?

"What Makes You Happy? Training 2014 Conference & Expo and keynote speaker and happiness guru Shawn Achor wants to know.

I won't be able to join Shawn at Training 2014 Conference & Expo, February 3-5, 2014, in San Diego but I'd like to thank him and the organizers for this opportunity to reflect and share my version of 'what makes me happy at work'. I just submitted the following as my 'response' to the survey question, "What (specifically) makes you happy at work? What are you doing and what are other people doing?"

What makes me happy at work?

This list is partly what I do and partly what others do. But at the end of the day, I know that I am responsible for my own happiness. And the way to begin is to be happy.

I am happy at work when I...
  • am happy with myself and the direction of my personal life.
  • exercise, meditate or listen to good music before I start work. 
  • begin work with a positive mind and feel open to taking up challenging tasks and additional responsibilities.
  • feel grateful for the day and know that I will be able to accomplish something significant and important.
  • am motivated to accomplish meaningful, interesting and creative tasks every day.
  • work with supervisors, colleagues and clients who smile often, enjoy an intellectual discussion and are open to convince or be convinced by others.
  • receive positive feedback and reinforcement for a job well done and developmental feedback when I go wrong.
  • receive time, attention and encouragement to focus on my own professional development and participate in continuous learning.
  • get to reflect on all my experiences, publish a blog and receive encouraging reader comments.
  • feel I have impacted the world (or a part of it) in a positive way.
PS: Judging by Shawn's TED talk, I am sure there will be several happy people at the end of his keynote address!