Speexx Exchange 2020: Accelerating Change in HR & L&D with Jo Cook

speexx exchange 2020 speaker jo cook

We’re back with the second part of our interview series in preparation for our annual Speexx Exchange conference. If you haven’t checked our first interview with Montserrat Ventosa, VP of Talent at Wellbeing and Purpose, you can find it here

For those who aren’t familiar, this event brings industry experts in HR and L&D together for a full day exchanging knowledge. This year, for the first time ever and for the 10th anniversary, we will be holding the event completely online.

And with that, we are pleased to share a preview of what you can expect from Speexx Exchange 2020 with this interview post. We spoke with Jo Cook, director and founder of Lightbulb Moment, and co-host of Speexx Exchange to hear her experience with the challenges faced this year and what she thinks we can all expect to see in this new normal for L&D, now and in the future. 

Do you think is there a New Normal in HR and Training and Development? If so, how would you describe it and what can we expect from it?

Oh, big question. And you know people are starting to hate that phrase, the new normal, but it’s such a good description. I think the world has a new normal because COVID-19, the pandemic has made such huge changes, so both in an obviously a massive negative way in terms of loss of life, in terms of how it’s impacted industries, in how it’s impacting people’s health and mental health and coping with the lock down and all of those horrible things. As with anything, there’s always a silver lining. There’s always a flip side.

Now I just heard on the BBC News here in the UK this morning that Karren Brady who’s a business woman here in the UK, reference a quote where she said, “in some decades nothing happens. In another weeks, decades happen” and I think she was referencing 2020. So, there’s been so many organizations that have done three or five or seven years of digital transformation or business transformation in weeks or months, and I think the new normal has to be around- How do we as individuals in our businesses, in our organizations and in our lives, cope with something that’s different? So, will there be business models that just won’t exist in 2021? Will there be jobs that just don’t exist in 2021?

Equally, there are jobs that during the pandemic that some people had previously seen as low paid, lowly jobs that suddenly became the most important jobs in the world. Your delivery driver, the person looking after your grandparents at the nursing home, the supermarket shelf stacker, they became so important and, in some ways, I think that’s not a new normal and that that’s going to be dropped by the wayside and unfortunately, the new normal isn’t going to be applied equally in all areas. In terms of HR training and development, it’s about looking after organizations and looking after people. A lot of that is going to be much more digital and flexible than it has been previously. I’m obviously an advocate for virtual work and virtual learning, but digitally, that huge area, I think that’s what we’re going to be seeing a lot of.

What do you think is a positive change that’s happened this year for L&D despite being forced to all go virtual more quickly than most of us were prepared for?

I think for a lot of people this has forced their hand and forced is a really good word. So many people didn’t want to go virtual, didn’t want to go flexible, didn’t want to go remote in terms of learning or working or delivery and we have to acknowledge that there is a huge part of the world, the working world where they still can’t do that. You know, if you have to be at a machine to turn it on and off, you can’t necessarily do that remotely. If you need to be on a deep-sea oil rig and deep-sea diving to check out the substructure, you can’t do that on a virtual classroom or on Skype, so we have to acknowledge a huge part of our working environment can’t do that still, but those of us that can, a lot of us have been forced to do so. And it’s really interesting how many individuals, teams, organizations and senior stakeholders have suddenly gone, oh, it’s not so bad, we can do this!

I mean I remember years ago I was trying to learn to rollerblade, so I was 15 or something and I could go in a straight line, I could start and stop. I was doing ok, I couldn’t turn corners though. And I was out, and I used to live on the seafront down in Worthington in the UK, and I was rollerblading over to the seafront and I came up to a really busy road and the pavement was angled down to the road for wheelchairs and pushchairs and I was sliding into the road and I can’t stop. And I don’t want to hit the cars, so very quickly I had to learn to turn on my rollerblades so I didn’t get squished by a car. And I think that’s what’s happening at the moment is everybody was happily going along on their roller blades in a straight line with their face-to-face sessions and commuting for two hours into the office because it’s what they’ve always done. It was what was expected. Companies didn’t really think that it was appropriate to make those changes, and it was always a future thing and you had to earn it and. You have to be the right person and you had to earn the trust. But all of a sudden, the whole world had to learn how to turn on their rollerblades and really quickly to avoid that traffic. And I think suddenly people have gone, oh, actually, that wasn’t the scary as we thought. Now we’ve done it.

It’s not always good, it’s not always amazing. There’s a lot of people who are doing it who weren’t very good at the beginning. There’s been a lot of development, and so you know, everybody’s circumstances will be different. But I think generally organizations have found we can have flexible working. We can have remote working. We can learn virtually and for the most part if we do it anywhere from ok to good to even amazing, it can work. So now it’s a case of hopefully next year as we come out of pandemic, come out of the various lockdowns that are happening hopefully, how can we hold onto the really good stuff for the people that want it? I.e. the flexible working, the less travel the economic and the environmental impact that’s had for people and their mental health, and the quality of the work and the training that people are doing, but still open up and have the office and have the face to face for the people that need it, and for the types of sessions that need it. Because we all know, virtual isn’t right for everything, so it’s about using the right tool for the job. And what I’m really hoping is that it will be a case of- we found it’s actually ok, some of it can be really good, some of it doesn’t work so well, and pick the right tool for the job at the time rather than a blanket- “no, we can’t”.

Is there also an aspect where we’re asking the learners to also be flexible for work and is there a way that we’re supporting them in this regard?

Good question, so I think if we go back to the beginning of the pandemic, if we go back to the beginning of the pandemic to like February, March, April, and we’ve certainly from a UK and European point of view, we were going into lockdown. If we focus on the training part for a moment, the instruction, suddenly we’re going on Zoom, Zoom was ubiquitous, the whole world suddenly went Zoom. So, the whole world suddenly went virtual and as we said that for a lot of people that was that was forced, they didn’t want to. They didn’t have the skills. Maybe the attitude wasn’t in the right place. That’s a huge part of it. And therefore, our learners had to be flexible and to a certain extent, accept something that wasn’t the standard, that maybe they wanted, or were used to, or hoped for in their learning interventions. And at that time there was a lot of, you know what, get online, do the basics, get the connection, keep going. People will forgive you, it’s ok. So in that sense, I think there was a lot of flexibility from a learning point of view.

I don’t know if this is part of the answer to your question, but certainly later on as we’re getting, you know, we’re now in November of this year. I think we’re at a time now where it’s a case of look, parts of the UK have gone into a second lock down, parts of Europe have, maybe this is the time at which your strategy needs to update. And maybe this is going into 2021 and this is where you need to be thinking this isn’t that three-month thing that we thought it was going to be. This is going to be a longer thing than we thought, so our strategy needs to change to that. And part of that is you’re saying is the people doing the work and the learning. So, from an HR&L&D point of view, it’s about supporting people more and helping them, and that can be a lot of that is around HR is doing a great job around people’s mental health. There’s a lot about setting people up to work from home when they need it. So, whether that’s ergonomically or paying for a desk or a chair if they can fit that into their places where they live, there’s a huge amount of people that are in one room or their struggling, or those you know them and their partner trying to have Skype or Zoom meetings at the same time, there’s kids running around that a lot of stress for a lot of people, so HR needs to help with that. With that flexibility for them to do their work.

From a learning point of view, I think people are needing to be flexible about understanding what learning and training is. So, there was a huge story that we had about learners in a lot of roles, or if they hadn’t gone to a training session face-to-face and maybe had lunch, maybe have nice biscuits and coffee, whatever that was, they didn’t feel like they had training. So, something like eLearning or course or a virtual class, they didn’t feel was learning and a reward in that same way. So that was quite a few years ago that that story was there I think, and hope that changed, but obviously not in all organizations, but I think it’s virtual training, remote working, flexible, working. All of the things that we’re doing this year needs to have a different story attached to it. Its reputation, I’m hoping, has been updated this year. Certainly, virtual training in my experience, that’s my specialism has been updated this year, and suddenly it’s great. We can do it rather than anything else, but that’s where the flexibility in the support needs to come to help people with the right equipment, the right time, and that reputation of actually good quality training, for example.

There’s a really interesting thread I was reading on Twitter the other day and it was, I think he was started by like a sarcastic, kind of either comment, or it was one of those not fake account but like, pretend fake training accounts, or whatever it was. And basically it was someone saying, with regards like University educations. It’s like, I’m paying 9000 pounds a year for really bad quality Netflix. And this started a whole thread about the perceived quality of some of the online and live online training from some universities and obviously lots of places are doing a really great job, but there are pockets where it’s a challenge for a variety of reasons, and I thought that was really interesting. That sense of, as you say, those expectations have changed now. Maybe we don’t want Netflix quality. Maybe that’s a little bit different and then they leave that to one side. But you’re right about that in terms of I’m paying for something. And I a) want and b) need and c) deserve a certain level of quality from that, and I think that’s where as you say, the strategy needs to be looked at as we go into 2021.

Tell us a bit about Lightbulb Movement and then some of the challenges that you’ve faced due to the pandemic. Any impact of changes to your organization because of this?

Thank you for asking. Lightbulb Moment is my company which I started in 2013 and I called it like both moment because I always loved in in teaching, training, facilitating is that aha moment. The minute that you get someone who goes, oh, I get it now and they have a big grin and suddenly they’re relaxed, and you see that on their face and you can feel it from them. So, that’s why I called my company is called Lightbulb Moment. And my background in L&D goes back far more years than I care to remember and but 2013 onwards I started specializing in virtual classroom webinars.

And it was really interesting because when I first learned about the virtual classroom, I didn’t know what it was. I kind of thought it was like eLearning, so that kind of self-paced, click next module and I’ve done some of that and eLearning can be absolutely great. But it wasn’t my thing, I liked being live with people and feeding off the energy and seeing them and seeing that light bulb moment. So, I kind of went on this course and learn a bit about it. And then once I realized what it was, I had my own light bulb moment and I said wow- So, I’m quite good at computers, I’ve worked with computers for years and I can still do live training with people, except they’re in different places. They can be all around the world and this was amazing. So, from that moment on I just fell in love with it. I went and did a ton of different projects and work with a ton of different companies to really get a lot of different experience. And so, I specialize now in helping teams of people to design and deliver really good quality webinars and virtual classrooms.

And it’s not just me, we have some associates, we have some partners that we work with. I have a business operations manager called Michael. He’s been with me for 3 1/2 coming up to four years. He’s also my brother which causes a lot of people to make some comments. We’ve got a lot of similarities and we worked together really well. We hardly ever have arguments, which is quite scary. It’s really nice to be able to work with somebody that you know and you trust so well, and we work together. So in terms of the challenges we face due to the pandemic, unlike a lot of businesses, we were in a really, really amazing place that we got busy. And it was, what I call, a nice problem to have, because I was working. I will not tell you how many hours I worked but it was a lot. And I’m really grateful for that because I know there are so many people whose business just disappeared overnight or were made redundant or on furlough and had lots of problems. So, whilst it was hard to deal with in terms of balancing work and life and health and all of those things, but the joy of that was helping so many people.

So, we had one higher education organization come to us, on a Tuesday, and said by Monday our entire faculty is closing down. It’s going to be online. We’ve got 400 teaching, lecture staff, and we need your help. And so it’s like, ok, let’s do that then. But there were so many people that we were helping either directly through consultancy through training. And what was really interesting, was as we saw a lot of people on social media trying to kind of grab business where they could, understandably, but we didn’t really like the tone of their marketing. And what we decided to do, which is what something that drives us all the time is about helping people and we decided to go through all of our free resources and a lot of our resources that weren’t free that we put out and just basically put out tons of tweets saying – if you find yourself doing this, here’s a blog. If you find you need help with such and such. Here’s a template to go and download and just put that out there to help people. So, it was really interesting towards the beginning.

Whether it was just before lockdown or just as lockdown started in the UK, I can’t remember, but I recorded a podcast with Training Journal and I remember saying that morning, businesses are going to have to update. They’re going to have to change their practices in their working environment and then that afternoon I was chatting with Michael and kind of going, our flagship course of six sessions and quite frankly, a significant investment of money because it’s a great course with loads of resources and we do loads of great stuff. People don’t have budget for that, they didn’t budget for that and they don’t have the time for that. So, we had to rapidly develop sessions that were just like – right. You need to go online now. Here’s 2 hours, off you go. You’re going to be fine. And we, for instance we priced that so that it was available to more people than maybe our normal training sessions. And we’re still a business, we’re still making money. They’re still paying for it. It was about saying, well, look. Here’s something that’s a little bit more, that we want to help you within the context of your business, and we’re a business. We are now doing a refresh on our course and what we’re writing now is different from what we did when we did our last big revamp of it three years ago.

Three years ago, we were starting from that. You have never even been online. You have no idea what a virtual classroom is. Don’t worry, we’re going to take you by the hand, we will be really gentle. Look at this button here, this here does screen share, isn’t it amazing? And now we’re starting from a place of, if that’s still the case, that’s OK, but you’ve probably done loads of this. So now let’s look at a little bit more detail. Let’s get going in a little bit quicker. Let’s give you those things as a handout as a resource, and then let’s talk about how we do it really well. So, it’s interesting how that has changed. And the other really nice thing in the organization, we’ve been able to expand, we’ve got more partners. We’ve got more associates that we’re working with. And something I’m really really proud of is that whilst we had lots of work come in and we couldn’t do it all. We were able to work with other people and especially those that I knew that were struggling and be able to pass that work on. And that’s part of my business ethos is just like it’s not just about making money, I need to pay the rent. But apart from that it’s about how do you do business really well? And how do you do that as part of your community and work with others?

What are the trainings with Lightbulb Moment like?

It’s more one off. We do have people coming back so we’ve got loads of different modules and things from nothing through to you’re better than I am now. So, we do have long relationships with some of our clients where they have two or three workshops or sessions a year, maybe, other times it’s like we’ve done your one workshop that you needed. Fantastic. You’re off. You’ve got all of our free resources. Keep in touch, you know where we are, so it’s about giving people what they need for where they are. And quite frankly, respecting the budget and timeline, that’s something we don’t always like talking about, especially as a vendor. But even when you’re internal, you know there’s costs and associations with that for resources and timelines to respect, so that’s all part of it too.

What kind of organization or company would be ideal to work with you right now?

Oh, good question. In in a lot of ways we don’t mind, because we work across all sorts of different sectors and all sorts of different industries. We work with charities, we work with really huge organizations, some of which have got 150,000 employees. And really big financial institutions and some big names that people would know which is really nice. But also, this morning, for example, I did a one on one with somebody who’s working with six people tomorrow and she needed help. So it’s kind of everything in between and across all different sectors. Because what we do is we help teams of people usually and it doesn’t matter what their training because we’re training them in how to do a really good virtual classroom. And what they’re doing and how they do it, it’s not incidental because it will make a difference as to how they apply, the things that we talk about, but whether they are financial institution or a farmer, or whether they’re kind of charity sector with volunteers. Good virtual training is good virtual training.

What are you most excited about for Spexxx Exchange 2020?

Well, I’ve been to OEB for the last few years and OEB is amazing. Berlin, I always say, is my favorite city in the world. But OEB amazing and the Speexx Exchange is the day before. It’s always a really good way to kind of get your head in the zone for all of these learnings, all of these different things that you’re going to pick up from OEB, and this year is virtual, so it’s going to be different, obviously. But the nice thing about the Speexx Exchanges there always, really great speakers, and there’s always a really great person bringing it all together and that’s Laura Overton. I’ve worked with Laura on a few different things. I’ve been to loads of events and stuff that she’s facilitated and the key thing for Laura, and that what I’m picking up on as I work with her, is that word exchange, because whilst there are great speakers and they do stand at the front of the room, and that’s going to be metaphorically this year, it is all about what can we learn from each other. What can we discuss as a group? What can we take away? It’s not just talk radio and I’m listening to this and there’s no interaction. And that’s something that I’m all about interaction and engagement on what’s the learning point, and that’s what Speexx Exchange is all about as well, and that happens to be with amazing speakers and amazing topics, and there’s a variety of stuff there to satisfy lots of different people.

If I had to pick a favorite, like picking your favorite child, it would be really horrible, but if I had to, it would be kind of the afternoon. We’re looking a little bit more about passion and purpose for ourselves personally, in L&D. And as I’ve got a little bit older, I’ve got more into that idea of what’s my purpose. What gets me out of bed in the morning other than a really good cup of coffee. And going back to what I said about during COVID-19 and how are the people were marketing themselves on social media and that felt uncomfortable to us. It was going back to, what’s my driving point? And my driving point is to help people and therefore that informed our approach and that’s what I think is really exciting about this. There’s a focus on L&D to support other people. There’s a focus on HR to bring the business and the people together, but also we need to be focused on ourselves. So just like that whole analogy, when you’re flying, when we can get back to doing that more, of if those oxygen masks come down, put your own on first, because if you don’t do that, you can’t help other people, and I think that’s a really important thing is in L&D and any role. But we’re talking about L&D here. We have to look after ourselves. Because if I’m not well, if I can’t do my job, I can’t help you do your job and you can’t help somebody else do their job and so actually, it’s not selfish. It’s actually really about helping others if we help ourselves.

And this is the 10 year anniversary of Speexx Exchange and one of the key themes about Speexx has always been around digital transformation and using technology appropriately. And if you take away the negative circumstance of COVID-19 if you just focus on the business aspect of it, it’s amazing that on the 10th anniversary we’re going digital, and I think that’s really a really nice way to approach things. And I’m really excited to work with the Speexx Exchange team and to be working with Laura again and everybody else. So thank you for having me.

About the speaker- Jo Cook

Jo Cook, founder of Lightbulb Moment

Jo is a speaker, instructional designer, and classroom facilitator who specializes in virtual classrooms, webinars and live online learning technology. Jo’s passion is helping and supporting teams, professionals and organizations embrace the benefits of the virtual classroom. Jo’s background includes: further and higher education; the charity sector; small and large organizations, including CNN News. Through her company Lightbulb Moment, Jo specialized in training learning professionals about virtual classroom design and delivery. She has spoken on various topics at conferences such as Learning Technologies, Online Educa Berlin, and keynoted for Colleges Wales and E-learning Fusion. 

Connect with Jo here: 

Jo’s Twitter: @lightbulbjo

Lightbulb Moment’s Twitter: @momentlightbulb

Website: lightbulbmoment.online

Free community: lightbulbmoment.community

To discover more about accelerating digital transformation in the new normal from Jo and other industry experts, register now for  our all-virtual Speexx Exchange 2020!  The virtual event will take place on Wednesday, December 2. Speexx Exchange 2020 is free of charge for friends and partners of Speexx!