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