#PunkHR: social learning – productive anarchy

Posted: November 1, 2012 in Uncategorized

There are many things that excite me about the HR profession I’m a part of and love being a part of so much.  And there are many things that tax me, concern me and vex me.  PunkHR is not about fruitless anger but it IS about rebellious thinking to create new ways that make things better, more edgy, more meaningful.

Punk Rock (IMHO) didn’t start purely out of anger, it was an alternative way to the prevailing beigeness that had become music in the 1970s.  It had anger in it – it had to – it was pushing back on the tired, flimsy and even self-centred approaches to music at the time.  Anger was channelled though – and ironically rooted in more tradition than people gave it credit for.  Sure the dress sense was radical and deliberately anti-beige but the music: whilst vocal styling (i.e. shouting a lot) and attacking tempos were different, it was hinged into the older model of a 3 minute, rock’n’roll song – often about fun and frivolity plus a new development – social conscience and political agitation.

Learning is – in my view –going down a similar path.  PowerPoint drenched, tutor-led, all-day classrooms are disappearing in the way concept albums and 13 minute disco drivel did in the 70s.  Now I love a lot of disco but there was some famously pretentious rubbish churned out during that heyday.  Anyway, Punk stuck 2 stiff little fingers up at this and gave us the Clash, the Pistols, Crass, Buzzcocks, the Jam and so on.

Social learning within a PunkHR frame IS still rooted in tradition though – which is reassuring to us all.  Tradition in the sense of a learning need being analysed; a gap to close around people’s skills/behaviours and an outcome focus to the entire proceedings.  How come it’s so anarchic I hear you say?  I don’t sense that you might think.  We need it more measured and therefore more formally controlled.  The world just doesn’t work like that anymore.

Well let’s have a look at what REALLY happens in learning in organisations shall we?

Here’s the conversation between your average line manager and an experienced member of their team.  For context, let’s say they’re based on the 6th floor of an office in Leicester and they’re in telecoms.

“So, Jasmine, we have the new temp guy Nile starting on Monday.  He’s on a 4 month contract whilst we sort out the backlog of applications.  I know that the Training team normally roll up and insist on a 2 months programme including induction, money laundering, health and safety, customer service and diversity, but we can’t afford that so I think it would be good for your development to sit with him, show him the ropes and be his mentor. Is that OK?  I’ll keep the training guys at bay, and in fact, they won’t even know he’s here so won’t inflict that huge programme on us.  He’d only do a few days work with all that training they think he needs.  You know the ropes so you can show him all the shortcuts those trainers don’t even know about anyway can’t you?  Anyway,please  let me know how it’s going after a couple of days.”

*Shakes head*.

There’s a lot of good reasons why the training team “insist” on some of the training in this scenario.  There’s also a worrying thought in my mind that even they’ve forgotten why some of this was created in the first place and why they need to deliver it in such a time-consuming way.

I’m short-circuiting a really deep and rich debate here but it’s for brevity not laziness I promise you.  I could and probably should write a paper or book on this; my views are very “active” on this subject.

Anyway my solution?  Not surprisingly I’d advocate going PunkHR and being social about this guy’s learning. I think Jasmine DOES have a part to play in his development and skilling.  Especially in his early days when he feels incompetent and wants to do a good job.  After all, 4 months may turn into 6 or 10 months or a permanent position if he likes it/is good at it.

By going PunkHR here I mean liberalise and socialise what Nile needs to do.

Show him where, from whom and what he can learn and let him get on with it.  Don’t force him to sit in long drawn-out courses where all he realises is that this is taking way too long and whilst good in its construct and delivery, could be delivered to his mobile phone by an app.  He’s smarter and more rapid at assimilating information than we give him credit for.

He would also like to play around on the company intranet; look at the company twitter feed; talk to customers before he has to “serve” them; have a look at the CEO’s blog about the day in the life of a being on the board; watch the last video taken of the CFO addressing staff on financial cuts.

As his manager or mentor you can connect him to people who are socially inclined so they share experiences, insight and create some intrigue in him.  Allow him to go and interview one of the IT guys about what he should and shouldn’t do using his office equipment.

Social connection first; professional connection second.

Once he’s spent a couple of days building his picture of the company; finding some very nice professional people who willingly grab a coffee and have a chat with Nile, he already feels immersed in the culture more than any talking heads induction classroom session could do for him.

Then job instructional stuff – which may sit in a rich online learning environment becomes second nature.  He uses the company social media channel to connect to other new staff and shares his experiences and tips whilst he’s learning.  They arrange to meet up for lunch, they chat they realise they’ve missed the legal team out and agree to go and chat to the Senior Lawyer over a coffee and learn about their trade/craft.

Nile enjoys his learning experiences daily.  Even hourly.  He now attacks his work with gusto, creativity and shares fervently with his more experienced colleagues who by now, are energised themselves about this bright new attitude-strong but outcome focused individual who has joined them.  Nile’s colleagues open up and share more with him, they take them to a meeting with some suppliers and he observes how the relationship is managed and what that means to their role.

Nile tweets his experiences to his friends who then moan about being sat in a 5 day customer complaints and call management workshop in a small hotel room in Lutterworth.  They look at the company’s job boards more avidly than before and make themselves followers of the company twitter feed and Facebook pages.

Nile reflects on his learning on his tablet whilst on the bus home and completes a blog; a learning log on the company LMS and posts some updates to the social channel thanking the Legal team for their day and nominating his own team for team of the week with their openness to him and their inclusion of him in that supplier meeting.

Next day, Nile then goes to a short lecture by the Head of Information about the new company data analytics engine and what people need to do on entering free-text to the computer system.  Nile’s dad works in IS and so Nile shares some thoughts with the speaker after the lunchtime session.  Nile agrees to share his Dad’s paper on Big Data with the CIO.

Nile then heads off to his first review meeting with his manager who can’t believe how much Nile has settled into the role and how much he already knows.  The manager IM’s the Head of Development and asks if Nile could be considered for a taster of the fast track on their  “Accelerate” programme (largely for Graduates) – in case there’s a place for Nile should the contract be extended.

So we fast-forward  around 8 years, and Nile has become the CIO and regularly shares his story of that first few weeks of socially inclined, high impact learning he loved so much.  Learning he plotted for himself; executed in a social manner and how he respected his L&D manager all the more for creating such a stimulating learning “package”.

Now, whilst this is a fictitious scenario that the more analytical of you will pick apart for the things I’ve missed out on, remember, this is a short burst to illuminate how much we can excite people and get rapid delivery from people through learning.

Going Punk and thereby socialising our learning doesn’t have to mean anarchic chaos and destructive rebelliousness.  It means energy; liberation; freedom; and ultimately tailored learning in a naturally social manner.

Nile’s experience is – I am sure – already going on in organisation. We are seeing and hearing of some people being bold and determined about their learning model and their development pathways.

The future for organisational learning in the manner described above is that learning will be optimised, distributed and high-impact  learning that is owned; selected and delivered  by the job holder.  The evaluation and support needed come from the line manager and are reported on and matched to the corporate mission by the Head of L&D.

In closing I think I’d say that learning movements are not much fun when there’s only 1 of you; but the movement starts with 1 person’s learning.  #PunkHR is social, anarchic learning which creates thick value.


  1. Bruce Lewin says:

    Great piece Perry – the #PunkHR idea is very refreshing!

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