The Virtual Learning Personality

Our contributing editor, Amy Hatton, recently caught up with change management specialist Ravi Joshi and discovered that, in his opinion, the jury is still very much out on how, where and why new technology should be brought into the learning and developm

Regular readers of Project Manager Today will be only too familiar with my own special interest in the complex areas of behavioural management and behavioural science. As soon as I start talking to Ravi, it becomes apparent that he shares my fascination in these areas.

“In my work with clients, I’m keen to move to a space where we stop thinking about project management as being just about Gantt charts, risk logs, processes and the like,” he tells me. “Of course, those frameworks are essential for accountable project management, but they’re not enough in themselves.

“In my view, although we have already come a long way as an accredited profession, we still have much work to do in the areas of developing and engaging people, and there’s some really interesting progress going on in that arena. So if we look at, for example, the use of mnemonics or acronyms to facilitate memory, that’s now considered an old fashioned approach to learning.

“More recently, there has been experimentation with bringing those kinds of memory aids into the physical space, for instance by using props in the classroom to act as a visual and physical aide. If we take that one step further in the context of the digital age, we can see new possibilities – so that instead of being the passive recipient of, say, a video or a PowerPoint, you can turn the learning experience into a truly interactive one.”

However, as Ravi goes on to point out, the learning landscape is more complex than that, thanks to that one pesky little phenomenon that always gets in the way of our nice CPD theories: people. For a long time now, there has been a variety of frameworks and methodologies out there designed to help us assess and manage personality types. Ravi offers the view that perhaps we are not taking this focus far enough.

“A lot of profiling runs the risk of pigeonholing people, which can be counter-productive. Granted, these theories can be very useful in identifying overarching traits – so for instance you might identify yourself or a team member as being predominantly an instinctive person, or a thoughtful person, and recognising and harnessing those traits can potentially enhance professional performance.

“What I think needs to be developed further is the recognition of how circumstances, experiences and team dynamics can come into play as an influencing factor. Most of us have the capacity to be a different kind of person depending on the circumstances we face.

“We’re starting to see a recognition of that in some of the simulation training that’s out there now – for example for the emergency services, where physically recreating possible scenarios gives people a chance to explore how they might respond and behave.

“It follows logically that, if you’re managing a team of people, it’s not just about recognising individual personality traits. There’s also a place for looking at how our team members work with each other – understanding our team’s commonalities and differences, how those dynamics play out and how that can boost or perhaps hinder performance.

“Personally, I think we don’t do nearly enough of that kind of team dynamic work in projects and I believe that, if we did, it could be of enormous benefit to delivery and performance.

“If we then look at these two areas – the understanding of team as well as individual dynamics combined with the potential of new technology to simulate scenarios and situations – and explore how they might work together, then that creates a very exciting prospect for learning, from the classroom right through to the professional environment.”

The Business Value of Developing People

This all resonates with me, but I (like many others, I’m sure) have encountered a considerable degree of resistance in my career from those with more traditional mindsets.

And so I pose the question to Ravi that I have faced so many times myself: how does all of this relate to the bottom line from a managerial perspective? Isn’t it simply enough to tell somebody to do something at work and expect them to actually do it?

“The simple answer for me is that it’s an out of date way of looking at things,” he explains. “In the past, if you were managing, for example, a production line which depended on the completion of defined and repetitive tasks, then you probably wouldn’t need to engage in this area.

“But in the 21st century world of business and projects, many managers will be responsible for people who are working in a highly client-facing environment. They’re likely to be facing scenarios and complexities that may not be predictable, and so the way in which you develop their skills has to be more forward thinking.

“Project management in its most traditional sense tends to assume that we can control the environment around us. Some people still take that view. Others tend to recognise that circumstances are unpredictable, and there are new approaches entering the business arena that aim to work around that.

“Personally, for example, I find the Cynefin Framework really valuable for exploring perspectives on those uncertainties in the systems. Ultimately, paying attention to your people – how they behave, respond and interact – will benefit your business because it will enable them to apply their own unique skills and strengths to handle scenarios as they emerge. And recognising your own patterns of behaviour is the starting point.

“You don’t need to judge those behaviours – they’re not good or bad. But you can recognise them and learn to manage them. The more you have the capability to do that yourself, the more you’ll be well positioned to help others do the same – both on an individual level and in a team environment, and in an embedded and sustainable way.”

Amy Hatton
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