Meet the teamBy James Larter
It’s always good to know who you’re working with!
Over the next few weeks we’re planning to give you some behind the scenes background on the team at RoleplayUK and our sister company PRO.
Starting with – Phil Allen, Client Director at PRO
Can you give us a potted version of your life before PRO?
My first job after Uni was managing the world’s largest and oldest assessment centre – the Civil Service Selection Board – which was a great grounding to see the power of psychology in organisations.
I then went on to do 3 more years of selection and assessment, using lots of personality tools which, I found, starts to mess with your head after a while, as you gradually assess everybody! Hence the move into consulting with PA Consulting, where I spent 11 great years, in change management, communications, competency design, before moving more into leadership development, and finishing up leading the internal L&D team.
Over time I realised that I preferred being in-house to consulting, which prompted the move to Travis Perkins as the Head of Leadership Development.
TP was a great experience; a really down to earth culture and humble people who wanted to learn to be better leaders.
We’ve heard you describe PRO as a light bulb moment – can you remember the first spark?
The moment for me came when I realised that there was something fundamentally missing from a lot of L&D design and delivery, and that was practice.
I’m a drummer and when I practice, I’m good; when I don’t practice, I can muddle through, but I’m not good.
I have also carried my drum kit into many a (quite dingy) practice room and those are the spaces where we get better, where your bandmates give you feedback.
But in the business world, we don’t have safe spaces to practice the conversations that are critical to be a successful manager and leader. We just give someone some models and theories in a workshop, training room, or e-learning and then say, “Now go and do that with your team”, or rather “Now go and fail live”.
So, when Felicity and Jim came to me talking about wanting to take the benefits of roleplaying online, we slammed our two ideas together and created Practice Room Online – a safe space for business people to practice, get feedback and improve.
As an L & D professional, what is more important to you, Learning or Performance?
For me it’s always performance.
This may be heretical in L&D circles, but I don’t really care if people learn something, or not. I care that they are able to perform better. We literally hold all the knowledge and information we need to do just about anything in our hands. L&D doesn’t need to provide people with more information, theories and models – stop recreating the internet on your intranet!
If I need to know something, I’ll Google it. This means that what we have thought of as ‘learning’ – ie knowing stuff and remembering stuff – is becoming much less useful.
What people now need is places to practice new skills and behaviours, using knowledge they are given or can find for themselves. They need feedback when they practice (my bandmates were brutal!). And they need the chance to try it again and see/feel the improvement.
That’s what changes performance!
So often we use improved confidence to rate the success of an individual’s learning… do you think this helps?
This is a tricky one, because here at PRO we also ask people about their confidence, and we know that practice does build confidence. But does it mean you will perform better? I don’t think there is a clear correlation. Think of it this way.
Think of three of your mates from school at exam time. The one who says, “Yeah, this will be easy!”. The one who says, “Oh god, I’ve been revising all week and was up at 4 this morning cramming more. I’m ‘bricking it’!”. And then there’s the one who says, “I’ve revised everything I can, and I feel pretty good about this one”. Who does better?
Well, I don’t think you can answer that question from their assessments of their own levels of confidence, but if the third one had built up their confidence by doing practice questions and getting feedback that showed how they were improving, then I would say that their confidence may have a more realistic foundation. And that is the important bit to me.
Confidence can help improve performance, but confidence that is built on practicing something that is really similar to the performance condition is more likely to be an accurate predictor of performance.
Why do you feel it’s so important for individuals to get good feedback?
Feedback is the fuel to performance improvement – and in the workplace, too many people are starved of this fuel. I have been asked many times to coach people, often by their managers. The first question I ask the manager is, “Have you given them feedback on this?”. Unfortunately, the answer, too often, has been, “No, that’s your job as the coach.”
Without feedback, how do we know what we need to change/improve, or what we are already good at?
Great sports coaches, with a few exceptions, are a lot less brilliant at that than the people they are coaching. So, what do great sports coaches do to help those people perform better than they (the coach) ever could themselves?
They give great feedback. They observe the sportsperson, they raise awareness of what they are doing and they ask the sportsperson what they could do to improve that.
Ref. Sir John Whitmore, the ‘father’ of modern coaching.
What makes you proud to be part of PRO?
It’s that we are creating something that I know makes a difference. I got into people development because I want to help people to be better than they are already; to realise their potential.
At PRO that is our raison d’etre.
We believe that people have great potential within them, that they already know many of the answers for how they can improve; what they need is a safe space to try things out, fail, get feedback, try something different and get more feedback to know that you have improved.
What are your plans for the future?
We have a big goal for PRO.
I want to change the way we think about training.
I want practice and simulation to be the first thing people think of when they set out to train others.
I want them to start with practice and then think about what the best way is to get people in the best position to get the most from that practice.