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workplace feedbackHow's your company doing? Are employees happy -- really? Many organisations are struggling to develop a culture that's compelling enough to engage and retain their talent.

A 2012 Gallup study of workplaces in 140 countries found 87 percent of workers are emotionally disconnected from their workplaces, ultimately leading them to be less productive. Yet last year Deloitte studied 2,500 organizations in 90 countries and found that only 17 percent of managers believe they have an engaging and compelling employment brand.

Ask employees for their feedback about their experience at the company to help identify what's going well and what could use some improvement -- but do so tactfully. Here are a few tips from Raphael Crawford-Marks (CEO of Entrepreneur) for asking employees for feedback to gain an accurate snapshot of the organisation's culture:

Ask who or what makes employees happy at work.

If there's a decline in productivity among employees, it might be a sign something's not quite right. Ask employees what they like the most about their job at the moment and the things have enjoyed in the past. Have there been major structural changes at the company to employee roles that affect the type of work he or she does?

In research released in 2012 by OnePoll, 65 percent of more than 1,000 U.K. adult workers surveyed said being happy at work makes them more productive. And a University of Warwick study last year of more than 700 individuals revealed happy employees are 12 percent more productive.

Take into account how personal problems outside the office might affect employees' work and let them know their well-being matters. Then work with employees to develop a plan to incorporate more of what makes them happy at work on a regular basis.

Encourage peers to evaluate one another.

It's impossible for managers to know all that transpires in an office between colleagues. To better understand how employees communicate with one another and how they perceive the performance of others, ask them to evaluate their peers. This can reveal people's strengths in helping co-workers.

For example, Jason might occasionally help Melinda use Photoshop when he notices her struggling with it. Although being proficient in Photoshop isn't part of his official work role, he is well versed in it. His manager might not know he has these skills until Melinda publicly recognizes him for his help.

Solicit employees' values and reinforce the company's.

On a regular basis, ask employees what they value, personally and professionally. See whether your organization's values and staffers' answers align.

A study published in 2013 in the Research Journal of Recent Sciences measured the alignment between organizational goals and the personal objectives of workers at an Iranian steel company. The researchers found "better alignment increases the chance of accomplishment of missions," leading to lower costs because of efficiency. "When employees share the values of their organization, they would acquire a clear understanding of the importance of products and service they provide for customers."

Feedback from employees can also be effective for managers in figuring out if the company's core values are evident in the company's day-to-day life. The process of soliciting employee viewpoints is a good organizational self-checkup.

Ask staffers if they feel the organization could do a better job in demonstrating core values and request suggestions.

When employees can directly relate their own work role to their organization's success, they may feel their work is significant. They can be more proud of what they do and their company.

Give staffers a way to record their opinions.

If employees have the freedom to voice their views in writing, they might take more care in crafting what they say, especially if it will be public.

And if employees have the chance to review the feedback of others, they might notice they're not the only ones who feel a certain way about some aspect of the company or a role. It could help reinforce their opinions or spur new ways of thinking about the organisation.

Validate contributions of staffers.

Don't make employees feel they need to give a certain response to the comments of others. Whether the feedback is positive or negative, let employees know their observations and opinions are helpful and always reward honesty.

If employees aren't allowed to be honest, negative emotions will begin to seep into the organization's culture along with perhaps months of painful turnover.

Focus on moving forward.

There's no point in dwelling too much on the past. When the company receives employee feedback, the goal should always be to take the knowledge and move forward. So when inviting staffers' feedback, request that it be conveyed with a "forward-thinking" mindset.

Ask employees what they hope to see happen at the organisation in the future. But don't leave these lofty ideas forever dangling in the distance. Consider what this means the organization might be missing at the moment and help bring proposed ambitions into the present.

Source: Entrepreneur

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digital literacyIn spite (or perhaps because) of rapid and ongoing technological advances, many individuals today are inadequately prepared to leverage available tools and technologies to communicate and collaborate with their colleagues and external stakeholders. Traditionally, the Digital Divide was about access and cost, but it is becoming an issue of knowledge and use. Given that, it is increasingly important for learning professionals, and particularly trainers and assessors, to directly address the issue of digital literacy.

What constitutes digital literacy?

Digital literacy is comprised of four components. The first three focus on basic knowledge and understanding, as well as organisational and individual applications. The fourth focuses on related skills and the ability to leverage digital technology effectively.

  • Digital era concepts. In the context of job-related communication and collaboration, these include things like platforms, channels, content creation and curation, crowdsourcing, cloud computing, and cybersecurity.
  • Digital tools and systems. Digital tools include the obvious: email, chatting/instant messaging, the Microsoft Office suite of products (and equivalents), as well as tools like photo and video editors. Systems include software applications developed for specific purposes, like accounting, business intelligence, online learning, and learning management.
  • Social technology features, platforms, and tools. Social technology features include things like blogging, customized aggregators, dashboards and portals, discussion forums/threads, media sharing, user-generated profiles, and wikis. Platforms and tools include obvious public networks like LinkedIn, Twitter and YouTube, but also tools like Disqus and ShareThis and more privately-oriented offerings like Yammer, Jive, and Interact Intranet.
  • Digital engagement skills and tactics. The fourth component of digital literacy focuses on the skills to use social and digital technologies efficiently, as well as the necessary judgment to use them effectively. Examples include knowing the right channel to use for a given communication, using email productively, creating and engaging productively in discussion threads and forums, content curation and validation, contributing to a wiki, and HTML basics.

Costs of digital illiteracy
The most immediate costs of digital illiteracy stem from the lack of digital engagement skills and tactics, but those deficiencies are often rooted in a lack of knowledge about Digital Era concepts, digital tools and systems, and social technology features and platforms. These costs include:

  • Wasting co-workers' time and energy when they have to deal with suboptimal work, redo work, and so on. For example, when people don't know how to use even the basic features of word processing, spreadsheet, and presentation programs, other people have to compensate for their deficiencies by fixing their mistakes and/or trying to teach them how to use the tools properly. 

I recently had to take the time to clean up a document intended for publication that didn't have headers or footers, page numbers, or any organisational identification—not to mention inconsistent formatting and wacky pagination. I also once received a budget for an event I asked someone to put together that was virtually unusable. The person who created it knew numbers went in Excel, but instead of creating the budget directly in Excel, she created it in Word and pasted it in Excel as an object. None of the numbers were formulated, so I was faced with having to recreate it or run manual calculations.

  • General inefficiency and effectiveness in digital communications. The biggest example that we can all relate to is email. We regularly have to contend with messages that are both too long and too short (and cryptic), poorly composed, full of typos and grammatical errors, with inaccurate subject lines and ever-changing recipients (included the dreaded and often dysfunctional bcc), and a host of other issues! It's obviously not necessary for every message (email or otherwise) to be literary marvels, but they have to crafted well enough to accomplish their primary objective with minimal effort on the part of the recipients, thereby reducing confusion, potential conflicts, and the overall volume of activity.

The costs associated with suboptimal work, inefficiency and ineffectiveness may be hard to quantify, but the wasted investments in technology platforms and tools that are underused or poorly used can and do have real dollars attached to them. 

There are also larger and longer-term implications of digital illiteracy, which stem from the problems noted above. The inability of workers at all levels to effectively use the tools at their disposal to communicate and collaborate will lead to:

  • suboptimized pursuit of strategic goals and objectives
  • the inability to capitalize on and leverage institutional knowledge and internal expertise
  • lost opportunities in terms of creativity and innovation.

Of course, there are the reputational effects of individuals who do a poor job of representing their organisation via email and other social and digital channels. This may also be hard to quantify, but that doesn't make it any less real or important. First impressions and perceptions are even more powerful in cyberspace because of the lack of communication richness and contextual clues.

Anemic LinkedIn profiles, lousy email etiquette, and the inability to leverage digital tools and platforms, for example, don't just reflect poorly on individuals. They also send messages about the organisations that employ them.

Increasing digital literacy

Digital illiteracy is only part of the problem with the suboptimization of digital tools and technologies, of course. There are design, implementation, and governance issues as well. Learning professionals can't address all the systemic issues, but the more they ensure people have sound digital knowledge and skills, the more they empower and enable people to work with or around the other challenges.

We need to start by disabusing ourselves and others of the notion that an LIY (Learn It Yourself) approach to developing digital literacy is an effective strategy. People need help to climb their digital learning curves—and providing that help in both structured and unstructured ways is a critical investment that will pay dividends in both the short term and over time. We have to stop thinking about technology education and training as an (unnecessary) expense.

It's also important to remember that training should not just focus on the literal aspects of how to use specific tools and platforms. Rather, there needs to be an emphasis on understanding the underlying logic behind digital technologies and developing transferable skills that can be used across a wide range of platforms.

What tools are available from Training Packages

Currently there is a Unit of Competency from the ICA11 Training Package (ICAICT108A - Use digital literacy skills to access the internet) that includes the outcomes for using internet to undertake basic interactive communication, that providing the right unpacking process could constitute a great tool for trainers to support learners at a basic level. There is also a Skill Set (from the same Training Package) ICASS00018 - Digital Literacy Skill Set, that includes five Units of Competency that could provide a more broad approach to introducing Digital Literacy to learners.

Again the effectiveness in using the endorsed components from the Nationally Recognised Training listed above will depend on the ability of unpacking the units and include in the training design the underpinning knowledge that support the logic behind digital technologies, and underpinning skills required to use digital technology across a wide range of platforms.

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critical-thinking-sliderAlmost everyone in the business world is familiar with the brainstorming maxim: think outside the box. However, a recent study conducted at the University of Pittsburgh found ideas that were closely related to a problem helped form the most viable solutions.

Using OpenIDEO, a web-based crowdsourced innovation platform used to address a wide range of social and environmental problems like human rights violations and job growth for youth, researchers—recent University of Pittsburgh graduate Joel Chan and his mentor Christian Schunn of Pitt's Learning Research and Development Center, along with Carnegie Mellon University's Steven Dow—challenged participants to come up with solutions for large-scale problems like "How might we inspire and enable communities to take more initiative in making their local environments better?" and "How can technology help people working to uphold human rights in the face of unlawful detention?"

In a paper, published inDesign Studies, Chan, Schunn, and Dow explain how expert designers from OpenIDEO then rated the solutions based on which concepts were most likely to produce real-world impact and chose 10 winning ideas. The researchers examined which ideas made the shortlist and what inspired those ideas.

The process took up to 10 weeks. Other similar studies, Chan says in a Pitt news release, have looked at the creative process over a much shorter period of time. Also, he adds, "in our study we had more than 350 participants and thousands of ideas. Creativity studies typically have many participants solve 'toy' problems or observe few participants solving real problems—in our study we had both, lending greater strength to our conclusions."

Then, the researchers used an algorithm to determine whether an idea was near to or far from the posted problem. This algorithm was first vetted against human judgments and proved to be quite good at determining idea distance. The researchers found that the best ideas are built on existing concepts within the field of the problem being solved ("near" inspiration), instead of looking to outside sources ("far" inspiration).

"Instead of seeing a bigger effect of far inspirations," Chan says, "I saw that ideas built on source ideas more closely related to the problem tended to be selected more often. And I saw the same pattern across 12 very different problems—ranging from preventing human rights violations to fostering greater connectedness in urban communities to improving employment prospects for young people."

For example, if considering the problem of electronic waste, the best idea would likely be inspired by a local recycling plant with an electronic waste disposal program ("near" inspiration), rather than another industry ("far" inspiration), such as an idea to create compostable electronics based on edible food package technology.

Bottom line: When seeking inspiration to solve the next organisational crisis, the best strategy may be to look at how others are solving similar problems. 

Interesting perspective that may be applicable in our own sector to find inspiration and solutions to our day-to-day problems, including the needs for a more VET Reform.

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