In celebration and support of International Women’s Day 2021, we wanted to share the personal and professional views of our colleagues, clients and contacts on diversity and inclusion.


The initiatives of many organisations are to be applauded – clear diversity targets, focused recruitment practices, unconscious bias training, individual development programmes for women, including mentoring, sponsorship and coaching. Progress is in hand but alongside all of these initiatives, leaders have the most important role to play. They set the standard for the culture and behaviours that should be adopted across the organisation so that diversity, equality and inclusion becomes a fundamental way of working.


“A challenged world is an alert world,” say the organisers of the International Women’s Day, who are asking us to “raise our hands” in support of #IWD2021. “Individually, we’re all responsible for our own thoughts and actions – all day, every day. We can choose to challenge and call out gender bias and inequity. We can choose to seek out and celebrate women’s achievements. Collectively, we can all help create an inclusive world. From challenge comes change, so let’s all choose to challenge.”


Our contributors have shared their responses to a specific area as well as posing some questions that leaders need to consider as part of their diversity and inclusion effort.



Jenny McConnell

HPC Senior Facilitator and Executive Coach
& Lean In Newry Leadership Team Member


Q: In what everyday ways can we help to overcome the barriers that hold women back?

Be an ally at work. Raise your hand to endorse a woman’s contributions publicly, invite her to speak at a meeting, recommend her for a stretch assignment. As a leader at Lean In Newry, I work with a fantastic team that is dedicated to helping women achieve their ambitions. However, to create a more inclusive workplace, we must all raise our hands, especially in those micro-moments at work. From challenge comes change.


Jenny is pictured in the header image above.



Sean Fitzpatrick

Director Human Resources, John Sisk & Son Ltd


Q: In your opinion, what are the top priorities when it comes to challenging and advancing gender equality at an organisational level?

I think that the first thing we need to challenge is ourselves – are we aware of the impact of our words and actions, and more importantly, what are we doing about it? Gender equality isn’t something owned by the Board or by the Executive team – we all own it and we have a responsibility to ensure that we continue to work towards it.  As well as being conscious of our words and actions and their impact on others, we need to be brave and call out inappropriate behaviours where we see them, regardless of the situation or the people involved.


We need to challenge our hiring and promotion

processes and how we allocate work and how we appoint people to various roles across the company. We need to work hard so that there are role models across our company so that women can see a role model and ‘someone like me’, and that they can get to the most senior roles in the company.


All of these challenges contribute to ensuring that our work environment is welcoming and inclusive to all. By driving initiatives and supporting actions that sustain a positive work environment, we will ensure that we retain and advance the women who work with us today (that’s a top priority), and that will attract more women to construction/John Sisk and Son, leading to greater representation across all levels in our company.



Deirdre Foley

HPC Senior Facilitator, Executive & Team Coach


Q: How can corporate culture help leaders influence real change in challenging gender bias and inequity?

Diversity and inclusion go hand in hand as organisational priorities for leaders. However, this responsibility does not just rest with a handful of senior leaders, it needs to be embraced by every member of the company as part of the corporate culture.  To ensure complete alignment across every team, leaders must foster a culture that embraces gender diversity and values, rewards and supports individual differences.


Organisational culture forms the basis of behaviour at all levels and is therefore at the core of  changing workplace attitudes to gender and diversity. A shared culture at all levels of the organisation brings a shared accountability to embrace positive practices and initiatives, which support diversity and inclusion. By championing positive change that supports these priorities, leaders can embed a culture that is owned by every individual and transcends the whole organisation.




Tara Doyle 

Partner & Chairperson, Matheson

Q: What does gender equality mean for you and why is it important?

As a lawyer and a business owner for me gender equality means maximising available talent. The focus needs to be on equal pay, equal treatment and equal representation within the business.  If you exclude one gender from a profession or workplace, or make it more difficult for one gender to succeed, you are limiting your talent pool by 50%.  That does not make business sense.  A diverse talent pool ensures a broader range of skills and perspectives, which produces better results for our clients.




Dr. Tanya Harrington

Chief Regulatory Affairs Officer, An Post


Q: What is the message that you want to send to young women thinking about their careers?

Three Ps- Passion, Purpose and People: My single biggest message for young women thinking about their careers is simply this: follow your passion. In addition, I think it is important to know your values and your worth and find work that respects both. Remember that while the company owns the role, you own your career and you own the responsibility of developing it and finding the opportunities to enable you to grow as a person and as a leader. Finally, at every step of the way, nurture each and every professional relationship. Irrespective of your role or position, it is these relationships that are the very lifeblood of your career.



Daire Coffey

Executive Coach and Chartered Director 


Q: As an Executive Coach, what advice would you give to women wanting to accelerate their career growth?

We all know that operating in a diverse and inclusive culture facilitates increased engagement, creativity better decision making and business outcomes. It goes wider than gender but gender is a really good place to start!


Leaders are only as good as the people they surround themselves with. The challenge is to be proactive about building a diverse and supportive network or personal boardroom’ of trusted colleagues, mentors, sponsors and coaches to challenge your thinking, open doors and fuel personal and professional growth. We all need a challenger, a nerve giver and a rock of sense around us when facing challenging situations, career moves and big decisions.


Never be afraid to ask for help. From experience, I know that knowing who to ask for help from and how to help others in equal measure is a recipe for success.



Dr. Sandra Healy

Founding Director of the DCU Centre of Excellence for Diversity and Inclusion, Founder & CEO of inclusio software


Q: As young women prepare to build their career, how important is internal dialogue and asking for help to overcome challenges?


The quality of your life is the quality of the conversation in your head. Push through the doubts, believe in yourself and be outstanding!


I would also encourage people to think about mentorship and sponsorship. If you are new to an organisation or the minority in the room, reach out and begin to build a network. Ask for help, do it early and build on this throughout your career by adding to your internal and external networks.


People love to be asked for help and finding a mentor or coach early on in your career will help build confidence, bring clarity to your internal dialogue and challenge your thinking.


Wider thoughts of the HPC Team


We asked our team of Facilitators, Executive and Team Coaches what important questions leaders should be asking themselves as they embrace and embed diversity throughout their organisation:


A study conducted at Harvard Business School found that a daily 15-minute habit can increase your productivity and effectiveness. The daily habit is as simple as they come – making time every day for reflection will help boost your leadership.


Reflection can help you make sense of your day, help you make decisions, set a course of action, break out of habitual ways of thinking and restore focus on new ideas and opportunities. According to university research, the best learning happens in moments of quiet reflection.


We asked our team about some of their positive learnings from 2020 and a resounding theme came through – time to reflect. Whether in the midst of a pandemic or not, reflection should be a constant habit.


In this article, our team share their collective thoughts on making the most of this precious time – professionally and personally.


Click on the image to download and read our team’s collective thoughts in full. 

Once upon a time (or at least before the pandemic), the Away Day was at least an annual occurrence and sometimes more than that. A chance to connect with your colleagues who you didn’t see on a day-to-day basis, a chance to reflect on the successes of the previous quarter or year and an opportunity to plan.


Like everything else, Covid has changed all of that and we now find ourselves thinking wistfully of days in remote hotels listening to presentations and trying to eat finger food politely. Human connection aside, there was a real need for away days and they evolved to allow us the time and “white space” we need as a collective to celebrate our successes and prepare for the challenges ahead.


Can away days still happen in a virtual world?


At HPC, we still think so and over the past few months, we have helped a number of our clients structure days for their teams, functions and in one case, the entire organisation.

How do you do this? Here are three quick tips:


1. Reimagine your day

People are already on Zoom/Teams/Blue Jeans all day so asking them to join a session for 7 hours is not going to enthuse them. The old model was a break away from the norm so your new model of Away Day has to represent a similar break.


2. Consider what people value

People didn’t go to away days for the Custard Creams – they went to connect with their colleagues. Consider what people value most from their days and prioritise that in the design of your day.


3. Give people something to do

Staring passively at the screen for any longer than 5 minutes will energise nobody! Create opportunities for engagement and interaction throughout the design of your day.


Away Days remain important to teams and organisations but like everything else, they need to be reimagined if they are to stay relevant and valuable.



Kevin Hannigan is Head of Talent Consulting at HPC. He is a highly skilled consultant and facilitator with a wealth of experience in designing the systems and processes that support effective learning, measurement and talent development.


In our upcoming instalment to this series, HPC’s Head of Research Justin Kinnear explores what it takes to design Virtual Away Days. 

You have spent the time building your Employer Brand, spent years assiduously cultivating your profile on social media and have carefully recruited the graduates who you believe will become the backbone of your talent pipeline in the future.


Yielding the benefits of all of this effort is however contingent on retaining your graduates. You could not have expected 2020. Neither you or your graduates could have contemplated that they would be onboarded and developed in a virtual world.  The issue you now have to consider is how do you ensure that your graduates remain engaged in the absence of the infrastructure that makes graduate programmes such an attractive proposition and such a powerful development tool.


Our experience is that most organisations approach graduate development using a blend of formal learning, mentoring, on the job experience, projects and most importantly, feedback. In a virtual world, many of the organic opportunities that graduates had have been reduced. The opportunity to pop into a manager’s office, to ask a question, to shadow a colleague or to be part of a project is reduced.  Tucked away behind a screen in a bedroom or at a kitchen table can make graduates less visible to the mentors, champions and leaders that provide many of the informal development opportunities.


When these organic opportunities are reduced, we must become even more intentional about developing graduates. Here are five simple strategies you can employ now to help retain your graduates and avoid a very expensive talent drain in a few years’ time


  1. Create a culture where feedback is invited

Graduates do need and want feedback. Most graduates, however will not seek out feedback due to several factors – shyness, uncertainty and even lack of clarity on how to go about it are just some reasons.

To address this, invite graduates to identify specific areas where they would like feedback. This allows graduates to decide what, if any, feedback they need. An article published in the NeuroLeadership Journal in 2018 by Tessa West, NYU psychologist suggests that this approach increases the likelihood that people receiving feedback are more likely to stay rational, calm and open. As a bonus, because the graduate is asking for feedback, your managers will find the process far less painful too.


  1. Create intentional feedback opportunities

Like so many things in a virtual world, a bit more planning and organisation is needed to make feedback work. Impromptu calls and check-ins are more difficult to have when working remotely. Agree specific times at regular intervals that are earmarked to check in with graduates. Protect this time and work hard not to cancel, postpone or change at the last minute. Graduates will appreciate this commitment.


  1. Facilitate networking opportunities

Networks and friendships are formed on graduate development programmes that can last a lifetime. Consider creating formal and informal ways to facilitate and encourage your graduates to develop their network both with their peers and with people in the wider organisation. The stronger these bonds, the more likely they will be to remain with their network.


  1. Reverse Mentoring

Many people are struggling to work effectively remotely. Why not ask your graduates, who are very often the most tech savvy group in the organisation to develop some innovative ideas to help their colleagues engage in virtual meetings and collaborate in a virtual setting.


  1. Communicate personally

In the rush to ensure that everybody is aware of what’s happening, it can be tempting to copy graduates on emails and assume that they will know what it is all about. This may result in confusion or a sense of obligation to act on an email that was simply for information. Take the time to explain why you are sending the information to them.



Like almost everything else in a post-Covid world, Graduate Development has changed. For those of us using a blended learning approach such as “High Performance Learning Journeys” or the 70/20/10 model, switching workshops from face to face delivery to virtual is relatively straightforward. The experiential and feedback components of your approach does however need careful consideration.


Facilitating and encouraging intentional opportunities for new experiences, network building and feedback will be key to ensuring that the graduates that emerge in 2021 and 2022 are sufficiently engaged and capable of leading your organisation in the future. We can be sure that this class of graduates are just as capable as others. The opportunities for learning in these strange times is immense. This learning will yield tremendous benefits in the long term as your graduates face new and diverse challenges in their careers. Our opportunity is to flex our development model to cultivate that potential.



Fergal O’Connor is a Facilitator and Executive Coach at HPC.  Much of Fergal’s work with HPC focuses on the development of a high-performance culture with a particular emphasis on accountability and feedback.

We are heading into the New Year with more COVID-19 measures in place in Ireland. What are some of the risk factors facing leaders in organisations in Ireland?


With each additional month that passes in this pandemic state, there is a knock-on effect on every one of us. Most organisations have taken great care of their employees since March. However, there are increasing signs that leaders are now beginning to feel significant strain. Here are five risk factors that I have picked up from working with leaders in recent engagements.


Energy and motivation loss
It’s not just employees that face a dip in their motivation and energy, especially as we seem to be travelling a rollercoaster of restriction severity in recent weeks. Leaders often put everyone else’s welfare first, but that only works if you remember to loop back around and take care of your own welfare too. Leaders will experience occasional slumps and it’s vital to acknowledge that these slumps are important signals from the body to rest and replenish energy. I recommend extending kindness and care to every member of your team, including yourself. Notice when you experience fatigue or low motivation and recognise that this is a signal to rest and recover. Burnout ensues when you keep pushing yourself and you ignore these signals from the body.


Over-stretching their contribution
We know from various sources that employees are already working longer hours at home than they did in the office before COVID-19. We also hear that an increasing workload since the late summer is blurring the boundary between work time and personal time for many leaders. Not only is this unsustainable but you are setting a poor example to your team members if you expect them to be able to switch off in the evening. Many leaders are now lamenting the lack of their former hour-long commute home, observing that it created a clear boundary between “at work” and “not at work”. The hour-long commute provided a chance to decompress so that when they got home, they were free of work thoughts until the next day. With the lack of a clear boundary between work and home when we’re constantly in the home, this missing time to decompress and switch off is causing some to keep working and keep thinking about work well into the night. The best advice seems to be to encourage leaders to have one place in the home where work happens, but ideally not the kitchen table or sofa. When the work part of the day ends it’s best to leave that place and close the door, sending a signal to the body and brain that work is done for the day. Working at the kitchen table or sofa trains the mind that every place is a workplace, and every time is potentially time for work.


Dark nights and reduced exercise
Sitting in front of the computer between March and September, most leaders recognised how important it was to maintain some form of physical activity away from the computer. Some people took up walking or exercising early in the day, others exercised over the lunch hour, while others again took advantage of the evening light to exercise as they wished. As the nights have darkened and evening temperatures have dropped, it has made exercising outside less appealing and less safe. Working all day with no form of exercise, no matter how short or simple, is not good for the body or mind. We derive huge benefits from exercise for the body and brain, so suddenly denying the body and brain these benefits doesn’t make much sense. You may not be able to exercise like you did earlier in the year but there is surely some form of activity you could do. Look out for opportunities to get away from the computer and outdoors whenever you can, even for 15 minutes. Fresh clean air and some exercise for yearning muscles will do wonders for your focus and productivity and your general wellbeing. Of course, you need to pay attention to the COVID-19 rules as they apply to exercise and distance, but don’t let that be the excuse that causes you to stop all forms of exercise.


Network drift
Leaders made significant efforts to keep in touch with their teams since March. Many team members have reported dramatic improvements in their relationship with their direct manager, and engagement has held up remarkably well and even improved in some cases. We hear how this narrowed focus by leaders on their own teams has caused their connections with other leaders to weaken. Witness how leaders behave excitedly on Zoom calls when they finally reconnect with managerial colleagues that they have not had contact with for months. The focus on their own team is of critical importance to leaders, but leaders need to maintain their networks too. Don’t wait for the CEO or some other executive to set up a leader’s meetup. Go ahead and reach out to people with whom you have not had contact for some time. Nourish your networks before they wither away.


Head down leadership
The final risk factor I see is what I call ‘head down leadership’. The lurching from full lockdown to Level 2 to Level 3 to Level 5 has thrown many of us into a survival mode. We struggle to see very far ahead and focus instead on just maintaining performance and momentum. We don’t know what’s going to happen and don’t see any point in speculating about it. That makes good sense for a time but remember that followers look to leaders for hope. Followers expect leaders need to paint a picture of a better day, and to set out a plan to get there. When did you last look up, and talk about what six months from now might look like, with your team?


To be clear, I’m not suggesting that you engage in some crystal-ball gazing. However, I am suggesting a conversation about the future, to even acknowledge that it won’t be like this forever, and that there is a point to us continuing our work as a team because it’s part of the journey to that better day. Ignoring the future and spending all your time in the head down “let’s not talk about it” mode is a potential source of worry for your team who surely wonder what you think about all this. Leaders are dealers in hope, so I’m asking when did you last have a conversation that gave a sense of hope to your team? I wrote previously about “bounded optimism” and how important it is to be grounded and realistic with your team. This is still true, but it doesn’t take away from the need to acknowledge that there will be a future. A discussion about it might reveal whether this future is something you and your team will play a part in shaping, or if instead the future is something that will just happen to you and your team.


Leaders are not immune from the very things we try to help our employees avoid. Don’t ignore your own needs. Watch out for these risk factors that are very much alive in the business world right now.



Justin Kinnear is Head of Research at HPC. Justin is a highly experienced facilitator and coach who advises HPC’s clients on their most pressing development issues.  As well as his extensive research and facilitation experience, he was formerly Head of L&D at IBM and Britvic.

Recent research from the University of Bath shows that trust in leaders remained high during the height of the Covid-19 pandemic.  As we enter the next phase of living and working alongside Covid-19, how do we maintain those same levels of trust?


Research suggests that trust is likely to play an even bigger role in how effective your leaders and their teams are in the coming months. For virtual teams, high trust is positively correlated with team performance.  When you think about it, it’s not surprising.  If managed poorly, virtual teams can suffer from a reduction in performance due to communication issues, lack of clarity and lack of context.


In our current context, some of these issues may become even more manifest as leaders and teams deal with temporary school closures, restrictions on work and ongoing health concerns.


The good news is that research points to ways in which we can enhance our relationships with our teams and build even greater levels of trust.  By adopting these five simple practices, we can minimise the concerns associated with virtual teams and maintain trust across the organisation.


  1. Focus on the results that your team should achieve.

The ways of achieving results are being altered by the dizzying pace of events. It is a good time to abandon micro-management which, by the way, helps neither confidence nor outcomes. Re-establish short-range objectives and test how they are met. Create clear team metrics that everybody understands and accepts. Resist the temptation to ‘reward’ good work and high productivity with extra work and heightened expectations.


  1. Clearly communicate context.

While goals are vital, context is everything in a virtual world. As your team consider how best to achieve their goals, they are making small decisions at each step of the process. Providing clear context supports their ability to make decisions and displays trust in them.


  1. Follow-up more often than you think you should.

Report to your team daily. You have (or should have) better access to more information than they do, while they are more isolated from the day-to-day goings-on that they have been used to. Keep them up to date on the decisions that are being made. Done properly, it’s hard to over-communicate.


  1. Don’t assume anything.

While the office is much maligned, one of it’s advantages is the casual access you have to colleagues (people stopping you as you pass, bumping into someone at the coffee machine). This access is typically how your team get to check understanding, confide concerns or misgivings, share thoughts and ideas etc. Just as your team may have been reluctant to set up a formal meeting to discuss something in the office, expect that your team are unlikely to set up a formal online meeting or call to have an informal chat. Consider a weekly check-in call, initiated by you, with no agenda other than ‘how is everything going?’.


  1. Be kind.

This is still new to your team and there are as many reactions as there are team members. But people’s need for psychological safety remains constant. That’s why your number one priority must be to reassure your team that you’re there for whatever they need, that you trust them, and that you know that they’re doing their best.


This is all new to you too. You’re expected to support your team in new ways of working while at the same time trying to come to terms with the impact that this is having on you professionally and personally. Don’t be afraid to show your vulnerability; let your team know that you too are doing your best.




Bob Lee is a member of the Leadership and Management Development Team at HPC.

He is a highly skilled facilitator and he brings with him a wealth of experience and knowledge in organisational culture, specialising in the complex topic of trust.


Bob has been recognised as part of ‘Trust Across America Top Thought Leaders in Trust’, as well as being a sought-after international conference speaker, and best-selling author of Trust Rules: How the World’s Best Managers Create Great Places to Work.

This juncture in the COVID-19 pandemic marks a milestone moment. If the past six months were about coping with the onslaught of a global pandemic, for most of us, the next six are about re-establishing our teams and our organisations.  But this moment is transitory. It is a wafer-thin slice of time that exists between a crisis and a crossroads.


Unfortunately, many leaders have already missed this milestone moment. Eager to make up for lost ground, they have moved at speed past the crossroads and launched headlong into the next phase of work. In haste, these leaders may have neglected to bring their people with them.


As their leaders have moved on, many teams are left feeling anxious and unsure about the future. They want to leverage the gains of lockdown and approach work in a different way now but there is little or no opportunity to do so. They want to understand their priorities for the next six months and be clear about how they will work with their stakeholders.


In a team context, such unspoken gaps come at a cost. It impedes progress – the very progress that a high-speed leader so desperately seeks.


But it doesn’t have to be this way.


Develop Dynamic Stability

The New York Times columnist, Thomas Friedman, observes that people who want to adapt in an age of acceleration must develop what he calls “dynamic stability”.


Rather than trying to resist an inevitable storm of change, Friedman encourages leaders to “build an eye that moves with the storm, draws energy from it, but creates a platform of dynamic stability within it.”


In turbulent times, this “dynamic stability” is a team’s most potent weapon.


In an earthquake, it is not the quake that causes the damage. Rather, it is the collapse of buildings.


Likewise, in your team it is not just the COVID-19 pandemic that creates the cracks. In order to thrive in this next phase, your team must move flexibly as an interconnected whole.


The bad news? Many teams and leaders are at risk because they will simply not pause to develop this “dynamic stability”.


And the good news? You and your teams can make a better choice.


Make Haste Slowly

To create this dynamic stability, it is critical to pause and to place your people at the heart of the process.


As an adaptable leader, how are you going to create a stable, dynamic platform?


One way to achieve this is to take some time to explore these powerful questions with your teams:


  • What are your needs, goals, expectations, roles and responsibilities now?
  • How can you harness your strengths to meet stakeholders’ changing demands?
  • What have you lost that needs to stay lost?
  • What have you found that needs to stay found?
  • What works now that may not work in the longer term?
  • What do you need from each other and from me to be at your best?


Harness Your Ultimate Competitive Advantage

As Patrick Lencioni asserts, “Not finance. Not strategy. Not technology. It is teamwork that remains the ultimate competitive advantage, both because it is so powerful and so rare.”


For many team members, this crisis has drawn them together, mobilised with surprising vigour and resulted in them supporting each other.


Fail to pause and solidify these gains, and you may destroy the gains your team has made in the past six months. Act in haste, regret at leisure.


Don’t Wait. Create

Andy Gove, former CEO of Intel, reminds us, “Bad companies are destroyed by a crisis. Good companies survive them. Great companies are improved by them.”


Take the time now to pause and reinvigorate your team for the coming months.



To help teams emerge from this crisis stronger than ever, we at HPC have launched ‘R3BOOT Team Accelerator’. It supports teams like yours to reflect, refocus and refresh for the next phase of work.


To learn more about this high-impact, evidence-based programme, click here.











Amidst all of the focus on virtual delivery since the emergence of Covid 19, we run the risk of losing sight of the most important question we need to ask as Learning Professionals – Why are we doing what we are doing and what is it in service of?


Those of us who work in learning and development have been conscious of how the issue of delivery has been driving the agenda in our profession for some time. Add in a global pandemic, characterised by the necessity for social distancing and a related boom in digital-based platforms, and it is easy to see why technology is such a focus right now.


There is a huge danger, I believe, that in concentrating on this aspect of learning and development, we are missing the point. We risk distorting the discussion that we need to have as learning professionals and obfuscating the question that we need to ask ourselves and our stakeholders.


This question is not “what do you need?” or even “how should we deliver it?” but “why do you need to do this?”


It is only by answering this critical question that L&D can truly impact the organisation. Ignoring that crucial question and focussing on issues of lesser importance does an enormous disservice to those we serve.


Thinking about this lately brought a childhood memory to mind. While I have been working in Learning and Development for more than 20 years, my first awareness of corporate training was 36 years ago.  My Dad worked for the State Training Agency, AnCO, and was sent off to Bristol for a five-day course on Time Management.


As an impressionable 10-year old, I was curious to understand why adults would be sent back to school and what my Dad would learn.  He returned with a new diary, lots of phrases about eating elephants and excitement about the difference that it would make to his working life.  It transpired that every manager in Anco was being sent on the same programme as the organisation believed that these skills were critical to effective working.


While fashions have changed over the years, this belief that there is a certain body of knowledge that when absorbed, will magically transform individuals and organisations, has endured.


It has consistently played out in conversations about leadership as advocates for transformational leadership take aim at supporters of Authentic Leadership who take a different view to those in favour of Inclusive Leadership.  In the middle of this, our leaders remain perplexed as to how they should lead.


In the past ten years, this narrow focus on content and leadership ideology has been slowly picked apart by scholars such as Jeffrey Pfeffer and Herminia Ibarra.  Even more recently, psychologist and activist John Amaechi has suggested that this perspective of development is based on a belief that there is “one true way or school of thought” and as a result, has contributed to the culture of endemic racism that is engulfing the western world.


Alongside this focus on content, in the last 20 years, we have witnessed an unprecedented focus on how we do what we do.  Delivery methodology, powered by advances in technology, has been front and centre of the agenda. The conversation has shifted from Computer Based Training to eLearning, from Learning Management Systems to Learning Experience Platforms and encompasses micro-learning, VR, AI and content curation.


This focus on content is reflected in Donald H Taylor’s annual global sentiment survey of Learning professionals. From 2014 – 2019, the biggest issue of focus for respondents each year could be categorised as learning “delivery”. In 2020, this shifted to focus on Learning Analytics. We will need to wait until next year’s survey to see if this marks a permanent departure.


This focus on both the what and the how largely misses the point.  The question we should be asking ourselves as learning professionals is, why we are doing this.


In his seminal 2015 book, Black Box Thinking, Matthew Syed examines how we learn by contrasting the aviation sector with medicine.  A must read for anybody serious about learning, at no point in the discussion does he identify either learning content or the delivery methodology as the key differences between the relative performance of both sectors.  What he does discuss is the culture of performance, accountability and continuous learning that has transformed safety across the aviation industry.


In his latest book, Improving Performance Through Learning, Robert Brinkerhoff argues that learning professionals have inverted the natural process of learning.  In focusing on learning outcomes and delivery methodology, we have lost sight of the business rationale that drives the learning in the first place.  Brinkerhoff argues that in order to truly drive performance, we must consider the following, in this order:


  • Business Rationale – why is this learning important to the business and what issue are we trying to address;
  • Performance Outcomes – what metrics do we wish to change as a result of this learning;
  • Moments that Matter – In order to meet our performance outcomes, who must do what and how will that be measured?’
  • Learning Outcomes – In order to behave in a specific way, what must I know/be able to do.


At the heart of this approach is a deceptively simple idea but one that has been lost in all the noise about delivery methodology.  In order for me to behave in a specific way, I must not only know something, but I must be able to perform in a particular way, given a specific set of circumstances.


For clarity, I am confining my comments in this article to instances where we genuinely wish people to do something different.  If the sole purpose of the learning is simply to satisfy a regulator, in-house compliance function or mandatory CPD requirement, then it is entirely appropriate to an efficient delivery methodology.


However, if we are in the business of change, whether that is mindset or behaviour, we need to focus on performance.


Understanding what people need to do and under what conditions is critical to any conversation about learning.  Consider the simple act of changing a tyre.  Do I need to do extensive training to change a tyre under normal urban conditions?  Clearly not. But, what if I am part of a Formula 1 team?


We also need to consider how others experience the behaviour.  Take for example the classic management skill of feedback.  If we focus on the model of feedback alone (the learning outcome), we may miss the critical issue of the manager’s motivation to give effective feedback at appropriate times and their confidence to do so (the moment that matters).


We may also miss something deeper that is at the heart of the issue.  This is the performance outcome that we are seeking to impact e.g. engagement scores


We have written extensively in the past about habits and behavioural change.  Suffice to say that behavioural change takes a significant amount of time and deliberate practice.


At HPC, our approach is to “nudge” managers in the direction that best supports the organisation’s strategy.  This builds both competence and confidence and a commitment to change.  That commitment to change is based on understanding the whyWhy is this learning important and what metric will change as a result of it?


Once we establish the answer to that question, we can then effectively discuss the appropriate content and delivery methodology.


As we emerge from lockdown, we run the risk of getting caught in a dogmatic war about delivery methodology that is driven by technology vendors.  The use of digital tools has been critical for our Irish clients for the past few months.   It has been just as critical for our international clients for the past few years.


Delivery is an important consideration but it is not the key question. At HPC, we focus on delivering a dynamic blend of solutions that is unique to each client, based on their specific circumstances and their needs.  Building on our expertise in driving behavioural change, we combine tools such as virtual classrooms, webinars, curated content, psychometrics, coaching and facilitator-led learning with our learning transfer platform to build a dynamic, client-led solution. To create that dynamic blend that shifts behaviour, we must start with the business rationale.


But as Simon Sinek said in another context, great organisations start with why and in a post-Covid world, perhaps all of us as Learning professionals need to take this approach.  The what and the how can flow from there.



Kevin Hannigan is Head of Talent Consulting at HPC. He is a highly skilled consultant and facilitator with a wealth of experience in designing the systems and processes that support effective learning, measurement and talent development.

Much has been written in the last number of years of how 10,000 hours of practice can confer expertise. If this is true, then any of us should be able to become an expert at anything with enough practice. But is this really true?


Is there a causal relationship between the figure of 10,000 hours of practice and expert performance? What are the implications for L&D practitioners?


Let’s look at the evidence.


How Long Does it Take for New Habits to Form?

Part I


How long does it take for our brain to show actual changes based on the practice of new behaviours?


We have some clues from a number of recently published studies on the practice of mindfulness meditation by Holzel and Tang.  It appears that practicing a new behaviour for between 4 to 8 weeks begins to affect physiological changes in our brain (“plasticity”), as seen in the following examples:


  1. Participating in an 8-week mindfulness meditation program created significant changes in brain regions associated with memory, sense of self, empathy and stress compared to a control group.
  2. Practicing mindfulness meditation for 4-weeks demonstrated significantly higher white matter neuroplasticity in short-term meditation.


However, whether we can translate these changes into enhanced performance and effectiveness was not possible to discern with these studies.


How Long Does it Take for New Habits to Form?

Part II


Research by Phillippa Lally in the UK suggest that new behaviours can become automatic, on average, between 18 to 254 days.  However this timing depends on the complexity of the new behaviour you are trying to put into place and your personality.


The research studied volunteers who chose to change an eating, drinking or exercise behaviour and tracked them for success.


Analysis of all of these behaviours indicated that it took 66 days, on average, for this new behaviour to become automatic and a new “habit” that seemed pretty natural. However, the mean number of days varied by the complexity of the habit, as follows:


Drinking / 59 days

Eating / 65 days

Exercise / 91 days


Although there are a lot of limitations in this study, it does suggest that it can take a large number of repetitions for new behaviours to become a habit. Therefore, creating new habits requires tremendous self-control to be maintained for a significant period of time before they become more “automatic” and performed without any real self-control. For most people, it takes about 3 months of constant practice before a more complicated new behaviour gets “set” in our neural pathways as something we are comfortable with and seemingly automatic.


The nature of practice

So if we accept that it takes 3 months of constant practice to set a new behaviour in our neural pathways, can the type of practice improve the performance of this behaviour?


In “The Cambridge Handbook of Expertise and Expert Performance“, co-edited by Anders Ericsson, the authors conclude that great performance comes mostly from two things:


  • Regularly obtaining concrete and constructive feedback
  • Deliberate difficult practice


Part of the research analysed diaries of 24 elite figure skaters to determine what might explain some of their performance success. They found that the best performing skaters spent 68% of their practice doing more challenging jumps and routines compared with those who were less successful, who spent only 48% of their time on the identical more challenging movements.


In April 2010, Dan McLaughlin, a 30-year old commercial photographer from Portland, Oregon quit his job with the ambition of becoming a professional golfer. Strangely, Dan had never completed 18 holes of golf prior to quitting his job.


In order to achieve his ambition, Dan is using the latest research on improving skill, motor performance and memory in how he practices. He uses a training approach called interleaving which is “mixing up” the things you do instead of deliberately doing the same thing over and over. Instead he mixes up his clubs, targets and difficulty of his challenges.


Interleaving causes performance in the short term to decrease but enhances overall success over time. Therefore, practicing tasks in an interleaved (random) order generally results in inferior practice performance but induces superior retention compared with practicing in a repetitive order.


New research from a group of UCLA researchers, using brain imaging called functional MRI discovered that connectivity of specific regions of the brain were strengthened using interleaved practice versus a repetitive conditions. Interleaved practice enhances skill learning and the functional connectivity of fronto-parietal networks.


These results strongly hint that if you want to develop better skills, memory and psychomotor performance it is really better to spice up your deliberate practice with variety. Expect your practice sessions to be bad but over time, your performance will actually significantly improve.


So what are the lessons for L&D professionals from this research?


Firstly, developing complex new habits, physical or behavioural, takes an average of 60 to 90 days. Therefore, our focus cannot be solely on a training event and must encompass all aspects of the learning transfer system and in particular how new habits are supported and reinforced over that period of time.


Secondly, great performance is not just a function of the quality and frequency of practice but also the quality of the feedback. Constructive, supportive feedback will enhance performance over time.


Finally, the quality and difficulty of the practice impacts performance and skill retention positively. So whether we are seeking to develop role plays for a training event, scenarios for a development centre or identify new assignments or projects for HiPo’s, incorporating task difficulty and randomness into our development efforts will enhance performance.


So 10,000 hours of practice on its own will not develop expertise. If we are truly serious about performance, we need to create the time to support new habits, ensure that constructive feedback is provided and ensure that the quality of practice is sufficiently diverse and challenging.


The challenge continues…..


Kevin Hannigan is Head of Talent Consulting at HPC and shares insights for this article with Dr. Ken Nowack, licensed psychologist and President, Co-Founder & Chief Research Officer of Envisia Learning. 

What is the best way for OD professionals to plan when it’s so difficult to anticipate the future right now?


Planning and implementing change programmes is one of the pillars of organisational development. Planning such programmes is a significant challenge right now.
Most organisations operate a one-year planning cycle. Performance management and professional development are typically aligned with it. Some also have more strategic planning horizons of up to five years. No one can tell you with certainty that they know what their business will look like in five years.


The new reality is shorter performance windows. In a time of crisis, a 12-month performance window is too long. The finish line is too distant. It’s difficult to gauge if things are getting better or are coming back under control. We have shifted to shorter performance windows because they work. We identify what to achieve in the next 30, 60, or 90 days. We expect that external factors are likely to change, and that we’ll have to adapt our focus accordingly.


We’re now firmly in the era of flexible performance. We still need annual planning and longer-range strategic planning. We just need to be humbler about our ability to predict the future. We need to be more willing to adapt our plans when we can see that we were wrong. This means viewing the goals we begin with as not set in stone. Flexible performance welcomes the opportunity to course correct often. Ultimately, we want people doing the right work at any given moment.


It’s not just goals that need to be flexible. Targets also benefit from more flexibility. The targets we begin a year with may no longer be entirely possible when circumstances change. Flexing targets to acknowledge that reality makes more sense.


Employee development, especially short-term learning needs, also benefits from a flexible approach. Long-term development planning still makes sense for future roles. It doesn’t help people in the team who need to know how to use Microsoft Teams right now. Identifying short-term learning needs and addressing them right now makes sense. These needs will change over the course of a year too.


Planning is vital, but inflexible planning is harmful. Sticking rigidly to the plan when all around is in flux creates panic in a team. Applying a flexible mindset to each of your plans makes sense. Pay attention to your assumptions. Keep your eyes and ears open so that you are not blindsided by changing circumstances. Engage your team and use their insights to inform your plans. Let them know why plans are changing and exactly what you need from them. Be humble. Be flexible. Be inclusive. Stay positive.



Justin Kinnear is Head of Research at HPC

Justin is a highly experienced facilitator and coach who advises HPC’s clients on their most pressing development issues.  As well as his extensive research and facilitation experience, he was formerly Head of L&D at IBM and Britvic.


Justin features as part of the IITD’s Ask The Expert panel and specialises in organisation development. You can read more questions answered by Justin in the IITD’s Developing Your Organisation Archive.

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