Human Resource Practitioner and General Manager, People Operations at Cars45, Teju’ Fola-Alade, in this interview with EHIME ALEX, speaks on why adults learn unconventionally and how Flex ‘n’ Learn leadership retreat impacts business leaders and organisations
What informed the Flex ‘n’ Learn Experiential Leadership Retreat?
Next year will make it a decade since I have been working in disruptive organisations and within the tech cyberspace. Across this time, I have come to discover that a lot of things we successfully do as adults are products/ideas birthed out of numerous unconventional learning sessions.
Honestly, Flex ‘n’ Learn was invented out of the experiences I have had across strategic retreat sessions I attended. Our plan with Flex ‘n’ Learn is to bring different individuals and people that are in the ascension to the leadership stage of their career, whether as an entrepreneur or as a corporate executive. When you are moving into mid-management, you will gradually get to understand what the journey takes. It is no longer a case of ‘them’ or ‘they’; it is now going to be ‘we’. You are now moving to a level where you will find out that tough decisions are not made based out of emotions. The things that keep a business profitable and sustainable require that sometimes, you take very hard and unpopular decisions.
So, Flex ‘n’ Learn is simply an opportunity for middle managers, senior management team and entrepreneurs to learn from business leaders who have walked the talk. All our speakers are C-suite executives, chief executive officers and leaders that built their businesses from scratch; and leaders that have impacted their organisations’ bottom-line. As you move up the career ladder, it is no longer about applying for jobs randomly, but about strategic alliances.
At this level, if I am going to be hiring anyone for a strategic role, I am going to be speaking first to my network. For instance, If I am hiring for the role of a senior executive (VP, Director, HOD, C-Suite etc), I am going to reach out to friends either currently operating at that level or reach out to my HR network for possible referrals. It is unlikely my first point of call would be to post such job on LinkedIn or make the position public. I will simply be reaching out to people I know that can recommend qualified people. This is what strategic alliances is all about. And that is the purpose of Flex ‘n’ Learn – to bring people together to meet other people that could influence their career journey, and to learn from the experience of leaders who have walked the talk.
Why was ‘Skill Up, Network and Chill’ chosen as this year’s theme?
We usually assume that only children need to be taught in a creative way, to retain their attention. However, adults also struggle to retain interest especially in learning environments, So If we are going to train an adult to behave or think in a certain way, you have to get really creative about it. You cannot put adults in a room for more than eight hours and not find creative ways to gain or retain their attention. It is more difficult for adults to retain information as they get older because they already have a conditioned mindset.
The purpose of Flex ‘n’ Learn is to combine pleasure and entertainment with learning; and get people to learn and network under a very relaxed condition. People tend to remember fun experiences acquired in relaxed conditions. If someone is passing information to you through experience, telling you that this is how I did it and became successful, you intend to retain that kind of information because it is relevant to you, and you are not conditioned to listen to it. It is an information you sought out and that you took the decision to listen to due to its relevance.
As a result, your mind is focused and open to learning. Life is already hard for us! So, as adults, we want to reward ourselves. Basically, we just want people to learn and have fun! It is all about relaxing in a new environment, having fun, meeting new friends, and networking. It is an opportunity for mid to senior executives and entrepreneurs to learn, network and chill. We are trying to move the mindsets away from the employees’ zone and get people to begin to think like business owners and leaders. Therefore, we have put together Flex ‘n’ Learn, an experiential retreat for leaders.
What plans do you have for people who are interested but cannot attend physically?
We have about two of our speakers who would be joining from the United States and the United Kingdom. So, while we are going to be streaming, honestly, we have not really made plans for virtual representation for interested participants. However, we have some requests, and we are looking into it, sharing that information and possible links for people who want to join from different locations. This will come at a cost, but that has not been finalised. For now, it is an experiential event that requires full physical participation. You would not say you really flexed and learned if you would just be joining virtually. We have loads of activities for people who would be physically present.
What challenges do you anticipate the programme may encounter?
My fear is that several people may want to gatecrash, as we had shared the event venue across our adverts and posters. This is a paid event. For those who want to attend, the cost is NGN35,000 for the Day 1 activities which also includes the after-party session. For those who want to sleep over because of the after-party into the night, it is NGN85,000 for single occupancy and NGN55,000 if you are going to share a room. We are catering to only paid attendants.
We also have substantial sponsors and partners, who have been able to support in one way or another through financial and leadership sponsorship. Of course, we hope that people will be mature enough to coordinate themselves during the after-party session. We are also hopeful that our expected participants will come early and join at the registration point, so that our speakers can begin at the allotted times and we are not constrained to drive the event late into the night.
How do you intend to measure the success of the retreat?
Part of the goals we were able to achieve early on included reaching as many companies as we could to create awareness. This we did successfully, and we have several companies sponsoring their employees for the event. Also, a lot of people know that Flex ‘n’ Learn is happening in a few days’ time. Of course, we are struggling with people investing in learning and development while several people really want to attend but are unable to due to the cost. A lot of people also want to attend, but there is still the fear of what is the need for me? Despite that we want people to know that as you build your alliance, you never know where you will need it. So, we have achieved about two of the goals that we set, we have done a lot of marketing and people are talking about the event. But the key metrics of success for us is the number of people that will be attending and the fact that people should be able to make strategic alliances and expand their network at Flex ’n’ Learn. We have been very deliberate about each person invited to this event. If I am attending the event, who are the people I will be meeting there? We are very hopeful that each participant would make quality alliances. So, for us, attendance quality and the quality of the strategic alliances that will come out of the meeting will be the key success factor for Flex ’n’ Learn.
What practical lesson or benefit will the Flex ‘n’ Learn have on participants?
Each of our speakers and panelists will be speaking on relatable topics. As much as possible, the speakers will not be presenting slides because we feel that when people are looking at slides, it takes away the purpose or intensity of what they are learning. So, each of the speakers will be speaking from their heart, experiences, and achievements. All the topics scheduled will require the speakers talking on how they did what they did/do, and how they got to the level they are now. These are business leaders that have done well and are still doing well. They are founders, c-suite executives, and successful individuals. Also, our moderators are successful business leaders and c-suite executives who would be engaging these speakers in the best way to get the best and most out of them. All our speakers are intentional about the topic they will be delivering, as our expected audience are mid to senior level professionals.
We have a cocktail session, where we expect people to network. We have a surprising unconventional networking style that allows people to meet with other people without necessarily speaking to them if they don’t want to at that time. We also have the after-party, which remains the most anticipated part of the day.
How will the retreat address the unique culture of various organisations?
As much as I would love to say that our focus is on organisations, I also recognise that individual development will eventually impact the culture of the organisation. We expect that each person attending this event is attempting to move to a place of technical mastery. You are no longer supposed to be the picture, you are becoming the frame or an expert. So, you must develop yourself to be able to impact whatever organisation you currently work. First thing first, if you are going to be relevant in any organisation that you work, there are some certain traits and abilities you need to display; that is exactly what we will be addressing. We will be focusing on the journey to mastery for these individuals and understanding that the journey to get there starts from within. Each of our areas of discussion will be focusing on the individual and not on the company.
So, Flex ‘n’ Learn is basically to help the employee, whether the middle manager, the senior executive, or the business leader develop themselves. And of course, if you work on yourself, you will ultimately impact the performance and culture of organisation. But everything relating to success starts from within.
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