Learn to be more flexible, more aligned to the business and less reliant on ‘content’ knowledge and pre-designed, perfectly formed programmes.
I sat in the café opposite the conference venue with a friend I had just made. We drank our cappuccinos and lamented with each other:
“When are we ever going to hear anything new? I mean everyone speaking at the Conference is bright, friendly, interesting… and on paper what they are offering seems sensible. But it doesn’t really address what I face in my organisation. The complexity. The chaos. The sudden change of direction. By the time I’ve sold any of these ideas to my CEO, he’s moved on, or been kicked out! How can we plan for real development in this environment? At a time when the need to learn fast is more urgent than ever?”
Does this sound at all familiar? I hear this kind of thing frequently. It is the kind of lament that bothers us all in the Executive Education world. Or it should do.
The messy, everyday, lived experience of the organisation they inhabit
We risk becoming increasingly irrelevant because, whilst what we tend to offer is coherent in itself, and makes real sense in the bubble-world in which it is presented, it could be that this very coherence is why it leaves so many internal L&D and OD clients cold. These approaches don’t reflect the messy, everyday, lived experience of the organisation they inhabit. It is a bit of a Catch 22: we come to them with fully formed, well-thought-through plans and knowledge areas; coherent blueprints for success, but their houses are already built or rather have evolved piecemeal over the years, and to follow the suggested plans means demolishing the whole thing and starting again.
Learning and development
We risk finding ourselves falling into the classic elephant trap of consultancy, summed up in the famous joke: A man is driving at night, in terrible weather, to London. By a series of terrible miscalculations, he finds himself down a dark country lane. He is totally lost. Suddenly he sees someone, a local, by the roadside. He winds down the window and asks:
- “Please can you help me? I am trying to find the road to London.
- To London?
- Yes, I am trying to get to London.
- You want to get to London, you say? Well, I wouldn’t have started from here if I were you.”
This all suggests to me that those with the most sensible Learning and Development practices are shifting away from fully formed, content-driven, programmatic approaches. They are taking a bit of a risk, working much harder to get alongside their client organisations, where they are. They are learning to be much more flexible, much more aligned to the business, and much less reliant on ‘content’ knowledge, and pre-designed, perfectly formed programmes.
Perhaps they are stretching the envelope even further and suggesting to their clients that the programmes they need don’t have any ‘content’ in them at all, as such. I mean, what is the web for? Anything anyone wants or needs to know about theoretical frameworks, models and practices, in any area, from MBTI to Performance Management to Business Partnering, is all out there, available at the touch of a screen. Could it be that relationship-based approaches, in well-facilitated arenas such as action learning sets, are really coming of age, now that the web offers such riches so readily? The brave in this field are putting content aside. No more handouts! Save a few trees and focus on what matters.