In L&D, developing the workforce is everyone’s responsibility. David Cartwright makes the case for democratisation.
‘We live in a world in which change is the only constant.’ The impact of statements like this diminishes the more they are repeated. Eventually, they fail to command any real attention; we hear the words, but they no longer direct our thoughts to the ramifications of what sits behind them.
The other oft-reiterated world of work maxim is: ‘Our people are at the heart of everything we do’. But, for the majority of organisations, it’s only ever 5% of their people who appear on the development radar.
What does that mean for the remaining 95% of any business? It’s akin to a government recommending that only 5% of pupils need bother attending school – the other 95% can fend for themselves and feed off the educated few.
The fall out from these quotes is that few organisations are making the connection between the changing needs of their business and the impact of change on their people.
How then, do we equip our people to deliver today and be resourced to deliver in a changing tomorrow? How do we get to the 95% to help them face the future with confidence? If people don’t feel prepared and supported, they’ll be unable to perform to their capacity.
It is rare for people lacking in confidence within their current role to feel sufficiently emboldened to deal with unexpected live events or to accept greater responsibility than is currently expected of them.
Yes, we need to ensure that those with greatest development potential are given every opportunity to develop, but what about everyone else?
Businesses are usually adept at devising strategies to improve trading fortunes and will prioritise those who will convert confident thought into positive action. Such priorities are highly quantified and defended when scrutinised. There’s always a bit about people, but it’s usually left to the end once the main business concludes.
Yes, we need to ensure that those with greatest development potential are given every opportunity to develop, but what about everyone else? Are the majority less important, or less in need of development?
Usually they are the very people responsible for making the business tick like clockwork: the ambassadors who ensure that the customer experience promotes continued loyalty.
The fundamental purpose of L&D is to create a skilled and confident workforce by giving people the tools to perform to their best within their role – and to develop their potential to fulfill future roles.
We won’t know the exact nature of these future roles but can assume they will need a growing level of commercial acumen. In developing our people to be at capacity we are in effect making our business stronger and more resilient to whatever the future holds.
Investment in people is seen as discretionary spend rather than critical investment. HR usually manages L&D budgets centrally. But, ownership for people development should sit within the leadership population.
It’s the leader who creates the working environment in which his or her people operate and who observes them at work, facing the expected and unexpected challenges. It’s the leader who is closest and most able to identify the development needs of individuals to perform well within a role and to reconcile their appetite and ambition for future roles.
In our obsession to put a value on our every action, we’ve devalued the importance of people development. If you could measure return on investment, we’d be talking with certainty rather than gut feel.
We intuitively know that if we develop people they will likely fulfill their potential and contribute to an even greater level than at present. But if we ignore their needs, they will become disengaged or even leave the organisation.
So how do we really acknowledge the efforts of our people and recognise the individual capability that each possesses? As leaders, we devote more time to understanding performance through output measures than we do to understanding those at the source of performance.
We’re looking at the wrong end of the pipeline because we’re more comfortable dealing with analysis and conjecture than people and emotion.
The democratisation of learning is about giving people the opportunity to develop themselves. In future I expect the term ‘leader’ to be augmented with the term ‘coach leader’, someone who recognises the importance of their role in developing the capability and potential of others.
In this environment people will feel more valued and more encouraged to give their best and be even more receptive and supportive to the evolving demands of a business. In a world where change is the only constant and where people are at the heart of a business, this dynamic capability is not just desirable; it’s essential to an organisation’s very survival.
About the author
David Cartwright is founder of coaching-supported online learning platform OBD Academy