Many L&D teams suffer from poor-relation syndrome. It’s time to change that, says Guy Bloom.
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Being in L&D is, or at the least should be, vocational. It is a pivotal role that sits at the heart of an organisation’s wellbeing, answering the questions: How do we learn? How do we bring the outside in? How do we disseminate the organisation’s hard-learned insights? How do we make sure people are developing?
Reg Revans, the Action Learning pioneer, spoke about people in organisations learning by being ‘comrades in adversity’ and captured the essence of organisational success brilliantly when he said: “For an organisation to survive, its rate of learning must be at least equal to the rate of change in its external environment.”
This captures the nub of what L&D is, enabling a business to be fighting fit for current and future states. The context for L&D is also paramount when we talk about current and future states; the term ‘tame and wicked’ brings insight to current organisational context.
Rittel and Webber contrasted wicked problems (we don’t immediately have the answer to hand) with tame, solvable problems (the answer is known to us). This is a powerful understanding; L&D isn’t here just for what you do know, it’s also here for what you don’t.
If you believe L&D is here to only provide knowledge for tame situations, then L&D is subjugated to the position of service provider.
The point of this foundation position is pivotal. If you believe L&D is here to only provide knowledge for tame situations, then L&D is subjugated to the position of service provider. However, if your world view is one that embraces both tame and wicked, then L&D is elevated to business partner.
Face the realities
Context is all well and good, but an intellectual position without action is the intent to get fit and then doing no exercise. There are a few realities to be faced, centred on the beliefs of the L&D personnel and the organisation’s leadership.
Many L&D teams suffer from poor-relation syndrome, where they see themselves as being ‘in service’ to the organisation’s leadership as opposed to being ‘of service’ to them.
Within this mindset, there is a huge psychological, emotional and behavioural difference that often manifests as various forms of submissive behaviour; that involves mainly just saying ‘yes’; which in turn reinforces leadership’s perspective that they are correct in their positioning of L&D as being a handle to turn.
We are of course all saying ‘yes’ in the end, as there’s a contract of employment, but it is the mindset that denotes the behaviours that goes with the actions that in turn calibrate, challenge and reinforce the external perspective of the team.
L&D often talks a good game to the external supplier, to the line and even among themselves, however in the presence of leadership, they shift to more of an order-taker role. This is particularly painful as it reinforces the stereotype that leaders then carry with them into other domains.
Often leaders either do not want a partnership with L&D as they like the control, or haven’t experienced a version of it that would tell them that L&D is anything more than a training department. This is particularly painful if you have experienced high-value appreciation in the past, or aspire to it.
When you come across an L&D function that is operating in a business partner role, it’s a beautiful thing to behold. The difference is subtle; of course organisational needs are being serviced, this being the building blocks of credibility.
They are able to offer not just the delivery of content, but to also add value through expertise from internal or external sources that educates the organisation to the fact that L&D not only delivers baseline content to allow functionality (eg we show you how to give feedback) but also delivers insight and challenge to thinking and approach (eg we reinforce and challenge your style and impact, to enhance personal brand, reinforce and shift company culture).
High-impact L&D teams have one key factor – a distinct voice; one that balances knowledge, curiosity, counsel and challenge.
- This is our proposed approach.
- These are the inputs we believe will make a difference.
- This intervention will enable your commercial drivers.
- Why would we do that?
- Why would you want that?
- What message will that send?
- My/our thoughts on this are…
- Have you thought about…?
- Are you aware of…?
- The evidence we have researched tells us…
- I’d like you to speak to X from company Y as I think you should hear their experiences.
- That seems to contradict A or B.
- The evidence is saying something else.
- What was agreed last month was something different to this.
- I can see how this helps you, however as a business this seems to contradict the overall focus.
This looks like the following:
- Level 1: Deliver the basics well to establish credibility.
- Level 2: Deliver insight that enhances brand and environment.
- Level 3: Deliver a ‘distinct voice’ into the conversation
In truth if you have a leadership team that is genuinely engaged with learning and sees learning as a strategic imperative then you are halfway there. For if the competence sits within the function then levels one, two and three have a conduit to play out.
About the author
Guy Bloom is the creator of Living Brave and author of Living Brave Leadership.