Tag: L&D

A question of leadership development

A provocative question was posed at the latest Learning Cafe:

Does the learning department spend disproportionate effort on leadership development?

A woman thining.

To me, it makes good business sense to facilitate the development of effective leaders in the organisation. Leadership is a driver of culture, which in turn is a driver of engagement, which in turn is a driver of performance.

While I support the philosophy of leadership development, however, I have doubts over some of the interventions that are deployed under that banner. The eye-watering costs and time associated with formal leadership training should be carefully evaluated in terms of ROI.

So I don’t challenge whether substantial resources should be assigned to leadership development, but rather how they should be assigned. There is plenty of scope for informal learning solutions (for example) which are less time and money hungry – and arguably more effective!

Having said that, I think the effort assigned to developing leadership skills can be disproportionate in comparison to managerial skills. All too frequently, “leaders” are promoted due to their technical expertise, but they have never managed anyone in their life. Somehow we expect them to magically transform into Super Boss, but that’s not going to happen. What these people need is Management 101 – a no-nonsense explanation of their new responsibilities and accountabilities, and the corresponding skillset to fulfil them.

Do you agree with me? Review the opinions of other practitioners – and voice your own – at the Learning Cafe blog.

Does L&D belong in HR?

That was the topic of last week’s Learning Cafe in Sydney.

In short, my esteemed peers and I agreed on “yes”, but that’s not the end of the story. Allow me to explain…

A blank organization chart.

According to one school of thought, L&D belongs in HR because that’s how you achieve scale. The fundamental learning and development needs in the organisation (eg leadership, culture and change) are enterprise-wide. So it makes sense to centralise their management.

According to another school of thought, however, the needs of the business are so diverse and unique that a central L&D team could never hope to keep abreast of them all – let alone address them effectively. So it makes sense to embed L&D professionals into the teams to manage the learning in its context.

Of course, both POVs are right. Whether L&D should be centralised in HR or distributed throughout the business is not a binary proposition. A true learning organisation needs both.

Having said that, how the organisation implements the two is important. There’s no point having an ivory tower bestowing empty training interventions upon the masses; and conversely, there’s no point having an army of hermits toiling away in isolation.

What’s required is a partnership: L&D people across the organisation consulting and collaborating with each other – and with the business – to generate the right solutions for everyone.

Learning vs Development

Is there a difference between learning and development?

I ruminated over this question for a number of years as a Learning & Development professional, but without much progress.

I could never draw a clear line between the two, so I considered the “D” in “L&D” to be a simple tautology.

That was until a colleague of mine recommended I read Making the Case for a Developmental Perspective by Dr Suzanne R Cook-Greuter.

Bidirectional POV

Cook-Greuter distinguishes between two directions of human development: horizontal growth and vertical transformation.

Horizontal growth refers to the gaining of new knowledge, skills and behaviours within a particular stage of development. In doing so, the learner becomes better equipped to perform in their environment.

Vertical transformation is much more sophisticated. Rather than expanding capability within the same stage of development, the learner promotes their intellect to a higher stage of development.

The Leadership Development Framework (LDF) models this transformation as an upward spiral from the preconventional Impulsive and Opportunist through to the transpersonal Ironist and beyond:

The spiral of development in the Leadership Development Framework

Each stage of development represents a level of wisdom that transcends the one before it.

The vast majority of people in modern society (and hence in the workplace) occupy the conventional stages of Diplomat, Expert and Achiever. Promotion to the postconventional stages of Individualist, Strategist and Alchemist is relatively rare, while I presume the transpersonal stages are the realm of the Zen Master.

(For profiles of the seven most common stages in the workplace, refer to Rooke & Torbert’s Seven Transformations of Leadership.)

The sound of a penny dropping

As I read Cook-Greuter’s paper, it dawned on me that her bidirectional model of development can represent the two sides of the L&D equation:

  1. Horizontal growth represents the “L” – improving your competence.
  2. Vertical transformation represents the “D” – maturing your mind.

I think it’s fair to say most L&D professionals focus their energy in the L space:

  • Classroom-based training
  • Online courses
  • System simulations
  • Job aids
  • Assessments
  • Performance appraisals
  • Coaching

But this might only be going half way.

Cook-Greuter maintains that to help people transform, “only specific long-term practices, self-reflection, action inquiry, and dialogue, as well as living in the company of others further along the development path has been shown to be effective” (pp. 3-4).

In other words, meaningful transformation requires deep intervention which is personally driven and fostered by peers. The role of the L&D professional is to facilitate it:

  • Communities of practice
  • Enterprise social networking
  • Disruptive content
  • Cross-departmental problems
  • Mentoring

In addition, reflection and deep thinking requires time, permission and support – so we need to secure managerial buy-in.

We can’t “do” development for others; they must do it for themselves. However we can cultivate the right environment and empower them to make the most of their opportunities.

Why bother?

That’s a question that has been on my mind since I wrote Shades of green last year. Does all this warm and fuzzy stuff really make a difference to the performance of the business? I’m convinced the answer is yes.

Of course horizontal growth remains important. Every employee has a job to do, and since nobody’s perfect, there will always be opportunities to increase knowledge, expand skillsets and change behaviours to do those jobs better.

Complementing that, I see the ROI in developing people vertically. When we refine our views of the corporate system and our roles in it, we think more strategically, work more efficiently, and collaborate with one another more effectively. In short, we perform better.

So it is clear to me now that the role of the L&D professional is two-fold: by definition, it’s to help people learn and develop.

Shades of green

Environmental sustainability.

It’s a term that seems to be bandied around a lot lately.

Many companies have it stated as one of their “core values” – but do they really mean it?

A businessman holding a crystal globe.

It’s easy to display the words on your website, print them on a pretty brochure, and even rattle them off during an induction.

But it’s a whole different kettle of fish to integrate their meaning and intent into your strategic plan.

In other words, to walk the talk.

Academic insight

In the second part of my 2-part interview with Dr David Bubna-Litic, Senior Lecturer in Strategic Management at the University of Technology, Sydney, I posed the following questions.

Again I have recorded his answers for you to review:

My take

It’s clear to me that a company that claims a corporate value such as environmental sustainability has an ethical obligation to translate it into action. Values are more than words; they represent behaviour.

The irony of pretenders like Enron is that, if the corporation is true to its values, it can reap significant financial rewards.

For example, a manufacturing company that reduces its electricity consumption will no doubt enjoy a corresponding cost saving; a finance company that offers socially responsible investments may attract a new demographic of customer; a multinational that installs a web conferencing system instead of criss-crossing the globe by airliner will no longer need to fund relentless air fares, hotel bills and meal allowances.

The role of the L&D Department

It is also clear to me that the L&D Department has a professional obligation to facilitate the learning of the corporation’s values among its employees.

Since those values provide the context for how the company operates in the marketplace, any ignorance of them is – at best – unprofessional, but probably more accurately, incompetent.

The thin green line

In dealing with politically contentious issues such as climate change, the organisation must be wary of straying into partisanship.

No matter how much we wish it wasn’t so, some of our colleagues just don’t agree with our point of view. So if the corporation were to adopt one political agenda over another, I for one would consider it ethically unacceptable.

I suggest that instead of taking sides, the company errs on the side of caution. For example, it doesn’t need to say things like:

Acme Corporation knows that climate change is real.

That is almost intentionally divisive.

Instead, why not go for:

Acme Corporation is committed to an environmentally sustainable future. While we are unsure as to whether human activity contributes to climate change, we are taking the precaution of reducing our carbon emissions and expanding our portfolio in the renewable energy sector.

That is much more inclusive!

As the elephant in the room will tell you, there’s no point in disengaging some of your employees.

That would be to the detriment of everyone.

The elephant in the room

Does spirituality belong in the workplace?

This may sound like a fluffy question, but unless your employees are cyborgs, it’s also a relevant one.

Of course we are human, and that means every single one of us brings our personal beliefs, goals, needs and values into the workplace.

This poses a challenge for corporations.

The secularisation of government and industry (at least in the West) has promoted the suppression and exclusion of anything remotely related to religion, including spirituality.

Yet we are human. For many of us, our sense of spirituality provides the context for everything that we do. We can’t put it in a box during business hours and wear it like a hat on our way home.

We wouldn’t even want to. That’s the point.

The challenge for secular organisations is how to deal with it.

Close-up of an elephant's skin.

Academic insight

I recently had the opportunity to discuss this topic with one of Australia’s leading thinkers: Dr David Bubna-Litic, Senior Lecturer in Strategic Management at the University of Technology, Sydney, and Editor of Spirituality and Corporate Social Responsibility: Interpenetrating Worlds.

I posed four rather pointed questions to David, and I have recorded his answers for your review:

  1. Does spirituality belong in the workplace?
  2. Does an employer have an obligation to support the spirituality of its employees?
  3. Should the L&D department facilitate spiritual learning?
  4. Is spirituality grounded in a belief in God?

My take

It’s clear to me that a corporation that supports the spirituality of its employees can get buckets in return in the form of engagement, motivation and performance.

However, the goals and values of the individual may not always align with the goals and values of the company.

This might happen, for example, when the company decides to upsell products rather than service the real needs of its customers.

David adds:

It is also important to recognise that spirituality has a broad horizon and when a company is open to encouraging its employees to deeply engage with their lives at work, they may bring new concerns to the job. In such cases, the company must be open to dialogue about its strategic direction in different ways, for example, building on a more relational approach to its stakeholders.

A company may find the benefits of spiritual engagement arise in intangible ways, such as stakeholder loyalty; however, creating expectations and enlivening employees needs to be genuine, otherwise the same employees may be equally motivated to seek a more fulfilling role elsewhere.

Meanwhile, the conflict between personal and corporate values can damage both parties. A disengaged worker is unlikely to be a high performer!

The R word

It is also clear to me that spirituality and religion are not necessarily the same thing. You can be a highly spiritual person without aligning yourself to any church or god.

However, I am acutely aware of the fact that, for many people, spirituality and religion are the same thing. Religion provides the moral and existential framework within which they live their lives.

So if a corporation commits itself to supporting the spirituality of its employees, it must inevitably deal with the “R” word.

David adds:

Times have changed and recently, interfaith dialogue has emerged as an important vehicle by which traditionally adversarial religious groups are learning to build understanding and harmony.

The multicultural dimension

In an increasingly multicultural society like the one I live in, not everyone is Christian. Nor is everyone atheist. There are Hindus, Sikhs, Muslims, Jews, Buddhists, Agnostics… the number of spiritual labels in the workplace is as long as a piece of string.

This presents a series of dilemmas to the secular organisation:

Does it promote religious activity or ignore it?

If it funds a Christmas party, must it also fund a Ramadan festival?
How about a Passover feast?

Is it a double standard to relabel the Christmas party and Easter holidays, yet celebrate Pooram or Loy Krathong as a “diversity” initiative?

The corporation can’t be all things to all people; but by the same token, it can’t be some things to some people. It has to be egalitarian.

My personal opinion is that a secular organisation should support, accommodate and tolerate all religious affiliations, but not own them.

It can’t afford to.