Posted tagged ‘training department’

Playing by numbers

23 April 2012

The theme of last week’s Learning Cafe in Sydney was How to Win Friends and Influence Learning Stakeholders.

Among the stakeholders considered was the “C-Level & Leadership”. This got me thinking, do the C-suite and lower rung managers expect different things from L&D?

There’s no shortage of advice out there telling us to learn the language of finance, because that’s what the CEO speaks. And that makes sense to me.

While some of my peers shudder at the term ROI, for example, I consider it perfectly reasonable for the one who’s footing the bill to demand something in return.

Show me the money.

Stack of Cash

But I also dare to suggest that the managers who occupy the lower levels of the organisational chart don’t give a flying fox about all that.

Of course they “care” about revenue, costs and savings – and they would vigorously say so if asked! – but it’s not what motivates them day to day. What they really care about is their team’s performance stats.

I’m referring to metrics such as:

• Number of widgets produced per hour
• Number of defects per thousand opportunities
• Number of policy renewals
• Number of new write-ups

In other words, whatever is on their dashboard. That’s what they are ultimately accountable for, so that’s what immediately concerns them.

Woman drawing a graph

The business savvy L&D consultant understands this dynamic and uses it to his or her advantage.

He or she appreciates the difference between what the client says they want, and what they really need.

He or she realises the client isn’t invested in the training activity, but rather in the outcome.

He or she doesn’t start with the solution (“How about a team-building workshop?”), but rather with the performance variable (“I see your conversion rate has fallen short of the target over the last 3 months”).

He or she knows that the numbers that really matter don’t necessarily have dollar signs in front of them.

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A question of leadership development

25 October 2011

A provocative question was posed at the latest Learning Cafe:

Does the learning department spend disproportionate effort on leadership development?

Colleagues holding question mark signs in front of their faces

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.

Thrown Under the Bus coffee mug

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?

23 August 2011

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…

Business woman designing a plan on screen

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.

Shades of green

22 June 2010

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?

Businessman holding 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:

PlayDoes the L&D department have an obligation to facilitate the learning of the corporation’s values among its employees?

PlaySo if an insurance company defines environmental sustainability as a core value, should its L&D department organise workshops on green issues?

PlayHow about controversial issues such as climate change and nuclear energy – should the company adopt one political agenda over another?

If you have trouble playing the files, right-click each link and “Save Target As…”.

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.

Green piggy bankThe 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.

Chess pieces opposing each other

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!

Chess pieces mingling

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

15 June 2010

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.

Cyborg

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.

Academic insight

Spirituality and Corporate Social Responsibility: Interpenetrating WorldsI 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:

PlayDoes spirituality belong in the workplace?

PlayDoes an employer have an obligation to support the spirituality of its employees?

PlayShould the L&D department facilitate spiritual learning?

PlayIs spirituality grounded in a belief in God?

If you have trouble playing the files, right-click each link and “Save Target As…”.
 
My take

Bank teller upsellingIt’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.

Elephant

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.

Colleagues

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.