What has happened to L&D?

Peter Senge popularised the term “learning organisations” in 1990, yet most businesses today are nothing like what he envisaged, in spite of spending large sums on “leadership development programmes (LDP)”.

The problem with many LDP’s is that they seem programmed for something other than people. People are adaptive, creative and adult learning is therefore best served up in bite-sized chunks, with robust dialogue, multimedia, practical application and accountable implementation built-in. Leading business schools sometimes do not have this “mix” right yet, and even then, “alumni” from these programmes are seldom engaged – involved regularly or even annually – so as to participate in “further” education or update the experience of learning journeys. And we haven’t even begun to talk about using social media to drive inclusion and interaction.

I find it interesting that Talent Management is often synonymous with forecasting software, assessment batteries, competency frameworks and “succession plans”, assuming that the past or present is a great predictor of the future. It would be better if the norm was knowing, selecting, developing and retaining vast numbers of the “right” people (those who are a personal-organisational fit and therefore identify with the values passionately) and allowing flexible “pipelines” of growth within the organisation.

Learning and Development (L&D) or its older moniker,”training”, is most often associated with product knowledge, rather than building trust, being an authentic example or ethically influencing (see Robert Cialdini on this). L&D professionals are most in demand in my country for…call centres. Which is where “customer service” now has its home, it seems. Training in these environments is extremely performance driven and wages are low. Dare I ask about burnout rates? How is inspiration valued – encouraging people to go beyond norms and breathe life into their work? I have more often experienced an attitude similar to “we don’t need your creativity here, thank-you, Ms. Robot. Make your calls, do your numbers…and you may become a more senior robot soon, if you take a shorter lunch break.”

My “beef” with call centres extends further, though, to their inability to teach people one or two basics of getting respondent buy-in, such as asking, “Is now a good time to talk to you (about a life-saving opportunity)?” and calling back at an agreed time, faithfully, if given a preferred time. The industry is just that: industrial. Mechanistic. Compliance-driven, it lacks “relatedness”, which is a key element of motivation. It doesn’t even empower an “agent” (an interesting term, since very little “agency” is allowed) to call customers back (“sorry, we are out-bound only; call our general number”. This is definitely not retention-friendly, future-focused or capability-enhancing. It is driven by short-term gains, not long-term relationships that drive sustainable advantage.

It’s no wonder that history repeats itself. In fact, most L&D managers in South Africa are tasked with SETA accreditation (NQF alignment of each “course”), BBBEE scorecards, EAP and benefits systems, Labour Law, payroll, assessment, moderation, SDL and such-like compliance, none of which is wrong. Yet very little of this is likely to have inspired people to study HR or OD. There is seldom anything strategic about their goals, and they are therefore seldom given a productive, regular seat at the C-suite table, where they are sorely needed. Where are the pro-active, market-driven processes? Where is the innovation, the strategic leadership debate, and the emotional intelligence, since this is where advantage may be found (see INSEAD’s thoughts). L&D managers are being groomed for irrelevance, since much of what they do can be automated. Being slow to respond to emerging trends and even communication is no recommendation: a large bank that we no longer work with demands super-quick turnarounds on proposals, only to make a decision 30 days later and pay after 90 days. The most remarkable thing is that other customers remain with them.

Something has to give. HR is not strategic unless it pro-actively addresses inclusion, belonging, meaning, well-being, execution, future skills and innovation. This means talent engagement, employee voice, emotional intelligence, culture and values dialogue and the required leadership behaviour. Without these “return-home” adjustments, L&D and its HR partners should simply fall under the “legal” section, since they are merely ensuring that boxes get ticked.