As I walked out of a recent training session, the feedback that I heard from participants was – these are all great concepts to hear but would like to see more examples of where they have actually being practiced and led to an outcome”. Such feedback is not new to us as HR professionals. Learning initiatives many a times survive only till the concept stage in organizations. Participants walk out of sessions talking more about how these “events” should be organized frequently than what they will do with the experience they just got. Accordingly organizations have mostly looked at development as spending a lot of dollars and question the return on investment.
Let’s look at it from the individual’s lens. People attend trainings and sessions to know about expectations from them, competencies and skills required for their role, career options they have by listening to other people’s experiences. But all this ends at the awareness stage and does not move to self-realization and commitment. The “copy-paste” concept applies even to learning where we look at any intervention as an opportunity to get solutions to our current problems and questions instead of an enabling experience to create solutions ourselves. Hence we seek more of these events so that we continue to get ready made answers. For years individuals have seen development as something that others have to do for us. We expect our supervisors to tell us what are our growth areas and what we should do about them and we start working on them so that we don’t have to hear it again from the boss, with very little thought on what’s in it for me. We look to others, our managers, seniors, HR, other domain experts to make choices for us in terms or what and how we need to develop. Most often we forget the ‘self’ attached to development both in terms of why I need it and what is my role in it leading to the desired impact. The self comes to the forefront of these conversations only when it is linked to a reward, a promotion or additional compensation. This is the mindset that we need to change.
We also look at learning and development as remedying the gaps and hence both individuals and their managers look at it as a difficult conversation or experience. Quite a few of us also believe that we or our team members don’t need it. Once our strength has been acknowledged, we stop focusing on building on it further and end up in situations like the woodcutter who could not continue to cut trees at the same speedafter a certain point because he forgot to sharpen his axe. These act as deterrents to the participation rate in development initiatives. Even our strengths need to be continuously honed. And this is not limited to junior career stages. We may have been successful in our careers so far but even at senior career stages we need to realize that what got us here will not get us there.
Development is not just an event. It is an ongoing journey with opportunities all around. These could be through learning on the job, through others in the form of coaching, mentoring or networking and through structured interventions. Even a simple conversation could lead to an experience that would help us grow. But just listening to others does not lead to development. The need is to be felt by the individual. More than how many experiences, it is what we make out of each experience that is critical. We have to be actively involved in driving our own learning agenda than being passive recipients.
The direction of organizational focus is criticalto this process to take long lasting development initiatives and not just those with a limited shelf life. As we look at building a learning organization, there are some key questions to ponder on:
- Is development an HR objective or a Business objective for the organization? Are business leaders and line managers actually involved in driving learning or are they just reviewers/customers in the process.
- How are we evaluating the success of these initiatives for the organization and the individual- Is it the number of sessions organized /attended or the impact of the session and how the needle is moving on the identified need?
- Are development plans being made at all levels in the organization or being forced only at junior career stages?
- Does the design of the development initiative include all three phases of awareness, commitment and adoption or is there a heavy focus on awareness while leaving commitment and adoption to just filling up some post session feedback and action plan forms?