You are here:

Request a Demo Contact Us

The Right to Choose

Bob Little 

January 30, 2015

Give any professional a problem to solve and the chances are that their answer will involve their specialism. Coined as “the law of instrument” by Abraham Kaplan in 1964, this trait became more popularly known as “Maslow’s hammer” when, in 1966, the American psychologist Abraham Maslow said, “I suppose it’s tempting, if the only tool you have is a hammer, to treat everything as if it were a nail.”

L&D professionals aren’t immune from falling into this trap. This, combined with their characteristic willingness to agree to requests from senior executives, can find them producing and running L&D programs that are doomed to failure because the issues these programs address can’t be cured or improved by “training.”

It could be a cultural issue, for example, which can only be solved by radical organizational change. It may be a straightforward disciplinary matter that the manager and/or organization chooses to ignore, opting instead for a “softer” but ineffective L&D approach. It might be an issue that needs to be addressed more efficiently and cost-effectively via performance management techniques.

Including, but being much broader than, “L&D,” performance management is a strategy relating to an organization’s every activity, set in the context of its human resource policies, culture, style, and communications systems. It needs to be strategic (encompassing broad issues and long-term goals) as well as integrated (linking aspects of the business, people management, individuals, and teams). It needs to incorporate:

  • Performance improvement – throughout the organization, in terms of individual, team and organizational effectiveness.
  • Development – without the continuous development of individuals and teams, performance won’t improve.
  • Managing behavior – ensuring individuals are encouraged to behave in a way that allows and fosters better working relationships.

Yet, instead of questioning the validity of a request for straightforward “L&D,” along with its ultimate usefulness and value to the organization, L&D professionals eagerly embark on designing and developing, thinking about how best to engage and motivate the learner when the very term “learner” may be a misnomer.

So, when faced with a request to design, develop and deliver “some L&D,” what questions should L&D professionals ask – and of whom – to ensure that the resulting activities are contextually valid and stand a chance of benefiting the organization? Moreover, how can they ask these questions without damaging their standing within the organization? And, having realized that pure L&D might not be the answer, how – and to whom – do they make their concerns known without, again, damaging their personal reputation?

Donna Tulloch, CEO of Pulse by DNK – a Canadian people-focused business partner to organizations that see the benefit in putting their commitment behind their words when they say that their people are the most important stakeholder in their business – believes they should ask the organization’s leader, and/or the person making the request:

  • What’s the problem you’re trying to address?
  • What are the three to five things you wish the learner to do differently at the end of the learning event?
  • What are your expectations on return on investment? For example, are you looking for performance improvement, cost reduction, employee engagement, and/or skill development?
  • How will the results be measured and who will measure them?
  • Is the requested L&D targeted at a symptom or the root of the issue?

To protect your organizational standing, Donna recommends that you preface the questions by stating that you wish to optimize the return on the training investment and that your ultimate mandate is to ensure that the training/learning event is targeted to a specific problem, with an impact on the learner and to the benefit of the company.

She says: “Whatever their culture, all companies focus on bottom-line results. Typically, the request will come through the HR or purchasing departments. As an L&D professional, you should request a meeting to sit with the decision makers/leader(s) – including the HR lead – to target their needs and ensure the maximum bottom-line impact. Suggest that, although you’d be happy to help them resolve their issues, there’s a need to partner to fulfill their expectations and produce optimal results.

“Be prepared for the meeting! Ask how the learning objectives are tied to the greater organizational goals. Ask if they have a business strategy and if it’s been shared with employees. This is to provide a mirror for leaders to look into – but it’s unlikely to have been done. It’ll help to point out that training might not be needed, nor might it be the only or the first thing required. Point out that aligning priorities and expectations – and making connections between the strategy, expectations and performance – are what drives accountability and results. Suggest that your time could be better spent in facilitating a workshop with leaders to help them define the alignment of organization strategy, priorities and expectations, which can then be reinforced through training.

“Basically, ask the questions that lead the leader to realize that training may not be the solution they’re looking for.”

The organization development and change specialist, and senior executive level coach, Dr Anton Franckeiss recommends approaching the topic from a different angle. He says: “You should be quite challenging – even bullish – in suggesting that a ‘pure’ HR solution is often unlikely to work. Your approach must be rooted in the organization’s culture and business requirements.

“An L&D professional gains credibility and exerts more influence when presenting L&D solutions as business- and performance-specific. Partner with line managers and agree how each facet of the program can contribute to what’s real in their world. This can mean engaging with the line functions and/or the project areas at an early diagnostic or discovery phase. Get the design right and ‘bought into’ and the job and the conversation becomes much easier.”

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. All fields required.

View our Privacy Policy.

One comment on “The Right to Choose”:

  1. Bhavin Kothari wrote:

    Very practical article talking about the reality . . . Thanks . . .