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Learning the Lingo

27 September 2010

Learning and Development professionals are typically hard-working and passionate about what they do, full of inspirational ideas… and often ignored. The reason why so many L&D professionals fail to get their colleagues engaged is because they are often speaking in a different language from their key stakeholders.

Consider the last time you had a really good conversation with your Operations Director, Head of Sales, the CFO or anyone else deemed to be at the ‘core’ of your organisation!

Think about the last time you put your course designs to one side, and focused your efforts for a few days on the shop floor, in the field or wherever the ‘real’ work goes on!

In all of the years I have been consulting and delivering with HR professionals – doing the L&D on L&D if you like – it’s always fascinated me when course delegates say they feel marginalised, under-valued or anything else that implies second division.

What’s the root cause?

There are many reasons, but the first can be unearthed if we look at our approach to learning. Any L&D professional can quote with ease the Training Cycle (Analyse, Design, Deliver, and Evaluate). For reasons that are hardly surprising, L&D roles often attract individuals who are naturally drawn to the design and delivery stages. Our behaviour in the evaluation stage is starting to look a little healthier too as we develop the skills to assess how we are adding value to the business.

But Analyse – the first and arguably the most important stage – can appear by and large to have been left by the wayside somewhat.

For many people I talk to, there is a comfort zone, an assumption or a conditioning that says that HR is a department that services the needs of the ‘real’ business. But if their learning interventions are going to meet the needs of the organisation, then L&D’s ability to understand what the business is trying to achieve and the role they can play on this level suddenly becomes very important!

That’s where the corridor conversations and the meetings with colleagues who think (and need to think) completely differently are so important. We’re always talking about staff engagement and here’s our chance to be active participants. And, in the process, to learn something about the main challenges the business is facing, what the competition is doing, the next important product or service… or pretty much anything else that is useful precisely because it’s not “HR”.

When we do this, we learn a new language that means we can engage colleagues in what is important to them. Let’s be clear, this isn’t a language that talks about the Training Cycle or Learning Styles. And Kirkpatrick is never mentioned!

The key skills and underlying value are in the ability to discuss production cycles, customer profiles, balance sheets and product launches… and then translate everything into an L&D strategy where the development of people will offer the best chance for your business to get what it wants and needs.

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