Proactive or reactive L&D?

lightbulb-2.pngI have recently been participating in a discussion on LinkedIn about "What makes a great trainer" in the "How to Market Training" group and this has sparked off a great debate.

While some people mention empathy , passion and being learner focused, this question has focussed me to realise that all of the qualities discussed are useful to a point ........however...... if the learning/training you provide does not meet an organisational need, then it is all just window dressing.

Yes all of these qualities are essential, but if the organisational needs are not met, then L&D, the trainers will have no credibility and in this economic climate, that is a dangerous place to be.

'But we get told to roll out the training, and that is it. We don't really have time to find out what the organisation needs. And in any case, they say "jump and we ask "how high?"' This was my response one day when I entered into a debate on the subject in a  forum in Leeds.

As I argued why, one L&D manager from a well known telecommunications company kept quiet, but smiled gently. She then shared the story of how they had the same problem 18 months before that, but then began to challenge the status quo. They began by asking for 10 minutes of the stakeholders time to clarify the problem so that they could come up with the best solution. At first there was some resistance, but then slowly the stakeholders would come to her, with the answers along with the required measures to ensure the learning had been effective.

It did not happen overnight - all in all it took around 18 months. Now learning and training are prioritised according to the needs of the organisation. Isn't that how it should be?

So what are you - reactive or proactive? When stakeholders say "jump" do you ask "how high" or "why?"

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  • Hi Krystyna, thanks for your kind words about my book :-)

    And especially thanks for scribbling all over it. That means it has given you new thoughts and actions to take

    The next book is in the pipeline and due in January 2014. It will focus on capability and performance at work, which are arguably much more important to the business than learning. Of course learning is a 'component' of capability, but it is not the full story of capability.

    Alignment of L&D initiatives with the needs of the organisation is vital, but so often it is at a surface level and then only looks at learning. I vote for deeper alignment that takes into account the wider idea of capability.

    My best wishes to you all,


  • Thanks Paul for your comment - it has taken a while to reply but having just read your book and this story I thought I would say "thanks" - really like the book.... have been reading it on holiday and have scribbled all over it .... some comments... some questions......would love to chat some time - I got very giddy with the prospect of using informal learning along side formal training designed using AL! What a combo that would be!!

    Ady I applaud you and your team for taking that brave step.... it is quite scary but in the long run you and L&D will have the respect you deserve if you speak the language of the stakeholders and deliver an improvement in performance.

    Have a look at my blog on objectives - the skill of writing great performance enhancing objectives is something that any L&D team worth their salt need to develop and hone.....

  • Hi Krystyna.  I love this post and has really got me thinking.  You ask the question reactive or proactive and you know what, I'm going to reserve the right to sit on the fence!

    The reason for this is I think in our organisation we are half way through the journey from reactive to proactive.  There's a long way to go, but we're getting there.

    Initially, when we first set up our L&D function, I would say most certainly reactive.  In fact, the reason our department was first formed is to react to a large scale roll out.

    But over time over a few short years, project by project, each thing we do, we seem to move us more towards the proactive level.  It seems like whereas initially L&D was literally the last piece in the puzzle, more and more this involvement and conversations start earlier and earlier into projects.

    I think the other thing that certainly helps us with moving us towards the pro-active approach is having good internal relations with other departments.  It's surprising what you can find out over those informal chats at the coffee machine that lead to a "proactive" L&D approach!

  • I wrote about something like this in my latest book, and here is a brief extract of a thought experiment...

    You want to drive from London to Edinburgh by car. Your mechanic gets wind of this plan and rings you up. He saw your car last week outside the pub and he also knows its history. He says that it simply won’t make the journey. It needs a new piece on the exhaust and two new tyres. And he also says that if you end up getting delayed, you will need to drive at night so you need a new headlamp unit. In his opinion, you will be lucky to get more than 100 miles with your car in the state it is in. It certainly won’t get to Edinburgh, which is almost 400 miles.
    He says he can fix the car up sufficiently to get to Edinburgh for £300 and he will need it in his workshop for a day. He can’t do it until next week, so that will delay your plans by a couple of days. But you really want to use your car.
    What do you do?
    Very few of us would ignore the mechanic and set out on a journey that is probably doomed to failure and could even be dangerous. Worst case is one of those worn tyres bursts on the way. Or even if all that happens is that the damaged exhaust falls off, you will be stuck with a costly vehicle recovery bill.
    If your car is the only option and you really do want to drive it to Edinburgh, you will pay the mechanic to get it fixed and then set off on your journey with a lot more confidence. Things could still go wrong, of course, but you have done what you can to mitigate the risk.
    Why do we pay the mechanic what he asks?
    Because we trust his judgement in his area of expertise. We assume the journey is not possible if he says it is not. And we trust him when he says the car is now in good enough condition to set out on the journey.
    Let’s apply this to asking for L&D budget.
    Your board has a mission. It is to ‘drive to Edinburgh’. The organization is their vehicle. It is what will carry them on their mission to ‘Edinburgh’. And you, the L&D person, are the mechanic.
    You find out about the mission, and you know the vehicle won’t make it safely. What do you say to the board, and how do you say it?
    The mechanic did not come to you cap in hand asking/pleading for some money to fix your car. He simply said it is not fit for the journey, and he can fix it, but it will cost £300.
    Now, how will you approach the board to tell them their vehicle is not fit for the journey they intend to take it on?
    How will you tell them that without investing £xx,000 in their vehicle, their mission will fail?
    Worst case: their mission fails badly; the vehicle crashes and is written off, and many people lose their jobs, including the board members.
    To be the ‘mechanic’, you need to know what the board is planning – what their mission is. You need to assess what development needs are required so people are capable of making the journey. You need the board to trust that your assessments are correct and they need to see you as key expertise that takes a lot of the risk out of their planned journey.
    That might sound like a big ask, but unless you work your way into that position of trust, you will find budget hard to come by, no matter how hard you plead.

    Best wishes to you all, Paul

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