What’s wrong with learning and development?

I believe it’s a simple diagnosis.

Learning and development programming is created for the purposes of the department and the people leading those programs. This is not their fault, of course, because this self-inflicted problem exists for the same reasons anything exists in a corporate environment: the need to demonstrate value. 

And what better way to demonstrate value than to create a dashboard tabulating this year’s learning and development events, participants, and some type of ROI measurement?

That’s easy! Make learning and development valuable to the people it’s intended to support: learners!

The situation reminds me of a concept in McGregor’s The Human Side of Enterprise that has stuck with me since I read it. He writes about the idea of service and how staff (HR, IT, L&D, planning, etc.) should exist to serve the operation and managers should ask staff for help when they need it.

Most organizations operate in the opposite direction. Executives decide that a leadership development program should exist. The Learning & Development Department creates it. Then the executives and the L&D leadership “sell” the program to participants whose interest ranges from indifferent to moderate.

Even for a great salesperson, it’s difficult to make a sale to a disinterested buyer.

McGregor writes about management development staff: “The help it will be prepared to give will seldom take the form of detailed formal procedures or canned training courses. It will be help to managers—individually or collectively—in finding and utilizing whatever means will best meet their needs.”

He goes on, “Programs and procedures do not cause management development, because it is not possible to “produce” managers the way we produce products. We can only hope to “grow” them, and growth depends less on the tools we use than on the environment which is created.”